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One hundred and twenty nine letters from the Rev. John Newton .. online

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FROM 1773 TO 1805.

" Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in
unity ! "—Pa. cxzxiii.

" Beloved, let us love one another : for love is of God ; and every one that
loreth is born of God, and knoweth God : for God is love."— 1 John iv. 7—8.




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The following letters were addressed to the Rev.
William Bull, of Newport Pagnell, tlie beloved
father of the Editor. It so happened that Mr.
Bull undertook the pastoral charge of the Inde-
pendent congregation at Newport about the time
that Mr. Newton entered on the curacy at Olney.
They were soon introduced to each other, and a
slight acquaintance commenced. Some trifling
reports, tending to lower the reputation of Mr.
Bull, reached the ear of Mr. Newton, and pro-
duced a coldness between them. When, however,
it was found that these reports originated in false-
hood, there was a permanent renewal of that
intercourse which had been for a short time

How completely Mr* Newton was satisfied, and
how cordial was his subsequent attachment to his
friend, will appear by the following extract from
his Diary, dated March 11th, 1776:— "At ten,
thy servant Bull came and stayed till after dinner.
Was he not thy messenger? Oh make his visit a

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blessing. Much passed that might afford instruc-
tion and humiliation. Is this the man I once
thought so lightly of? — and now how far is he
before me ? With him I conversed freely, as
though I had a savour of divine things, and a
right to speak of them. And, perhaps, he thought
me better than himself; but what would he think
if he knew me as I am ? Were this possible I
should be ashamed to see him, yet I thus stand
open to thy holy eyes, and hardly feel the thought.
Our discourse turned on the deepest and most
affecting points — the sorrows of Thy soul wheri
thou didst expiate thy people's sins. Alas ! how
little am I affected with this subject ! I perceive
that he meditates upon thy word, and makes it
his food."

The pleasure, and, he trusts, profit, which the
Editor found in the perusal of the " Sixty-fivb
Letters to a Clergyman/' by Mr. Newton, re-
cently published, led him to consider whether he
was doing right in keeping from the public eye the T
following correspondence, and he cannot but hope
that it will be read with pleasure and benefit.*
It is thought, too, that at the present time it
might be peculiarly seasonable, and tend to soften,

* " His chief excellence as a writer seemed to lie in the easy and
natural style of his- epistolary correspondence. His letters will be
read while real religion exists, and they are the best draught of his
ewn mind. M — Cecil's if Memoirs/'

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in some measure, the asperity of a controversial
spirit in some quarters too prevalent, and promote
union amongst Christians— an object which, to his
mind, does not seem so completely Utopian, at
some are ready to imagine. At all events, the
following pages will exhibit an example of "an
evangelical alliance " which lasted unbroken be*
tween the parties till " death did them part."

Some persons will perhaps think that more fre-
quent omissions should have been made in these
letters ; but it is presumed, that they will be read
with more interest, and exhibit a better portrait
of the lovely character of the writer, to publish
them almost entire. The distance of time since
they were written will be a sufficient apology for
retaining the names in most instances of the per-
sons referred to. The good man and his pious
friends are nearly all now members of another
community, where they cannot be affected by the
mention of their names; and those who survive
will, with the Editor, feel it a privilege to have
been included in a circle of which the excellent
John Newton was the centre.

It is proper to add, that fourteen of these letters
have been already published in the second volume
of the " Cardiphonia," with some omissions, which
are here supplied.

The Editor would be sorry to give any person
reasonable ground of offence, still more to damage

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the well-deserved reputation of the author; but
he must believe that, under the Divine blessing,
the exhibition these letters afford of practical wis-
dom, true piety, and Christian friendship, will be
contemplated with profit and pleasure by those
" who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and

Several explanatory notes have been inserted,
which it is thought will not detract from the
interest of the volume.

Thomas Palmer Bull.

Newport Pagnell, February, 1847.





My Dear Friend, —

We were glad to hear you were no worse for your
journey hither ; I hope I was the better for it.

I preached yesterday from the two Stars, Matthew's
and Balaam's, and was favoured with liberty, especially
from the latter, in the evening, when we had a church
full of people.

I thank you for what you call your rudeness ; but let
there be no apologies or ceremonies between you and
me. I hope you did not think I put the papers in your
hand by way of fishing for compliments, but that I
should snarl and snap if you found the least fault. I am
capable, indeed, of all this, and more ; but through the
Lord's mercy I have not thought myself infallible for
some years. * * *

" Myself" not only pleaded precedents and the exam-
ples of the best writers for preserving its place, but its
pretensions were supported by a friend on whose judg-
ment in composition I can depend much better than on
my own ; but I over-ruled it with a high hand, and said,
You saucy word, to offend Mr. Bull, the first time yon

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were in his company. " Delendum es." I will make an
example of you, and excommunicate you, right or wrong,
however necessary you may think yourself to the emphasis
of the sentence. We are to abstain from all appearance
of evil, and consequently from all appearance of egotism,
which is an evil of very ugly semblance. However,
•' inter' nos," I think it will not read so well, — " It is a
path in which I have known many led, and in which I
have walked myself." The opposition between n»yself
and many seems almost necessary both for distinction and
for the euphony of the close.

My notion of instincts, I think, you would not oppose,
if I had time to explain it. The term I borrowed from
Edwards, in his discourse on " Virtue." Though fallen
nature is destitute of spiritual life, and incapable of loving
and serving its Maker, we may say as much as Milton
of Beelzebub in its favour ; it is, " Majestic, though in

[ could give you specimens of such feelings and in-
stincts as you could not prove to originate from self and
pride, though self and pride influence and corrupt them,
when occasions offer. A natural man is capable of ap-
proving and admiring what he cannot imitate, and of
feeling the impropriety of his own conduct, though he
will not alter it : — " Video meliora proboque, deteriora
sequor," is the experience of fallen nature. Natural con-
science, though blinded and partial, is not quite dead,
nor has God given it up. Though all are equally des-
titute of divine light and life, there is a difference be-
tween Nero and Titus ; and though I allow some bene-
volent feelings in human nature to be extinguished by an
habitual course of cruelty and injustice, yet if I can
prove that they have no influence upon our conduct
towards God, though useful in the present state of so-

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ciety , and have no more real morality than the partial
justice and friendship that may subsist among pickpockets
towards each other, I apprehend neither Lindsay nor
Priestley could gain much advantage by the concession.
I believe these were my sentiments before I read Ed-
wards ; and hope you will not be displeased that I am a
little tenacious of them, since I have seen them supported
fcy so great a master.

I am afraid you will think me positive, and that I
asked your opinion with a predetermination to abide by
my own, but I hope truth is my object. I have no
horse ; you have one ; and as it is too dirty to wait to
you, I wish before long you would trot over again, that
we may settle the point here. I love you ; I love your
company, because I believe the Lord speaks by you to
my heart ; therefore I wish to see you as often as I can.

I agree with you that I am not bound to satisfy the
public, whether 1 eat victuals or not ; that piece of infor-
mation, therefore, shall be suppressed.

My Dear is pretty well ; she will be glad to see you,
to prescribe to you for your good, and to make you
laugh a little for your health's sake. We join in love to
you and Mrs. Bull. Ora pro nobis.

Believe me to l>e,

Your affectionate and obliged,

26th December, 1777.

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Dear and Reverend Sir,

I call you dear because I love you ; and I shall con-
tinue to stile you reverend as long as you dignify me
with that title. It is, indeed, a pretty sounding epithet,
and forms a striking contrast in the usual application.
The inhabitants of the moon, (if there be any), have,
perhaps, no idea how many reverend, right reverend,
and most reverend sinners we have in England. And
yet you are reverend, and I revere you, because I be-
lieve the Lordliveth in you, and has chosen you to be a
temple of his presence, and an instrument of his grace.

I hope the two sermons you preached in London were
made useful to others ; and the medicines you took there
were useful to yourself. I am glad to hear you are safe
at home, and something better. Cheerful spring is ap-
proaching, then I hope the barometer of your spirits will
rise. But the presence of the Lord can bring a plea-
santer spring than April, and even in the depth of
winter. That heathenish, fulsome compliment of Horace
to Augustus, is a beautiful prayer in the mouth of a
Christian, and has sometimes touched my heart, as if \
had found it in the Bible.

" Lucem redde, tuae, dux bone, patriae ;
Instar yens enim vultus ubi tuns
Affulsit populo, gratior it dies
Et soles melius intent."

Time has been when I could say, and did say, some-
thing like this, in my own way : —

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" How tedious and tasteless the hoars

When Jesus no longer I see !
Sweet prospects, sweet birds, and sweet flowers

Have lost all their sweetness with me.
The Midsummer sun shines but dim —

The fields strive in vain to look gay ;
But when I am happy in him,

December's as pleasant as May."

At present it is January with me, both within and
without. The outward sun shines and looks pleasant,
but his beams are faint, and too feeble to dissolve the
frost. So is it in my heart. I have many bright and
pleasant beams of truth in my view, but cold predomi-
nates in my frost-bound spirit, and they have but little
power to warm me. I could tell a stranger something
about Jesus, that would perhaps astonish him. Such a
glorious person, such wonderful love, such humiliation,
such a death. And then, what he is now in himself,
and what he is to his people. What a Sun ! what a
Shield ! what a Root ! what a Life ! what a Friend ! My
tongue can run on upon these subjects sometimes, and
could my heart keep pace with it, I should be the hap-
piest fellow in the country. Stupid creature ! to know
these things so well, and yet be no more affected with
them. Indeed, I have reason to be upon ill terms with
myself. It is strange that pride should ever find any
thing in my experience to feed upon ; but this completes
my character for folly, vilencss, and inconsistence, that I
am not only poor but proud ; and though I am convinced
I am a very wretch, as nothing before the Lord, I am
prone to go forth among my fellow-creatures as though
I were wise and good.

You wonder what I am doing, and well you may. I
am sure you would, if you lived with me. Too much of
my time passes in busy idleness, too much in waking
dreams. I aim at something, but hinderances from within

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and without make it difficult for me to accomplish any
thing. I have written three or four pages since you was
here, in the little book I showed you. It is to be but about
the size of a shilling pamphlet ; and if I go on as I have
begun, it may be finished before Christmas. I dare not
say I am absolutely idle, or that I wilfully waste much of
my time. I think I could complete my book in five or
six days, if I had nothing else to do ; but I have seldom
one hour free from interruption. Letters come that must
be answered — visitants that must be received — business
that must be attended to. I have a good many sheep
and lambs to look after, sick and afflicted souls dear to
the Lord ; and therefore whatever stands still, these must
not be neglected. Amongst these various avocations,
night comes before I am ready for noon, and the week
closes when, according to the state of my business, it
should nbt be more than Tuesday. Oh precious irreco-
verable time ! Oh that I had more wisdom in redeeming
and improving thee ! Pray for me, that the Lord may
teach me to serve him better.

Mrs. Newton has been one week confined to her cham-
ber through illness, but is pretty well again . We abound
in mercies and causes for gratitude ; but what a shame
and pity to make such poor returns to the Author of
them ! I long to come to Newport to see you, but I
believe I must wait for that pleasure till the days are a
little longer. In the meantime you will be as welcome
to us here, if you will trot over, as a new guinea to a
miser's pocket.

I am, very affectionately, yours,


P. 8. Send or bring me some notes on Job. xiv. 14 ;
w Prov. iii. 6, or any other texts.
27th January, '78.

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Naughty Sir,

To keep me at home four afternoons upon the tip-toe
of expectation, and not come near me at last If you
cannot send me a certificate, signed by the apothecary
and churchwardens, specifying that you were too ill to
travel, I have reason to be angry with you. But to show
my forgiving spirit, if you will come over on Monday to
dinner, I will give you something to eat, and your par-
don in form.

I am to preach (if I can) three times on Fast-day, but
have at present fixed only upon one text, .which, for a cer-
tain reason, I shall not mention to you at present. I send
you, however, according to order, a text and a plan which
I found among my old papers. I preached it about six-
teen years ago to a congregation of about twelve, in my
own house, sometime before I was brought into the pub-
lic ministry. I have not time to read it over ; but if it
may put any hints in your way, it is at your service. I
cannot send you my present thoughts upon another text,
for a plain reason, namely, that I am not able yet to think
for myself; and I must receive before I can communi-
cate. It would be mocking you to offer you drink out of
an empty vessel.

Since I have begun to write, I have thought perhaps
one of my texts will be either Ps. xcvii. 1, or Ps. xcix. 1.
The whole system of my politics is summed up in that
one sentence, " The Lord reigneth !" I wish you would
send me, by the bearer, some hints towards a sermon on
it. It would be a good text if I knew how. to ma-
nage it.

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The times look awfully dark indeed ; and as the clouds
grow thicker, the stupidity of the nation seems pro-
portionally to increase. If the Lord had not a remnant
here, I should have very formidable apprehensions. But
he loves his children ; some are sighing and mourning
before him, and I am sure he hears their sighs, and sees
their tears. I trust there is mercy in store for us at the
bottom ; but I expect a shaking time before things get
into a right channel, before we are humbled, and are
taught to give him the glory. The state of the nation,
the state of the churches, both are deplorable. They
who should be praying, or too many of them, are dis-
puting and fighting among themselves. Alas ! how
many professor are more concerned for the mistakes of
government, or of the Americans, than for their own
sins ; — when will these things end ?

Love me, and pray for me, and come to see me, for I
cannot come to you. With my love and Mrs. Newton's
to you and Mrs. Bull,

I remain, your obliged friend,

Olney, 24 Feb., 78.


Dear Sir,

I am so monstrous busy, I have hardly time to tell
you how sorry I am for my disappointment, and your
illness, which was the cause of it. Indeed, I am as sorry

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for both, as a Calvinist ought to be. It was the time
you and I appointed for meeting ; had it been the Lord's
time, nothing could have prevented you. I wish he may
give yon leave to come next Monday, or any day after
to-morrow which you please, only send word. What
think you of it ? I have a double motive for wishing to
see you now, because, besides having your company, it
would be a proof you were better.

Last Sunday afternoon we had a great personage with
us at church. I endeavoured to persuade all the congre-
gation to kiss him. But though I talked a whole hour
about it, few would comply. Alas ! it was because they
did not know him ; and though I told them who he was,
they would not believe me.

* * * * * *


Dear Sir,

When I found the morning coaches came in without
you, 1 was not much disappointed at not meeting you at
home, when I returned from Brickhill. I know how
difficult it is to get away from Northampton if you are
seen in the street after breakfast. The horseleach has
three daughters, saying, Give, give : the cry there is,
Preach, preach. When you have told them all, you
must tell them more, or tell it them over again. Who-
ever will find tongue, they will engage to find ears. Yet
I do not blame this importunity. I wish you were teazed
more with it in your own town; for though undoubtedly

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there are too many both at Northampton and here whose
religion lies too much in hearing; yet, in many, it pro-
ceeds from a love to the truth, and to the ministers who
dispense it. And I generally observe that they who- are
not willing to hear a stranger (if his character be known)
are indifferent enough about hearing their, own minister.

Upon the whole, I was not sorry you staid, though I
missed your company, for I hoped you would be useful ;
and Mrs. Bull's kindness was such, as gave me no reason
to complain of my visit. I had, however, a little pleasant
talk with Mr. Goode* after tea.

I would have asked you, had you been at home, to
come o\er to-morrow. We would have given you a bit
of dinner, provided you would have preached to us at
night ; and I suppose Mr. Whitfordf would have thanked
me for engaging you. We are rather upon the preach,
preach, here, but we only want to hear those who can
tell us about Jesus,, and stir us up to live to him. The
bit of dinner is still at your service if you will come ; and
whenever you will come.

I beg you to pray for me. I am a poor creature, full
of wants. I seem to need the wisdom of Solomou, the
meekness of Moses, and the zeal of Paul, to enable me
to make full proof of my ministry. But, alas I you may
guess- the rest.

Send me " The Way to Christ."J I am willing to be
a debtor to the wise and unwise, to doctors and shoe-
makers, if I can get a hint or a nota bene from any one,

* Afterwards the Rev. John Goode, for many years minister at
White Row Meeting, Spitalfields, London ; at this time pursuing
his studies under the direction of Mr. Bull.

f The Independent minister at Olney.
i $ A treatise by Jacob Behmen.

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without respect to parties. When a house is on fire,
Churchmen and Dissenters, Methodists, Papists, Mora-
vians, and Mystics, are aU welcome to bring water. At
such times nobody asks, •• Pray friend, where do yon hear ?
or what do you think of the five points ?

Love and thanks to Mrs. Bull, &c,

28IA April, 78.


Mon Cher Monsieur Bull,

*Hs*xWith I send my sheep's clothing, as an earnest of
my purpose to follow it on Tuesday morning, to beg a
breakfast with you, if the Lord permit.

My frien'd Captain Scott will pass through Newport,
on his way to Olney, on Tuesday. As it is possible I
may be then engaged with my tatters; and as such
persons as he and you must not dine with the "we
ptokchers*'* of the Establishment, when we meet in
Pontifical ibus, I have invited him to quarter an hour or
two at yotir house » till I am at liberty to call for him,
and escort him home.

I have no doubt of a good dinner at the visitation,
which you must not partake of ; but you shall be wel-
come to a share of the sermon : I wish it may prove to

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Online LibraryJohn NewtonOne hundred and twenty nine letters from the Rev. John Newton .. → online text (page 1 of 21)