John Newton to Thomas Robinson

3. n/d [from March 1777]*
Dear Sir
Your last letter has made me doubly in your debt, and I must defer no longer. I thank you for it. We are glad to hear of your welfare and Mrs Robinson's, and wish I could help you with a brother curate, who would enter into all your views, and strengthen your hands. But I know not where to look. Mr Foster[1] is the most likely person to give you intelligence; I should have written to him about it, but as you know him yourself, I have not.
The operation I went through in October succeeded very happily.[2] And the Lord made the time of my confinement at London so comfortable in every respect, that I do not consider that affair in the number of my trials. Something much more painful awaited me on my return home: I was wounded much deeper in the person of Mrs Newton, who, the third night after we came from London, was instantaneously attacked with a very alarming nervous disorder in her head. Six weeks, or thereabouts, we were in great distress; then the cloud began to clear up; the Lord relieved in answer to prayer. And I hope we shall have cause to praise Him both for wounding and healing. However, though she is comparatively well, there is still something of the indisposition remaining for the exercise of faith, prayer, and patience. We long to be able to say from our hearts, “it is the Lord, let Him do as seemeth Him good.” He is gracious, and ten thousand mer­cies, with which we are encompassed daily, are witnesses and proofs that He delighteth in our prosperity, and that we are never in heaviness without a need be for it. Lord, help us to believe that all shall work together for good, and enable us to yield ourselves to Thee, as clay into the hands of the potter!
My removal to Hull [3] was in suspense for six or seven weeks. This likewise was a time of trial. I hope I was enabled to be simple in it. I had much to feel and fear, if I left Olney, but seemed willing to sacrifice all, if the Lord called me. I thought I was going. I consented to go. My testimonials were sent to London, and I followed them. But the intense united prayers of my dear people prevailed. Then the Lord was seen in the Mount: it was His doing, and marvellous in their eyes, and in my own. So it was that I obtained an honourable and satisfactory release. The griefs, anxieties, and searching of hearts, which this dispensation occasioned, will not, I hope, be soon forgotten. I trust the Lord will sanctify it, to quicken us to a more lively sense of our privileges, and greater diligence in the improvement of them. Perhaps few people are more desirous, than I am afraid, of preferment. Here the Lord brought me, here He has blessed me; I have an affectionate few who are dear to me, and, I am persuaded, dear to Him. I ought to be willing to leave them at an hour's warning, if such were His will. But otherwise I cannot wish it. I might have a more certain, or a larger income in another place: I might have a finer title; be called Mr Vicar, or the Rector. I might have wiser, finer, or richer people about me; but in all these things I see more of snares or of thorns, than of real comforts. The most seducing plea is that of greater useful­ness; and there is something in my heart which, while I feel myself sadly negli­gent, and unprofitable in my present place, seems very ready to promise, that I should be wondrous wise, zealous, and faithful, in a post of much greater difficulty. But I have reason to suspect deceit in these fair pretences. To the Lord's praise, and not my own, be it spoken, I am not wholly unuseful here; and besides a little that is going on at home, I have what we call connections, which are tolerably extensive, considering who I am. These have been many years in forming, and if they were broken, and I transplanted into a far distant place, perhaps my honour's usefulness might lose as much one way as it gained another. In a word, I am thankful, not merely for avoiding much pain and trouble which I should have known, if I had gone from hence, but that I am perfectly satisfied my continu­ance here is agreeable to the Lord's will, and have therefore a good hope that He will surely bless me to my people, and to others yet uncalled. For I see to live in His will is the to en[4]. No great matter where, or how, or what, so that His will may be done, and His name glorified in me, and by me. Should He be pleased to show me that He would have me go, I hope He will enable me to leave this place as cheerfully as I would go from a prison; but till then it is the place of my choice, and if I may but enjoy His presence, and see the flock committed to me thrive under my ministry, I shall be well content to have it written upon my grave-stone (if a grave-stone should fall to my lot), he lived and died Curate of Olney.[5] Time and paper fail. Our love to Mrs Robinson, and all friends. Pray for us, that we may come in peace and safety, and for an exchange of blessings.      
Yours, in our dear Lord,
  John Newton
*    The Evangelical Register, 1838; page 149, No. 4

[1] Henry Foster (1745-1814), was at this time assistant to William Romaine, holding several lectureships in London churches. Newton had tried in vain to entice him to Olney as his own assistant. However, Foster did stand in for him during absences.
[2] From Newton’s diary, 7 May 1776: “Monday morning went to Huntingdon; consulted Dr R about the excrescence which has been growing many years on my thigh. I leave the event to thee. I am advised to submit to an operation. Lord show me what I ought to do, and enable me to submit to thy will in everything.
25 June 1776: “After breakfast consulted Mr [Joseph] Warner on my wen. It is determined if thou pleasest, that I returned to London some months hence, and submit to an operation. In this and everything else, I desire to submit and entrust myself to thy will and care.”
18 November 1776: “The operation was performed on the 10th October by Mr Warner of Guy's Hospital, and though the pain was sharp thou didst support me and make it very tolerable. The cure by thy blessing was happily expedited – so that on Sunday the 27th I was enabled to go to church and hear Mr Foster, and the Sunday following to preach for him. The tenderness and attention of Dr and Mrs Ford with whom we were, I cannot sufficiently describe – nor indeed the kindness of many other friends. To them I would be thankful my Lord, but especially to thee, for what are creatures but instruments in thy hand, fulfilling thy pleasure.”
[3] On 22 January 1777 Newton received a letter from John Thornton, proposing “a removal to Hull. If it be thy will make it plain, but O without thy call, leading and blessing, let no charges of creatures make me desirous of quitting my post.” It appeared to Newton “not eligible on more accounts than one. The Gospel is there already in plenty [Joseph Milner was then afternoon lecturer at Holy Trinity] – and I think the way is not clearly open, as the incumbent [Isaac Thompson] died suddenly [12 January 1777], and there was no previous agreement about the presentation, and therefore I conceive nothing can be now done legally. O may thy gracious Spirit influence his mind and mine, that neither of us may do a wrong thing.” Thornton’s reply confused Newton: “I was disappointed, and delivered, pleased and hurt, thought I had done right and then that I had done wrong.” He eventually confided in a parishioner about his dilemma, but “before evening it was a good deal circulated about the town”, placing him under even more pressure. Post after post arrived “without any news about Hull”, until eventually, on 3 March, “The long expected letter came tonight, and thy will, my Lord, seems now to determine for my removal.” He was summonsed to London, with “anxious and painful” feelings about Hull. “But immediately upon my arrival I found relief, this cup is removed from me and Mr [John] King appointed in my stead. Dispatched the news to my people that night, and they received it on the 13th. And now the return of the 13th March is to supersede the annual commemoration of the 1st February. Thou hast given us a Hull Day, instead of a Cottingham Day which was growing old. Lord make us thankful and fruitful.” The appointment he was spared was to the perpetual curacy of North Ferriby, Kingston upon Hull, St Mary in the Town (interestingly, three generations of John Scotts, the first being the son of Newton’s disciple Thomas Scott, were to be vicars of St Mary, Lowgate, Hull).
In January 1767, Newton’s name had been put forward for a vacancy at St Mary’s, Cottingham (6 miles NW of Hull), (Josiah Bull incorrectly suggests this was Cottenham in Cambridgeshire – the names Cottenham and Cottingham were sometimes used for the same place and for the same surname). To Newton’s relief, William Wilkinson was instituted vicar at Cottingham on 27 July 1767.
[4]  to en: literally, “ the one thing”; hence “the essential / the one thing that really matters / the heart of the matter” (with thanks to Alec Motyer)
[5] Newton became rector of St Mary Woolnoth in December 1779, until his death in December 1807. The same words on the epitaph he designed for himself, which was placed in St Mary Woolnoth, were inscribed on his tomb in Olney when he and his wife were re-interred there in 1893 (they were moved due to work on the London Underground at Bank Tube Station, beneath the vaults of St Mary’s).


Marylynn Rouse, 08/06/2015