John Newton to Thomas Robinson

7. 17 February 1779*
My Dear Friend  

My hymn-book is at length finished and packed off for London.[1] While this service was in hand, and the nearer it approached to a conclu­sion, it was some weight upon my mind, and my desire to have quite done with it daily increased. Now I can attend to my correspondents a little. Your letter, though among the last I have received, will be among the first that obtains an answer, because I love you, and feel myself much interested in your affairs, and because I choose to keep you in debt as much as possible, that I may please myself with the expectation of hearing from you again.  

The difficulties which attend your entrance upon St. Mary's will be a gentle exercise for your faith and patience.[2] The circumspection, wisdom, and meekness, which you will ask and obtain from the Lord (for they who ask receive), will gradually surmount them. Some of your opponents will be shamed, and some, I trust, converted. Fight on manfully; the weapons which I am persuaded you will choose to employ in your warfare, will infallibly insure[assure] you the victory. It is no wonder, if some of your parishioners are offended and mortified at present. Satan, without doubt, is greatly so—his dominion, in Leicester, is shaken; and if he has any influence remaining, either in town or corporation, he will avail himself of it, against you, as much as possible. But though he may rattle the chain in which the Lord holds him, and stretch to the end of it, he cannot break it; and with all his bustle, he shall be forced to do you unwilling service. I wish to help you with my prayers. The advice and directions which you are so humble to ask for, I am not quite so proud as to offer. Nor is any person capable of advising you, who is not perfectly acquainted with the circumstances in which you move. But I greatly approve of your determination to weary the singers out, rather than come to a close engagement with them.[3] I hope you will soon have a party among them. If the Lord enables you to fix an arrow of conviction in their hearts, it will spoil their singing anthems to your disturbance. As their anthems are usually in words of Scripture, they may now and then, perhaps, help you to a text, and an occasional explanation of what they have often sung without meaning, may make them attend to something more than the tune.  

I rejoice that you account St. Mary's, with all its abatements and incumbrances, a very great living. If you did not, you would not be worthy of it; but as you do, I have little doubt but that you will find it so. As to temporals, for every shilling that is withdrawn, the Lord can easily give you two; where you gain the heart, the purse will follow so far as is necessary. He will make churls kind, and misers generous, rather than you shall want what He sees convenient and suitable for you. While He helps you to do His business, you may confidently depend on Him to take care of yours.  

Mrs Newton has been indeed ill again and again since you were here; and though, at present, tolerably well, her health is very precarious. I bless the Lord, though the flesh rather flinches when touched closely in a tender part, my mind is, upon the whole, composed and resigned to His wise and gracious will, and has shown me the propriety and importance of the truths, kindly suggested in your letter. It would be better that my tongue should cleave to the roof of my mouth, than that I should be left to dishonour my ministry, by impatience or despondence under His dispensations. I dare not promise for myself, for I am unstable as water. I do rely upon Him to strengthen me according to my day. I propose Him to others as an all-sufficient good, and as such, I hope, to find Him for myself. After having lived together with much comfort, surrounded with mercies for more than twenty-nine years, we must expect changes, as life verges towards a decline. She joins me in love to you and Mrs Robinson, and to all my dear Leicester friends, whom I have not left room to enumerate—but they are all upon my mind.  

Believe me to be affectionately yours,
Olney, Feb. 17, 1779 John Newton
*    The Evangelical Register, 1838; page 311, No. 12

[1] Newton’s diary, Saturday 13 February: “This day by thy blessing, my gracious Lord, I finished the Hymns and purpose sending the book on Monday to be printed. O Thou God of all Grace, may it please thee to bless the publication. My heart devotes it to thee, and to thy service. I trust thy good Spirit and influences produced it. Whatever I am, have or do is of thee, for in myself there is no sufficiency. O may I devote all to thee, and never aim short of thy glory. Another week closes upon me in peace. May thy grace make me thankful.” Monday 15 February 1779: “Yesterday sent off the Hymn book, may thy blessing go with it, and own it to the use and acceptance of thy people. I now hope to find leisure for paying debts to my correspondents. Do thou O Lord influence my heart, my open and tongue, that I may in all things aim at thy service, and seek my strength and sufficiency from thee alone.” View half of Newton’s hymns in his own hand here:
[2] Vaughan, pp106-7: “The living of St Mary's was not a bed of roses to the new incumbent… An acrid party spirit divided his congregation, and entangled him with many perplexing difficulties at the moment, though they seem scarcely worth remembering after an interval of nearly forty years.”
[3] Vaughan, pp 106-8: “His present services were interrupted and disordered by the dulcet notes of a flourishing choir of singers, which were far from harmonizing with the grave tones and solemn aspirations of his prayings and preachings… The churchwardens espoused the cause of the singers. Two different psalms were given out and sung, one in the singer's gallery; the other in the clerk's desk: the more opulent parishioners were on one side; the zealous aliens were on the other.”


Marylynn Rouse, 17/06/2015