John Newton to Thomas Robinson

24. 13 February 1786*
My Dear Friend
Your letter slipped out of sight (I cannot find it yet); and in the midst of my mighty businesses, slipped too much out of my memory, or you should have had an answer sooner, to one part at least. I love Leicester, the people of Leicester at least, and should be glad to visit them. But if you are asked the reasons why you do not come to London; they will pretty well apply in my case, and suggest an excuse for my not leaving it. Time was when my dear and I could step into a stage, travel all night, etc. So perhaps I could now; but she cannot, and leave her behind without a clear and positive call of duty, I cannot. She is often very poorly, and would, I know, be uncom­fortable if I was at a great distance. We were once young, but now we are growing old, and cannot balloon it about, as formerly. The only method of tra­velling which would suit us is very expensive. For though through the Lord's goodness, I may say I have all and abound with respect to the line in which I move, I have not such aboundings as to authorize my diverging very much from it. Then again competent supplies for my church (on a Sunday) are not easily, or rather not at all, to be procured. And unless they were competent, I dare not move, unless my call of duty to go abroad, was evidently more important and pressing than that which requires my stay at home. Thus, my dear Eliza's case called us twice into Hampshire, but she is gone. Soon after Lady Day,[1] we are to remove into the City,[2] the time, hurry, and expense which this will require, renders travelling still more difficult. So that, though I should be glad to see Leicester at any time, and especially when you had a particular service for me—I must beg you not to expect me at present.
The Lord has enabled me to finish my sermons on the Messiah. They are nearly half printed off, and will, I hope, be ready for publication about Easter. My heart was much engaged about this service from the first; rather, I hope, from the thought that it might be seasonable, and by His blessing useful, than from an idea of self-importance. But alas! too much of self cleaves to all that I do. It proved a pleasant employment, both in preaching the sermons, and afterwards in writing them out for the press. And though my interruptions were many, I was enabled to execute my task in about ten months.[3] It will appear in two pretty large octavo volumes. For as I had the lovers of sacred music—that is, your genteel sort of folks—chiefly in view, I am obliged to print it handsomely to induce them to read. Possibly, now, Coronidem imposui.[4] If it be so, I could not leave off with a more delightful and important subject. May the last efforts of my tongue and pen be to the praise of Him, who remembered me in my low estate. It is not likely, that at my time of life, I should attempt anything of a large size, or more than an essay or paper for a magazine or the like. It will be well if henceforth I can redeem a little time immediately for myself, to feed upon the good Word of God, and to familiarize to my thoughts, the great transi­tion which is before me, which cannot be very distant. I am not my own. I wish to know and follow the Lord's will today, and to leave tomorrow, and all the unknown morrows in His hand. He found me literally in a waste howling wilderness, He has led me about, placed me in a variety of situations, in all which He did me good and kept me as the apple of His eye.[5] Every successive change He has appointed me has been to my advantage, both in point of comfort and usefulness. I degraded myself to the lowest state of wickedness and misery; but He has honoured me, put me among His children, among His ministers, given me acceptance and friends, supported me under many trials, and merci­fully  borne with such provocations and ingratitude on my part, as are only known (well it is for me) to Him, and to my conscience. Hitherto He has helped me,[6] and now I am old and grey-headed, I am encouraged to hope that He will not forsake me.
My dear friend, assist me to praise Him, and continue your prayers for me, that I may live to Him and for Him, to the end. That whether my remaining time be longer or shorter, it may be devoted to His service. And then I may wait, calmly, patiently and thankfully, till my appointed change come. I desire to thank Him for His goodness to you and yours, for all that He does for you, and by you. I have not time to enlarge more, nor can I advert to particulars in your letter, because I have mislaid it. When it comes to hand, if there is anything requires an answer, I will endeavour to write again soon. Let me hear from you when you can. Please to enclose your letters for me under cover to Samuel Thornton Esq, MP,[7] London. He or one of his brothers will kindly frank mine to you. We join in love to Mrs Robinson and all our dear friends at Leicester, as if named. I do not, I cannot, forget one of them, nor their kindness.—I am always your affectionate and obliged,
London, 13th February, 1786   John Newton
*    The Evangelical Register, 1838; page 220, No. 8  


[1] Lady Day in the church’s calendar is 25 March, celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus.
[2] Newton to William Bull, “I no more thought of removing into the city, when I saw you last, than of going to Bengal; but sure enough, I have taken a house in Coleman-street Buildings. It will be mine at Lady Day. But, first, we cannot go into it sooner than we can; there is some painting to be done, and then we must wait awhile for the smell of the paint to go off a little.” 13 March 1786
[3] the 'task' completed in ten months refers to writing out (and editing) the sermons for publication, rather than the time taken to preach the series
[4] Coronidem imposui: 'I sumbitted the final flourish', i.e. considering my age, it is likely to be my very last offering in print
[5] This is one of Newton’s favourite verses, referring back to the utter degradation he was in, both physically and spiritually, on Plantane Island prior to his conversion at sea in 1748. Deuteronomy 32:10 He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.
[6] Newton loved to “raise his Ebenezer” in thankfulness to the Lord for past blessings. 1 Samuel 7:12 Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us. See for example ‘Fear not’, Begone unbeliefOlney Hymns, Book 3, Hymn 37, verse 3:

His love in time past, forbids me to think
He'll leave me at last in trouble to sink,
Each sweet Ebenezer I have in review,
Confirms his good pleasure, to help me quite through.
[7] Samuel Thornton (1755-1838), eldest son of John Thornton (1720-1790), became a director of the Bank of England at the age of twenty-five. Newton’s Diary, 16 October 1775: “ST [Samuel Thornton] who has just left me, is I trust thy servant, and visited me for thy sake. He tells me his short visit was pleasant, and he hopes profitable. Accept my thanks. O confirm thy work in him. Make him happy in himself, useful in life.”



Marylynn Rouse, 10/07/2015