We know well the influence that John Newton had upon his friend Wilberforce, but the author of “Amazing Grace” exhibited the fruits of grace in his relations with all who knew him. Quick to pick up the pen to encourage a friend, a pastor or missionary, Newton’s abiding faith is eloquently typified by this letter, written in 1776. Bound with City Seminary’s rare 18th Century copy of Newton’s Ecclesiastical History, were four printed letters, the first of which we share with our readers here.
By this time I hope you are both returned in peace, and happy together in you stated favoured tract: rejoicing in the name of Jesus yourselves, and rejoicing to see the favour of it spreading like a NewtonLettersprecious perfume among the people. Every day I hope you find prejudices wearing off, and more disposed to hear the words of life. The Lord has given you a fine first-fruits, which I trust will prove the earnest of a plentiful harvest. In the mean time he will enable you to sow the seed in patience, leaving the event in his hands. Though it does spring up visibly at once, it will not be lost. I think he would not have sent you if he had not a people there to call; but they can only forth to view as he is pleased to bring them. Satan will try to hinder and disturb you, but he is in a chain which he cannot break, nor go a step further than he is permitted. And if you have been instrumental to the conversion of but a few, in those few you have an ample reward already for all the difficulties you have or can meet with. It is more honourable and important to be an instrument of saving one soul, than to rescue a whole kingdom from temporal ruin. Let us therefore while we earnestly desire to be more useful, not forget to be thankful for what the Lord has been pleased already to do for us; and let us expect, knowing whole servants we are, and what a gospel we preach, to see some new miracles wrought from day to day: for indeed every real conversion may be accounted miraculous, being no less than an immediate exertion of that power which made the heavens, and commanded the light to shine out of darkness. Your little telescope in safe. I wish I had more of that clear air and sunshine you speak of, that with you I might have more distinct views of the land of promise. I cannot say my prospect is greatly clouded by doubts of my reaching it at last; but then there is such a languor and deadness hangs upon my mind, that it is almost amazing to me how I can entertain any hopes at all. It seems, if doubting could ever be reasonable, there is no one who has greater reason for doubting that myself. But I know not how to doubt, when I consider the faithfulness, grace, and compassion of him who has promised. If it could be proved that Christ had not died, or that he did not speak the words which are ascribed to him in the gospel, or that he is not able to make them good, or that his word cannot safely be taken; in any of these cases I should doubt to purpose, and lie down in despair.
I am, &c.
April 17, 1776