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[Beyond the intrinsic value of the following letters, arising out of the important truths they contain, there is connected with them an additional interest, from the circumstance that personal experience had taught their author all that in them he expressed.
The name of the Rev. John Newton, the friend and associate of the poet "Cowper, will always claim the respect and veneration of those who have any regard to that spiritual religion of which he was so long an able minister, and who attach any honour to a character in which consistency and usefulness were the prominent features. Yet,
-as the simple monument erected to his memory, in the church of St. Mary Woolnoth, London, testifies -he was "once an infidel and libertine,” although, “by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had once laboured to destroy.” In his childhood he had been otherwise taught: but having been, while a youth, and when engaged as a midshipman on board a man-of-war, thrown into the company of those who affected to disbelieve the truth of Christianity, he plunged into the depths of infidelity, and renounced at once the hopes and comforts of the Gospel. His personal history presents an unusual variety of affecting incident. Many years of his life were passed far from home, and in circumstances most painful and humiliating. It was during a voyage home from the coast of Africa that he was led to see the error of his ways, and became the subject of that change of heart, the results of which were seen in the subsequent holiness and devotedness of his life. He had retired to rest one night in his usual security, but was awaked from a sound sleep by the breaking of a violent sea over the vessel, accompanied by a cry of distress. The vessel was a mere wreck in a few moments. He joined in the exertions which were necessary to preserve it from sinking, until from excessive exhaustion he went and lay down upon his bed, uncertain, and almost indifferent, whether he should rise again. In an hour's time he was .called again, and not having strength to work at the pump, he went to the helm. It was while standing here that serious reflections forced themselves upon his mind. He began to think of his former regard to religion-of the extraordinary changes in his life-the calls, warnings, and deliverances he had met with,—and especially his memory reverted to his habit of making the Gospel history the subject of profane ridicule. He felt assured that, on the supposition that the Scriptures were true, there never was, nor could be, such a sinner as himself, and that his case must eeds be hopeless. Many passages of Scripture, which in earlier life he had learned, now came fresh to his recollection, and seemed so exactly to suit bis case and character, that they brought with them a presumptive proof of their Divine original. The efforts to save the vessel promised to be availing; and as the gleam of hope arose, he thought he recognised the hand of God displayed in this favourable circumstance. To use his own expression, “ I began to pray. I could not utter the prayer of faith-I could not draw near to a reconciled God, and call him Father,-my prayer was like the cry of the ravens, which yet the Lord does not disdain to hear. I now began to think of that Jesus whom I had so often derided. I recollected the particulars of his life and death-a death for sins not his own, but, as I remen,bered, for the sake of those, who in their distress should put their trust in him. And now I chiefly wanted evidence. The comfortless principles of infidelity were deeply rivetted, and I rather wished than believed these things were really facts.
The great question now was, how I should gain an assurance that the Scriptures were of Divine inspiration, and a sufficient warrant for the exercise of trust and hope in God. One of the first helps I (subsequently) received, (in consequence of a determination to examine the New Testament more carefully,) was from Luke xi. 13. I had been sensible that to profess faith in Jesus Christ, when, in reality, I did not believe his history, was no better than a mockery of the heart-searching God; but here I found a Spirit spoken of, which was to be communicated to those who ask it. Upon this I reasoned thus;—if this book be true, the promise in this passage must be true likewise. I have need of that very Spirit, by which the whole was written, in order to understand it aright. God has engaged here to give that Spirit to those who ask -I must therefore pray for it—and if it be of God, he will make good his own word. My purposes were strengthened by John vii. 17–* If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. I concluded from thence, that though I could not say froin my heart that I believed the Gospel, yet I would for the present take it for granted, and that by studying it in this light I should be more and more confirmed in it. If what I am writing could be perused by infidels, they would say (for I too well know their manner) that I was very desirous to persuade myself into this opinion. I confess I was; and so would they be, if the Lord should show them, as he was pleased to show me at that time, the absolute necessity of some expedient to interpose between a righteous God and a sinful soul. Upon the Gospel scheme I saw a peradventure of hope, but on every other side I was surrounded with black, unfathomable despair.”
Such were the workings of Mr. Newton's mind, commencing amid the terrors of the tempest, and carried on as the vessel drew near its port. His leisure was chiefly employed in reading, meditating on the Scriptures, and prayer for mercy and instruction. Before the voyage was ended, he adds, "I had a satisfactory evidence in my own mind, of the truth of the Gospel as considered in itself, and of its suitableness to answer all my need. I saw that by the way it pointed out, God might declare, not his mercy only, but his justice also, in the pardon of sin, on account of the obedience and sufferings of Jesus Christ. My judgment at that time embraced the sublime doctrine of "God manifested in the flesh, reconciling the world to himself.'
I stood in need of an Almighty Saviour; and such an one I found described in the New Testament.” This was the commencement of the spiritual life of this eminent servant of God. By degrees his religious knowledge increased; his principles became confirmed; and through a course of events, in which it is impossible not to discern the hand of Him, who is alone the God of providence and grace, he was led to consecrate his life to the service of Christ, in the discharge of the honourable and responsible duties of the Christian ministry.
It is not a matter of surprise, that when brought to know the value of real religion, he felt a deep interest in the souls of any whose circumstances were at all analogous to those which were once his own-who
were, “ lovers of pleasure, more than lovers of God”and whose minds were unwilling to allow to Divine revelation its full value and real importance. Advantage was taken of opportu. nities which seemed to promise a favourable reception of his efforts; and hence the period of recovery from illness was selected in the case of the first of the two letters now subjoined, for the sake of introducing. to the notice of a friend "the things which make for peace." With respect to both of these communications, it is hoped that, though many years have past since they were written, the appeals they contain mav still be found worthy of the deepest attention, and prove the reans of suggesting serious considerations to some, who are conscious of not having sufficiently considered the claims of the religion of the Bible.]
LETTER TO A FRIEND ON HIS RECOVERY FROM SICKNESS.
DEAR SIR, I suppose you will receive many congratulations on your recovery from your late dangerous illness; most of them, perhaps, more sprightly and better turned, but none, I persuade myself, more sincere and affectionate, than mine. I beg you would prepare yourself by this good opinion of me, before you read further; and let the reality of my regard excuse what you may dislike in
my manner of
expressing it. When a person has returned from a doubtful, distant voyage, we are naturally led to inquire into the incidents he has met with, and the discoveries he has made. Indulge me in a curiosity of this kind; especially as my affection gives me an interest and concern in the event. You have been, my friend, upon the brink, the very edge, of an eternal estate; but God has restored you back to the world again. Did you meet with, or have
you brought back, nothing new ? Did nothing occur to stop or turn your usual train of thought? Were your apprehensions of invisible things exactly the same, in the height of your disorder. when you were cut off from the world, and all its engagements, as when you were in perfect health, and in the highest enjoyment of your own inclinations ? If you answer me, _“Yes, all things are just the same as formerly, the difference between sickness and health only excepted,” — I am at a loss how to reply. I can only sigh and wonder ;--sigh, that it should be thus with any—that it should be thus with you, whom I dearly love; and wonder, since this unhappy case, strange as it seems in one view, is yet so frequent, why it was not always thus with myself—for long and often it was just so. Many a time, when sickness had brought me, as we say, to death's door, I was as easy and insensible as the sailor, who, in the height of a storm, should presume to sleep upon the top of the mast; quite regardless, that the next tossing wave might plunge him into the raging ocean, beyond all possibility of relief. But at length a day came, which, though the most terrible day I ever saw, I can now look back upon with thankfulness and pleasure ; I say, the time came, when, in such a helpless extremity, and under the expectation of immediate death, it pleased God to command the veil from my eyes, and I saw things in some measure as they really were. Imagine within yourself a person trembling upon the point of a dreadful precipice-a powerful and inexorable enemy eager to push him down and an assemblage of all that is horrible waiting at the bottom for his fall: even this will give you but a faint representation of the state of my mind at that time. Believe me, it was not a whim, or a dream, which changed my sentiments and conduct, but a powerful conviction, which will not admit the least doubt; an evidence, which, like that I have of my own existence, I cannot call in question, without contradicting all my senses. And though my case was in some respects uncommon, yet something like it is known by one and another every day; and I have myself conversed with many, who, after a course of years spent in defending deistical principles, or indulging libertine practices, when they have thought themselves confirmed in their schemes by the cool assent of what they then deemed impartial reason, have been, like me, brought to “glory in the cross of Christ,” and to live by that faith which they had before slighted and opposed. By these instances, I know that nothing is too hard for the Almighty. The same power which humbled me, can undoubtedly bring down the most haughty infidel upon earth. And as I likewise know, that to show his power he is often pleased to make use of weak instruments, I am encouraged, notwithstanding the apparent difficulty of succeeding, to warn those over whom friendship or affection gives me any influence, of the evil and the danger of a course of life formed upon the prevailing maxims of the world. So far as I neglect this, I am unfaithful in my professions both to God and man.
I shall not at present trouble you in an argumentative way.. If, by dint of reasoning, I could effect some change in your notions, my arguments, unless applied by a superior power, will still leave your heart unchanged and untouched. give his assent to the Gospel, and be able to defend it against others, and yet not have his own spirit influenced by it. This thought I shall leave with you,—that if your scheme be not true to a demonstration, it must necessarily be false—for the issue is too important to make a doubt on the dangerous side tolerable. If the Christian could possibly be mistaken, he is still upon equal terms with those who pronounce him to be so ; but if the Deist be wrong, (that is, if we are in the right,) the consequence to him must be unavoidable and intolerable This,
say, is a trite argument. I own it; but, beaten as it is,
A man may
· it will never be worn out or answered. Permit me to remind you, that the points in debate between us are already settled in themselves, and that our talking cannot alter or affect the nature of things; for they will be as they are, whatever apprehensions we may form of them; and remember, likewise, that we must all, each one for himself, experience on which side the truth lies. I used a wrong word, when I spoke of your recovery; my dear friend, look upon it only as a reprieve--for you carry the sentence of death about with you still; and, unless you should be cut off which God, of his mercy, forbid!) by a sudden stroke, you will as surely be upon a death-bed, as you have been now raised from a bed of sickness. And remember, likewise, (how can I bear to write it ?) that should you neglect my admonitions, they will, .notwithstanding, have an effect upon you, though not such an effect as I could wish. They will render you more inexcusable. I have delivered my own soul by faithfully warning you; but if you will not examine the matter with that seriousness it calls for—if you will not look up to God, the former of your body, and the preserver of your spirit, for direction and assistance how to please him if you
will have your reading and conversation only on one side of the question--if you determine to let afflictions and dangers, mercies and deliverances, all pass without reflection and improvement—if you will spend your life as though you thought you were sent into the world only to eat, sleep, and play, and after a course of years be extinguished like the snuff of a candle --why then you must abide the consequences. But, assuredly, sooner or later, God will meet you. My hearty daily prayer is, that it may be in a way of mercy, and that you may be added to the number of the trophies of his invincible grace.- I am, &c.
RELIGION ESSENTIAL TO REAL HAPPINESS. DEAR SIR,—Though I truly love you, and have no reason to doubt of the reality of your friendship to me, yet I cannot but apprehend, that, notwithstanding our mutual regard, and my frequent attempts to be witty (if I could) for your diversion, there is a something in most of my letters, (which I cannot, dare not, wholly suppress,) that disgusts and wearies you, and makes
less inclined to keep up a frequent intercourse than you would otherwise be. Rather than lose you quite, I will in general spare you as much as I can; but at present you must bear with me, and allow me full scope You have given me a challenge which I know not how to pass over; and since you so far justify my preaching as to condescend to preach (in your