Five letters to a young man going into the Christian ministry | Letter 4 – John Newton

Letter 4
August 30, 1770.

Dear Sir,
I would steal a few minutes here to write, lest I should not have leisure at home. I have not your letter with me, and therefore can only

answer so far as I retain a general remembrance of the contents.

You will, doubtless, find rather perplexity than advantage from the multiplicity of advice you may receive, if you endeavor to reconcile and adopt the very different sentiments of your friends. I think it will be best to make use of them in a full latitude, that is, to correct and qualify them one by another, and to borrow a little from each, without confining yourself entirely to any. You will probably be advised to different extremes. It will then be impossible to follow both; but it may be practical to find a middle path between them. I believe this will generally prove the best and safest method. Only consult your own temper, and endeavor to incline rather to that side to which you are the least disposed, by the ordinary strain of your own inclination; for on that side you will be in the least danger of erring. Warm and hasty dispositions will seldom move too slow, and those who are naturally languid and cool are as little liable to over-act their part.

With respect to the particulars you instance, I have generally thought you warm and enterprising enough, and therefore thought it best to restrain you; but I meant only to hold you in—until you had acquired some farther knowledge and observation both of yourself and of others. I have the pleasure to hope (especially of late) that you are become more self-distrusting and wary than you were some time ago. And, therefore, as your years and time are advancing, and you have been for a tolerable space under a probation of silence, I can make no objection to your attempting sometimes to speak in select societies; but let your attempts be confined to such—I mean where you are acquainted with the people, or the leading part of them, and be upon your guard against opening yourself too much among strangers. And again, I earnestly desire you would not attempt anything of this sort in a very public way. You may remember a simile I have sometimes used of green fruit. Children are impatient to have it while it is green—but people of more judgment will wait until it is ripe. Therefore I would wish your exhortations to be brief, private, and not very frequent. Rather give yourself to reading, meditation, and prayer.

As to speaking without notes, in order to do it successfully, a fund of knowledge must be first possessed. Indeed, in such societies as I hope you will confine your attempts to—it would not be practicable to use notes. But I mean, that if you design to come out as a preacher without notes from the first, you must use double diligence in study. Your reading must not be confined to the Scriptures; you should be acquainted with church history, have a general view of theology, as a system, know something of the state of controversies in past times and at present, and indeed of the general history of mankind. I do not mean that you should enter deeply into these things; but you will need to have your mind enlarged, your ideas increased, your style and manner formed. You should read, think, write, compose, and use all diligence to exercise and strengthen your mental faculties. If you would speak extempore as a minister, you must be able to come off roundly, and to fill up your hour with various matter, in tolerable coherence, or else you will not be able to overcome the prejudice which usually prevails among the people. Perhaps it may be as well to use some little scheme in the note way, especially at the beginning. But a little trial will best inform you what is most expedient.

Let your backwardness to prayer and reading the Scripture be ever so great—you must strive against it. This backwardness, with the doubts you speak of, are partly from your own evil heart—but perhaps chiefly temptations of Satan. He knows, if he can keep you from drawing water out of the wells of salvation—he will have much advantage. My soul goes often mourning under the same complaints—but at times the Lord gives me a little victory. I hope he will over-rule all our trials to make us more humble, dependent, and to give us tenderness of spirit towards the distressed. The exercised and experienced Christian, by the knowledge he has gained of his own heart, and the many difficulties he has had to struggle with—acquires a skill and compassion in dealing with others. Without such exercise, all our study, diligence, and gifts in other ways—would leave us much at a loss in some of the most important parts of our calling.

You have given yourself to the Lord for the ministry; his providence has thus far favored your views. Therefore harbor not a thought of flinching from the battle, because the enemy appears in view—but resolve to endure hardship, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Lift up your banner in his name; trust in him—and he will support you. But, above all things, be sure not to be either enticed or terrified from the privilege of a Throne of Grace.

Who your enemies are, or what they say, I know not; for I never conversed with them. Your friends here have thought you at times harsh and hasty in your manner, and rather inclining to self-confidence. These things I have often reminded you of; but I considered them as blemishes usually attendant upon youth—and which experience, temptation, and prayer, would correct. I hope and believe you will do well. You will have a share in my prayers and best advice; and when I see occasion to offer a word of reproof—I shall not use any reserve.

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