JOHN NEWTONÂ’S PRACTICAL CHRISTIANITY
Amongst Mr. Newton’s numerous acts of kindness there was no work of charity in which he took greater delight than aiding his poor brethren in the Church …. One case we may mention as a sample of many. The story is interesting, as an exhibition of the manifold labours and heavy trials of a devoted servant of the Lord, and of the gracious interpositions of Providence on his behalf, and therefore we venture to give it in detail. The account is taken from letters to Mr. Newton written in the years 1787 and 1788.
The good man tells Mr. Newton that he is induced to write to him from having read his Cardiphonia. “I am”, he says, “a very little insignificant curate of the Church of England, a native of Wales (my name is Ellis Williams), but notwithstanding my littleness, unworthiness, and insignificance, I am a man that has been highly favoured of the Lord, for I was made acquainted with the gospel pretty early in life, and have been now for upwards of seven years engaged in the important work of preaching it to others.
The place where I live is called Clayhidon, in the county of Devon and diocese of Exeter. The gospel was strange to the people when I first came among them, and for a time I met with little success. At length some seemed under conviction, and I asked them into my house, for the better opportunity of conversing with them. They remained for family prayer. Presently it was noised abroad that the
parson had prayer in his house morning and evening, and that without any book, and that all were welcome to come. Many did so, especially on Sunday evenings, and thus there came about a great revival in the place. Opposition arose, as a matter of course, but soon subsided, and enemies became friends.”
Mr. Williams had a family, and his only dependence was his small curacy; but he makes no complaints, though he writes again to Mr. Newton, asking if he can aid him in getting one of his boys into the Bluecoat School.
The next letter is an expression of heartfelt gratitude for timely help which Mr. Newton sent the good man. “Although”, he begins, “I never saw you, yet I dearly love you in the bowels of Jesus Christ. I want to tell you a little of my history, what trials, what mercies, what kind acts of Providence have often appeared in my favour since I last wrote to you.” He then goes on to say how bare he and his family were of clothes, but he felt assured the Lord would supply their wants. “Little”, he adds, “did I then know that the Lord was making use of you as an instrument in His hands to supply me in that respect, and so the five pounds came very seasonably to clothe me, that I might appear a little more decent in my Master’s house and service.” Just after this Mr. Williams relates how he was taken ill and laid aside from his work, and that, when he went to his apothecary to ask him for his bill, his blessed Lord and Master had been there before to turn the doctor’s heart, and so he would take nothing from him, but frankly forgave him all; and yet again he speaks of help which came to him unsought at the time of his wife’s confinement.
In February, 1788, he acknowledges a sum of ten pounds which he says reached his “unworthy hands last Monday night. The sight of your letter forced some tears out of my eyes, and I hope some gratitude out of my heart to my dear heavenly Father, and to you next as His instrument. What you sent was a seasonable supply indeed. When returning from visiting a sick person I was meditating how I should get through my difficulties. I owed more than the little I had to the butcher; I remembered that my three little boys wanted clothes, that my wife had told me the linen would not bear another mending, and finally that I owed five pounds to an old usurer. All these things weighed very heavily upon my mind, but I felt assured that the Lord would grant me assistance. As soon, therefore, as I came home I asked my wife whether any letter was come, and she with a smile answered yes, and gave it me.”
Other letters followed containing further acknowledgements of Mr. Newton’s kind interposition on his behalf.
The course of this worthy man was cut short by fever caught in the fulfilment of his pastoral duties.
“I have sad tidings to relate to you’, says the Rev. J. J. Neucatre, a neighbouring clergyman; “poor Williams of Clayhidon is now numbered among the dead. He died this morning at one o’clock. He preached four times last Sunday fortnight, and was taken ill on the Monday morning, and the fever increased so rapidly as to baffle both his physician and apothecary. Last night, his wife asking him how he was, he replied, ‘Oh, well, charmingly well. A few minutes more will land me safe in my Father’s kingdom.’ On Saturday evening when he saw the putrid spots on his legs, he said, ‘Ah, it’s over! Oh, my dear and beloved wife, and my dear children! What will become of them?’ But on recollection he would now and then say, ‘Oh, what a God have I! How faithful has He been to me! He will provide for mine, since He is going to provide so well for me.’
His faith was prophetic, for this morning a respectable attorney in Wellington, the patron of the living, called upon me to begin a subscription for the widow and children.”
In another letter we find these sentences: “The Sunday before he was taken ill, preaching in the afternoon at Clayhidon, which was his last sermon, he would not give over. He said twice or thrice, ‘My dear people, this may be the last time that we shall meet on earth. Forgive my warmth, my heart loves you. God knows how sincerely I desire your salvation and your advancement in holiness. I know not how to part with you. Oh, remember the Redeemer, remember Him: He is the glory of heaven – all its beauty centres in Him.’
On the Sunday preceding his death many farmers and others went to see him; he said to one of them: ‘Oh, Mr. Blackmore, I am glad to see you here; this is heaven upon earth; I die in this way only by believing that gospel which I have preached to you for nine years, and so happily will you all die, if you believe what I have preached to you.’ He never spoke of the affairs of the world but once, and that not above two minutes. Leaving a poor delicate wife without a house, without money, and without rich relations, and six infants, the eldest but ten, and the youngest on the feeble mother’s breast, he bore away with a full sail, not casting one look behind, to the best of my knowledge. Oh, how often has his honest zeal to God made me blush! His rector is a Socinian, yet never would he yield an inch to accommodate, and in all companies his God and Saviour, and that religion which never was and never will be in fashion, were honestly confessed. Thus lived and thus died Ellis Williams, in the thirty-second year of a useful and laborious life, having seen many seals to his labours for God, having through grace changed a rude people into as benevolent and kind a people as most whom I know;
and leaving behind him a name which will not soon be forgotten, and which well deserves to be held in remembrance.”
The expression of feeling at his funeral indicated the intense
affection of his people. “They cried out, they pressed about the grave’s mouth, and in every possible way showed the depth of their love, and no wonder,” says his friend Neucatre, “for his affectionate spirit, his fatherly love, and irreproachable life and behaviour, engaged the love of the good, and forced respect from all thoughtful people.
The sphere of my dear and faithful brother’s action was three parishes, which he faithfully and honourably served, and whose inhabitants (seven or eight excepted), are in unspeakable woe. The good rejoiced in his light; the evil reverenced him; never did a minister’s light more shine before men; never was there a man more beloved, or more lamented in similar circumstances. God honoured hirn, blessed his labours, and gave him to see many noble witnesses go to heaven before him. He found Clayhidon a dark place, but has left it wonderfully abounding with zealous witnesses for God. I cannot tell half his worth, nor the loss the Church of God has sustained in his removal. My own distress is peculiarly great, because I am perplexed about what I shall do for his widow: it is true I can raise possibly twenty pounds hereabouts; ‘but what is that among so many’? I thought I would acquaint you with his lamentable tale, hoping that the Lord would by one and another answer the faith and hope of my dearly beloved brother and Christian friend.”
So great was the intertest created by the destitute circumstances of the widow and her six fatherless children, that a thousand pounds was raised on their behalf, of which Mr. Newton was the means of obtaining two hundred pounds in London. Mr. Newton was requested to write an epitaph for this good man, to be inscribed on a plain stone in the churchyard of Clayhidon.
‘Extracted from John Newton: An Autobiography and Narrative by Josiah Bull, (1868), pp.290-5.