Wilberforce's Letter to John Newton - Meeting in Secret

Wilberforce's diary, of 1785, reveals that he struggled with the thought of talking with John Newton:

30 November      I thought seriously this evening of going to converse with Mr Newton.

2 December        Resolved again about Mr Newton. It may do good; he will pray for me. Kept debating in that unsettled way…

On the 2nd of December, Wilberforce delivered this letter to Newton:

Sir, there is no need of apology for intruding on you, when the errand is religion. I wish to have some serious conversation with you, and will take the liberty of calling on you for that purpose, in half an hour; when, if you cannot receive me, you will have the goodness to let me have a letter put into my hands at the door, naming a time and place for our meeting, the earlier the more agreeable to me. I have had ten thousand doubts within myself, whether or not I should discover myself to you; but every argument against doing it has its foundation in pride. I am sure you will hold yourself bound to let no one living know of this application, or of my visit, till I release you for the obligation.

What followed thereafter (if anything), plus the signature, has been torn away.

Then there is a postscript:

P.S. Remember that I must be secret, and that the gallery of the House is now so universally attended, that the face of a member of Parliament is pretty well known.

William's diary, for the 3rd of December, reveals further personal thoughts about meeting with Newton:

3 December       Had a good deal of debate with myself about seeing Newton.

He did see John Newton, of course, even though Wilberforce continued to argue with himself before knocking on the church door:

After walking about the Square once or twice before I could persuade myself, I called upon old Newton.

Following the meeting, a calmer Wilberforce wrote in his diary:

When I came away I found my mind in a calm, tranquil state, more humbled, and looking more devoutly up to God.

Although he was "in a calm, tranquil state" that night, Wilberforce would have a very difficult time convincing his fellow Members of Parliament to do the right thing.  Many years would pass before the law changed.

Media Credits

Diary of William Wilberforce, quoted in numerous books and articles.



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