A father’s advice to a child living away from home

My daughter is going away to college in the Fall.  And I have been thinking much lately about that transition, so when I read the following set of letters written by John Newton, they resonated well with me.  They are written to his niece whom Newton and his wife had raised as their own daughter, while she was away at boarding school between the ages of 10 and 15.

…sometimes when I consider what a world you are growing up into, and what snares and dangers young people are exposed to with little experience to help them, I have some painful feelings for you. The other day I was at Deptford, and saw a ship launched: she slipped easily into the water; the people on board shouted; the ship looked clean and gay, she was fresh painted, and her colours flying. But I looked at her with a sort of pity: “Poor ship,” I thought, “you are now in port and in safety; but ere long you must go to sea. Who can tell what storms you may meet with hereafter, and to what hazards you may be exposed; how weather-beaten you may be before you return to port again, or whether you may return at all!” Then my thoughts turned from the ship to my child. It seemed an emblem of your present state: you are now, as it were, in a safe harbour; but by and by you must launch out into the world, which may well be compared to a tempestuous sea. I could even now almost weep at the resemblance; but I take courage; my hopes are greater than my fears. I know there is an infallible Pilot, who has the winds and the waves at his command. There is hardly a day passes in which I do not entreat him to take charge of you. Under his care I know you will be safe; he can guide you unhurt amidst the storms, and rocks, and dangers, by which you might otherwise suffer, and bring you at last to the haven of eternal rest, I hope you will seek him while you are young, and I am sure he will be the friend of them that seek him sincerely; then you will be happy, and I shall rejoice. Nothing will satisfy me but this: though I should live to see you settled to the greatest advantage in temporal matters, except you love him, and live in his fear and favour, you would appear to me quite miserable. I think it would go near to break my heart; tor, next to your dear mamma, there is nothing so dear to me in this world as you. But the Lord gave you to me, and I have given you to him again, many and many a time upon my knees, and therefore I hope you must, and will, and shall, be his.

…you are growing up in a world which is full of sins, snares, troubles, and dangers. Will you not cry to him then, “My Father, thou art the guide of my youth?”  You have encouragement to seek him, for he himself both invites and commands you to do it; and if obligations and gratitude can prevail, there is no friend like him, whose mercies are new every morning, and who died upon the cross to redeem us from misery. I commend you to his blessing.

I can remember getting into corners by myself, and praying with some earnestness, before I was eight years old. Afterwards, alas, I proved rebellious. I cast off his fear, and would have my own way; and thereby I plunged myself into abundance of sin and misery. But I hope you will be more obedient. Think of him as you can; make a point of praying to him in secret, remembering that when you are most alone, he is still with you. When you pray, endeavour simply to express your wants and feelings just as if you were speaking to me. Fine words and phrases, some people abound in; but true prayer is the genuine language of the heart, which the Lord understands and accepts, however brokenly expressed.

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