In a letter to a friend, John Newton recounts a dream he had early in life before a lasting surrender to his savior was realized. This surrender came years later, but the dream was as a seed planted in the blackest of soil, that though it may be forgotten for a time because it is not seen, it will appear again, yielding its fruit.
Though I have wrote out a relation of this dream more than once for others, it has happened that I never reserved a copy; but the principal incidents are so deeply engraven on my memory, that I believe I am not liable to any considerable variations in repeating the account.
The scene presented to my imagination was the harbour of Venice, where we had lately been. I thought it was night, and my watch upon the deck; and that, as I was walking to and fro by myself, a person came to me, (I do not remember from whence,) and brought me a ring, with an express charge to keep it carefully; assuring me, that while I preserved that ring, I should be happy and successful; but if I lost or parted with it, I must expect nothing but trouble and misery. I accepted the present and the terms willingly, not in the least doubting my own care to preserve it, and highly satisfied to have my happiness in my own keeping. I was engaged in these thoughts, when a second person came to me, and observing the ring on my finger, took occasion to ask me some questions concerning it. I readily told him its virtues; and his answer expressed a surprise at my weakness, in expecting such effects from a ring. I think he reasoned with me some time upon the impossibility of the thing; and at length urged me, in direct terms, to throw it away. At first I was shocked at the proposal; but his insinuations prevailed. I began to reason and doubt myself; and at last plucked it off my finger, and dropped it over the ship’s side into the water: which it had no sooner touched, than I saw, the same instant, a terrible fire burst out from a range of the mountains, (apart of the Alps,) which appeared at some distance behind the city of Venice. I saw the hills as distinct as if awake, and they were all in flames. I perceived too late my folly; and my tempter, with an air of insult, informed me, that all the mercy God had in reserve for me was comprised in that ring, which I had wilfully thrown away. I understood that I must now go with him to the burning mountains; and that all the flames I saw were kindled upon my account. I trembled, and was in a great agony; so that it was surprising I did not then awake: but my dream continued; and when I thought myself upon the point of a constrained departure, and stood self-condemned, without plea or hope, suddenly either a third person, or the same who brought the ring at first, came to me, (I am not certain which,) and demanded the cause of my grief. I told him the plain case, confessing that I had ruined myself wilfully, and deserved no pity. He blamed my rashness; and asked, if I should be wiser supposing I had my ring again? I could hardly answer to this; for I thought it was gone beyond recall. I believe, indeed, I had not time to answer, before I saw this unexpected friend go down under the water, just in the spot where I had dropped it; and he soon returned, bringing the ring with him. The moment he came on board, the flames in the mountains were extinguished, and my seducer left me. Then was “the prey taken from the hand of the mighty, and the lawful captive delivered.” My fears were at an end, and with joy and gratitude I approached my kind deliverer to receive the ring again: but he refused to return it, and spoke to this affect: “If you should be intrusted with this ring again, you would very soon bring yourself into the same distress; you are not able to keep it: but I will preserve it for you, and, whenever it is needful, will produce it in your behalf.”
Upon this I awoke in a state of mind not to be described: I could hardly eat or sleep, or transact my necessary business, for two or three days. But the impression soon wore off, and in a little time I totally forgot it; and I think it hardly occurred to my mind again, till several years afterwards. It will appear, in the course of these papers, that a time came, when I found myself in circumstances very nearly resembling those suggested by this extraordinary dream, when I stood helpless and hopeless upon the brink of an awful eternity: and I doubt not but, had the eyes of my mind been then opened, I should have seen my grand enemy, who had seduced me wilfully to renounce and cast awav my religious profession, and to involve myself in the most complicated crimes; I say, I should probably have seen him pleased with my agonies, and waiting for a permission to seize and bear away my soul to his place of torment.