A young convert that has taken up preaching—the Rev. Thomas Bowman—was quite timid in the pulpit. Part of it was his disposition, some of it may have been an unhealthy fear of man. To this young man Newton writes:
There is certainly such a thing as Christian prudence, and a remarkable deficiency of it is highly inconvenient. But caution too often degenerates into cowardice; and if the fear of man, under the name of prudence, gets within our guard, like a chilling frost, it nips every thing in the bud. Those who trust the Lord, and act openly with an honest freedom and consistency, I observe He generally bears them out, smoothes their way, and makes their enemies their friends, or at least restrains their rage; while such as halve things, temporize, and aim to please God and man together, meet with double disappointment, and are neither useful nor respected. If we trust him, He will stand by us; if we regard men, He will leave us to make the best we can of them… (From Letters of Newton, 123, emphasis mine)
“Temporize” is not a word that we use much anymore. In case you are not familiar with the word it means: to temporarily adopt a particular course in order to conform to the circumstances. By “halving things” Newton is speaking of taking the sting out of truth. He is referring to making things palatable at the expense of truth.
Those then who attempt to please both God and men end up disappointing both ends. They will not be useful to God and they will not be respected by men. Nobody respects a “yes, man” or a coward that refuses to speak truth as it is. So Newton (surprisingly to some) encourages this young man to fear the Lord, trust Him, and speak the truth with “honest freedom” and let God smooth out his rough edges.
I read this as a reminder to always check my conscience to determine if my “prudence” in a matter is really just cowardice. It is a running joke in our family that my answer to whether we can do something is usually “let’s wait” or “let’s let the dust settle”. Sometimes it's prudence. Many times its cowardice. I want to have a heart and mind that is singularly focused on pleasing the Lord and as a result I want to live in humble boldness; because passive cowards are neither useful nor respected.