6 August 1776
|To John Thornton Esqre
My dearest Sir
I believe I have delayed writing a post or two beyond my usual term. Since my last I have had two visits. One from Dr & Mrs Ford in their way home; they stayed almost a whole week; I accompanied them on their road to Yelling, as far as Mr Barham’s where we dined and parted. The Doctor was earnest with me to go to Melton [Mowbray] this summer, but besides the expense of a journey, I rather think I must stay at home, on account of my purposed return to London towards October if the Lord give opportunity. As I must then be absent a month, it will perhaps be sufficient for this year. My other visitants were Mr & Mrs West with their children; they only spent Friday last with us, and then went forwards for Everton.
I have now entered my 52nd year. Yesterday was my birthday. Being Sunday, I could not observe my usual retirement. But this morning I spent 4 or 5 hours in the fields and woods, as is my annual custom, if not prevented by business or weather. But alas, though I went out with a design to praise the Lord for His goodness, and to ruminate upon the way He has led me, my heart refused to be engaged. It was but a dry and confused season. Strange that with such scenes as I have to look back upon (a slight relation of which has struck many with wonder) and the prospect of eternity before me, with the thoughts of my past follies and the uncertainty of life in some manner present to my mind, I should have so little feeling either of humiliation or gratitude! And yet why should I think it strange – that I can find no sufficiency in myself so much as to think a good thought, when both the Word of God teaches me, and long experience confirms that this is indeed the case, and that without His enabling power I can do nothing. It is necessary though not pleasant, that a fresh experience should now and then remind me how weak, how vile, how utterly empty I am. I trust however there is always a desire in my heart, which He alone could impart, which He alone could preserve, to be wholly His. My birthday is a memorable time with me on another account, for on that day in the year 1758, He was pleased to enable me (after several weeks’ prayer and deliberation) to devote myself to the ministry of the Gospel, if He should think fit to employ me.
The Lord accepted my vows and granted my desire in His own time, though for near six years afterwards, appearances seemed so strongly against me that I seemed at length to have given up all hopes of it. Then when hope failed, was His time to work, and presently hard things became easy, and He set before me an open and unexpected door which none could shut. How little did I think of what He had designed for me. I may well say He is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond what we can ask or conceive! I have had a favoured opportunity, much health and comfort in the work for more than 12 years, and I can see that He has not suffered me to labour wholly in vain. And still my bow abides in strength. Though there has been so much evil and perverseness on my side, that He might justly have long ago laid me aside, taken His word utterly out of my mouth, and not suffered me to speak in His name any more. But where sin has abounded, Grace has much more abounded. Methinks I would fain praise Him, and humble myself before Him. O that my latter days may be my best. I have not yet attained, I still fall exceedingly short of the idea His word has given me both of a minister and a Christian. But blessed be His name, I have been kept – I have not been permitted to sink one degree after another into an utter stupidity – as I surely should have done, had He not watched over me continually and healed my backslidings a thousand times over. I trust I have an interest in your prayers, that I may bear fruit in old age, and honour Him both in my life and in my death.
I observed the Eclipse of the Moon on Tuesday night, till it was wholly covered by the shade, and endeavoured to draw some meditations from it, which gave rise to a hymn that was the subject of my discourse last night at the Great House - our Saviour’s passion, the motions of the heavenly bodies being a pledge of His faithfulness to His promises (Jerem. 33:20,21,25 ) and the dark seasons to which believers in the present life are liable, were the principal points. I take the liberty to send you a copy of the hymn on the other side, for no other reasons than that the subject is not common, and that you have been pleased often favourably to accept what I have sent of this sort.
Hymn on the Lunar Eclipse 30 July 1776
The moon in silver glory shone
And not a cloud in sight:
When suddenly a shade begun
To intercept its light.
How fast across her orb it spread!
How fast her light withdrew!
A circle tinged with languid red,
Was all remained in view!
While many with unmeaning eye
Gaze on thy works in vain;
Assist me, LORD, that I may try
Instruction to obtain.
Fain would my thankful heart and lips
Unite in praise to thee;
And meditate on thy eclipse,
In sad Gethsemane.
Thy people's guilt, a heavy load!
(When standing in their room)
Deprived thee of the light of GOD,
And filled thy soul with gloom.
How punctually eclipses move
Obedient to thy will!
Thus shall thy faithfulness and love
Thy promises fulfil.
Dark, like the moon without the sun,
I mourn thy absence, LORD!
For light or comfort have I none,
But what thy beams afford.
But lo! the hour draws near apace,
When changes shall be o'er;
Then I shall see thee face to face,
And be eclipsed no more.
Yes there is a better world, where our sun shall no more go down, neither the moon withdraw its shining – or rather, both moon and sun shall be needless, for the Lord Himself shall be the Everlasting Unclouded Light of His people. Oh how different is the land we are going to, from this wilderness through which we are now passing.
With a tender of our best respects to Mrs Thornton,
Your most obedt and obliged
Olney ye 6 August 1776
Thus saith the LORD: If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; Then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priests, my ministers. Thus saith the LORD; If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth…
The above hymn was published in Olney Hymns, Book 2, Hymn 85, with a few minor changes in the words.