Olney Hymns Book 1 Hymn 39
The prophet's sons, in times of old...
Manuscript Hymn No. 284 [MS Mistakenly 294]
The Borrowed Axe
The prophet's sons in times of old,
Though to appearance poor,
Were rich without possessing gold,
And honoured, though obscure.
In peace their daily bread they eat,
By honest labour earned;
While daily at Elisha’s feet,
They grace and wisdom learned.
The prophet’s presence cheered their toil,
They watched the words he spoke;
Whether they turned the furrowed soil,
Or felled the spreading oak.
Once as they listened to his theme,
Their conference was stopped;
For one beneath the yielding stream
A borrowed axe had dropped.
“Alas! it was not mine,” he said,
"How shall I make it good?”
Elisha heard, and when he prayed,
The iron swam like wood.
If God, in such a small affair,
A miracle performs;
It shows his condescending care
Of poor unworthy worms.
Though kings and nations in his view
Are but as motes and dust;
His eye and ear are fixed on you,
Who in his mercy trust.
Not one concern of ours is small,
If we belong to him;
To teach us this, the Lord of all
Once made the iron swim.
from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:
Thursday 18 May 1775
Received an unexpected letter from Mr Scott my brother curate near me, very long and frank. It seems dictated by a spirit in search of the truth.
18 November 1775
Much of my leisure since I have been alone, has been employed in writing to Mr Scott. This correspondence takes up much time, and hitherto I seem to get but little ground. It is thy prerogative to enlighten and awaken the heart. In dependence upon thy blessing I persevere.
7 December 1775
Much of my leisure this week has been employed in finishing a long letter to Mr Scott, which will probably close our correspondence, unless thou art pleased to work upon his heart, by what I have already sent or by some other means. O that this opportunity which seems of thine providence may not be in vain. It will be, without thy blessing. Help me to water the seed with earnest prayer.
22 December 1775
My debate with Mr Scott seems closed for the present; he writes very friendly and I shall wait in hope, of a blessing attending my occasional intercourse with him. He has sincerity (and if I mistake not) in such a sense as he could not have, if thou hadst not in some degree visited his heart. O that thou wilt be pleased to lead him gently on, and reveal thy salvation to him.
Tuesday 2 September 1777
A visit from Mr Scott yesterday morning. O my Lord, I thank thee for thy goodness to him. I think he gets forward into the light of thy truth.
Monday 8 September 1777
A talking day. We went a large company to see Mr Bull – had a pleasant walk both ways. My dearest Lord we met today in thy name and for thy sake. But we were not so closely engaged in thy way as we could wish. We did not willingly trifle but I daily learn and see, without thee I can do nothing. Met Timothy Priestley from Manchester – a lively, active spirit. Some things he said called for notice. How different from his brother [Joseph]. It is thy grace makes us to differ. O may I daily praise thee for visiting and saving me. For surely so far as years and opportunity would permit, no one ever opposed thy name and cause with a fiercer malice. Yet I obtain mercy! Grace indeed!
Saturday 13 September 1777
Drank tea yesterday with Mr Scott; was rejoiced to see how thy goodness has confirmed the hopes I conceived two years ago when we corresponded for some months. Though his views were then very dark, and he objected to almost every point proposed, yet I could perceive that thou hadst given him a sincerity which I looked upon as a token of thy farther favour. And now he seems enlightened and established in the most important points of thy Gospel, and will I trust prove an Instrument of Usefulness in thy hand.
Sunday 14 September 1777
O thy goodness is wonderful – enabling me still to draw from the treasury of thy Word, things both new and old. May thy blessing apply the word.
Hymn No. 294 [284 intended]
[On this date Newton preached from the above texts at his church, St Peter & St Paul, Olney, during the morning and afternoon services, and from this hymn at the informal evening service]
Hymn: MS Eng 1317, Houghton Library, Harvard University
Diary: John Newton Collection, CO199, Princeton University
Marylynn Rouse, 10/09/2013