[For the New Year 1778: 1/3]
Death and war. 1778.
Hark! how Time's wide-sounding bell
Strikes on each attentive ear!
Tolling loud the solemn knell
Of the late departed year:
Years, like mortals, wear away,
Have their birth and dying day;
Youthful spring, and wintry age,
Then to others quit the stage.
Sad experience may relate
What a year the last has been!
Crops of sorrow have been great,
From the fruitful seeds of sin:
Oh! what numbers gay and blithe,
Fell by Death's unsparing scythe!
While they thought the world their own,
Suddenly he mowed them down.
See how War, with dreadful stride,
Marches at the Lord's command,
Spreading desolation wide,
Through a once much-favoured land:
War, with heart and arms of steel,
Preys on thousands at a meal;
Daily drinking human gore,
Still he thirsts, and calls for more.
If the God whom we provoke,
Hither should his way direct;
What a sin-avenging stroke
May a land like this expect!
They who now securely sleep,
Quickly then would wake and weep;
And too late would learn to fear,
When they saw the danger near.
You are safe who know his love,
He will all his truth perform;
To your souls a refuge prove
From the rage of every storm:
But we tremble for the youth;
Teach them, Lord, thy saving truth;
Join them to thy faithful few,
Be to them a refuge too.
from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:
Wednesday 31 December 1777
Thy mercy my gracious Lord, has now brought me and mine, in peace and safety to the close of the year. What praises do I owe thee for health, provision and protection, through another year… Make me earnest for thy blessing upon the word which shall be spoken expressly to the youth. Nothing but thy grace can put an effectual stop to the evils abounding in this place – and to that daring spirit which many of the youth show, a hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and commandment.
1 January 1778
I know my gracious Lord, how I ought to feel in thy presence, this day. How thankful for such innumerable mercies, and how humbled under a sense of my own unworthiness, and unfruitfulness. But alas – my affections or stupid and dormant, except thou art pleased to draw them out into exercise.
This morning I preached with liberty, on the subject which now begins to become my own. Advanced far in my 53[rd] year I may well think myself verging to old age. The season when creature comforts drop away in succession, and the relish of those which remain grow daily fainter. I have lived long enough to see many changes, and there [are] changes still more important and affecting to come… I am in perfect health, and as to that strength, which my ministry chiefly calls for, as strong as ever. I can speak as long and, as loud, as frequent, and with as little sense of weariness as in any former year. Thou continuest likewise my mental powers in their former vigour. Thou hast not withdrawn, or to my own perception, weakened my gifts as a preacher. O I desire to praise thee, and to say, Who is a God like unto thee?…
However, according to the course of things, I must not expect to be always thus. We are growing in years. If my life is prolonged I must see days that will afford no comfort, but what I receive immediately from thee. We must meet the separating stroke. Lord prepare us for it. Either part of the alternative, has a dark side. The choice is not mine, and I hope not of necessity only, but with willingness I leave it in thy hands. To thee, who hast redeemed me from evil, and led me all my life long, I commit every concern, and only pray, that the end may be happy, and issue in our salvation, and the eternal praise of thy grace. Do thou watch over her, sanctify every dispensation to her, and be found of us both in every time of trial. As to myself, I have only to ask, that while I live I may live to thee, and for thee, and by faith in thy name. Particulars are in thy hand and at thy disposal, which is far better, than if I was left to point them out myself. If it please thee continue and increase, my abilities, zeal and success as a Minister. Let me walk before thee in the spirit of a child, and let me serve thee willingly, diligently and simply – abide with thee or follow thee, as thou shalt be pleased to make known thy will. I would not be solicitous, when or where, or how, so that thy good pleasure may be accomplished. Afford me a fresh unction. I would consecrate my heart, my time, my talents, my pen, my tongue, to thy service. O it is a high season for me to redeem my time, to work while it is day, for the night cometh. Grant that as I draw nearer an eternal state, my views of what is within the veil, maybe more bright, cheering and transforming.
Thou seest how wickedness increases amongst us, and how the work of conversion is apparently at a stand. O my Lord hear prayer for our youth. Go forth with me tonight, and while I am speaking to them, cause thine own voice to be heard in their hearts. I pray for liberty, but especially that I may be useful – that some poor souls may be turned this night from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to the knowledge of thy love. This I trust, would rejoice my soul. Let me not only seem, but be in earnest.
I thank thee that thou didst open my mouth, and enable me to speak fully and boldly in the evening. O command a blessing to follow. The congregation was large and very attentive. Mr Scott came to hear me, not knowing it was an extraordinary service, but I was glad he was there, hoping the occasion and solemnity might afford him some reflections, and encourage him to think of extempore preaching – in good time.
[Hymn No. 293]
[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]