Dwelling in Mesech
What a mournful life is mine,
Filled with crosses, pains and cares!
Every work defiled with sin,
Every step beset with snares!
If alone I pensive sit,
I myself can hardly bear;
If I pass along the street,
Sin and riot triumph there.
Jesus! how my heart is pained,
How it mourns for souls deceived!
When I hear thy name profaned,
When I see thy Spirit grieved!
When thy children's griefs I view,
Their distress becomes my own;
All I hear, or see, or do,
Makes me tremble, weep, and groan.
Mourning thus I long had been,
When I heard my Saviour's voice;
"Thou hast cause to mourn for sin,
But in me thou may'st rejoice."
This kind word dispelled my grief,
Put to silence my complaints;
Though of sinners I am chief,
He has ranked me with his saints.
Though constrained to dwell awhile
Where the wicked strive and brawl;
Let them frown, so he but smile,
Heaven will make amends for all.
There, believers, we shall rest,
Free from sorrow, sin, and fears;
Nothing there our peace molest,
Through eternal rounds of years.
Let us then the fight endure,
See our Captain looking down;
He will make the conquest sure,
And bestow the promised crown.
from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:
Wednesday 5 November 1777
I may say – alas that I dwell in Mesech [Psalm 120:5-7 Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar! My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.]
This place which thou hast so wonderfully distinguished with Gospel light and means of grace is distinguished by the height, boldness and aboundings of sin. An attempt to restrain the licentiousness that has usually prevailed on the return of this day, and to lessen the probability of fire, raised such a spirit of opposition and defiance as I never saw before. The streets were paraded in the evening by the sons of Belial who filled the town with violence and terror – and it was of thy great mercy that great mischief was not done. My house was threatened severely but thy good Providence prevented.
What grieved me most was that the mob was at least eventually encouraged by the conduct of those whom I hoped for thy sake would rather have joined for the suppression of immorality.
O Lord my heart is deceitful, I hope I bear no resentment against any. I pray thee to forgive all who have acted in a wrong spirit, both those who know not what they do, and those whose knowledge unhappily has too little influence upon their spirit and conduct. Is it not my own case, if not in the same way, yet sufficiently to make me cry for daily forgiveness. Surely then I ought to be ready to forgiveness[forgive], and to seize every opportunity of overcoming evil with good. I desire to do so. Do thou enable me not only to speak of thee as a Saviour, but to follow thee as my Exemplar.
Thursday 6 November 1777
Met the children and preached in the evening. How precious art thou in the character of a Shepherd. How gracious thy leading, how rich thy provision, how sure thy protection, how tender thy compassion! Happy they who know thee, trust and follow thee; they shall want no good thing, nor can any real evil befall them, because thou art always near. Psalm 23:3 [He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.]
Sunday 9 November 1777
My usual hours of retirement were broken in upon last night. But thou wert pleased to help me today. O let me feed upon thy truths myself, as well as set them before others. I seemed something straightened in the afternoon, but had a sense of liberty in the evening speaking from a hymn, which the tumult last Wednesday night led me to compose.
Hymn No. 296 [286 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]