THE CLOSE OF THE YEAR
[31 December 1775]
1 Samuel 7:12
The Lord, our salvation and light,
The guide and the strength of our days,
Has brought us together tonight,
A new Ebenezer to raise:
The year we have now passed through,
His goodness with blessings has crowned;
Each morning his mercies were new;
Then let our thanksgivings abound.
Encompassed with dangers and snares,
Temptations, and fears, and complaints,
His ear he inclined to our prayers,
His hand opened wide to our wants:
We never besought him in vain;
When burdened with sorrow or sin,
He helped us again and again,
Or where before now had we been?
His gospel, throughout the long year,
From Sabbath to Sabbath he gave;
How oft has he met with us here,
And shown himself mighty to save?
His candlestick has been removed
From churches once privileged thus;
But though we unworthy have proved,
It still is continued to us.
For so many mercies received,
Alas! what returns have we made?
His Spirit we often have grieved,
And evil for good have repaid:
How well it becomes us to cry,
"Oh! who is a God like to thee?
Who passest iniquities by,
And plungest them deep in the sea!"
To Jesus, who sits on the throne,
Our best hallelujahs we bring;
To thee it is owing alone
That we are permitted to sing:
Assist us, we pray, to lament
The sins of the year that is past;
And grant that the next may be spent
Far more to thy praise than the last.
from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:
Friday 22 December 1775
I am chiefly now engaged in preparing New Year’s hymns etc; was long thinking about a text for the young people. I hope thy good Spirit has fixed my choice, for to thee I desire to look for direction, and O give me the sermon likewise, that I may preach with demonstration and power.
As to myself – thou seest O Lord how poor, how needy I am. I bless thee that I am no worse, and that my faith, love and joy are so faint I must blame myself. O that I had hearkened unto thee.
Saturday 30 December 1775
On Thursday Dr and Mrs Ford came. He preached in the evening from Isaiah 9:6. A valuable discourse, but we had not a large congregation. Yesterday I accompanied him to Stratford on his way to Oxford, he being to preach before the University on Sunday. Mrs Ford remains with me till his return. Last night Mr and Mrs Trinder and Miss Smith came here, so that I have now a houseful of company, and I am much taken up. O Lord I receive them and I love them for thy sake. Bless them to me, and me to them. Crown this year with thy goodness to us all. Again, I have to praise thee that my Dear is well and Sally. Though she is much exercised in her situation. Sanctify all to her, and bring affairs to a happy period, that we may shortly meet in peace. I feel a conviction of thy goodness, and am sensible I ought to be humble, spiritual and thankful, but alas how little heart either for prayer or praise. A most unworthy creature. I hear from many hands, that thou wert pleased to give me acceptable liberty on Christmas Day. Fain I would entreat thee for a blessing upon tomorrow, and the approaching services of the New Year. But even this, cannot engage my heart to be earnest. If thy grace were not free, what would become of me, who have such continued calls for service, and am so utterly poor in myself. Do thou inspire and prompt my thoughts this day, suggest suitable messages, and help me with the saving strength of thine arm, for thy mercies sake.
Sunday 31 December 1775
I thank thee, my Lord for help though another Sabbath. At Clifton in the morning the disconsolate air and state of Mrs [Green?] suggested my text. Do thou bless to her and to others what I spoke from it. At home in the afternoon I aimed to impress the hearers with a sense of the shortness and uncertainty of life. O that I were more impressed with a sense of it myself, that I might be roused and animated to work while it is day. In the evening I spoke from a hymn of praise for the goodness with which thou hast crowned another year to us as a society. And now, permit and enable me to praise thee for thy undeserved, abounding mercies to me and mine. Though I have been evil, thou has[t] followed me with good. Thou hast watched over my family, preserved us abroad and at home, shielded us from sickness and harms, provided for us, supported us under our comparatively small trials, which however small would have been too much for us, without thy support. Thou hast restored and healed my soul again and again, anointed me with fresh oil for thy service, and not taken thy word out of my mouth. O Lord I am thy servant, truly I am thy servant. I am bound to thee by every tie, of duty and gratitude. Accept the renewed surrender of myself and my all to thee. Forgive what is past, and teach me to do better.
I have again heard from my dear [Mary], that thy mercy is still extended to them, and now thou givest me hopes of seeing them next week. O bring us in peace together, and then bless us. May this separation be sanctified. And may we live as knowing the time is short.
1 Corinthians 7:29
Hymn No. 230
[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]