HYMNS BEFORE ANNUAL SERMONS TO YOUNG PEOPLE, ON NEW-YEARS EVENINGS
[For the New Year 1778: 2/3]
A prayer for power on the means of grace
O Thou, at whose almighty word
The glorious light from darkness sprung!
Thy quickening influence afford,
And clothe with power the preacher's tongue.
Though 'tis thy truth he hopes to speak,
He cannot give the hearing ear;
'Tis thine, the stubborn heart to break,
And make the careless sinner fear.
As when of old, the water flowed
Forth from the rock at thy command; (a)
Moses in vain had waved his rod,
Without thy wonder-working hand.
As when the walls of Jericho (b)
Down to the earth at once were cast;
It was thy power that brought them low,
And not the trumpets' feeble blast.
Thus we would in the means be found,
And thus on thee alone depend;
To make the gospel's joyful sound
Effectual, to the promised end.
Now, while we hear thy word of grace,
Let self and pride before it fall;
And rocky hearts dissolve apace
In streams of sorrow at thy call.
On all our youth assembled here
The unction of thy Spirit pour;
Nor let them lose another year,
Lest thou shouldst strive and call no more.
(a) Numbers 20:11
(b) Joshua 6:20
from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:
Tuesday 23 December 1777
Aiming when have leisure, to prepare the New Year's hymns.
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… In spirituals, thou hast shown thyself gracious, and abundant in pardon for I have often sinned, often wandered in my heart, yet thou hast preserved me from gross falls, hast supplied and in some measure owned my public services, and hast not taken thy word out of my unworthy mouth. O accept my praises, and humble me under a sense of my sins and ingratitude, give us to close this year with a blessing, and to enter upon the New Year, with a renewed determination in thy grace to be entirely thine, to serve thee with all, and to give up all to thy disposal. 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.
In the evening heard Mr Whitford's sermon to the young people. He was very faithful and earnest – from 2 John 4. May thy blessing crown this threefold service. Help me not to entreat that thy presence may be with me, and [not] with equal sincerity that it may be with the other Ministers. I would long that good may be done, and be well pleased that all who serve thee in the Gospel, may have a share in it, as instruments in thy hand, without limiting my regard to names, parties or persons. Such the spirit would be the best token for comfort and success to myself.
1 January 1778
This morning I preached with liberty, on the subject which now begins to become my own. Advanced far in my 53rd 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 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?
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.
Acts 20:26, 27
Hymn No. 304
[NB: he put Hymn No. 304 for 1 January, after writing evening sermon Acts 20 – think he meant 295 after the sermon on Acts 20]
[On this date Newton preached from the above texts at his church, St Peter & St Paul, Olney, during the morning and evening services, including this hymn before the sermon at the New Year's evening service]
Saturday 3 January 1778
Last night heard Mr Sutcliffe's discourse to the young people from Proverbs [left blank] My son be wise. He spoke with pertinence and earnestness. Do thou, my Lord, command a blessing upon our several attempts, and pity our thoughtless youth, and teach them to remember thee, before the evil days come.
5 January 1778 [letter to Thornton]
For some years past I have usually sent you my New Year’s hymns, and now beg your favourable acceptance of these. They are composed to accompany the sermon to the young people. They are now accustomed to expect something new on the occasion, and perhaps I have the mere hearers on that account. I am willing to do, what I can, that may contribute either to increase the auditory, or to engage their attention. The Lord was pleased to set my heart much at liberty in the service; may he command a blessing.