Olney Hymns Book 2 Hymn 97

The water stood like walls of brass...

Manuscript Hymn No. 255

255 v1


The creatures in the LORD's hands

The water stood like walls of brass,
To let the sons of Israel pass; (a)
And from the rock in rivers burst, (b)
At Moses' prayer, to quench their thirst.

The fire restrained by God's commands,
Could only burn his people's bands; (c)
Too faint, when he was with them there,
To singe their garments or their hair.

At Daniel's feet the lions lay (d)
Like harmless lambs, nor touched their prey;
And ravens, which on carrion fed,
Procured Elijah flesh and bread.

Thus creatures only can fulfill
Their great Creator's holy will;
And when his servants need their aid,
His purposes must be obeyed.

So if his blessing he refuse,
Their power to help they quickly lose;
Sure as on creatures we depend,
Our hopes in disappointment end.

Then let us trust the Lord alone,
And creature-confidence disown;
Nor if they threaten need we fear;
They cannot hurt if he be near.

If instruments of pain they prove,
Still they are guided by his love;
As lancets by the surgeon's skill,
Which wound to cure, and not to kill.

(a) Exodus 14:22
(b) Numbers 20:11
(c) Daniel 3:27
(d) Dan 6:[22,] 23
John Newton bw better 150 x 55
  from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:

Sunday 1 September 1776
Spent much of my morning retirement about a hymn, which at last I could not finish.
Tuesday 3 September 1776
I write on, though I have little to record on my own part, but a confession that I am unworthy and unprofitable. My gracious Lord, fain would I by wrestling prayer prevail for a blessing. But like a ship in a calm, I am at a stand, and can only feebly say, Awake O wind to put my soul and affections in motion towards thee. Yesterday morning I had a drawing, but it was soon over, and the workings of self, again hid thy presence. I have no heart to pray, no attention or comfort in reading thy word, little resolution to improve time. Ah my soul thirsts for thee as a dry land. And yet I act in contradiction to my desires.
In the evening at the Great House I was uncommonly stupid in prayer, and when I came to speak I knew not what to say, yet I filled up the time, and I could perceive that some present were refreshed, though I like Gideon's fleece remained dry.
Wednesday 4 September 1776
Methinks I would praise thee, but alas my sluggish heart.
Thursday 5 September 1776
Met the children. Was much straightened and dry in the evening preaching. Could not get hold of the subject [Luke 9:23]. Indeed it is a point I may be ashamed to speak upon, so backward am I in many particulars that belong to it.
Sunday 8 September 1776
Lord pardon the iniquity of my holy things. I have waited on thee today in a poor frame of spirit. Much inwardly amiss, and a confusion in dryness in my public work or some parts of it; I can more easily account for my being so at some times, than for my being otherwise at any time, considering what I am, and how my soul is entangled, and estranged from thee. O I feel willing that this distance should cease both on thy part and on mine. Return gracious Lord to me, and then I will surely return to thee. But how can I be the first mover, when I can do nothing but by thy power, nor render but what I previously receive.
Isaiah 32:2
Exodus 20:8-11
Hymn No. 255

[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]

re the surgeon's knife:
On 25 June 1776 Newton had consulted Dr Warner of Guy's Hospital in London regarding a wen (tumour) on his thigh. When he wrote this hymn he was about to return to London where Warner successfully removed the tumour on 10 October 1776. Little wonder this illustration came readily to mind:

As lancets by the surgeon's skill,
Which wound to cure, and not to kill.

Image copyright:

Hymn: MS Eng 1317, Houghton Library, Harvard University

Marylynn Rouse, 11/09/2013