When slumber seals our weary eyes,
The busy fancy wakeful keeps;
The scenes which then before us rise,
Prove, something in us never sleeps.
As in another world we seem,
A new creation of our own;
All appears real, though a dream,
And all familiar, though unknown.
Sometimes the mind beholds again
The past day's business in review;
Resumes the pleasure or the pain,
And sometimes all we meet is new.
What schemes we form, what pains we take!
We fight, we run, we fly, we fall;
But all is ended when we wake,
We scarcely then a trace recall.
But though our dreams are often wild,
Like clouds before the driving storm;
Yet some important may be styled,
Sent to admonish or inform.
What mighty agents have access,
What friends from heaven, or foes from hell,
Our minds to comfort or distress,
When we are sleeping, who can tell?
One thing, at least, and 'tis enough,
We learn from this surprising fact;
Our dreams afford sufficient proof,
The soul, without the flesh, can act.
This life, which mortals so esteem,
That many choose it for their all,
They will confess, was but a dream, (a)
When wakened by death's awful call.
(a) Isaiah 29:8
from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:
I was making large strides towards a total apostasy from God! The most remarkable check and alarm I received (and, for what I know, the last) was by a dream, which made a very strong, though not abiding impression upon [my] mind…
It will appear in the course of these papers, that a time came, when I found myself in circumstances very nearly resembling those suggested by this extraordinary dream, when I stood helpless and hopeless upon the brink of an awful eternity; and I doubt not that, had the eyes of my mind been then opened, I should have seen my grand enemy, who had seduced me wilfully to renounce and cast away my religious professions, and to involve myself in the most complicated crimes; I say, I should probably have seen him pleased with my agonies, and waiting for a permission to seize and bear away my soul to his place of torment. I should perhaps have seen likewise, that Jesus, whom I had persecuted and defied, rebuking the adversary, challenging me for his own, as a brand plucked out of the fire, and saying, ‘Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom.’ However, though I saw not these things, I found the benefit; I obtained mercy.
4 August 1770 [letter to Thornton]
I have now and then, perhaps once in a year, what I call a wise dream – Something allegorical and instructive is presented to my mind. One of this sort I had about two nights ago. I dreamed that a fable was told me by some person, which seemed to convey such a lesson to me, that in order to preserve it, I put it into a hasty kind of verse; as you accepted the hymn in good part, I take the liberty to send you my dream.
My waking dreams are best concealed,
Much folly, little good they yield.
But now and then I gain when sleeping
A friendly hint that’s worth the keeping.
Lately I dreamt of one who cried
‘Beware of self, beware of pride;
When you are prone to build a Babel
Recall to mind this little fable…’
Tuesday 17 November 1778
Our evening meetings rather increase as the winter comes on. I hope we had thy good presence with us tonight. I spoke of casting care upon thee, how pleasant the privilege, how great the duty – but alas how difficult! Too often when I have laid my burdens at thy feet, I foolishly resume them again. Though I am sure my own care is needless, fruitless and vexatious as well as presumptuous, and that thou alone canst effectually care for me.
Thursday 19 November 1778
Met the children and preached in the evening. Thou hast spared me to conclude my lectures on Hebrews 11. O that I might grow in the exercise of that faith, of which I have lately spoken so much. Most of my time is now employed about the Hymns. Yesterday at Weston to see Mr Benjamin Higgins who is in a very low way, but seems not fully sensible of it, but rather desirous to encourage a hope of recovery. I find no opening or freedom to speak much to him, but endeavour to express my sentiments when he asks me to pray.
Friday 20 November 1778
Breakfasted at Warrington with Mr R_. He likewise is in a poor way, yet unwilling to think himself so. Aimed at some intercourse with thee by the way, could do nothing there. Mr Bush called in the evening. A second letter from Mr Jones convinces me that it is to little purpose to debate with him any farther. His spirit is high, and I think he is ensnared by his new engagements. I commend him to thy teaching and blessing. There is no teacher like thee, who canst speak to the heart.
Saturday 21 November 1778
Closed another week in peace. My _[dear Polly] was ill today, but better at night. Thy mercies, my gracious Lord, are innumerable, and they are mercies indeed. Free, undeserved blessings to the most unworthy. Some liberty in prayer in the evening, for thy Church, my friends etc, and a blessing upon thy approaching day. Notwithstanding daily impediments, I get forward with the hymns.
Sunday 22 November 1778
A good day. Lord enable my heart to praise thee, and to crown all with the unction of thine Holy Spirit. My afternoon's subject seemed difficult and I knew not how I could manage it, but by thy secret influence I went through it easily. The world despises us as Enthusiasts, and pretenders to inspiration. Ah! What a poor creature should I be if not inspired by thee. How impossible then to do anything right or to the purpose. Spoke in the evening upon the subject of Dreaming, which I believe was quite a new one to my hearers. Surely this wonderful phenomenon should teach us something. Surely it affords proof of the activity of the soul independent of the bodily faculties, and of the reality and nearness of other spirits which have access to ours. And may therefore furnish an additional cause of gratitude to thee our Good Shepherd, who restrainest our invisible enemies, which otherwise might deprive us of all comfort, peace and safety either sleeping or waking.
Hymn No. 328
[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]