Olney Hymns Book 3 Hymn 7
O Lord, how vile I am...
Manuscript Hymn No. 215
SEEKING, PLEADING AND HOPING
Behold I am vile!
O Lord, how vile am I,
Unholy and unclean!
How can I dare to venture nigh
With such a load of sin?
Is this polluted heart
A dwelling fit for thee?
Swarming, alas! in every part,
What evils do I see!
If I attempt to pray,
And lisp thy holy name,
My thoughts are hurried soon away,
I know not where I am.
If in thy Word I look,
Such darkness fills my mind,
I only read a sealed book,
But no relief can find.
Thy gospel oft I hear,
But hear it still in vain;
Without desire, or love, or fear,
I like a stone remain.
Myself can hardly bear
This wretched heart of mine;
How hateful then must it appear
To those pure eyes of thine?
And must I then indeed
Sink in despair and die?
Fain would I hope that thou didst bleed
For such a wretch as I.
That blood which thou hast spilt,
That grace which is thine own,
Can cleanse the vilest sinner's guilt,
And soften hearts of stone.
Low at thy feet I bow,
Oh pity and forgive;
Here will I lie and wait, till thou
Shalt bid me rise and live.
from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:
Tuesday 8 August 1775
Morning meeting well attended. At home writing etc. In the evening spoke from Psalm 93:5 [Thy testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever.] Had a pleasanter opportunity than I expected. What causes of humiliation in myself.
The weather was very precarious when harvest began – frequent heavy squalls of rain – but yesterday and today the Lord has given fine weather, and much of the wheat is carried in.
Thursday 10 August
Weather rainy yesterday, today fine again but I think there will be more rain. The Lord shows us our utter dependence upon himself, how easily he can disappoint our hopes, and starve ungrateful wretches from off the earth. Met the children. Preached in the evening... Wrote a long letter to Mr Scott. [Cardiphonia, Letter 3: ‘a certain important change takes place in the heart, by the operation of the Spirit of God, before the soundest and most orthodox sentiments can have their proper influence upon us.’]
Philippians 2:15,16 [That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.]
Saturday 12 August
Beginning to take leave of the people - as I purpose to go to London on Wednesday. …Another rainy afternoon; the season begins to be critical. It seems as if much more rain would greatly hurt the harvest. But the Lord is wise and gracious. Willingly would I leave it in his hands, but find my spirit prone to be anxious.
Sunday 13 August
Helped through the day, but the frame of my spirit far from lively. My discourses at church, in a formal strain; I purpose a month’s absence, the Lord only knows what changes may take place in that time. Many strangers at church. In the evening spoke from Hymn No. 215.
Deuteronomy 4:9 Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.
Romans 15:30-32 Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.
Hymn No. 215
Points from an earlier sermon on the above text Deuteronomy 4:9 (for New Year’s Day 1774) are reflected in the hymn opposite:
Who would have thought it needful to caution Israel not to forget such great things as they had seen? But the Lord knew and experience had already proved, that their hearts were forgetful, evil and perverse.
You have seen: the evil of sin, the love of Christ, the Lord’s faithfulness to his promises, the wisdom and goodness of God in his providence, the vanity and emptiness of the creature, the importance and reality of the great things within the veil.
But we are apt to forget what we have seen: careless in our walk, indifference, distrust and impatience under trials, the world … pursued, faintness of zeal and the little concern for the glory of God. The best care we can take of ourselves is to entreat the Lord to take care of us.
But there are means, within our reach, and in the use of them he has promised to bless us: commune with our hearts and review our ways, reading the Scriptures, frequency at a throne of grace.
[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]
Hymn: MS Eng 1317, Houghton Library, Harvard University
Diary: John Newton Collection, CO199, Princeton University
Marylynn Rouse, 12/09/2013