New Year's Evening

1778 Jan 1 youth prayer
[Diary 1 January 1778:
‘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…]

Acts 20:26,27

Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.
For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
My dear friends – You expect me to speak, but I am at a loss for words to express the feelings of my heart. I have desires and fears for you which I cannot describe. I long for these yearly opportunities and I dread them. For though they return but yearly, I am afraid too many of you treat them as a matter of form, and that, as are three sermons, the preachers are heard from a motive of curiosity, as if you had little further concern with our discourses, than to pass your judgement upon them when you go home. For myself it is a small thing with me, to be judged of men. If by studying, I could hope to please you to your edification, I would study night and day. But as I aim not to tell you new things or fine things – though there is no sermon in the year, that lies with so much weight upon my mind as this, there is no one that requires less premeditation.

I cannot meet you and look around you, without being reminded what subjects are most suited to you. Few of you want information. I cannot speak to a set of young people who have never heard the Gospel – if I was, I should have better hope of success – the evil of sins, the love of Jesus, the privileges of believers, and the terrors of the Lord, are subjects which usually make some impression, while they are new; they did so once upon some of you, who now can hear them with indifference. Upon a few of you I hope they do still – but what to say to those who have long stupefied their convictions, or have taken up with a form of godliness, and rest in a string of notions, or a mode of worship, is a difficulty indeed.

That I love you, that I long for your salvation, I have told you often. I tell you so again. That I tremble for many of you, perhaps I have said likewise before, and I must say it now. Last year I told you that I had some apprehension, I was addressing you for the last time. I had no particular reason for it, but it had very nearly proved so, for that I was not removed in the spring, still appears almost miraculous to myself. [1] When my heart was gratified with a permission to stay longer among you, I hoped upon my return, the stir which had been amongst us, would have issued in a revival – that I should have seen some whose conduct had often wounded my heart, returning to the Lord, and others beginning to seek after him – but alas I am disappointed – the reasons which inclined me to think my work at Olney might be nearly finished, seem stronger than before.

However, I am no prophet. I am in the Lord's hands, still willing to live and die among you if he please – but still apprehensive that he may dispose of me otherwise. Therefore without pretending to say it will be the last time – I shall endeavour [to] address you, as if I were sure it would be so – and may the Lord enable you to share with the same thought upon [y]our mind. We never hear better than when we have a lively sense of the uncertainty of life and all its concerns.

Acts 20:26, 27

The apostle Paul, is a fit pattern for Ministers. And the spirit he breathed, the aims he proposed, and the tenor of his conduct, are admirably expressed here (enlarge a little on his zeal, tenderness, generosity). No wonder that he was dear to the elders and believers at Ephesus, where he had so long, so affectionately, and successfully, laboured. No wonder it almost broke their hearts to think they should see his face no more. He felt likewise for them, and the more, because from his knowledge of human nature, and the power of the enemy, and probably by express revelation of the Holy Spirit, he foresaw a mournful change would shortly take place, that wolves from without would attempt to break into the fold, and that some from among themselves would disturb the peace and defile the purity of the church. And we know that not many years afterwards the warm-hearted Ephesians had left their first love. He warned and cautioned them with the most tender solicitude, recommended that watchfulness which they had seen in him, and in the words of my text appealed to themselves, that whatever, he had done his part.
Uncertain as I have hinted, of the events which the year we have now entered may bring forth – I take the words I have read, from his discourse for the ground of my present address, and I make his appeal to your consciences tonight – that whatever may be the effect of my ministry among you, whether to life or to death – I am clear of the blood of those that perish, for I have not shunned (etc).
1. What we understand, by all the counsel etc
2. What – by not shunning to declare
3. That this is a concern of blood.
1. [All the counsel]
Acts 20 26 27 all counsel of G
  1.1 The importance and dignity of the Gospel salvation intimated.
It is the effect of counsel – the work, yea, the masterpiece, of infinite wisdom – the recovery of fallen man, attended with difficulties, which no created wisdom could have surmounted. A plan was formed – the means, the methods, the objects and every circumstance, according to a divine foreappointment. The design – that it should be complete, certain and infallible with respect to man – and suited to display the perfections of God, to the highest advantage.
  1.2 The word All must be restrained:
    1.2.1 by the fullness of the subject. All that was discovered to him – there is a depth beyond even the comprehension of an apostle – much more beyond mine. But according to my light, and the line of my experience.
    1.2.2 The state of the hearers – not all at once, nor all every time. He tells the Hebrews he had many things to say, which they were not yet capable of receiving. And here I kept back nothing that was profitable. Every branch in its place and season as occasions offer, and call for. Some people think that if a Minister preaches the five points as they are called – particularly if he insists upon election from every text, and in every sermon – he declares all the counsel of God, and not otherwise. But this counsel is not restrained to a few doctrines, which if not rightly understood, and experimentally received, rather tend to fill people with a knowledge that puffeth up, than with that love which edifieth. However, as I am deeply indebted to Grace, so it has been my study and pleasure, to proclaim the doctrines of Grace:
      Acts 20 26 27 doctrine grace I have declared the counsel of God with respect to sin, its nature and dreadful effects. The fallen ruined nature of man I have laid the one foundation – of a sinner's hope – pointed out to you the Saviour – his dignity, character, offices and compassions. I have declared a free Gospel, clogged with no conditions, qualifications, ‘buts’ and ‘ifs’, respecting a sinner's acceptance. I have declared to you the nature of salvation – a renewal of the soul into the divine image. If you stop short of this you are deceived by yourselves, not by men. I have inculcated the generous spirit of the Gospel – as not consisting in meats and drinks, in an attachment to names, notions, parties – to modes of worship – that it is neither circumcision, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature – faith working by love, righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. I have put you in mind, that though you can do nothing spiritually of yourselves, yet there is a seeking and waiting in the use of means, which it is your proper part and duty to be found in – and which if you neglect, ruin will lie at your door. [2]
2. That I have not shunned to declare – is owing to the great mercy of the Lord, and not to my own goodness. There are strong temptations this way. Ministers have the same feelings as others. It is not pleasing to be accounted an enemy, or a fool, but I have been minded that it is the counsel of God, and must not be tampered with. We must conform to our instructions, not handle the Word deceitfully [3] – nor attempt to sweeten or disguise it, to make it the more palatable. We would please all men to edification, but as things stand we can expect to please but few:
  2.1 not the self-righteous
  2.2 not the openly wicked – to them we are like Isaiah [states] [4] – they hate us, because we cannot speak smooth things.
  2.3 not all professors – many like to hear Gospel doctrines – because Satan has taught them to rest in the notion, and to abuse them. But we are constrained to tell them, of their evil tempers, their pride, bigotry, covetousness, formality – and for this we must be content to be called legal and ignorant – but if we went so out of our prescribed path to please men, we should not be the servants of Christ. Therefore:
3. This our message is a concern of blood. Woe be to us if we preach not the Gospel [5] – If we dare to suppress it in whole or in part. Let this plead our excuse. Do not say, we are too plain, too pressing – alas, not a thousandth part so much so, as we ought to be. The Lord forgive us! What some of our hearers deem an excess of zeal appears to ourselves, a criminal indifference and lukewarmness. And though in a sense we hope to be found fruitful, we shall have cause enough to say, Enter not into judgement with thy servants. [6]
But why are we so much interested? Is it not upon your accounts? Because your danger is great, your souls immortal, your lives uncertain. If we trifle, and you perish, through our faults, your blood will be requited at our hands. But if we are faithful, and you perish where will your blood be then? Upon yourselves. The apostle's words teach us – that if you go on in sin, you must perish. O take heed how you hear – your lives, your all are at stake. The Lord knows whether I am to preach to the youth again or not, but we shall surely meet at last. [7] I must then give an account of my preaching, you of your hearing. You will not say then, that you were not warned – that you were not invited. I shall be clear of your blood.
But can I think of this with coolness? I would not only be saved myself – but a means of snatching you from destruction. Ah, what comfort can I take, if you are determined to perish? I have preached many years and almost 2000 sermons here, besides our more private opportunities. And shall I only have to say, Lord who hath believed our report? [8] If you sin it is not ignorantly, if you sink into darkness, it will be with the light of the Gospel, shining round you.
Different cases: some of our young people I trust have received this counsel, and have given themselves to the Lord. Hail high favoured – the Lord is with you, [9] yet beware of a decline.
Many of you are yet in your sins, and the habit and power of sin is growing stronger with your years. O consider – Have you a little relenting? Pray. Read the Scripture. Attend upon ordinances.
Break off from evil company (young men,) I charge you in the Lord's name, if sinners entice – consent not.
My heart grieves for many young women. Alas, it is too plain, they are like the thoughtless bird, hastening to a snare. There is one part of my office as a parish Minister gives me frequent pain – When I am called to unite those in marriage, where a connection has been previously formed in sin, and shame, and a foundation laid for misery through the future life. But why should I speak of shame? they[these] things are so common, that shame seems to be extinguished. I take this opportunity of warning you of the evil and danger. If you will go on you must but remember, I am clear of your blood.
In the whole counsel of God, there is a word of hope and an encouragement even for grey-headed sinners: It is not yet too late except you neglect this great salvation.
[Diary 1 January 1778:
 ‘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.’]
For the hymn written on this text see his manuscript No. 295, ‘Paul's Farewell charge.  After a sermon from Acts 20 v 26,27’, Olney Hymns, Book 2, Hymn 28, When Paul was parted from his friends:
No 295 v1
Paul’s farewell charge
Acts 20:26,27
When Paul was parted from his friends
It was a weeping day;
But Jesus made them all amends,
And wiped their tears away.
Ere long they met again, with joy,
(Secure no more to part)
Where praises every tongue employ,
And pleasure fills each heart.
Thus all the preachers of his grace
Their children soon shall meet;
Together see their Saviour’s face,
And worship at his feet.
But they who heard the word in vain,
Though oft, and plainly, warned;
Will tremble, when they meet again
The ministers they scorned.
On your own heads your blood will fall
If any perish here;
The preachers, who have told you all,
Shall stand approved, and clear.
Yet, Lord, to save themselves alone,
Is not their utmost view;
Oh! hear their prayer, thy message own,
And save their hearers too.

[1] On 22 January 1777 Newton received a letter from John Thornton informing him that Isaac Thompson, incumbent of North Ferriby near Hull, had died suddenly. He proposed that Newton moved to Hull to take his place. Some anxious weeks and discussions followed until Newton eventually heard with relief that John King, an evangelical, was appointed on 25 March 1777 in his stead to the perpetual curacy. For further details see Fn 3 to Newton’s letter of March 1777 to Thomas Robinson.
[2] ms incorrectly '6' instead of 7
[3] 2 Corinthians 4:2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
[4] Isaiah 30:9-11 That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord:  Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:  Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us. [ms ‘Misaiah’]
[5] 1 Corinthians 9:16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
[6] Psalm 143:2 And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.
[7] ms brackets: The Lord knows whether (I am to preach to the youth again or not,) but we shall surely meet at last.
[8] Paul quoting from Isaiah 53:1, in Romans 10:16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?
[9] Luke 1:28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.


Princeton University, John Newton Diary, CO199
MS Eng 1317, Houghton Library, Harvard University
ms No. 35 Cowper & Newton Museum

Marylynn Rouse, 31/12/2016