Jeremiah 50:5


Heads of a Discourse to the Young people,

On the New Year’s Evening 1774

[1 January 1774]
Jer 50 title Heads
If the Lord spare us till then, and give us opportunity of meeting.
Address, or Preface
Jer 50 title Address
Though I am far from being so deeply affected with the importance of the message I have to you from the Lord as I ought, yet I may venture to say, my friends, and especially with respect to the younger people amongst you, that if your desire of receiving a blessing tonight, is equal to the desire of my soul for you, I shall have good hope that the Lord will not disappoint us.  If ever a sense of the worth of souls is impressed upon my heart (and I hope it sometimes is), if ever I find myself willing to spend and be spent for you, if I can ever adopt with sincerity the Apostle’s words, and say, Being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us [1 Thessalonians 2:8], it is peculiarly so at the return of this opportunity. [1] To the most of you, I preach frequently and I have no new truth, to set before you now.  Why then is my heart engaged on a New Year’s evening more than at other times?  Why do I stand up at these times with a solicitude as if I had never preached before, or as if I expected never to preach again?  I have frequently entertained a hope upon this account, that my concern was a token for good, a token that the Lord was about to do great things for us, and that the seed I endeavour to sow among the young people should in the course of the year spring up abundantly and give us the prospect of a plentiful harvest.  But alas, I have been repeatedly disappointed.  Painful experience has taught me my own insufficiency, that though I should address you with the greatest earnestness, though I should accompany every word with tears, though I could even weep blood, all my earnestness will be in vain, unless the Lord himself is pleased to take the work into his own hands, and apply the word by his own power to your hearts.  Though he does not leave himself wholly without witness (and every single instance is worth a world) I fear upon the whole things are growing worse amongst us, rather than better.  I do not want proofs of your general kind acceptance of my service, if that would content me.  But it will not, I hope it never will.  I seek not yours but you.  I want to be useful to you – to see many (if it might be the will of God), all of you, attending to the things that pertain to your everlasting peace.  Then indeed I should rejoice.  This has been my prayer, and from entreating the Lord I now come to entreat and beseech you that you would hear with attention and receive with meekness the word which by his blessing is able to save your souls – that I may not have to return again and say, Lord, who hath believed our report? [2]  The eyes and hopes of the Lord’s people are upon you, and they, I trust, will help me with their prayers, that this may be a night much to be remembered amongst us. [3]
Jer 50 text
Jeremiah 50:5
They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying,
Come, and let us join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.
Babylon was the great enemy of Israel and by God’s permission triumphed over it for a season, laid Jerusalem in heaps and led the people into captivity.  But the prophet in this chapter foretells the utter destruction of Babylon, and that in consequence of it Israel should return to their own land in the manner described in my text.  But the Scriptures principally testify of Christ.  The prophesies concerning Israel are not to be confined to the literal and immediate sense, they are typical, and receive their full accomplishment and signification when referred to Gospel times.  Mystical Babylon, is the kingdom of Satan – Jesus the true Cyrus, triumphed over him and destroyed his power by his death.  Then he spoiled principalities and powers, broke the gates of brass asunder, and effected the deliverance and redemption of his people.  Which now is not suspended upon any conditions on their parts, but wholly depends upon the efficacy of his grace and promise.  He has made their deliverance not only possible but certain.  He has said they shall ask the way and he has likewise said, they that seek shall find. [4]
1. the object they had in view – Zion
2. the method – they shall ask the way
3. their sincerity – with their faces thitherward
4. their purpose – Let us join ourselves
1. Zion represents the Church of God.  It has two branches during the present state of things.  The Church in glory – that is the heavenly state.  Heaven answers not to the idea of a carnal heart.  It is the state and place, where the redeemed of the Lord, rejoice in his presence and love, freed from all their sins, troubles and enemies, to which they are exposed here.  Zion likewise is the Church upon earth.  Not this or that particular church, or denomination, but it consists of all who know Jesus, and have peace and communion with God, by him.  These are said to come to Mount Zion, the City of the living God, [5] and as sure as they belong to the Church below, they belong to the Church above, and shall in due time join.  This then expresses the desire of awakened souls – they wish to be remembered with the favour which the Lord bears to his people, in time and to eternity.
Now my dear friends, how stand you affected to this thought?  What is Zion in your view?  Have you no desire to be a Citizen of Zion?  They and they only are happy.  Their sins are pardoned, their persons accepted, they have access to God, are under his immediate teach[ing], care, protection.  His eye is upon them, his ear open to them.  How far is their portion preferable to the worldling while here, and when they die they are blessed indeed, and enter upon a glorious immortality. [6]  If nothing of this engages you, if you die before you are united to the Head of the Church by faith, then when they are admitted you will be shut out, and must take up your abode with devils.
2. They shall ask the way
This intimates:
  2.1 Their natural ignorance
Men in a state of nature know many things, but not one knows the way to Zion.  Many never heard if it.  And many who have heard much know nothing aright.  They walk in a way of their own, seek salvation by works, or think they are right because they follow a multitude.  Christ is the way, but to know him as such we must be taught, for none can know him so as to choose him and walk in him, to love, trust and worship him, but by the Holy Ghost.
  2.2 Their willingness to be taught
The Lord convinces them of their ignorance, and makes them desirous of instruction.  They see they must perish unless they come to Zion, and this makes them teachable.  They are afraid of leaning to their own understands[understanding] and being mistaken in a point of this consequence.
  2.3 That the Lord has appointed means of directing enquiring souls
Otherwise it will be in vain to ask.  The Lord is the only effectual teacher, but he does not speak to them by an outward voice from heaven.  For this purpose he has appointed:
    2.3.1 Prayer
Teach me thy way.  If any lack this wisdom, let them ask of God. [7]
    2.3.2 The Word
This is given for a lamp to their feet and a light to their path. [8]
    2.3.3 The ordinances
This is a great privilege where afforded, as likewise:
    2.3.4 The Lord’s people
These are glad to help enquirers, by telling them how they have been led themselves.
3. They ask – with their faces thitherward
  Too many are content with talking of the way, but they may talk themselves into hell, while they amuse themselves with talking about Zion.  They who are sincere will set their faces Zionward. 
Jer 50 set Zionward
That is:
  3.1 They will give all diligence to make their calling sure, by attending to the means. [9]
  3.2 They will abstain from the wicked ways in which they once walked.  While the perishing pleasures of sin are desired, and the company of the ungodly chosen, people cannot be in earnest in asking the way to Zion.
  3.3 Though they meet (as they surely will) discouragements from within and without, they will keep their faces the right way, and dread the thoughts of turning back.
4. The desire which animate and encourages them, is Let us join – in a covenant.  Here we have a new opening of matter, but I must be brief.
  4.1 This covenant is not the creature’s engagement to the Lord, but a laying hold on the Lord’s covenant engagement to the sinner.  This is established in Christ.  He engaged to fulfil all righteousness for those who come to him, and to work all their works for them and in them.  Our part is to consent to it, to choose it and venture ourselves.  All promises and resolutions of our own will come to nothing without this.  But when this covenant is known, it draws the soul to a willing surrender.  Then the sinner gives himself away, and commits himself to the Redeemer.  As the Apostle speaks, 2 Timothy 1:12 [For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.].
  4.2 By accepting, yielding, to this covenant, the soul is joined to the Lord – in one spirit, one interest.  Then Christ dwells in the sinner, and puts forth his life, power and grace in the soul, and the sinner dwells in Christ as in a strong tower of defence.
  4.3 This covenant shall not be forgotten.  The effects and purposes of it are abiding and unchangeable.  The Lord will remember it in every turn of life, at the hour of death and the day of judgment.
It will not be forgotten by the soul.  The hour, the place, will usually be remembered, the surrender often renewed and ratified. [10]  O that this may be the hour and this may be the place with some of you.  That the glory of this covenant may win your hearts before you go hence.
Some of you I trust are thus minded.  You have already through grace chosen Jesus, as your way, and are walking on to Zion.  The Lord encourage and strengthen you.  See what a blessed hope is set before you.  The Lord will guide you and support you.  Only remember your own weakness, the strength and power of your enemies, and watch and pray, that you may walk answerable to your high calling, that the Lord may have the glory, and you the comfort of your profession.
I must take it for granted that some of you have not yet asked the way to Zion. Some of you have long been hearers, and have had the advantage of the advice, example and prayers of the godly.  Perhaps they who watched for your soul’s good are now gone, to a better world.  You will see them again.  How will you rejoice to meet them if you walk in their way – if not, it will be a dreadful meeting.  Some of you are to this hour breaking the hearts of those who wish well to your souls.  Behold the judge standeth at the door.  If you still despise this salvation – sermons, friends, Ministers, will all aggravate your condemnation.
Some of you have been brought up in the neglect of means and under the unhappy influence of bad examples.  What have too many parents to answer for!  Yet your parents’ sins will not excuse yours.  You now hear for yourselves, and it is at the peril of your souls if you do not begin to ask the way to Zion.  Say not you are young.  How know you but the year you are now entering upon may be your last?  And why delay?  Why unwilling to be happy too soon?
If it is high time for the young, what then for the aged?  Let the grey-headed sinner hear – many [a] year you have wasted.  Great is the account you have to give for abused mercies.  Yet if you will now in good earnest ask the way to Zion, you may find it.  One year more the Lord has waited to be gracious.  But the sentence, Cut it down, [11] cannot be far distant.  If it should find you barren and unfruitful you will fall into hell, and I shall be clear of your blood. [12]  O today, while it is called today, hear his voice. [13]
[This sermon was followed by the congregation singing Newton’s hymn written especially on Jeremiah 50:5, ‘Asking the way to Zion’: Zion! the city of our God, as in Olney Hymns, Book 2, Hymn 24. He sent a copy of this and his two other New Year’s hymns to John and Lucy Thornton. The hymn to be sung before this sermon was Does it not grief and wonder move, as in Olney Hymns, Book 2, Hymn 14, ‘Elijah’s prayer’ ]

[1] Newton’s Diary for 1 January 1774: ‘In the afternoon retired aiming to seek the Lord, and especially for liberty and a blessing upon the annual sermon, I preach this evening to the young people. My heart is usually much intent upon this service. O for wisdom and power, rightly to divide the word of truth amongst them. And may the Lord make it a seed of life to many of them. [contd] Preached in the evening with good liberty and was heard with seeming attention. The Lord command a blessing.’
[2] Romans 10:16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? [quoting Isaiah 53:1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?]
[3] reminiscent of Newton’s statement on his birthday, 4 August 1758, when he dedicated himself for ‘sanctuary service’  ‘with a solemn unreserved, unconditional surrender of my whole self to the Lord’: ‘O may this be a day much to be remembered unto the Lord hereafter by me and by many.’ (Miscellaneous Thoughts, published by the JNP as Ministry on my mind, 2008, 2010)
[4] e.g. Luke 11:9,10 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
[5] Hebrews 12:22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels
[6] cf the last verse of Newton’s hymn, Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God:
Saviour, if of Zion's city
I through grace a member am;
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy name
Fading is the worldling's pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure,
None but Zion's children know.
Olney Hymns, Book 1, Hymn 60 (written for Easter Day, 16 April 1775)
[7] e.g. Psalm 27:11 Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies; James 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
[8] Psalm 119:105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
[9] 2 Peter 1:10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
[10] Newton never failed to keep the anniversary of his own conversion, as for instance on 21 March 1774: ‘The anniversary of my great deliverance at sea, and of the season when my conscience, after having been long seared as with a hot iron, began to feel some relentings for sin, and some apprehensions of the Great God into whose hands I expected every moment to fall... My desire was to meet the Lord, and to renew my acknowledgements of this and all the subsequent mercies bestowed upon me.’
[11] Luke 13:7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
[12] Ezekiel 3:17-19 Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
[13] e.g. Hebrews 3:15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.

Cowper & Newton Museum, Olney, MS 714 (13)