[New Year's Hymns 1779: 1/3]
Earthly prospects deceitful
Oft in vain the voice of truth,
Solemnly and loudly warns;
Thoughtless, unexperienced youth,
Though it hears, the warning scorns:
Youth in fancy's glass surveys
Life prolonged to distant years,
While the vast, imagined space
Filled with sweets and joys appears.
Awful disappointment soon
Overclouds the prospect gay;
Some, their sun goes down at noon,
Torn by death's strong hand away:
Where are then their pleasing schemes?
Where the joys they hoped to find?
Gone for ever, like their dreams,
Leaving not a trace behind.
Others, who are spared awhile,
Live to weep o'er fancy's cheat;
Find distress, and pain, and toil,
Bitter things instead of sweet:
Sin has spread a curse around,
Poisoned all things here below;
On this base polluted ground,
Peace and joy can never grow.
Grace alone can cure our ills,
Sweeten life, with all its cares;
Regulate our stubborn wills,
Save us from surrounding snares:
Though you oft have heard in vain,
Former years in folly spent;
Grace invites you yet again,
Once more calls you to repent.
Called again, at length, beware,
Hear the Saviour’s voice and live;
Lest he in his wrath should swear,
He no more will warning give:
Pray that you may hear and feel,
Ere the day of grace be past;
Lest your hearts grow hard as steel,
Or this year should prove your last.
from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:
Tuesday 29 December 1778
Mr Thornton sent me a remarkable instance of thy power and grace, my Lord, in a letter he received from a mariner on board the Robust. How justly doest thou punish, how wonderfully dost thou restore backsliders. How mighty is thy power to preserve and increase grace in the most unfavourable circumstances. I read this letter at the Great House, and made it the subject of my discourse. Do thou give a blessing, and teach us by it the value of our privileges, that we may prize and improve them.
Friday 1 January 1779
My glorious and powerful God, how hast thou swept the earth and the sea in the last night with thy terrible storm. And multitudes probably have been in jeopardy and in the agonies of death while I have been sleeping. Thou hast raised me up to begin the New Year in health and peace. O may I seek and obtain thy blessing upon it, for myself and mine – my dear – my child – my people and my friends.
Last night I heard my friend S[Scott] preach at Weston [Underwood] from 1 Timothy 4:8. How should I wonder and rejoice. Surely when thou wilt work, none can let it. What liberty, power and judgment, in so young a preacher! May thy comfort fill his heart and thy blessing crown his labours.
Now my Lord help me to pray and praise, and once more to devote and surrender myself and my all to thee. Thou hast and dost deliver, in thee I trust to be with me to the end, and then to take me to be with thee, forever. How short is the last year upon a review, how full of vanity and trouble, every day marked with folly on my part, as with mercies on thine – and I nearer by a whole year to eternity than I was on a certain day [10 March 1748 OS, 21 March 1748 NS], which seems to me almost like yesterday. O Lord teach me how to live, prepare me for every change, especially that great change which must come, and which I desire to consider rather as desirable, than as unavoidable.
Preached in the morning with some liberty. We had much company to dinner. My spirit was dull and cold towards the evening service, till I entered upon it. Then I trust thou didst in some degree hear my prayers.
[Hymn No. 332]
[On this date Newton preached from the above texts at his church, St Peter & St Paul, Olney, during the morning and evening services, and from this hymn at the New Year's evening service]