HYMNS AFTER SERMONS TO YOUNG PEOPLE, ON NEW-YEARS EVENINGS, SUITED TO THE SUBJECTS
[For the New Year 1777: 2]
[after sermon from 2 Corinthians 5:20]
We are ambassadors for CHRIST
2 Corinthians 5:20
Thy message by the preacher seal,
And let thy power be known,
That every sinner here may feel
The word is not his own.
Amongst the foremost of the throng
Who dare thee to thy face,
He in rebellion stood too long,
And fought against thy grace.
But grace prevailed, he mercy found,
And now by thee is sent,
To tell his fellow-rebels round,
And call them to repent.
In Jesus God is reconciled,
The worst may be forgiven;
Come, and he'll own you as a child,
And make you heirs of heaven.
Oh may the word of gospel truth
Your chief desires engage!
And Jesus be your guide in youth,
Your joy in hoary age.
Perhaps the year that's now begun
May prove to some their last;
The sands of life may soon be run,
The day of grace be past.
Think, if you slight this embassy,
And will not warning take,
When Jesus in the clouds you see,
What answer will you make?
from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:
28 December 1776 [letter to John Thornton]
This is my busiest season of the year. I shall hope to be remembered by you on New Year’s Day, especially that I may be enabled to preach (what I call my chief sermon) to the young people and that a blessing may be given.
Extracts from Newton’s sermon:
To the Young People For the New Year’s Evening 1777
It has been my usual custom on these evenings, my friends, to bespeak your attention by a few words, before I take my text. And as I always come to you with the same feelings in my heart I have probably expressed myself from year to year much to the same purpose. The Lord has hitherto given me upon these occasions some peculiar earnestness of desire to be made useful to your souls, some real sense of the vast importance of the message I bring to you – something of a warm concern for the continuance of his light and truth and work amongst us, the hope of which chiefly depends upon the reception which the Gospel meets with amongst the younger part of the congregation. And therefore, especially of late, it has been a painful concern. For though many are willing to hear, I fear there are but few who are in good earnest asking their way to Zion with their faces thitherward.
You that know how to pray, help me with your prayers, that the Lord may prosper the attempt.
2 Corinthians 5:20
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus, the author of this reconciliation, published it himself when he was upon earth, and when about to return to his glory, he commissioned his apostles to proclaim it far and near.
Though they therefore had an honour and authority peculiar to themselves as apostles, yet all Gospel ministers, who are called, sent and furnished by the Head of the church (and none but such deserve the name) may without arrogance assume the apostle’s words, and address their hearers as ambassadors for Christ. As such however unworthy in myself, I appeared before you now. I come in his name, I bring his word with me, I have a message to you from God – may he who has sent me dispose your hearts to steer[hear] with attention and reverence.
In some respects indeed, the sublime mysteries of the Gospel might seem more suitable to the tongues of angels than men. But the Lord chooses his Ambassadors from amongst the enemies with whom he is pleased to treat; he seizes them by his power, constrains them by his love, pardons and saves them, and then sends them back to tell their fellow rebels, There is forgiveness. Such was Paul – a fit person to declare Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and this fitness have I – I likewise was a persecutor etc; but I obtained mercy.
We are commanded to pray and beseech you to be reconciled to God. Is this unreasonable? Can this be undesirable?
Paul does not contradict his own doctrine of Free Grace by thus speaking – the power is the Lord's, but the message is the instrument by which he works… Your business is not to cavil or to reason but to believe… Hitherto you have disliked his grace, and slighted his redeeming love, but O this night I pray you in Christ's stead, Be ye reconciled.
We pray you in Christ's stead… While he was on earth this was his great business to pray and beseech sinners to be reconciled… God beseeches you by me, I pray you in Christ's stead – the arguments I use are drawn from the love and the blood of his heart.
O think how soon you may be snatched away… Mind the main thing, the life of God in your souls, and do not turn aside, or take up with anything short of the mind that was in Christ, and a spirit and conversation becoming the Gospel.
I speak chiefly with a view to the young people but there are aged grey-headed sinners amongst us. Ah, you at least must be near your great change. Are you not yet reconciled? Tremble at the thought. Yet there is hope. Seek it now quickly, earnestly – the gate of mercy is yet open, but it may be soon shut.
And now may the Lord command a blessing. I commend you to him and to the word of his grace.
Wednesday 1 January 1777
In the evening preached to the young people. I seemed to speak earnestly yet my spirit had not that liberty as on some former times. I believe I fettered myself by writing too much on the subject. Do thou my gracious Lord command a blessing, and what was sown in weakness, shall spring up with power.
YP [Young People] 2 Corinthians 5:20
[Hymn No. 263]
[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 after the sermon at the New Year's evening service]
21 January 1777 [letter to Mrs Lucy Thornton]
I take the liberty to send you my New Year’s hymns. I usually compose 2 or 3 for the occasion of the sermon I preach on New Year’s evening to the young people. I need not tell you there is nothing extraordinary in them, but they are at least new. My text this year was 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Now therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, etc.” I had a pretty large and attentive auditory. I have generally found hitherto on these seasons, that the Lord has been pleased to honour me as an instrument of awakening some one poor, careless sinner at least to a desire of his salvation. And to be useful to one soul is of more importance than the temporal prosperity of a whole nation.
Verses 2 and 3 of this hymn, based on one of Newton's favourite passages, 1 Timothy 1:12-16, are echoed in his epitaph.