The great tribunal (a)
John in vision saw the day
When the Judge will hasten down:
Heaven and earth shall flee away
From the terror of his frown;
Dead and living, small and great,
Raised from the earth and sea,
At his bar shall hear their fate;
What will then become of me?
Can I bear his awful looks?
Shall I stand in judgment then,
When I see the opened books,
Written by the Almighty's pen?
If he to remembrance bring,
And expose to public view,
Every work and secret thing,
Ah, my soul, what canst thou do?
When the list shall be produced
Of the talents I enjoyed;
Means and mercies, how abused!
Time and strength, how misemployed!
Conscience, then compelled to read,
Must allow the charge is true;
Say, my soul, what canst thou plead?
In that hour what wilt thou do?
But the book of life I see,
May my name be written there!
Then from guilt and danger free,
Glad I'll meet him in the air:
That's the book I hope to plead,
'Tis the gospel opened wide;
Lord, I am a wretch indeed!
I have sinned, but thou hast died. (b)
Now my soul knows what to do;
Thus I shall with boldness stand,
Numbered with the faithful few,
Owned and saved at thy right hand:
If thou help a feeble worm
To believe thy promise now,
Justice will at last confirm
What thy mercy wrought below.
(a) Revelation 20:11,12
(b) Romans 8:34
from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:
Saturday 17 May 1777
Had an interview with Mr Newman once among the most violent of Mr Bower's opposers, now I trust a signal trophy of the power and riches of thy grace, and called to preach the faith he formally laboured to destroy.
Sunday 1 March 1778
In my morning retirement, very dull and wandering, a dove without a heart, yet carried by thy power with liberty through the day, and my mind something engaged, in all but the sacrament; there my usual stupidity still prevails. A letter from Mr Newman invites me to difficult and delicate service and it seems a call from thee. If so, I trust thou wilt enabled me to answer it. Lord, I cannot do it without thee.
Hymn No. 304
Tuesday 3 March 1778
Very busy in preparing a sermon for Mr Newman who is to preach at the Leicester Assizes. The importance of the occasion, and the delicacy of his situation in the midst of his old occasion, would not permit me to refuse his request. I thank thee that thou hast directed me to a suitable subject, and givest me liberty in writing. I thank thee likewise for some liberty this evening at the Great House.
Wednesday 4 March 1778
Finished the sermon. But shall endeavour to copy it again if I have time. In the afternoon attended the funeral of Mr Barringer at Emberton. An unhappy, thoughtless man, suddenly arrested by a stroke which left him no power for reflection or speech. He was always civil to me, and willing his sister and wife should hear. But alas he would not hear himself. A letter from my Scotch friends Barlass, may well fill me with shame. He thinks me somebody. Ah! My Lord, thou only knowest how little I answer the idea many of my friends form of me!
Thursday 5 March 1778
Met the children – and in the evening preached. Busy in transcribing the sermon. I was rather poorly in the evening, and my chariot wheels moved heavily, though I had a noble subject in hand, the translation of Enoch. O give me more faith, that I may walk with thee, may please thee, then my death will be a translation.
Saturday 7 March 1778
Finished the sermon for sending. I have been fully employed this week about it, being willing to have a copy. And now Lord grant it may be attended with thy blessing, and that I may lie low in the dust, ashamed of my best. Alas when thou helpest me and I succeed in any attempts, though I know it is thy blessing and not my own doing – How prone am I [to] think well of my vile self.
Sunday 8 March 1778
Found Mr Moore and Wheatley of Leicester in church this morning – they proceed for London tomorrow. I thank thee for liberty today. O my Lord how gracious art thou. How empty do I feel in myself and yet thou art pleased to fill me. O that the word might be blessed.
1 Corinthians 2:9
Hymn No. 305
[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]
Tuesday 10 March 1778
The Great House rather fuller than usual, though several of the people are at Aylesbury, attending the Assize. Lord, some poor creatures are brought before an Earthly Judge, and though there is little doubt of their guilt, they will probably be acquitted for defect of legal proof. O that they and I may be fitted to appear before thee to whom all things are known. If they return to us, they will be more daring and mischievous than ever, except thou restrain them. O that thy grace may humble and convince some of them, that all may know and see thou hast done it. Mrs Pettit of Emberton dangerously ill of a miscarriage. Lord we ask her life with submission. If taken away she will [be] much missed in her family, and connections. Mr Newman’s servant came for the MS.
Wednesday 11 March 1778 [letter to Thornton]
I finished the sermon for Mr. Newman last week and he sent his servant for it yesterday. I have kept a copy, which perhaps when opportunity offers I may transmit to you. The text is Revelation 20:11-12 and the plan in general is to apply the circumstances of our assizes to the proceedings of the great assize, when each of us will be engaged personally in a cause of our own.