On the eclipse of the moon
July 30, 1776
The moon in silver glory shone,
And not a cloud in sight,
When suddenly a shade begun
To intercept her light.
How fast across her orb it spread,
How fast her light withdrew!
A circle tinged with languid red,
Was all appeared in view.
While many with unmeaning eye,
Gaze on thy works in vain,
Assist me, Lord, that I may try
Instruction to obtain.
Fain would my thankful heart and lips
Unite in praise to thee,
And meditate on thy eclipse,
In sad Gethsemane.
Thy people's guilt, a heavy load,
(When standing in their room),
Deprived thee of the light of God,
And filled thy soul with gloom.
How punctually eclipses move,
Obedient to thy will!
Thus shall thy faithfulness and love
Thy promises fulfill.
Dark, like the moon without the sun,
I mourn thine absence, Lord!
For light or comfort have I none
But what thy beams afford.
But, lo! the hour draws near apace, (a)
When changes shall be o'er;
Then I shall see thee face to face,
And be eclipsed no more.
(a) 2 Corinthians 13:1
from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:
Tuesday 30 July 1776
Tonight I attended an Eclipse of the Moon. How great are thy works; with what punctuality do the heavenly bodies fulfil their courses, and observe their seasons to a moment. All things obey thee, but fallen angels, and fallen man. My thoughts would have taken a serious turn, but I was not alone. I thought, my Lord, of thine eclipse – the horrible darkness which overwhelmed thy mind when thou saidst, Why hast Thou forsaken Me? Ah sin was the cause – my sins. Yet I do not hate sin, nor loathe myself as I ought.
Sunday 4 August 1776
My birthday, and the anniversary of my dedication to the Ministry in 1758. Thou didst then O Lord accept my desires and vows. How little could I then conceive of what thou hadst appointed for me. The obscurest service in thy vineyard, if I might have seen my call clear to it, I should then have accepted with thankfulness. Many difficulties were in my way for a while, but in thy own time they all subsided, and thou gavest to me an open door to a post of honour beyond my wishes. Accept my thanks, and pardon my sins. I now enter my 52[nd] year; surely it is high [time] to begin to live as thy servant and as a stranger and sojourner here. My mind was too faintly affected with thy mercies – at the sacrament cold as a stone except for about one minute. Yet I had liberty in preaching through the day, least in the afternoon, though I then fixed on a subject suited to the occasion. In the evening spoke on the late eclipse.
Solomon's Song 5:1
Hymn No. 251
[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]
6 August 1776 [letter to John Thornton]
I observed the Eclipse of the Moon on Tuesday night, till it was wholly covered by the shade, and endeavoured to draw some meditations from it, which gave rise to a hymn that was the subject of my discourse last night at the Great House - our Saviour’s passion, the motions of the heavenly bodies being a pledge of His faithfulness to His promises (Jeremiah 33:20,21,25) and the dark seasons to which believers in the present life are liable, were the principal points. I take the liberty to send you a copy of the hymn on the other side, for no other reasons than that the subject is not common, and that you have been pleased often favourably to accept what I have sent of this sort.
Yes there is a better world, where our sun shall no more go down, neither the moon withdraw its shining – or rather, both moon and sun shall be needless, for the Lord Himself shall be the Everlasting Unclouded Light of His people. Oh how different is the land we are going to, from this wilderness through which we are now passing.