Olney Hymns Book 2 Hymn 87

If for a time the air be calm...

Manuscript Hymn No. 279 [ms Mistakenly 289]

279 v1 z


The sea (a)

If for a time the air be calm,
Serene and smooth the sea appears,
And shows no danger to alarm
The unexperienced landsman's fears.

But if the tempest once arise,
The faithless water swells and raves;
Its billows, foaming to the skies,
Disclose a thousand threatening graves.

My untried heart thus seemed to me
(So little of myself I knew)
Smooth as the calm unruffled sea,
But, ah! it proved as treacherous too!

The peace of which I had a taste
When Jesus first his love revealed,
I fondly hoped would always last,
Because my foes were then concealed.

But when I felt the tempter's power
Rouse my corruptions from their sleep,
I trembled at the stormy hour,
And saw the horrors of the deep.

Now on presumption's billows borne,
My spirit seemed the Lord to dare;
Now, quick as thought, a sudden turn
Plunged me in gulfs of black despair.

Lord, save me, or I sink, I prayed;
He heard, and bid the tempest cease;
The angry waves his word obeyed,
And all my fears were hushed to peace.

The peace is his, and not my own,
My heart (no better than before)
Is still to dreadful changes prone,
Then let me never trust it more.

(a) See also Book 1, Hymn 115
John Newton bw better 150 x 55
  from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:

Tuesday 8 July 1777
My leisure time and rather more than I can well spare taken up with reading the accounts of the late voyage of Capt Cook in the Southern Ocean and round the Globe. Teach me to see thy hand and read thy Name in these relations. Thy providence and goodness are displayed in every clime. May I be suitably affected with the case of the countless thousands of my fellow creatures, who know thee not, nor have opportunities of knowing thee. Alas that those who are called Christians, and who venture through the greatest dangers to explore unknown regions, should only impart to the inhabitants examples of sin and occasions of mischief, and communicate nothing of thy Gospel to them. Lord hast thou not a time for these poor benighted souls, when thou wilt arise and shine upon them?
Sunday 13 July 1777
The week closed upon us in peace, I walked last night to see Mrs Perry, and by the way I sought, or wished to seek thee, my gracious Lord; a few efforts I made, now and then a desire which only thou couldst give, but in general a wandering, confused frame of spirit, and seldom more so than this morning. O how dry, how empty my spirit, how cold in my prayers. Ah what a poor creature. Yet thou wert pleased to carry me through the day with some liberty.
John 20:15
John 12:32
Hymn No. 289 [corrected in MS to 279]

[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]

Answers to Newton's prayer of 8 July 1777, fulfilled in Richard Johnson, the first to take the Gospel to what is now Australia:

27 October 1786 [letter to William Bull]
A minister who should go to Botany Bay without areal call from the Lord, and without receiving from him an apostolical spirit, the spirit of a missionary, enabling him to forsake all, to give up all, to venture all, to put himself into the Lord's hands without reserve, to sink or swim, had better run his head against a stone wall. I am strongly inclined to hope Mr. Johnson is thus called, and will be thus qualified. He is humble and simple-hearted. I think he would not have thought of this service had it not been proposed to him; for some time he wished to decline it, but he could not, he durst not. I believe he has now made up his mind, and several incidents have concurred to encourage him and me likewise in the hope that the thing is of the Lord…
Oh, if Johnson is the man, whom the Lord appoints to the honour of being the first to carry the glad tidings into the southern hemisphere, he will be a great and honoured man indeed. Let the world admire Columbus, Drake, and Cook. Johnson will in my view be unspeakably superior to them all. I do not think he has those popular talents which are so much run after amongst us ; but I believe he has good plain sense, solidity, humility, and steadiness: these are the truly great talents, these are indispensably necessary, and these only, where he is going. I believe with his simple views, the Lord will not permit him to mistake his will in an affair of such vast importance; and therefore, if he does go, I shall hope for a happy event. If I am not mistaken, sooner or later the gospel must be preached in the South Seas; if so, there must be a beginning. Perhaps this is the time. Perhaps this is the final cause of our attempting a settlement in New Holland. Often when politicians have one thing in view, the Lord has another; and their plans succeed in order to the accomplishment of his.
15 November 1786 [letter to William Wilberforce]
Who can tell what important consequences may depend upon Mr Johnson's going to New Hollands! It may seem but a small event at present. So a foundation stone, when laid, is small compared with the building to be erected upon it; but it is the beginning and earnest of the whole. This small beginning, may be like the dawn, which advances to a bright day, and lead on to the happy time, when many nations, which now sit in darkness, and in the region of the shadow of death, shall rejoice in the light of the Sun of Righteousness.

[see also Richard Johnson]

Image copyright:

Hymn: MS Eng 1317, Houghton Library, Harvard University

Marylynn Rouse, 11/09/2013