When the poor prisoner through a grate
Sees others walk at large,
How does he mourn his lonely state,
And long for a discharge?
Thus I, confined in unbelief,
My loss of freedom mourn;
And spend my hours in fruitless grief,
Until my Lord return.
The beam of day, which pierces through
The gloom in which I dwell,
Only discloses to my view
The horrors of my cell.
Ah! how my pensive spirit faints,
To think of former days!
When I could triumph with the saints,
And join their songs of praise!
But now my joys are all cut off,
In prison I am cast;
And Satan, with a cruel scoff, (a)
Says, "Where's your God at last?"
Dear Saviour, for thy mercy's sake,
My strong, my only plea,
These gates and bars in pieces break, (b)
And set the prisoner free!
Surely my soul shall sing to thee,
For liberty restored;
And all thy saints admire to see
The mercies of the Lord.
(a) Psalm 115:2
(b) Psalm 142:7
from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:
Monday 1 July 1776
Could not make a new hymn in the course of the last hurrying week. Had the meeting this evening on account of my intended journey tomorrow. It was tolerably full, I prosecuted Hopeful's experience. Called James Nichols to prayer, who has not opened his mouth amongst us since the beginning of his troubles in November. I had some objections in my own mind, and the tide of prejudice was so strong against him that I thought it more advisable to pass him by till things were a little subsided and I could see what turn his spirit and his affairs would take. It began to appear to me matter of duty to give a public testimony that I had not disclaimed, and by his prayer and some discourse I had with him afterwards, I hope I shall have no reason to repent this step, though some may perhaps be displeased. O my Lord it becomes me to be tender, to make allowances. I cannot but hope thou hast called him by thy grace. His spirit was high. Thou hast appointed him some sharp discipline, and I hope he has not suffered in vain. How may I wonder at thy dealings with me, perverse and ungrateful as I am, thou dost not break me with sharp trials, but rather thou takest a course to melt me (if such a heart as mine can melt) with repeated mercies and kindness. But Lord unless thy mercies are accompanied with special grace, they will only aggravate my vileness.
Friday 5 July
On Tuesday morning I set off with my _[dear Polly] and the child[Betsy] in Mrs Ekin's chaise for Stanwick. Thou gavest us a good journey, and we reached her house to dinner. Little remarkable that day. Wednesday morning I took a long walk, and hope thou didst enable me to seek thee. In the evening I preached to a large company from Psalm 25:14. And on Thursday evening to a much larger from 2 Corinthians 6:10, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing. O what can I render for thy undeserved goodness in giving me such liberty in these opportunities especially in the last. Very justly thou mightest stop my mouth and put me to shame, by leaving me to a cold, contracted spirit, but it was otherwise. I had thoughts and words at will, but surely not my own. Surely thy presence was with us. Many seemed greatly affected. Alas how are they mistaken in me, if they judge of my spirit, by what thou enablest me to say. Thou art pleased to honour me; O help me to abase myself. Thou didst crown thy goodness by leading us safe home to dinner today. Before I set out I had the grief to hear that ACJ of whom I [had] great hopes, that she was growing in grace, went off that morning with a soldier. I now hear she is returned. O do thou humble her and heal her. And prevent the reproach of those who are ready to say, Aha, So we would have it.
Sunday 7 July
Had some hopes of a pleasant day, but my spirit was wounded by hearing before I returned from the churchyard in the morning, of a barbarous abuse of a poor woman by some of our drunken rioters last night which ended in her death. I was affected though not suitably. Oh Lord when will these things end? Help me to mourn for my own sins, and the sins of those among whom I live. Thou helpedst me to speak in the forenoon on Watchfulness and Prayer. O that I could receive the lesson myself. I had some view to the case of ACJ in the afternoon; took occasion to mention the other shocking affair. I spoke earnestly, though my spirit was much contracted and confused. At the sacrament I was dull and stupid to an extreme. Ah, to be so insensible in such an ordinance! To hold the memorials of thy dying love in my hand with such absolute indifference, not a trace either of joy or sorrow. The evening was my best time. And yet alas at night sensual, foolish and perverse again. What can I say. But that I am vile beyond expression – weak as water, and wilful as an ass's colt. Silly creature to trifle with thee, and to wound myself, and that for a mere nothing. Lord humble and strengthen me. Let me plead thy blood, thy promise. Let me again see I have an advocate with the Father; and enable me to come to thee in faith, that I may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Mark 14:38 Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.
Ezekiel 33:7,8 O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
Hymn No. 248
[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]