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The John Newton Project

Messiah Introduction

My help
My help is in the Name of the Lord [1]
My help Messiah
8 June 84
8 June 1784
 
The great mystery of godliness is the great comprehensive inexhaustible theme of the Gospel Ministry – God manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit; 1 Timothy 3:16 [2].  It is my desire and aim to know nothing among you but this, to preach nothing to you but what is immediately connected with the doctrine of Jesus Christ and him crucified, including what the Scripture teaches us concerning the causes and the effects of his obedience unto death, even the death of the cross. 

But I have often wished, for the satisfaction of my stated hearers, to be able to adopt some plan which might lead me in a regular succession of subjects, to exhibit the principal outlines of the Saviour’s character and mediation so as to form, if not  a picture, at least a slight sketch of those features of his glory and of his grace, which endear him to the hearts of his people, and to comprise, according to the little measure of my light and experience, a summary or system of evangelical divinity.  Such a plan has lately occurred to me, and in an unexpected manner. 

Conversation in almost every company for two or three weeks past, has much turned upon what is called the Commemoration of Handel [3], and the grand musical performances at the Abbey [4] on that occasion, and particularly the Messiah
highest and noblest
I can easily conceive that when the Messiah was performed with such unusual advantages, if any person present of a sound spiritual judgement, could have hoped that the greatest part of the performers and audience were capable of entering into the spirit of the subject, he might enjoy one of the highest and noblest gratifications this life is capable of

But they who love the Redeemer and to join in his praise, if they did not find it convenient, or think it expedient to hear the Messiah at Westminster, may comfort themselves that in a little time they shall be still more abundantly gratified.  Ere long death shall rend the veil, which hides eternal things from our view and introduce them to that unceasing song and universal chorus, which are even now performing before the throne of God.
humble contemplation
In the meantime I have thought, that true Christians may without the assistance of vocal or instrumental music, find a higher joy in a humble contemplation of the words of the Messiah than they can derive from the utmost efforts of musical genius. 

This therefore is the plan I spoke of. 

I mean to lead your meditations to the language of the Messiah, to consider in their order, if the Lord is pleased to afford life, ability and opportunity, the several sublime and interesting passages of Scripture, which are the basis of that admired composition. 
If the Lord
If the Lord the Spirit is pleased to smile upon the attempt, pleasure and profit will go hand in hand. 

There is no Harmony to a heaven-born soul like that which is the result of a perception of the combination and coincidence of all the divine attributes and perfections, manifested in the work of redemption:  mercy and truth meeting together, inflexible righteousness corresponding with the peace of offenders, God glorious and sinners saved.  There is no Melody [5] like the voice of the blood of Jesus speaking peace to a guilty conscience, or like the voice of the Spirit, applying the promises to the heart, and sweetly inspiring a temper [6] of confidence and adoption. 

These are joys which the world cannot give – nor take away.  These never pall upon the mind by continuance or repetition.  The sense of them is always new, the recollection of them is always pleasant.  Nor are they satisfying only, but sanctifying.  They strengthen faith, animate hope, add fervency to love, and both dispose and enable the Christian to run in all the paths of holy obedience with an enlarged heart.

The Messiah is divided into three parts:
 
  • The first contains prophecies concerning his advent, and their accomplishment in his birth.  
  • The second part, describes his passion, death, resurrection, ascension, his taking possession of his glorious kingdom, and the commencement of his kingdom of grace upon earth. 
  • The third part, expresses the blessed fruits and consummation of his undertaking, in the deliverance of his people from sin, death and sorrow, and making them victorious over all their enemies; and closes with the song of the redeemed to the Lamb who bought them with his blood: Revelation 5 [7].
 


Endnotes:
 
[1] On page 1 of the ms, the 'Introduction' is headed ‘1’. We have omitted this number in the transcript to avoid confusion with the next sermon, which is headed ‘No. 1’, In fact, in the printed version, Newton incorporated this ms ‘Introduction’ into Sermon 1 on Isaiah 40:1,2, ‘The Consolation’.
[2] 1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
[3] Read about the Commemoration of Handel in Charles Burney's Account here.
[4] 'Westminster Abbey' – of the two venues used for the Commemoration of Handel, the one selected for the Messiah was Westminster Abbey. Initially it was the Third Performance of the Commemoration, on Saturday 29 May 1784.  However, by command of Her Majesty Queen Charlotte it was repeated, as the Fifth Performance of the Commemoration, at Westminster on Saturday 5 June 1784.
[5] Here and in Sermon No. 10, Newton’s capitals for Harmony and Melody (used by him 3 out of 4 times) are retained for his emphasis. He seems to have deliberately picked up on these two words from the media reports. For instance, Charles Burney in An Account of the Musical Performances in Westminster Abbey and the Pantheon, May 26th, 27th, 29th; and June the 3rd, and the 5th, 1784, in Commemoration of Handel, published London, 1785, declared: "the effect and precision with which this musical phalanx moved, and weight and dignity it gave to every series of sounds in melody, and combination in harmony, can only be controverted by extreme ignorance, or perfect insensibility."
[6] 'temper'– i.e. state of mind
[7] Handel’s Messiah closes with Worthy is the Lamb (Revelation 5:12,13) and the Amen chorus from Revelation 5:13.
 

Acknowledgements:
Cowper & Newton Museum, John Newton's Messiah notebook
 

Marylynn Rouse, 07/01/2015


Article printed from johnnewton.org at 09:15 on 20 September 2019