11 October 2022 by Published in: Jared Smith, Hymn Studies No comments yet

Now May The Lord Reveal His Face

Author: J Newton[1]

Theme: Prayer Answered By Trials[2]

Text: Psalm 65:5; Acts 14:22[3]

1 I ask’d the Lord that I might grow,
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

2 ’Twas He Who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answer’d prayer;
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

3 I hoped, that in some favor’d hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And, by His love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

4 Instead of this, He made me feel,
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell,
Assault my soul in every part.

5 Yea, more, with His own hand He seem’d,
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Cross’d all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

6 “Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried;
“Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”

7 “These inward trials I employ,
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou mayest seek thy all in Me.”

[1] “John Newton was born in London, July 24th, 1725. He was an only son. His mother, to whom he was particularly attached, herself taught him English, and that in such a way that, added to his own natural talents, by the time he was four years old, he could read any common book with propriety. She died before he was seven years of age, and he was then left to run wild, as is the case with too many children. His father married again the following year, and Newton was afterwards sent to a boarding-school in Essex. His father was then at sea, a commander in the Mediterranean trade.
When 11 years old, his father took him with him to sea. In 1742 he was placed, with very advantageous prospects, at Alicant, in Spain, but his unsettled behavior and impatience of restraint rendered that design abortive. He had very little concern about religion, but was often disturbed with convictions. “I was,” he says, “fond of reading from a child; among other books, Bonnet’s ‘Christian Oratory’ often came in my way; and though I understood but little of it, the course of life therein recommended appeared very desirable, and I was inclined to attempt it. I began to pray, to read the Scriptures, and keep a sort of diary. I was presently religious in my own eyes; but, alas! this seeming goodness had no solid foundation, but passed away like a morning-cloud or the early dew. I was soon weary, gradually gave it up, and became worse than before. Instead of prayer, I learned to curse and blaspheme, and was exceedingly wicked when from under my parent’s view. All this was before I was 12 years old. About that time I had a dangerous fall from a horse. I was thrown, I believe, within a few inches of a hedge-row newly cut down. I got no hurt; but could not avoid taking notice of a gracious Providence in my deliverance; for, had I fallen upon the stakes, I had inevitably been killed. My conscience suggested to me the dreadful consequences if, in such a state, I had been summoned to appear before God. I presently broke off from my profane practices, and appeared quite altered. But it was not long before I declined again. These struggles between sin and conscience were often repeated; but the consequence was, that every relapse sank me into still greater depths of wickedness. I was once roused by the loss of an intimate companion. We had agreed to go on board a man-of-war (I think it was on a Sunday); but I providentially came too late. The boat was overset, and my companion and several others were drowned. I was invited to the funeral of my playfellow, and was exceedingly affected to think that by a delay of a few minutes, which had much displeased and angered me, till I saw the event, my life had been preserved. However, this likewise was soon forgotten. At another time, the perusal of the ‘Family Instructor ‘ put me upon a partial and transient reformation. In brief, though I cannot distinctly relate particulars, I think I took lip and laid aside a religious profession three or four different times before I was 16 years of age; but all this while my heart was insincere. I often saw the necessity of religion as a means of escaping hell; but I loved sin, and was unwilling to forsake it. Instances of this, I can remember were frequent. In the midst of all my forms, I was so strangely blind and stupid that sometimes, when. I have been determined upon things which I knew were sinful, and contrary to my duty, I could not go on quietly till I had first despatched my ordinary task of prayer, in which I have grudged every moment of my time; and when this was finished, my conscience was in some measure pacified, and I could rush into folly with little remorse. My last reform was the most remarkable, both for degree and continuance. Of this period, at least of some part of it, I may say in the apostle’s words, ‘After the straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.’ I did everything that might be expected from a person entirely ignorant of God’s righteousness, and desirous to establish his own. I spent the greatest part of every day in reading the Scriptures, meditation, and prayer. I fasted often; I even abstained from all animal food for three months; I would hardly answer a question for fear of speaking an idle word. I seemed to bemoan my former miscarriages very earnestly, sometimes with tears. In short, I became an ascetic, and endeavored, so far as my situation would permit, to renounce society, that I might avoid temptation. I continued in this serious mood (I cannot give it a higher title) for more than two years without any considerable breaking off; but it was a poor religion. It left me, in many respects, under the power of sin; and, so far as it prevailed, only tended to make me gloomy, stupid, unsociable, and useless.”
In 1742 he met with a book in Holland which was the means of slowly poisoning his mind, and prepared the way for all that followed. A friend of his father’s now proposed to send him for some years to Jamaica, and to take charge of his future fortune. Everything was prepared for the voyage, but his father mean- time sending him on some business into Kent, he called on his way to see some distant relations, and here his affections became so fixed on one of the daughters of his host, that, to use his own words, “it never abated or lost its influence a single moment in my heart from that hour. In degree, it actually equalled all that the writers of romance have imagined; in duration, it was unalterable. I soon lost all sense of religion, and became deaf to the remonstrances of conscience and prudence; but my regard for her was always the same; and I may perhaps venture to say, that none of the scenes of misery and wickedness I afterwards experienced ever banished her a single hour together from my waking thoughts, for the seven following years.” He was now determined not to go to Jamaica, and therefore stayed three weeks instead of three days, when, of course, the ship had gone. In a little time he sailed to Venice, being exposed in the voyage to the ill example of common sailors, and he once more relaxed from the degree of prudence that he had observed for some time previously. One night he had a dream. He dreamed that it was his turn to be on watch, and while at his post a person came to him and gave him a ring, saying that so long as he preserved that ring he would be happy and useful, but if he lost it, he must expect nothing but trouble and misery. He accepted the terms willingly, not doubting his own power to preserve the ring. At length another person came up to him, and persuaded him to throw the ring into the sea, when immediately the mountains (the Alps) that he thought he beheld in the distance burst out in flames, and his tempter told him that all the mercy of God in reserve for him was comprised in that ring, and he had wilfully thrown it away, and that he must now go with him to the burning mountains. He trembled, and was in great agony, when suddenly a third person, or the same who had brought the ring, came and dived into the water for the ring, and brought it up when the flames in the mountains suddenly ceased. He blamed his rashness for throwing it away, and asked him if he could be wiser if he had the ring again; but he refused to let him have it, saying, “You are not able to keep it, but I will preserve it for you, and, whenever it is needful, will produce it in your behalf.” Upon this he awoke, in a state of mind not easily to be described; but the impression soon wore off, until he hardly thought of it for several years. Nothing remarkable occurred in the remaining part of the voyage.
In December, 1743, he returned home, and soon repeated his visit to Kent, where he again imprudently protracted his stay, and, by so doing, almost provoked his father to disown him. Shortly afterwards he was impressed for the navy, just at the time that the French fleets were hovering about our coasts. In a few days he was sent on board the Harwich man-of-war, where he entered upon quite a new scene of life, and endured much hardship for about a month. His father procured for him a recommendation to the captain, who there- upon took him upon the quarter-deck as midshipman. Here he had an easy life, and might have gained respect, but his conduct was very indifferent. His chief companion was a free-thinker, who seems to have completed the ruin of Newton’s principles. His depraved heart was soon gained, and he entered into his plan with all his spirit.
In December, 1744, the Harwich was bound to the East Indies. The captain gave Newton leave to go on shore for a day, but he took a horse and rode into Kent, where he remained considerably beyond his time. The captain excused him, but it lost him his favor. Owing to a violent storm, the ship had to put back into Plymouth. Newton was sent one day in a boat to see that none of the people deserted, when he betrayed his trust, and deserted himself. He expected to have seen his father, but was met by a party of soldiers, who took him back to Plymouth, guarded like a felon. He was kept two days in the guard house, then sent on board his ship, kept a while in irons, and then publicly stripped and whipped; after which he was degraded from his office, and all his former companions forbidden to show him the least kindness. He was now on a level with the lowest, and exposed to the insults of all. Thus he was as miserable as could well be imagined. His breast was filled with the most excruciating passions, bitterrage, and black despair. Every hour exposed him to some new insult and hardship, until he was tempted to throw himself into the sea; but the secret hand of God restrained him. Nothing distressed him so much as to find himself thus forcibly torn away from the object of his affections without the probability of ever seeing her again. “The Lord had now,” he said, “to appearance, given me up to judicial hardness. I was capable of anything. I had not the least fear of God before my eyes, nor, so far as I remember, the least sensibility of conscience. I was possessed of so strong a spirit of delusion that I believed my own lie, and was firmly persuaded that after death I should cease to be. Yet the Lord preserved me! Some intervals of sober reflections would at times take place. When I have chosen death rather than life, a ray of hope would come in, though there was little probability for such a hope, that I should yet sec better days; that I might again return to England, and have my wishes crowned, if I did not wilfully throw myself away. In a word, my love to Miss—was the only restraint I had left. Though I neither feared God nor regarded men, I could not bear that she should think meanly of me when I was dead.”
When the ship had been at Madeira sometime, Newton was, by a remarkable providence, exchanged for another ship. This ship was bound to Sierra Leone, &c. The captain knew Newton’s father, and received him kindly, promising him assistance; but he soon lost his favor, as he had done that of the captain of the Harwich. From this time, he says he was exceedingly vile; indeed, little, if any, short of that awful description in 2 Peter 2:14; for he not only sinned with a high hand himself, but made it his study to seduce others to sin also. He made a song, in which he ridiculed the captain, and taught the ship’s company to sing it. “But here,” he says, “let me be silent; but let me not be silent from the praise of that grace which could pardon, that blood which could expiate such sins as mine.” Thus he went on for about six months, when the vessel was preparing to leave; but Newton determined upon remaining in Africa, and landed upon the island of Benanoes, with little more than the clothes upon his back. Here he engaged himself to a slave purchaser, but he was made bitterly to smart for his folly; for he was reduced through his vileness to such a depth of wretchedness that even the slaves thought themselves too good to speak to him. A black woman, who lived with his master as his wife, used him so cruelly that he had great difficulty in procuring even a draught of water, when burning with a fever; and, when recovering, was glad to receive morsels of food from some of the slaves, which they had saved from their own scanty pittance. His bed was a mat spread upon a board, and a log of wood was his pillow. When his master, who had been on a voyage, returned, Newton complained of the ill usage of the woman, but was not believed; and this made her worse than before. The next voyage his master took him with him, when they did pretty well for a time, until a brother trader charged him with theft, which, as he asserted, was almost the only thing with which he could not justly be charged. However, he was condemned without evidence, and from that time his master also treated him with great cruelty. Whenever his master went on shore, he was locked on deck, with a pint of rice for his day’s allowance; and he was often exposed to the rain for twenty, thirty, and even forty hours, with nothing on but a cotton hand-kerchief for a cap, a cotton cloth, about two yards long, to supply the want of upper garments, a shirt, and a pair of trowsers. In about two months they returned. His haughty heart was now brought low. He lost all resolution and almost all reflection.
Things continued with him thus for nearly a twelvemonth, when he received his master’s consent to live with another trader. Here he was entrusted with almost everything, to the value of some thousands of pounds. He wrote several times to his father and also to Miss —; and at length a ship arrived at Sierra Leone which had received orders from his father to take him home. At first he hesitated about going, as he had become mixed with the natives, and was fast imbibing their superstitions and idolatrous principles. At length, however, the thought of Miss—decided the matter. He embarked, and the ship set sail. It was a trading voyage for gold, ivory, dyers’ wood, and bees’ wax. He had nothing to employ his thoughts, “excepting,” he says, “that I sometimes amused myself with mathematics. Excepting this, my life, when awake, was a course of most horrid impiety and profaneness. I know not that I have ever since met so daring a blasphemer. Not content with common oaths and imprecations, I daily invented new ones; so that I was often seriously reproved by the captain, who was himself a very passionate man, and not at all circumspect in his expressions. From the relation I at times made him of my past adventures, and what he saw of my conduct, and especially towards the close of the voyage, when we met with many disasters, he would often tell me, that to his grief he had a Jonah on board, that a curse attended me wherever I went, and that all the troubles he met with in the voyage were owing to his having taken me into the vessel. One night several of them sat down on deck, to see who could hold out longest in drinking Geneva and rum alternately. Newton’s brain was soon fired, and he danced about like a madman, when his hat fell overboard. He aimed to get into the ship’s boat, but his sight deceived him, and, as he could not swim, he must inevitably have been drowned had not some one caught hold of his clothes and pulled him back. But every providence was lost upon him. At times he was visited with sickness, and believed himself near to death; but he had not the least concern about the consequences. In a word, he seemed to have every mark of final impenitence and rejection; neither judgments nor mercies made the least impression upon him.
At length, early in January, 1748, they left Annabona for England. The vessel, it seems, was not sea-worthy. One day Newton took up a book, Stanhope’s “Thomas a Kempis,” when a thought suddenly crossed his mind, “What if these things are true?” He could not bear the inference, and therefore hastily closed the book. But now the Lord’s time was come, and the conviction he was so unwilling to receive was deeply impressed upon him by an awful dispensation. He went to bed, but was awakened from a sound sleep by the force of a violent sea which broke over the ship. So much of it rushed below as filled the cabin in which he lay, and a cry came from the deck that the ship was going down. “As soon as I could recover myself,” he says, “I essayed to go upon deck; but was met upon the ladder by the captain, who desired me to bring a knife with me. While I returned for the knife, another person went up in my room, and was instantly washed overboard. We had no leisure to lament him; nor did we expect to survive him long; for we soon found the ship was filling with water very fast. The sea had torn away the upper timbers on one side, and made the ship a mere wreck in a few minutes. We had immediate recourse to the pumps, but the water increased against all our efforts; and notwithstanding all we could do, she was full, or very near it; and then with a common cargo she must have sunk, of course; but we had a great quantity of bees’ wax and wood on board, which were specifically lighter than the water; and as it pleased God that we received this shock in the very crisis of the gale, towards morning we were enabled to employ some means for our safety, which succeeded beyond hope. In about an hour’s time the day began to break, and the wind abated. We expended most of our clothes and bedding to stop the leaks, though the weather was exceedingly cold, especially to us who had so lately left a hot climate. Over these we nailed pieces of boards, and at last perceived the water abate. At the beginning of this hurry I was little affected. I pumped hard, and endeavored to animate myself and my companions. I told one of them, that in a few days this distress would serve us to talk of over a glass of wine; but he, being a less hardened sinner than myself, replied with tears, ‘No; it is too late now.’ About nine o’clock, being almost spent with cold and labor, I went to speak with the captain, who was busied elsewhere; and just as I was returning from him, I said, almost without any meaning, ‘If this will not do, the Lord have mercy on us!’ This (though spoken with little reflection) was the first desire I had breathed for mercy for the space of many years. I was instantly struck with my own words, and as Jehu said once, ‘What hast thou to do with peace’, so it directly occurred, What mercy can there be for me? I was obliged to return to the pump, and there I continued till noon, almost every passing wave breaking over my head; but we made ourselves fast with ropes, that we might not be washed away. Indeed, I expected that every time the vessel descended into the sea, she would rise no more; and though I dreaded death now, and my heart foreboded the worst, if the Scriptures, which I had long since opposed, were indeed true, yet still I was but half convinced, and remained for a space of time in a sullen frame, a mixture of despair and impatience. I thought if the Christian religion were true, I could not be forgiven; and was therefore expecting, and almost at times wishing, to know the worst of it I continued at the pump from 3 o’clock in the morning till near noon, and then I could do no more. I went and lay down upon my bed, uncertain, and almost indifferent, whether I should rise again. In an hour’s time I was called; and not being able to pump, I went to the helm, and steered the ship till midnight, excepting a short interval for refreshment. I had here leisure and convenient opportunity for reflection. I began to think of my former religious professions ; the extraordinary turns in my life; the calls, warnings, and deliverances I had met with; the licentious course of my conversation, particularly my un- paralleled effrontery in making the gospel history, which I could not then be sure was false, though I was not as yet assured it was. true, the constant subject of prolane ridicule. I thought, allowing the Scripture premises, there never was, nor could be, such a sinner as myself; and then, comparing the advantages I had broken through, I concluded at first that my sins were too- great to be forgiven. Thus, as I have said, I waited with fear and impatience to receive my inevitable doom. Yet, though I had thoughts of this kind, they were exceedingly faint and disproportionate. It was not till long after, perhaps several years, when I had gained some clear views of the infinite righteousness and grace of Jesus Christ my Lord that I had a deep and strong apprehension of my state by nature and practice; and perhaps till then I could net have borne the sight. But to return. When I saw beyond all probability there was still hope of respite, and heard about six in the evening that the ship was freed from water, there arose a gleam of hope. I thought I saw the hand of God displayed in our favor. I began to pray. I now began to think of that Jesus whom I had so often derided. I recollected the particulars of his life and of his death—a death for sins not his own. And now I chiefly wanted evidence. The comfortless principles of infidelity were deeply riveted, and I rather wished than believed these things were real facts.Upon the gospel scheme I saw at least a peradventure of hope, but on every other side I was surrounded by black, unfathomable despair. The wind was now moderate, but continued fair, and we were still drawing nearer to our port. We were awakened one morning by the joyful shouts of the watch upon deck proclaiming the sight of land. We were all soon raised at the sound, and were like men suddenly reprieved from death; but in a few hours our land proved to be nothing but clouds. However, we comforted ourselves that, though we could not see the land, yet we should do so soon, the wind continuing fair. But, alas! we were deprived of this hope likewise. That very day our fair wind subsided into a calm, and the next morning the gales sprang up from the south-east, directly against us, and continued so for more than a fortnight afterwards. Provisions now began to grow very short. The half of a salted cod was a day’s subsistence for twelve persons; for all the provisions, except salted fish and some pulse, had been destroyed by the storm. We had plenty of fresh water, but not a drop of stronger liquor; no bread, hardly any clothes, and very cold weather. We had incessant labor with the pumps, to keep the ship above water. Much labor and little food wasted us fast, and one man died under the hardship. Yet our sufferings were light in comparison to our just fears. We could not afford this bare allowance much longer, but had a terrible prospect of being either starved to death or reduced to feed upon one another. Our expectations grew darker every day; and I had a further trouble peculiar to myself. I felt a heart-bitterness which was properly my own. No one on board but myself was impressed with any real sense of the hand of God in our danger or deliverance. The captain, whose temper was quite soured by distress, was hourly reproaching me, as I formerly observed, as the sole cause of the calamity; and was confident, that if I were thrown overboard, and not otherwise, they should be preserved from death. He did not intend to make the experiment; but the continual repetition of this in my ears gave me much uneasiness, especially as my conscience seconded his words. I thought it very probable that all that had befallen us was on my account. At length, when we were ready to give up all for lost, and despair was taking place in every countenance, I saw the wind come about to the very point we wished it, and to blow so gently as our few remaining sails could bear; and thus it continued, without any observable alteration or increase, though at an unsettled time of the year, till we once more were called up to see the land, and were convinced that it was land indeed. We saw the island Tory, and the next day anchored in Lough Swilly, in Ireland. This was the 8th of April, just four weeks after the damage we sustained from the sea. When we came into this port, our very last victuals were boiling in the pot; and before we had been there two hours, the wind, which seemed to have been providentially restrained till we were in a place of safety, began to blow with great violence; so that, if we had continued at sea that night in our shattered, enfeebled condition, we must, in all human appearance, have gone to the bottom. About this time I began to know that there is a God that hears and answers prayer. How many times has he appealed for me since this great deliverance! Yet, alas! how distrustful and ungrateful is my heart unto this hour! My companions in danger were either quite unaffected, or soon forgot it all; but it was not so with me; not that I was any wiser or better than they, but because the Lord was pleased to vouchsafe me peculiar mercy; otherwise I was the most unlikely person in the ship to receive an impression, having been often before quite stupid and hardened in the very face of great dangers, and having always till this time hardened my neck still more and more after every reproof. I can see no reason why the Lord singled me out for mercy but this, ‘that so it seemed good to him;’ unless it was to show, by one astonishing instance, that ‘with him nothing is impossible.’ In perusing the New Testament, I was struck with several passages, particularly that of the futree, Luke 13 the case of St. Paul, 1 Tim. 1; but particularly the prodigal, Luke 15; a case I thought had never been so nearly exemplified as by myself; and then the goodness of the father in receiving, nay, in running to meet such a son, and this intended only to illustrate the Lord’s goodness to returning sinners. This gained upon me. I continued much in prayer. I saw that the Lord had interposed so far to save me; and I hoped he would do more. The outward circumstances helped in this place to make me still more serious and earnest in crying to Him who alone could relieve me; and sometimes I thought I could be content to die even for want of food, if I might but die a believer. Thus far I was answered, that before we arrived in Ireland I had a satisfactory evidence in my own mind of the truth of the gospel, as considered in itself, and its exact suitableness to answer all my needs. I was, in some degree, affected with a sense of my more enormous sins, but I was little aware of the innate evils of my heart. I had no apprehension of the spirituality and extent of the law of God.”
Newton now became very religious, went regularly to church to prayers twice a day, and was particularly earnest in his private devotions. For six years he was not brought into the way of a gospel ministry, yet the Lord the Spirit taught him gradually the great truths of the Bible. He could no longer make a mock at sin, or jest with holy things, and no more questioned the veracity of God’s word. While the ship was refitting at Lough Swilly, he went to Londonderry, and was treated with much kindness. “When there, he was one day carrying a gun, when it went off, and burnt away the corner of his hat. He wrote to his father, who had given him up for lost, as the ship had not been heard of for 18 months, and received several affectionate letters from him, giving his consent to his union with Miss—; but he never saw him more, as his father was compelled to leave England for Hudson’s Bay before Newton reached England, though only a few hours before. Newton was now offered the command of a ship, but he deemed it best to learn to obey before he ventured to command, as he had heretofore been so reckless; and he therefore, having satisfied himself that Miss — would wait his return, engaged himself for another voyage, and went on board as mate. His religion soon again declined. He grew vain and trifling in his conversation; and though his heart smote him often, yet the enemy led him on until he seemed to have forgotten all the Lord’s former mercies, and became almost as bad as ever, except profaneness. The Lord, however, brought him to his senses by a violent fever while in Africa. On recovering, he had charge of the long-boat; but one day when going out in it, the captain called him back, and sent another man in his place. The boat sank in the river, and the man was drowned. Newton was several times upset in the Indian canoes, and taken to the shore half dead.
The voyage being completed, the ship returned home, and in 1750 he married the lady already referred to. The same year he was appointed commander of a ship, and sailed from Liverpool in August, having thirty persons under him. He established public worship on board, and officiated himself in reading.
In November, 1751, he returned home, bat sailed again in July, 1752. In this voyage he was wonderfully preserved admidst many dangers. Once his men agreed to mutiny, and take the ship from him. When the plot was nearly ripe, two of them were taken ill, and one of them died, which opened a way to the discovery of the plot. On several occasions, the slaves on board, for Newton was then a slave merchant, plotted insurrections, but were invariably detected, though sometimes only in “the very nick of time.” At a place called Mana he got into the boat to go on shore to settle his accounts, when, for the first time, he became timid, and went on board again. He soon afterwards found that a plot had been laid against him, which might have affected his life, had he landed.
In August, 1753, he again returned to Liverpool; but in six weeks started off again, taking with him a young man who had been one of his companions on board the Harwich, and into whom he had been the means of instilling the principles of infidelity. Newton hoped that, by taking him with him, he might now be the means of convincing him of the truths of Christianity. But he was in error. The young man grew worse and worse, until he was seized with a fever, and died in all the horrors of black despair. It does not appear that Mrs.N accompanied Newton on these occasions; but he was invariably wretched when her letters to him miscarried. During this voyage he had another illness, which, apparently, nearly proved fatal. “I had not,” he says, “that full assurance which is so desirable at a time when flesh and heart fail; but my hopes were greater than my fears. My trust, though weak in degree, was alone fixed upon the blood and righteousness of Jesus and these words, ‘He is able to save to the uttermost,’ gave me great relief.”
In about ten days he began to amend, and returned home in August, 1754, and soon prepared for another voyage. Hitherto he had been engaged in the slave trade, and though he had not then been led to see the unlawfulness of his calling, yet he often prayed that the Lord would open a door for him to some more humane employment. Two days before the time fixed for sailing, he was seized with a tit, and was obliged to give up the ship. He now remained in England, when he became acquainted with Mr. Whitefield, whose ministry was made exceedingly useful to him, and he was instructed in the way of the Lord more perfectly. His trials, he said, were light and few, but he often had to sigh out, “wretched man!” though he could add with the apostle,”I thank God through Jesus Christ.” The next year he was appointed tide surveyor at Liverpool.
From this time, 1755, to 1764, he had several times preached and expounded at Liverpool. The first time that the ministry was impressed on his mind was when reflecting on Gal. 1:23,24; and the first time he preached was in 1759, at Warwick, to some people who had separated from the chapel in which Mr. Ryland had preached, prior to his removal. It was not the smallness of the salary which prevented Newton’s settling here, but he was wavering in his mind between Church and Dissent; and as he subsequently chose the former, he could not, of course, remain. He always spoke of the people in the most affectionate terms, and often said the very mention of Warwick made his heart leap for joy. It does not, however, appear that he was much pressed to remain amongst them, as “his talents as a minister were not then very popular;” and it is well known that a man may be thought a great preacher in the Establishment who would make a very poor dissenting minister. It was about this time that, being in Leeds, Newton was invited to preach for Mr. Edwards, in Whitechapel. He met a party at Mr. E.’s house to tea, and seems to have enjoyed himself much. After tea he was told there was a private room at his service prior to preaching. “O,” said he, “I am prepared!” He went. His text was Ps. 16:8. For a few minutes he prattled away fluently, and then came to a dead stop. His “preparation” was gone. He became confused, and at last desired Mr. E. to ascend the pulpit and conclude. This Mr. E. did, by addressing the people on the indispensable necessity of the Spirit’s influences. Such was Newton’s abasement and shame, that for some time afterwards, when walking in the streets, if he saw two or three people talking together, he made sure his failure was the subject of their discourse. Having decided upon entering the Church, he had two curacies offered to him, but the Archbishop of York refused his ordination.
In 1764 the curacy of Olney was proposed to him, and through the influence of Lady Huntingdon’s friend, Lord Dartmouth, he was ordained by the Bishop of Lincoln. At Olney he wrote his hymns, in 1770, in connexion with Cowper, and called them “Olney Hymns.” Here he continued nearly 16 years, and afterwards removed to St. Mary Woolnoth, London. In 1790 he had the honorary degree of D.D. conferred upon him by the University of New Jersey, America but he declined accepting it, saying he had no wish for honors of that kind. The same year Mrs. N., his idol, as he always called her, was removed by death, and the world, he said, seemed to die with her. For some years after her death he used to vent his grief and affection in verses, on the anniversary of the day. These verses were published under the title of “Ebenezer.” The following is a sample:
“Forget her! No; can four short years,
The deep impression wear away?
She still before my mind appears,
Abroad, at home, by night, by day.
Oft as with those she loved I meet,
Her looks, her voice, her words, recur,
Or, if alone I walk the street,
Still something leads my thoughts to her.”
In 1806, when he had turned 80, his sight, his hearing, and his recollection, all fast going, his friends wished him to discontinue preaching. “What!” he exclaimed, “shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak?” His last sermon was preached in Oct., 1806, for the benefit of the sufferers at the battle of Trafalgar. When no longer able to preach, he sat in the pulpit to hear his curate, until laid by altogether. About a month before his death, he said to a friend who was sitting near him, “It is a great thing to die; and, when flesh and heart fail, to have God for the strength of our heart, and our portion for ever.” When Mrs. Smith, his niece, came into the room, he said, “I have been meditating upon a subject, ‘Come, and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.” At another time he said, “More light, more love, more liberty. Hereafter I hope, when I shut my eyes on the things of time, I shall open them in a better world. What a thing it is to live under the shadow of the wings of the Almighty! I am going the way of all flesh.” And when one replied, “The Lord is gracious,” he answered, “If it were not so, how could I dare to stand before him?” He was confined to his room for about 11 months. “I am,” he said,”like a person going a journey in a stage coach, who expects his arrival at his destination every hour, and keeps looking out of the window for it.” At another time, “I am packed and sealed, waiting for the post.” The Wednesday before he died, a friend asked him if his mind was comfortable. He replied, ” I am satisfied with the Lord’s will.” Mr. N. seemed sensible to his last hour, but expressed nothing remarkable after these words. He departed on the 21st, and was buried in the vault of his church the 31st of December, 1807, having left the following injunction, in a letter, for the direction of his executors: “I propose writing an epitaph for myself, if it may bo put up, on a plain marble tablet, near the vestry-door, to the following purport:
“JOHN NEWTON, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy. He ministered near sixteen years as curate and vicar of Olney, in Bucks, and twenty-eight years as rector of these united parishes. On February 1st, 1750, he married Mary, daughter of the late George Catlett, of Chatham, Kent, whom he resigned to the Lord who gave her on December 16th, 1790.”—John Gadsby, “Memoirs Of The Principal Hymn-Writers & Compilers Of The 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries”

[2] See Jared Smith’s video teaching on the hymn, a devotional exposition according to the Framework of Sovereign Grace.

[3] Psalm 65:5: “By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea:”; Acts 14:19-22: ”And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead. Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”


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