Sunday, July 24, 2016

John Newton

We have often observed John Newton's birthday here on the blog, and seen his hymns on other days as well (such as last Friday). The outline of his biography and the genesis of his collection Olney Hymns (1779), written with his friend William Cowper, has been fairly well covered and you can read more at the links below.  I wasn't even sure that I was going to mark his birthday this year; I looked at several hymns over the last few days and none of them jumped out at me.

Until I saw this one.  This text did indeed jump out -- the troubles of the world have been on many minds in recent weeks: war, terrorism, disease, guns, politics... (you can probably fill in an addition or two of your own). Thanks to John Newton for giving us a hymn to sing for times such as these.

My harp untuned, and laid aside,
(To cheerful hours the harp belongs);
My cruel foes, insulting cried,
"Come, sing us one of Zion’s songs."
Alas! when troubles, blindly bold,
Gather around, and sorrow bring;
When zeal declines, and love grows cold,
Is this a day for me to sing?
Is this a day for me to sing?

While thus to grief my soul gave way,
To see the work of God decline;
I thought I heard my Savior say,
“Dismiss your fears, your cares are mine.
Though I may seem to hide my face,
Rely upon my love and pow’r;
Still wrestle at a throne of grace,
And wait for a reviving hour;
And wait for a reviving hour.

Take down your long-neglected harp,
I’ve seen your tears, and heard your prayer;
The winter season has been sharp,
But spring shall all its wastes repair.”
Lord, I obey, my hopes revive,
Come join with me, ye saints, and sing;
Our fears in vain against us strive;
For God will help and healing bring;
For God will help and healing bring.

John Newton, 1779; alt.
John Sheeles, c.1720

In Olney Hymns this text appears under the heading of Hoping for a Revival. Newton had been discouraged by the illness of his friend Cowper, who would write no more hymns or poetry for several years.  Newton himself apparently considered giving up the writing of hymns for a time, and this text is believed to be the first he wrote when he decided to resume.

This tune by English composer John Sheeles was written for the Joseph Addison text The spacious firmament on high (which is why is is sometimes called ADDISON'S), but it's hard for me to think of that hymn without CREATION, the tune adapted from Haydn's oratorio of the same name.  Sheeles's KITTERING should probably be played a bit slower and more thoughtfully than the sound file here when matched with today's text. I don't always like tunes that require a line of text to be repeated, but in this case the last line of each stanza deserves the additional emphasis. 

Eight Years Ago: John Newton

Seven Years Ago: John Newton

Six Years Ago: John Newton

Five Years Ago: John Newton

Four Years Ago: John Newton

One Year Ago: John Newton

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