There are some hymns that disappear because they are simply not very good. There are some hymns that disappear because they are too tied to a particular niche. And there are some hymns that disappear because their language becomes antiquated. I think this hymn/poem by John Newton spans the latter two categories. It is closely tied to New Year’s, so likely to be sung for only one Sunday out of every 52. And then some of the language has become just a little bit old-fashioned.
Still, it is worth dusting off, reading, and pondering as one year fades into another. In it, Newton marks the year that has gone and celebrates the year to come (though possibly not right now)—the year that will prove to be the best of your life.
See! another year is gone!
Quickly have the seasons passed!
This we enter now upon
May to many prove our last.
Mercy hitherto has spared,
But have mercies been improved?
Let us ask, am I prepared
Should I be this year removed?
Some we now no longer see,
Who their mortal race have run;
Seemed as fair for life as we,
When the former year begun;
Some, but who God only knows,
Who are here assembled now,
Ere the present year shall close,
To the stroke of death must bow.
Life a field of battle is,
Thousands fall within our view;
And the next death-bolt that flies,
May be sent to me or you:
While we preach, and while we hear,
Help us, Lord, each one, to think,
Vast eternity is near,
I am standing on the brink.
If from guilt and sin set free,
By the knowledge of Thy grace;
Welcome, then, the call will be
To depart and see Thy face:
To Thy saints, while here below,
With new years, new mercies come;
But the happiest year they know
Is their last, which leads them home.
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By Tim Challies — 2 years ago
No one who has ever listened to Beethoven’s 9th symphony has thought to himself, “I think each of these musicians is just making it up as they go.” No one who has ever listened to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons has thought to herself, “I am pretty sure no one is leading this orchestra.” No one who has ever listened to Handel’s Messiah and heard the swells and strains of the Hallelujah chorus has thought “I detect no sign of a composer or a conductor.” No, where we glimpse such order, where we hear such unified orchestration, we know there is someone who has created it and we know there is someone who is directing it. We know that each of the people in the orchestra is following some kind of a score and responding to the lead of some kind of a director.
In the Bible we read of a God who is sovereign—a God who created this world, a God who is unfolding a plan for this world, a God who is directing all the events of this world toward a great and glorious purpose. The Apostle Paul expresses it in this way: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” As all the instruments in an orchestra work together, so too all the circumstances in our lives. The instruments combine to express the artist’s composition and the circumstances to express the Maker’s providence.
God’s sovereignty is a wonderful doctrine to discuss in a classroom or conference, but a very difficult one to believe in a hospital bed or funeral home. We love God’s providence when it is perfectly aligned with our desires, but struggle with it when it opposes them. We find it easy to believe “all things work for good” when we experience times of joy and brightness, but difficult in times of trouble and confusion.
Yet “all things work together for good” necessarily assumes that some things won’t feel good, that some things won’t look good, that some things won’t strike us as immediately and obviously good. It assumes that we will sometimes wonder how a particular circumstance could possibly prove anything other than evil.
This promise, after all, comes neither in the Garden of Eden nor in the New Jerusalem. God had little need to give this promise to Adam and Eve when they were still unblemished in the Garden. The promise would have meant little to them when they enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God and with one another, when all of creation was arrayed toward them in sweet submission. Of course all things work for good because all things are good! Likewise, God will have little need to reiterate it when we are standing on streets of gold and all pain, evil, and sorrow has been vanquished.
It was only when Adam and Eve were pushed through the gates and into the stark wilderness beyond that such promises became important, for it was only then that they began to experience circumstances that seemed to all the world to be bad and only bad. It’s in a world like this one—a world of suffering and sorrow, of grief and loss, of pain and confusion—that they (and we) need the precious assurance that all things are working together for good. And that’s true even when they don’t feel the least bit good, even when we can’t see even the slightest glimmer of light.
“All things for good” is a promise God’s people must take by faith and cling to with tenacity in times of great difficulty. We need to believe that God has the ability to work all things for good and to trust that he actually is working all things for good. We need to have confidence that he is doing what’s right and best according to his inscrutable wisdom, that he is doing what most conforms his people to the image of his Son and what most honors and glorifies his holy name. We need to depend upon it, bank all we’ve got on it, go all-in on it. We need to set aside our feelings and, by faith, submit them to truth of God’s promises.
Through every circumstance, this promise calls us to believe that a day will come when we will affirm his every decision and marvel at his wisdom in our every trial. It calls us to trust that our sovereign God is the good composer and skilled conductor who is orchestrating all events so they lead ultimately to his glory and our good.
By Tim Challies — 2 years ago
May the God of love and peace be with you today.
There is a short list of Kindle deals today.
(Yesterday on the blog: Thank You, God, That I Am Not Like Other Men)
If There’s One Thing We Can Offer, It’s Authenticity
“As I’m writing this, I have just seen one of those promo videos from a larger church talking about all the great stuff people can plug into. It was full of youngish, cool people (I assume) talking about how great the church is and all the cool stuff you can do with them. There were special training routes, lots on with a big emphasis on the friendships you can make with loads of other people at a similar age and stage.” We’ve probably all seen videos like that and been tempted to compare…
Hair Pressing Time
I always enjoy Darla McDavid’s stories from a childhood that was very different from my own.
What’s Allowed in Married Sex?
Here’s Ray Ortlund on an important question. “Let’s rethink our married sexuality. Let’s throw off the complications that are claiming too much of us. Let’s go back to what our Lord would be glad to bless in our married sexual experience.” (See also John Piper: Should Couples Use Role-Play in the Bedroom?)
How Do I Grow in the Fear of God and Decrease in the Fear of Man? (Video)
“The more our minds are consumed by the majestic holiness of God, the less we will be intimidated by mere men. From our 2021 National Conference, Steven Lawson and Derek Thomas consider the importance of cultivating the fear of the Lord.”
For the Church that is For the World
“Biblically understood, there is a lot more involved in ‘going to church’ than simply attending a worship service. The gospel is designed to remake our entire souls, reorienting us away from ourselves and instead around God and others.” Jared Wilson explains.
Sustained Creativity By the Power of the Spirit
“I love creativity, whether I see it in a sunset, a painting, a novel, or a piece of music. Something deeply spiritual occurs in me when I behold the creative work of another or set about the task of creating something myself. I’m merely hypothesizing here, but I think creativity is both enhanced and sustained by the Holy Spirit, even into old age, when we surrender to Christ and live for God’s glory.” Maybe or maybe not. But it’s still an interesting thing to ponder.
Flashback: No One Believes in Social Injustice
…“it’s no good having the same vocabulary if we’re using different dictionaries.” And when it comes to social justice, that’s exactly what’s happening—we are drawing definitions from different dictionaries.
To endeavor to lift our own souls by our own strength is as absurd as to attempt to lift our bodies by grasping hold of our own clothes. —Theodore Cuyler
By Tim Challies — 7 months ago
When I was a child, the maps in my Bible got me through many a sermon. I was rarely interested in listening to the preacher, so I would flip to the back pages of the Bible to study the maps there. I would gaze at the contours of the lands of the Middle East. I would observe how Abraham had obeyed God and left his country and his kindred and his father’s house to journey to the land that God would show him. I would study the ancient world as the Patriarchs knew it. Best of all, I would see how God had miraculously delivered his people from their long captivity in Egypt.
Like just about every Bible, mine had a map that traced the route the Israelites followed after they escaped from Egypt and began to make their way toward the Promised Land. The map had a line in blue that began in Egypt and then traveled south for a time toward the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula. Eventually, it bulged north for a short while before dipping south again. Then finally it turned permanently northward and led the way to Jericho before it terminated on the banks of the Jordan.
The route the Israelites followed is far from straight and hardly looks efficient. Instead of taking a direct approach leading straight from Egypt to Canaan, the route appears to wander and meander, to turn this way and then that, to progress for a time and then bog down. It would be easy enough to look at a map like that and assume that it shows confusion or indecision, a lack of planning, and a lack of strong leadership.
Yet we know that all the while the people were following the Lord’s directives. He is the one who would tell them when to pick up and when to settle down, when to go straight, and when to turn to the left or the right. It was under his direction that they forded this river or turned away from that sea, in obedience to his command that they approached this mountain or avoided that plain. And if that’s the case, then the map does not truly wander and meander at all and does not truly show the least confusion or indecision. To the contrary, the map at the back of our Bibles shows the considered and well-thought-out plan of God, the route that existed in his mind long before he called his people to follow it. Their every step was deliberate and their every move was meaningful, for it was all the fulfillment of God’s good and perfect will.
There are times when it does us good to think back to our own lives and to picture them almost like a map—a map that traces our journey from birth to where we are today. And as we look at our lives so far, we can see how we passed through certain kinds of difficulties and avoided many more, how we scaled some mountains of joy but bypassed others. We can see how we turned this way toward success and that way toward failure. Our path through this life has been winding and twisting, rarely perfectly straight and rarely avoiding every hindrance and every stretch of wilderness.
And just like God was leading the Israelites on their journey, we can have every confidence that he has been leading us on ours. Just like every twist and every turn they took was within the wise providence of God, so too every step we’ve taken forward and every step we’ve taken back. He planned that we would approach mountains and valleys, rivers and seas, and he has used them all for his good purposes. And, just like he promised that his people would safely reach the end of their journey, he has promised we will reach ours. For like them, he is leading us to the Promised Land, the land of peace, the land of rest, the land where we most truly long to be.