John Newton – Prayer for Faith and Grace

I have been listening to a CD by Indelible Grace lately and there is one hymn in particular on there that has struck a particular chord with me. It is a hymn written by John Newton, and it has really ministered to me this past week that I heard it as the Lord has really brought me low this last month or so. I went out searching for the words to it and found this post from almost three years ago to the day on another blogger’s site. As I read through what fellow blogger John Meade wrote on his blog (http://chaosandoldnight.wordpress.com), I thought what he wrote in reflecting on the words of this choice hymn so good that I would just reprint what he wrote in its entirety. I pray that these words may somehow comfort you as they have me, when you walk through the valley.

From John Meade’s post, “Newton on Inward Trials”:

For a while and more recently, I have been thinking about John Newton’s hymn, “I asked the Lord that I might Grow.” Most people know Newton for his hymn, “Amazing Grace,” but few people have ever heard of this hymn. I must confess that I was ignorant of it until Indelible Grace resurrected it in their latest album. This hymn represents the other side of Newton. Allow this hymn to challenge your view of self and God. It seems Newton would conclude that God is not as tame as we would like Him to be, but He is good.

I asked 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.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

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

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

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

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.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

As one can see, Newton begins the poem with a prayer. He prays a seemingly good prayer, “That I might grow in faith and love and every grace; might more of his salvation know, more earnestly seek his face.” Praying for these virtues and blessings is not wrong in itself, but Newton is about to discover a new insight into how God answers these types of prayers. Newton affirms that God taught him how to pray, and he affirms the truth that God has answered prayer for him in the past. However, God will not always answer our prayers in the way we want, “But it has been in such a way, that almost drove me to despair.” Most times, we struggle with this view of God. Could God really be like this, we might ask? Let’s keep reading.

Notice, he hoped that God would answer his prayer “in some favoured hour.” He hoped that God’s constraining love would subdue his sins and give him rest. Newton is asking for God’s perfect work of complete sanctification to be worked in him. If God grants this prayer to Newton, Newton will still be reliant on God to work in him, but Newton will no longer be mindful of his immediate and total dependence on the Lord for every breath, every good work. Newton will be more prone to boasting if the Lord answers this prayer in exactly the way Newton desires. How does the Lord respond to this prayer?

The middle stanza reads:

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

How many of us have experienced this? Notice that Newton attributes this work to God! God made Newton feel the hidden evils of his heart. Now, one can see why Newton did not perceive God as answering his prayer. God did not answer the prayer immediately, but rather through subjecting Newton’s soul to the angry powers of hell, he begins to answer it.

The next stanza continues in the same vein. Newton, again, attributes these woes and inward torments to the hand of God. Furthermore, Newton perceives the Lord as frustrating his designs in prayer, and finally, God lays him low. How many of us have experienced this action of the Lord? By laying him low, the Lord completely contradicted the way Newton thought he would answer the request.

Newton then comes to the end of his rope, “Why Lord, wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?” The Lord replies, “In this way, I answer prayer for grace and faith.” The Lord continues in the last stanza, “These inward trials I employ, from self and pride to set thee free; and break thy schemes of earthly joy, that thou may’st find thy all in me.” The Lord revealed to Newton the motivations of his heart for requesting what he did. Newton had motivations of selfish pride when he prayed for grace and faith. The Lord showed him exactly how he answers prayers for grace and FAITH. The Lord graciously brought him to the point where he needed to cry out to him in brokenness, asking, “why Lord?”

The Lord truly answered Newton’s prayer for grace and faith, but grace and faith do not equal immediate subdued sin and rest for the Christian. Rather, the Lord answered Newton’s prayer by breaking him and graciously leading him to trust Him. This poem cuts to the heart of many issues in the Christian’s life. All too often we think, if we could just have relief from this one besetting sin, we would be more holy or we would be free to trust God more. Rather than thinking like this, we need to be asking God for broken hearts, hearts that are contrite and humble before him (Ps 51). A corollary to these requests means we need to be completely open to how God will answer these prayers. He is the sovereign Lord, and if he deems necessary, he will employ inward trials to make us more dependent on Him, to make us more like Jesus.

Praise the Lord, that Newton was placed in a position to help us understand these inward trials that the Lord brings in our lives.

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2 Comments

Filed under Devotions

2 responses to “John Newton – Prayer for Faith and Grace

  1. Thomas Hayen

    Thanks for sharing the words to John Newton’s song. I found J.R. Miller’s (1840-1912) comments in chapter 8, “The Cost of Prayer,” in his book, THE SECRETS OF A BEAUTIFUL LIFE, on this song so good.

  2. P2

    Thomas, thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment. I found a copy of the work you referenced on-line and when I have a little bit of time, I plan to read it and will probably post some of it here. I have read some of his writings before at GraceGems and enjoy reading his stuff. I discovered J.R. Miller as well as Gardiner Spring and John Angell James there at GraceGems, and all have been profitable to my soul.

    Blessings,
    Simple Mann

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