Meditations for Troubled Times
In my Christian experience, one of the things that stirs my soul, keeps me focused on spiritual truth, and helps me maintain a faith-filled perspective is the singing of hymns rich with biblical truth. John Newton is perhaps my favorite hymn writer. He’s not as poetically skilled as Cowper, Watts, or Wesley, but there is something indelibly powerful in his simple proclamations of God’s mercies. We see this in “Amazing Grace,” “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds,” “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder,” and so on.
But Newton also wrote some stirring and, unfortunately, lesser-known hymns about the struggles of the Christian life. One such hymn is in his Olney collection in a section with 29 hymns entitled “Conflict.” I must say, in much of modern hymnody and the praise-song genre, the note of spiritual conflict is largely missing. But the following hymn isn’t unique in its grouping but in its storytelling. Newton reflects on prayers answered by crosses. He shows us that our God afflicts us that he might comfort and grow us. The hymn is entitled, “I Asked the Lord that I Might Grow.”
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.”