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The flinty soil indeed their feet annoys,
Ah, be not sad, although thy lot be cast Far from the flock, and in a distant waste! No shepherd's tents within thy view appear, But the Chief Shepherd is for ever near ; Thy tender sorrows and thy plaintive strain Flow in a foreign land, but not in vain; Thy tears all issue from a source divine, And every drop bespeaks a Saviour thine 'Twas thus in Gideon's fleece the dews were found, And drought on all the drooping herds around.
FOR THE TOMB OF MR HAMILTON.
PAUSE here, and think: a monitory rhyme
These compositions, so beautiful in their execution, so important in their objects, are now, for the first time, incorporated with the other original works of the author. They were written, with a few exceptions, which belong to the last months of his residence at St Alban’s, between the years 1769 and 1772. Hitherto they have appeared only as originally published by. Newton, interspersed in a numerous collection of his own pieces, where the peculiar excellence of only sixtyeight short poems was liable to be overlooked, or at least where they in a great measure lost their distinctive character. The particular dates of the separate hymns not having been preserved, that arrangement has been adopted as the best which promised most clearly to impress their practical or exegetical nature. With this view they have been divided into three heads, of PRAISE, PRAYER, and DOCTRINE, forming an admirable manual of personal devotion, in which the Christian will find the purest models of a simple and sublime service or instructive declarations of faith. There can hardly be a religious disposition of mind which does not discern, even in this small number of pious aspirations, a suitable form of thanksgiving or of petition; and scarcely a depression can sadden, or a doubt distress the heart, under which comfort, or at least religious expression, is not found here. The Olney Hymns exhibit the lights and shadows of a believer's life, and thus, more than other sacred poetry, do they come home to the heart, with the efficacy both of precept and example. Like all the poetry of Cowper, they possess an individuality that permits not a suspicion of their sincerity, while the universal interest of their topics identifies their experiences with those of all Christians. As literary performances their merits are great—the language is noble, the versification easy, and the imagery poetical, without merging the sanctity of devotion in the sentiment of poetry. In these respects, Cowper surpasses all competitors : his performances are neither odes — admired, because understood only by the refined, and that rather for elegance than piety, like one school ; neither, like the productions of the other, are they so divested of ornament as to derive their sole merit from good intention. Cowper, as a sacred classic, here concentrates all his peculiar Christian excellencies as a poet. His general sincerity becomes, in these hymns, a heavenly-mindedness, an uncalculating, unhesitating devotedness of every feeling and interest to the glory of God. The ordinary unrestrained and regardless flow of his verse, expressive of earnest conviction of the truths which he utters, rises here into a spontaneous, an unconscious, burst of gratitude and love to Him whose grace is operating unspeakable renewings of purity and gladness in a heart constrained thus to sing aloud for very joy. At other seasons, the cry comes from the depths of some heart, breaking and forsaken, yet still confiding in the mercy of Jehovah. Thus, under whatever impression of gospel dispensations Cowper may speak, he speaks here in comfort to the seeking mourner, as well as to the rejoicing believer, and in language so affecting, by its union of faith and poesy, as can hardly fail to touch a responsive chord in every breast.
The poet extols the comforts and invokes the aid of divine grace in the course of Christian retirement upon which he is about to enter. The hymn was written at St Alban's, on his recovery there of bodily health and mental peace, being one of those compositions named by himself “ Specimens of my first Christian thoughts.” It was afterwards given to Newton, and thus inserted in the Olney collection.]
Far from the world, O Lord, I flee,
From strife and tumult far ;
His most successful war.
The calm retreat, the silent shade,
With prayer and praise agree ;
For those who follow thee.
There, if thy Spirit touch the soul,
And grace her mean abode,
She communes with her God !
There, like the nightingale, she pours
Her solitary lays :
Nor thirsts for human praise.