St Mary Woolnoth

I called at St Mary Woolnoth Church last month, one of those many fine establishments in our capital’s heart. It is another grandiose affair, with elegant pillars and generous applications of gold paint. Yet it is not the architecture that set me all-arapture, but its association with a great sinner saved by grace- the Revd John Newton. A former slave trader and slave-ship captain, he had been marvellously converted to Christ in 1748. He continued his association with the despicable trade in flesh for several more years until he came to realise that its horrors were entirely incompatible with the values of the Lord Jesus. In 1784 until his death in 1807, Newton was the minister here at St Mary’s. It was also here that he spoke to the young MP William Wilberforce, urging him to fight the pernicious trade in Parliament, rather than become a clergyman. It was Wilberforce who, after many years of labour, successfully had first the trade, and then the institution, prohibited in law. St Mary Woolnoth is great, but not so great as the one who once served here, nor is it as great as the grace that saved him.

Though the blood of hundreds of Africans cries out against Newton from the ground, calling for God’s rightful vengeance, a better voice than the blood of Abel is heard beseeching the Father's throne- “Forgive this sinner- for his crimes I have paid”.

1.Although on massy pillars built,

The earth has lately shook;

It trembled under Britain’s guilt,

Before its maker’s look.


2. Swift as the shock amazement spreads,

And sinners tremble too;

What flight can screen their guilty heads,

If earth itself pursue.


3. But mercy spared us while it warned,

The shock is felt no more;

And mercy, now, alas! is scorned

By sinners, as before.


4. But if these warnings prove in vain,

Say, sinner, canst thou tell,

How soon the earth may quake again,

And open wide to hell.


5. Repent before the Judge draws nigh;

Or else when He comes down,

Thou wilt in vain for earthquakes cry,

To hide thee from His frown.


6. But happy they who love the Lord

And His salvation know;

The hope that’s founded on His Word,

No change can overthrow.


7. Should the deep-rooted hills be hurled,

And plunged beneath the seas;

And strong convulsions shake the world,

Your hearts may rest in peace.


8. Jesus, your shepherd, Lord, and chief,

Shall shelter you from ill;

And not a worm or shaking leaf

Can move, but at His will.

-John Newton