John Newton: Annual New Year Services for the Young People of Olney

The New Year Day evening service for the young people of Olney was one that Rev’d John Newton valued and to which he looked forward.

From his diary for Tuesday 1st January 1765, his first New Year as Curate in Olney, it is clear that this was an established service at the parish church of St Peter & St Paul.

The young people usually make a present upon this occasion – was much larger than any former, which pleases me not so much for the value of the money, as because I hope it is a proof of their goodwill to my ministry. The Lord make me humble and thankful.’

January 1st 1766
In the evening I preached the Anniversary sermon to the young people from Numbers 10:29. I account this (so far as I am concerned in it) a capital opportunity, and am therefore desirous to remember it as it approaches in my prayer – Most of the youth are then present, and bring an outward attention at least, as expecting them to be particularly spoke to. The Lord command a blessing.

January 1st 1773
Preached to the young people in the evening from Proverbs 8:34-36. I went to church remarkably dull – but in singing the hymn before sermon I felt a softening of spirit, and was favoured in preaching with remarkable liberty. The Lord grant it may be attended with a blessing. There was a good congregation, and the customary New Year’s gift brought me after sermon …

When the Olney Hymns hymnal was published in 1779, Newton included hymns that he had specifically written for this annual service.  From this we see that a hymn was sung both before and after the sermon.

From his diaries and letters, we know that Newton prepared many of his sermons by planning out his key messages and related Bible references in notebooks. The page below is from one of his notebooks in the Cowper & Newton Museum collection and shows the notes for his 1774 Annual service.

Cowper & Newton Museum
I must take it for granted that some of you have not yet asked the way to Zion (1774 sermon notes p.2)

From the manuscript volume of hymns owned by Harvard University, more of the hymns can be identified as being written for a particular year, such as this one for the 1775 New Year.

Houghton Library, Harvard University
Olney Hymns, 1779 The title of the hymn differs from that in the manuscript

At this time, the Independent church in Olney held their service for the young people on New Year’s Eve. In 1767, New Year’s Eve fell on a Thursday which was Newton’s regular Lecture evening. There were positive relationships and co-operation between the Baptist and Independent church pastors so Newton postponed his Lecture.

Put off my lecture, not to interfere with Mr Drake’s sermon to the young people. Heard him preach from John 21:23 last clause.

Find Out More

Rev’d John Newton’s  Church of St Peter & St Paul

Annotated transcript of John Newton’s Diaries (1764 – 1767), Marylynn Rouse can be purchased from the Museum shop, and on the Museum’s online shop or from the John Newton Project online shop

Transcript of John Newton’s diary entry for New Year’s Day 1773 

A short biography of the life of John Newton 

John Newton Virtual exhibition

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