John Newton (b. London, England, 1725; d. London, 1807) was born into a Christian home, but his godly mother died when he was seven, and he joined his father at sea when he was eleven. His licentious and tumultuous sailing life included a flogging for attempted desertion from the Royal Navy and captivity by a slave trader in West Africa. After his escape he himself became the captain of a slave ship. Several factors contributed to Newton's conversion: a near-drowning in 1748, the piety of his friend Mary Catlett, (whom he married in 1750), and his reading of Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ. In 1754 he gave up the slave trade and, in association with William Wilberforce, eventually became an ardent abolitionist. After becoming a tide… Go to person page >
The gathering clouds with aspect dark. J. Newton. [In Time of War.] In the Rev. Josiah Bull's John Newton of Olney and St. Mary Woolnoth, 1868, p. 210, there is the following entry from Newton's Diary:—
"3lst [May 31st, 1775.] The paper this evening brought an account of the commencement of hostilities in New England, and many killed on both sides. These things, I fear, are the beginning of sorrows. O that I could be suitably affected with what I see and hear."
Mr. Bull adds to this extract:—
"A few days afterwards Mr. Newton says that ‘having proposed an extraordinary meeting for prayer weekly on account of the times, we began this morning; and, though we met at five o'clock, more people were present than we usually have in the evening.'"
Following this is a further extract from Newton's Diary:—
" Sunday, June 11th . In the evening I gave a brief sketch of the past and present state of the nation, with a view to engage the people to attendance on our Tuesday morning meetings by apprising them of the importance of the present crisis. Hymn 207 was composed for this service."
The hymn thus referred to was that now under notice. In the July number of the Gospel Magazine it was given in 9 stanzas of 4 lines, headed "On the Times," and signed "Vigil" It appeared in the Olney Hymns, 1779, as No. 64 of Bk. ii., and with the heading, "On the Commencement of Hostilities in America." Beyond these historical and biographical associations the hymn has little value, and could not be used except under very exceptional circumstances.
Display Title: The Gathering Clouds, with Aspect DarkFirst Line: The gathering clouds, with aspect darkTune Title: THIS ENDRIS NYGHTAuthor: John NewtonMeter: CMSource: Olney Hymns (London: W. Oliver, 1779)