Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare

Ask what I shall give thee. (God to Solomon in 1 Kings 3:5)
John Newton, 1779
Addressed to oneself and God
Come, my soul, thy suit prepare:Luke 18:1–8
Jesus loves to answer prayer;John 14:13
he himself has bid thee pray,Matt. 7:7; Phil. 4:6
therefore will not say thee nay.Mark 11:24; John 16:23
Thou art coming to a King,Ps. 10:16; Heb. 4:16
large petitions with thee bring;Ps. 81:10
for his grace and pow’r are such,
none can ever ask too much.
With my burden I begin:Luke 18:13
“Lord, remove this load of sin;Matt. 6:12
let thy blood, for sinners spilt,Matt. 26:28; Rom. 5:9; Eph. 1:7
set my conscience free from guilt.Heb. 9:14; 10:22
“Lord, I come to thee for rest, Matt. 11:28
take possession of my breast;Matt. 6:10
there thy blood-bought right maintain,Ex. 15:16; Ps. 74:2
and without a rival reign.Ex. 20:3
“While I am a pilgrim here,
let thy love my spirit cheer;Matt. 6:11
as my Guide, my Guard, my Friend,Ps. 48:14; Ps. 12:7; Ps. 25:14
lead me to my journey’s end.Ps. 23:4–6; Matt. 6:13
“Show me what I have to do,Ps. 119:29
ev’ry hour my strength renew:Is. 40:31
let me live a life of faith,Phil. 1:27
let me die thy people’s death.”Rev. 2:10

This hymn is an incitement to pray boldly. Its opening line is one of the finest in all hymnody. Am I to sue God?! Exactly. He made promises, and I am going to remind him of them. He has bid me appear before his throne with petitions, and I shall obey. If I pray for what is necessary to his glory, then it is only proper that I press my case urgently and persistently. The more I ask of God, the more glory redounds to his mercy and faithfulness—and the more training my heart has in turning from idols to depend on God (Zech. 10:1–2). As the Epistle of James explains with characteristic directness: “You do not have, because you do not ask” (4:2).

But note, too, the verb in the first line of the poem. I am to prepare the suit. Freedom before God is not the same as carelessness. If, in the rest of my life, I usually give some thought ahead of time to important conversations, why would I not do the same in preparation for prayer? “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth” (Eccl. 5:2). C. H. Spurgeon’s congregations at the Metropolitan Tabernacle regularly got ready for the long prayer by singing a stanza or two of “Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare.”

If stanzas 1–2 embolden congregants to ask for high and big things, stanzas 3–6 provide one example of what that might look like. These stanzas do not constitute a model prayer, because they contain no confession, thanksgiving, or adoration—only petitions. And even as a model for petition they are incomplete, because the petitioning is only for oneself, not for anyone else. But no hymn can comprehensively model the nature and matter of prayer without being too general for the purposes of prayer and too long for the purposes of congregational song. What this hymn does do, however, it does very well—theologically, poetically, and musically.

Consider the strategic use of alliteration. “Soul” and “suit” occur on stresses as part of weak–strong groups (“my soul” and “thy suit”) which couple the two words. The “p” sound, so prominent in English forms of petition (e.g., in words like plea, please, and appeal), occurs four times in the first three lines. The alliteration in stanza 2, line 1 imitates the explosive approach of a child who comes to his father, yet the words are “coming” and “king.” The slithering sibilance in the third stanza—the one on sin (which originated with the serpent)—is impossible to miss: “this,” “sin,” “sinners,” “spilt,” and “set” relate obviously, and even “conscience” participates.

The meter is trochaic, but a dangling stress finishes each line. This coupling of trochaic meter with end-stopped lines gives the whole a rhythmic boldness befitting the subject.

The third stanza begins with some helpful wordplay, which pastors can easily explain to their congregations. The “burden” with which I begin my petitions is sin. It weighs me down, just as it did Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. But “burden” can also be a term for a refrain or chorus, as when Ariel in The Tempest sings, “Foot it featly here and there; / And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear” (act 1, scene 2, lines 379–80). Thus, my requests for forgiveness are a constant refrain in my prayers. Jeremiah 23:33–40 uses the same double meaning to the same effect.

The tune HENDON is a nice choice with its five closely-related melodic units that fit Newton’s end-stopped lines. Four of the five begin with repeated notes, which underscore the insistence of the text. So does the opportunity, afforded by the tune’s fifth melodic unit, to sing twice the last words of every stanza.