William Cowper, was an English poet who changed the direction of poetry by writing primarily about the scenes of everyday life. William’s mother died when he was six and his father sent him away to a boarding school. At this school he suffered abuse that would have a profound effect upon his life. In 1752, not yet a Christian, William suffered the first of four paralyzing bouts with depression. He was 21. This struggle with depression and despair would become the theme of his life. He wrote this about the struggle he was going through:
“(I was struck) with such a dejection of spirits, as none but they who have felt the same, can have the least conception of. Day and night I was upon the rack, lying down in horror, and rising up in despair. I presently lost all relish for those studies, to which before I had been closely attached; the classics had no longer any charms for me; I had need of something more salutary than amusement, but I had not one to direct me where to find it.”
In 1756 the woman he loved was forbidden by her father from marrying William. He never saw her again. In 1759, upon being appointed to be Clerk of Journals in Parliament, he suffered a complete breakdown and tried three times to commit suicide. He was committed to an asylum. 1763 he attempted suicide again and was committed to St. Albans Insane Asylum where a man by the name of Dr. Nathaniel Cotton led William to the Lord.
In 1768, John Newton, who had formed a close friendship with William asked William to help him put together a hymnal. It was for this hymnal that John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace”. William Cowper contributed 68 songs, among them “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”. Both are my favourites, because although William had serious struggles with not only depression but assurance of faith after his conversion. Yet the content of these hymns, tells so obviously that he had true assurance. Part of the problem he had, which in my own opinion was a guised blessing, was his tender conscience. He hated and abhorred sin. He could not stand a speck of sin and for this reason lived scared of sin. This composition could not afford him assurance. I would wish that more were like him. It is far better to lack assurance because of the hatred of sin than to be flippant about sin with assurance. Yet for those of tender consciences, they should not only fix their eyes on the horrendousness of sin, but they also ought to behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. As long as we are under the sun, with mortal flesh, we must contend with sin. Our hope is that being aided by the Holy Spirit, we shall triumph over sin and its guilt. We shall not be forever shackled by the remaining indwelling sin – our victory is in Christ who has made a public spectacle of sin on the cross. He has paid it all and has declared that “It is finished!”
In 1786, William entered his fourth bout of depression and tried again, unsuccessfully, to commit suicide. He published his last poem in 1799, The Castaway, and dies, apparently in complete despair, in 1800.
God Moves in a Mysterious Way
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.