I love them. Okay… not all of them, but so many. They are so deep and rich and relevant for today. I like my share of modern worship music as well but the songs that bring the most comfort to my soul in just about any kind of hardship are old theologically robust hymns. I do like them better though when set to music that doesn’t sound like it was intended for a funeral. The Indelible Grace CDs are great for this reason.
William Cowper is my favorite hymn writer… a clinically depressed man who, I imagine, faced both external and inner battles of faith, a man who clung only to shreds of hope though most days his feelings and thoughts may have assured him that life was pure crap to the core and therefore not worth living. He tried to commit suicide at least once. And yet he was a man into whom God’s truth continued seeping… seeping into the cracks of his brittle and hateful existence… and the miracle? That same hope and grace that seeped in, oozed right back out of those very same never fully repaired cracks and into the world, onto the paper, out of our mouths and back into God’s ears as sacrifices of praise.
God is good. And life is a true blessing because, though we and the world are broken, God redeems even our darkest of days and even the greatest of tragedies that we could never hope to understand. God redeems even the cracks and broken parts of ourselves and this world that haunt us until we die. We groan, along with all creation, for the day when He makes all things new… not looking to some ethereal glowing heaven where we all float around but to a day when He will make a new heaven and a new earth and He will put all things to rights, even our broken perceptions of who He is and how we should live in light of those perceptions.
Like the Psalmists, reality, and yes, often his distorted perception of it was every present before William Cowper. He was under no impression that life was a daisy chain or that the Christian life is as easy as a set of rules to be followed to achieve everlasting joy and happiness, but a daily cross… and yet in his hymns he offered up a sacrifice of praise. When you think about it, if praise were really all that easy and naturally occurring it wouldn’t really be much of a sacrifice would it?
Here are some of my favorite hymns by William Cowper.
Love Constraining to Obedience
Chorus: To see the Law by Christ fulfilled,
To hear His pardoning voice,
Changes a slave into a child
And duty into choice.
No strength of nature can suffice
To serve the Lord aright
And what she has, she misapplies,
For want of clearer light.
How long beneath the Law I lay
In bondage and distress
I toiled the precept to obey,
But toiled without success.
Then to abstain from outward sin
Was more than I could do
Now if I feel its power within
I feel I hate it too.
Then all my servile works were done,
A righteousness to raise
Now, freely chosen in the Son,
I freely choose His ways.
Sometimes a Light Surprises
Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord Who rises
With healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after the rain
In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation,
And find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it may.
Tomorrow can bring us nothing,
But He will bear us through:
Who gives the lilies clothing
Will clothe His people, too:
Beneath the spreading heavens
No creature but is fed;
And He Who feeds the ravens
Will give His children bread.
Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the fields should wither,
Nor flocks or herds be there
Yet, God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice;
For, while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.
Looking Upwards in a Storm
- God of my life, to Thee I call,
- Afflicted at Thy feet I fall;
- When the great water-floods prevail,
- Leave not my trembling heart to fail!
- Friend of the friendless and the faint,
- Where should I lodge my deep complaint,
- Where but with Thee, whose open door
- Invites the helpless and the poor!
- Did ever mourner plead with Thee,
- And Thou refuse the mourner’s plea?
- Does not the word still fix’d remain,
- That none shall seek Thy face in vain?
- That were a grief I could not bear,
- Didst Thou not hear and answer prayer:
- But a prayer-hearing, answering God
- Supports me under every load.
- Fair is the lot that’s cast for me;
- I have an Advocate with Thee;
- They whom the world caresses most
- Have no such privilege to boast.
- Poor though I am, despised, forgot,
- Yet God, my God, forgets me not:
- And he is safe, and must succeed,
- For whom the Lord vouchsafes to plead.
Light shining out of Darkness
- 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 sov’reign 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 fasts,
- Unfolding ev’ry hour;
- The bud may have a bitter taste,
- But sweet will be the flow’r.
- Blind unbelief is sure to err,
- And scan his work in vain;
- God is his own interpreter,
- And he will make it plain.
Cowper was no blind and deaf optimist. He was (and I, along with him, am) under no impression that anything he could do could earn God’s favor. He was no legalist. He, along with Job and I, didn’t know why God does or allows everything that comes to pass. Still, I think he would have agreed, as I do, with fellow hymn writer, Daniel Whittle, who was incidentally just agreeing with scripture, when he wrote the refrain “But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”