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Sing, Church, Sing - Jimmy's Favorite

September 12 2018
September 12 2018

Sing, Church, Sing - Jimmy’s Favorite

Picking a favorite song or hymn is daunting task. As I prayerfully reflected through seasons of my life attempting to recall songs that have special meaning I found myself continually coming back to a hymn written by a friend of a friend in the late 18th century.

William Cowper (pronounced COO-per) was born into an upper-class English family. Given his status and family connections Cowper was educated with the intent of continuing in the family business of practicing law. Just before his preliminary appearance to take the bar exam Cowper came under a severe storm of “melancholy” (referred to today as clinical depression). He made three attempts at suicide. After some time recovering in an asylum he was placed in the care of a local parish priest, Rev. Unwin. In the summer of 1767, the Unwin family suffered a terrible loss when the Reverend died in a tragic accident. By chance, an out of town pastor arrived to find the house in mourning. After spending time grieving with the family a special bond was formed. The traveling pastor invited the family back to his own parish in Olney. Thus William Cowper was providentially put under the care of the great shepherd pastor John Newton.

Cowper found himself taking to poetry and John, nurturing this creative outlet, offered to collaborate on a hymnal that would eventually become known as the Olney Hymns. This would include titles such as There is a Fountain Filled with Blood, Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken, Let us Love and Sing and Wonder, How Sweet the name of Jesus Sounds, and Amazing Grace.

On New Year’s Day, six years later, “an hour or so after hearing John preach the morning service, Cowper was walking the fields around Olney when he was struck by a terrible premonition that the curse of madness was about to fall on him again. Struggling to make a declaration of his faith in poetic form before his mind was enclosed in the darkness of depression, he struggled home, picked up his pen, and wrote a hymn that many regard as a literary and spiritual masterpiece:” [John Newton, J. Aitken, pp 217-218]

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 purpose 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.

As someone who has suffered from anxiety since I was a child, I have come to appreciate the need to anchor yourself when a storm is in view. There have been many days and restless nights where my mind has wandered to places driven by fear and despair. Although I ask for immediate relief it has been my experience that most storms must be weathered. This is why when you find me at our piano or strumming my guitar I am singing truths that my soul needs to hear, again, and again, and again. Looking back, each storm led me to cry for help and wrestle with hard questions about who God is and what He is like. And he will continue to use these storms to help shake loose my grip on things that will only rob my joy. Surely, the Lord is good and weathers the storms with us. Take courage fearful saints, clouds of mercy are on the horizon.


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