There is an interesting statement in Romans 14:7 that is an oft quoted adage: “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.”
How often is that an applicable reality in the little events of everyday life. I have often been awed by the thought of a person’s life and accomplishments being read about, discussed, and having a profound influence, sometimes even centuries later. From the lives of the Old Testament worthies, the New Testament believers, and the poets, prophets and sages throughout the ages – those who would never have thought of the extent of their influence – we still glean inspiration and truth.
One such person that has captured our attention is a prolific poet by the name of William Cowper who lived from 1731 to 1800, a contemporary of John Wesley and George Whitefield, the leaders of the Evangelical Revival in England. I’m sure that Cowper would never have imagined in his wildest dreams what influence his life and words would have on the other side of the world 200 years after his demise.
William’s mother died when he was only six. His relationship with his father was one of rejection and estrangement. Beginning at the youthful age of 21, William was overtaken by recurring bouts of paralyzing and suicidal depression that haunted him most of his life. At the age of 32 he was committed to an insane asylum where there fortunately was a Christian doctor who showed great love and concern for Cowper and repeatedly held out HOPE to him. Upon ‘providentially’ finding a Bible one day, reading the story of the resurrection of Lazarus, seeing “in our Saviour’s conduct so much benevolence, mercy, goodness, and sympathy with miserable men,” and then the wonderful assurance of Romans 3:25, he had a marvelous encounter with the Lord. After his release, he lived for the remainder of his life under the devoted ministry of John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace” about whom we wrote in our last letter.
An account of one of his many ‘failed’ attempts at suicide has endured, no doubt because of the surprising outcome: One day he ordered a cab, instructing the driver to take him to London Bridge. On their way, a dense fog settled down over the city. The cabby wandered about for a couple of hours, and then admitted that he was lost. Cowper asked him if he thought he could find the way home. The cabby thought that he could and, in another hour, landed him at his door. When Cowper asked what the fare would be, the driver felt that he should not take anything since he had not gotten his fare to his destination. Cowper insisted, saying, “Never mind that; you have saved my life! I was on my way to throw myself off of London Bridge and end it all!”
Cowper then went into the house, sat down and wrote the words of what has become one of his most enduring legacies – a hymn that tops my list of favorites. Read the words carefully:-
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.
You fearful saints, fresh courage take, The clouds you 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.
In David’s psalms, he often admonishes his soul (the seat of his emotions): “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? HOPE IN GOD, for I shall yet praise Him for the HELP OF HIS PRESENCE…All of your waves and your breakers have gone over me; YET the Lord will command His loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.” (Psalm 42)
Now may the God of HOPE
fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
that you may abound in HOPE
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 15:13, NKJV)
In Agape, Eulene