The Forgotten Hymns of William Cowper

10 08 2008

I was listening to Wow Hymns, a compilation of hymns sung by contemporary artists, and came upon “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood”.  I love that old song, so I thought I would see if there were any other hymns I knew of written by the same person.

The author was William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”) who was born in 1731 in England.  When he died in 1800, John Newton (of “Amazing Grace” fame) conducted the funeral service as they were friends and hymn writing partners.  As I looked at Cowper’s hymns, however, I didn’t find any others I recognized ( although while I don’t recall ever singing it, I believe “God Moves In a Mysterious Way” is popular among some).

I decided to look through a couple of his hymns anyway and found some gems!  I doubt these will ever become Sunday morning regulars, but they do at least warrant a consideration.  Click on the hymn name to bring up it’s entry on the Cyber Hymnal.

By Whom Was David Taught?

Using the examples of David and Gideon, Cowper recalls that the source of all success in the kingdom of God is God Himself.  It reminds me of “The God of Abraham Praise”.  The last stanza reads:

But unbelief, self will,
Self righteousness, and pride,
How often do they steal
My weapon from my side!
Yet David’s Lord, and Gideon’s Friend,
Will help His servant to the end.

O How I Love Thy Holy Word

Cowper dotes on God’s written revelation for six stanzas, focusing greatly on it’s chastening abilities.  One of my personal heroes is Martin Luther because he was obsessed with the Bible.  Luther’s wonder and utter dependence on God’s Word is reflected in this hymn.  Ask yourself if you think along these lines when you do your daily devotions:

What are the mines of shining wealth,
The strength of youth, the bloom of health!
What are all joys compared with those
Thine everlasting Word bestows!

Jesus, Whose Blood so Freely Streamed

My favorite of what I found in Cowper’s repertoire so far.  This hymn combines wonder for the work of salvation, rejoicing in its sufficiency, and petitions for strength to fight the spiritual war.  I actually tried my hand at composing a new tune for the words on my guitar.  I can’t vouch for how good it sounds, but the words still resonate.  I used the first verse as the chorus:

Jesus, whose blood so freely streamed
To satisfy the law’s demand;
By Thee from guilt and wrath redeemed,
Before the Father’s face I stand.

It’s sad to read that Cowper’s life was mostly defined by bouts of depression and stays at the insane asylum.  Throughout his life, Cowper suffered rejection, loss, and heartache, yet managed to find enough glimmers of hope in his Savior to pen these magnificent poems.  At least we know that he is now utterly filled with joy.  Take some time to look at this great poetry, meditate on it’s truths, and use them to glorify God!




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