William Cowper was one of the most popular poets and hymn-writers of the 18th Century. He is credited by some as the fore-father of English Romantic poetry, inspiring work by William Wordsworth, among others.
Cowper was born in 1731. He was a contemporary of John Wesley, George Whitefield, and William Wilberforce. He struggled with depression. Some believe he suffered from manic-depression (bipolar psychosis) due to the alternating periods of emotional highs and lows evident in his life.
After a major depression at age 21, he attempted suicide. At age 28, he had another breakdown caused mainly by the threat of a public examination before Parliament. They were to see if he could be appointed to a government position. He was committed to an insane asylum after more failed suicide attempts.
He became a Christian during his stay in the asylum when he picked up a Bible placed there and read Romans 3:25, where Christ’s sacrifice for us is highlighted. Cowper later wrote, “I saw the sufficiency of the atonement [Christ] had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fullness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed, and received the gospel…”
Over the next few years, he developed a close relationship with his pastor: John Newton. He and Newton worked together on a collection of hymns, including Newton’s “Amazing Grace” and Cowper’s “God Moves In A Mysterious Way” and “There Is A Fountain.”
Cowper, even as a Christian, continued to struggle with depression. Our doctrine must make room for Christians who struggle. Some of his friends were convinced that Cowper’s depression was a physical problem. You see, his depressions seemed to come every January and get worse, then better, in a regular pattern. John Newton was so convinced.
It was spiritual depression. Satan sometimes convinced Cowper that he was not saved and could never be saved. Cowper died in 1800, in deep despair, but he never completely forgot the hope he had in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had many friends like Newton to remind him, when he needed reminding the most, of God’s grace evident in Christ’s sacrifice.
There is hope for all who struggle with depression. We can often share hope with them by reminding them of Christ’s love and passion. We can let “redeeming love” be our theme, as the verse of the following hymn by Cowper reads.
There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins; and
sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. Lose all their
guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains; and sinners plunged beneath that
flood lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see that
fountain in his day; and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins
away. Wash all my sins away, wash all my sins away; and there may I, though vile
as he, wash all my sins away…
E'er since, by faith, I saw the
stream thy flowing wounds supply, redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be
till I die. And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die; redeeming love has
been my theme, and shall be till I die…
Hymn text excerpted from http://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh622.sht
Information from The Hidden Smile of God, John Piper, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2001.
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