Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine (Cowper)

William Cowper Collection (6 vols.) William Cowper, a friend of John Newton and the author of many hymns (including “God Moves in A Mysterious Way”) suffered from bouts of depression and panic attacks from a young age.  Some historians say it ran in his family.  Things became so dark for him that he tried to take his own life several times.  When he was around 30 years old he was in a mental hospital because of an especially deep period of depression and despair.  Later in his life, Cowper said that during that time the devil would even attack him and accuse him in his dreams at night.

At some point during that stay in the mental hospital Cowper read Romans 3:25.  The verse softened his heart and made him remember gospel truths he had learned earlier in life.  He later wrote that during this time he was “overwhelmed with joy unspeakable.”  He eventually left the mental hospital and went on to live until he was around 70 years old.  He always did suffer bouts of depression, but the Lord graciously brought him through.

This, of course, is a very brief summary of Cowper’s life struggles and his faith.  But it’s enough to make one appreciate his excellent poem called “A Song of Mercy and Judgment.”  As you read it, note how he refers to his depression and also note the rhythmic repetition of grace:

Lord! I love the Habitation
Where the Savior’s Honor dwells,
At the Sound of thy Salvation
With Delight my Bosom swells.
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace that I have found.

Me thro’ Waves of deep affliction
Dearest Savior! thou hast brought,
Fiery Deeps of sharp Conviction
Hard to bear and passing Thought.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine

From the cheerful Beams of Morning
Sad I turn’d mine Eyes away:
And the Shades of Night returning
Fill’d my Soul with new Dismay.
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace that I have found.

Food I loath’d nor ever tasted
But by Violence constrain’d,
Strength decay’d and Body wasted,
Spoke the Terrors I sustain’d.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which make me thine.

Bound and watch’d lest Life abhorring
I should my own Death procure,
For to me the Pit of Roaring
Seem’d more easy to endure.
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

Fear of Thee with gloomy Sadness,
Overwhelm’d thy guilty Worm,
’Till reduced to moping Madness,
Reason sunk beneath the Storm.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine.

Then what Soul distressing Noises
Seem’d to reach me from below,
Visionary Scenes and Voices,
Flames of Hell and Screams of Woe!
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

But at length a Word of Healing
Sweeter than an Angel’s Note,
From the Savior’s Lips distilling
Chas’d Despair and chang’d my Lot.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine.

’Twas a Word well-timed and suited
To the Need of such an Hour,
Sweet to One like me polluted,
Spoke in Love and seal’d with Pow’r.
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

I, he said, have seen thee grieving,
Lov’d thee as I pass’d thee by,
Be not faithless but Believing,
Look, and Live, and never Die.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine.

Take the Bloody Seal I give thee,
Deep impress’d upon thy Soul,
God, thy God, will now receive thee,
Faith hath sav’d thee, thou art Whole.
Grace Divine, how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

All at once my Chains were broken,
From my Feet my Fetters fell,
And that Word in Pity spoken,
Snatch’d me from the gates of Hell.
Grace Divine, how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

Since that Hour in Hope of Glory,
With thy Foll’wers I am found,
And relate the wondrous Story
To thy list’ning Saints around.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine.

(The above information about Cowper is found in A Portrait of William Cowper by Louis B. Risk.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Justified Today, Damned Tomorrow? Never! (Sibbes)

 We are weak.  Our faith is often feeble and barely flickering.  We have doubts; despair sometimes is a dark cloud in the Christian life.  “Prone to wander” is an understatement at times!  I appreciate how Richard Sibbes discussed this hard reality in the Christian life.  He met it with the gospel, with the comforting truths of the doctrines of grace:

Objection: “Oh… says the poor soul, I am a poor weak creature, and ready to fall away every day.”

Answer: “Yes, but Christ’s love is constant.  ‘Whom he loves, he loves to the end.’  What does the apostle say (Rom. 8:38-39)? ‘Neither things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ.’  Therefore be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might; do not trust yourselves, nor trouble yourselves for things to come.  If you be free from guilt of former sins, never question time to come.  God is unchangeable in his nature, unchangeable in his love.  He is ‘Yahweh I AM’, always – not ‘I was or will be’, but ‘I am always.’  If ever he loved you, he will love you forever.”

“You see the constancy of Christ’s love when he told Mary, ‘Go tell my brothers’ (John 20:17).  Now when they had most deeply offended him, they were renegades, having all left him even then when he had most need of their comfort, being in greatest extremity – yet he called them brothers when he said, ‘Go tell my brothers.'”

“Beloved, let us not lose the comfort of the constancy and immutability of Christ’s love. Let us conceive that all the sweet links of salvation are held on God’s part strong, not on ours; the firmness is on God’s part, not on ours. Election is firm on God’s part, not on ours. We choose indeed as he chooses us, but the firmness is of his choosing; so he calles us, we answer, but the firmness is of his action. He justifies; we are made righteous, but the firmness is of his imputation. Will he forgive sins today, and bring us into court and damn us tomorrow? No. The firmness is of his action. We are ready to run into new debts every day, but whom he justifies he will glorify. The whole chain so holds, that all the creatures in heaven and earth cannot break a link of it. Whom he calls he will justify and glorify. Therefore never doubt of continuance, for it holds firm on God’s part, not thine.”

Richard Sibbes, A Heavenly Conference, p. 53.

(Note: the above quotes have been slightly edited for readability.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Dear Devil, Go Eat the Dung (Luther)

In 1532 Martin Luther preached a sermon at the funeral of Duke John of Saxony.  He preached on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.  It’s a good sermon in many ways.  One helpful part of this sermon is where Luther explained how Satan, the accuser, uses the law in a crafty way.  He first tells us that we have to be good and keep the law, but then he reminds us that we haven’t kept the law.  “And with that thought he brings one into such anxiety that one is ready to despair.”  Luther continues:

And again when occasionally I have done something good, Satan is nevertheless able to turn it around in such a way that my holiness is reduced to nothingness. Then I make haste to seize hold of the article of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for my sins [I Cor. 15:31]; and this is precisely what Satan does not want to let into my heart. But what does go into the heart is that I have done this and not done that, that I have given alms, been good, etc., just as I can say of our beloved prince that he had a faithful heart, devoid of malice and envy.

In other words, if Satan can’t get us to despair about our many sins, he tries to get us to be proud of our obedience.  Again, Luther:

But by all means take care not to let anybody persuade you of this on your deathbed; for then the devil is not far away; he can throw in your face a little sin which reduces all such fine virtues to nothing, so that finally you come to such a pass that you say: Devil, rage as much as you please, I do not boast of my good works and virtues before our Lord God at all, nor shall I despair on account of my sins, but I comfort myself with the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose again, as the text here says.

Lo, when I believe this with my whole heart, then I have the greatest treasure, namely, the death of Christ and the power which it has wrought, and I am more concerned with that than with what I have done. Therefore, devil, begone with both my righteousness and my sin. If I have committed some sin, go eat the dung; it’s yours. I’m not worrying about it, for Jesus Christ died. St. Paul bids me comfort myself with this, that I may learn to defend myself from the devil and say: Even though I have sinned, it doesn’t matter; I will not argue with you about what evil or good I have done. There is no time to talk of that now; go away and do it some other time when I have been a bad boy, or go to the impenitent and scare them all you please. But with me, who have already been through the anguish and throes of death, you’ll find no place now. This is not the time for arguing, but for comforting myself with the words that Jesus Christ died and rose for me. Thus I am sure that God will bring me, along with other Christians, with Christ to his right hand and carry me through death and hell.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 51, p. 241.

Shane Lems

Help For Depression: Setting up Support

Product DetailsA few days ago, I gave a brief review on Broken Minds by Steve and Robyn Bloem.  After fighting through some intense depression and counseling those who also struggle with depression, Steve wrote a basic list on how to build support systems.  For those of you who face depression or help those who do, here’s the list (I’ve edited and shortened it slightly).

First, while you are well or during a time of manageable symptoms, discuss treatment options with your family and friends.  Among those who can experience a break with reality without warning, it is particularly important to formulate a family plan during times of wellness.  Be sure to get pamphlets and information about depression from institutes and doctors who are experienced in the field of mental health.

Second, prepare your family spiritually so they can press the battle when the leader is down (assuming you’re the husband/father).  This is one way the spiritual head of the family can take the headship role even when he is sidelined with illness for part of the time.  When you are well or have moderate symptoms, pray and read your Bible at every opportunity.  When you become seriously depressed again, you might not be able to read or concentrate.  Trust that the Holy Spirit will apply the Word you have stored up in your heart.

Third, monitor your own symptoms and listen to the observations of those who know you and care about you.  They will identify things in your mood, thinking, and behavior that you miss.  [You cannot always trust yourself, but you can trust Christian friends who love you.]  Know and be able to recognize the first symptoms of your illness.  Recognizing these symptoms is especially important for depression, since it is a neurodegenerative disease.

Fourth, do not hesitate to contact your doctor or psychiatrist.  Medications often need fine tuning.  A medication can work at first but then start to fail for some reason.  You need to discuss this with your doctor in the first hours of difficulty, not at your next scheduled appointment.

Fifth, if you are a parent, spend maximum time with your children when you are well and build strong respect and communication bridges into young lives.  Explain your illness to them when they reach an appropriate age.  Reach out to your husband or wife when you are well, explaining how you feel and what the symptoms are like.  Build your marriage and family while you are well.

Sixth, while you are well, make sure you fill out and sign the appropriate consent releases and name those who should have access to your medical information.  Don’t put off doing this because when you’re very ill, you might be too confused or incapable of doing so.

Seventh, do not isolate yourself.  The more you can fight social withdrawal, the better your prognosis.  Demand of yourself that you get help and good treatment.

Again, I strongly encourage getting this book Broken Minds.  As I said before, I believe pastors should read this book as well as any other Christian who either faces depression or shares in the life of someone who does.  This book should be on the shelves of many Christians!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

I Would Have Fallen Away…

  One of my favorite phrases in the Canons of Dort is found in the last section which deals with the perseverance/preservation of the saints.  I’ll quote the entire article here (V.8).  Notice the bold phrase.

…It is not in consequence of their [the saints’] own merits or strength, but of God’s free mercy, that they neither totally fall from faith and grace nor continue and perish finally in their backslidings; which, with respect to themselves is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since His counsel cannot be changed nor His promise fail; neither can the call according to His purpose be revoked, nor the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ be rendered ineffectual, nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or obliterated.

What a great statement!  Even as I grow in the Christian faith, I’m sadly shocked at the times I still either wander from the path or consider wandering from it.  I think I can safely say that I wouldn’t be a Christian tomorrow if it depended upon my own fortitude and strength.  Thankfully God preserves his people (Ps. 37:28)!

The Canons of Dort go on to say that assurance of salvation is possible for believers despite their ongoing struggles with sin.  The key to assurance is neither our piety nor our faith itself but the object of our faith: the triune God.  Since the Father’s promises cannot fail, since the Son’s saving work is finished, and since the Spirit is sovereignly working in us, we can be sure that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Not even our grievous sins!  I would either be living in terrible evil or in dark despair were it not for this truth of the gospel.

Richard Phillips said it well.

“Perhaps you are burdened with troubles and trials.  Many Christians are.  Yet you still have every reason to rejoice, for you are chosen of God, blood-bought by the Son, and sealed by the Spirit for an eternity of glory.  ‘Rejoice in the Lord always,’ Paul therefore concludes.  ‘Again I will say, Rejoice’ (Phil. 4:4).  Perhaps you are poor, yet in Christ you can know that a glorious inheritance is laid up for you (1 Peter 1:4).  Perhaps you are sick or even dying.  But you can know that ‘What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable’ (1 Cor. 15:42).  The salvation God has begun in you, He will complete!  Those whom God has caused to be born again, He will bring to glorious perfection!  Knowing and rejoicing in God’s preserving, completing, and perfecting grace will enable you to lay down your head in peace at night and rise up energized to live for God in joy each day.”

Indeed, the doctrine of the perseverance/preservation of the saints is practical and it leads to deep joy.

shane lems