None Shall Seek Thy Face in Vain (Cowper)

 I just love the hymns and poems of William Cowper.  In fact, I’d recommend a book of his hymns and poems to use as a short daily devotional.  My wife and I have used this one: William Cowper’s Olney Hymns (Curiosmith, 2009). It’s not expensive but it is a great resource.  Here’s a great hymn I read today that I’d like to share:

LOOKING UPWARDS IN A STORM

God of my life, to thee I call,
Afflicted at thy feet I fall;
When the great water-floods prevail,
Leave not my trembling heart to fail!

Friend of the friendless, and the faint!
Where should I lodge my deep complaint?
Where but with thee, whose open door
Invites the helpless and the poor!

Did ever mourner plead with thee,
And thou refuse that mourner’s plea?
Does not the word still fix’d remain,
That none shall seek thy face in vain?

That were a grief I could not bear,
Didst thou not hear and answer prayer;
But a pray’r-hearing, answ’ring God,
Supports me under ev’ry load.

Fair is the lot that’s cast for me!
I have an advocate with thee;
They whom the world caresses most,
Have no such privilege to boast.

Poor tho’ I am, despis’d, forgot,
Yet God, my God, forgets me not;
And he is safe and must succeed,
For whom the Lord vouchsafes to plead.

-William Cowper-

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Detestation of the Diabolical Slave Traffic (Cowper)

The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper Most of us have heard about the great work of William Wilberforce who used his God-given gifts and talents to work towards ending the evil practice of the slave trade.  There were others, of course, who worked so diligently with Wilberforce in attaining the goal.  In fact, William Cowper was one of those who spoke early on against the “diabolical traffic” (as he called it).  Cowper wrote and published several poems describing the evils of the slave trade.  Here’s one called “The Negro’s Complaint” (1788/1793):

Forc’d from home, and all its pleasures,
Afric’s coast I left forlorn;
To increase a stranger’s treasures,
O’er the raging billows borne.
Men from England bought and sold me,
Paid my price in paltry gold;
But, though theirs they have enroll’d me,
Minds are never to be sold. 

Still in thought as free as ever,
What are England’s rights, I ask,
Me from my delights to sever,
Me to torture, me to task?
Fleecy locks, and black complexion
Cannot forfeit nature’s claim;
Skins may differ, but affection
Dwells in white and black the same. 

Why did all-creating Nature
Make the plant for which we toil?
Sighs must fan it, tears must water,
Sweat of ours must dress the soil.
Think, ye masters, iron-hearted,
Lolling at your jovial boards;
Think how many backs have smarted
For the sweets your cane affords. 

Is there, as ye sometimes tell us,
Is there one who reigns on high?
Has he bid you buy and sell us,
Speaking from his throne the sky?
Ask him, if your knotted scourges,
Matches, blood-extorting screws,
Are the means which duty urges
Agents of his will to use? 

Hark! he answers—Wild tornadoes,
Strewing yonder sea with wrecks;
Wasting towns, plantations, meadows,
Are the voice with which he speaks.
He, foreseeing what vexations
Afric’s sons should undergo,
Fix’d their tyrants’ habitations
Where his whirlwinds answer – NO!

By our blood in Afric’ wasted,
Ere our necks receiv’d the chain;
By the mis’ries we have tasted,
Crossing in your barks the main;
To the man-degrading mart;
All sustain’d by patience, taught us
Only by a broken heart: 

Deem our nation brutes no longer
Till some reason ye shall find
Worthier of regard and stronger
Than the colour of our kind.
Slaves of gold, whose sordid dealings
Tarnish all your boasted pow’rs,
Prove that you have human feelings,
Ere you proudly question ours!

William Cowper, 1788 (The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper, 371).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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