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william cowper, love constraining to obedience

photo: © James Steidl –

William Cowper (1731-1800) (pronounced Cooper) is a very interesting author of hymns.  A very interesting biography of his life is found on John Piper’s blog from a conference in 1992 that brings him alive.  (You have the choice of either reading it or listening to it.)  I highly recommend it.

Briefly, Cowper had a very sad life.  He was born to a pastor’s home.  His mother died when he was about 6.  At that time, he was sent to a boarding school where he was bullied by older boys.  He was a very sensitive child.

Later, he fell in love with his cousin Theodora Cowper, but her father didn’t approve of the match and neither of them ever married.

He studied law but didn’t do much in the field.  He was offered a government position for which he would need to be examined and became so terrified about the questions that he became worked up into a fit of madness and attempted suicide.  At this point he was put into a private asylum and recovered.

John Newton lived out his belief in GOD’s amazing grace by mentoring some amazing people like this gifted writer, William Cowper, often keeping him in his home during times of incapacitation with deep depression!

Then he moved to the country town of Olney where his pastor was none other than John Newton, author of Amazing Grace, one of the many hymns he wrote!  They soon became close friends.  John Newton soon became concerned over William’s increasing melancholy and wanted to give him something to do.  So they wrote a hymnbook together called Olney Hymns.  Included were hymns by John Newton, who often wrote hymns to illustrate his sermons.  Also included were 68 hymns written by William Cowper  They included Oh, for a Closer Walk with God, God Moves in Mysterious Ways, There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.  I don’t know if this hymn was included in that hymnal or not.

This hymnbook was Cowper’s first introduction to the world.  He kept writing and became a well-known poet and was considered to be one of the  founders of the English Romantic movement.  In his best work The Task, he continues to praise his creator.  He became known for his books of poetry that were published during his lifetime.

However, as he neared death, he became increasingly melancholic and became convinced, because of  his rigidly strict Calvinistic upbringing that he was one of those who was predestined to death and damnation.  The Castaway illustrates his views at the time.

He died of dropsy (now called chronic heart failure) in 1800.

Always interesting to see how GOD uses the words of gifted, but broken people for His glory!

It is always interesting to me to read of someone like this man who was so gifted in writing poetry, whose hymns have been used by GOD to teach wonderful doctrine and yet who struggled deeply to live it out in his own life.

It is hopeful to read of someone like this, whose hymns have been used by GOD to teach wonderful truth, yet who struggled deeply to live it out in his own life. Click To Tweet

How delightful heaven must be for him as he basks in the freedom, acceptance and love of Christ…with no depression or darkness to haunt him.

Chorus: To see the Law by Christ fulfilled, 
To hear His pardoning voice, 
Changes a slave into a child 
And duty into choice.

1. No strength of nature can suffice 
To serve the Lord aright 
And what she has, she misapplies, 
For want of clearer light.(Repeat chorus)

2. How long beneath the Law I lay 
In bondage and distress 
I toiled the precept to obey, 
But toiled without success.(Repeat chorus)

3. Then to abstain from outward sin 
Was more than I could do 
Now if I feel its power within 
I feel I hate it too.(Repeat chorus)

4. Then all my servile works were done, 
A righteousness to raise 
Now, freely chosen in the Son, 
I freely choose His ways.(Repeat chorus)

William Cowper (1731-1800)-words

Kevin Twit-music

I was unable to find a good version of this song that was a video. I did find this one to the tune we sing in our church by Indelible Grace.