Late one stormy London night in 1763, a man filled with despair was determined to end his life. He hired a driver to take him to the river and was convinced that if he could only cast himself into the depths of the Thames, his agony could be finally put to an end. He was unwavering in his resolve as he stepped down from the carriage and as it pulled away; he walked through the fog toward the pier and suddenly noticed a strange man sitting there, staring at him as if he had been expecting him. In the awkward silence, he also observed the tide was extremely low and decided that maybe he should try something else. Returning home, the desperate man decided to poison himself with an overdose of laudanum, a potent drug derived from opium. But he couldn’t raise the bottle to his lips. He tried again and again, however each time; it was as if an invisible hand was pushing it away. Finally, he attempted to hang himself from the door frame, but after losing consciousness the rope snapped, and his housekeeper revived him. For reasons he could not conceive, it seemed there was something trying to prevent him from ending his misery. That man was William Cowper, the famous English poet, and this had not been the first time he had contemplated suicide, only to be held back by unknown forces.
Cowper battled depression and felt that he was unworthy in the eyes of God. His parents introduced him to a therapist who was a Christian where he presented the gospel to Cowper and often prayed with him. One day, while reading the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John chapter 11 and about faith and salvation in Romans chapter 3, God opened William’s eyes to the reality of the grace and hope which God was offering. Here is what Cowper wrote in his journal about the experience. “Immediately I received the strength to believe in Christ, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He 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…my eyes filled with tears, and my voice choked with transport; I could only look up to heaven in silent fear, overwhelmed with love and wonder.” He accepted God’s grace, leaving him in awe and filled with joy.
Soon after, he sought a fresh start and moved to a village called Olney where he met another man who had also experienced God’s mercy at a moment of great desperation. It was John Newton, the celebrated Anglican minister who had earned a reputation for the convicting power of his preaching. Cowper moved into a house next to Newton and experienced a sense of peace from Newton’s friendship and care. Newton understood that for the fragile poet’s life to find purpose, writing would need to be a part of his recovery. He encouraged Cowper to turn his creative talents to composing Christian songs, and the two collaborated on a collection of nearly 350 works known as the Olney Hymns. Through the years, countless souls have found spiritual comfort in the beautiful music written by these two men. Newton is best known for his most famous work, “Amazing Grace” inspired by his miraculous rescue at sea.
Cowper is not only remembered as one of England’s greatest poets but also composed many hymns of his own including, “There is a fountain filled with blood” and “God moves in a mysterious way” which proclaim the merciful intervention of a God that loved him and wanted to save him. Cowper knew first-hand that our journey is filled with constant warfare, and confirms what John Bunyan said referring to this life as, “a valley of tears.” For those who sense that doubt has overtaken hope or maybe you are just feeling sad today, be encouraged to know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. The Lord designed your destiny before you were born which included a very special mission that He is trusting you to accomplish for Him. Do not allow your emotions to deny the joy of God’s truth. A line from God moves in a mysterious way, “For God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain, in His own time, and in His own way.”
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