January 10, 2011

Hymn History: God Moves in a Mysterious Way

When I was in college, I took a class called Hymnology. I enjoyed that class, and one of the assignments was every week I had to turn in a hymn history story. I thought I would share some of those stories on here for you. This is the first one:

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

It was a dark night in 1774. A carriage driver stopped at a house on the side of the road to pick up a man who was obviously distressed." Take me to the river, driver," he instructed. The driver was confused. "The river? Where? And why?" The man answered, "Anywhere along the river bank. God has ordered me to take my own life, and I prefer to drown myself rather than hang myself."

The passenger in the carriage was William Cowper (pronounced “cooper”), a forty-three year old man who spent the last twenty-five years of his life convinced that "God was determined to betray him at every turn in this life and to torture him eternally in the next." A series of events led to this mental instability. His mother died when he was six years old, leaving him in quite a state of shock. He was enrolled in an English Boarding School while still very young, and was subjected to much ill-treatment at the hands of the older boys. He was mauled and mistreated so badly this could have been a cause of his insanity later in life.

When he was twenty- one he entered the legal profession, but the strain put on him when he was to be examined for a job caused the first of many mental breakdowns. He tried to commit suicide many times, but never succeeded. He bought poison, but couldn't take it; he bought a large knife, but didn't have the courage to send it to his heart. He attempted to hang himself, but the garter broke. After these attempts he was put in an asylum, where his fears that God "had it in for him" only grew.

When he was thirty-three, through a visit from a brother, he regained his senses for a time and came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. This led to his writing, "0 For a Closer Walk With God." Soon after, his only romance was ended almost before it began. Only his close friend John Newton kept him from taking his life.

It was at a similarly low point in his life spiritually that he ordered the carriage driver to take him to the river so he could drown himself. The carriage driver was confused. "Did you say God ordered you to take your own life?" he asked. "Yes, Mr. Cowper answered, "God hates me. You see, I am not one of God's elect. And because I have not been elected to salvation I am to be eternally damned. And as my punishment God has ordered me to slay myself."

The carriage driver realized that his passenger was not in a right state of mind. Providentially, at this moment when he was trying to decide what to do with his passenger, a dense fog rolled in, so that it was impossible to see where he was going. He purposefully "lost" his way in the fog, driving up one street and down another until he realized that his passenger was asleep. He stopped in front of the house where he had picked up Mr. Cowper. "Here we are, sir."

Mr. Cowper woke from his sleep. "We are back home. How is that?" he asked. The driver answered, "Got lost in the fog, sir. Sorry." Mr. Cowper was confused. "Where did I tell you to go?" he questioned. The driver had to answer, "To the river, sir, so you could drown yourself, because you said that God told you to." "Then thank God for sparing me," was his reply. “God be thanked for having overruled my foolish designs. I must have been in one of my melancholic moods, but I'm all right now, thanks to His great mercy." That same evening, reflecting upon his narrow escape from death, He wrote these words in his autobiographical hymn:

"God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm."

--Ernest K. Emurian, "Living Stories of Famous Hymns"


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