God Moves in a Mysterious Way

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

By the beginning of 1773, successive blows had left Cowper staggering. His brother died in 1770, followed by two of his cousins the following year. In 1772, neighbors’ whispers suggested that Cowper’s relationship with his landlady was something short of innocent. The grief and the slander soon gathered into clouds too dark for his sanity. And so, as Cowper walked through the fields after church 246 years ago today, Cowper “was struck by a terrible premonition that the curse of madness was about to fall on him again” (John Newton, 217).

 

New Year’s Day, 1773, marked a decade since depression nearly snatched away William Cowper’s life.

The mental agony tortured him so severely ten winters prior that he was locked up in St. Alban’s insane asylum after a botched suicide attempt. While there, he stumbled upon a Bible that the asylum’s Christian director had strategically left open. His eyes fell upon Romans 3:23–26, and the glory of Jesus Christ chased the shadows from his soul.

But by the beginning of 1773, successive blows had left Cowper staggering. His brother died in 1770, followed by two of his cousins the following year. In 1772, neighbors’ whispers suggested that Cowper’s relationship with his landlady was something short of innocent. The grief and the slander soon gathered into clouds too dark for his sanity. And so, as Cowper walked through the fields after church 246 years ago today, Cowper “was struck by a terrible premonition that the curse of madness was about to fall on him again” (John Newton, 217).

But before night fell on Cowper’s soul, he sat in the light of his remaining sanity, took up his pen, and wrote a hymn that has strengthened generations of staggering saints through their various shadows.

Take Courage

Cowper’s hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” is a song for every saint who sits on the edge. It is a guide for all who do not see fresh hopes rising over the horizon of the new year. It is a confession of faith in the face of darkness — one that flickers with enough light to carry us through whatever midnights this year brings.

At the heart of the hymn is a simple exhortation: “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take.” Take courage. Take courage when the clouds come thundering toward you. Take courage when the coming days seem covered in shadow. Take courage when you cannot understand God’s ways.

But why, we ask in the valley, should we take courage? Throughout the rest of the hymn, Cowper gives his reasons.

1. God moves in a mysterious way.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

As Cowper wrote his hymn, God’s ways confounded him. The God who had rescued Cowper from the storm of mental instability was now sending him back in, where Cowper would feel like he was “scrambling always in the Dark, among rocks and precipices without a guide, but with an enemy ever at my heels, prepared to push me headlong” (Letters and Prose Writings, IV:234). We can understand why he would begin his hymn with the famous line “God moves in a mysterious way.”

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