Reformed Articles

Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine (Cowper)

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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.

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 is a Minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is Pastor of Covenant OPC in Hammond, Wis. This article is used with permission.