William Cowper (pronounced Cooper) was a brilliant and highly educated man and one of England’s most revered poet laureates. But he was a fragile and emotionally unstable mess.
He was born in 1731 in England. Before the age of six, three of his siblings died, and then his fifth brother died at birth, along with his mother.
His father, a pastor, sent him to a boarding school where William learned very little about the Christian faith. He suffered from feelings of anxiety, isolation, disappointments and a cold and weak relationship with his father, which pushed him towards a career in education and law in which he had no interest. .
At the age of 21, he began to have severe bouts of depression. His father is dead; his stepmother died, his best friend drowned, and the woman he loved dumped him. He tried hard but failed several suicide attempts.
Facing a public bar exam, he suffered a nervous breakdown and descended into complete clinical madness. His brother committed him to a mental asylum.
It was there that he once met a therapist who was reading. William asked him what he was reading and the therapist read to him, these words from Romans 3; “…being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, which God presented for a propitiation by his blood, by faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his patience God had passed over the sins that had been committed before, to demonstrate his righteousness at this time, that he may be just and vindicate him who has faith in Jesus.
When he finished this passage, the therapist explained the gospel to William. It was then that Cowper realized that Christ’s sacrifice was enough to cover all his sins.
After 18 months he was released from the asylum and he met a minister, Morley Unwin, who invited him to live with him and his family. Pastor Unwin died two years later, so Cowper and the Unwin family moved to the village of Olney where he became a friend and ministerial servant to John Newton.
But he could never stop falling back into his bouts of mental darkness. To help her, John Newton suggested that they work together on writing hymns.
Even though Cowper struggled his whole life with the feeling of being under the wrath of God, he clung to the assurance that one day he would finally be free.
In 1770 he wrote a hymn based on these words in Zechariah.13:1. “In that day a fountain will open for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.
The hymn paints a vivid picture of Christ’s atoning blood shed for our sins and God’s forgiveness.
“THERE IS A FOUNTAIN filled with the blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged under this flood lose all their guilty stains.”
Ralph M. Petersen and his wife, Kathy, are the owners of the OLDE TOWNE EMPORIUM at 212 E. Main St. in Rogersville, Tennessee. Your comments are welcome. You can contact him at [email protected] or by phone at (951) 321 9235.