William Wordsworth considered the words of another William, Cowper, to be “the only poet whom he thought worthwhile learning off-by-heart”. Quote books are heavy laden with his gems, and most of us will be familiar with the opening words of one of his most famous hymns – but not everyone perhaps may recall the rest of them. They so merit our attention!
‘God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform . . .
Deep in unfathomable mines
of never-failing skill;
He treasures up His bright designs,
and works His sov’reign will.’
What a wonderful thought to ponder – that it is from of unimaginable ‘depth’ the Lord is skilfully designing and mines the brilliant schemes that further His purposes. For our part, of course, we are not always as quick as we might be to identify the particular ways in which He chooses to work them out, but all too often respond with fear, annoyance and questioning than with trust and gratitude. But look at how the hymn continues:
‘Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust Him for His grace;
behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flow’r.’
Rather we often come to appreciate people who did not initially appeal to us with further contact and experience, we can all probably recall circumstances that appear decidedly unfortunate at the time, but which later turn out to have been very much of God – or at least able to be used by Him. As somebody has quipped, even rejection is often a call to redirection – to refocus and attempt things in a new and different way.
What an incentive to trust and praise rather than to mope and moan when untoward things happen! If anyone had cause to mope it was surely Cowper himself, who suffered from lifelong chronic depression, and whose varied descents into melancholy and madness resulted in him spending time in the horrors of Bedlam, where he was completely surrounded with ‘bitter tastes’. But listen to how he concludes this remarkable hymn:
‘Blind unbelief is sure to err,
and scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
and He will make it plain.’
Whereas unbelievers ‘scan’ events, and even Creation itself, (or Nature as most prefer to call it these days) and fail to see, let alone to trust the hand of the Creator at work, I love the thought that we can both celebrate and rest in the fact that the Lord is ‘The Interpreter,’ who loves to instruct and make things clear to us – just as Jesus did to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
‘How foolish you are,’ He said to them – and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.’ (Luke 24:25-28) Thank You, Lord, that You are not only the master mind behind this and every world, but You send Your Holy Spirit to be our helper and interpreter!
As a young Christian, I used to think at such times that God must be busy about other things, but that He would not neglect to come back and speak and lead more clearly again when He was ready to! May we be content to ride those ‘pause’ times when You do not appear to be saying much, and when our hearing, and with it so much else, feels dull. Composers weave ‘rest’ signs into their compositions, when no music is meant to be playing – and the Lord likewise allows ‘fallow’ times in our souls for all sorts of reasons.
Writing in Streams in the Desert of Abraham, LB Cowman reminds us that,
‘The Lord tried him by delaying to fulfil His promise. Satan tried him by temptation; men tried him by jealousy, distrust, and opposition; Sarah tried him by her peevishness. But he patiently endured. He did not question God’s veracity, nor limit His power, nor doubt His faithfulness, nor grieve His love; but bowed to Divine Sovereignty, submitted to Infinite Wisdom, was silent under delays, and awaited the Lord’s time. And so, having patiently endured, he obtained the promise. God’s promises cannot fail of their accomplishment.’ (https://bit.ly/Streams-in-the-desert)
Warning of imminent troubles ahead, Jesus said to His disciples, ‘I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart (courage); I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
One thing to be aware of here is that God’s peace is not like a nebulous cloud surrounding us. Although there are times when He draws especially close by His Spirit, it rather it is for us to take the steps and make the effort to do all we can to press in to the Lord’s presence in order to experience the peace and leading that is there for us to discover. In other words, our task is to make the framework to seek Him: how much – and in what ways – He chooses to fill that framework is entirely up to Him.
May our heart be set on pursuing Him from day to day, our spirit be expectant to recognise the things the Lord is pointing out to us from day to day and our mind alert to interpret what He is showing us to and to pray for.
Lord, help us to interpret many things by Your Spirit from day to day we pray, from the minutiae of our everyday life to the grand events of our day.*
Some really interesting further thoughts:
* 1) Brenda Cox wrote an article in Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen that I think many of you will appreciate, entitled ‘William Cowper: Joy and Depression, Glimmers of light in the midst of Darkness https://bit.ly/William-Cowper
2) Dr Gaius Davis has written an unusual and interesting book called ‘Genius, Grief and Grace: a doctor looks at suffering and success, in which he analyses the lives of a number of prominent Christians, very much including Cowper, and explores the troubles that they went through internally. https://bit.ly/Dr-Gaius-Davis
3) To explore other quotes by William Cowper, see https://www.azquotes.com/author/3354-William_Cowper
Cowper was not only a great Christian poet, he and John Newton were right at the forefront of introducing hymn singing to the Anglican communion, as opposed to just chanting the Psalms. We continue to sing many of thei hymns to this day.
4) ‘Nature is but a name for an effect, whose cause is God.# (William Cowper, The Winter Walk at Noon)
Here’s a chance to enjoy the garden where Cowper did much of his writing! https://cowperandnewtonmuseum.org.uk/museum-gardens/
5) ‘God is his own interpreter’ – but He expects us to be able to understand many of the dynamics of the situations we find ourselves in, and indeed of the times that we live in.
The following represent a small sample of the material that is available on our website with regard to interpreting. Tallying and triangulating:
a) Making radical decisions – three important principles
b) The importance of tallying and triangulation in seeking direction
c) The Power of prayerful pondering
d) Tallying and triangulating – Part one
In reality, the whole of our spiritual life, experience and understanding of the whole Word of God go into our ability to interpret in these ways. May the Lord increase not only our store of wisdom, but also our ability to apply it.