Archive for the ‘William Cowper’ Tag

Feast of William Cowper (April 26)   2 comments

Above:  William Cowper

Image in the Public Domain

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WILLIAM COWPER (NOVEMBER 15, 1731-APRIL 25, 1800)

Anglican Hymn Writer

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Of all the men that I ever heard pray, no one equaled Mr. Cowper.

–Andrew Fuller of Olney, England, 1776

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Wiliam Cowper, great English poet and hymn writer, struggled with depression throughout his life.  Our saint, born at Hertfordshire, on November 15, 1731, was the son of John C. Cowper, the Anglican rector there and a chaplain to King George III.  Our saint, attached to his mother, lost her to death when he was six years old.  Young William, a shy boy, suffered due to bullies as he grew up.

Cowper honored his family’s wishes and went into the legal profession.  He became an apprentice at age 18 and studied law at Westminster.  Cowper gained admission to the bar in 1754.  He proposed marriage to cousin Theodora Cowper, but her father prevented the union.  From 1759 to 1763 our saint served as the Commissioner of Bankrupts.  In 1763 Cowper served briefly as the Clerk of Journals for the House of Lords, but could not bear to speak in public.  Our saint’s first attempted suicide ended that job and led to about a year at the asylum at St. Albans.

At this point I step aside from the narrative of Cowper’s life to make some comments.  Sources I have consulted indicate that he, citing his at least two suicide attempts, considered himself damned.  At least, according to my sources, had long periods of time during which he thought he was bound for Hell.  I know that the reason tor this was the traditional heresy that suicide leads to damnation.  Suicide and attempted suicide are difficult topics.  Those acts result from hopelessness.  I do not suffer, as Cowper did, but I do know what it is to be suicidal and to think that going on with life is not a feasible option.  I am grateful that I was able to push through those circumstances.  I also sympathize with Cowper.

Cowper rebuilt his life after his release from the asylum.  The Reverend Morely Unwin and his family took our saint into their household at Huntingdon.  Cowper met John Newton (1725-1807), the Curate of Olney, in 1767 when the famous priest came to express his condolences after Morely had died.  Afterward Mary Unwin (Morely’s widow) and Cowper moved to Olney.  Our saint became Newton’s lay assistant and visited parishioners.  Cowper also contributed 67 texts to Olney Hymns (1779), which he and Newton edited.

Cowper, a skilled writer, created great art out of his distress.  For example, the great hymn “O For a Closer Walk With God” (December 9, 1769), originally six stanzas, came from a time when Mary Unwin, his friend, was critically ill.  At that time Cowper wrote a friend:

Oh for no will but the will of my heavenly Father!…She is the chief of blessings I have met with in my journeys since the Lord was pleased to call me…Her illness has been a sharp trial to me.  Oh, that it may have a sanctified effect, that I may rejoice to surrender up to the Lord my dearest comforts, the moment He may require them….I began to compose the verses yesterday morning before daybreak, but fell asleep at the end of the first two lines; when I waked again, the third and fourth were whispered to my heart in a way which I have often experienced.

–Quoted in Armin Haeussler, The Story of Our Hymns:  The Handbook to the Hymnal of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (St. Louis, MO:  Eden Publishing House, 1952), page 356

Mary recovered and went on to live for many more years.  In 1773 they planned to become husband and wife, but his mental distress ended the engagement.  This prompted Cowper’s second attempt at suicide.  He recovered, took up gardening as a hobby, and began to keep pets.  In 1795 Mary became an invalid.  Cowper served as her caregiver until she died the following year.

Cowper wrote hymns (at least 67 of them), translated works of Homer, and wrote several original volumes.  In 1791 he began to collect an annual pension of 300 pounds.  He remained a withdrawn man, one who required hours of preparation before praying in public.  Perhaps being so withdrawn helped with his writing.

One text, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774), which he wrote a few months after a suicide attempt, has earned a reputation as the greatest hymn on the topic of providence.

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea

And rides upon the storm.

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Deep in unfathomable mines

Of never-failing skill

He treasures up His bright designs,

And works His sovereign will.

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Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy, and shall break

In blessings on your head.

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Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust Him for His grace;

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.

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His purposes will ripen fast,

Unfolding every hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste,

But sweet will be the flower.

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Blind unbelief is sure to err,

And scan His work in vain;

God is His own interpreter,

And He will make it plain.

–Quoted in The Hymnal (1895), Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

Cowper, who would have benefited from better therapy, had he lived during later times, died on April 25, 1800.  He was 68 years old.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 19, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT POEMEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT JOHN THE DWARF AND ARSENIUS THE GREAT; ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

THE FEAST OF SAINT AMBROSE AUTPERT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN PLESSINGTON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

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Dear God of beauty,

you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to

William Cowper and others, who have composed hymn texts.

May we, as you guide us,

find worthy hymn texts to be icons,

through which we see you.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15

Psalm 147

Revelation 5:11-14

Luke 2:8-20

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH

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Feast of St. Dismas (March 25)   1 comment

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Above:  Statue of St. Dismas

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT DISMAS

Penitent Bandit

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One of the criminals hanging there taunted him:

Are you not the Messiah?  Save yourself, and us.

But the other rebuked him:

Have you no fear of God?  You are under the sentence as he is.  In our case it is plain justice; we are paying the price for our misdeeds.  But this man has done nothing wrong.

And he said,

Jesus, remember me when you come to your throne.

Jesus answered,

Truly I tell you:  today you will be with me in Paradise.

–Luke 23:39-43, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;

And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains.

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The dying thief rejoiced to see

That fountain in his day;

And there may I, though vile as he,

Wash all my sins away.

–William Cowper (1731-1800), circa 1771

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March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation.  On the Roman Catholic calendar of saints that date is also the Feast of St. Dismas.

All four of the canonical Gospels mention the two bandits (a better translation than “thieves”) crucified with Jesus.  John 19:18 reads:

…there they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in between.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

The account in the Fourth Gospel does not mention them saying anything.  Mark 15:32 and Matthew 27:44 use nearly identical wording; even the other two men crucified with Jesus “taunted” him, to quote The Revised English Bible (1989).  Luke 23:39-43, however, has one of the men rebuke the other and receive salvation from Jesus.

Why does the Gospel of Luke tell the story this way?  I respect the integrity of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark to try to make them say something they do not.  As for the Gospel of John, I conclude that the author might have simply omitted yet another detail so that he could focus on what he considered most important.  In the Gospel of Luke, however, two (at least) major aspects of the work help to explain why the text tells the story the way it does.  Doing so emphasizes the innocence of Jesus and therefore the injustice of his crucifixion.  After all, that is a theme in that Gospel.  It is also a theme in the Gospel of John, which makes it clear in 11:47-53.  Another major theme in the Gospel of Luke is reversal of fortune; there are Beatitudes and Woes, the first will be last and the last will be first, et cetera.  The case of the penitent bandit finding salvation fits nicely into that theme.

The story of the two crucified bandits has fascinated figures in Christianity since the early decades of the faith.  Tradition has provided them with various names; Dismas and Gestus seem to have had much staying power.  Thus the name on this post is Dismas.

I will not pretend to have concluded that the Lukan account is historically accurate and that the story in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew is not; biblical inerrancy and infallibility are not part of my theology anyway.  I am comfortable living with texts that occupy space in the Bible and contradict each other.  I am, however, certain of one conclusion regarding Luke 23:39-43:  we can learn a valuable spiritual lesson from it.  Many (or most) or us (including me) are too quick (at least some of the time) to write certain people off as being beyond redemption.  We ought to admit that God knows better than we do.  We should acknowledge that such matters are in the purview of God, in whom both mercy and judgment exist, and whose mercy frequently exceeds ours.

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God of grace, we thank you for saving live that beckons us pursues us all the days of our lives.

May we welcome it with joy and live, redeemed by grace,  as children of the light.

May we rejoice with others who have accepted your grace and

hold out hope for the seemingly irredeemable to come to you.

In the Name of God:  the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Joshua 6:22-25

Psalm 23

2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2

Luke 23:39-43

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 26, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TIMOTHY, TITUS, AND SILAS, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Posted January 26, 2017 by neatnik2009 in March 25, Saints of the Bible

Tagged with ,

Feast of John Newton (July 24)   3 comments

John Newton

Image in the Public Domain

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JOHN NEWTON (JULY 24, 1725-DECEMBER 21, 1807)

Anglican Priest and Hymn Writer

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JOHN NEWTON, CLERK

ONCE AN INFIDEL AND LIBERTINE

A SERVANT OF SLAVES IN AFRICA WAS

BY THE RICH MERCY OF OUR

LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST

PRESERVED, RESTORED, PARDONED,

AND APPOINTED TO PREACH THE FAITH

HE HAD LONG LABOURED TO DESTROY

–from John Newton’s epitaph, which he wrote

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John Newton (1725-1807), famously the author of “Amazing Grace,” wrote much more than that.  He did write, for example, the splendid hymn, “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken,” which I prefer to “Amazing Grace.”  (I do tilt toward Anglo-Catholicism.)

Newton’s father was a ship master; his mother was a devout Calvinist who raised him to become a minister.  Yet she died when our saint was just seven years old.  Newton, educated formally only from ages nine to eleven years, went to sea with his father at age eleven.  Six years later our saint joined the Royal Navy, from which he deserted in time.  Then he joined the ranks of slave traders.

Our saint came to realize eventually that grace was free yet not cheap; it did require much of him.  In 1748, at age twenty-three, he converted to Christianity after reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis.  Yet our saint did not abandon the slave trade immediately.  In 1750 Newton, aged twenty-five years, married Mary Catlett, whom he had known since he had been seventeen years old and she fourteen.  And finally, in 1754, our saint’s conscience forced him into a different line of work.

The reformed man started his new life as a tide surveyor at Liverpool, yet he studied for Anglican Holy Orders.  He, ordained, served as Curate of Olney (1764-1780) then as Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, London (1780-1807).  Toward the end of our saint’s tenure at Olney he and neighbor William Cowper, also a hymn writer, collaborated on Olney Hymns (1779).

Newton, blind at the end of his life, died in London in 1807, having been born there also.

A partial list of Newton’s published works follows:

  1. Cardiphonia:  or, The Utterances of the Heart;
  2. Letters to a Wife, Volumes I and II,
  3. Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade (1788);
  4. Works, Volume I;
  5. Works, Volume II;
  6. Works, Volume III;
  7. Works, Volume IV;
  8. Works, Volume V; and
  9. Works, Volume VI.

Newton wrote many laudatory and generally excellent hymns, some of which I have added to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.  Here is another:

Though troubles assail and dangers affright,

Though friends should all fail and foes all unite,

Yet one thing secures us, whatever betide,

The Scripture assures us, the Lord will prevail.

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The birds without barn or storehouse are fed;

From them let us learn to trust for our bread;

His saints what is fitting shall ne’er be denied,

So long as ’tis written, “The Lord will provide.

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His call we obey, like Abram of old,

Not knowing our way, but faith makes us bold;

For, though we are strangers, we have a good guide,

And trust, in all dangers, the Lord will provide.

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No strength of our own or goodness we claim;

Yet since we have known the Saviour’s great Name,

In this our strong tower for safety we hide,–

The Lord is our power, the Lord will provide.

And here is another:

Now may He who from the dead

Brought the Shepherd of the sheep,

Jesus Christ, our King and Head,

All our souls in safety keep.

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May He teach us to fulfill

What is pleasing in His sight,

Perfect us in all His will,

And preserve us day and night.

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To that Redeemer’s praise,

Who the covenant sealed with blood,

Let our hearts and voices raise

Loud thanksgivings to our God.

Perfection, as in “be perfect as God is perfect” in the Gospels, as I have read in commentaries, indicates being suited to one’s purpose.  John Newton became suited to God’s purpose for him.  May each of us become suited to God’s purpose for each of us also, if we are not that already.  If the latter scenario is our reality, may we remain in it.

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 24, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE ORDINATION OF FLORENCE LI-TIM-OI, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES DE SALES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GENEVA

THE FEAST OF THURGOOD MARSHALL, ATTORNEY AND JURIST

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM BARCLAY, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGIAN

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Dear God of beauty,

you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to

John Newton and others, who have composed hymn texts.

May we, as you guide us,

find worthy hymn texts to be icons,

through which we see you.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15

Psalm 147

Revelation 5:11-14

Luke 2:8-20

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH

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