Author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ and Friend of William Cowper, John Newton
PART 3 WONDERS
“God moves in mysterious ways,
his wonders to perform …”
[ Wm Cowper, Light shining out of Darkness, 1774 ]
“At length, when it became necessary for him
to enter on his office in the House of Lords,
his terror and agitation wee so violent as to
deprive him of his reason; and he sunk
into a state of the severest mental depressions.
This grievous calamity continued with little abatement,
from December 1763, to July, 1764.
He then began, under the kind care of Dr Cotton,
to emerge from the depth of his despondency.”
[ Wm Hayley, “Life and Posthumous Writings
of Cowper”, Vol 3, 1805. ]
“A sense of self-loathing and abhorrence ran through
all my insanity.”
So wrote Cowper of HIMSELF – it does not follow,
however, that modern writers may flippantly equate
Cowper’s assessment of his own struggle with his
conviction of sin,
and passingly use the term to make it sound
as though he had lost all sense of reason, (which is
precisely what the ignorance of modern readers
will take any unqualified use of that word to mean.)
It is certainly beneath contempt for the term to be used
of Cowper by any self professed “Christian”, for
– were such truly a Genuine Christian,
he would be all-too familiar with the “insane” struggle
with sin and Self that must occur
before any adult will be genuinely converted to Christ.
The festive clapping hands to Evangelical Entertainment
on a Sunday Morning followed by generic sentiments
calculated to stir the conscience,
is NOT that repentance which troubles the conscience
and ‘Disturbs the Mind’ of ANY adults who seriously
humble themselves before Christ.
Of Dr Cotton’s Insanorum, William notes only that
“It will be proper to draw a veil over the secrets
of my prison house; let it suffice to say, that the
low state of body and mind to which I was reduced,
was perfectly well calculated to humble the
natural vain-glory and pride of my heart.”
While Dr Cotton refused the standard, barbaric
practices of ‘treatment’ of the time – prescribing
instead, fresh air, proper diet, and conversation
with the patients, Cowper’s struggled with quite
a different tormenter … His Conscience.
“The accuser of the brethren [Satan] was ever busy
with me night and day, bringing to my recollection
in dreams the commission of long forgotten sins,
and charging upon my conscience,
things of an indifferent nature, as atrocious crimes.
All that passed in this long interval of eight months,
may be classed under two heads: conviction of sin,
and despair of mercy.”
“Having found a Bible on the bench in the garden,
I opened it upon the 11th of St John, where Lazarus
is raised from the dead; and saw so much benevolence,
mercy, goodness, and sympathy with miserable man,
in our Saviour’s conduct, that I almost shed tears …
Thus was my heart softened,
though not yet enlightened.
I closed the book without intending to open it again.”
The account stayed with William for a while longer
until, seeing a Bible sitting next to a window,
he opened that, and read in Romans 3:25, the phrase
“… for the remission of sins that are past …”.
“Immediately”, wrote William,
“I received strength to believe.”
It is at this point in his life that William describes
a remarkable, intimate detail about his life …
Although a quiet and peaceful man, I am raised to ire
at any display of cruelty or aggression, against
animals and peaceful people.
Anger at callous, bullying, vicious, and predatory men
and women in this world, is the one quality with
which I – a quiet man – struggle to keep from
disturbing my own peace of mind.
Along with everything else that we had, personally,
in common, I remember being astounded to read
what William noted of himself, after submitting
himself to be ruled by Christ –
“Being naturally of an easy quiet disposition,
I was seldom tempted to anger; yet that passion
it is which now gives me the most disturbance,
and occasions the sharpest conflicts.”
“In the beginning of June, 1765, I received a letter
from my brother, to say he had taken lodging for me
at Huntingdon, which he believed would suit me.
On the 7th of June, 1765, having spent more than
eighteen months at St Albans … I took my leave
of the place at four in the morning,
and set out for Cambridge.”
[ Cowper, Memoirs ]
“I began to dislike my solitary situation, and to
fear I should never be able to weather
out the winter in so lonely a dwelling.”
“A few months before, I had formed an
acquaintance with the Rev, Mr Unwin’s family.
His son, though he had heard that I rather
declined society, than sought it,
and though Mrs Unwin herself dissuaded him
from visiting me on that account … he one day
engaged himself, as we were coming out of
church … to drink tea with me that afternoon.”
“The Sunday following I dined with him.
That afternoon, while the rest of the family
was withdrawn, I had much discourse with
I am not at liberty to describe the pleasure
I had in conversing with her, because she
will be one of the first who will have perusal
of this narrative.
Let it suffice to say, I found we … had
been baptised with the same baptism.”
“ … while I was revolving in my mind
the nature of my situation … it occurred to me
that I might probably find a place
in Mr Unwin’s family as a boarder.
A Young gentleman, who had lived with him
as a pupil, was the day before gone to Cambridge.
It appeared to me possible, that I might be allowed
to succeed him.”
Thinking anxiously over the matter for three days,
William was then able to record:
“I immediately began to negotiate the affair,
and in a few days it was entirely concluded. I took
possession of my new abode, November 11, 1765.”
5 months later, he became the lodger,
in the home of Morley Unwin
and his wife Mary, where a genuine friendship
seems to have developed.
When Morley Unwin fell and was killed in a
horse riding accident on the 2nd of July, 1767,
William continued on as a lodger, renting the rooms
from Mary Unwin, who was always, undoubtedly
– at 7 years his senior, his dearest friend in life.
It was in February of 1768 that Mary and
her daughter moved – accompanied by William,
to the town of Olney, where John Newton
(the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”)
was minister at the Olney Church.
They would remain in Olney from 1768 until 1786,
during which time, William would work with
John Newton from 1771 to 1772, in compiling
“The Olney Hymns”.
[ End of Part 3 ]