Over the past year, I’ve sung A LOT of hymns. I can’t count the number of times I have felt weighed down in the midst of a global pandemic, riots, racism, political discord, and economic uncertainty and have sought to bolster my faith and confidence in God’s good and sovereign will by opening a hymnal or playing a favorite song. Like the confessions of faith we adhere to as a church and read aloud together in our services, great hymns are not additions to or substitutes for the authority of God’s Word, but they help us by summarizing in beautiful and poetic language the concrete truths God has already revealed to us in the Bible.
Our church sings many great and comforting hymns, like “‘Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus,” “Afflicted Saint, To Christ Draw Near,” “Be Still, My Soul,” “Christ, The Sure And Steady Anchor,” “Dear Refuge Of My Weary Soul,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” “He Will Hold Me Fast,” “How Firm A Foundation,” “I Will Wait For You (Psalm 130),” “It Is Well,” “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms,” Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” “The King Of Love My Shepherd Is,” “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” and “Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right,” so we are not at a loss of good and comforting words to sing! But I have found myself continually going back to another text that we haven’t sung before called “God Moves In A Mysterious Way.”
Published in 1779, the author was an English poet named William Cowper. In addition to being gifted with a sharp mind and great facility with words, Cowper was also severely afflicted with depression. Appointed to a clerkship with the House of Lords, he bucked under the immense strain and attempted suicide three separate times. He also struggled with doubts of salvation, including a dream where he dreamed he was eternally damned. In 1767, he moved out of London and to the country parish of Olney, whose pastor was John Newton. Newton asked Cowper to join him in creating a hymnal of original texts for use at his church. Among those Newton contributed was the incomparably famous “Amazing Grace,” as well as “I Asked The Lord.” Cowper’s additions were many, including both “There Is A Fountain,” and a poem called “Light Shining Out Of Darkness,” from which this hymn is taken.
You can just feel the tension in Cowper’s words as he struggles with the pain of his depression and God’s stated goodness even in the midst of His hidden purposes for the world:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
Because I have found this such a helpful text for my own soul, I wanted to sing it together as a church. Unfortunately, I don’t love any of the tunes that people tend to sing with it (sorry if anyone knows this song and loves one already), so I collaborated with Cameron Mast and we wrote our own. Our church will sing it together for the first time on Sunday, March 28. Before then, I would encourage you to meditate on the words and let them minister to your heart. Additionally, you can listen to the recording and look at the sheet music so you can familiarize yourself with the tune before we sing it as a church.