Hymn #95: God Moves in a Mysterious Way

Lyrics: WIlliam Cowper
Music: DUNDEE, Scottish Psalter, 1615. It’s also sung to several other alternate tunes.
I rather like this tune setting available at Sovereign Grace Ministries, where you can hear a sample verse.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9

Rebecca Writes: I have to include one of Cowper’s hymns and this is the best of William Cowper. Cowper was a fine poet and it shows in this ode to God’s meticulous providence. This hymn reminds us that even trials work God’s good purposes—that ‘behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.’ Isn’t it ironic that a hymn teaching truth that brings me joy comes from a man who, in God’s providence, suffered from a debilitating mental illness that robbed him of joy for much of his life? It’s proof that God does indeed move in a mysterious way!

The hymn was first entitled Light Shining Out of Darkness.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

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 flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

William Cowper did indeed have a difficult life. John Piper says of Cowper: “Struggle with despair came to be the theme of his life.” He struggled with depression before he became a Christian, and after his conversion, he still had periods o f deep despair in which he thought that God could and would save other but that he, Cowper, had committed the unforgiveable sin and was doomed to eternal damnation.

John Newton, the author of the hymns Glorious Things of THee Are Spoken and Amazing Grace, became Cowper’s pastor and friend. Newton encouraged Cowper to write hymn lyrics.

Cowper also wrote these lines from another favorite hymn:

There is a fountain fill’d with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plung’d beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

And here’s a link to another of Cowper’s Olney Hymns: O For a Closer Walk With God! The words are quite poignant in light of Cowper’s struggles with depression and his belief that God had rejected him.

I think God Moves in a Mysterious Way is the best poem of all the lyrics on the list so far. I particularly like the second and the last stanzas:
Deep in unfathomable mines/ Of never failing skill . . .
God is His own interpreter . . .

Surely, we can trust that God in His providence was able to keep Mr. Cowper’s soul secure in His grace in spite of Cowper’s inability to feel and have assurance of that grace.

Insanity and Spiritual Songs in the Soul of a Saint: Reflections on the Life of William Cowper by John Piper.
Poets.org: William Cowper.
Fire and Ice: Poetry.

Writen by Sherry

I'm a Christian, the homeschooling mom of eight (yes, all mine) children, married to a NASA engineer, and a confirmed bookaholic. I like old books, conservative politics, and new and interesting ideas. My hair is grey, my favorite clothes are red, and I love purple. Come on in and enjoy the blog. Be sure to tell me what you think before you leave.

6 thoughts on “Hymn #95: God Moves in a Mysterious Way

  1. Yea, ’tis a grand text. For some reason DUNDEE in my experience is usually played ploddingly (no reason it can’t be alive, it just usually hasn’t been), so I look forward to trying Mr. Kauflin’s setting. I don’t think we’ve ever sung it at Fremont, perhaps because our hymnal sets it to TALLIS’ CANON, as a canon, and we rarely even do rounds in our worship? Among the 21 hymnals I show the text in (in my ever burgeoning catalog), 12 are to DUNDEE, but there are two tunes listed that I’m not familiar enough with to judge: LONDON NEW (given in both the Yale New Hymnal and the Harvard Hymn Book, 3rd ed., and something called CLOVELLY, which the UU Hymns of the Spirit gives both for this tune and for “Beneath the shadow of the cross”. Anyhow, one of his that you didn’t mention and that I like a lot is “Sometimes a light surprises”, though I have yet to find the ideal tune for it. But in preparing for this comment I chanced upon a song of Cowper’s that I’d never seen before, and that I not only really like as a text, but also like the tune (previously unknown to me) in the Cyber Hymnalâ„¢: When Hagar found the bottle spent. (In fact I liked it so much I created sheet music for it, just this past hour.) Thanks again, Sherry!

  2. I just noticed that the Japanese hymnals have a Cowper text, “The Spirit breathes upon the Word”, that for a moment I didn’t think I knew, but it turns out to be simply a different order of the verses for what I knew as “A glory gilds the sacred page”. The 1967 讃美歌第二編 and the 1997 讃美歌21 both have “The Spirit breathes…”, but in quite dissimilar translations. In any event, it’s another good hymn of his. I think I like the idea of starting it with what I’m used to thinking of as the second verse. Less certain what tune to prefer (the Japanese use Belmont; Cyber Hymnalâ„¢ prefers Burlington; and the Orthodox Presbyterians give Ortonville)…

  3. Do you recall the Britten setting? Last movement of his cantata Saint Nicholas. Hire yourself a good tenor, then let chorus and congregation … comment!

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