GOD MOVES IN A MYSTERIOUS WAY
William Cowper, 1731–1800
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments… (Romans 11:33)
Good when He gives, supremely good, nor less when He denies. Even crosses from His sovereign hand are blessings in disguise. —Unknown
The hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” has been acclaimed as one of the finest songs ever written on the theme of God’s providence. This label is made all the more amazing by the fact that the hymn text was written by an English poet who lived a lifetime of mental distress.
William Cowper’s emotional upsets included an 18-month stay in an insane asylum and later several attempted suicides. During his time in the asylum, Cowper began reading the Bible. At the age of 33 he had a genuine conversion experience.
Yet he was periodically haunted by deep depressions, voices, and visions, and the overwhelming thought that God had forsaken him and would doom him to hell. But between these times of mental melancholia, William Cowper was a gifted writer. Several of his secular works achieved great literary fame.
For nearly two decades he worked closely with John Newton in Olney, England, and eventually their combined talents produced the famous Olney Hymns hymnal. In this ambitious collection of 349 hymns, 67 were written by Cowper, including such favorites as “O For a Closer Walk With God” and “There Is a Fountain.” “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” was originally titled “Conflict: Light Shining Out Of Darkness.”
It is thought to be Cowper’s final hymn text and a reflection of God’s leading throughout his own lifetime. There is even speculation that it was written following a failed attempt at suicidal drowning.
Regardless of the original motivation for their writing, these words have since been used to bring much comfort to God’s people for nearly two centuries:
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His foot-steps in the sea and rides upon the storm. You fearful saints, fresh courage take:
The clouds you 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 faith sees a smiling face. Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.
Proverbs 23:30; Matthew 11:25, 26; 2 Corinthians 1:9