The first child of Reverend John Cowper and Ann Donne Cowper, Willam Cowper
was born on November 15, 1731, in Berkhampstead, Herefordshire, England. That makes him a contemporary of John Wesley and George Whitefield, the leaders of the Evangelical Revival in England. He studied law at the Inner Temple in London, but never practised it as a career. He embraced Whitefield’s Calvinistic theology rather than Wesley’s Arminianism. He suffered from depression all his life and his mental health was fragile. The life of William Cowper has had a hope-giving effect on many people.
Cowper became close friends with the Evangelical clergyman John Newton; together they co-authored the Olney Hymns, which was first published in 1779 and included Newton’s famous hymn “Amazing Grace.” Of the 68 hymns Cowper wrote, “Oh for a closer walk with God” and “God moves in a mysterious way” are the most well known. Today I draw immense encouragement from the words of two of his Hymns below:
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Looking at Hymn writers and the background to most of our most loved hymns of today, the story of Horatio Spafford is one that is rather sad but quite encouraging in itself.
This hymn was written by a Chicago lawyer, Horatio G. Spafford. You might think to write a worship song titled, ‘It is well with my soul’, you would indeed have to be a rich, successful Chicago lawyer. But the words, “When sorrows like sea billows roll … It is well with my soul”, were not written during the happiest period of life. On the contrary, they came from a man who had suffered almost unimaginable personal tragedy.
Horatio G. Spafford and his wife, Anna, were pretty well-known in 1860’s Chicago. And this was not just because of Horatio’s legal career and business endeavors. The Spaffords were also prominent supporters and close friends of D.L. Moody, the famous preacher. In 1870, however, things started to go wrong. The Spaffords’ only son was killed by scarlet fever at the age of four. A year later, it was fire rather than fever that struck. Horatio had invested heavily in real estate on the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1871, every one of these holdings was wiped out by the great Chicago Fire.
Aware of the toll that these disasters had taken on the family, Horatio decided to take his wife and four daughters on a holiday to England. And, not only did they need the rest — DL Moody needed the help. He was traveling around Britain on one of his great evangelistic campaigns. Horatio and Anna planned to join Moody in late 1873. And so, the Spaffords traveled to New York in November, from where they were to catch the French steamer ‘Ville de Havre’ across the Atlantic. Yet just before they set sail, a last-minute business development forced Horatio to delay. Not wanting to ruin the family holiday, Spafford persuaded his family to go as planned.
He would follow on later. With this decided, Anna and her four daughters sailed East to Europe while Spafford returned West to Chicago. Just nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife in Wales. It read: “Saved alone.”
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