Some Lines by William Cowper

William Cowper
William Cowper

We’re going back to the 18th century today, just briefly.

As I sat reading a selection of William Cowper’s poetry this morning I wondered how many people still read him. He is not a difficult poet and may be unfairly overlooked these days because he is overtly Christian.

The Poetry Foundation’s main article on him states, ‘William Cowper was the foremost poet of the generation between Alexander Pope and William Wordsworth and for several decades had probably the largest readership of any English poet.’[i]

Cowper was a contemporary of William Wilberforce and a friend of John Newton. He was too young to have seen much of the early years of Whitefield and Wesley’s preaching but was certainly impacted by the gospel message they preached.

His huge popularity as a poet existed not only because his Christian hymns were popular in the churches, but because of his notable skill as a poet.

I am reprinting here a section of his beautiful poem To Mary.

In their later years Mary Unwin and Cowper had been engaged and the love between them was very tender although they never married. He was at her side as her health declined in her final illness.

These verses take us right to her bedside. We see his devotion to her even though she can no longer communicate verbally, we share the thrill of her minute but definite responses to his love. No wonder Tennyson said that this poem was too touching, too moving, to be read out loud.

To Mary

Thy indistinct expressions seem
Like language utter’d in a dream;
Yet me they charm, whate’er the theme,
My Mary!

Thy silver locks, once auburn bright,
Are still more lovely in my sight
Than golden beams of orient light,
My Mary!

For could I view nor them nor thee,
What sight worth seeing could I see?
The sun would rise in vain for me,
My Mary!

Partakers of the sad decline,
Thy hands their little force resign;
Yet gently prest, press gently mine,
My Mary!

And then I feel that still I hold
A richer store ten thousandfold
Than misers fancy in their gold,
My Mary!

I suppose the ‘wow’ moment for me was the intensely touching lines, as Cowper sits by the bedside of his dying love.

‘Partakers of the sad decline,
Thy hands their little force resign;
Yet gently prest, press gently mine…’

It reminds me of a comment Billy Graham made about his wife Ruth when she was bedridden, how they could experience such ecstatic romance by simply staring into each other’s eyes for long periods of time and know their love was as complete and fulfilling as it could ever be.

Read Cowper’s lines again.

And maybe grab hold of some of his poetry from your local bookstore.

©2015 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

 

[i] http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/william-cowper

C.S. Lewis ‘humbled’ by A.N. Wilson – a book review

Lewis cover

A review of Wilson’s biography.

Wilson claims, ‘There are those readers who are so uplifted by the sublimity of Lewis at his best as a writer that they assume that he was himself a sublime being, devoid of blemishes.’

C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis

In this review I examine some of Wilson’s claims and comments as well as including fascinating material about Lewis’s ‘reluctant convert’ comment, the animosity between Lewis and John Betjeman, the conversations with J.R.R. Tolkien which finally led to his conversion and his resistance to the modern poets including T.S. Eliot.

If you’ve not read anything about Lewis’s life the review also serves as an introduction to one of the most inspiring Christian writers of the 20th century.

To read the review click here

© 2013 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

THE POETS’ QUESTION

The Poets' Question in Oxford - with John Carson and Lex Loizides

The Poets’ Question is an enjoyable presentation of superb poetry and spiritual inquiry and a great event for friends who love literature.

It debuted in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010, was first presented in the UK at Queen’s College, Oxford and then in Norwich. The next performance will be in Birmingham, England on Wednesday 16th November. Enquire here for details.

British actor John Carson reads selections from WB Yeats, TS Eliot, Stevie Smith, Robert Frost, John Crowe Ransom and Dylan Thomas.

Lex Loizides invites us to consider some of the most popular modern poems, and examines the relationship between the poets’ expressions of longing and the possibility of spiritual truth. The presentation is a fine blend of literary insight and Lex’s own personal journey towards authentic and intellectually satisfying spirituality, and represents a contribution to literary apologetics.

For photos, information and to read what people are saying about The Poets’ Question click here

© 2011 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

George Whitefield and African American Christianity – 2

Phillis Wheatley, poet, aged 17

We’ve been looking at George Whitefield’s efforts to bring the Christian message to the whole population of 18th century America.

Preaching amongst the black population
Unbelievably, in 18th century America, the African slaves were considered little better than animals, without souls and certainly not equal to whites in any respect.

Whitefield rejected this completely and insisted on preaching to the slaves that they were made in the image of God, and that Christ loved them so much He died for them!

In the letter quoted above, he had written to the whites, ‘Think you, your children are in any way better by nature [than black children]? No! In no wise! Blacks are just as much, and no more, conceived and born in sin as white men are, and both, I am persuaded, are naturally as capable of the same improvement.’ (Quoted in Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Banner of Truth edition, Vol 1, p.494)

And so Whitefield was committed to preaching that all are equal in the sight of God. This was offensive to the racist whites – but he insisted that all are made in the image of God.

Many slaves were converted to Christ and the earliest spiritual songs were heard amongst those to whom Whitefield had preached.

The Poem for whitefield, published

An African Tribute to George Whitefield
Whitefield was genuinely loved and appreciated by those who came to Christ through his preaching.

Phillis Wheatley a former slave with a superb literary gift, wrote a poem of appreciation about Whitefield after his death.

Wheatley herself is a marvel of intellectual ability, having been in America only 9 years, mastered the language so superbly and having written the remarkable poem aged only 17! She later wrote a poem for George Washington. He was so impressed with her poetic skill he said it would be a privilege to meet her.

Of Whitefield’s preaching she writes,
‘Thou didst, in Strains of Eloquence refin’d,
Inflame the Soul and captivate the Mind.’

Of his praying she writes,
‘He pray’d that Grace in every Heart might dwell:
He long’d to see America excel;
He charg’d its Youth to let the Grace Divine
Arise, and in their future Actions shine.’

Using his style of preaching she exhorts her readers:
‘Take HIM, ye wretched, for your only Good;
Take HIM, ye starving Souls, to be your Food.
Ye Thirsty, come to this Life-giving Stream:
Ye Preachers, take him for your joyful Theme:
Take HIM, “my dear Americans,” he said;
Be your Complaints in his kind Bosom laid:
Take HIM, ye Africans, he longs for you;
Impartial SAVIOUR, is his Title due;
If you will choose to walk in Grace’s Road,
You shall be Sons, and Kings, and Priests to GOD.’

Whitefield’s contribution to the development of African American Christianity was imperfect, but it was significant.

But Whitefield determined to love America, build America, rebuke its wrongs and try and reach those it wronged, by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To read of Whitefield’s failure to oppose slavery click here

To read of Wesley’s encouragement to Wilberforce to fight slavery click here

© 2010 Lex Loizides

More than a Hymn-Writer: Charles Wesley the Evangelist

Charles Wesley, Hymn-writer and Evangelist

Charles Wesley is mainly remembered for his excellent poetic gift. This gift, thoroughly saturated in Scripture, produced some of the church’s best-loved hymns.

If you are in an English speaking church context it is quite likely that you recognize these well known opening lines from Charles Wesley hymns:

  • Hark! The herald angels sing,
    “Glory to the newborn King;
    Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
    God and sinners reconciled!”
  • Love divine, all loves excelling,
    Joy of heaven to earth come down;
    Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
    All thy faithful mercies crown!
    Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
    Pure unbounded love Thou art;
    Visit us with Thy salvation;
    Enter every trembling heart.
  • And can it be that I should gain
    An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
  • O for a thousand tongues to sing
    My great Redeemer’s praise,
    The glories of my God and King,
    The triumphs of His grace!

Actually, it’s difficult not to just go ahead and include whole hymns for the pure pleasure of enjoying them.

A Passionate Evangelistic Preacher

But my point is that Charles Wesley was not only a hymn-writer but also a passionate evangelistic preacher.

Like George Whitefield, his preaching mentor, Wesley also enjoyed great infillings of the Holy Spirit as he preached (see also, Acts 4:7-10).

Some excerpts from his journal of 1741 will give us a flavour of the kind of passion he employed in his efforts to bring men and women to Christ.

‘April 13th. While I was in great love…the Spirit of power came down, the fountain was set open, my mouth and heart enlarged, and I spoke such words as I cannot repeat. Many sunk under the love of Christ crucified…’

‘April 22nd. I sharply reproved three or four inflexible Pharisees; then prayed the Lord to give me words of consolation, and immediately I was filled with power, which broke out as a mighty torrent.

‘All our hearts caught fire in a moment, and such tears and strong cryings followed, as quite drowned my voice…’

‘Sun May 3rd. At Kingswood [Bristol] as soon as I had named my text, ‘It is finished!’ the love of Christ crucified so constrained me that I burst into tears, and felt strong sympathy with him in his sufferings. In like manner, the whole congregation looked upon him whom they had pierced, and mourned.’

His preaching was effective and many were converted. One particular Kingswood resident wasn’t happy though. Charles wrote:

‘May 5th. A wild collier [coal miner] brought me four of his children…crying, ‘You have got the mother, take the bairns [the kids] too!’

(All quotes from Arnold Dallimore, Charles Wesley, A Heart Set Free, Crossway Books, p.107)

An Inspiring combination of the Poet and the Evangelist

Charles Wesley was an Evangelist, and an effective one at that. We’ll return to his heroic story later, but for now, let’s not forget that many of his hymns were written in the very context of urging his generation to come to Christ.

His hymn ‘Lovers of Pleasure’ provides us with an excellent example of the combination of his poetic and evangelistic gift. Enjoy!

‘Lovers of pleasure more than God,
For you He suffered pain;
Swearers, for you He spilt his blood;
And shall He bleed in vain?

Misers, for you his life He paid,
Your basest crime He bore:
Drunkards, your sins on Him were laid,
That you might sin no more.

The God of love, to earth He came,
That you might come to heaven;
Believe, believe in Jesus’ Name,
And all your sin’s forgiven.

Believe in Him that died for thee,
And, sure as He hath died,
Thy debt is paid, Thy soul is free,
And thou art justified.’

Charles Wesley

For more on the hymns of Charles Wesley and other Methodists see, ‘A Collection of hymns for use by the people called Methodists’)

More next time…

© 2009 Lex Loizides

A Song for Whitefield

Hymn Writer Charles Wesley
Hymn Writer Charles Wesley

It might be a little unusual, these days, to send a poem to one of your colleagues. But Charles Wesley was quite a poet, and George Whitefield was quite a preacher!

A Song for the Mission
Whitefield’s plan, as we’ve seen, was to get back across to America. He wanted to preach the gospel there and was raising funds to establish an orphanage in Georgia.

On the eve of his second trip, Charles Wesley sent him what must have been a real encouragement in the form of a kind of hymn.

I include it here for a few reasons:
Firstly, as an example of how poetry can express our joy and sense of purpose in the mission.
Secondly, to demonstrate the warmth of feeling between the Wesley brothers and Whitefield at this time.
And thirdly, as an encouragement to anyone reading who is seeking to communicate the gospel to others, or who is about to launch into a new season of ministry.

Simple Outline
Essentially, Wesley is saying, ‘You’ve been called by God to go, so be obedient and stand firm in the whole armour of God’. He is referring to Ephesians 6:10-18. He then goes through each piece of the armour with great poetic skill. Having reminded Whitefield of the armour he is wearing and will be wearing, he exhorts him to preach boldly as a champion even if it means suffering and (gulp) ultimately martyrdom!

Actually, Whitefield did eventually die in America (several years later), though not as a result of persecution, but exhaustion.

But, enough from me…back to Charles Wesley!

To the Reverend George Whitefield
Servant of God, the summons hear,
Thy master calls, arise, obey!
The tokens of His will appear,
His providence points out thy way.

Lo! we commend thee to His grace!
In confidence go forth, be strong!
They meat His will, thy boast His praise,
His righteousness be all thy song.

Strong in the Lord’s Almighty power,
And armed in panoply divine,
Firm may’st thou stand in danger’s hour,
And prove the strength of Jesus thine.

Thy breast-plate be His righteousness,
His sacred truth thy loins surround;
Shod be thy beauteous feet with peace,
Spring forth, and spread the Gospel sound.

Fight the good fight, and stand secure
In faith’s impenetrable shield;
Hell’s prince shall tremble at its power,
With all his fiery darts repelled.

Prevent thy foes, nor wait their charge,
But call their ling’ring battle on.
But strongly grasp thy sevenfold targe, (‘shield’)
And bear the world, and Satan down.

The helmet of salvation take,
The Lord’s, the Spirit’s conquering sword,
Speak from the Word – in lightning speak,
Cry out, and thunder – from the Word.

Champion of God, thy Lord proclaim,
Jesus alone, resolve to know;
Tread down thy foes in Jesus’ name:
Go – conquering, and to conquer go.

Through racks and fires pursue thy way,
Be mindful of a dying God;
Finish thy course and win the day;
Look up – and seal the truth with blood.

Charles Wesley

© 2009 Lex Loizides