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

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Suffering, Sickness and Healing

PJ Smyth

Message of the Month – PJ Smyth

How should Christians respond when they are suddenly struck down with an illness? In the midst of suffering, are we to run away from medicine and trust only in prayer, or should we view prayer merely as a means of psychological comfort whilst trusting only in the prognosis of the medical professionals? Or, is there a faith-filled position which embraces both prayer and scientific medicine? And what about the Devil’s role in all this, and the role of vigourous resistance?

This message is by PJ Smyth who leads GodFirst Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was preached at the Newfrontiers ‘Together on a Mission’ conference in England in 2011.

It’s not a message on healing as such, but rather covers the broader range of pastoral issues that arise when we face serious sickness – including the source of sickness, and how we handle our approach towards recovery.

But it’s not merely academic. PJ was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, which was successfully treated. He tells the story in the message.

In terms of an overview of the Christian approach to the challenge of sickness and healing I think it is probably the best message I have heard on the subject, and which, in my opinion, reaches the correct conclusions.

But what do you think?

For the Video click here

For the Audio click here

© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

A Christmas Miracle – Back from the Brink of Death

Christmastime with John Wesley

In December 1742 John Wesley and trainee leader Thomas Meyrick travelled to the North of England to preach the gospel.

It was a bitterly cold journey and they both became ill. Meyrick’s sickness, however, took a turn for the worse and twice he was feared dead.

Wesley tells the story of this particular event in his journal.

‘Wed 15th Dec. [Each of us had caught] a violent cold by riding the day before. Mine gradually wore off; but Mr Meyrick’s increased, so that on Friday, he took his bed…’

The Physician fears the worst

Mon 20th…they told me the Physician said, he did not expect Mr. Meyrick would live till morning. I went to him but his pulse was gone.

‘He had been speechless and senseless for some time. A few of us immediately joined in prayer: (I relate the naked fact) Before we had done, his sense and his speech returned.

‘Now he that will account for this by natural causes has my free leave: But I choose to say, This is the power of God.’

Keep praying and never give up!

Sat 25th Dec. ‘The Physician told me he could do no more; Mr. Metyrick could not live over the night. I went up and found them all crying about him; his legs being cold, and (as it seemed) dead already.

‘We all kneeled down, and called upon God with strong cries and tears.

‘He opened his eyes, and called for me; and from that hour he continued to recover his strength till he was restored to perfect health.

‘I wait to hear who will either disprove this fact, or philosophically account for it.’

(From John Wesley’s Journal, Baker edition, Vol 1, p.405-6)

A life of service to God

You might wonder what happened next – especially as he sank back into sickness after the initial bout of prayer.

Well, he did indeed recover and live a further 28 years, finally dying in 1770 (see here).

Prayer is not automatic. We come to a Person, to God the Father, who knows our need. But we can come with strong encouragements that He hears us according to His purpose and will.

Jesus said, ‘For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.’ (Matt 7:8 – see the verses in their context here)

What are you asking God for?

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Law Cannot Produce Life – Only the Gospel Can

So George Whitefield, merely months before becoming one of England’s youngest and most popular preachers, discovers that he needs to be born again in order to get right with God. He discovers that spiritual life is imparted by God through faith.

But strangely, he then acts in the opposite direction – throwing himself into a round of even more exacting religious exercises and good works, desperately trying to appease God.

The young Charles Wesley
The young Charles Wesley

Self-denial, satanic oppression, sickness and scaring Charles Wesley!
He increases his fasts, he stops eating fruit, giving the money he would have spent to the poor, he goes outside in rain and storm to cry out to God and confess his sinfulness.

Rather than finding relief from any of these exercises he becomes even more disconsolate, fearful and insecure. Feeling himself to be horribly oppressed by the devil he finally decides to ‘forsake’ all, including his new friends and stays in his study for days on end. He becomes physically ill and his tutor sends a physician.

His gloomy, depressed demeanour, the terrible loss of weight, all of this alarms the other students.

Charles Wesley is way out of his depth, doesn’t know what to do, and so refers him to his older brother John (already in his thirties, clearly the leader by this time, but not yet converted).

John painstakingly talks George down from the extremity of legalism in which he is bound and gives him Thomas a Kempis to read. Perhaps John realises even at this point that the strictness of the lifestyle he is promoting, the intensity of examination of every moment, is not working.

Locked in the second half of Romans 7

George seemed to have been caged in experience into what Paul merely illustrates in Romans 7:7-25.

There, Paul illustrates the inability of the Law to produce freedom from sin. Life is in the Gospel not in the Law. George Whitefield, having been awakened to the rightness of God’s Commands, then went on to try and justify himself through religious duty to fulfill those Commands. But Paul clearly demonstrates that the Law cannot produce life – only Christ can.

But, as in Paul’s illustration, so in real life, and as Whitefield was about to experience – the bondage of the cycle of sin and death is broken only by the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Finally the breakthrough
Whitefield had come to that great pre-conversion cry, ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?’ (Rom 7:24)

In his Journal he records, ‘God was pleased to set me free in the following manner. One day, perceiving an uncommon drought and a disagreeable clamminess in my mouth and using things to allay my thirst, but in vain, it was suggested to me, that when Jesus Christ cried out, ‘I thirst!’ His sufferings were near at an end. Upon which I cast myself down on the bed, crying out, ‘I thirst! I thirst!’’

From Mourning to Dancing
Although it seems a small thing – to be desperately thirsty, and to somehow see that when Christ cried out that He thirsted, it was near the end of His anguish – yet, here’s the point, when George Whitefield cried out to God, God intervened and heard him.

‘Soon after this’, writes George, ‘I found and felt in myself that I was delivered from the burden that had so heavily oppressed me. The spirit of mourning was taken from me and I knew what it was truly to rejoice in God my Saviour; and, for some time, could not avoid singing psalms wherever I was…’

‘Thus were the days of my mourning ended. After a long night of desertion and temptation, the Star, which I had seen at a distance before [referring to the doctrine of the New Birth in Scougal’s book], began to appear again, and the Day Star arose in my heart.

Now did the Spirit of God take possession of my soul, and, as I humbly hope, seal me unto the day of redemption.’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth, p.58)

Well, he had wrestled and struggled and, at last, discovered God’s free and Sovereign grace. Being now certain of the new birth in his own experience he began to proclaim the message of it to the English speaking world.

To read more about Whitefield click here
To read the first part of Whitefield’s story click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides