William Cowper (1731-1800)

 •  2 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Hymns #1, 4, 49, 291, 322, Appendix 44.
William Cowper was born in the English countryside at Great Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire, England, on November 26, 1731. His father John Cowper was the rector of the parish and chaplain to George the Second. On his mother’s side he was descended from Henry III. His mother’s name was Anne Donne and she died when William was only six years old. This was a great blow to him because of his closeness to her and need of her attentions. He became a barrister (lawyer) in 1754 and his father died two years later. He then began to drift from one thing to another—Commissioner of Bankrupts, 1759, and reading clerk to the House of Lords in 1763. About this time a melancholy settled over him and he attempted suicide. The rope broke and he was spared for better things.
One evening he was picking his way among the gravestones of St. Margaret’s on his way home to bed. It was a moonless, dark night. The only sound that broke the stillness was the recurring crunch of the sexton’s spade digging a grave. Then suddenly Cowper felt his leg struck by a round object. By the light of his lantern he examined it to see what it was. The light shone upon the eyeless sockets, the repulsive contours, of a human skull! He at once felt a stab of fear with a sense of the emptiness of all here. What good was it to avoid other dangers when here was one he could never avoid?
In July 1764, at the age of 33, he sat in his garden reading Romans chapter 3. He was arrested by verses 24 and 25: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God.” He rested on the blood, faith laid hold of salvation. He said, “Immediately I received strength to believe. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement that Christ had made, my pardon in His blood, the fullness and completeness of my justification.” Later when living at Olney he was helped much by John Newton with whom he compiled the “Olney Hymns.” How he valued the precious blood of Christ may be seen by reading hymns 1 and 322. He went home to be with Christ April 25, 1800, and there was fulfilled what he had expressed so well:
“Then, in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save,
When this poor lisping, stamm ‘ring tongue
Lies silent in the grave.”
(as originally written.)