If you have ever been down, depressed, perhaps even longing for life to end, you may appreciate the life of William Cowper. William Cowper (pron.’Cooper’) was born in exciting times. He lived through the voyages of Captain James Cook, the French Revolution and the American War of Independence.
He is best known for his magnificent hymns and his writings which included ‘The Task’ and ‘The Castaway’.
He was a firm believer in the Gospel and all of its promises, and yet, was probably one of the most miserable, melancholy people you could ever meet. He attempted suicide several times and it was only divine intervention through friends like John Newton, plus low ocean tides, weak wrists and weak ropes that kept this poor man alive.
There are many possible reasons for his lifelong battle with depression. Brutalised in school by older boys, the death of his mother at age six, and a largely absent father. All these things may have been the outward contributors to the sadness of his soul, yet William lived.
He lived because, though it was the will of the Lord to crush Him, it was also the will of the Lord to sustain Him. Can we accept both of these things as true and that both come from the hand of the Lord?
Charles Spurgeon did. Riddled and in agony with the pain of gout while in his prime, “It is a great mercy”, writes Spurgeon, “to get one hour’s sleep at night, to have only one knee tortured at a time. What a blessing to be able to put one foot on the ground again, if only for a minute.”
Speaking to his congregation after a particularly painful period of gout, Spurgeon said,
“When I was racked some months ago with pain so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room and leave me alone. There, I had nothing I could say to God but this, ‘You are my Father, and I am your child; I could not bear to see my child suffer as you make me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him.”
“Will You hide Your face from me, my Father? Will You still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from Your countenance?’”
Spurgeon’s surest comfort in his affliction, and in the depression he suffered throughout most of his adult life was this: That his trial was measured out by the hand of a loving Father – and not the indifferent, loveless machine of a godless universe.
We like to think we are in control of life: That we can make the happiness happen. We aren’t, and we can’t. We are the weak. Sadness, depression and grief hit us suddenly, and we fall.
What do you do? Where do you anchor your soul when strength gives way to sadness? In one of his most well known and beloved hymns Cowper wrote,
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds you so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.
With these words, Cowper, down, but not out, was echoing another man who had suffered with great melancholy. A man called Asaph. A man who sang of the anchor that steadied his soul in unsteady times.
My heart and my strength may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. For me, it is good to be near God. (Psalm 73)
The roots of Cowpers’ endurance, like Asaph, were not in himself. They were anchored in someone who had also come into this world, stricken and acquainted with grief. And He became for us an anchor that we can hold onto.
Or better yet, an anchor who will lay hold of us, when (not if) our heart and our strength should fail.
Jesus did not promise an easy life, free from pain. But He did promise to uphold us and be with us in the pain so that, in the end, we would endure to eternal life where every tear will be wiped away.