Saturday, February 17

In Which We Tie Up a Few Loose Ends

. . . and chase a rabbit trail.

The loose ends:

John Piper explains what his book, Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce (which I reviewed this week), has to do with the movie Amazing Grace, coming out February 23. I haven't seen the movie, and don't know if I'll even be able to, but I suspect the book would be an excellent companion to the movie.

This week I also posted the poem Epitaph to a Hare by William Cowper, who, along with Wilberforce's mentor, John Newton, composed the Olney Hymns. Cowper supported the abolition of slavery, and--See how this is all coming together?--wrote a sonnet to William Wilberforce.
Thy country, Wilberforce, with just disdain,
Hears thee, by cruel men and impious, call'd
Fanatic, for thy zeal to loose th' enthrall'd
From exile, public sale, and slav'ry's chain.
Friend of the poor, the wrong'd, the fetter-gall'd,
Fear not lest labour such as thine be vain!
Thou hast achiev'd a part; hast gain'd the ear
Of Britain's senate to thy glorious cause;
Hope smiles, joy springs, and tho' cold caution pause
And weave delay, the better hour is near,
That shall remunerate thy toils severe
By peace for Afric, fenc'd with British laws.
Enjoy what thou hast won, esteem and love
From all the just on earth, and all the blest above!

And now for the rabbit trail:

If William Cowper were alive today, we'd probably say he suffered from depression. He'd attempted suicide, and as a result was sure his own sin was worse than Judas's betrayal of Christ, and that his guilt was more than God could ever forgive; that is, until "by faith" he saw the "fountain filled with blood" where sinners lose their "guilty stains." Those are phrases, of course, from the hymn for which Cowper is best known, There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood.

However, he continued to suffer bouts of mental illness, and was in a mental institution at least three times during his life, and continued, on and off, to be suicidal. He's proof, I'd say, that God uses people with all sorts of weaknesses to accomplish his purposes.

Here's a poem Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote about Cowper. Notice the mentions of his mental illness and his wild hares. My favorite line is "O Christ­ians, at your cross of hope a hopeless hand was clinging!" That hopeless hand, of course, was Cowper's, still clinging to the cross through his anguish.

It is a place where po­ets crowned may feel the heart’s decaying;
It is a place where happy saints may weep amid their praying;
Yet let the grief and humbleness as low as silence can languish:
Earth surely now may give her calm to whom she gave her anguish.

O po­ets from a maniac’s tongue was poured the deathless singing!
O Christ­ians, at your cross of hope a hopeless hand was clinging!
O men, this man in brotherhood your weary paths beguiling,
Groaned inly while he taught you peace, and died while ye were smiling!

And now, what time ye all may read through dimming tears his story,
How discord on the music fell and darkness on the glory,
And how when, one by one, sweet sounds and wandering lights departed,
He wore no less a loving face because so broken-hearted.

With quiet sadness and no gloom, I learn to think upon him,
With meekness that is gratefulness to God whose Heaven hath won him,
Who suffered once the madness-cloud to His own love to blind him,
But gently led the blind along where breath and bird could find him;

And wrought with­in his shattered brain such quick po­etic senses
As hills have language for, and stars, harmonious influences:
The pulse of dew upon the grass kept his with­in its number,
And silent shadows from the trees refreshed him like a slumber.

Wild timid hares were drawn from woods to share his home-caresses,
Uplooking to his human eyes with sylvan tendernesses,
The very world, by God’s constraining, from falsehood’s ways removing,
Its women and its men be­came, beside him, true and loving.

And though, in blindness, he remained unconscious of that guiding,
And things provided came with­out the sweet sense of providing,
He testified this solemn truth, while phrensy desolated,—
Nor man nor nature satisfied whom on­ly God created.

Learn more:

Audio of historical lectures from Michael Haykin
Text and audio of biographical messages from John Piper

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