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Written by: William Cowper (November 26, 1731-April 25, 1800)

 John 13:7“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.’”

William Cowper was an English poet and hymn writer who dealt with great depression in his life (being sent to an asylum after three suicide attempts in 1763). After moving to Olney, Buckinghamshire,he met and became close friends with John Newton (author of “Amazing Grace). Newtonwas working on a hymnbook, the Olney Hymns, and invited Cowper to contribute to the work.

Perhaps Cowper is best known in our day for his hymn “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” The hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” was the last of the Olney hymns Cowper wrote. Shortly after, he fell back into a bought of depression and would, again, attempt to commit suicide. God, in His sovereignty, did not allow Cowper to end his own life.

On New Year’s Day, 1773, Cowper went out, alone, for a walk in the fields around Olney…

On arriving back in Orchard Side, he arranged into an understandable order, and then transcribed into verse, the words and thoughts that had been tumbling around in his mind during the walk…

On one hand he describes the clouds, storms and bitter buds that threatened him. On the other, a resignation to, and reliance upon, the perfection and wisdom of God’s power and purpose in the life of the believer.

‘Bright designs.’ Sweet flowers. And ‘a smiling face.’

This was his mental conflict. And he wrote it down. In delicate detail and in unusual haste, impelled by a sense of the approaching inevitable. But not in the first person singular. It was meant for everybody.[1]

Stanza 1

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Reflective thoughts: Though oftentimes we do not understand, or know how, we can be confident that God is at work. The times where we seem unsure about God’s work are times of affliction; during the storms of life. But, rest assured! God is right in the midst of whatever difficulty you are in right now, working His grand design.

Stanza 2

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Reflective thoughts: God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). He alone has the skill to work a beautiful design in our lives. What is His design? To make us more like Jesus. Will you trust Him for His marvelous plan? Trust that He is creating a beautiful tapestry, though you may not see the full picture now.

Stanza 3

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Reflective thoughts: We often pray for things that will bring us the least pain, sorrow, and suffering. We dread the dark clouds of affliction. But, we can face our fears with courage, knowing that even in the affliction, His sovereign hand is at work, shaping, forming, and molding us. These times of trial really are designed to bring great mercies to us. Take courage, saint! Behind those clouds the sun continues to shine brightly!

Stanza 4

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

Reflective thoughts: Just as we are prone to look at the outward appearance of man and make a judgment based upon what we see (1 Samuel 16:7), we tend to make the same types of assessments with God. We experience physical, emotional, and spiritual distress and think that must mean God does not love us. That is feeble thinking. We can trust His character, and lean on Him for future moment-by-moment grace. Trust (faith) is what He desires to strengthen in us. How are you judging God based on outward circumstances right now? Will you believe your tainted senses, or God’s truth? Behind what looks like sad circumstances to you, is a God who looks upon His child with a smile of favor.

Stanza 5

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Reflective thoughts: In the scope of eternity, our afflictions are momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17). Soon, we will see our God in glory and His purposes through our afflictions will be made clear. He may give us the opportunity to see some of His purposes even now. “What God has planned for your life is worth waiting for. Keep your eyes and hope on Him.”—Louie Giglio

Stanza 6

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Reflective thoughts: In this life, we can either walk in blind unbelief, or by faith. It is foolish to pursue the path of unbelief. Our minds are so limited and finite. Why would we not trust the all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere-present, eternal God? He knows what He is doing. He knows what is best for His children. Rejoice in the life story that He has written for you!


[1] Noel Davidson, How Sweet the Sound, pp. 157-158