This is part of an intermittent series I’ve called “Hymns We Should Sing More Often.” The aim is to remind us (or introduce for the first time) excellent hymns that are probably not included in most church’s musical canon. A few hymns–like Holy, Holy, Holy or Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing—are familiar to many congregations and get sung in conferences and other large gatherings. Unfortunately, for a growing number of churches, there are no hymnals in the pews (or on the chairs), and consequently there is little opportunity to draw from the deep well of Christian hymnody. Most of the hymns in this series are not unfamiliar, just underutilized. I hope you will enjoy learning about these hymns as much as I have and enjoy singing them even more.
Psalm 88 is surely the gloomiest of all the psalms of lament and a fitting description of poet and hymn writer William Cowper’s life (1731-1800). Verse 15 says, “Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.” This verse describes much of his experience, even as a Christian. Cowper is regarded as one of the best early Romantic English poets and also wrote some of the best English hymn texts, often in collaboration with his friend and mentor John Newton. But despite his literary success and friendship with one of the most warm-hearted pastors in church history, Cowper struggled with severe depression most of his adult life. Despite a powerful conversion he never enjoyed a continuous assurance of salvation and often struggled with thinking himself under God’s wrath. His life is a testimony to God’s sustaining grace and willingness to use weak vessels to glorify himself and bless others.
Cowper wrote “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” in 1773 before he fell into a deep depression. In the mysterious providence of God this hymn has brought comfort and hope to countless believers who, like Cowper, struggle through the long dark night of the soul. In this way Cowper fulfills what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:12, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” The hymn lyrics remind us that God’s ways are not our ways and that things are often not the way they seem. He often works most powerfully in apparent weakness, those who may feel abandoned by God may in fact be beloved children, and there are wise and loving purposes in the suffering he ordains for his people. As Cowper writes,
His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour. The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
I am highlighting Bob Kauflin’s arrangement of Cowper’s hymn. Bob, director for worship at Sovereign Grace Ministries, wrote new music and added a refrain after the tsunami disaster in 2005. He wanted to proclaim the truth of God’s sovereignty in the midst of catastrophes and help the church to respond in faith. May Cowper’s life and this hymn encourage you to trust in God’s sovereignty in your life and to cling to Christ in all your trials and sufferings.
VERSE 1 God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm Deep in His dark and hidden mines With never-failing skill He fashions all His bright designs And works His sovereign will
CHORUS 1 So God we trust in You O God we trust in You
VERSE 2 O fearful saints new courage take The clouds that you now dread Are big with mercy and will break In blessings on your head Judge not the Lord by feeble sense But trust Him for His grace Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face
CHORUS 2 So God we trust in You O God we trust in You When tears are great And comforts few We hope in mercies ever new We trust in You
VERSE 3 God’s purposes will ripen fast Unfolding every hour The bud may have a bitter taste But sweet will be the flower Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain God is His own interpreter And He will make it plain