Saturday, March 01, 2008

his wonders to perform

William Cowper was a man who looked for hope. He was afflicted by severe depression and anxiety throughout his life, often leading to the conviction that he was thoroughly damned. His association with the Unwin family and John Newton helped bulwark him, as did the devotion to God that he developed during a period in an asylum. I knew of him before today through his handful of hymns that have become standards. This morning I was reading through the Norton Anthology of Poetry and came across their selection from his monumental work “The Task”.

This section, taken from Book VI “The Winter Walk at Noon”, blends the imagery of English carols, the psalms, the Hebrew prophets, Revelation, the letters of Paul, and the theology of contentment to describe the hope of God’s renewing work:
Oh scenes surpassing fable, and yet true,
Scenes of accomplished bliss! which who can see,
Though but in distant prospect, and not feel
His soul refreshed with foretaste of the joy?

Thus heavenward all things tend. For all were once
Perfect, and all must be at length restored.
So God has greatly purposed; who would else
In His dishonoured works Himself endure
Dishonour, and be wronged without redress.
Haste then, and wheel away a shattered world,
Ye slow-revolving seasons! We would see
(A sight to which our eyes are strangers yet)
A world that does not dread and hate His laws,
And suffer for its crime: would learn how fair
The creature is that God pronounces good,
How pleasant in itself what pleases Him.

Come then, and added to Thy many crowns
Receive yet one as radiant as the rest,
Due to Thy last and most effectual work,
Thy Word fulfilled, the conquest of a world.

This hope, I think, is our key to Christian living. We have no excuse for failing to benefit the world when our God is so constantly working to restore it, and has given us the honor of working with him. Again, it’s not that we work to be good in God’s eyes; God makes all things good, and our hope in his efficacy inspires us to live well. We are always unsuccessful at making ourselves good, though we strive for it. Our hope is in Jesus (I still need to go back and reflect more on the crucifixion and resurrection) and the connection he gives us to God the Father, as well as in the promises of restoration God made before Jesus came to earth. Even when we are feeling dark and adrift, we can assert our confidence in the eternal source of light and strength.

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