There is a Fountain…
I saw a skit surrounding the following story a few weeks ago (I didn’t write it). I was really blessed by the story behind this well-beloved hymn. Be encouraged by the awesome way that God sustains His people, even in the worst of times!
|A beloved hymn by William Cowper born in the midst of mental anguish, yet was destined to become the “redemption anthem” of the Church. A beloved hymn born in the midst of mental anguish, yet it has become an anthem of God’s redeeming love.In examination of the spiritual meaning and passion of the songs and hymns that have been a part of the Christian church both past and present, there are some hymns that possess that rich quality of spiritual value that deserves being considered ‘anthems of God’s grace and redemption’. One such hymn is “There is a Fountain Filled With Blood”, written by William Cowper the English poet and hymn writer.
William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper” by the English) was born in Great Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, England, on November 15, 1731. He was privileged to be born into the home of an English clergyman while his mother was from a prominent family of English royalty. In preparation for his life’s work, he was educated in private schools as a small child and at Westminster School, earning a degree in law. With that degree he later passed his bar examination and was licensed to practice as a solicitor in the lower courts of the English justice system.
In spite of his intellectual achievements, William Cowper was physically frail and emotionally sensitive throughout his childhood. One of the traumatic experiences that contributed to his emotional instability was the death of his mother when he was only six years old. Unable to properly deal with this grief that he experienced as a small child, it stayed with him throughout his life. He never stopped grieving for his mother. Even though he passed his law examination and was licensed as a lawyer, the very prospect of appearing before the bar for his final examination frightened him to the extent that he had a mental breakdown from which he never recovered. As a result, he never practiced law, but preferred the study and writing of literature. Added to the anxiety of his bar examination was an unhappy love affair that resulted in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. He was, therefore placed in an insane asylum for a period of eighteen months.
While confined in the asylum and suffering from prolonged periods of deep depression he would spend much of his time in reading the Scriptures. Remembering his spiritual upbringing as a child and his concern for the eternal destiny of his soul, he struggled with the question of his salvation and peace with God. One day, while reading the Book of Romans, he was confronted with the words of the Apostle Paul who said:
“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God set forth to be a propitiation (satisfaction) through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” –Romans 3:23-25
While admitting his need of personal redemption and the sufficiency that is in the shed blood of Jesus our great Savior, being convicted by the Holy Spirit, William Cowper realized a personal relationship with Christ and a sense of forgiveness of sin. He, therefore, was gloriously converted at the age of thirty-three years old in 1764.
“But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
After partial recovery of his melancholia and mental depression, William Cowper moved into the home of a retired evangelical minister named Morley Unwin. There he received the necessary spiritual encouragement and very patient care at the hands of Rev. Unwin and his wife Mary. After five years Rev. Unwin died and his widow decided it best at the request of Rev. John Newton, to move with her family to Olney, England. William Cowper was invited to move with the Unwin family to Olney and to attend the parish Anglican Church pastored by Rev. Newton who was the author of the hymn, Amazing Grace.
The LORD said, “… and when I see the blood, I will pass over you …”
While living in the Olney Parish, William Cowper lived in a small house whose backyard joined the parsonage yard where Rev. Newton and his family resided. Here at the Olney Parish, Newton and Cowper became very close friends and worked together in the writing of religious poetry for the services of the church. Rev. Newton became a spiritual father to Cowper and a real source of needed inspiration in helping him overcome his spells of religious doubts, mental depressions and emotional morbidity.
Even after Cowper’s conversion, he endured several periods of time when he seriously doubted the love of God for him and his security as a believer.
Both Newton and Cowper were very talented poets and writers of religious verse and with their combined efforts produced the famous Olney Hymns. This book of 349 hymns became one of the most important contributions to musical worship in evangelical Christianity. Among the 67 hymns written by William Cowper while living at Olney under the patient care of Mrs. Unwin and spiritual inspiration of his pastor John Newton, the hymn that testifies of his final peace with his Savior stands out as one of the anthems of the church and a monument to the sovereign grace of God. While sitting alone one day at his desk in his little house, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and with the words of the prophet Zechariah (13:1) fresh in his mind, he began to pen these comforting words:
There is a fountain filled with blood
The dying thief rejoiced to see
Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood
For since by faith I saw the stream
When this poor lisping,
William Cowper penned these words not long before his death on April 25, 1800. It was at the writing of these words that he became aware of the efficacy of Christ’s complete atonement for his sins. Several years later Lowell Mason (1792-1872), an American living in Boston set William Cowper’s words to music.
In spite of his mental depression, emotional melancholy and spiritual doubts, God used the experience of one man, William Cowper, to pen the words that have been an inspiration to the church for two hundred years. These words have been used by the Holy Spirit to encourage many saints and a call to wayward sinners to find their peace with God which can only be found in that “fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins”.