Is a beautiful hymn written by hymnodist William Cowper (26 November 1731 – 25 April 1800). Not only did he write hymns – he studied them too – hence the term hymnodist as opposed to hymn writer. As a writer of hymns, he had another talent, he was a well-known poet. One of his poems being “The Negro’s Complaint” which was often quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King Junior as part of the 20th Century Civil Rights movement.
At the age of six years William’s mum Ann died giving birth to his brother, John. This was the start of a lifetime of challenges and woes. His mental health being poor at times to the extent he was institutionalized. At one point it is said he tried to commit suicide. Born a son of an Anglican clergyman, he studied for the law. The prospect of a law exam (I must say any law exam is difficult – it is the exceptions to the rule and the volume of laws that is the issue) that he was so intimidated that he attempted suicide.
It is rumoured that he attempted to do so by drowning in the River Ouse. He hired a horse-drawn coach/taxi driver to take him to his favourite part of River. The driver just could not find it. William returned home – his suicide attempt dashed by the unwitting actions of a poor driver. It was if God had a hand in returning William safely to his home.
However, he did become a member of the Bar and in 1763 he was offered a Clerkship of Journals in the House of Lords. Sadly, that became a challenge for him.
As it happens he met Mrs. Mary Unwin at some point between 1763 and 1779 and they both became life long friends. After moving to Olney Mary became seriously ill. So serious that William was worried that she might die. Cowper began to experience severe depression again. During that crisis, he was inspired to write the verse for “O for a Closer Walk with God”. That action of creation comforted him in his hour of distress.
A day after he wrote to his Aunt about the hymn verses…
I began to compose them yesterday morning before daybreak, but I fell asleep at the end of the first two lines. When I awaked again, the third and fourth verses were whispered to my heart in a way I have often experienced.”
Fortunately, Mary recovered from her illness, which if she had not experienced – the words of this great hymn may never have been penned…
1 Oh for a closer walk with God,
a calm and heav’nly frame,
a light to shine upon the road
that leads me to the Lamb!
2 Where is the blessedness I knew
when first I sought the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
of Jesus and His Word?
3 What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their mem’ry still!
But they have left an aching void
the world can never fill.
4 Return, O holy Dove, return,
sweet messenger of rest;
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn,
and drove Thee from my breast.
5 The dearest idol I have known,
whate’er that idol be,
help me to tear it from Thy throne
and worship only Thee.
6 So shall my walk be close with God,
calm and serene my frame;
so purer light shall mark the road
that leads me to the Lamb.