1 God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
he plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.
2 Deep in unfathomable mines
of never-failing skill
he treasures up his bright designs,
and works his sov'reign will.
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.
4 Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust him for his grace;
behind a frowning providence
he hides a smiling face.
5 His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding ev'ry hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flow'r.
6 Blind unbelief is sure to err,
and scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
Source: Trinity Psalter Hymnal #256
|First Line:||God moves in a mysterious way|
|Title:||God Moves in a Mysterious Way|
|Author:||William Cowper (1774)|
|Liturgical Use:||Scripture Songs|
"In the new character which his delirium had assumed [that it was the will of God that he should put an end to his life] the same perfect spirit of submission was manifested. Mr. Newton says ‘Even that attempt he made in October was a proof of it; for it was solely owing to the power the enemy had of impressing upon his disturbed imagination that it was the will of God he should, after the example of Abraham, perform an expensive act of obedience, and offer, not a son, but himself.'" (May 26, 1774.)This is conclusive as to the intended suicide; but there is no indication in the Memoirs that after his attack he wrote anything whatever until about April, 1774. Of this period Southey says:—
"His mind, though possessed by its fatal delusion, had recovered in some degree its activity, and in some of his most melancholy moments he used to compose lines descriptive of his own unhappy state." (1853, vol. i. p.m.)To our mind it is evident that Cowper must have written this hymn, either early in 1773, before his insanity became so intense as to lead him to attempt suicide in the October of that year, or else in April of 1774, when "he used to compose lines descriptive of his own unhappy state." Of these dates the latter is the probable of the two, but neither will agree with the popular account of the origin of the hymn. Its publication agrees with this date, as it appeared in J. Newton's Twenty-six Letters on Religious Subjects; to which are added Hymns, &c, by Omicron, London, 1774. The actual date is fixed by Newton. He says:—
"Thursday, July 6th . Omicron's Letters are now published. May the Lord accompany them with His blessing. In reading them I could not but observe how different I appear on paper from what I know myself to be," &c.In Omicron's Letters it is in 6 stanzas of 4 lines, is entitled "Light shining out of Darkness," and is unsignedition It also appeared in the July number of the Gospel Magazine for 1774 (p. 307), in the same form and with the same title; but in this instance it is signed " J. W." We find it also in R. Conyers's Collection of Psalms & Hymns of the same year, in the same form and with the same title, but without signature. It appears again in the Gospel Magazine, Dec, 1777, p. 555, at the end of a letter "On Affliction." This letter is unsigned. At the close of the hymn these words are added:—
“By Miss Ussington, late of Islington, who died in May, 1776. Taken from the original."In this case the stanza ii. is omitted; the eight lines of stanzas iii. and iv. are rearranged; a slight change is made in stanza vi., and the following is added:—
"When midnight shades are all withdrawn The opening day shall rise, Whose ever calm and cloudless morn Shall know no low'ring skies."This uncertainty about the authorship of the hymn was set at rest in 1779, when J. Newton gave the original text and title from Omicron’s Letters in the Olney Hymn Book iii., No. 15, and signed it "C." From the first it gradually grew in importance and interest, until it has become one of the most widely known hymns in English-speaking countries. It has also been translated into several languages, including Latin, by R. Bingham in his Hymnologia Christiana Latina, 1871, as “Secretis miranda viis opera numen "; and Dr. Macgill in hisSongs of the Christian Creed and Life, 1876, as, "Deus mundum, en, molitur." Montgomery's estimate of this hymn is very high. He says of it, "It is a lyric of high tone and character, and rendered awfully interesting by the circumstances under which it was written — in the twilight of departing reason" (The Christian Poet, 1825, Preface). Montgomery evidently thought the hymn was composed before the sad breakdown of 1773. --John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907) ===================== God moves in a mysterious way, p. 433, i. In the Salisbury Hymn Book, 1857, this hymn is altered to "God deigns to move in mystery." --John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, Appendix, Part II (1907) ============= God moves in a mysterious way, p. 433, i. In the manuscript volume referred to under Cowper, W., p. 1625. ii., this hymn is given at pp. 204-5, between a letter from J. Newton dated “Olney, Nov. 4, 1772," and another hymn by Cowper, “'Tis my happiness below," given as "by Mr. W. C. of Olney, 1773." This supports the conclusion as set forth on p, 433, i., that the hymn was not the outcome of his attempted suicide in October 1773. The concluding lines of the hymn read in the manuscript:— "The bud may have a bitter taste, But wait to smell the flower." This, as is well known, appeared in print as:— "The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower." See Notes and Queries, Sept. 24, 1905. --John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, New Supplement (1907)
The words to this hymn were written by William Cowper in 1773 right before he began suffering from depressive illness. His condition got so bad that he eventually attempted to drown himself. At least part of Cowper’s hymn writing was influenced by his friendship with John Newton, who Cowper met when he moved to Olney, England to be under Newton’s ministry. Sadly, this is believed to be Cowper’s last hymn. He left his faith after his attempted suicide, sure that he was beyond redemption. Verse three is, ironically, a very hopeful and encouraging verse: “You fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds you so much dread are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.”
The tune most used for this hymn is DUNDEE, which was first found in the Scottish Psalter in 1615 and was arranged by Thomas Ravenscroft in 1621. Although this tune was most often paired with “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” it has been known to accompany many other hymn texts. The tune itself is a happy and pleasant one that, like the words, gives assurance to those singing or listening to it.
This hymn would pair well with many scripture readings, especially passages involving grief or strife in the lives of righteous people. The melody, though uplifting in tone, should not be rushed.
Suggested music for this hymn:For the organ and piano: “Peace Like a River” contains a good selection of songs which includes DUNDEE.
Luke Getz Hymnary.org