How blest Thy creature is, O God. W. Cowper. [The Blessedness of Peace with God.] Southey in his Memoirs and Correspondence of William Cowper, 1854, vol. i. pp. 99-104, gives an account of Cowper's insanity, his residence at St. Albans under the care of Dr. Cotton, and his partial recovery. At the beginning of his attack Cowper wrote a most painful poem, the nature and burden of which will be gathered from the following (the third) stanza, which reads:—
"Man disavows, and Deity disowns me,
Hell might afford my miseries a shelter;
Therefore, hell keeps her ever-hungry mouths all
Bolted against me."
In contrast to this despair Southey states that
"During this [the latter part of his stay with Dr. Cotton] part of his abode at St. Albans, he again poured out his feelings in Terse, and the contrast is indeed striking between what he called this specimen of his first Christian thoughts, and that song of despair [noted above] which cannot be perused without shuddering. He cast his thoughts in the form of a hymn, which he entitled ' The Happy Change,' and took for his text part of a verse in the Revelations, 'Behold, I make all things new.'"
The hymn composed under these circumstances, in July, 1765, is full of peace and hope, as evidenced in stanza iv.:—
"The soul, a dreary province once
Of Satan's dark domain,
Feels a new empire formed within,
And owns a heavenly reign."
The publication of the hymn in 6 stanzas of 4 lines with Cowper's original title, "The Happy Change," was in the Olney Hymns, 1779, Book iii., No. 44. In full or in part it is given in several hymn-books, especially in America. Sometimes it begins:—"How blest is man, O God," as in the American Unitarian Hymns for the Church of Christ, Boston, 1853.
--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)