434. God Moves in a Mysterious Way

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 sovereign will.

3 You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

4 His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

5 Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain.
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.

Text Information
First Line: God moves in a mysterious way
Title: God Moves in a Mysterious Way
Author: William Cowper (1774)
Publication Date: 1987
Meter: CM
Scripture: Psalm 77:19; Psalm 62:1-8; Romans 11:33; Romans 11
Topic: Comfort & Encouragement; Will of God; Creation and Providence
Language: English
Tune Information
Name: DUNDEE
Harmonizer: Thomas Ravenscroft, c. 1592-1635
Meter: CM
Key: E♭ Major


Text Information:

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Rom. 11:33, Ps. 77:19
st. 3-4 = Ps. 62:1-8

William Cowper (pronounced "Cooper"; b. Berkampstead, Hertfordshire, England, 1731; d. East Dereham, Norfolk, England, 1800) is regarded as one of the best early Romantic poets. To biographers he is also known as "mad Cowper." His literary talents produced some of the finest English hymn texts, but his chronic depression accounts for the somber tone of many of those texts. Educated to become an attorney, Cowper was called to the bar in 1754 but never practiced law. In 1763 he had the opportunity to become a clerk for the House of Lords, but the dread of the required public examination triggered his tendency to depression, and he attempted suicide. His subsequent hospitalization and friendship with Morley and Mary Unwin provided emotional stability, but the periods of severe depression returned. His depression was deepened by a religious bent, which often stressed the wrath of God, and at times Cowper felt that God had predestined him to damnation.

For the last two decades of his life Cowper lived in Olney, where John Newton (PHH 462) became his pastor. There he assisted Newton in his pastoral duties, and the two collaborated on the important hymn collection Olney Hymns (1779), to which Cowper contributed sixty-eight hymn texts. In addition to his two hymns (also 551) in the Psalter Hymnal, "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood" is also often included in modern hymnals.

Erik Routley (PHH 31) compared this text to a Rembrandt painting, saying it had a dark background with a strong streak of light falling across it. That is an apt analogy. Cowper wrote "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" in 1773 prior to the onset of one of his severely depressive states, which later that year led him to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. The text was published in Newton's Twenty-six Letters on Religious Subjects; to which are added Hymns (1774). It was also included in Olney Hymns with the heading "light shining out of darkness" and accompanied by a reference to John 13:7 in which Jesus says, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." The original stanza 4, omitted in the Psalter Hymnal, contained the couplet "behind a frowning providence/He hides a smiling face."

The first line indicates the focus of the entire text: God's ways may well be mysterious to us, but God does act! He "works his sovereign will" (st. 2), and someday "he will make it plain" (st. 5). In the meantime, even in periods of profound doubt and despair, we may trust God's wisdom.

Liturgical Use:
This fine hymn on divine providence is useful on many occasions of worship.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Tune Information:

DUNDEE first appeared in the 1615 edition of the Scottish Psalter published in Edinburgh by Andro Hart. Called a "French" tune (thus it also goes by the name of FRENCH), DUNDEE was one of that hymnal's twelve "common tunes"; that is, it was not associated with a specific psalm. In the Psalter Hymnal the tune is in isorhythmic form (all equal rhythms) and has a harmonization that was published in Thomas Ravenscroft's (PHH 59) Whole Booke of Psalmes (1621). The tune's name comes from the city of Dundee, known as the "Scottish Geneva" during the era of the Scottish Reformation.

DUNDEE fits the meditative character of the text; its smooth lines invite part singing.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook


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