William Cowper had a break down. That is a very mild term for what he had. He became an invalid and nearly a lunatic for a couple of years. It was all caused by his panic when he finished his tutelage in the law and was to give his defense before a panel of lawyers. He couldn't get up in front of them. He couldn't have them looking at him. He had stage fright. I can so well relate! Not so long ago I was so paralized to think of getting up in front of the church and preaching that on Sunday morning I couldn't quit thinking how much easier it would be to just kill myself than to have to go up there. Stupid? Maybe. But I can relate to Cowper's panic.
During his "illness," as it is so placidly referred to, some kind folk took him in and nursed him. They didn't push religion on him, but they made sure that a Bible was always at hand. One day, while in a fit of utter despair and hopelessness, he picked it up to try to distract his mind from its panic and opened it at random. He later wrote:
"The passage which met my eye was the twenty-fifth verse of the third chapter of Romans. On reading it I received immediate power to believe. The rays of the Sun of Righteousness fell on me in all their fulness. I saw the complete sufficiency of the expiation which Christ had wrought for my pardon and entire justification. In an instant I believed and received the peace of the Gospel. If the arm of the Almighty God had not supported me I believe I should have been overwhelmed with gratitude and joy. My eyes filled with tears; transports choked my utterance. I could only look to heaven in silent fear, overflowing with love and wonder."
The verse he had read said:
"Whom God hath set forth to be a reconciliation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness, by the forgiveness of the sins that are passed through the patience of God"
Romans 3:25, Geneva Bible (which is probably the translation that was at hand, considering the people with whom he was staying).
It is not even a full sentence. The sentence starts two verses earlier and ends at the end of the next verse. God's word is powerful! Even little phrases can work change in people's lives! From that day on William Cowper's life was dramatically changed and he became the greatest poet of his day--the forerunner of the Romantics, a great hymn writer, a social radical in the early movement to free the slaves of England and abolish the slave trade worldwide.
In two weeks (March 14th) I will be preaching on this verse and the verses before and after it. May God speak through it so that it is as powerful to me and those who hear it as it was to William Cowper!
Cowper Quoted by Martin Lloyd Jones in The Cross: The Vindication of God