Mr Newton's Account of Mr Cowper

in a Funeral Sermon

Preached in St Mary Woolnoth, Lombard Street,

May 1800

Exodus 3:2,3:
And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush:  and he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
The Lord has given me many friends but with none have I had so great an intimacy, as with my friend Mr Cowper.  But he is gone.  I was glad when I heard it.  I know of no text in the whole book of God's Word more suited to the case of my dear friend than that I have read.  He was indeed a bush in flames for 27 years but he was not consumed.  And why?  Because the Lord was there.  I think it probable there is hardly a person in the church who ever saw him yet there is few but know him in his writings.  I can think of no motto more suitable than that of the apostle as unknown yet well known [2 Corinthians 6.9], particularly in his poems 2nd volume called The Task by which he being dead yet speaketh [Hebrews 11.4] - speaks to the glory of God and the good of mankind and which I think will not be forgotten as long as the English language is current. William Cowper 2

Mr Cowper was afflicted with what is called a nervous complaint to such a degree as might justly be called insanity.  He had an attack very early in life which did not continue long.  He was afterward at the Temple, being designed for the Law.  He became acquainted with Mr Coleman and a Mr & Lord Thurlow.  He assisted them in writing a book called the Connoisseur.  Those four men were very gay and men of great abilities but the Lord had designs of mercy towards my friend.  One night he had a remarkable dream or vision.  He thought a child, a very beautiful little boy, came and looked on him while he was asleep.  When he awoke he felt his mind much affected by his dream, but as he was sitting at his breakfast the Lord shone in upon his soul and so enlightened his understanding and gave such a clear view of the gospel and his interest in it without his ever reading it or hearing a gospel sermon that for seven years afterwards I never in all my life saw a man walk - I want to say so honourably - but so closely with God and always set the Lord before him in all he did.  I believe during that time we were not seven hours without being together.  

The last sermon he ever heard preached was on New Year's Day 17731He drank tea with me in the afternoon.  The next morning a violent storm overtook him which caused a very great shyness.  I used to visit him often but no argument could prevail with him to come to see me.  He used to point with his finger to the church and say: you know the comfort I have had there and how I have seen the glory of the Lord in his house and until I can go there I'll not go anywhere else.  But after some time this shyness wore off.  I remember one time we were walking together in a very deep snow.  The weather was remarkably severe.  He desired me to stop.  I observed the sweat drop from his face occasioned by the agony of his mind.  He said he knew the Lord was a Sovereign and had a right to do with and lay upon him what he pleased and if he was [sure] that by holding out a finger he could remove what he then felt, he would not do it unless he knew it were the will of God.  He has often said he thought the Lord had not a child who loved him with a more simple heart than he did.

The first temptation the enemy assaulted him with was to offer up himself as Abraham his son.  He verily thought he ought to do it.  We were obliged to watch with him night and day.  I, my dear wife and Mrs Unwin with whom he lived left him not an hour for seven years.  He was also tempted to think butcher's meat was human flesh, therefore he would not take it.  We found it very difficult to provide any sustenance he would take.  He had various temptations which would be very improper for me to mention in this place.  I was at that time obliged to leave Olney but the Lord did not leave him without friends but provided for him persons of abilities and respect who did that for love which no money could have procured.

I don't know a person upon earth I consult upon a text of scripture or any point of conscience so much to my satisfaction as Mr Cowper.  He could give comfort though he could not receive any himself.  He was not only a comfort to me but a blessing to the affectionate poor people among whom I then lived.  He used frequently to visit them and pray with them.  I had the honour to be placed over a set of poor plain people chiefly lace makers.  Their great confinement caused in them great depression of spirits.  They used to say, "O Sir if I was right, sure I should not feel so."  But they well knew Mr Cowper: they knew he was right, and from him they could take comfort.

I have had hopes the Lord would remove his malady a little time before his death but it continued.  The last twelve hours of his life he did not speak nor seem to take notice of anything but lay in a state of apparent insensibility.  But I seem to think that while the curtains were taking down in the tabernacle removing, glory broke in upon his soul.  The Lord had set his seal upon him and though he had not seen him he had grace to love him.  He was one of those who came out of great tribulation.  He suffered much here for twenty seven years, but eternity is long enough to make amends for all.  For what is all he endured in this life, when compared with that rest which remaineth for the children of God?

transcribed from notes taken by Hannah Jowett, whose father, John, was a friend of Newton's
ms The Cowper & Newton Museum, Olney, Bucks

1.  Newton preached twice on New Year's Day, Friday 1 January 1773:

in the morning on 1 Chronicles 17:16,17 (the sermon for which Amazing Grace was probably wirtten)
in the evening from Proverbs 8:34-36, an annual event aimed chiefly at the Young People. [return]


Marylynn Rouse, 23/12/2014