"God Moves In A Mysterious Way"

The lyrics to “God Moves In A Mysterious Way” have been with us ever since William Cowper, the famed English hymn writer penned them in the 18th century. A dear friend of the preacher John Newton, Cowper is most famous for hymns like “There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood”, which return to the central topic of the Cross. 

But what many do not know is that Cowper lived with severe depression and emotional spells that came over him for most his life. For a time, he was even considered insane. In those moments, he doubted if God really loved him, and often had suicidal thoughts. 

One foggy London night, Cowper left his home and called for a horse carriage to take him to the riverside where he intended to take his own life. But in a mysterious turn of events, the driver was unable to navigate his way through the fog and angrily dropped Cowper off by the roadside. Cowper was shocked to realise that the carriage had gone in circles and he had been deposited right in front of his own door where he began. After that experience he wrote the words to “God Moves In A Mysterious Way”. 

Like the Psalmist in Psalm 77, Cowper considers the mysteries of God’s works and ways. The poetic metaphors he uses to describe his answers, are stirring: the “dark clouds [we] so much dread” of God’s wrath will turn out to “break in blessings on our head” like rain; the bitter bud will bear the sweet flower, and that in the final sense, God works His sovereign will according to bright designs — He will make His own plan plain in His own timing, not ours. 

Psalm 77 follows a similar shape. The Psalmist asks repeatedly if God has abandoned or forsaken, if God has forgotten to be good to us (77:1-9), and he spends time to meditate and reflect on what God has done in history past (77:10-15). His memory and discipleship take him back to the Exodus story (77:16-20), where God planted His invisible footsteps in the sea, and showed His power even over terrifying forces of nature. In that reflection, He remembers how good God has been to Israel. Cowper, drawing upon some of these images, shows us how to counsel our hearts amid distress and fear, and trust God. 

Modern songwriter and singer Graham Kendrick has added this refrain for us to add to the psalmist and Cowper’s words: “And I will trust the hands that made the starry heavens, I will trust the wounds of Calvary, I will trust and not be afraid for all His ways are love.”


The men performed this song at our recent Reformation Concert! Check it out here: