First Hymn: God Works in a Mysterious Way

Here’s a little info about this text and the writer, William Cowper (pronounced Cooper), from

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.


God Moves in a Mysterious Way


God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform:
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines,
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own Interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

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One Response to First Hymn: God Works in a Mysterious Way

  1. Mom says:

    Thanks for doing this, Michael. I enjoyed reading about the author/composer, contemplating the lyrics and listening to the hymn. The experience improved my day!! It’s often puzzled me why so many times the deepest and richest art comes from times of acute depression and despair. Upon some reflection this morning, I see clearer that all of us need to get to those points regularly. It’s hard to make the decision to open the door, leaving the “self” behind, and be willing to look at depravity square in the face, be appropriately horrified and set it beside the holiness of God. The shocking contrast leads us down a path to humility, the only state God can really get through to us.

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