A few days ago a fellow Christian and dear brother sent me a few lines of the end of William Cowper’s very long Poem “Progress of Error”, to which I replied: “Thank you for the few lines from Cowper’s poem. I have been considering what reflection to share next for others benefit; and I settled on Insanity as a Christian experience for many believers. Cowper (Cooper) is such an example of the this experience., although it was another song writer’s song that I will share. Cowper learned from Milton and many others, all following the train of Homer and Hesiod (Cowper’s rendition of Homer’s classics are still valued in the schools). His insanity surfaced in his early 30s, then reached its worst in his 40s as seen in the following biographical quote: “In 1773, Cowper, now engaged to marry Mrs. Unwin, experienced a new attack of insanity, imagining not only that he was condemned to hell eternally, but that God was commanding him to make a sacrifice of his own life. This attack broke off the engagement, but Mary Unwin took care of him with great devotion, and after a year he began again to recover. In 1779, after Newton had left Olney to go to London, Cowper started to write further poetry. Mary Unwin, wanting to keep Cowper’s mind occupied, suggested that he write on the subject of The Progress of Error, and after writing his satire of this name he wrote seven others. All of them were published in 1782 under the title Poems by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple, Esq..” The insanity continued in lesser form till his death in his 50s. Like Alexander Crudens and many others his life was plagued by this internal war. The Poem has over 620 lines (my count is 623, but several lines may really be single unusually long lines); starting with Adam as the Natural Man doomed to failure against the mighty Foe, he moves through many doctrines and example in Scripture and the world; dealing with error and truth, good and evil, the Law, the Sabbath, Sunday, virtues and vices, hypocrisy, the clergy, and many other things. The poem ends with the Cross of Christ as the only hope.”
Insanity and madness are only a step away from sanity and soundness; we all are touched in many of the same ways, one more than the other. The external experiences are reflected and correspond to the internal life and condition, and often not clearly known or seen. Whether we consider our state or ignore it we cannot escape its reality in all its forms. As science seeks to explore and understand the cosmos, nature of the physical universe and philosophy (including psychology) sought and seeks to know how natural things relate to man as a being and a homo sapiens, a creature that rises above nature as it is; so too, religion, human and divine, occupies itself with the spiritual nature of man, and the relationship and connection of the Divine with the human, the Eternal with the temporal, the here and the hereafter, and all such things. The ancients of various nations, like the Greeks and Romans, said that to know oneself and to be true to what we are is a great achievement in life. In like manner they said that human hubris against the Divine (pride against God) was a certain doom; for whom God would destroy He first drives mad. Madness appears thus as a consequent of the divine and human, of soul and spirit, that is, of the natural and the spiritual struggle. We learn this in Homer and Hesiod; in Achilles and Hector, in Odysseus or Ulysses; of all the gods and goddesses of the Pantheon of Olympus and the Universe. And it is the same in modern times, in the world and in the church. Poetry is the language of the soul and spirit as a bird leaving land to soar in the skies. blending the heavenly with the earthly. Men and women like Cowper or Bunyan, like Swift and countless others, express our experiences and emotions in verse and rhyme that we may attach our self to theirs. We encounter the interplay between the sane and insanity in men like Freud in his dream theory, his Oedipus complex, and his phobia of religion and Judaism (Moses and Monotheism, and other writings). In Jung in his internal obsession with mysticism and the religious archetypes of Christianity and Buddhism (Red Book, his personal 13 year journal of self, Answer to Job, and other works). Swedenborg and other religious leaders are cases and studies of great importance.
Scripture like wise instructs us in the Psalms, Song of Solomon, and all its poetic utterances. In Job “Where is God my Maker, Who giveth songs in the night?”; in Psalms He surrounds us with songs of deliverance; and His laws and statutes are songs in our pilgrimage. In Saul’s madness he fond temporary sanity in David’s songs and music. We are told to sing songs in our joy; and often thus gain joy in sorrow; for praise becomes his saints who look to Him in all things. James says to pray when we suffer, and to sing praise in our joys.
I have only written a handful of songs these past 47 years as a Christian, each issued forth from a momentous experience at the time. Some 30 years ago facing financial ruin and shame, in deep depression and sadness, finding to escape, no refuge in those I knew; at my wits end, I snapped. I disappeared for a day, went out alone in the mountainside, and there prayed, read scripture, and wrote a song titled “Here I am Lord; Where art Thou?”. It was songs of other Christians in their own struggle in life that comforted me in my sorrow and pain; Scripture instructed me, and the Psalms uplifted me, but God sustained me by His own Spirit in Christ. Many times I recited certain songs to those who I tried to encourage to go on, to get through, to move forward and beyond their moment and crisis. One of those hymns and song was this favorite and well known to the Christian world written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1825. I give the rendition with the changes that I used over the years which I have placed in parentheses.
Jesus,(Lord,) my cross (I’ve) taken,
All to leave and follow Thee.
(Wounded, bruised), despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition,
All I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own.
Let the world despise and leave me,
They have left my Savior, too.
Human hearts and looks deceive me;
Thou art not, like (man), untrue.
(And) while Thou dost smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love, and might,
Foes may hate and friends disown me,
Show Thy face and all is bright.
Man may trouble and distress me,
’Twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me;
Heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, ’tis not in grief to harm me,
While Thy love is left to me;
Oh, ’twere not in joy to charm me,
Were that joy unmixed with Thee.
Go, then, earthly fame and treasure,
Come disaster, scorn and pain,
In Thy service, pain is pleasure,
With Thy favor, loss is gain.
I have called Thee Abba Father,
I have stayed my heart on Thee.
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather;
All must work for good to me.
(Know my soul) thy full salvation,
Rise o’er sin and fear and care,
Joy to find in every station,
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
(What a Father’s smile is thine,
Think (what Saviour) died to win thee,
Child of heaven, (shoulds’t) thou repine?.
Haste thee on from grace to glory,
Armed by faith, and winged by prayer.
Heaven’s eternal days before thee,
God’s own hand shall guide us there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission,
Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days,
Hope shall change to glad fruition,
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.