The friendship of hymn-writers, John Newton, lyricist of “Amazing Grace”, and William Cowper, poet of “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood”, teaches us how to help those who struggle with addiction.
William Cowper “became an opium smoker and prayed for deliverance” (Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain, O.S. Hawkins). He alternated between being hooked on the drug and tearfully repenting of it. William was dogged by this cycle for the rest of his life. How can one help such a tortured soul?
- Help find a place for them to recover.
When William and John met in 1767, Newton was the new preacher of Olney Parish Church. Cowper, a new convert, wanted to move nearby to hear him preach. Mrs. Newton found Cowper a place to live next-door to their residence for the next sixteen years.
On January 1, 1773, William failed at an attempted suicide, leaving him injured and hopeless. Depression gripped Cowper as he teetered on the brink of a total mental breakdown. For the next fourteen months, Newton and his wife cared for William under their own roof.
You can help your friend who struggles with addiction, if you, like the Newton’s, assist them in finding a place to heal. There are many good Christ-based addiction recovery centers such as Penfield Addiction Ministries: https://www.penfieldaddictionministries.org/. They were founded and are supported by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
- Encourage them to use their gifts.
Some of our most gifted Christians struggle with addictions. Help them realize that their pain can become a launching pad for a ministry that might help others who are hurting just like they are.
Newton invited Cowper to contribute to a hymnbook he was compiling. It was not published until 1779, a year before William’s death. In it, was one of Cowper’s most beloved hymns, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”. The song encourages troubled Christians such as William was himself:
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform.
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
How these inspired words have helped countless people. It has lifted me out of the valley of the shadow.
- Be prepared for continued struggles.
William struggled with the assurance of his salvation, seldom ever feeling confident. He would go back and forth, sometimes on top of the mountain, at other times in the depths of despair.
In distress over his backslidings into opium addiction, he wrote “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood”. Though often defeated, see his personal conviction about his eternal destiny in the last verse:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away:
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save.
We will see William Cowper in heaven and celebrate his ultimate victory over his addiction by the power of God’s grace and the help of his dear friend, John Newton. You can be such a friend to one who struggles with personal hurts, habits, and hang-ups.