The first hymn that stands out in the Olney Hymn book is written by William Cowper. It was written during a particularly difficult time for him. As I have already noted, Cowper suffered from severe depression.
Theologically the hymn is based on Genesis 5:24:
Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
(An ebook I have written on Enoch is available for free download on the site ProGnosis)
In the hymn, Cowper expresses his desire to be able to walk with God as closely as Enoch is commended for walking with God. But the main thing in that walk that he desired was a ‘calm… frame‘. This top and tails the hymn and expresses his desire to be able to trust in God, and Him alone.
Why did he write this hymn? Why did he desire that walk?
Cowper had been taken in and cared for by Mrs Unwin, and she had become a bedrock to him. He lived with her, enjoyed in her garden, and would meet almost daily with Newton in that garden. In many ways his life under the care of Mrs Unwin was one of Cowpers best times.
However, Mrs Unwin was taken seriously ill and Cowpers life came crashing down. He had to now start to consider life without her. These kind of thoughts to a man suffering from a mental illness were too great. Yet, he turned to God in writing this hymn. In a private letter he said that ‘her illness had been a sharp trial to me’ and that much of the hymn came to him from God in his sleep. The essence of the request is that human friendship may fail, but God will never fail us or leave us.
Therefore, he wanted a closer walk with God.
- O! for a closer walk with God,
- A calm and heav’nly frame;
- A light to shine upon the road
- That leads me to the Lamb!
- Where is the blessedness I knew
- When first I saw the LORD?
- Where is the soul-refreshing view
- Of JESUS, and his word?
- What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
- How sweet their memory still!
- But they have left an aching void,
- The world can never fill.
- Return, O holy Dove, return,
- Sweet messenger of rest;
- I hate the sins that made thee mourn,
- And drove thee from my breast.
- The dearest idol I have known,
- Whate’er that idol be;
- Help me to tear it from thy throne,
- And worship only thee.
- So shall my walk be close with God,
- Calm and serene my frame;
- So purer light shall mark the road
- That leads me to the Lamb.
I wonder, do we have the same desire? To we want to walk more closely with God and rely on Him more and more? Also, do we look at the sin in our lives with regret and dream of being closer to our God?
A lovely new vresion of the hymn is here:
But the best version is done by Stuart Townend here.