Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in His wings;
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.
In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
The theme of God's salvation, and find it ever new.
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.
It can bring with it nothing but He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe His people, too;
Beneath the spreading heavens, no creature but is fed;
And He Who feeds the ravens will give His children bread.
Though vine nor fig tree neither their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herd be there;
Yet God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice,
For while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.
~William Cowper, 1731-1800
I'm always moved by the words of William Cowper knowing he struggled with mental imbalance his entire adult life. From earliest years he and his writings have been friends. To have walked through his garden in Olney, England was one of life's choice moments; to worship in the church where he worshiped and pastored by his friend John Newton was an unspeakable joy.
The words of this wonderful hymn include a favorite portion of scripture from Habakkuk. The "yet I will rejoice" phrase always seems a challenge, especially when there is "no fruit on the vine" etc. This "Eternal, defiant nevertheless" (Karl Barth) in seasons of doubt and struggle, always encourages me to follow Samuel's example and raise my Ebenezer.
And then sing!
Cowper and Habakkuk always remind me of the over-arching Truth of God's sovereignty - His care and provision - in the past, the Eternal Now and in the future. Being outside of Time He awaits us in that future.
If that isn't reason to sing, what is?
So many of the ancients encourage us to sing during turmoil, griefs, bafflements. Singing always requires something of us at such times, but if we yield to the prompting, we always feel the better for it. In fact the Septuagint rendering of Habakkuk's words that end the passage are:
"He mounts me on high places
that I may conquer by His song."
So we end where we began, with Cowper reminding us that the Song we sing is His healing, conquering song after all.