O for that Closer Walk...


Currently the methodist Church in Britain is gearing up to release a new "worship resource" or as it would previously have been called, a hymnbook. Entitled "Singing the Faith" it is the first official Methodist Hymnal in Britain since 1933, as the 1983 publication "Hymns and Psalms" was an ecumenical (and largely unloved) affair. Whilst many Methodists bemoaned the loss of many Wesley hymns from first the 1983 and the most recent list, I must confess that the hymn omitted from "Hymns and Psalms" that I missed most is not one by Chuck or JW, but the one below by William Cowper... And, unless my eyesight is failing me it has also been omitted from the most recent collection...

It was a particular favourite of my mum's, and I suppose it is in my mind because the anniversary of her funeral was last weekend, and it was one of the hymns we sang at it.

But I've often wondered why it was omitted, first from the 1983 and (less surprisingly given the previous omission) from the current compilation. It can't be his Calvinism, given the fact that 6 other hymns made it into the 1983 book, some of which are definitely inferior in the poetic stakes, and his co-author and fellow Olney Hymn collaborator and Calvinist John Newton has a fair number included. I sometimes wonder, however, whether there is a certain embarasment given that it speaks of his sense of being further from God than he was earlier in the journey of faith, which echoes with his recurrent crushing depression, which, towards the end of his life became wedded to a sense of being eternally damned, in the absence of the assurance of salvation that the eternally elect should have.

Yet I think this hymn, like many of the laments in Psalms speaks out of the depth of human experience, and has a good deal more reality to it than many of the trite and triumphant praise songs that have been a feature of so much worship of recent years.

So, if anyone is thinking of compiling a hymn book for real life, can I suggest that this one should have pride of place?

O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly 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 that 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.


William Cowper (1731-1800)

ps. don't you just love his headgear in the picture above!?
Shalom

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