Hi, friends. If you live in a Western country (maybe not just there?), you have probably heard people say “God works in mysterious ways.” While looking at the Wikipedia page for “Amazing Grace,” I incidentally stumbled upon the original source of the phrase, so enjoy this bit of trivia!
The Reverend John Newton
John Newton worked in the slave trade on and off for several years (1740’s-1750’s). Like many believers, his true spiritual awakening, when he “felt at peace with God,” came years after his initial conversion. Long after retiring from the slave trade (yet 100 years before slavery was outlawed in the US), he became an abolitionist, shamefully repenting for “a confession, which … comes too late … It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” He began vigorous religious studies after quitting the slave trade and, after a couple years, applied to become a pastor in several denominations; the Church of England (Anglican) accepted his application, so he began preaching in Olney, Buckinghamshire in 1764. The church added on to the building because his preaching drew so many people. His legacy is pretty impressive.
William Cowper, Rev. Newton, & “Amazing Grace”
William Cowper was a wildly popular poet in the mid to late eighteenth century. Cowper is often considered a forerunner to Romantic poetry because he wrote about scenes of everyday life and the English countryside. Cowper found comfort in Christianity after having been institutionalized for insanity for two years. He began attending the church where Rev. Newton preached in 1767. Cowper and Rev. Newton began writing hymns together, and they wrote “Amazing Grace” for a prayer meeting in 1779.
“Amazing Grace” is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world. Rev. Newton’s past as a foul-mouthed, slave-trading sailor who made enemies easily inspired this dedication to God’s endless, saving grace… “Even a wretch like me”
“God Works in Mysterious Ways”
In Olney Hymns, the same book in which “Amazing Grace” was published, Cowper wrote the poem that began with this old adage. The original line uses “moves” instead of “works,” but the point remains the same. Cowper wrote the words after a spell of depression where he attempted to commit suicide. The lyrics reference John 13:7—
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
These words are actually so touching and beautiful. Thanks for reading!