Day 354 | Monday, 8 March 2021
In my hymnal, there are many hymns under the theme of “passion and death” but very few under the theme of Lent. There are more “passion and death’ hymns then can be sung during Holy Week. We do spend time from Epiphany focusing on Jesus’ life and teaching. With that in mind I want to share the Hymn “Heal Us, Emmanuel, Hear Our Prayer” words by William Cowper, 1779, (Mk. 9:14-27; Mt. 9:20-22; Mk. 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48)
1. “Heal us, Emmanuel, hear our prayer; we wait to feel thy touch; deep-wounded souls to thee repair, and Savior, we are such.”
2. “Our faith is feeble, we confess we faintly trust thy word; but wilt thou pity us the less? Be that far from thee, Lord!”
3. “Remember him who once applied with trembling for relief; "Lord, I believe," with tears he cried; "O help my unbelief!"
4. “She, too, who touched thee in the press and healing virtue stole, was answered, "Daughter, go in peace: thy faith hath made thee whole."
5. “Like her, with hopes and fears we come to touch thee if we may; O send us not despairing home; send none unhealed away.”
“William Cowper (pronounced "Cooper"; b. Berkampstead, Hertfordshire, England, 1731; d. East Dereham, Norfolk, England, 1800) is regarded as one of the best early Romantic poets. To biographers he is also known as "mad Cowper." His literary talents produced some of the finest English hymn texts, but his chronic depression accounts for the somber tone of many of those texts. Educated to become an attorney, Cowper was called to the bar in 1754 but never practiced law.
In 1763 he had the opportunity to become a clerk for the House of Lords, but the dread of the required public examination triggered his tendency to depression, and he attempted suicide. His subsequent hospitalization and friendship with Morley and Mary Unwin provided emotional stability, but the periods of severe depression returned. His depression was deepened by a religious bent, which often stressed the wrath of God, and at times Cowper felt that God had predestined him to damnation.”
“For the last two decades of his life Cowper lived in Olney, where John Newton became his pastor. There he assisted Newton in his pastoral duties, and the two collaborated on the important hymn collection Olney Hymns (1779), to which Cowper contributed sixty-eight hymn texts.” Bert Polman
“The Olney Hymns (1779) is one of the most important of the 18th-century collections.”
“The Olney Hymns had the primary purpose of “promoting the faith and comfort[ing] . . . sincere Christians,” or as Dr. Bailey contends, “religious education took first place over the conversion of sinners.” Cowper was a gifted poet of his day, but also suffered depression, delusions and attempted suicide on several occasions. Cowper began the Olney Hymns when he was relatively well, but John Newton finished the collection alone as Cowper became increasingly incapacitated by his illness.”
“Heal us, Emmanuel, hear our prayer” was included in the Olney Hymns under the title of “Jehovah-Raphi, I am the Lord that healeth thee, Exod. xv.” The text draws upon different healing narratives found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. In Mark 9:14-27, Jesus encounters a boy “who is possessed by a spirit that makes him mute. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid” (verses 17-18, NET).
“The father of the young boy describes the manifestations of the illness and requests, “if you are able to do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (verse 22). Jesus responds, “‘If you are able?’ All things are possible for the one who believes” (verse 23).
“Given the poet’s struggle with his own mental health, it is likely that this hymn is in part autobiographical; indeed, we know that Cowper was among the “deeply wounded souls” alluded to in stanza one.”
“In stanza two, the poet acknowledges that though “Our faith is feeble,” he asks if the Lord would “pity us the less?” Stanza three virtually quotes Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe. . . . O help my unbelief.” Stanza four is based on Luke 8:43-48 and the faith of the woman with the issue of blood. Stanza five invites us to place ourselves in the narrative in place of the woman, and have the faith that Christ would “send none unhealed away.””
“It is likely that the hymn would have been used in conjunction with a sermon on the theme of healing with, as UM Hymnal editor Carlton Young states, “a stanza of the hymn sung and scripture read before, during, and after preaching.”
Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.
As we continue our journey through Lent, may we lift up in prayer those we know and unknown who need the healing touch of Jesus. Lord, Hear our prayers. Amen