“God Moves in a Mysterious Way”

"What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter" (Jn. 13.7)

     INTRO.: A hymn which reminds us that we do not always know exactly what the Lord is doing is "God Moves In A Mysterious Way." The text was written by William Cooper (1731-1800). It was first published anonymously in the 1774 Twenty-six Letters on Religious Subjects, to which are added Hymns, by Omicron, published by John Newton. Its first use in a hymnbook was in the 1779 Olney Hymns (Book III), compiled by Newton and Cowper, where it is ascribed to Cowper. The poem is reported to be the last hymn by Cowper and is believed to have been produced in memory of a time when Cowper had decided to commit suicide by drowning himself. He called a carriage and told the driver to take him to the Thames River. Stories as to what happened vary. Some say that a thick fog arose which prevented them from finding the river. Others say that the driver pretended to be lost and drove around until Cowper fell asleep. In any event, the driver finally let Cowper off back at his home, and Cowper decided that God had moved in a mysterious way to prevent him from killing himself.

     The tune (Dundee French) most commonly used is attributed to Guillaume Franc, who was born somewhere around 1505 to 1520 in Rouen, France. In 1537, reformer John Calvin proposed the singing of Psalms by the whole congregation, and in 1539 published his first Psalter with adaptations by himself and Clement Marot. This was expanded in 1542, and with the help of Theodore Beza again in 1551. Monophonic melodies, some possibly adapted from popular chansons and old Latin hymns and others newly composed, were provided by Louis Bourgeois, Pierre Devantes, and Franc, who was living in Lausanne, Switzerland, where Beza had become a professor, and was very much interested in the rhymed Psalter, urging Beza more than once to give priority to the work of rhyming the Psalms. The final version of this Psalter was published in 1562 at Geneva, with composers listed as Bourgeois, Matthias Greiter, Maistre Pierre (Devantes), and Franc, with harmonizations by Claude Goudimel. Franc died at Lausanne in 1570.

     This tune is often dated 1545, but its first documented appearance was in the Scottish Psalter of 1615, more properly known as The CL Psalmes of David, published in Edinburgh by Andro Hart (c. 1560-1621).  It was altered to its present form in The Whole Book of Psalms edited in 1621 by Thomas Ravenscroft (c. 1592-c. 1635). Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, Cowper’s text appeared with another tune (Salzburg) in the 1925 edition of the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the tune appeared in the 1921 edition with the hymn "Lamp of Our Feet" by Bernard Barton and in the 1925 edition with the hymn "O God of Bethel" by Philip Doddridge. The song with Cowper’s text and Franc’s tune was used in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 also edited by Jorgenson; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater, where the tune is also used with "Be Known To Us In Breaking Bread" by James Montgomery; and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 edited by L. O. Sanderson. Today, it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     The hymn is a powerful statement of the providence of God.

I. Stanza 1 centers upon God’s ways
"God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm."
 A. God moves in a mysterious way because no man can know what is in the mind of God except the Spirit reveals it: 1 Cor. 2.11
 B. Therefore, apart from what God has revealed, we cannot know precisely how He performs His wonders: Ps. 77.14
 C. In doing these wonders, God is pictured as planting His footsteps in the sea and riding upon the storm: Ps. 104.1-3

II. Stanza 2 centers upon God’s designs
"Deep in unfathomable mines Of never failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs, And works His gracious will."
 A. To mere humans, the ways of the Lord are unfathomable or unsearchable: Rom. 11.33
 B. Yet, they show to us His never failing skill: Isa. 42.16
 C. Therefore, though we may not understand everything, we can see bright designs which accomplishes His will: Matt. 6.10

III. Stanza 3 centers upon God’s blessings
"Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head."
 A. There are many times when God’s people need fresh courage: Josh. 1.6-7
 B. Sometimes the clouds seem to obscure the Lord from us and bring gloom into our lives: Job 3.1-5
 C. However, those same clouds can rain blessings upon us: I Ki. 18.42-45

IV. Stanza 4 centers upon God’s grace
"Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face."
 A. We cannot judge the Lord by the feeble senses of our frail, human minds: 1 Sam. 16.7
 B. Rather, we must trust Him for His grace: Ps. 103.8-14
 C. The events of life may cause us to think that He is frowning, but behind them He hides a smiling face: 2 Chron. 30.9

V. Stanza 5 centers upon God’s purposes
"His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower."
 A. God has purposes: Eph. 1.11
 B. These purposes have unfolded through the working out of history in the fullness of times: Gal. 4.4
 C. Sometimes the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower because we are not always able to see how that the end of thing is better than the beginning: Eccl. 7.8

VI. Stanza 6 centers upon God’s work
"Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain."
 A. Unbelief is sure to err because those who say that there is no God are fools: Ps. 14.1
 B. Therefore, they will scan His work in vain because they in their rebellion they forget God’s works: Ps. 78.7-8
 C. Rather, we must remember that God is His own interpreter and that He will make all things plain in His good time, which is what living by faith is all about: Hab. 2.1-4

     CONCL.: Some might object to the idea that God moves in mysterious ways since He has made known to us the mystery of His will in the scriptures. It is true that God has revealed the mystery of redemption, but the the fact is that finite human minds cannot fully understand exactly how an infinite God works providentially in nature to watch over and care for His people and provide for all their needs. Therefore, it is still true that in this regard, "God Moves In A Mysterious Way."


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