In his preface to the Olney Hymns, John Newton wrote that the collection was “intended as a monument, to perpetuate the remembrance of an intimate and endeared friendship.” Who was the friend? William Cowper.
I have been working with the William Cowper text Heal Us for years. The message of the lyrics and tone of gospel music complement each other because, musically and historically, the African-American church has sung some of the most powerful songs of lament — the “sorrow songs” as W. E. Dubois famously called them.
As racial tensions continue to rise in our nation, this song seems so appropriate. As we mourn the brokenness of race relations in our country, and in our churches, we need songs that give corporate voice to our cries. Cowper is an appropriate author because he was a public supporter of the abolitionist movement.
Lord, Heal Us
Heal us, Emmanuel, here we are, We long to feel Thy touch
Deep wounded souls, to Thee we fly, O Savior hear our cry
Scripture teaches that after the fall all of us are both sinners and sinned against. While the ways we have been sinned against do not make us sinners, they certainly give shape to the expression of our sinfulness. This hymn strikes a great balance. The chorus offers a prayer for Christians in deep pain who recognize their condition, long for comfort, and look to Christ as the source of relief.
Our faith is feeble, we confess, We faintly trust Thy word; But will You pity us the less? Be
that far from You Lord!
Remember him who once applied, With trembling for relief;
“Lord, I believe,” with tears he cried; “O help my unbelief!”
She, too, who touched you in the press And healing virtue stole, Was answered, “Daughter, go
in peace; Thy faith has made thee whole.”
Like her, with hopes and fears we come To touch You if we may;
O send us not despairing home; Send none unhealed away.
Cowper finds additional encouragement by remembering various biblical episodes where God’s gentle compassion was clearly evident. And this emboldens him to pray for real healing to the only One who can heal us. Cowper recalls the story of the boy with the unclean spirit (Mark 9:14–29) and the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:25–34). He uses these stories to compare Christ’s kindness to those of weak faith and strong faith.
When our faith is feeble, and particularly when we look at the overwhelming problems in our world, it is difficult to believe there can be any real hope. But as Cowper shows us, hope is found in the character of our God. “Will you pity us less because our faith is feeble?” What an honest question! We all think it and even fear that the Lord will not extend his mercy to those of little faith.
Cowper reminds that it’s okay to ask and writes with an honesty and transparency that is reminiscent of the Psalms. The answer is “No!” His grace is amazing and he won’t withhold pity when our faith is weak. We can cry out requesting help and trust that the Lord will hear us.
Words by William Cowper (alt Twit), Music by Kevin Twit and Lucas Morton ©2015 Kevin Twit Music (ASCAP) and Lucas Morton Music (BMI)
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First published on desiringgod.org.