Happy fourth Sunday in Lent!
This hymn, written by William Cowper, was first published in 1772. It is based on Zechariah 13:1, “In that day there shall be a Fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.”
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
O may I there, though’ vile as he,
Wash all my sins away!
Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power
‘Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved to sin no more.
Ever since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be ’till I die.
But when this lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing thy power to save.
Though a brilliant poet and hymnodist, Cowper struggled with deep depression much of his adult life and some of that struggle is visible in this and other of his hymns.
He starts off by putting together the prophecy from Zechariah and its fulfilment in Christ. The purpose of the fountain is to cleanse sinners, like the thief of Luke 23. Yes, he was a nasty piece of work, that thief! But wait, I am as vile as that criminal… I too need to be cleansed. I too can be cleansed in the same fountain!
The third stanza touches on the efficacy of Christ’s work at the cross. As I was reviewing YouTube videos for this post, the last line in the third stanza really got me and bounced around my head for hours. How wonderful that would be, to never sin again! to never live in fear of displeasing God! I imagine that Cowper, with all his dark moments, must have eagerly looked forward to that day.
The fourth and fifth stanzas, written in the first person, get sweetly personal. While awaiting the time that sin will be no more, Cowper and the hymn-singer can revel in God’s saving love (stanza 4). What’s more, the singing of praise will not cease with our death, but instead will become even more glorious (stanza 5). (By the way, does the poetry of these two stanzas turn you to mush as it does me?)
Here’s a biographical sketch of William Cowper along with lessons we can learn from his life, by John Piper.