Posted by: rcottrill | February 20, 2012

O for a Closer Walk with God

Words: William Cowper (b. Nov. 15, 1731; d. Apr. 25, 1800)
Music: Beatitudo, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: There is more about the hymn and the author (whose name is pronounced Cooper) at the Wordwise Hymns link, including a photo of the original printing of the hymn. The Cyber Hymnal gives us all six stanzas, but many hymnals use only four (CH-1, 4, 5, 6, or CH-1, 2, 5, 6). As to the tune, the Cyber Hymnal offers several choices, but I’m most used to Dykes’s beautiful tune Beatitudo.

CH-1)  O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!

P ersonally, I prefer the second grouping of stanzas listed above, which skips stanza 4. If it is accepted that the Bible teaches the eternal security of the believer (a doctrine I believe to be biblical), then stanza 4, with its implication that the Holy Spirit has departed from the Christian’s heart is unbiblical. We may indeed be out of fellowship with God, because of unconfessed sin. This causes a loss of joy and of spiritual power. But it does not mean the Spirit of God has deserted us.

There is much confusion about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in our day, and the subject deserves careful attention. While we are not given full details of the work of the Spirit of God in Old Testament times, the saints then are never said to be permanently indwelt by the Spirit. Further, the Lord Jesus clearly foretells a new relationship with the Holy Spirit that had not pertained earlier (Jn. 14:17).

When we put our faith in Christ, the Spirit of God comes to live within (I Cor. 6:19-20). The presence of the Holy Spirit is God’s seal of ownership on the believer (II Cor. 1:22). This is the guarantee that God will complete the work begun in us (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30). We are certain of our salvation because of His presence within. If we do not have the indwelling Spirit, it is because we do not belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9)–in other words, we’re not saved.

Knowing the severe emotional struggles of William Cowper, and his lifelong battle with depression, we can appreciate that there were times when he didn’t feel as though God was present in his life. However, our changing emotional condition mustn’t inform and dictate our theology. Rather, it should be the other way round. Even “if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (I Jn. 3:20).

Setting this issue (and stanza 4) aside, we need to consider the important message of this great hymn. We are to “walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us [i.e. continues to cleanse] from all sin” (I Jn. 1:6-7).

To walk with God requires that we “walk in the Spirit,” submissive to and dependent on Him (Gal. 6:16, 25). This is how we maintain close fellowship with Him, through a life of consistent faith and obedience. And when sin raises a barrier between us, or if there is an “idol” that has robbed Him of His preeminent place (CH-5), we need to confess and forsake what is displeasing to Him (I Jn. 1:9), restoring the intimacy we knew before.

CH-5) The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.

CH-6) So shall my walk be close with God,
Calm and serene my frame;
So purer light shall mark the road
That leads me to the Lamb.

1) In your own experience, with are the things that most often rob you of the sense of the closeness of God, and intimate fellowship with Him?

2) What do you do to restore the vitality of your relationship?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Cowper was such an interesting figure in Christian history, specifically in hymn writing. I read writings of his such as these and think that surely he belonged to Christ, yet it’s my understanding that he never felt an assurance of his salvation; yet quite the opposite – he believed God had damned him eternally. I certainly hope that is the depression and despair talking and not the voice of God, for he has certainly served the church and the saints to follow in songs such as this one, There is a Fountain, etc…

    • I appreciate your observations about this enigmatic man. Considered the greatest English poet of his day, Cowper first tried to become a lawyer but, as I recall, an inordinate fear at the thought of the oral examination brought his studies to an end. In and out of a mental hospital, he struggled with devastating feelings of worthlessness, and the terror of eternal judgment.

      Having lived, myself, for over 40 years, with someone who deals with chronic depression, I know at least a little of what he must have suffered. And of course Cowper lived in a day when the condition was less well understood, and when drugs to mitigate its symptoms effectively were not available. The truth is that such irrational black moods may reflect little or nothing of the sufferer’s true spiritual condition. I personally have absolutely no doubt that William Cowper was a born again child of God.

      He lived under the kindly guardianship of Rev. and Mrs. Morley Unwin, and enjoyed a close friendship with John Newton for 19 years. Newton likely knew him as well as anyone. And I doubt the collaboration of the two men in putting together the classic Olney Hymns (for which Cowper wrote 67 selections) would have happened otherwise. Thanks for writing, and God bless.


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