William Cowper was one of the greatest English poets of the eighteenth century. He was also a man who faced a dreadful battle with depression. But he received great help from the hymn-writer, John Newton. When he met Newton, he had attempted suicide on a number of occasions and spent two years in an asylum.
People weren’t always helpful to Cowper—one bout of depression was triggered by the graceless speculations of gossips. But Newton was a genuine friend. Newton and Cowper’s back gardens were separated by an orchard, and they paid a guinea a year so that they could walk freely between the two houses. They worked together on producing many hymns.
On New Year’s Day 1773, an hour after hearing Newton preach at the morning service, Cowper feared that the clouds of depression were returning. He wrote the hymn ‘God moves in mysterious ways’, and then his fears were realised as depression descended on him. His mind plunged into the abyss of madness. That night he suffered from terrible hallucinations. Newton was called for in the small hours of the morning. In the coming days, Cowper suffered further hallucinations and panic attacks. During the next three months, Newton spent several hours a day with his friend, and was frequently called to his bedside at inconvenient hours of the night. Then Cowper came to live with him for thirteen months, until he was well enough to move back to his own home.
I am not saying that we will all be able to give the same level of attention to our depressed friends, but I want us to be inspired by Newton’s kindness. This morning we are thinking about what advice we can give those who are living with a depressed person and how to help those who are suffering with depression.