Flashback Friday: “Heal Us, Emmanuel” by William Cowper


william cowper 3 from giveawayboy

Heal us, Emmanuel, here we are

We wait to feel Thy touch;

Deep wounded souls to Thee repair,

And Savior, we are such.


Our faith is feeble, we confess

We faintly trust Thy Word;

But wilt Thou pity us the less?

Be that far from Thee, 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 Thee in the press

And healing virtue stole,

Was answered, “Daughter, go in peace;

Thy faith has made thee whole.”


Concealed amid the gathering throng,

She would have shunned Thy view;

And if her faith was firm and strong,

Had strong misgivings too.


Like her, with hopes and fears we come

To touch Thee if we may;

O send us not despairing home;

Send none unhealed away.


Poet and hymn writer William Cowper (1731-1800) was a man of deep longing that greatly affected his mind as well as his spirit.  In his thirties, while battling some political factions in his work, he was afflicted with “madness” (as it was then called) and admitted to Nathaniel Cotton’s Collegium Insanorum at St. Albans.  He recovered and moved to the town of Olney in 1768 where he co-authored a book of hymns with the well-respected pastor and hymn-writer John Newton (who wrote ”Amazing Grace”).

But all was not well.  One biographic source tells it this way –

In 1773, Cowper became engaged to Mary Unwin, but he suffered another attack of madness. He had terrible nightmares, believing that God  [had] rejected him. Cowper would never again enter a church or say a prayer. When he recovered his health, he kept busy by gardening, carpentry, and keeping animals. In spite of periods of acute depression, Cowper’s twenty-six years in Olney and later at Weston Underwood were marked by great achievement as poet, hymn-writer, and letter-writer.

Certainly, Cowper continued to fight back despair.  He may have stepped aside from public prayer and worship, but the depth of his prayer life and relationship to God in Christ is abundantly evident in hymns that live on through the ages.

The longing expressed in this hymn (and in Cowper’s life – and ours) is not evidence of a lack of faith.  In fact, our faith prompts us to recognize that all is not right within us, among us, or around us.  Our faith, though feeble, keeps us crying out in prayer for our children who are hurting, for our bodies that need healing, for our world that is on the brink of collapse.

We come to God not only with “positive thoughts”, but with hopes and fears – hoping for the best, yet fearing the worst.  We humbly request that the Great Healer would touch us, not of us away wounded still.


image of William Cowper from giveawayboysome rights reserved

“Heal Us, Emmanuel” by Will­iam Cow­per from Ol­ney Hymns

For an inspiring reflection on the life of William Cowper, see “Insanity and Spiritual Songs in the Soul of a Saint” by John Piper.

4 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: “Heal Us, Emmanuel” by William Cowper

  1. Beautiful hymn that – so different to some of the “fluff” that seems to be popular in churches these days. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not totally against the modern church songs, but that’s what they are – songs, and although some of them are very good, they don’t have the depth of something like this one. Yeah, I know I’ll probably get howled down by those who love Third Day, TobyMac, Mercy Me and Casting Crowns – hey, I like some of their songs too – but I’m an old dudette and find myself yearning for depth.

    • The church where I now worship – a Reformed Presbyterian church sings from a Psalter without instrumental accompaniment. It is very refreshing to focus on the aesthetic beauty of the Psalms in blended 4-part harmony.

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