John Newton, whose life we looked at yesterday, mentored a man called William Cowper (1731–1800). Cowper had experienced tragedy. His mother died when he was six. His father died while he was still young. He qualified as a barrister. Outwardly he was successful. However, he suffered from serious depression. When applying for an administrative post in the House of Lords that entailed a formal examination, he was so disturbed by the prospect of the exam that he attempted to take his own life. For the rest of his life he suffered from mental illness.
When he was in his thirties, John Newton encouraged Cowper to begin composing hymns. He wrote powerfully of the joys and sorrows of everyday life. In 1774, he suffered such a severe episode of mental illness that he was prevented from entering into his intended marriage to Mary Unwin. He was crestfallen. Shortly afterwards, in perhaps his most famous hymn, he wrote:
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform
Charles Finney, lawyer and evangelist, was speaking in a New York church in the 1830s. At the end of each evening, he gave people the opportunity to come to the front of the room and commit their life to Jesus. A great many lawyers came to hear him. One night, the Chief Justice of New York was sitting way up in the gallery. As he listened to Finney proclaiming the gospel he became convinced it was true.
Then this question came into his mind: ‘Will you go forward like the other ordinary people?’ Something within him made him think that it would be inappropriate to do so, because of his prestigious social position (at the top of the legal hierarchy of New York State). He sat there pondering the choice he had to make. Then he thought, ‘Why not? I am convinced of the truth… why should I not do it like any other person?’
He got up from his seat in the gallery, went down the staircase and came up the stairs at the back to where Finney was preaching. Finney, in the middle of his sermon, felt someone tugging at his jacket. He turned around. The Chief Justice said, ‘Mr Finney, if you will call people forward I will come.’ Finney stopped his talk and said, ‘The Chief Justice says that if I call people forward he will come. I ask you to come forward now.’
The Chief Justice went forward. Almost every lawyer in Rochester, New York, followed him! It is said that 100,000 people were converted in the next twelve months in that area. One person’s choice affected the lives of numerous others.
Life is full of choices. We make choices every day of our lives. You can make bad choices or you can make good choices. Your choices matter. Some choices have life-changing consequences.
Entering the book of Judges is quite a shock. We find a mix of violence, rape, massacre, brutality, deceit and mayhem. We see how the people failed to get a grip on idolatry and sin when they settled in the promised land. Despite God’s warnings, they compromised with the religious and ethical practices of the people around them (2:1–2). Who then became ‘thorns in [their] sides and… a snare to [them]’ (v.3).