Traditional Christian Hymns
"There Is A Fountain"

Author: William Cowper, 1731-1800
Music: American Melody
Tune Name: "Cleansing Fountain"
Scripture Reference: Zechariah 13:1

“But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:13

William Cowper (pronounced "Kooper") is a name highly respected in English classic literary circles. He is the most honored poet between Pope and Shelley and is viewed by some as one of the finest of all English writers. Several of his best known secular works include a translation of Homer, a widely acclaimed volume of poems entitled The Task, along with his most famous literary poem, "John Gilpin," a happy and mirthful narrative.

Cowper was born in Great Berkhamstead, England, on November 15, 1731. His father was an English clergyman while his mother was from a well-known family of royalty. Throughout his childhood Cowper was physically frail and emotionally sensitive. Contributing to his instability was the death of his mother when he was only six years old. Near the end of his life he once remarked that there had never been a day when he had not mourned his mother's death.

At an early age he was directed by his father to study law. Upon completion of his studies, however, the prospect of appearing for his final examination before the bar so frightened him that it caused a mental breakdown and even an attempted suicide. Later he was placed in an insane asylum for a period of eighteen months. During this detention, he one day read from the Scriptures the passage in Romans 3:25 that Jesus Christ is "set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God." Through his reading of the Bible, Cowper soon realized a personal relationship with Christ and a sense of forgiveness of sin. This was in 1764 when he was thirty-three years old.

After his conversion and mental recovery, Cowper made friends with the family of the Reverend Morley Unwin, who were a great help to him. Mrs. Unwin remained his devoted friend and guardian till the end of her days.

After Rev. Unwin's death in 1767, John Newton, the converted slave ship captain (author of "Amazing Grace" (No. 6), persuaded Mrs. Unwin and her family along with William Cowper to move to Olney, England, where Newton pastored the parish Anglican Church. It was here for nearly two decades that Newton and Cowper had a close personal friendship, and eventually in 1799 their combined talents produced the famous Olney Hymns hymnal, one of the most important single contributions made to the field of evangelical hymnody. In this ambitious collection of 349 hymns, sixty-seven were written by Cowper with the remainder by Newton, William Cowper is also the author of "O For A Closer Walk With God" (101 More Hymn Stories, No. 67).

"There Is a Fountain" was originally entitled "Peace for the Fountain Opened." It is undoubtedly one of Cowper's best loved hymns. Only eternity will reveal the hosts who, through the singing of this hymn, have been made aware of the efficacy of Christ's complete atonement. The text, with its vivid imagery, is based on the Old Testament text, 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 uncleanness." The tune for this text is borrowed from an American folk melody, probably one of the typical tunes used in the camp meetings of the early nineteenth century.

Throughout his life Cowper continued to be plagued by periodic melancholia. Often during these periods he even sought to end his life. It is interesting that some of his most meaningful hymns were written after these times. Till the end of his days Cowper could never completely shake off the belief that God would not turn His back upon him. On his death bed, however, it is said that his face lit up as he uttered these last words, "I am not shut out of heaven after all,” Despite William Cowper's physical and emotional frailties, God endued him with extraordinary literary talents to enrich the lives of Christian people for more than two centuries.

Taken from 101 Hymn Stories © Copyright 1982 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Return To Traditional Christian Hymns

Return to Praise and Worship Home Page