John Newton wrote the hymn “I Asked the Lord” in 1779. Its powerful verses remind us that God, indeed, works all things for the good of those who love him. William Cowper once wrote, similarly, “Behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face.” And so he does. Consider Newton’s encouraging and challenging lyrics:
I asked the Lord that I might grow
in faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
and seek more earnestly his face.
‘Twas he who taught me thus to pray,
and he, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way
as almost drove me to despair.
I hope that in some favored hour,
at once he’d answer my request;
and by his love’s constraining power
subdue my sins and give me rest.
Instead of this, he made me feel
the hidden evils of my heart;
and let the angry powers of hell
assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with his own hand he seemed
intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
blasted my gourds [feelings], and laid me low.
“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried.
“Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?”
“‘Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”
“These inward trials I employ,
from self and pride to set thee free;
and break thy schemes of earthly joy
that thou may’st find thy all in me.”