But then a strange thing happened. The book disappeared and has become virtually inaccessible. Aside from one paperback edition published by
And what of the poem itself? It reminds me a bit of the first nine chapters of Proverbs, a poem which is structured as an extended address by Solomon to one of his sons. Likewise, Edward Young addresses his poem to Lorenzo, which is widely assumed to be a literary device referencing his son, who was about eight years of age when he began writing this poem. Like the Proverbs of the Bible, the poem is designed to impart wisdom to the young: that is, to give them the experience of those who have gone before, sparing them from having to go through it themselves, or giving them added insight so that they can better endure that which is unavoidable. It is not to be understood as a literal reference to his son, or reflect his personal demons; rather, he stands for that son who might be skeptical of his father’s religion.
The poem has contributed to the English language, with such phrases as “time flies.” It has also contributed to the language of the church, especially the words of its hymns. Consider this section from the Night the Fourth and ponder the phrases that were plundered by later hymn writers:
To man the bleeding cross has promised all;
The bleeding cross has sworn eternal grace;
Who gave his life, what grace shall He deny?
O ye! who, from this Rock of Ages, leap,
Disdainful, plunging headlong in the deep!
What cordial joy, what consolation strong,
Whatever winds arise, or billows roll,
Our interest in the Master of the storm?
Cling there, and in wreck’d nature’s ruin smile
While vile apostates tremble in a calm.
“Rock of Ages” and “billows roll” are two obvious examples of phrases used by later hymn writers. Augustus M. Toplady wrote the words of the hymn Rock of Ages in 1776. An unsubstantiated story says the lyrics were inspired when Toplady took shelter from a storm under a rocky overhang near
The phrase “billows roll” appears in the song, Peace Like a River written by Horatio Gates Spafford. In 1871 the Great Chicago Fire burned down much of the city. Despite a well known legend that the Great Chicago Fire was started by a cow kicking over a lantern in the barn owned by Mrs. O'Leary on DeKoven Street, historians now believe it was begun by Daniel “Pegleg” Sullivan, who first reported the fire. When it was all over, three hundred people were dead and a hundred thousand were homeless. Spafford was one of those who tried to help the people of the city get back on their feet. A lawyer who had invested much of his money into the downtown
After about two years of such work, Spafford and his family decided to take a vacation. They intended to sail to
Unfortunately, their ship, the Ville de Havre, never made it. Off the coast of
Spafford boarded the next available ship to be near his grieving wife, and the two finally met up with Dwight Moody. “It is well,” Spafford told him quietly. “The will of God be done.” It was during those dark days that Spafford was led to write the words to that well-known hymn, including the phrase from Young’s poem, a poem that was very familiar to him, and doubtless of some help to him as he passed through that tragedy.