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There Is a Fountain
by William Cowper, 1731-1800
William Cowper (pronounced “Kooper”) 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.  He is viewed by some as one of the finest of all English writers.  But Cowper’s emotional life was one of great turmoil.  Throughout his childhood he was physically frail and emotionally sensitive.  Contributing to this instability was the death of his mother when he was only six years old.
Cowper 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 18 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 developed a personal relationship with Christ and a sense of forgiveness of sin.  This was in 1764, when he was 33 years old.
Three years later, Cowper was invited to move to Olney, England, where John Newton (converted slave ship captain and author of Amazing Grace) pastored the parish Anglican Church.  It was here for nearly two decades that Newton and Cowper had a close personal friendship.  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.
“There Is a Fountain” was originally titled “Peace for the Fountain Opened.”  The hymn, 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 for uncleanness.”
Only eternity will reveal the hosts who, through the singing of this hyun, have been made aware of the efficacy of Christ’s complete atonement.