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William Cowper's Blood Fountain (Part I)

I am currently working my way through the famous hymn "There is a fountain filled with blood" by William Cowper, as sung to the English tune which has grown on me ever since I learnt it at a local church:

There is a fountain filled with blood
drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
and sinners plunged beneath that flood
lose all their guilty stains.

In plain english, the first verse says there is a natural spring filled with blood (not water) that is constantly flowing from the Messiah's veins. Any sinners that are bathed in this blood instantly lose their moral guilty before God, without fail. The fountain never stops flowing. It is so overwhelming that it has become a flood where your whole body can be totally immensed. Once the person is plunged totally beneath this flood all guilty stains are removed.

William Cowper's imagery draws inspiration from Prophet Zechariah who prophesied that, "On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness"The graphic imagery of this God ordained fountain has drawn criticism and praise in equal measure. To be sure it is better to see it as "inspired by" Zechariah rather than as necessary an attempt to suggest one can get from Zechariah directly to the allegorical (and true) imagery. It seems to me that there a number of truths Cowper wanted to portray in this poetry.

First, Cowper wants us to appreciate the violence of the cross. If we saw Cowper's allegorical imagery in real life we would certainly shudder! It is deeply inhumane. What we have here is a man from whom blood pours endlessly. The people bath themselves in it. The people dipping themselves happen to be the same people morally responsible for his death. It is physically and emotionally violent. And that is exactly what the death of Jesus is. It is not simply that a certain man suffered innocently in the worst form of execution invented by man. It is that God suffered and took on man's violence once and for all eternity.

We must pause and reflect on that thought here. There is a temptation to see Cowper's imagery of the never ending flow of blood as depicting Jesus as repeatedly being sacrificed. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Christ suffered once and for all. What Cowper wants us to see is that the though the sacrifice is once and for all time, the violence inflicted on Christ is eternal. Even now in heaven, he bears the marks of his crucifixion in his resurrected body. And crucially by his nature Christ knows even now, without forgetting, the intimate pain of crucifixion for my sins. He has suffered eternal violence. As a result Jesus need not suffer violence repeatedly he has been crushed for all eternity. What a violent and mind boggling undertaking! What unmerited favour!

Secondly, we see the miracle of the cross. Cowper does not use the name of Yeshua or Messiah, instead he says Immanuel. This means 'God with Us'. The name not only tells us who this man is, God in the flesh, it also tells us what he has come to do. He has come to be with us, the guilty sinners! The name is immediate, but also prophetic because it points us to the violent death and the costly flowing fountain it provides. It also points us to that future union when God comes to live in us through his Holy Spirit when we repent. And beyond that ultimately for all eternity in the new heaven and new earth. The miracle of this blood fountain is that it not only God in our midst but also a God who never leaves us! The fountain is always there.

Finally, Cowper help us to see the demand of the fountain. Cowper is telling us that the world only consists of two sets of people. Those who have plunged in the fountain and those who are "sinking deep in sin" in the words of another hymn writer. These people are described as sinners with guilty stains. They are stained with guilt because they are not with God. They stand positionally apart from God, the only source of all goodness and moral perfection. Their only hope is turn to Immanuel's ceaseless, overwhelming and comprehensive blood cleansing spring.

Sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains! The key here is that plunging is pivitol to losing the guilty. This active step of faith, as it is made clear later in verse four, is the only thing that effects the removal. The blood therefore demands a response from us to enjoy its miraculous cleansing power. And when we take the plunge it truly cleanses us!

So when we sing the first verse we are making important confessions about Jesus and ourselves. We are acknowledging the violence of the cross; the miracle of the cross in redeeming us; and the demand it makes on us to plunge and be united with the crucified Saviour. We need to daily keep these elements in our minds because our propensity to embrace sin is due to the lack of appreciation of the blood filled fountain.

Have you taken the plunge? Are you resting in the plunge? And you drawing others to the plunge? These are important questions we must ask ourselves daily.

Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013

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