A Riddle

One of my most viewed posts comes from people looking for the answer to this riddle. Can you solve it without finding the answer?



I am just two and two, I am warm, I am cold,
And the parent of numbers that cannot be told.
I am lawful, unlawful — a duty, a fault,
I am often sold dear, good for nothing when bought;
An extraordinary boon, and a matter of course,
And yielded with pleasure when taken by force.

William Cowper (1780)

Note: I’ve provided the answer in the Comments

Behind the lines

William Cowper (pronounced Cooper) had severe bouts of depression throughout his life, but the answer to the riddle is not typically thought of as depressing.

Cowper (1731-1800) was a poet and hymn writer and his most famous hymns are, “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” “O For a Closer Walk with God,” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.”

He was good friends with John Newton (1725-1807) and included this riddle in a letter he wrote to him. Their joint hymns…

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Where is the Sun?


I’ve come to a desperate valley,
Crushing darkness breaks my heart,
Praying for peace, but finding pieces.

I’m searching for the faintest light,
Longing for the sun to speak,
Thirsty for hope, but there’s no relief.

Will joy come in the morning?
Where is the sun?

I’m pleading for mercy,
But more shadows come,
Blinded by sorrows,
Has the darkness won?
Where is the sun?
Where is the sun?

Oh, to see the brightest blue sky,
I’m deep within canyon walls,
Satan’s arrows sting me with my faults.

And if I stay in this darkness,
Will I soon forget the light?
Would it be brighter to close my eyes?

Beautiful mercy,
The sun shines on me,
There’s joy in the sorrow,
And the Light makes me weep.

Behind the lines

Psalm 30 –  In the darkness, dismayed and pleading, before the morning, where sorrow remains, and days are like night.

In describing beautiful mercy and love, I can’t put it any better than William Cowper. He tells of the grace and work of the Lord in a single verse as he’s writing from God’s perspective and His clarion call to Lovest Thou Me?

I deliver’d thee when bound,
And, when wounded, heal’d thy wound;
Sought thee wand’ring, set thee right,
Turn’d thy darkness into light.

I’ll close with Cowper’s last line from the same hymn:

“Oh for grace to love Thee more.”

Joy & Peace in Believing

When troubles come can we still rejoice and sing?

William Cowper (1731–1800) answers the question below. Christian, be encouraged and take heart!

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing on His wings;
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation,
And find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
E’en let the unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it may!

It can bring with it nothing,
But He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing,
Will clothe His people too;
Beneath the spreading heavens
No creature but is fed;
And He who feeds the ravens
Will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit shall bear,
Though all the field should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there:
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice;
For, while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

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