Results tagged “poetry” from Reformation21 Blog

Rhyme Thee to Good

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In the first post in this short series on the theology of the seventeenth Anglican poet, George Herbert, we considered the centrality of salvation by grace in the altar poem. It shows up throughout his other poems as well. But of course the Gospel is only good news if preceded by the bad news of sin, and Herbert has several striking poems that explore the nature and nurture of sin. One of them is "Sin's Round."

Sorry I am, my God, sorry I am, 
That my offences course it in a ring. 
My thoughts are working like a busy flame, 
Until their cockatrice they hatch and bring: 
And when they once have perfected their draughts, 
My words take fire from my inflamed thoughts. 

My words take fire from my inflamed thoughts, 
Which spit it forth like the Sicilian hill. 
They vent their wares, and pass them with their faults, 
And by their breathing ventilate the ill. 
But words suffice not, where are lewd intentions: 
My hands do join to finish the inventions. 

My hands do join to finish the inventions: 
And so my sins ascend three stories high, 
As Babel grew, before there were dissentions. 
Let ill deeds loiter not: for they supply 
New thoughts of sinning:
wherefore, to my shame, 
Sorry I am, my God, sorry I am. 

Keep in mind that the "round" suggests both a circle and a song with overlapping repeating parts (such as "Dona Nobis Pacem" or "Scotland's Burning"). The poem presents repetitions or circles in the first and last lines, at the beginning and ends of adjoining stanzas, and the "thoughts of sinning" that start in stanza one and restart in stanza three. Herbert has brilliantly pictured the vicious cycle, the hamster wheel of sin; and his picture implies that only God's grace can break us free.

"Sin's Round" and "The Altar" are good examples of Herbert's so-called "emblematic" poems, which develop a theme in terms of a simple, concrete image named in the title. Many of the titles bear playful senses; for instance, "The Collar" suggests God's yoke and vocation. And some of the emblematic poems are rather enigmatic ("Jordan," "The Pulley"), leaving the reader to puzzle out the exact meaning of the image. Near the middle of The Temple we find a sequence of these poems based on the parts of a church building: "Church-monuments," "Church-lock and key," "The Church-floor," "The Windows" (discussed below). Each of these poems uses a feature of the church as an allegory of some aspect of the sin and sanctification of the church's people. The poems put to rest the thought that Anglican Herbert might prefer neat externals to the grit of applied redemption.

One of the emblematic poems develops Herbert's most ingeniously subtle and thoroughly Reformed image of Sola Gratia. Here is the "The Holdfast":
I threaten'd to observe the strict decree
Of my dear God with all my power and might;
But I was told by one it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
"Then will I trust," said I, "in Him alone."
"Nay, e'en to trust in Him was also His:
We must confess that nothing is our own."
"Then I confess that He my succour is."
"But to have nought is ours, not to confess
That we have nought." I stood amaz'd at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend express
That all things were more ours by being His;
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

Christ owns and takes credit for everything, including our confession that he owns everything. We might glimpse several biblical texts behind this poem. First Colossians 3:3, which was a favorite of Herbert: "Our life is hid with Christ in God." Then there is the more familiar Ephesians 2:8: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." The poem is a wonderful expression of the way works righteousness creeps in the backdoor even of the good Protestant soul: the speaker gets backed down from his desperate attempts to do something, have some credit, for his salvation. But no, it's all grace, from first to last. (Ephesians 2, by the way, goes on to say "we are his workmanship," literally his "poems" [poiema], which take us back to the message of "The Altar" and might suggest a greater role for poetry in spiritual formation than we are used to allow.)

The Spiritual Life: Practicing What You Preach

A major emphasis of the Reformation was a concern for the holiness of the church in daily life, especially the holiness of her shepherds. Recall Luther's scandal at the pomp and licentiousness of the Roman Catholic clergy. Herbert picks up this emphasis on faithful living in a poem called "The Windows."

Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word? 
He is a brittle crazy glass; 
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford 
This glorious and transcendent place, 
To be a window, through thy grace. 
But when thou dost anneal in glass thy story, 
Making thy life to shine within 
The holy preachers', then the light and glory 
More reverend grows, and more doth win; 
Which else shows waterish, bleak, and thin. 
Doctrine and life, colors and light, in one 
When they combine and mingle, bring 
A strong regard and awe; but speech alone 
Doth vanish like a flaring thing, 
And in the ear, not conscience, ring.

The Christian life means we are to be scratched and broken windows, remade by Grace, through which others see God's life "annealed"-- that is, glazed or stained. With "doctrine and life" together, the Word preached takes shape and color, and the shapes and colors have meaning because the doctrine is sound. The image is provocative because it is Christ's "story" depicted in ours (the window) but also God's light that shines through us so that others may read the story. What, then, is the light? The Holy Spirit? Herbert is saying our lives are in a way sacraments that complete the Word.

But how do you become a "window"? Through the disciplines of the spiritual life--prayer, through Scripture reading and meditation, and through self-examination. Here Herbert celebrates the power and beauty of "Prayer":

Prayer the church's banquet, angel's age, 
God's breath in man returning to his birth, 
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage, 
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth 
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tow'r, 
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear, 
The six-days world transposing in an hour, 
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear; 
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss, 
Exalted manna, gladness of the best, 
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest, 
The milky way, the bird of Paradise, 
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood, 
The land of spices; something understood. 

This poem, which partly inspired Tim Keller's book of the same name (see chapter two), illustrates how poetry can take something familiar and show us its poignancy, depths, and cosmic resonances. Every image here could bear fruit in meditation. Prayer, if accompanied by faith, is "reversed thunder;" but the poem ends with the whisper that prayer is "something understood." Herbert is saying, "let me remind you, after the fireworks, of the still, small, but amazing truth that your father listens."

Conclusion

When we think about the Reformation, we think mostly of institutions and doctrines and liturgy and famous theologians. However, doctrine shapes worship and worships shapes culture, which in some ways shapes doctrine. The Reformation also gave us Charles Dickens and John Milton and Jane Austen and Marilynne Robinson and George Herbert. These broken altars, these crazy windows, these things understood, were also, as Calvin put it, "theaters of God's glory." They too are the Reformation.

What's more, our interest in the literary legacy of the Reformation should go beyond mere historical concerns. We are not just concerned with acknowledging the "fruit" and thereby importance of the Reformation. Although the modern novel is a largely Protestant effect, and although most of the great English poets of the past four centuries years have been Protestant, the last century saw a sharp decline in Protestant letters from the richness of that tradition. C. S. Lewis put his finger one of the symptoms:

"The difficulty we are up against is this. We can [often] make people attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from the lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. Every newspaper, film, novel, and textbook undermines our work. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy's line of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects--with their Christianity latent."

I think it is self-evident that today we have too many of these "little Christian books." Moralistic, platitudinous, sentimental, dry, clotted with the skim of a thousand proof-texts--these books pretend to inspire, pretend to feed our hearts, pretend to structure our minds; but when we close them much of that melts away, dissipates. Then our fancy returns to the charms and rage of pop culture, an allure that better imitates, tragically, the heavy fire God's kabod.

When we neglect the power of the imagination and the beauty of style, we are running with the world, and we but poorly worship the logos of John 1:1 and Hebrews 1:3. When we favor content over form and logic-chopping consistency over beauty, we not only disservice our Gospel and slight the Incarnation; we also depart from the best of our tradition.

Faced with this criticism and Lewis's call for an enchanted "mere Christianity," we could hardly find a better champion than George Herbert. Employing over a hundred different stanza forms, Herbert is inarguably the most structurally inventive of any English poet. What's more, he is a remarkably honest and subtle excavator of experience--of one's inner struggles with God and oneself over faith, doubt, the nature of redemption, the attractions of worldliness, and the hard road of sanctification. And yet, as mentioned earlier, we find consistent simplicity in his images and mindset, reflecting a childlike faith and anchorage to the Word. Herbert maintains some classic Reformed values--the importance of personal holiness, preaching, and the doctrines of Grace--but he can help enrich our currently impoverished theological imagination. For he shows that poetry can be emotionally honest and gripping, but also tightly and deeply biblical. Thus it plants truth in the heart and emotions as well as in the mind.         

You can, ironically, preach that doctrine must be completed by living, that faith without works is dead; but saying that can't draw the soul, inspire the heart, or sting the conscious the way the poem itself can. Let us, then, be willing to

Harken unto a Verser, who may chance
Rhyme thee to good, and make a bait of pleasure.
A verse may find him, who a sermon flies,
And turn delight into a sacrifice." ("The Church Porch," st. 1)


Bret Saunders is Associate Professor of Humanities John Witherspoon College.

Hearken Unto a Verser

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Last year was the quincentennial of the Protestant Reformation and so we were all busy celebrating the major figures, reconsidering their key doctrines, and evaluating their legacies. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others took center stage at conferences, on blogs, and in journals. Meanwhile we heard far less about the cultural, and especially literary, fruit of the Reformation. That is why we ought to consider a figure who deserves to be better known in Evangelical circles: the early seventeenth-century Anglican poet, George Herbert.

Though he belongs more to the age of Perkins and Hooker, Herbert deserves to be better known both as a great Protestant and a great poet. He was a pastor firmly dedicated to sacrificial ministry in his local congregation. Much of his poetry relates to the church and the spiritual life. His influence extends from John Milton to Emily Dickinson, Tim Keller, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Calvinist author, Marilynne Robinson. C. S. Lewis wrote of Herbert, "Here was a man who seemed to me to excel all the authors I had ever read in conveying the very quality of life as we actually live it from moment to moment."

Born in 1593 and thus a later contemporary of Shakespeare, Herbert came from an aristocratic family and went to Cambridge, where he excelled in classical languages and rhetoric. Elected to the post of University Orator, he gave a ceremonial address to King James in 1623. A political office seemed likely for the talented young man, but then his friends in high places began to die off and his career stalled. Poems like "Affliction" (I) and "The Collar" vividly record his wrestling with God over his disappointment and pastoral calling--eventually to a little country church near Salisbury.

Some Protestants today may be put off Herbert's Anglicanism; and there were Pelagian, Anglo-Catholic tendencies in the Church of England during Herbert's ministry. But there is nothing formalistic and empty about either his poetry or his ministry. He took pains to preach the clear, profound truth of the Gospel and to explain the "high church" service to his simple parishioners--what the Creed, congregational responses, and various steps in the liturgy all meant.

His poetry, though complex and witty, always returns to simple metaphors borrowed from work and home, from nature and Scripture. His poetry is filled with profound and sometimes painfully honest reflections on the Church and its liturgy, on the Gospel story, and on the Christian life. And his poetry is deeply Protestant in three other ways: its reliance on Scripture, it's focus on salvation by grace, and its emphasis on personal holiness.

Focus on Scripture

The Reformation largely centered on the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, the teaching that the very words of Scripture should be the basis for coming to new life in Christ and then living it. As Chana Bloch has written, "Herbert doesn't simply read the Bible, he believes in it; and it marks his poetry so distinctively because it first molds his life." In one poem, "The H. Scriptures", Herbert describes the Davidic longing we should have for biblical truth.

OH that I knew how all thy lights combine,
And the configurations of their glorie!
Seeing not onely how each verse doth shine,
But all the constellations of the storie.

This verse marks that, and both do make a motion
Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie:
Then as dispersed herbs do watch a potion,
These three make up some Christians destinie:

Such are thy secrets, which my life makes good,
And comments on thee: for in ev'ry thing
Thy words do finde me out, & parallels bring,
And in another make me understood.

Starres are poore books, & oftentimes do misse:
This book of starres lights to eternall blisse.

 

Celebrating the wisdom of Holy Scriptures, Herbert contrasts Bible-reading with astrology and tea-leaves. He is saying that the constellations--the networks of meaning in the Bible--are the true guiding lights of life, and that the leaves of the Book are the true tea-leaves. I don't know about you, but these metaphors rattle me. I can affirm abstract attributes about Scripture all day (infallible, sufficient, profitable) but Herbert's images can awaken those meanings to life. By inverting the Davidic image of the heavenly book that speaks God's glory (Ps. 19: 1-3), Herbert is suggesting we read the Bible imaginatively and holistically. "The H. Scriptures" might offer a gentle criticism to a tradition of hermeneutics that has sometimes overused the grammatical-historical method.

Herbert's poetry is saturated with Scripture-- sometimes in the form of direct or slightly altered quotations, but more often with images of Scripture that Herbert expands or meditates on poetically. For example, here's his poem "The Altar":

A broken ALTAR, Lord, thy servant rears,
Made of a heart and cemented with tears;
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workman's tool hath touch'd the same.
A HEART alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy pow'r doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame
To praise thy name.
That if I chance to hold my peace,
These stones to praise thee may not cease.
Oh, let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,
And sanctify this ALTAR to be thine.

Here we have Herbert's poetic reflection on Ps. 51:16 - "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart O God, thou wilt not despise" and similar texts. Herbert is saying that the sinful, stony-dead heart has to be softened by being cut and then rebuilt. We find the dead and resurrected contrite heart in the tears of ln. 2. We find the typically Herbertian and, I think, Reformation paradox in the last lines where the poet asks God to 'make his sacrifice mine and my altar-self yours.' Salvation is all God's sacrifice and sanctification is his craftsmanship. Once again Herbert has taken the biblical imagery and expanded it, nicely illustrating Chana Bloch's point that "the poems . . . owe their distinctive character to Herbert's immersion in Scripture [ . . . and] to his sense of personal identification with the text."

We sometimes take familiar verses for granted and grow cold to them; I know I do. But poetry in general, and Herbert's in particular, can brings us closer to Scripture, can re-awaken us to the profundity of Grace. In this vein, take a few lines from Herbert's crucifixion poem, "The Sacrifice":

Then they condemn me all with that same breath,
Which I do give them daily, unto death...
They buffet me and box me as they list,
Who grasp the earth and heaven with my fist...

Behold, they spit on me in scornful wise,
Who by my spittle gave the blind man eyes...
O all ye who pass by, behold and see;
Man stole the fruit, but I must climb the tree...

What these lines--especially the last two--illustrate is the power of poetry to release striking paradoxes from familiar doctrines and images. Here the poetry stings us with images revealing spit-back distortion of sin, whereby sinners turn the very gifts of God against his Son. The full sequence of twelve Easter poems in The Temple is a bracing, profound set of reflections on the saving work of Christ. I highly recommend them to you for next Holy Week. But in any case, it is once again a poetic meditation on the biblical words and details that uncovers new connections and provokes new awe.


*This is the first in a two part series on the theological poetry of George Herbert.

Bret Saunders is Associate Professor of Humanities John Witherspoon College.

'Twas the Sunday pre-Christmas: a cautionary tale

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I do not often sympathise with Anglican vicars, but I did feel a mite of solidarity with the Reverend Simon Tatton-Brown of St Andrew's Church, Chippenham, Wilts., when I heard his unfortunate story. Caught short by the demands of a nativity address, he decided to regale his infant congregation with fables of Nicholas of Myra restoring to life three children who had been pickled by a wicked butcher to be sold as ham. Had I been there, quite apart from the obvious, I could have told him that you mess with any iteration of this gentleman at your peril. You see, I once made the unforeseen error of mishandling the modern take on the bearded one. Apparently, even in some Dissenting congregations, to fail to revere Santa Claus is a fearful mistake to make. Here is my tale of woe. May it serve as a warning for fellow ministers.

UPDATE: To clarify: yes, it really did happen; no, the violence is embellished for comic effect but everything else is true to life; yes, we do call Santa the Christmas Clown in my house; yes, I have no particular appetite for Christmas as a whole; yes, I may have overstated the case about telling your children the truth, but I think that there's a good-sized kernel of truth there; no, it's more a bit of fun, and I hope that you enjoy it.

'Twas the Sunday pre-Christmas ~ a cautionary tale

'Twas the Sunday pre-Christmas, and all through the church,
On the laps of their parents the children did perch.
All sitting agog in great anticipation
Of the visiting preacher's pre-sermon oration.

(For this was a place where the children receive
Their own little talk and then promptly they leave,
And the preacher is left with a half-congregation -
But that's not my point in today's proclamation.)

And so I began to compare and contrast
With an image I hoped would be sure to stick fast,
Between God and his goodness in giving his Son
And the myth of the Chubby and Red-Suited One.

I spoke of a gift that is given, not earned,
Made other connections I hoped could be turned
To some gospel advantage; to bring to a close
To a climactic contrast I gradually rose.

"Here is the great issue," I cheerfully said,
"There's a man on a cross and a myth dressed in red:
And I hope that by now you all know and you feel
That the difference between them is - Jesus is real."

The youngsters then left, and I (not a bit nervous)
Proceeded to get through the rest of the service,
Descended the steps and, without a thought more,
I walked down the aisle and I stood at the door.

The first lady out was a grandma in rage,
Who I think would have been better off in a cage,
On a mission, it seems, to accuse me of sin:
She swung with her bag but I blocked with my chin.

As I slumped to the floor - though I listened intently -
She spoke straight and clear, crisp and sharp, and not gently,
That I was a preacher perverted and sick
For telling her darlings there is no Saint Nick.

The next lady out seemed a little more gracious,
But was, to be frank, still a tad disputatious;
As they ranted, the details began to emerge -
A story explaining their violent urge.

For it seems that the classes of children that day
Were awash with salt tears and with waves of dismay.
Why was it their sweet little hearts did all break?
Well, the preacher had told them that Santa was fake.

So I strapped myself in. It was well that I did
For time after time the poor preacher was chid:
It was my presumption to pull off the veil -
That's parental business, a pastoral fail.

Here and there I received a brief word of respite,
But these were scant stars in a very black night;
But to see the full horror, you must understand
That the evening service already was planned.

When I got there that night I was taken to pray,
But before we began they had something to say.
That the poor chap was harried was clear in his eyes:
"Your effort this morning seemed rather unwise."

It seems that a battle quite royal had begun;
Yours truly, unknowing, had started the fun.
While some were quite happy with what had been said,
A number of others had called for my head.

As I walked to the pulpit I should have been bolder;
To be honest, I kept looking over my shoulder
In case the fierce lady who clobbered me one
Had returned for the service equipped with a gun.

I tried to make peace, made a plea for goodwill,
But in spite of the season, there lingered a chill
As I, without wishing to retract a bit,
Confessed no intention to cause a church split.

I had no idea, I explained with heart humble,
That my little message would cause such a rumble.
(I had never imagined a Christian would spew
The nonsense that old Father Christmas was true.)

Then I mopped off my brow and I took up my theme,
Making clear I'd been told I was part of a team
Working section by section through deeds apostolic,
And was tasked with explaining some things diabolic.

The pattern there was to progress through a book,
Each preacher in sequence the next section took;
Now, brothers and sisters, I give you facts:
My part was assigned from the Book of the Acts.

"Which chapter?" you ask? It was chapter nineteen.
With the quickest of looks it will quickly be seen
That my problems were mounting, my troubles were legion:
I had to expose superstitions Ephesian.

We began with Paul casting out spirits of evil,
And how this had caused a great social upheaval;
Then the saints in the place, when they saw what occurred,
Began to confess, being thoroughly stirred.

When they saw deeds of darkness exposed by the light,
They abandoned those things which belonged to the night,
Took what they'd indulged in while wandering lost
And burned it all up without thought of the cost.

I made it quite clear: when the heart is made new
We hold to those things which are clean and are true;
Abandon the false and all crass superstition
And serve the Lord Christ of our own free volition.

I governed my tongue and I took no cheap shot
(And not just because one shook out a garrotte).
I went Puritanic: "You're wise, you apply it,"
But I don't think too many were ready to buy it.

But how can you offer both truth and a lie,
Then hope that your children will learn to rely
On your words about Christ, while they just filter out
All the fabulous nonsense you readily spout?

When I finished, I strolled down the aisle to shake hands,
While keeping an eye out for bag-wielding grans;
The first chap came out, and he said, "That was needed;
You might want to leave, you're about to be bleeded."

And there, down the aisle, rolled a gaggle of nans,
A choice set of weaponry clutched in their hands,
And with them a cluster of parents all fuming;
It seemed that the poor preacher's doom might be looming.

And what was the crime? How had suffered their youth?
The dastardly fellow had spoken the truth.
The reason the visitor had to be fried
Was the kids had discovered these people had lied.

Their eyes were aflame and their flesh a chill pallor,
And sometimes discretion's the best part of valour,
So I picked up my bag, swiftly shrugged on my coat,
And with that I dashed out before I could be smote.

I sprang to my car, turned the key, to the floor
Pressed the pedal before I had quite closed the door;
And they heard me exclaim, 'ere I drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night."

12 words, 16 syllables

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Though flowing slurs
Do sorely try,
I'll not contend
But silent lie.

48 words

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Yon blackguard Levy sallies forth
Regardless of wight's feeling:
Why waxed thee wroth o'er sorry tales,
Thou scurvy Pope of Ealing?

What need we Del or Phil or Rick,
Those trusty blades of yore?
From Levy's quill, one post suffice
To make a world full sore.
Wapping, 1677

Precious Puritans

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In recent days a slur's been cast on certain giants of the past,
Who did - so goes the painful claim, despite their other rightful fame
As men of penetrating sight who sought to know and do what's right -
See nothing wrong with stealing men, but added their robust "Amen!"
To ownership of humankind, and seemed to be entirely blind
To all the horrors of the trade of God-made men by men unmade,
And treated more like wretched beast, as lower than the very least.
And these men, we are quickly told, in skilful form and language bold,
Were just the men whom we esteem, we preachers of more pallid sheen,
Our precious Puritans.

And good points made were quickly lost, ferocious swords were swiftly crossed,
And good intentions swept away by fierce contentions, great affray;
Thus back and forth the war has gone, and very little has been won -
And always in the firing line men once esteemed as leonine
But now, by some, dismissed and loathed, with flesh-trade guilt all darkly clothed,
Those precious Puritans.

And though I have no final word, I hope I might at least be heard,
For it's no battle that I seek, but rather come with spirit meek
(Not making accusations wild, but rather with intention mild -
No video in monochrome, all solemn glance and sombre tone,
No rumbling thud of pounding feet, no drum or bass to give the beat,
No shake of manacle or chain, no background moan of loss and pain,
But simple and straightforward verse, with rhythm tight and language terse)
And offer, though behind the time, this humbly-penned riposte in rhyme,
Some sad confusion to assess, some propaganda to address,
Hoping that I can make it plain that this is no mindless refrain
Of precious Puritans.

I will not speak of some who came and followed in their steps with shame,
Who on the Lord's day worshipped God, but in the week on men they trod;
Who preached of Christian liberty, but would not set the captive free,
Trapped by their culture and their time, committed this atrocious crime,
Who like us - as was pointed out, if we had entertained a doubt -
Were sadly warped, were crooked sticks, who truth and action did not mix
In every sphere, at every point, but got things badly out of joint,
Who failed at key points to apply the truth the Lord did well supply.
For there's no heart all free from sin, no life all pure without, within,
And all of us must humbly say that we too often walk that way.
But such were not, we must make plain, the men set up to take the blame:
Our precious Puritans.

Our men were of a different sphere, these men that we still hold so dear:
I hope that we can all agree that they preached truest liberty -
Knew what it was to be enslaved, and then by Christ redeemed and saved.
They hold up to our wondering gaze the glory-clothed Ancient of Days,
They point to the redeeming God, how on the fallen earth he trod,
And stooped to pains beyond compare to save his people from despair,
Who suffered hellish agony that Satan's captives might be free.
And in pursuit of what is right they also fought a costly fight:
The wisdom from on high pursued with hearts by Holy Ghost subdued
And sought a worship God required, believed the truth that God inspired,
Resisted fallen man's invention, clung to heavenly intention,
Who pressed for thorough church reform, would not accept the uniform
Demands of an oppressive state, but took their stand and faced their fate.
Others a gathered church desired, their hearts with saintly passion fired,
And some - whom I esteem as great - would separate the church from state
And Christ's law only would confess, even in time of deep distress.
As for these truths they did contend, for conscience' sake refused to bend,
They felt the fierce oppressive weight of persecution, human hate,
And many of these men of worth were made to wander on the earth,
Were put in chains and prisons black, suffered relentless, cruel attack,
Gave up their lives for truth believed, suffered through troubles unrelieved
Except by Jesus' presence bright, who strengthened them in all their fight.
Though evidently men of dust, we must confess these men were just;
Providing for the poor and needy, not vengeful, cruel, vicious, greedy.
These men were not a slave-ship's priest, but were themselves considered least,
Not seizing men, inflicting pains, but were themselves dying in chains,
Men who'd, in any time or nation, stand firm against abomination,
Commend no cruel human heist, but preach true liberty in Christ,
Defending what they most believed, holding to truth from God received;
And though at points we say that we don't quite see all the way they see,
We still believe that we can learn from men whose hearts for Christ did burn:
Though sometimes wrong, and sometimes odd, these men set out to walk with God,
These precious Puritans.

Who were they, then, these men of old, with silver tongue and spirit bold?
Arrayed before us we can see revealed in some new gallery
Of faith, these saints who took their stand, whose hope was in the Lord's strong hand:
Perkins is there to lead the van, declaring God's good will to man;
Beside him Ames, who makes us see the marrow of theology;
Rogers, whose preaching did inspire all men to come and catch the fire;
There's gracious Sibbes, with words so sweet, dispensing heavenly fruit to eat;
Charnock with thought of God profound, his character and work to sound;
Alleine, to rouse the sleeping man and make known God's redeeming plan;
Watson, promoting godliness, whose words instruct, rebuke and bless,
Whose illustrations let in light, adorning truth with language bright;
Ambrose holds Christ before our eye to follow, though we live or die;
Flavel, who helps us keep the heart, and labours with his holy art
To show to our so-clouded sense the mystery of providence;
Burroughs - a gospel man indeed, our hearts to bless, our souls to feed
With truths for peace with God and men, with humble heart and ready pen;
Caryl mines Job that we might know heaven's purpose in our pains below;
Clarkson who ranges through the Word to give us clear sight of the Lord;
John Bunyan, Christ's imagineer, from prison cell a heavenly seer,
Who leads us to the city bright, gives glimpses of where faith is sight;
Now Bridge who offers comforts sweet, to weary souls a holy treat;
Then Thomas Brooks, whose wisdom flows in simple and straightforward prose,
Who understands the battle well against the myrmidons of hell;
Coxe humbly holds before our face the wondrous covenant of grace;
Goodwin intends that we should know the heart of God to saints below;
Baxter, of everflowing pen, concerned for how we shepherd men;
Manton, who ranges far and wide, that we should know where to abide;
Then Keach, who boldly will assay, the church's glory to display;
And Rutherford, whose heavenly sense lends fiery wisdom to dispense;
Or Traill, who helps us hold our place concerning justifying grace;
The Vincent brothers trace God's ways through troubled and distressing days,
And hold up to our eyes the Lord, a Christ unseen, a Christ adored;
One more (if nothing else convince), among the Puritans a prince:
John Owen, vast of heart and mind, who to our God our souls would bind;
Some precious Puritans.

And, friends, the time would fail to tell of others who served God as well,
Who worked to spread the gospel sweet, prepared their hearers Christ to meet,
Whose words run down the years that we might profit from them readily.
For though their style is sometimes dense, they laboured hard to give the sense
Of God's own book, and then set out to fix our heart, to clear our doubt,
To train our hands for war, and raise our eyes to Christ, our hearts to praise.
And though we don't suspend our mind, and come with adulation blind
To worship any creature flawed, we love these men who loved our Lord,
And gladly we would sit and learn, and have our dull hearts made to burn
By men who loved the things we love, whose minds were set on things above,
Who - sometimes wrong and sometimes odd - yet followed Christ, and walked with God:
Those precious Puritans.

Though they are quaint, don't call them weird; a few may have that "epic beard"
But this apart, here we discuss some sinners saved by grace - like us.
And though we might not all agree on all of their theology,
I would suggest we owe them this, unless our target we would miss:
To understand just who they were, not carelessly their names to slur -
Not hurling charges without weight, though loaded with the painful freight
Of misery of ancient date, but first to stop, and think and wait.
First, these are not the men you seek, so pause before you boldly speak
And trample on the blameless name of those who don't deserve this shame.
Then, let us turn our gaze within, and each one deal with his own sin,
Assess the beam in our own eye before our brother's speck decry.
Again, we must then all contend, until this world comes to an end,
With truly Christlike bravery against all human slavery:
The slavery of souls to sin that keeps all mankind chained within,
That brings to every soul a blight and leads to that eternal night
To which the unsaved sinners go, the misery of hell below,
Which makes this our priority: to set such souls at liberty.
And then the vile cruelty of those who compass land and sea,
To still put fellow men in chains, subject them to appalling pains,
Inflict on those who are enslaved the foul desires of souls depraved:
I hope that we will not forget this battle is not over yet -
The awful horrors of the trade of God-made men by men unmade
And treated more like wretched beast, as lower than the very least.
For all such living what we need is vibrant godliness indeed,
And that, as I hope you can see, is just the speciality
Of 'Puritans' in every age, who turn on bended knee the page
Of God's own book and seek to know his wisdom for our life below,
Who seek a heart inflamed with love that looks to Christ enthroned above,
And long to come before his face as trophies of redeeming grace.
And when the war is fought and won, Christ's last triumphant stroke is done,
When pilgrims do no longer roam, when every child of God comes home,
We'll feel with perfect charity and see with utter clarity:
So all things reach the promised end, and every free man's voice will blend
In earnest praise and joyful song, a hymn to God both loud and long,
From saints without a single flaw, each ear now pierced against the door.
There will be many who have come to trust in the redeeming Son,
Who all were slaves, who now are free, enjoying heaven's liberty.
And there among them, bowing low, some men whose names we've come to know,
Who helped us on the way above, who join with us in songs of love,
With us, around the highest throne, our eyes all fixed on Christ alone,
His precious Puritans.