Category Archives: Poetry

What Will You Say?

Some spoken word from Clayton Jennings (via Thabiti Anyabwile)

I’d rather be a poor man stuck in poverty than to be a slave to paper refusing God’s sovereignty…

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The Poetry of George Herbert: “The Sacrifice” (Pt. 3)

We continue to dive deeper into George Herbert’s poem “The Sacrifice.” Today we come one step closer to the end… one step closer to the point where Jesus lets out his final breath of desperation “now all is finished.” But we aren’t quite there yet. Today we find ourselves staring at Jesus on the cross. More specifically where are at the point where Jesus is being taunted to come down if indeed he is the Son of God. Drawing from another part from the Gospels, Herbert puts a well know quote in Jesus’ mouth which sheds new light upon the significance of the cross:

Now heal thyself, Physician; now come down.
Alas! I did so, when I left my crown
And father’s smile for you, to feel his frown:
Was ever grief like mine?

Once again we see Herbert’s use of irony shining through the poem. “Now come down” they taunt Jesus… ah but if only they new He has come down! Jesus has left his crown, he has left his riches! And it is all for our sake! “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

As Paul further elaborates upon this fact in his epistle to the Philippians:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very natureof a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-11)

Once again Herbert shows us the gravity of what Christ has done for us. His coming down… his leaving the crown. It is all for our sake. Christ has felt the Father’s frown upon himself so that the Father might smile upon us. Jesus has substituted himself in our place. He has taken what we have deserved upon himself so that we might experience the joy of the Father upon us! This is no mere legal exchange. This isn’t mechanistic. This isn’t just our slate wiped clean. No this is the Father rejoicing in us! We are the apple of our Father’s eye! He sings songs over us because he is so pleased with us:

The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

Yet this is no mere penal substitution, it has a healing element to it as well. The irony shows this. Physician heal thyself, come down! The great physician has come down and he has brought healing….yet the healing is not for himself. The healing is for the same people who taunt him, who turn their back on him. The healing is for the broken and sinful. Its for us…

So today rejoice! He has come down! Yet its not in the way anyone expected. He has come down so that the Father might rejoice in us and so that we would be healed from this disease that afflicts us that we call sin.

The Poetry of George Herbert: “The Sacrifice” (Pt. 2)

Last time I began to write about George Herbert’s poem “The Sacrifice.” As you now know, its a sort of Lament put into the mouth of Jesus. Herbert shows us the grief and agony, not simply the physical agony, but the emotional agony which Jesus suffered on his way to the cross. Herbert does this in order to lead us into a moment of worship. Its a moment in which we say “Christ did this for me! He suffered for me! He was ashamed and betrayed for my sake!” In seeing the agony that Christ endured we see the depths and length of his love for us.

Today I want to dive a little deeper into two of the stanzas of this poem. Check out the following:

Then on my head a crown of thorns I wear:

For these are all the grapes Sion doth bear,

Through I my vine planted and wat’red there:

                    Was ever grief like mine?

So sits the earth’s cure in Adam’s fall

Upon my head: so I remove it all

From th’ earth unto my brows, and bear the thrall;

                    Was ever a grief like mine?

The second stanza is an explicit reference to Genesis 3 in which God curses Adam

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

The irony in this set of stanzas is stunning. Its a prime example of historic-salvation hermeneutics. Herbert sees the crown of thorns upon Christ’s head as a fulfillment of Adam’s curse. Adam was cursed with thorns and thistles that would prick him as he toils to provide food. Yet it is Jesus who takes those thorns and lets them prick him, all for our sake! His body is broken for us as food (think Eucharist) for our souls. But Herbert’s vision for what Christ’s work on the cross accomplishes is so much bigger than our individual salvation. Herbert envisions a cosmic restoration! Adam’s fall caused the earth to be cursed, thus causing creation to groan in pain (e.g. thorns), yet it is this same curse which falls upon Jesus. The curse of creation falls upon Jesus! But the curse which creation is under is the same thing which leads to its cure. In other words the effects of the curse upon creation fall in all their weight upon Jesus and lead to a cure for creation. Metaphysically I don’t know if it really works this way, but there is something moving in Herbert’s imagery. Jesus endures the grief an agony of a cursed creation upon himself, which leads him to cry “Was ever a grief like mine.” Yet it is this same grief which leads to the restoration, joy, and, shalom of all of creation, not just us human beings.

The Poetry of George Herbert: “The Sacrifice” (Pt. 1)

Last night I spent some time reading some of the poetry of George Herbert. It was sort of a devotional for me; sort of like spending some time listening to worship songs. As I was reading I came across one of his longer poems: “The Sacrifice.”

Situated right after “The Altar” (you know the poem, the one you read in your High School English class that is shaped like an actual altar), which shows that a broken and contrite heart is the only heart fit for offering sacrifice to God, this poem is about another broken and contrite heart that is offers sacrifice to God: Jesus.

“The Sacrifice” is written from the point of view of Jesus. It serves as a lament of sorts, with the refrain being “Was ever grief like mine?” As Jesus goes about his Passion he keeps saying those words “Was ever grief like mine?” As people are blind to see him as their savior he says “Was ever grief like mine?” As Judas, his friend, betrays him he says “Was ever grief like mine?” As his disciples fall asleep around him in Gethsemane and leave him alone he says “Was ever grief like mine?” As his own people accuse him of blasphemy he says “Was ever grief like mine?” A rhetorical move Herbert makes is that after each refrain the cadence increases slightly, that is each stanza gets read quicker and quicker. As the cadence of each stanza increases so does the gravity and pain of each betrayal. And as the gravity and pain increase so does the graphic nature of this poem. Consider the following; we almost expect Judas to betray Jesus, thus the cadence is slow and the imagery is a bit dull, but the poem moves on and climaxes (in cadence and graphic imagery) when the most unexpected betrayal occurs, the betrayal at the hands of the Father.

Over the next few days I will be taking an in depth look at a few of these stanzas, examining how they display the excellencies of Christ and the excellencies of the gospel, thus leading the reader into worship, and thus into offering a sacrifice of his own.  In my humble opinion (I am no literary critic by any means), this is exactly the response that Herbert wants to invoke. Consider this:

  1. “The Altar” tells us that only a broken and contrite heart can offer sacrifice to God.
  2. “The Sacrifice” shows us that Christ had a broken heart.
  3. “The Sacrifice” shows us that Christ’s heart is broken (grieved) because of our rejection of him.
  4. “The Sacrifice” shows us that Christ grieved for our sake.
  5. Thus Christ can offer a fitting sacrifice to God.
  6. The fact that we have grieved Christ, the one who died for our sake, should lead us to have a broken and contrite.
  7. When our heart is broken and contrite, we can and do offer sacrifice to God.

Herbert tells us what worship is, shows us the glory of Jesus’ passion, and moves us to respond by offering a pleasing sacrifice to God.

This pattern, of seeing Jesus’ grief, grieving because I put him there, and worshiping God because he sent his son is what I was doing as I was reading this poem. In that sense it was devotional. It opened up the cross in a new way for me. Seeing it from Christ’s point of view helped me to understand the love he had for me. A love that took him to the cross, for me!

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

An Introduction to the Poetry of George Herbert

Many will disagree with this statement but…. The Church of England is basically Reformed. Or at least it is rooted in Reformed theology. Take for instance the 39 Articles. Although they are trying to forge a via media between Catholicism and Puritan theology, they end up looking a lot like standard Reformed theology. For example article XVII which is on predestination and election, XIX which is on the Church sounds a lot like Calvin, and XXVII which is on the Lord’s Supper is plainly Calvinist repudiating both Anabaptist beliefs and Roman Catholic doctrines; and Lutheran doctrine isn’t even on the table (in case you don’t catch it, that’s a pun). However if you don’t believe me, there is another confession that “proves” my point. Many Reformed people use this confession and don’t even know where it comes from. It’s the ever so dear Westminster Confession of Faith. Written in 1646 it was created for use in the Anglican Church. The history goes back to 1643 when the English Parliament called upon “learned, godly and judicious Divines”, to meet at Westminster Abbey in order to provide advice on issues of worship, doctrine, government and discipline of the Church of England. (Side Note: The original confession contains some embarrassing stuff like calling the Pope the Anti-Christ!) What ended up happening was that this confession was eventually adopted by the Church of Scotland, many Presbyterian Churches, and it even formed the basis for the Second London Baptist Confession of faith. So my point is, Reformed theology has a special place in the history of the Church of England, even though it might not play a prominent role in it today.

Herbert is a sort of paradox, even by Anglican standards. If the Anglican church is a via media then Herbert walks another via media  within this via media this time between High Church Anglicanism and Low Church Anglicanism; between Laudian Anglicanism and Puritan Anglicanism. Herbert preferred ceremony over bareness, was quite often drawn in his poetry to Eucharistic though, and at times displayed a preference to a “catholic” image of Christ’s suffering. Yet Herbert also shows his hands as a Calvinist, this is especially prominent in his use of doctrines like election and his insistence on justification independent of human merit. However even within his Reformed orthodoxy he vacillates on Assurance, at times it seems as though he does indeed deny the doctrine yet ultimately it seems (at least to me) that it is simply an existential angst after all, all of us are susceptible to these sort of worries. In the end, despite worries, doubts, and anxieties regarding his own salvation he displays an deep certainty in an assurance of God’s faithfulness and love, and ultimately his forgiveness. This is all to say that George Herbert was an interesting character, worthy of some reflection in this blog.

Over the next few days, weeks (years!), I will be reflecting upon some of his poetry but for now I leave you with this (an-unreflected-upon) poem by George Herbert.

 

 The Dedication

Lord, my first fruits present themselves to thee;

Yet not mine neither: for from thee they came,

And must return. Accept of them and me,

And make us strive, who shall sing best they name.

      Turn their eyes hither, who shall make a gain:

      Theirs, who shall hurt themselves or me, refrain.