Not only would it be extraordinary to find a judicial officer who is totally without a thought on all issues, the discovery of such a rare intellectual eunuch would suggest an adverse reflection on his qualifications. For example, in a case in which he refused to recuse himself even though as an assistant attorney general he had previously expressed his legal opinion on the issues involved, Justice Rehnquist stated, “Proof that a Justice’s mind at the time he joined the Court was a complete tabula rasa in the area of constitutional adjudication would be evidence of lack of qualification, not lack of bias.” ( Laird v. Tatum (1972) 409 U.S. 824, 835 [34 L.Ed.2d 50, 59, 93 S.Ct. 7] (memorandum of Rehnquist, J.).)
The previous post in this series may be found here.
In the fourteenth chapter of Common Grace, Kuyper emphasizes the historicity of the Genesis narrative. We must read this as both real and reliable history. It must have come to us in words real words of actual comprehensible meaning. It must mean what it says not merely in general but in specifics.
We must conclude thus on two grounds. Without a truly speaking God, we do not have Scripture: This speaking by God is the great fact that is placed in the foreground throughout Holy Scripture, ceaselessly and with stress and emphasis. It is that which makes Scripture [to be] Scripture. The crucial point in Scripture is not what man thought or contemplated, but precisely that which God spoke. (120)
The speaking is true speech; not that it is sound made by a mouth and airwaves. Rather speech is the conveyance of the content of one mind to another mind, “speaking takes place only when from the consciousness of the speaker consciousthoughts are transferred into the consciousness of the hearer.”
We need this text of the speaking God because we need a basis upon which to understand the world and place within it. These narratives provide the basis upon which we can understand ourselves and our place in this world. Calvin beings the Institutes with the observation that true knowledge of ourselves must begin with true knowledge of ourselves in relation to God. Without the Genesis narrative we have no way of putting ourselves into that context.
The distinction between the Christian and the non-Christian, the distinction between the Protestant the Roman Catholic lie in the way in which we understand these narratives: What is the image of God, what happened to that image with the Fall, what is the state of the human being past the Fall? The distinctions among human understanding begin here in the distinction of our understanding of Genesis.
On this point, Kuyper singles out the doctrine of common grace as critical to a Reformed understanding of human history, and thus our preaching of grace and salvation.
Charnock then considers affirmative evidence of true mortification.
First, “When upon a temptation that did usually excite the beloved lust, it doth not stir, it is a sign of a mortified state.” He provides Peter as an example. Before the crucifixion, Peter famously boasted that though all desert Jesus, Peter would not. Peter proceeds to deny Christ. As Thomas Manton put it, “Peter, that ventured upon a band of men, was overcome by the weak blast of a damsel’s question.”
(Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 8 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 496.)
But then after Christ rose and confronted Peter three times with the question, “Do you love me more than these?”, Peter did not rise in his pride as he did before. “His answer goes no further than, ‘Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,’ without adding ‘more than these.’”
Or the way in which a sick man will not eat the best dinner, it is a sign he has no taste for the meal. “So when a man hath a temptation to sin, decked and garnished with all the allurements the devil can dress it with, and he hath no stomach to close with it, it is a sign of a mortified frame.”
Second, “When we meet with few interruptions in duties of worship.” How easily and often are we turned away from our duty to “lay fast hold on God.” When everything turns us away, it implies that we are taken by everything but God. He compares this to an army: does it stop us at every turn? Then it is a “well-bodied army.” But where the incidents are few, there are few soliders.
The third point is the key: merely refraining from sin is not mortification – but when the thief no longer steals but now works so that he can give to others, that is evidence of mortification. As Charnock puts it, “When we bring forth the fruits of the contrary graces, it is a sign sin is mortified. It is to this end that sin is killed by the Spirit, that fruit may be brought forth to God; the more sweet and full fruit a tree bears, the more evidence there is of the weakness of those suckers which are about the root to hinder its generous productions.”
The first word, “This” is jarring: When “this” begins a sentence it acts to specify a particular noun: This particular apple (as opposed to all the other apples in the basket). But here, there is no specified noun: simply “This” – which then receives a modifying phrase: “with a face”. But there is no noun to be modified, only a pronoun without an original noun.
However, this lack of specificity is part of the meaning of the poem. In the third stanza we find a possessive, “her”. So we know it is a woman – especially as contrasted with the “young men” of the fifth stanza.
By not immediately identify the woman as a person – but rather as some unspecified object (note the title of the poem is “Item” – which could be the entire poem as in a “news item” or be a reference to the noun specified by “this”; she may be a woman, or simply be reduced to the story about the woman).
We can a strange hint that there may be a person in this story, when we see the word “face”. But then why “with”; it makes it sound as if the face were an accessory which could be added or removed. Moreover, the image is immediately coupled to a “mashed blood orange”.
When read of the young men with their gun-butts, the mashed face returns: She has been struck and her face has been destroyed. She also was seen “sprawling”.
The event comes to us out of historical order, but rather in order of comprehension: We move from the image before us – a mashed face of who knows what (it is a “this” not a “her” at first).
Then the poet picks through the realization: eyes, a voice (she screams) hands which are known only by their action – clutching – he sees the coat, then the broken shoes, then woman now stumbling away from the young men; and here he sees the cause of her distress the young men with guns.
Another point here: the face is indistinguishable, not quite comprehensible – because he did not see eyes at first. Note the
would get eyes
The gap brought about by removing the adverb “suddenly” from the stanza of the verb “get” creates a strange distance in the realization. It seems that the poet noticed something which came out of nowhere and then too a moment to realize, oh, these are eyes looking at me.
So now we have a story, the poet comes upon a woman who has been struck in the face by a young man (they must be soldiers because they are identified with “War! War!”). She has sprawled onto the street, her face a bloody mess. She opens her eyes, clutches her old coat about her and tries to stumble to safety away from the soldiers.
The line breaks come at grammatical structures, rather than completed concepts. As notes, “suddenly” separated not merely in a different line, but also a different stanza from its verb.
Or take these images:
thick, ragged coat
A piece of hat
Clutching her what? What is clutching? Next line thick – pause – ragged coat – longer pause – A piece of hat (where is the rest of the hat) – doubled pause – broken shoes.
By breaking up the images into distinct lines, we can imagine ourselves looking around for the hat, then the shoes – what has happened her?
Then she begin dread stumbling to escape, standing, falling for broken shoes – trying to escape.
And now we come to the answer about the “item” – is it the woman or the story? Well the woman certainly is being dehumanized, she is an item. But the poem uses her degradation to make her even less human: She is not the woman the poet saw, rather she is relegated to the news item. When the men strike, they render her so inhuman that they dash clean out of life and into a story:
at the young men
who with their gun-butts
At the foot of the page
When they strike her, she becomes a footnote in the story about the war. She is not important enough to consider at length, she is merely one of the many who are struck.
What then does the poem do? The poem causes us to toggle between the story about the woman and the reality of it. But it does it in a very different manner than an essay about this event could do.
An essay has two natural starting places: the writer could start with the news item and then move backwards to the woman who is mentioned in the footnote. A sort of history of the overlooked. I am working through a biography of Napoleon at the moment. In the story of the retreat from Russia in 1812, he is listing the horrifying ravages to soldiers and peasants. The biography accounts in brief stories of soldiers being buried alive by angry peasants, prisoners of war being skinned alive, women being raped and murdered. The horror is unimaginable for me.
One could take the time and develop more personally who has murdered or flayed or raped.
Another way to tell this story would be start with the writer: As I was walking, I saw this woman lying in the street. At first I couldn’t tell she was a woman.
But this poem does something which an essay could not easily do: It causes the reader to experience the event along with the poet. Rather than reading about through an essay – which would ironically make sure that she is reduced to a note on a page, an “item” – the poet forces us to confront the woman and watch her be physically injured and then reduced even further to being the note in the news item.
The poem paradoxically gets us around the distance of the words which would make the woman an item by using words force us to experience the woman.
“The second thing is, how we may judge of our mortification.”
Those things which are not true mortification.
Merely reframing from some action: “All cessation from some particular sin is not a mortification. A non-commission of a particular sin is not an evidence of the mortification of the root of it. Indeed, a man cannot commit all kinds of sin at a time, nor in many years; the commands of sin are contrary, and many masters commanding contrary things cannot be served at one and the same time.”
One may give up only the outward display of the sin while maintaining the desire. Jesus explains that adultery and murder begin in the heart as unspoken lust and anger. They are still sin, even if not displayed.
Or one may cease to commit some particular sin for a number of reasons. Sometimes a sin is not committed because there is simply no opportunity to commit the sin. I would be thief, if only there were something to steal. “The pollutions of the world may be escaped when the pollutions of the heart remain.”
Some sins we cannot commit because our body will not cooperate with the sin. (It was once explained to me that one reason for jail for violent crime is that kept a young man out of service until he became too old to engage in such crimes.) “A present sickness may make an epicure nauseate the dainties which he would before rake even in the sea to procure. There is a cessation from acts of sin, not out of a sense of sin, but a change of the temper of his body.”
Sometimes a flood of guilt or shame keeps one off from a particular sin for some time, but when the guilt subsides and the opportunity returns, so does the sin.
And finally, one may just trade one sin for other. “A cessation from one sin may be but an exchange.” Certain sins are mutually exclusive: you cannot be profligate and a miser at the same time.
Being prevented from engaging in a sin: “Restraints from sin are not mortification of it. Men may be curbed when they are not changed; and there is no man in the world but God doth restrain him from more sins, which he hath a nature to commit, than what he doth actually commit.”
Why is a restraint not mortification? Restraints do not get to the heart.
“Mortification is always from an inward principle in the heart, restraints from an outward.” True mortification will not be merely refraining from some action, but also a desire to refrain. “In a renewed man, there is something beside bare considerations to withhold him, something of antipathy which heightens and improves those considerations, whereby the soul is glad of them, because the edge and dint of them is against sin.”
In true mortification, one does not refrain from the sin because it is too hard to commit; one refrains from the sin because there is a “hatred of sin”. “[M]ortification proceeds from an anger, a desire of revenge.”
Sin is not the bare action: the law distinguished between an accidental killing a deliberate murder: the intent made the thing a sin. Thus, mortification is not merely the outward restraint but a change in the thought and affection, “Mortification is a voluntary, rational work of the soul; restraints are not so. The devil hath nothing of his nature altered, but hath as strong an inclination to sin as ever, though the act he intends is often hindered by God.”
Charnock begins with a definition of “mortification” (killing). He lists four aspects of mortification, breaking with sin, a declaration of hostility toward sin, resistance to sin, killing sin.
Breaking with sin. Charnock notes the strength which sin is said to hold over the human being. Sin is likened to a king with subjects, “Sin is therefore said to have dominion, to make laws, whence we read of the law of the members.” Sin is as close to the human being as flesh is to bone. Therefore, there can be no end of sin’s work until one divorces sin. There must be “a stopping the ears against the importunities of it, and refusing all commerce and cohabitation with it.”
Hostility. We cannot merely say that we are done and then be done with sin. If we break with sin we merely move to a state of war. Sin will either have its way with us, or we will need to be at war with sin:
And here behold that irreconcileable and tedious war, without a possibility of renewing the ancient friendship, and which ends not but with a total conquest of sin. This hostility begins in a bridling corrupt affections, laying a yoke upon anything that would take part with the enemy. It cuts off all the supplies of sin, stops all the avenues to it; which the apostle expresseth by ‘making provision for the flesh,’ Rom. 13:14, &c.; a turning the stream which fed sin another way
Resistance: “A strong and powerful resistance, by using all the spiritual weapons against sin which the Christian armoury will afford.” Charnock makes an interesting observation by resting sin and movement to sin in disordered affections, “a bringing the affections into order, that they may not contradict and disobey the motions of the Spirit and sanctified reason.”
Killing: This comes from the meaning of the language of Paul. For instance, in Colossians 3:5, Paul uses the verb nekrosate: you put to death, kill, “to reduce to a carcase.”
Every day there is to be a driving a new nail into the body of death, a breaking some limb or other of it, till it doth expire.
Office: At this point, Taylor is using the standard theological language of “office” to describe the work of Jesus Christ. It is a reference to particular aspects of Christ’s work as prophet, priest and king. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, questions 23-27 read as follows:
Q. 23. What offices doth Christ execute as our Redeemer?
A. Christ, as our Redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet [a], of a priest [b], and of a king [c], both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.
[a]. Deut. 18:18; Acts 2:33; 3:22-23; Heb. 1:1-2
[b]. Heb. 4:14-15; 5:5-6
[c]. Isa. 9:6-7; Luke 1:32-33; John 18:37; 1 Cor. 15:25
Q. 24. How doth Christ execute the office of a prophet?
A. Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in revealing to us, by his Word [a] and Spirit [b,] the will of God for our salvation [c].
[a]. Luke 4:18-19, 21; Acts 1:1-2; Heb. 2:3
[b]. John 15:26-27; Acts 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:11
[c]. John 4:41-42; 20:30-31
Q. 25. How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?
A. Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice [a], and reconcile us to God [b]; and in making continual intercession for us [c].
[a]. Isa. 53; Acts 8:32-35; Heb. 9:26-28; 10:12
[b]. Rom. 5:10-11; 2 Cor. 5:18; Col. 1:21-22
[c]. Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24
Q. 26. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us [a], and in restraining and conquering all his
and our enemies [b].
[a]. Ps. 110:3; Matt. 28:18-20; John 17:2; Col. 1:13
What Taylor means is that Christ fulfills the work of prophet, priest and king in the Incarnation, and that also Christ has the “gifts,” the abilities to fulfill such work.
Treat God and man: Christ, in his unique position as God Incarnate can deal equally with God and with Human Beings. He can communicate between the two as a bridge before the finite and infinite, the creator and creature.
Justice and mercy: The concept which causes Taylor to so praise, is that Christ, by means of his unique position being God and Man, can reconcile two completely opposite demands.
Justice by its nature requires satisfaction of the guilty party. If one is guilty, it is unjust for the law to ignore the demand. To understand this point, perhaps you need to feel it.
Imagine that someone you dearly loved was victimized by a brutal criminal. This criminal was then brought before a judge, where the fact of the crime was unquestionably established. However, the judge simply determined to let the criminal free without any penalty. You would rightly be angry: the law was unjust in permitting the guilty to go free.
Thus, God – to be God – must be perfectly just and cannot ignore crime.
However, this presents an unsolvable problem for humanity. The wrong done to an infinitely perfect being does not permit an easy resolution. What could we possibly do to satisfy the justice of God?
The prophet Micah put it this way:
Micah 6:6–7 (ESV)
6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
What we need is mercy from God.
How then can God be perfectly just (fully punishing crime) and merciful (passing over crime)?
Jesus as God and Man stands in for humanity. God’s justice is brought upon Jesus who suffers as a substitute and thus obtains mercy for human beings. In the act of faith and repentance, God transfers our guilt to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to us and so the sinner and justice “embrace.”
This poem is a good example of how difficult it can be know what the poet intends, particularly when the poet is as deliberately ironic as William Blake.
This poem also raises the issue of what it means to read something “in context.” Shakespeare and the Bible are famously misused by people who take a particular line wildly out of context. There is a television commercial which advertises a luxury automobile and plays a song which – in its original context — attacks pretension and put-on with material goods. But by using only a portion of the song lyric, the song meant to attack pretension is used to sell pretension.
This short poem is standing by itself one context. In that context, this poem seems to convey a sort of Gnostic Jesus, the body is bad, the soul is good, the hope of life is to be released from the body. “Tirazh” is used as a name for the Northern Kingdom of Israel, following the division of the kingdom into two after the death of Solomon. It is contrast to “Jerusalem,” which would be the heavenly and best.
Tirazh is called a mother of our earthly body which reproduces by means of sexual union, which traps us into a world of sense. The goal of this life is to be finally freed from the body – which the poet claims has been made possible by the “death of Jesus”.
But the poem was a late addition to a collection of poems known as Songs of Experience, which is paired with another collection known as Songs of Innocence. The poems also exist in a larger corpus of poems which develop Blakes philosophy, such as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
To this difficulty of context, we must remember that Blake is often deliberately ironic. We can never take anything he says at “face value.”
While not at all exhaustive, the following simply raises some questions as to how to interpret this poem when it is put into the context of Blake’s remaining (and largely earlier) work and Blake’s ironic posture as a poet.
Whate’er is born of moral birth
Must be consuméd with the earth
To rise from generation free,
Then what have I do to with thee?
Whatever is born will die and return to the earth. The last line is an ironic reworking of Jesus’ words recorded in John 2:4, where Mary tells Jesus that the wedding has run out of wine and Jesus responds, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? My hour is not yet come.” So the poet, seeking to be freed from the enslaving earth says, “What have I to do with thee?”
It also seems to state the poet’s aspiration, to be freed from generation, to be freed from this mother.
He then turns to the manner in which life is continued in this world:
The sexes sprung from shame & pride
Blow’d [blossomed] in the morn: in evening died;
But mercy changed death into sleep;
The sexes rose to work & weep.
This poem was added in the latter versions of his poems, Songs of Experience, and seems to have been written around 1805. But the collection also contains poems such as The Garden of Love (1794) which contend that shame and sexual repression are the result of the “Chapel” whose doors were shut and the words “Thou shalt not” were written over the door.
Here the shame seems to be something inherent in the fact of mortality and the body. Is Blake now arguing that sexual shame is not the result of societal norms and oppressive morality, but rather something inherent in birth and death of the body? Was it shame and pride which gave rise to this problem prior to the body?
Thou, Mother of my Mortal part,
With cruelty didst mould my heart
And with false self-deceiving tears
Didst bind my nostrils, eyes & ears.
This stanza echoes the poem The Tyger, also from the same collection and also from 1794. The poet meditates upon the dangerous tiger, who is quite dangerous (“the fearful symmetry”).
This dangerous beast is blamed upon God
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?
[The lamb is addressed in a poem from Songs of Innocence.]
In that poem, Blake asks
And what shoulder & what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
In Tirzah, Blake blames the heart upon the earth – the physical part. Is God from Tyger the equivalent of mother in Tirzah? Is his heart cruel like the tigers, or is it merely the product of another’s cruelty? Does his heart give rise to the outrages elsewhere discussed in Songs of Experience?
This discussion of the senses in Tirzah also sits uneasily with Blake’s longer work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
In that poem, Blake praises physical desire as “energy” and writes such “Proverbs of Hell” as
The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.
This mortal body of energy is now the moulder of cruelty and death. Does he celebrate the energy of the body, or does he see it as destructive?
Didst close my tongue in useless clay
And me to mortal life betray
The death of Jesus set me free
Then what have I to do with thee?
Jesus, in a Gnostic vein, is used as a trope to argue for an utter freedom from the “useless clay” of the body. How exactly Jesus’ death performs this feat is not clearly stated.
The question then becomes, does this poem reflect a change in Blake’s thinking (it would not be accurate to say that his earlier position was purely a sex-drugs-rock-n-roll ethos, but it was certainly not conventional middle class anachronistically called Victorian piety)? Blake constantly writes with great irony. His poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell seeks a new negotiation of the body and soul along his idiosyncratic lines.
But in this poem, one could read it as a movement beyond his earlier position (which was written during the early days of the French Revolution) to more escapist, Gnostic vision — complete with the common aspect of Gnostic asceticism due to its distrust of the body.
And one final question, should the context of Blake’s personal life be used to answer the question of what Blake means by this poem?
Benjamin Dutton is not a recognizable name in Church history. He is usually remembered in passing as the second husband of Anne Dutton, the 18th-century writer who confuted Wesley’s strive for earthly perfection and won the praises of George Whitefield and other theologians of her time.
Benjamin caught my attention because of his honest account of his struggle with alcoholism, a familiar struggle, albeit frequently hushed, in the history of the church (we could go as far back as to the fourth century, with the youthful addiction of Monica, mother of Augustine of Hippo).
Charnock first introduces his text, Romans 8:13, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” He makes the point that, “You must not imagine you shall be justified without being sanctified.” There is a strange belief that (using an image from Dallas Willard) salvation is sort of like an arbitrary barcode slapped onto a product. The scanner reads the code and ignores the item. If a “soap” barcode is put on a box of cereal, the scanner reads “soap.” We believe that if we receive the barcode “saved” that will read by the scanner on judgment day, no matter who we are.
Charnock then defines “flesh” and “body”: “Some, by flesh, understand the state under the law; others, more properly, corrupted nature. Ye shall die, without hopes of a better life. But if you mortify the deeds of the body: the deeds of the body of sin, which is elsewhere called the body of death; the first motions to sin and passionate compliances with sin, which are the springs of corrupt actions. Corrupt nature is called a body here, morally, not physically; it consisting of divers vices, as a body of divers members.”
The verse consists of a threat and a promise; an act and an object. A great deal of Puritan precision is simply a matter of paying attention to the text. Exegesis is a matter of paying attention, asking questions and thinking. When people first hear someone carefully exegete a text is sounds like magic; when in fact it is merely carefully reading.
Charnock then makes a few deductions from the text. “Sin is active in the soul of an unregenerate man.” Second, “Nothing but the death of sin must content a renewed soul. The sentence is irreversible: die it must.” This is a present tense, continual action.
“The knife must still stick in the throat of sin, till it fall down perfectly dead. Sin must be kept down though it will rage the more, as a beast with the pangs of death is more desperate.”
This rampage against sin must be universal, from all actions and intentions, from the first motion to the last completion.
“The greatest object of our revenge is within us. Our enemies are those of our own house, inbred, domestic adversaries; our anger is then a sanctified anger when set against our own sins. Our enemy has got possession of our souls, which makes the work more difficult.”
How then is this done? “Man must be an agent in this work. We have brought this rebel into our souls, and God would have us make as it were some recompence by endeavouring to cast it out; as in the law, the father was to fling the first stone against a blasphemous son.”
And how, “Through the Spirit. (1.) Mortification is not the work of nature; it is a spiritual work. Every man ought to be an agent in it, yet not by his own strength.”
And here a bit of summary, “The difficulty of this work is hereby declared. The difficulty is manifested by the necessity of the Spirit’s efficacy. Not all the powers on earth, nor the strength of ordinances, can do it; omnipotency must have the main share in the work.”
And from this the “doctrine”, the thesis statement:
The doctrine to be hence insisted on is this: Mortification of sin is an universal duty, and the work of the Spirit in the soul of a believer, without which there can be no well-grounded expectations of eternal life and happiness.