Edward Taylor, Meditation 34.3 (the transmutation of death)


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Stanza Four

And still thou by the gracious chemistry
Dost of his carcass cordials make rich, high, 20
To free from Death makest death a remedy:
A curb to sin, a spur to piety.
Heaven’s brightsome light shines out in Death’s dark cave.
The golden door of glory is the grave.

Summary: The body of Christ is made into a medicine. Death itself is transformed into a good thing: rather than being a final tomb, it is a golden door to glory.


Taylor’s concepts and imagery are quite consistent and easy to find in his contemporaries. Indeed, the contemporaries provide excellent comment on his meaning in these short lines.

Thou …his: The poet seems to be directly addressing God. The first line of the poem is addressed to “Lord.” But here there is a distinction being made between God and Christ. This is the place where Christian theology can become extraordinarily stretching. God is tri-personal, a tri-unity. Christ is God and man: two natures, one person. Thus, God who cannot die and man who must die meet in an extraordinary manner.

Gracious chemistry: the concept of alchemy and chemistry are not necessarily well-distinguished at this time. A fundamental goal of alchemy was the transmutation of lead to gold. Here, God performs a transmutation of turning death into a means of life. There are two transformations: the carcass of Christ is made into a “cordial”, i.e., a medicine. Second, death is made into a “remedy”.

File:An alchemist in his laboratory. Oil painting by a follower o Wellcome V0017652.jpg
An alchemist in his laboratory. David Taisniers

To free from Death: Death is referred to as a sovereign:

For death (in which the Bridegroom first cometh to us) is, in itself, “the king of terrors:” other afflictions—as poverty, reproach, imprisonment, debt, exile, sickness, &c.—are inferior fears, which possibly may be escaped, and out of which there is oftentimes deliverance; but death is the sovereign lord and king of all of them, from whence there is no return. He that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more, but passeth presently unto the highest tribunal, there to receive the eternal judgment, whether of absolution or of condemnation.

James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 684–685. This has it basis in Hebrews 2:14-15 and in Romans 5:14, “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses.” Thomas Boston has a striking use of this concept:

Death reigns among them. See where they sit, Matth. 4:16. ‘In the region and shadow of death.’ The whole society are a parcel of condemned criminals, John 3:18 that know not how soon the sentence shall be executed upon them; their father the devil ready to be the executioner; they are all in a dying condition, their souls have got their death’s wounds, and they are pining away in their iniquity, while in the meantime their eyes are held that they cannot see the preciousness of the Physician. Nay, they are dead already in a spiritual sense; God, the life of the soul, is departed far from them. O! why will ye stay in the congregation of the dead? Come out from among them to the Lord of life.

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 1, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 1 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1848), 650.

makest death a remedy: Now rather than being a means of condemnation and loss of God, death has been transformed into a means of good. Taylor names three:

A curb to sin, Thomas Boston explicates this concept:

Consider ye must die: Heb. 9:27, “It is appointed unto men once to die.” Death is certain, and therefore repentance is necessary. O if men would realize death to themselves, sinners would soon find it necessary to turn a new leaf. One hearing Gen. 5. read in the church, was so impressed with the thoughts of death, that he presently betook himself to a new course of life, that he might die well. We must all meet with death, lie down in the grave; let us view it aforehand, and see how it calls us to repent. Look to thy dying hour, and to thy grave, O impenitent sinner, and consider these few things.

  1. Wouldst thou be content to die as thou livest? Thou livest in thy sin, without God; wouldst thou desire to die so? Many indeed entertain Balaam’s wish, for the death of the righteous, while they care not for their life, Num. 23:10, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.” But remember he did not get it, chap. 31:8, “Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.” And while death is so uncertain, it is the hanging of an eternal weight on a hair, to look to get matters mended then, that are not mended now.
  2. Consider, what will a sinful life look like on a death-bed? How will ye be able to look your unrepented-of guilt, and a long eternity in the face together? Ezek. 22:14, “Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong in the days that I shall deal with thee? I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it.” Sin sits easy now on a sleepy conscience, while health and strength lasts, and death appears not. But when death stares thee in the face, and the awakened conscience flies upon thee, it will cut thee to the heart, that thou hast not repented before.
  3. What will it be to die, and go to another world with a load of unrepented-of guilt on thy back? Look to your grave aforehand; think with yourselves, how will it be to lie down there with your bones full of your iniquity? Is it not best now, to shake off and east away your transgressions, as knowing that however ye may live with them, ye cannot die with them well.
  4. At a dying hour ye must part with the world, and the enjoyment of your lusts. The foul feast ye sit at now, death will overthrow the table, and the sad reckoning for it comes in then, and continues for ever. O rise up now, and leave it by repentance. Part with these things at God’s call, which ye must part with ere long, whether ye will or not.

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sermons and Discourses on Several Important Subjects in Divinity, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 6 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1849), 434–435.

a spur to piety. Richard Baxter wrote an entire book on the subject published by Banner of Truth as Dying Thoughts. Just as the thought of death drives one to repentance, contemplating death teaches us to prepare for another world. Thomas Brooks (referencing also the King of Terrors):

Look, as a crucified Christ hath taken away the guilt of sin, though he hath not taken away sin itself, so he hath taken away the sting of death, though he hath not taken away death itself. He spake excellently that said, ‘That is not death, but life, which joins the dying man to Christ; and that is not life, but death, which separates the living man from Christ.’5 Austin longed to die, that he might see that head that was crowned with thorns. ‘Did Christ die for me,’ saith one, ‘that I might live with him? I will not, therefore, desire to live long from him.’ All men go willingly to see him whom they love, and shall I be unwilling to die that I may see him whom my soul loves? Bernard would have us never to let go out of our minds the thoughts of a crucified Christ. Let these, says he, be meat and drink unto you, let them be your sweetness and consolation, your honey and your desire, your reading and your meditation, your contemplation, your life, death, and resurrection. Certainly he that shall live up to this counsel will look upon the king of terrors as the king of desires.

Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 5 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1867), 215.

The golden door of glory is the grave. Thomas Brooks uses quite similar imagery. As he explains:

Eighteenth place, Death is nothing but the believer’s inlet into glory. Death is the gate of life, it is the gate of paradise; it is the midwife to bring eternity to bed. When Jacob saw the chariots that were to bring him to Joseph, his spirit revived, Gen. 45:27. Ah, Christian! death is that chariot that will bring thee not only to a sight of Jacob and Joseph, but also to a blessed sight of God, Christ, angels and ‘the spirits of just men made perfect, Heb. 12:23, 24. Here we meet with many inlets to sin, to sorrow, to affliction, to temptation; but death, of all inlets, is the most happy inlet; it lets the soul into a full fruition of God, to the perfection of grace, and to the heights of glory; and why, then, should a gracious soul be unwilling to die?

Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 461–462.

Edward Taylor, Meditation 34.2 (The King of Terrors)


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Third Stanza

Poor wretched man Death’s captive stood full chuff
But thou my gracious Lord didst find relief
Thou King of Glory didst, to handy cuff
With King of Terrors and dashed out his teeth, 15
Pluckest out his sting, his poison quellest, his head
To pieces breakest. Hence cruel death lies dead.

Summary: Having passed his introduction, the poet turns to the explanation of his motto, “Death is yours.” The movement is clear: Humanity was under the sway of Death without escape. God found a way to defeat death. Death is now dead.


The motto:

“Death is yours.” This needs some explanation. The verse cited, in context reads,

1 Corinthians 3:18–23 (AV)
18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. 20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; 22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; 23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

The people of Corinth were playing favorites and counting themselves as part of a faction of Paul o Apollos or Cephas (Peter). Such factions are wisdom of the world. And why would claim only Paul or Apollos?

“This turns their slogans completely on their head, with the significant difference that the pronoun is plural, not singular. Thus, they may not say “I belong to Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas,” not only because that is to boast in mere men, but because that is the precise opposite of reality in Christ. In him, as Eph. 1 will say in lofty cadences, God has begun what he will eventually bring to full consummation, namely “to bring all things in heaven and earth under one head, even Christ” (Eph. 1:10); therefore, all things are yours (plural).” Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 153.

The personification of death:Death is here presented as a monster which God defeats: Death has “capatives”; therefore, Death has the capacity to make captive. Death is the “King of Terrors.” Death has teeth, a sting, poison, and a head. Death has also been killed.

Death holding captives:

This comes from Hebrews 2:14–15, “14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (AV) Here is specifically the “fear of death” which is used to hold us captive.

The Defeat of Death

The primary allusion for this stanza comes from 1 Corinthians 15:54-57, where Paul writes that due to the Resurrection of Jesus, the power of death has been destroyed. Taylor takes much of his imagery from this passage: “54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (AV)

The breaking of death’s head comes from Genesis 3:15, “15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”

chuff: here morose, sullen. “full chuff”, does he mean “despair”?

Handy cuff: struck with a hand

Dashed out his teeth
This seems to be an allusion to Psalm 3:7 “7 Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.” (AV)

King of Terrors, Rosslyn Chapel

King of Terrors This comes from Job 18:14, speaking of one being brought to death as a judgment, “14 His confidence shall be rooted out of his tabernacle, and it shall bring him to the king of terrors.” (AV).
This was understood as a reference to death, “Death is of all terribles the most terrible, and is therefore called the king of terrors. But those who have taken God in Christ for their refuge, have what may comfort and establish them, even in that case. Even from the last enemy God it a refuge.” Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: A Soliloquy on the Art of Man-Fishing, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 5 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1849), 66.

Rutherford used the image with the idea of ruling over men, “By one man’s offence, there was a cruel king, death the king of terrors, who hath a black sceptre, set over all and every man without exception.” Samuel Rutherford, Christ Dying, and Drawing Sinners to Himself (Glasgow: Samuel and Archibald Gardner; Niven, Napier & Khull, 1803), 501.

In this sermon by Matthew Sylvester, we see very similar thoughts and imagery to that used by Taylor: “DIRECTION I. Be thoroughly persuaded of, and heartily affected with, a life to come. (2 Cor. 4:17, 18.)—This is the “poise” and pondus of religion; (Heb. 11:6;) this is the heart and strength of godliness. (Acts 24:14, 15, 25.) It is this that strips that king of terrors, death, of all his frightful looks and strength; this spoils his fatal conquest, gripe, and sting. (2 Tim. 4:6–8; 2 Cor. 5:1–10; 1 Cor. 15:51–58.)”. James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 659.

The phrase itself was remarkably common in Puritan writing, whether Public (such as Sylvester’s sermon) or in private correspondence such as this by Thomas Brooks, “Now you should always look upon death under scripture notions, and this will take off the terror of death; yea, it will make the king of terrors to be the king of desires; it will make you not only willing to die, but even long to die, and to cry out, ‘Oh that I had the wings of a dove, to fly away, and be at rest!’ At death you shall have an eternal jubilee, and be freed from all incumbrances. Now sin shall be no more, nor trouble shall be no more, nor pain nor ailments shall be no more.” Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 5 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1867), 454–455.

King of Glory: This is an allusion to Psalm: 8–10 “8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.” The allusion is quite apt, because the original is a reference to Jesus’ Ascension where he enters having defeated death:

“When Christ ascends into heaven after his sore conflict with his enemies and his glorious victory over them, wherein he appeared to be “the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle” [v. 8], and the word was proclaimed to the gates and doors of that everlasting temple of God, that they should be lift up, that the King of glory may come in, the heavenly hosts are represented as inquiring with wonder and great admiration, “Who is this King of glory?”, as being in their eyes a very wonderful person, and one that had done very wonderful things, as though some very new thing appeared, a remarkable person coming, appearing in such wise as never had been before, a person that appeared with very wonderful glory, and such an one as that it was wonderful that one, with those things that had appeared in him of late and now appeared, should have the title of “the King of glory,” as though it was admirable that such glory should be united with those other things that appeared in this person, which yet it most plainly appeared there had, that appeared in him, by which he appears sufficiently to merit the character of the King of glory, viz. his appearing so strong and mighty in battle, as he had done, and gaining such a glorious victory, as he had done. And therefore it is answered, “The Lord strong and mighty,” etc. [v. 8].” Jonathan Edwards, Notes on Scripture, ed. Harry S. Stout and Stephen J. Stein, vol. 15, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (London; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 282.

The Defeat of Death:

Christ before his death had been combating with the powers of darkness and all the subordinate instruments. Death was Satan’s beast of prey that was set upon him; but our Lord foiled it in its own dungeon. The battle between Christ and death was begun upon the cross; he grappled with it there, and they went tugging and wrestling to the grave. Christ, like a prudent warrior, carried the war into his enemy’s country, and there got loose of the grasp of death, foiled it in its own territory. He arose, and left death gasping behind him; so that the quality of the grave is quite altered. Before it was a prison, Satan’s dungeon; now it is a chamber of repose, a bed of ease, ever since Christ slept there.

Thomas Manton, “The Saints Triumph Over Death,” The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 2 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1871), 445

And is it much ‘far better’ to die, that we may be with Christ, than to live here a conflicting life? Why should we then fear death, that is but a passage to Christ? It is but a grim sergeant that lets us into a glorious palace, that strikes off our bolts, that takes off our rags, that we may be clothed with better robes, that ends all our misery, and is the beginning of all our happiness. Why should we therefore be afraid of death? it is but a departure to a better condition? It is but as Jordan to the children of Israel, by which they passed to Canaan. It is but as the Red Sea by which they were going that way. Therefore we have no reason to fear death. Of itself it is an enemy indeed, but now it is harmless, nay, now it is become a friend, amicable to us, a sweet friend. It is one part of the church’s jointure, death. ‘All things are yours,’ saith the apostle, Paul and Apollos, ‘life and death,’ 1 Cor. 3:22. Death is ours and for our good. It doth us more good than all the friends we have in the world. It determines and ends all our misery and sin; and it is the suburbs of heaven. It lets us into those joys above.

Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1862), 340.

Death lies dead: I don’t know if he means an allusion here to either Donne’s “Death thou shalt die” or Owens’ “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.”


The first line is hard to scan. The effect depends upon how one takes the word “poor” at the beginning. It could read solemnly, “POOR WRETched MAN,” with a heavy accent on “poor.” But one could read the line Poor filling in like a connective word introducing the topic.

The interesting effects are in lines 15-18:

With King of Terrors and dashed out his teeth, 15
Pluckest out his sting, his poison quellest, his head
To pieces breakest. Hence cruel death lies dead.

There is no way to force these lines into smooth iambs. The pause in line 15 between TERrors – and makes for a run up to DASHED OUT his TEETH. Perphas Taylor had a cheat syllable of DASH-ed to create iambs.

Line 16 I scan:

PLUCKest OUT his STING, his POIson QUELLest, his HEAD – an enjambment: which creates some movement to line 17

Line 17

to PIEces BREAKest.

We get a long pause before when come to the conclusion of death’s death.

The strong initial consonsants:

With King of Terrors and dashed out his teeth, 15
Pluckest out his sting, his poison quellest, his head
To pieces breakest. Hence cruel death lies dead.

Edward Taylor, Meditation 34.1 (unspeakable words)


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1 Cor. 3:22 Death is yours

My Lord I fain would praise thee well but find

Impossibilities block up my pass.

My tongue wants words to tell my thoughts, my mind

Wants thoughts to comprehend thy worth, alas!

Thy glory far surmounts my thoughts, my thoughts  5

Surmount my words: hence little praise is brought.

But seeing non-sense very pleasant is

To parents, flowing from the lisping child

I conju[r]e to thee, hoping thou in this

Will find some hearty praise of mine enfoiled              10

But though my pen dropped golden words, yet would

Thy glory far out-shine my praise in gold.


The first two stanzas of this poem begin with a complaint that he is unable to offer sufficient praise to God. The argument of the first stanza is that, I cannot think sufficient thoughts of you and thus I have no sufficient words. This is true, because God’s worth is greater than any thought or word I could express.

A golden pen, which I absolutely cannot afford

Praise of the ineffable:

The second stanza continues the same vein: Even if I could write word of gold, you would still outstrip human speech. But, parents take delight in the nonsense words of a child; and so I hope that you will take delight in my words.

The text which may lie behind Taylor’s introduction is found in Paul:

2 Corinthians 12:1–4 (AV) 

It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 

There is also a text related on the question of speaking:

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: 

1 Peter 1:8 (AV). It is not merely a matter of Taylor’s personal inadequacy: Built into the very nature of a discussion of God’s glory is the inability to capture it in words. We have here two related concepts. First, there is the inadequacy of language generally. Second, the effect of such glory renders the human being unable to articulate the effect.

Jonathan Edwards draws these strands together in the concept of happiness:

Happiness is very often in Scripture called by the name of glory, or included in that name in Scripture. God’s eternal glory includes his blessedness, and when we read of the glorifying of Christ, and the glory which the Father has given him, it includes his heavenly joy. And so when we read of the glory promised to or conferred on the saints, and of their being glorified, their unspeakable happiness is a main thing intended. Their joy is full of glory, and they are made happy in partaking of Christ’s glory. 

Jonathan Edwards, The Miscellanies: (Entry Nos. 833–1152), ed. Harry S. Stout, Amy Plantinga Pauw, and Perry Miller, vol. 20, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2002), 466.

John Gibbon writes of “unspeakable comfort,” “Here is unspeakable comfort for every humble, though doubting, soul; every contrite spirit, that hungers and thirsts after righteousness.” James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 5 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 324. 

Thomas Boston names heaven and hell both places of unspeakable:

Heaven’s happiness must needs be unspeakable, in respect of the society there. The saints going thither shall no more be in a lonely condition, but have the pleasant society of other saints perfected, holy angels, the man Christ, and God himself. The society of saints here is very comfortable, how much more the general assembly of them in heaven? There are the angels, the courtiers of the great King burning with love to God, and warm love to the saints. Yea there is the tabernacle of God with men, Rev. 21:3.

Hell’s horror must be unspeakable also, in regard of the society there. The appearance of one evil spirit now strikes the children of men with terror; but who can conceive the horror of being cast into one prison, with the damned crew, to hear the hissings of these serpents, the roarings of these devouring lions, the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of the teeth of the wicked sunk in despair? and that for ever!

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: A Soliloquy on the Art of Man-Fishing, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 5 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1849), 411.

In these instances, we can think of two ways in the glory spoken of is unspeakable: First, are the necessary limitations of language. When speaking of “heaven” or God’s glory, we are involved in a necessary abstraction, because such things are not concrete in the world. Therefore, language is to analogy:

83. THEOLOGY. The things of Christianity are so spiritual, so refined, so high and abstracted, and so much above the things we ordinarily converse with and our common affairs, to which we adapt our words; and language not supplying of us with words completely adapted to those high and abstracted ideas, we are forced to use words which do no otherwise exhibit what we would than analogically. Which words in their ordinary use do not in everything, but only in some part, exhibit what we intend they should when used in divinity; and therefore [does] religion [abound] with so many paradoxes and seeming contradictions. And it is for want of distinguishing thus in the meaning of words in divinity, from what is intended by them in their ordinary use, that arise most of the jangles about religion in the world. And to one who is not much [used] to elevated thought, many things, that are in themselves as easy and natural as the things we every day converse with, seem like impossibility and confusion. ’Tis so in every case: the more abstracted the science is, and by how much the higher nature those things are of which that science treats, by so much the more [will] our way of thinking and speaking of the things of that science be beside our way of thinking and speaking of ordinary things, and by so much the more will that science abound with paradoxes and seeming contradictions.

Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies”: (Entry Nos. A–z, Aa–zz, 1–500), ed. Thomas A. Schafer and Harry S. Stout, Corrected Edition., vol. 13, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2002), 249. Taylor could use “golden words”, but such words would necessarily be less than the original.

Analogical words are problematic when speaking of divine things, because only by there being some middle term, something the creation which has a correspondence on some point with the divine can the discussion take place. 

The sheer difficulty of this process is seen the Scriptural language of things such as “pure gold transparent as glass.” (Rev. 21:21) Pure gold is not transparent, and such was the limits of language for John. Jesus speaking of hell in terms of fire, and “outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12, 13:42). We are left with Milton’s “darkness visible.”

My thoughts/ Surmount my words: This adds an additional level to the ineffable object of praise. Taylor points to thoughts which he cannot articulate. This may point to Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” The NRSV has it: “26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

Thinking of the difficulty in speaking of divine things casts a certain light on Wordsworth’s famous lines,

To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

He is arguing for a divinity in nature. 

Be seeing non-sense very pleasant is

To parents, flowing from the lisping child

The one way to approach God in all of this is as a child. This plays upon both the very human analogy, but also upon the language of Jesus in Matthew 18:

Matthew 18:2–4 (AV)

2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Conjue: I assume this is a misspelling of “conjure” used in the archaic sense of “solemn appeal”.

Enfoiled: covered in gold.


I rather liked this bit:

My tongue wants words to tell my thoughts, my mind

Wants thoughts to comprehend thy worth, alas!

Thy glory far surmounts my thoughts, my thoughts  5

Surmount my words: hence little praise is brought.

The effect here is to run each of the lines together, like thoughts which fall down the stairs one after the other. He does this with two techniques. First, by means of enjambment: he begins the fourth on the third; the sixth line begins on the fifth. 

He second he uses a great deal of repetition:

My tongue wants words to tell my thoughts, my mind

Wants thoughts to comprehend thy worth, alas!

Thy glory far surmounts my thoughts, my thoughts  5

Surmount my words: hence little praise is brought.

My tongue wants words

my mind Wants thoughts

surmounts my thoughts, my thoughts   5

Surmount my words

There is slight variation:

to tell my thoughts, 

to comprehend thy worth

There is the alliteration on “worth/words”

Also of note is the repletion of “g” and “l”:

But though my pen dropped golden words, yet would

Thy glory far out-shine my praise in gold.

Providence Sometimes Seems

Providence sometimes seems to run counter to what is most desirable, in withholding gifts where they would be devoutly valued and wisely used. Humanly speaking, Hannah was the most fit person to be blessed with offspring to be nurtured. The course of nature which finds expression in family life is of God. Though the free element of human action plays a part, yet God is supreme. Providence is over the home of the pious. Poverty and riches, new life and bereavement, are of the Lord. Looked at in its early stages, and tested by our range of vision, the course of Providence is often the reverse of what makes for the joy of the home and the good of the world. Often the illiberal spirit holds wealth, while the loving heart has only good wishes. Many a good, Christlike heart laments that it has not the means of clothing the poor, and sending forth messengers of the cross. Men of very slender abilities and lowly position, but of intense enthusiasm for Christ, may wonder why they have not been endowed with the intellectual and social qualities which would enable them to stem the tide of scepticism, and gain over to Christianity persons now inaccessible to them.

R. Payne Smith

Pulpit Commentary 

The Image of God as Mirror


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As it happened in my reading I came to K. Scott Oliphint in Covenantal Apologetics making a point consistent with the point made by Kuyper and discussed in the previous post 

“This is one reason it might be helpful to remember the analogy of a mirror image. If the image of God is analogous to an image in a mirror, then we realize that the original must be at all times present, in front of the mirror, in order for there to be an image at all. But we also see that the image, as image, while reflecting the original, depends at every second on the presence of the original for its very existence. If the original is no longer present, the image is gone. Image is essentially dependent, for its existence and every one of its characteristics, on the original. The original, however, is in no way dependent on that image in order to be what it is.”

Kuyper, Common Grace 1.23 (the power of choice)


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Sartre, choosing to look like a philosopher.


So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Genesis 3:6

Although created good, with wisdom, holiness, righteousness given God, the human beings in the Garden were yet capable of further development. That development was possible in two different directions: development which takes place in accordance with the instruction given by God, or “development” in contravention of that ordinance. Kuyper explains this in terms of development consistent with the “position of image-bearer” or not. 

To think this through, the instruction of God was to lay out the manner in which the humans would work-out their status and obligation to image God in the creation. This is a different matter than the capacity of the humans to act as image bearer. If we think of image bearer as a sort of mirror, the instruction would be as to how to keep the mirror directed toward God as the original (or conversely to turn away). 

A separate issue would be the functionality of the mirror as a mirror (is the mirror cracked, dirty, cleansed, et cetera).

Kuyper speaks of this functionally as a mirror-original relationship (although he does not use the precise word “mirror”): “Anyone called to resemble another’s image should, in order to keep bearing that image, want to turn toward him. By turning away from him the image is lost.” 

I do not think we have (or can) fully realize the profound effect which takes place to a human being when we – as mirrors (those who are to bear a particular image) – turn away from that which we are to re-present. The Paul, in particular, notes that is by gazing upon Christ that we are conformed to his image (2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10) The change which is wrought in us by this work is the renewing of our mind. (Eph. 4:23; Rom. 12:2)

We were created to exhibit this image, but we can only do so in a dependency relationship. We do not have this image as a matter of sovereignty, but as a creature assigned a position. Kuyper notices something extremely interesting here: The image we are to project is one of sovereignty, but we have that image by derivation of another. We are not inherently sovereign, in the sense that we can exercise some sovereignty in an independent manner. We are certainly not autonomous, a law to ourselves. 

And yet we have to misuse our capacity to dependently exhibit that sovereignty: “. In that contradictory notion of a dependent trait of sovereignty lies the whole mystery of our religious moral being: created in the image of God, consequently possessing the moral choice of our will. This moral choice of will as a trait of the image of God, and therefore dependent.”

In thinking through this moral capacity, Kuyper comes to a concept which was made much of by existential philosophers: the determining nature of our choice: “Sartre’s slogan—“existence precedes essence”—may serve to introduce what is most distinctive of existentialism, namely, the idea that no general, non-formal account of what it means to be human can be given, since that meaning is decided in and through existing itself. Existence is “self-making-in-a-situation” (Fackenheim 1961: 37). Webber (2018: 14) puts the point this way: “Classical existentialism is … the theory that existence precedes essence,” that is, “there is no such thing as human nature” in an Aristotelian sense. A “person does not have an inbuilt set of values that they are inherently structured to pursue. Rather, the values that shape a person’s behavior result from the choices they have made” (2018: 4). In contrast to other entities, whose essential properties are fixed by the kind of entities they are, what is essential to a human being—what makes her who she is—is not fixed by her type but by what she makes of herself, who she becomes.”

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Existentialism. 


By now means do I see a straight equivalence between Kuyper and Sartre. Rather, I note that they both see an importance in the act of choice (albeit from quite different perspectives and for quite different ends) than is recognized by others: “Everything of God that is reflected in us is so incomparably glorious, but also so fearfully terrible. We make a choice without fully thinking it through and that choice determines our whole existence. And yet, we cannot do otherwise. It must be so.” Sartre would not grant God in the manner voiced by Kuyper, but both would agree that a choice has “terrible” effects. 

Kuyper says that this power is “frightening”. 

Adam created with this “terrible” power of choice could not a creature whose end point was reached at creation. Rather, the placement in the Garden, the receipt of counsel from God, were the bare starting place for his development. It could not have been otherwise when Adam was armed with such an extraordinary moral power: choice.

Kuyper then answers the objection: Why didn’t God just make human beings good – morally perfect without the ability to fall, and in so doing save us the terror of Hell? 

This is the cost of being created in the image of God. Were we created without this power to choose, we have been something else. 

Without this power of choice, we would not be those who preserved. He does not use this analogy, but perhaps it is apt. Imagine to men aged 25 and alive. One man went through a war and lived. The only merely lived. We could not say they were identical. There are aspects of the man who lived through the war which could not exist for the other. They are both alive at 25, but there lives are very different.

And so, God places in the Garden two trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (which Kuyper also calls the Tree of Conscience). The Tree of Life will be in Paradise. The Tree of Conscience will not be seen again; it has done its complete work.

How then does this Tree of Conscience produce an effect upon the soul of Adam? It is merely by eating as if the fruit eaten transversed the body and enter the soul directly. The power in the fruit came from the command of God prohibiting the eating coupled to the choice of eating. The Tree of Life need “merely” keep one alive. But the effect of conscience requires something greater than the bare fruit to achieve its end. 

Brief Notes on Eliot, Portrait of a Lady


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This poem has puzzled me for a bit and so I wanted to think it through.

The Portrait of a Lady - Wikipedia

Portrait of a Lady

By T.S. Eliot

 Thou hast committed —Fornication: but that was in another country,And besides, the wench is dead. 
The Jew of Malta

The poem begins with ambiguity: The title apparently comes from the novel by Henry James. But it could also be the generic idea of a portrait in painting or word. And if the reference is to the novel, then what aspect of the novel? The ambiguity increases when we consider the motto and the title: The portrait is of a “lady”. The quotation of a fornicating “wench.”  The effect of the original (from Christopher Marlowe) is bit different between it came in conversation:

            FRIAR BARNARDINE. Thou hast committed—

           BARABAS. Fornication:  but that was in another country;

     And besides, the wench is dead.

Without getting too deep into the play, the statement by Barabas is an ironic “confession” of sin. 

From these two quotations, we could assume that the poem will be a portrait of a woman with whom someone commits fornication and that woman is now dead. Perhaps we can also anticipate a confession.

Among the smoke and fog of a December afternoon 

You have the scene arrange itself — as it will seem to do— 

With “I have saved this afternoon for you”; 

And four wax candles in the darkened room, 

Four rings of light upon the ceiling overhead, 

An atmosphere of Juliet’s tomb 

Prepared for all the things to be said, or left unsaid. 

We have been, let us say, to hear the latest Pole 

Transmit the Preludes, through his hair and finger-tips. 

“So intimate, this Chopin, that I think his soul 

Should be resurrected only among friends 

Some two or three, who will not touch the bloom 

That is rubbed and questioned in the concert room.” 

—And so the conversation slips 

Among velleities and carefully caught regrets 

Through attenuated tones of violins 

Mingled with remote cornets 

And begins. 

This first stanza leaves us still unoriented: who is narrating this event? Someone is speaking to us about a scene in the past. The “smoke and fog of a Dececember afternoon” are distinctly “unromantic”. The tone is quite in line with the more famous Prufrock (done to the discussions of music and the fog. This is perhaps the room where women come and go.)

Who has “saved this afternoon”? We are we intruding into this private event? Who has invited us to intrude.

That it is Juliette’s tomb and what has not been said (or said) is rather gruesome, and recalls the motto “she is dead.” There is a romantic meeting implied, but it is a deathly meeting. The relationship has begun where Juliette’s ended.

Who is the “we” have been: Is the narrator a participant? Later that will become clear, but here we cannot tell. The world is private and privileged (these are not working class). They speak with the sort of dilettante voice of those who repeat cliches about art without being profound. 

The conversation masks what is actually happening and the people are like the people of the Wasteland whom death has not undone. Everyone is a sort ghost, a not-quite person with weak desires and regrets. The violins are attenuated, the coronets are remote.

We open in the most unreal, spectral locations: “And begins”.

“You do not know how much they mean to me, my friends, 

And how, how rare and strange it is, to find 

In a life composed so much, so much of odds and ends, 

(For indeed I do not love it … you knew? you are not blind! 

How keen you are!) 

To find a friend who has these qualities, 

Who has, and gives 

Those qualities upon which friendship lives. 

How much it means that I say this to you — 

Without these friendships — life, what cauchemar!” 

Someone – not the narrator – has begun to speak. We assume this is the lady from the diction and from the title.  The logic is circular “a friend has the quality of being a friend and without friends, what a nightmare”. The life of this woman is “composed” of “odds and ends.” She praises the other as “how keen you are.” 

It is also interesting that the event is narrated in such a detached manner. It is spoken to you, the one who heard these words does not seem attached to it. We learn in the second half of the stanza that our narrator is not a third person, but this is his life “inside my brain”.

The imagery of music, which has been an affectation – and a “pretty” one at that – becomes rather base and painful for him: “dull tom-tom … absurdly hammering … monotone … false note”.

Among the winding of the violins 

And the ariettes 

Of cracked cornets 

Inside my brain a dull tom-tom begins 

Absurdly hammering a prelude of its own, 

Capricious monotone 

That is at least one definite “false note.” 

— Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance, 

Admire the monuments, 

Discuss the late events, 

Correct our watches by the public clocks. 

Then sit for half an hour and drink our bocks. 

They are the midst of art – which had promised so much in the prior generation: The “art for arts sake” of Wilde has not performed the redemptive services promised. Poetry and sculpture and music did not elevate life sufficiently and make a substitute for music. They will “admire monuments” after they hear the music. They will keep time (for what reason?). They will sit “half an hour” and drink beer. But even in this there is a distance “our bocks”. They are killing time. 


Now that lilacs are in bloom 

She has a bowl of lilacs in her room 

And twists one in her fingers while she talks. 

“Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know 

What life is, you who hold it in your hands”; 

(Slowly twisting the lilac stalks) 

“You let it flow from you, you let it flow, 

And youth is cruel, and has no remorse 

And smiles at situations which it cannot see.” 

We are transported somewhere into the future: It was foggy December. Now the lilacs are in bloom. This being Eliot, we can’t overlook the (possible) allusion to Whitman’s great poem, When the Lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed. There is a brilliant use of the flowers: the flowers are in bloom, and she has brought some inside. When coupled with the description of how she “twists” the lilacs (mentioned twice), the image of cut flowers being brought inside and slowly twisted sounds sinister. 

What life is when you hold it in your hands: In the previous scene the two were outside, but now they are inside – in her space. I would suggest that the narrator is now the cut flower, inside. His life is in her hands and she is slowly twisting him. 

This is the first indication that there is an age difference: youth. He is apparently the youth, she the elder. She is the victim: youth is cruel, without remorse: you don’t know what you’re doing to me. And so while she is strangling him, it is “really” her who is being twisted. She is not twisting him, but rather she is the one being twisted up. The imagery works in both directions.

I smile, of course, 

And go on drinking tea. 

“Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall 

My buried life, and Paris in the Spring, 

I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world 

To be wonderful and youthful, after all.” 

I smile, of course: this is brilliant. Is he hiding from her? Does he understand? Is he maliciously agreeing? That he goes on drinking tea has the effect of keeping her emotionally at a difference. This creates an ironic note when compared to the intimacy of Chopin and the talk of friendship: here there is no friendship, not even passion. 

There is April and Paris, but it is a “buried life” and “sunsets.” She is at peace: which sounds like “in the grave”. How then is the world “wonderful and youth”? 

He is the artist, Joyce’s Portrait, paring his nails at a distance from his creation. 

The voice returns like the insistent out-of-tune 

Of a broken violin on an August afternoon: 

“I am always sure that you understand 

My feelings, always sure that you feel, 

Sure that across the gulf you reach your hand. 

Here we seem to be at another distance: the now of the poem. This lilac day is in the past: “the voice returns”. It is also unpleasant at this distance. It is not merely “out-of-tune” but it is an “insistent” status “of a broken violin”. It is not an April in Paris, but it is “an August afternoon”

She is “insistenting” something about him which is not true. She pathetically thinks of him as one who understands and sympathizes: but he “smiles, of course” and just “drinks tea.”

You are invulnerable, you have no Achilles’ heel. 

You will go on, and when you have prevailed 

You can say: at this point many a one has failed. 

Then she switches her perspective, he is not quite the understanding friend. Instead, he is “invulnerable”. He has “prevailed”  but it is over her? Has he prevailed by not becoming involved. How has he been different than other who did “fail”? Fail at what? 

Let’s go back to meeting her in Juliette’s tomb: is the death hers, or is the death something she brings upon others? Is she a trap: we have the same ambiguity of the twisted cut flower: who is destroying whom?

But what have I, but what have I, my friend, 

To give you, what can you receive from me? 

Only the friendship and the sympathy 

Of one about to reach her journey’s end. 

They only have friendship and sympathy: which is precisely what they do not have. They are in close connection but they are utterly without intimacy. 

I shall sit here, serving tea to friends ….” 

The tea has returned: the drinking becomes a pose to keep one close and distant I the same move. There is a connection with drinking and eating with one-another: this also becomes a mask and means to keep a distance. She is going to stay “sit here” and she will continue as she has done “serving tea to friends”.

I take my hat: how can I make a cowardly amends 

For what she has said to me? 

He is leaving. All he has there is a “hat”. Any visitor would have a hat to bring and leave. He has left nothing behind and has brought nothing with him.

Another irony: she has called him the greatest of all heroes, Achilles: he sees himself as a coward. He then paints a pathetic picture of himself as Profrock:

You will see me any morning in the park 

Reading the comics and the sporting page. 

Particularly I remark. 

Even though the trivialities come from the paper and not the internet, there is not a lick of difference: petty, irrelevant gossip:

An English countess goes upon the stage. 

A Greek was murdered at a Polish dance, 

Another bank defaulter has confessed. 

He is not quite an invulnerable as she thought him to be:

I keep my countenance, 

I remain self-possessed 

Except when a street-piano, mechanical and tired 

Reiterates some worn-out common song 

With the smell of hyacinths across the garden 

Recalling things that other people have desired. 

Are these ideas right or wrong? 

Now we understand the music: it is the life passion and reality (perhaps). Although the music he now finds is “mechanical and tired”. Must smells of hyacinths in a garden; but more importantly, music is filled with “things that other people have desired.” He is a man seemingly without any desires of his own. 

He is so nothing that cannot even his own mind: “Are these ideas right or wrong?” Neither his thoughts nor his feelings are his own. 

We then move to yet another time: October. Is this in the past, or is this now the present of the poem?


The October night comes down; returning as before 

Except for a slight sensation of being ill at ease 

I mount the stairs and turn the handle of the door 

And feel as if I had mounted on my hands and knees. 

It is October: the night is returning – but is he? Whose steps is he mounting? It is the “lady’s” because she is the only one who speaks out loud in the poem. So is he returning to her house? When he comes to the door of her home it feels like a supplicant begging. He is anything but a hero.

“And so you are going abroad; and when do you return? 

But that’s a useless question. 

You hardly know when you are coming back, 

You will find so much to learn.” 

My smile falls heavily among the bric-à-brac. 

He is taking his leave.  He needs to learn something. Is she being dismissive: you’re a child? Is she protecting herself? No one rightly discloses nor knows themself. 

His smile becomes one her possessions: and a trivial one at that: it takes is place among her things. 

“Perhaps you can write to me.” 

My self-possession flares up for a second; 

This is as I had reckoned. 

What does this mean psychologically? Does this mean that he would have some control? Is their relationship a matter of control. And if it is something he had reckoned, does that does that mean he finally understood something about her? But it will immediately be lost, his self-possession “gutters”, it flows out like melted wax:

“I have been wondering frequently of late 

(But our beginnings never know our ends!) 

Why we have not developed into friends.” 

I feel like one who smiles, and turning shall remark 

Suddenly, his expression in a glass. 

My self-possession gutters; we are really in the dark. 

 He almost speaks – but then in weakness he fails. She says why we never became friends (despite whatever other intimacy)? He rises to speak and then stops. “We are relaly in the dark.”

“For everybody said so, all our friends, 

They all were sure our feelings would relate 

So closely! I myself can hardly understand. 

We must leave it now to fate. 

You will write, at any rate. 

Perhaps it is not too late. 

I shall sit here, serving tea to friends.” 

Everyone thought it would be otherwise: And that tea again. There was the possibility that the two could actually “relate” – but it did not happen. Why?

And I must borrow every changing shape 

To find expression … dance, dance 

Like a dancing bear, 

Cry like a parrot, chatter like an ape. 

He is now utterly weakened: He is a dancing bear, who “borrows every changing shape.”

He ends with an utter weakness and tentativeness: If she should die, what would be left for him? He does not even know what to feel or think (understand). He does not if he is wise or foolish, early or late. And then in death, “Would she not have the advantage after all?”

If she were to die, would he have the right to smile.

Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance— 

Well! and what if she should die some afternoon, 

Afternoon grey and smoky, evening yellow and rose; 

Should die and leave me sitting pen in hand 

With the smoke coming down above the housetops; 

Doubtful, for quite a while 

Not knowing what to feel or if I understand 

Or whether wise or foolish, tardy or too soon … 

Would she not have the advantage, after all? 

This music is successful with a “dying fall” 

Now that we talk of dying— 

And should I have the right to smile? 

If we give this a sort of Jungian read, and the lady is the aspect of his life which is missing: a real soul; then, has he failed to obtain this? Was it offered to him? Or is she a “dominating queen” (like Someone Saved my Life Tonight)? Has he been captured by her?

This is a poem describing some sort relationship, but he seems unable to enter into it or to escape it. He is in the end a cypher, not even a completed man. 

Richard Sibbes, The Backsliding Sinner 2.7


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V.        “Doct. That God’s children at all times have their sacrifices.”

Even though Christ has come and the temple sacrifices of animals and grain have been superseded, it does not mean there are no sacrifice remains for Christians. Sibbes lists five: a broken heart, “offering Christ to God,” offering a mortified life as a living sacrifice, giving alms, and praise. When it comes to praise, he will offer further elaboration. 

A. Even though Christ has come we must still offer sacrifice

There is indeed one kind of sacrificing determined and finished by the coming of Christ, who was the last sacrifice of propitiation for our sins. 

He specifically rejects the concept of the mass as a continuing sacrifice. The sacrifice commemorated in the Supper was the sacrifice under which which has ended.

The more to blame those who yet maintain a daily sacrifice, not of laud and praise, but of cozening and deluding the world, in saying mass for the sins of the quick and the dead; all such sacrifices being finished and closed up in him, our blessed Saviour; who, ‘by one sacrifice,’ as the apostle speaks, ‘hath perfected them that are sanctified,’ Heb. 10:147:27; and that, ‘by one sacrifice, when he offered up himself,’ Heb. 10:12; when all the Jewish sacrifices ended. Since which, all ours are but a commemoration of Christ’s last sacrifice, as the fathers say: the Lord’s supper, with the rest, which remain still; and the sacrifice of praise, with a few others, I desire to name.

But there are other sacrifices:

1. First, The sacrifice of a broken heart, whereof David speaks, Ps. 51:17; which sacrifice of a wounded, broken heart, by the knife of repentance, pleaseth God wondrously well.

2. And then, a broken heart that offers Christ to God every day; who, though he were offered once for all, yet our believing in him, and daily presenting his atonement made for us, is a new offering of him. Christ is crucified and sacrificed for thee as oft as thou believest in Christ crucified.

I guess we best understand this as the application of faith to a broken heart: it is to plead Christ’s death again without claiming that we are in fact re-sacrificing Christ.

Now, upon all occasions we manifest our belief in Christ, to wash and bathe ourselves in his blood, who justifieth the ungodly. So that, upon a fresh sight of sin, with contrition for it, he continually justifieth us. Thus, when we believe, we offer him to God daily; a broken heart first, and then Christ with a broken heart.

There is also the sacrifice of the presenting our lives to service:

3. And then when we believe in Christ, we offer and sacrifice ourselves to God; in which respect we must, as it were, be killed ere we be offered. For we may not offer ourselves as we are in our lusts, but as mortified and killed by repentance. Then we offer ourselves to God as a reasonable and living sacrifice, when we offer ourselves wholly unto him, wit, understanding, judgment, affections, and endeavour; as Paul saith of the Macedonians, ‘they gave themselves to God first, and then their goods,’ 2 Cor. 8:5.

In sum, it is that sacrifice Paul speaks of, ‘to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,’ &c., Rom. 12:1. For a Christian who believeth in the Lord Jesus is not his own, but sacrificeth himself to him that was sacrificed for him. As Christ is given to us, so he that believes in Christ gives himself back again to Christ. 

This sacrifice is the measure and proof of our salvation:

Hereby a man may know if he be a true Christian, and that Christ is his, if he yields up himself to God. For ‘Christ died and rose again,’ saith the apostle, ‘that he might be Lord both of quick and dead,’ Rom. 14:9. ‘Therefore,’ saith he, ‘whether we live or die, we are not our own,’ Rom. 14:8.

Each time we suffer due to the fact that our life given up to God is conflict with the flow of this world, we are in a state of sacrifice:

What we do or suffer in the world, in all we are sacrificed. So saith a sanctified soul, My wit, my will, my life, my good, my affections are thine; of thee I received them, and I resign all to thee as a sacrifice. Thus the martyrs, to seal the truth, as a sacrifice, yielded up their blood. 

In an anti-antinomian turn, Sibbes who is much of the freedom of God’s grace notes that nature of grace received is to create thankfulness which is expressed in a manner of life. This is an interesting idea: Obedience is rendered as an act of thankfulness toward God.

He that hath not obtained of himself so much as to yield himself to God, he knows not what the gospel means. For Christian religion is not only to believe in Christ for forgiveness of sin; but the same faith which takes this great benefit, renders back ourselves in lieu of thankfulness.

He presses and explicates the point:

So that, whatsoever we have, after we believe, we give all back again. Lord, I have my life, my will, my wit, and all from thee; and to thee I return all back again. For when I gave myself to believe in thy dear Son, I yielded myself and all I have to thee; and now, having nothing but by thy gift, if thou wilt have all I will return all unto thee again; if thou wilt have my life, my goods, my liberty, thou shalt have them. 

Here he notes that true faith is not merely a cognitive assent to a fact “not altogether in believing in this or that”. Faith transforms the entire life, faith is such a thing:

This is the state of a Christian who hath denied himself. For we cannot believe as we should unless we deny ourselves. Christianity is not altogether in believing this and that; but the faith which moves me to believe forgiveness of sins, carries us also unto God to yield all back again to him.

Love for those whom cannot repay:

4. More especially, among the sacrifices of the New Testament are alms, as, ‘To do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased,’ Heb. 13:16.

The sacrifice of prase:

5. And among the rest, the sacrifice of praise, which is in the same chapter, verse 15. First, he saith, By him, that is, by Christ, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips: which is but an exposition of this place, which, because it is especially here intended, I will a little enlarge myself in.

B.  What is meant by “calves of our lips”

This idiom is at first quite difficult: calves and lips are not concordant ideas. But the use of “calf” as a metonymy for “sacrifice” leads to some sense: 

He first gives an outline of how he will develop the idea: giving glory and giving thanks. One is extolling God, the other is an effusion of love for the thing received.

The ‘calves of our lips’ implies two things: Not only thankfulness to God, but glorifying of God, in setting out his praise. Otherwise to thank God for his goodness to us, or for what we hope to receive, without glorifying of him, is nothing at all worth. 

1. What it means to glorify God

For in glorifying there are two things.

a. “A supposition of excellency.” For that cannot be glorified, which hath no excellency in it. Glory in sublimity hath alway excellency attending it. And

b. “The manifestation of this glory.”

Now, when all the excellencies of God, as they are, are discovered and set out, his wisdom, mercy, power, goodness, all-sufficiency, &c., then we glorify him. To praise God for his favours to us, and accordingly to glorify him, is ‘the calves of our lips;’ but especially to praise him. Whence the point is—

c. “That the yielding of praise to God is a wondrous acceptable sacrifice.”

Which is instead of all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, than which the greatest can do no more, nor the least less; for it is the sacrifice and fruit of the lips. 

But to open it. 

i. The speech which glorifies God has its value in the fact it springs from the understanding:

It is not the sound of the words, but the resolution of the heart which makes the speech God-glorifying.

It is not merely the sacrifice of our lips; for the praise we yield to God, it must be begotten in the heart. Hereupon the word, λογὸς [logos], speech, signifieth both reason and speech, there being one word in the learned language for both.

Reason is communicated as speech:

Because speech is nothing but that stream which issues from the spring of reason and understanding: 

therefore, in thanksgiving there must not be a lip-labour only, but a thanksgiving from the lips, first begotten in the heart, coming from the inward man, as the prophet saith, ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name,’ Ps. 103:1.

We know what and why we praise:

Praise must come from a sound judgment of the worth of the thing we praise for. 

Praise must rise from true affection:

It must come from an affection which desires that God may have the glory, by the powers of the whole inward man, which is a hard matter, to rouse up ourselves to praise God with all the powers of our soul, ‘all that is within me, praise his holy name,’ Ps. 103:1.

In sum:  There goeth judgment, resolution of the will, strength of affections, and all with it.

ii. Praise comes from the heart and then flows out into action: 

Praise is an act of integrity: It begins with a true understanding and love, expressing itself in word and in conduct:

And then again, besides this, ‘the calves of our lips’ carries us to work. The oral thanksgiving must be justified by our works and deeds; or else our actions will give our tongue the lie, that we praise him with the one, but deny him in the other. This is a solecism, as if one should look to the earth, and cry, O ye heavens! So when we say, God be praised, when yet our life speaks the contrary, it is a dishonouring of God. So the praise of our lips must be made good and justified by our life, actions, and conversation. This we must suppose for the full understanding of the words, ‘We will render,’ from our hearts, ‘the calves of our lips;’ which we must make good in our lives and conversations, ever to set forth thy praise in our whole life.

C. Why this phrase?

Quest. But why doth the prophet especially mention lips, ‘the calves of our lips,’ which are our words?

Ans. 1. Partly, because Christ, who is the Word, delights in our words.

2. Because our tongue is our glory, and that whereby we glorify God.

3. And especially because our tongue is that which excites others, being a trumpet of praise, ordained of God for this purpose. Therefore, ‘the calves of our lips;’ partly, because it stirs up ourselves and others, and partly, because God delights in words, especially of his own dictating. 

D. How can become the person who gives such true praise?

To come then to speak more fully of praise and thanksgiving, let us consider what a sweet, excellent, and prevailing duty this is, which the church, to bind God, promiseth unto him, ‘the calves of our lips.’ I will not be long in the point, but only come to some helps how we may come to do it.

1. We must be broken and humbled to give praise: We must think little of ourselves. He makes an important point here concerning thankfulness. A thankful person begins with an understanding of his lack of some-thing and his unworthiness to receive something. We pay money at the market and take away my apple, I am not thankful to the cashier for letting me take my apple, I have paid for it. But if that same person out of kindness gave me that apple without money, an apple I had not earned or deserved, I would be thankful:

First, this praising of God must be from an humble, broken heart. The humble soul that sees itself not worthy of any favour, and confesseth sin before God, is alway a thankful soul. ‘Take away our iniquity, and then do good to us.’ We are empty ourselves. Then will ‘we render thee the calves of our lips.’ 

Proof of the point

What made David so thankful a man? He was an humble man; and so Jacob, what abased him so in his own eyes? His humility: ‘Lord, I am less than the least of thy mercies,’ Gen. 32:10

He that thinks himself unworthy of anything, will be thankful for everything; and he who thinks himself unworthy of any blessing, will be contented with the least. 

Exhortation: Notice how Sibbes is continually raising application as it is appropriate. To be thankful: which is the thing sought, we first must contemplate our unworthiness. The point here is not self-centered loathing, but a realization that we do not deserve good so that we may be thankful of the good.

Therefore, let us work our hearts to humility, in consideration of our sinfulness, vileness, and unworthiness, which will make us thankful: especially of the best blessings, when we consider their greatness, and our unworthiness of them. 

Here he makes a point which coheres with something I see in the Iliad (which I am currently completing), a book of extraordinarily proud men. Thankfulness is almost non-existent. The word “thank” only appears 10 times in Butler’s translation, as an ironic concept, as a means for a god to deceive someone into a committing a crime, as a basis for pride (no one thanks me for my fighting). 

I wonder if our emphasis on self-esteem has contributed to unhappiness by making us unthankful: and also creating a basis for constant disappointment and frustration (I have not received what I deserved). 

Another note, the broken-hearted humility is humility toward God.

A proud man can never be thankful. Therefore, that religion which teacheth pride, cannot be a thankful religion. 

Popery is compounded of spiritual pride: merit of congruity, before conversion; merit of condignity, and desert of heaven, after; free will, and the like, to puff up nature. What a religion is this! Must we light a candle before the devil? Is not nature proud enough, but we must light a candle to it? To be spiritually proud is worst of all.

2. Thankfulness is paired with an evaluation of the greatness and goodness of God. The Christian who “humbles” himself can conceal pride in that humility if it is not paired with an understanding of the goodndess and greatness of God. Without this there will never be thankfulness; and there will not be true humility 

And with our own unworthiness, add this: a consideration of the greatness of the thing we bless God for; setting as high a price upon it as we can, by considering what and how miserable we were without it. 

He is going to raise the doctrine of Hell. The doctrine is routinely unfashionable and is often considered reprehensible. But here Sibbes asks us to consider it so that we may be thankful. Here is the misery we have earned (and that is the point which is unpalatable, perhaps you could deserve Hell, but I could not), and yet we are spared. If you narrowly avoided being killed in a fire, you would thank the fireman.

He will bless God joyfully for pardon of sin, who sees how miserable he were without it, in misery next to devils, ready to drop into hell every moment. And the more excellent we are, so much the more accursed, without the forgiveness of sins. 

For the soul, by reason of the largeness thereof, is so much the more capable and comprehensible of misery; as the devils are more capable than we, therefore are most accursed. Oh, this will make us bless God for the pardon of sin! 

Consider all of the good things we have received. In particular be thankful that we can see or hear or touch. 

And likewise, let us set a price upon all God’s blessings, considering what we were without our senses, speech, meat, drink, rest, &c. O beloved! 

we forget to praise God sufficiently for our senses. 

This little spark of reason in us is an excellent thing; grace is founded upon it. If we were without reason, what were we? If we wanted sight, hearing, speech, rest, and other daily blessings, how uncomfortable were our lives! This consideration will add and set a price to their worth, and make us thankful, to consider our misery without them. 

Sadly, we don’t know how many good things we have until we do not have them:

But, such is our corruption, that favours are more known by the want, than by the enjoying of them. When too late, we many times find how dark and uncomfortable we are without them; then smarting the more soundly, because in time we did not sufficiently prize, and were thankful for them.

Let us, then, be stirred up to give God his due beforehand, to begin heaven upon earth; for we are so much in heaven already, as we abound and are conversant in thanksgiving upon earth.

3. If we have a good assurance that we are right before God, we will be thankful

And then, labour to get further and further assurance that we are God’s children, beloved of him.

Assurance will work in two ways: it will make me conscious of what I have – and what is coming. It will make me thankful. 

This will make us thankful both for what we have and hope for. 

Proof of the point by considering the opposite:

It lets out the life-blood of thankfulness, to teach doubting or falling from grace. 

Why does God tell us of the good which is laid up for us? To make us hopeful and thus thankful:

What is the end, I beseech you, why the glory to come is revealed before the time? That we shall be sons and daughters, kings and queens, heirs and co-heirs with Christ, and [that] ‘all that he hath is ours?’ Rom. 8:17. Is not this knowledge revealed beforehand, that our praise and thanksgiving should beforehand be suitable to this revelation, being set with Christ in heavenly places already. Whence comes those strong phrases? ‘We are raised with Christ; sit with him in heavenly places,’ Eph. 2:6; ‘are translated from death to life,’ Col. 1:13; ‘transformed into his image;’ ‘partakers of the divine nature,’ &c., 2 Pet. 1:4.

Faith begets thankfulness. Doubting robs us of blessing. This is an important aspect of faith: it the means by which one person receives love and joy and hope from another: if I distrust you, I can never receive love from you. 

If anything that can come betwixt our believing, and our sitting there, could disappoint us thereof, or unsettle us, it may as well put Christ out of heaven, for we sit with him. If we yield to the uncomfortable popish doctrine of doubting, we cannot be heartily thankful for blessings; for still there will rise in the soul surmises, I know not whether God favour me or not: it may be, I am only fatted for the day of slaughter; God gives me outward things to damn me, and make me the more inexcusable. 

And if we doubt we will not give God the praise he deserves. How could one be thainkful with, maybe you’ll do me good?

What a cooler of praise is this, to be ever doubting, and to have no assurance of God’s favour! But when upon good evidence, which cannot deceive, we have somewhat wrought in us, distinct from the greater number of worldlings, God’s stamp set upon us; having evidences of the state of grace, by conformity to Christ, and walking humbly by the rule of the word in all God’s ways: then we may heartily be thankful, yea, and we shall break forth in thanksgiving; this being an estate of peace, and ‘joy unspeakable and glorious,’ 1 Pet. 1:8, wherein we take everything as an evidence of God’s love.

He restates the proposition:

Thus the assurance of our being in the state of grace makes us thankful for everything. 

He restates the contrary: Notice the tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them. Particularly when delivering an oral message, repetition is critical to retention and understanding.

So by the contrary, being not in some measure assured of God’s love in Christ, we cannot be thankful for everything. For it will always come in our mind, I know not how I have these things, and what account I shall give for them. 

He repeats the exhortation: Be assured of what you will receive for this will fill your heart with thankfulness:


[two reasons]

[1]even for the honour of God, 

[2]and that we may praise him the more cheerfully, 


let us labour to have further and further evidences of the state of grace, 

[this leads to]

to make us thankful both for things present and to come, 

seeing faith takes to trust things to come, as if it had them in possession. 

[Our faith is well-grounded]

Whereby we are assured of this, that we shall come to heaven, as sure as if we were there already. This makes us praise God beforehand for all favours; as blessed Peter begins his epistle, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,’ &c., 1 Pet. 1:34.

A final encouragement:

As soon as we are newborn, we are begotten to a kingdom and an inheritance. Therefore, assurance that we are God’s children will make us thankful for grace present, and that to come, as if we were in heaven already. We begin then the employment of heaven in thanksgiving here, to praise God beforehand with cherubims and angels. Let us, then, be stirred up to give God his due beforehand, to begin heaven upon earth; for we are so much in heaven already, as we abound and are conversant in thanksgiving upon earth.

What is a human being, if you extirpate love?


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In The Criminal Psychopath, Jurimetrics. 2011 Summer; 51: 355–397, Kiehl and Hoffman provide a thorough summary of the history, diagnosis, and treatment of the psychopath, particularly with a view to amount of crime committed by this relatively small proportion of the population.

It raises the interesting issue of the degree to which the condition is the result of a brain disorder and the interaction with this brain in its environment. There is apparently some evidence that the condition has a genetic component, and perhaps it is a peculiarly vulnerable brain in connection with the “right” environment which leads to the exhibition of utter moral inability. Plainly performing standard experiments by tormenting and mistreating children in rigorously similar manners to see whether the condition can be induced regularly would be evil. Therefore, one needs to consider proxies, such as the condition shows some responsiveness to treatment if the treatment early enough in life.

That there is correspondence between the condition and certain brain function is interesting: But note that the information cited shows the functioning of the brain: their brains function differently. When faced with moral situations the parts of their brain which were involved differed from “you and me.” But what does that exactly prove? The argument that the brain is causing this condition actually contains a hidden premise: that all thought must begin from the brain, not pass through the brain.

For a moment take a different body part: the psychopath and the mother with her child both use their hands, but the use is strikingly different. No one believes that the mother hand causes her sweet caress.

Reddit Turned an MIT AI Into a Psychopath. What Is It Doing to Your Brain? | Inc.com

Now a mother with broken hands could not caress in the same manner. The status of her hand both limits and permits certain behavior, but it does not cause her behavior.

But when it comes to the brain, it is easy to believe that the brain is causative. This is because the functioning of rest of the body relies heavily upon the functioning of the brain. In particular, the use of the brain in thought could imply that the brain is directing the thought.

But need that be so? If one adds as an element of the human being a mind, it is no difficulty to concluded that the minds of two different men would use their brains in a different manner: just as the psychopath murders and the doctor heals with the hand.

If we posit that information flows from the body toward the mind and the mind toward the body, effects can move in both directions. (The precise nature of mind and body is not the issue. Although at present I am very intrigued by Dembski’s Being as Communion (information is the ultimate base, not matter) and Thomas’ hylomorphism which seems to resolve Descartes’ hard cleavage interaction problem.) Thus certain types of brains would have effects without being the univocal cause.

Another element in the article which intrigued me was “His very disconnectedness is his mask. We cannot see him because we assume all humans have the connections that bind us, and because the psychopath’s very lack of those connections allows him to mimic them.” The psychopath, to use the Ancient Greek term, is a-storge: he lacks human connections. The fact of storge among other humans creates the framework which the psychopath exploits: “One explanation is that being exposed to the frailties of normal people in group therapeutic settings gives psychopaths a stock of information that makes them better at manipulating those normal people. As one psychopath put it, ‘These programs are like a finishing school. They teach you how to put the squeeze on people.'”

They bear a resemblance to Nietzsche’s Nobility who know themselves better than all others and are willing to command and exploit. They also exhibit the final end of depravity in Romans 1.

What should think of them. The authors were hopeful there were ways to get the psychopaths to slow down a bit on their crime spree of life. But there really wasn’t any element of hope.

“As one psychotherapist wrote, his psychopaths in treatment ‘have no desire to change, … have no concept of the future, resent all authorities (including therapists), view the patient role as … being in a position of inferiority, and deem therapy a joke and therapists as objects to be conned, threatened, seduced, or used.'”

That reference to the “future” stuck out. It is not merely that they have no concept of future punishment, they have no mechanism for hope. Perhaps they can move by hungers, I want this-then-that, but would be based upon a present hunger. I might plan to fulfill my hunger, but not be different.

Authorities obviously are merely impediments to be beaten or seduced. That is easy enough. But without the future, without hope. That again is a state described in Paul as the depth of lostness, “having no hope without God in the world.”

Now we come to this character: no authority, no hope, no future. Such a man is ultimately depraved.

It is the cognitive capacity of a man without love: because love is built around the future. Love does not exult in oneself, but puts another first. Love becomes a sort of authority for the other’s good becomes paramount.