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Taylor’s poem can be found here:

https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/meditation-canticles-2-1-the-lilly-of-the-vallies-edward-taylor/

Taylor’s poem takes its primary imagery from Song 2:1, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.”  Lily imagery generally was of common use among the Puritans. However, it was most often (though not always) tied to Biblical usage; albeit at times in a creative manner.

A common use of “lily” derived from Song 2:2, “As a lily among the thorns, so is my love among the daughters [ESV, young women].” Thus,  Thomas Brooks uses “lily” to refer to the life of a Christian being removed from this world and transplanted in the New Creation, “Death transplants a believer from earth to heaven, from misery to glory, Job 14:14. Death to a saint is nothing but the taking of a sweet flower out of this wilderness, and planting of it in the garden of paradise; it is nothing but a taking of a lily from among thorns, and planting of it among those sweet roses of heaven which God delights to wear always in his bosom” (Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 1, “The Best Things Reserved Till Last”, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 458).[1] Edward Polhill uses the image of a lily among thorns in an interesting manner:

God orders the sufferings of the church for his own glory, and his people’s good. He orders them for his own glory; providence is admirable in preserving a suffering church. The ark floats upon the waters, and drowns not: the bush burns, and is not consumed the lily is among thorns, and withers not; the saints are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.

Edward Polhill, The Works of Edward Polhill, “A Preparation for Suffering in an Evil Day” (London: Thomas Ward and Co., 1844), 332. Yet to see the creativity with which the images were employed, considered this usage of the same verse by Polhill:

He comes into the world weeping, and very fitly, because, by his sin he hath set the whole creation a groaning until now: and as a believer, he lives as a lily among thorns; so is his person in the world among wicked ones, which are as pricking briars on every side; and so is the grace in his heart among the relics of corruption, which are as thorns in the flesh: and whilst sin is within, it is congruous that trouble should be without; nay, more than congruous; it is necessary upon many accounts. Affliction is purgative of sin; it may be, the believer’s heart may wax proud, and the tumor must be lanced, or light, and the vanity must be fanned away; it may be hard, and the furnace must melt it; or drowsy, and the rod must awaken it.

 

Edward Polhill, The Works of Edward Polhill, “Precious Faith Considered” (London: Thomas Ward and Co., 1844), 289. In the first instance, the thorn cannot hurt the lily; in the second, the lily is afflicted by the thorns.

The imagery of lily from Hosea 14:5 (“I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon” (AV)) may actually be the most common use of lily imagery. Thomas Watson relies upon Hosea 14:5:

Though the ship hath a compass to sail by, and store of tackling, yet without a gale of wind it cannot sail. Though we have the word written as our compass to sail by, and make use of our endeavours as the tackling, yet, unless the Spirit of God blow upon us, we cannot sail with profit. When the Almighty is as “dew” unto us, then we “grow as the lily,” and our “beauty is as the olive-tree.” (Hosea 14:5, 6.)[2] Beg the anointing of the Holy Ghost. (1 John 2:20.)

James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, Thomas Watson, “How We May Read the Scriptures With Most Profit”, Volume 2 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 69.  Edward Polhill in his work, “A Divine Will Considered in its Eternal Decrees”, uses this image:

Where is the truth of these propositions, if God’s calling and drawing do not infer man’s running? Again, David prays, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end; give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law,” (Psalm 119:33, 34.) Where is the consequence of David’s obedience upon God’s teaching, if grace be superable? Moreover, God says, “I will be as dew to Israel; he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon; his branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree,” (Hos. 14:5, 6). Here is Israel very florid, but that which secures all is insuperable grace; nothing could hinder their spiritual prosperity, who had God for their dew; I say, nothing, not lusts; for Ephraim shall say, “What have I to do with idols,” (v. 8)? not backslidings, for God says, “I will heal their backslidings,” (v. 4); not barrenness, for God tells them, “From me is thy fruit found,” (v. 8); not deadness, for “They shall revive as the corn and grow as the vine,” (v. 7). But if the work of grace may be frustrated, then there is no certain root for all this holy fruit to stand upon.

Edward Polhill, The Works of Edward Polhill (London: Thomas Ward and Co., 1844), 207.

Goodwin uses the same image but for a rather different end. In “The Trial of a Christian’s Growth” (collected works, volume 3, page 458), Goodwin writes:

As, first, to shew the sudden springing up of the new creature, as it falls out upon some men’s conversions, or upon the saints’ recovery again after falls, he compares them to the lily, Hos. xiv. 5, whose stalk, though long hid in the earth, when once it begins to feel the dew, grows up oftentimes in a night. But yet a lily is but a flower, and soon decays.

Another common use of “lily” imagery was in the quotation from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says,

27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Matthew 6:27–29 (ESV)

Although most instances of the passage are for the purpose of enjoining faith in God’s care and providence, John Howe makes an interesting inversion of the image in his work, “The Blessedness of Righteousness”:

Having voided thy mind of what is earthly and carnal, apply and turn it to this blessed theme. The most excellent and the vilest objects are alike to thee, while thou mindest them not. Thy thoughts possibly bring thee in nothing but vexation and trouble, which would bring in as soon joy and pleasure, didst thou turn them to proper objects. A thought of the heavenly glory is as soon thought as of an earthly cross. We complain the world troubles us; then what do we there? Why get we not up, in our spirits, into the quieter region? What trouble would the thoughts of future glory be to us? How are thoughts and wits set on work for this flesh! But we would have our souls flourish as the lilies, without anything of their own care. Yea, we make them toil for torture, and not for joy, revolve an affliction a thousand times before and after it comes, and have never done with it; when eternal blessedness gains not a thought.

John Howe, The Works of the Reverend John Howe, Volume 2 (London: William Tegg and Co., 1848), 230. In short, we seek by a spiritual laziness to become perfect and content, without the effort to come to a spiritual frame of mind.

Richard Sibbes uses “lily” for something particularly beautiful or treasured without an apparent precise Biblical quotation to support the image:

Among the beasts, the Christian is as a lamb, innocent, …. Contrarily the wicked are termed lions and bears, and the like. Among the plants wicked men are as briars : a man must be fenced that deals with them, 2 Sam. 23:7 ; the godly as lilies, sweet, not fenced with pricks.

Richard Sibbes, “The Christian Work”, vol. 5, page 24. Thomas Brooks, likewise uses the image without a particular quotation, “The redness of the rose, the whiteness of the lily, and all the beauties of sun, moon, and stars, are but deformities to that beauty that holiness puts upon us” (Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, “The Crown and Glory of Christianity”, Volume 4, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1867), 171. And Brooks in “An Ark for All God’s Noahs”

A man that hath God for his portion is a non-such; he is the rarest and the happiest man in the world; he is like the morning star in the midst of the clouds; he is like the moon when it is at full; he is like the flower of the roses in the spring of the year; he is like the lilies by the springs of waters; he is like the branches of frankincense in the time of summer; he is like a vessel of massy gold that is set about with all manner of precious stones

 

Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 2, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 7.

One interesting use of the image “lily of the valley” is in the sermon, “There is No Transubstantiation in the Lord’s Supper” wherein  Edward Lawrence argues against transubstantiation on (one of several) the ground that use of an image to reference Christ does not mean Christ is the literal object (thus, when Christ says this is my body, referring to the bread, it does not mean that the bread is his body):

Observe yet further, that whereas there is no example in all the scripture of a sign being turned into the thing signified, yet it is very ordinary in scripture-similitudes to give a thing the name of that whereunto it is likened: “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.” (Canticles 2:1.) “I am the living bread.” (John 6:51.) “I am the door.” (John 10:7.) “I am the true vine.” (John 15:1.) All these saith Christ of himself; but is he therefore turned into a rose, or lily, or bread, or door, or vine? No: the words taken literally and properly are blasphemy; but the meaning is, He is like these, as to the particular cases whereof he speaks.

James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, Volume 6 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 469.

The other category of usage was the passage from Song of Solomon (Canticles) to refer to Jesus, which will be seen in the next post.


[1] Brooks evidently liked this image, using it in other places, such as in the Epistle Dedicatory to “London’s Lamentations” (vol. 6, collected works, p. 4), “Sincere Christians are as lambs amongst lions, as sheep amongst wolves, as lilies amongst thorns.”

[2] Hosea 14:5 (AV): “I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.”