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(The entire poem may be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/astronomy-divine-1-edward-taylor/)

 

The background on Taylor’s meditation is the story of Jesus in John 6[1]. The chapter begins with the feeding of the five thousand: A multitude was coming to Jesus. Jesus asks Philip how these people are to be fed. Philip does not know, because they do not have enough money to them all food. Andrew has found a boy with five barley loaves and two fish.  Jesus prays and multiplies the original meal so that all have eaten to the full.[2]

This story bears a relation to the overall frame of Jesus’ ministry promising a future marriage feast (Matthew 8:11-12; Luke 13:28-29; Mark 14:25). More importantly for purposes of Taylor’s poem (and the teaching recorded by John) is the relationship to the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Communion (all of which designate the same event).

The meal breaks up when the people seek to make Jesus king:

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. John 6:15 (ESV)

Jesus and the disciples proceed that evening to the other side of the lake.[3]

The next day, the Jesus run around the lake to see Jesus again.  Jesus rebukes the people (the Gospel of John works through in great detail what it means to exercise true faith), because they wanted food alone:

26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” John 6:26–27 (ESV)

This concept will be developed at much greater length in discourse. It this theme which ends Taylor’s poem:

 This Bread of Life dropped in thy mouth doth cry,

Eat, eat me, soul, and thou shalt never die.

 

When the people hear Jesus, they ask what to do. He tells them to believe on him.  They ask, Why should we believe you? When Moses led the people, it was because he got them food – manna in the wilderness.[4]

Jesus answers:

32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. John 6:32–35 (ESV)

Taylor’s poem answers to this passage:

The Bread has come from heaven: In the first stanza, Taylor notes that the Bread has come to him from a “that bright throne” seen in an “astronomy divine”. Jesus says, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Another parallel between the poem and Jesus concerns the call of the Father to bring one to the Son (Jesus). In the sixth stanza, Taylor writes:

Did God mold up this Bread in heaven and bake

Which from his table came and to thine goeth?

Doth he bespeak thee thus, This soul Bread take.

Come eat thy fill of this thy God’s white loaf?

It’s  food too fine for angels, yet come, take

And eat thy fill. It’s heaven’s sugar cake.

 

Jesus says,

44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— John 6:44–45 (ESV)

This passage is a key aspect of the “Doctrines of Grace” as understood within the Puritan, “Calvinistic”, “Augustinian” and refers to “effectual calling”.[5] Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains that the “effectual calling” is the internal call – it is the subjective experience of the desirability of the external call which goes to all persons:

What, then, is the difference between the external call and this call which has become effectual? And the answer must be that this call is an internal, a spiritual call. It is not merely something that comes to a person from the outside—it does that, of course, but in addition to that external call which comes to all, there is an internal call which comes to those who are going to be Christians, and it is an effectual call. The contrast, therefore, is between external, and internal and spiritual.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God the Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Crossways Books, 1997), 66.

This is a crucial point of Reformed Theology which is often misunderstood – and which would cause one to misunderstand Taylor’s poem. First, the human being has no claim or standing before God. This is the point of Taylor’s lines:

When that this bird of paradise put in

This wicker cage (my corpse) to tweedle praise

Had pecked the fruit forbade: and so did fling

Away its good; and lost its golden days;

It fell into celestial famine sore:

And never could attain a morsel more.

 

The human being, having rebelled against God, could no longer obtain any good. Second, humans being willing remain in rebellion against God – despite the offer of God. That is a great issue of the dispute between Jesus and the people with whom he was speaking.  Indeed, at the end of this public conversation we read:

 

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. John 6:66 (ESV)

 

However, while most will turn away, for some, the call will be effective; that is, Christ will seem desirable.[6]   Taylor notes that by stating that he heard the call of God and the offer of Christ as:

 

It’s  food too fine for angels, yet come, take

And eat thy fill. It’s heaven’s sugar cake.

 

In short, Taylor is not stating that he is better than any one else (which is often what is heard when the word “elect” is used) but rather that he has received grace, unmerited favor (note how often Taylor uses the language of “grace” throughout the poem).


[1] The story is also reported in the other Gospels. However, Taylor references the teaching of Jesus recorded in John 6 – which takes place after the miracle but also acts as a comment on the miracle.

[2] John P. Meier writes in his examination A Marginal Jew, vol. 2, “However, despite our galling inability to be specific, I think the criteria of multiple attestation and of coherence make it more likely than not that behind our Gospel stories of Jesus feeding the multitude lies some especially memorable communal meal of bread and fish, a meal with eschatological overtones celebrated by Jesus and his disciples with a large crowd by the Sea of Galilee. Whether something actually miraculous took place is not open to verification by means available to the historian. A decision pro or con will ultimately depend on one’s worldview, not on what purely historical investigation can tell us about this event” (966).

[3] John 6:15-21 records Jesus walking on the water, which does not play into Taylor’s poem.

[4] Mark records that the meal took place “in a deserted place” (Mark 8:35)

[5] Calvin writes of John 6:40:

But we have no right to break through the order and succession of the beginning and the end, since God, by his purpose, hath decreed and determined that it shall proceed unbroken. 145 Besides, as the election of God, by an indissoluble bond, draws his calling along with it, so when God has effectually called us to faith in Christ, let this have as much weight with us as if he had engraven his seal to ratify his decree concerning our salvation. For the testimony of the Holy Spirit is nothing else than the sealing of our adoption, (Romans 8:15.) To every man, therefore, his faith is a sufficient attestation of the eternal predestination of God, so that it would be a shocking sacrilege 146 to carry the inquiry farther; for that man offers an aggravated insult to the Holy Spirit, who refuses to assent to his simple testimony.

John Calvin, John, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Jn 6:40.

[6]

72. Here, again, I was at a very great stand, not knowing what to do, fearing I was not called; for, thought I, if I be not called, what then can do me good? None but those who are effectually called, inherit the kingdom of heaven. But oh! how I now loved those words that spake of a Christian’s calling! as when the Lord said to one, ‘Follow me’, and to another, ‘Come after me’. And oh! thought I, that He would say so to me too, how gladly would I run after him!

John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), 42.