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Edward Taylor

Stupendous Love[1]

Stupendous Love! All saintsastonishment.!

Bright angels are black motes in this suns light.

Heav’ns canopy the paintice[2] to Gods tent

Can’t cover’t neither with its breadth, nor height.

Its glory doth all glory else out run,

Beams of bright glory to’t are motes i’th’sun.

 

My soule had caught an ague[3], and like Hell

Her thirst did burn: she to each spring did fly,

But this bright blazing love[4] did spring a well

Of aqua-vitae[5] in the deity,

Which on the top of Heav’ns high hill out burst

And down came running thence t’allay my thirst.

 

But how it came, amazeth all communion[6].

God’s only Son doth hug humanity[7],

Into his very person. By which union

His human veins its golden gutters lie.

And rather than my soul should die by thirst,

These golden pipes, to give me drink, did burst[8].

 

This liquor[9] brew’d, thy sparkling art divine

Lord, in thy crystal vessels did up tun[10],

(Thine ordinances[11],) which all Earth o’re shine

Set in thy rich wine cellars out to run[12].

Lord, make thy butler draw, and fill with speed

My beaker full: for this is drink indeed[13].

 

Whole buts[14] of this blessed nectar shining stand

Locked up with saph’rine taps, whose splendid flame

Too bright do shine for brightest angels’s hands

To touch, my Lord[15]. Do thou untap the same.

Oh! make thy crystal buts of red wine bleed

Into my crystal glass this drink-indeed.

 

How shall I praise thee then? My blottings jar

And wrack my rhymes to pieces in thy praise.

Thou breath’st thy vein still in my pottinger[16]

To lay my thirst, and fainting spirits raise.

Thou makest glory’s chiefest grape[17] to bleed

Into my cup: And this is drink-indeed.

 

Nay, though I make no pay for this red wine[18],

And scarce do say I thank-ye-for’t; strange thing!

Yet were thy silver skies my beer bowl fine

I find my Lord, would fill it to the brim.

Then make my life, Lord, to thy praise proceed

For thy rich blood, which is my drink-indeed.

Incidentally, the practice of communion is recorded in Justin Martyr’s first apology:

But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, [8 highlights] and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss.3 There is then brought to the president of the brethren4 bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; [8 highlights] and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

CHAP. LXVI.—OF THE EUCHARIST.

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία5 [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, [11 highlights] and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh[19].  For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done.  For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin” In , in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers With Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 185.


[1] General argument of the poem: The poem itself is a pre-communion meditation. The poet’s soul thirsts “like Hell” due to the damage of sin. He compares sin to a fever which drives his soul to thirst. His thirst can be slaked only with the “wine” of Christ’s blood, shed for sinners (2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV),  For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin [a sin offering; in the Mosaic Law, a sacrifice made to atone for one’s sin] who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  1 Peter 2:21–25 (ESV) 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.) The balance of the poem is a praise and desire for the blood of Christ.

[2] I could not find the meaning of this word. It does not appear in the two volume OED, and it does not appear in the google ngram viewer.

[3] An illness. Here: sin: Sin has drained the poet dry of the water of life and hence bound for hell he thirsts like hell.

[4] John 3:16 (ESV)  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

[5] Water of life: John 4:13–14 (ESV) 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

[6] The Puritans understood the Incarnation as the greatest act of love and the most incomprehensible of miracles.  Thomas Watson, in A Body of Divinity, wrote, “Behold here a sacred riddle or paradox – ‘God manifest in the flesh.’ That man should be made in God’s image was a wonder, but that God should be made in man’s image is a greater wonder. That the Ancient of Days should be born, that he who thunders in the heavens should cry in the cradle; Qui tonitruat in caelis, clamat in cunabulis; qui regit sidera, sugit ubera; that he who rules the stars should suck the breast; that a virgin should conceive; that Christ should be made of a woman, and of that woman which himself made; that the branch should bear the vine; that the mother should be younger than the child she bare, and the child in the womb bigger than the mother; that the human nature should not be God, yet one with God; this was not only mirum but miraculum. Christ taking flesh is a mystery we shall never fully understand till we come to heaven, when our light shall be clear, as well as our love perfect.”

David Clarkson, in the Love of Christ, wrote,

These are large expressions of love indeed. But the proper act of love is union; love is ever accompanied with a strong inclination to unite with its object, which, by some secret and powerful virtue, as it were by the emission of some magnetical rays, attracts the lover with a restless solicitation, and never ceases till they meet and unite, as intimately as their nature will permit. The grossness of the matter in corporeal parts will not admit of such intimacy and penetration as love affects; but souls, they can mix, twine about each other, and twist into most strict oneness. We see this effect in Christ’s love. His affection moved him to union with us; and one degree of his union was the assuming our nature, by which Christ and we are one flesh. He may say to us as Adam, ‘Thou art bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh’ Nay, we are not only one flesh, but one spirit: 2 Cor. 6:17, ‘He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.’ O transcendent love! As if some man, out of love to a worm, should take upon him the form and nature of that irrational, contemptible creature. Hence David (in that a type of Christ) calls himself ‘a worm, and no man,’ Ps. 22. Yet Christ’s love, in being incarnate, is infinitely more; as the disproportion betwixt him and us is infinitely greater than between us and worms. This was greater love, greater honour, than ever he would vouchsafe to angels: ‘He took not upon him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham.’ But the love of Christ would not rest here; he thinks us yet not near enough, and therefore holds forth a more intimate union in such resemblances as these: John 15:5, ‘I am the vine, ye are the branches.’ We are united as closely to Christ as the branches to the vine. More than this: Eph. 1:22, 23, ‘gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body.’ We are united to Christ, as the body to the head. Each of us may look upon ourselves as a part of Christ; so that whatever glory and happiness shines in our head, reflects upon us; and whatever dignity and injury is cast upon us, it reaches our head.

[7] That is, the Son of God became a human being: Romans 8:3 (ESV)

3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

[8] The blood of Jesus Christ was given to slack the thirst brought on by sin.

[9] Liquor merely means something to drink.

[10] A tun is a large cask or barrel for wine, beer or ale. Incidentally, the Puritans did not forbid alcohol, despite the statements made by some at a much later date.

[11] Baptism and the Lord’s Supper/Communion – which Taylor has in view here.

[12] The wine which represents the Lord’s blood.

[13] In John 6, Jesus preaches that his body and blood must be taken to receive forgiveness. This, incidentally, is a point of contention between Roman Catholics and Protestants over the nature of the elements in communion.  The Roman Catholics hold to transubstantiation in which the elements become the actual body and blood of the Lord (in substance, not accident); while Protestants hold other positions (consubstantiation, real presence, symbolic memorial). The line alluded to by Taylor comes from  John 6:55 (AV)  For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.

Incidentally, communion is one of the earliest elements of Christian worship recorded outside of the Bible. Justin Martyr wrote in his first apology:

[14] A container for the wine.

[15] Angels are not able nor worthy to drink nor give the blessing of Christ’s death. Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:10-12:

10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: 11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

And, Hebrews 1:14, “Are they [angels] not ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them, who shall be heirs of salvation?” [The heirs of salvation are human beings whom God redeems.]

[16] The OED states that a pottinger is a “porringer”, which is a small bowl, often with a handle, for soup, broth, porridge, etc.

[17] Jesus.

[18] Salvation is a “free gift” (Rom. 5:16-18; Eph. 2:8).

[19] The editors of the translation provide this note,

 

This passage is claimed alike by Calvinists, Lutherans, and Romanists; and, indeed, the language is so inexact, that each party may plausibly maintain that their own opinion is advocated by it. [But the same might he said of the words of our Lord himself; and, if such widely separated Christians can all adopt this passage, who can be sorry?] The expression, “the prayer of His word,” or of the word we have from Him, seems to signify the prayer pronounced over the elements, in imitation of our Lord’s thanksgiving before breaking the bread. [I must dissent from the opinion that the language is “inexact:” he expresses himself naturally as one who believes it is bread, but yet not “common bread.” So Gelasius, Bishop of Rome (A.D. 490.), “By the sacraments we are made partakers of the divine nature, and yet the substance and nature of bread and wine do not cease to be in them,” etc. (See the original in Bingham’s Antiquities, book xv. cap. 5. See Chrysost., Epist. ad. Cæsarium, tom. iii. p. 753. Ed. Migne.) Those desirous to pursue this inquiry will find the Patristic authorities in Historia Transubstantionis Papalis, etc., Edidit F. Meyrick, Oxford, 1858. The famous tractate of Ratranin (A.D. 840) was published at Oxford, 1838, with the homily of ælfric (A.D. 960) in a cheap edition.]

 

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers With Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885).