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(This is the first entry on the poem of Edward Taylor, “Thou glory darkening glory” — a meditation on Colossians 2:3).

 

Thou glory darkening glory,[1] with thy flame

Should all quaint[2] metaphors teem ev’ry bud

Of sparkling eloquence upon the same[3]

It would appear as daubing pearls[4] with mud.

Nay angels’ wits are childish tricks[5], and like

Darksome[6] night unto thy lightsome[7] light.

 

Taylor’s poem is marked as a meditation on Colossians 2:3:

3 In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:3 (AV)

The Colossian congregation had been invaded by a “philosophy” (as Paul in one place calls it) which sought to give a higher wisdom, a greater spirituality than coul be had in Christ. Therefore, Paul seeks to establish the majesty and beauty of Jesus above all competition.

Paul introduces his argument (following his opening) by speaking of the “glorious might” of exhibited in God in moving those redeemed from darkness to light (all quotations are from the Authorized Version, the King James, so as to give an idea of Taylor’s experience of the Scripture):

11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;  12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: 14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Colossians 1:11–14 (AV)

The imagery from this passage seems in part to have suggested to Taylor the imagery of glory, light and darkness.

The reference to the limitations on angels also flows from Colossians. First, Paul extolls Jesus of the creator of all things, including angels:

15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; Colossians 1:15–19 (AV)

The reference to “thrones, dominions, principalities, powers” are references to various angelic beings. Later in the letter Paul condemns the “worship of angels” (there is some debate as to whether the false teachers were instructing one to worship the angels as an object or to worship God alongside the angels in some mystical manner) (Colossians 2:18).

However, Taylor was not limited to Colossians alone as a source for his meditation on God’s glory.  The beautiful glory of God in Jesus is a common theme of the New Testament. Taylor opens this poem extolling the glory of the wisdom in Christ with a general praise of Christ’s glory.

13 I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; 14 That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: 15 Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 16 Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen. 1 Timothy 6:13–16 (AV)

 

12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; 13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. 14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; 15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. 16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. Revelation 1:12–16 (AV)

There was a hint of this glory prior to the Resurrection:

1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, 2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. 3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Matthew 17:1–3 (AV)

Now, the movement from the glory of Christ generally to the glory of wisdom is not a great movement.  Peter, who had witnessed the transfiguration places the prophetic word as more sure than even his experience of the transfiguration:

16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.

19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: 20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 Peter 1:16–21 (AV)

 In addition, the proposition that Jesus contains the wisdom of God is not only found in Colossians. Pau makes a similar designation in 1 Corinthians 1:

28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence. 30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: 31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:28–31 (AV)

 

(Starcluster, NGC265 — click for full size)

hs-2006-17-b-full_jpg

 


[1] The glory of God so outshines the glory of anything created that such things appear to be dark in comparison.

[2] Here, something clever, intelligent – not trite and small, as in American slang.

[3] If I tried to match your beauty with an encrustation of adjectives, it would be like covering a pearl in mud.

[4] To understand the effect of this image, consider how expensive and exotic a pearl would be a frontier pastor in a rural congregation  in the 17th Century.

[5] That is simply a great line.

[6] Note the accent on the first syllable. The unexpected rhythm coupled with the internal rhyme (night/light) and the repetition of long “I” sounds (like, night, lightsome, light) create a memorable effect.

[7] -some, a suffix which designates something as characterized by. See, Fowler’s Modern English Usage for an interesting history of the use of the suffix.