Dost thou adorn some thus, and why not me?
I’ll not believe it. Lord, thou art my chief.
Thou me commandest to believe in thee.
I’ll not affront thee thus with unbelief.
Lord, make my soul obedient: and when so,
Thou sayst, “Believe,” make it reply, “I do.”
Paraphrase: You adorn — give your righteousness and forgiveness — to some; why would you not give the same to me?
The next phrase “I’ll not believe it” is ambiguous. It could me, I will not believe that you would adorn others and not me. Or, it could mean, I can’t believe that you will so adorn me. Or, I will not believe that you could adorn me. This paradox gets to the crux of the stanza.
In relationships between persons, believe is the means by which love is given and received. For example, imagine two young people who each secretly love the other. Their love is real, but it is uncommunicated. Now imagine that one says to the other, “I love you.” The beloved must believe the love is real to receive the love. If the beloved thinks this is a joke, a farce, a lie, he can never receive the love. The love is real but uncommunicated. Unless and until the beloved believes the love is real the love cannot be communicated.
The same mechanism lies at the heart of Christianity: the love of God is communicated by the means of belief. This ambiguity of the line plays the need and hesitancy of faith.
The poet then turns to prayer, make me believe in accordance with your command.
There are biblical allusions and an allusion to Augustine’s Confessions.
The command to believe:
Mark 1:14–15 (ESV)
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Belief and obedience. Some put obedience and belief as opposites. Taylor would not have held to such a position.
First, Taylor would have held a position consistent with Chapter XIV, Saving Faith Westminster Confession:
- By this faith a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein [John 4:42; 1 Thess. 2:13; 1 John 5:10; Acts 24:14]; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands [Rom. 16:26.], trembling at the threatenings [Isa. 66:2.], and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come [Heb. 11:13; 1 Tim. 4:8.]. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.
Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 630–631.
There is also a famous parallel in Augustine which sparked the Pelagian controversy:
NOW is all my hope nowhere but in thy very great mercy. Give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt [da quod iubes et iube quod vis]. Thou imposest continency upon us; and when I perceived, as one saith, that no man can be continent unless thou give it, this also was a point of wisdom, to know whose gift it was. By continency verily are we bound up and brought into the one,* from which we were scattered abroad into many: for too little doth he love thee, who loves anything together with thee, which he loves not for thee. O thou Love which art ever burning, and never quenched! O Charity, my God! kindle me I beseech thee. Thou commandest me continency: give me what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt.
Augustine of Hippo, St. Augustine’s Confessions, Vol. 2, ed. T. E. Page and W. H. D. Rouse, trans. William Watts, The Loeb Classical Library (New York; London: The Macmillan Co.; William Heinemann, 1912), 149–151.
To further understand Taylor’s thinking, a passage from John Calvin’s commentary on John 6:44 might help:
Unless the Father draw him. To come to Christ being here used metaphorically for believing, the Evangelist, in order to carry out the metaphor in the apposite clause, says that those persons are drawn whose understandings God enlightens, and whose hearts he bends and forms to the obedience of Christ. The statement amounts to this, that we ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by his Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom he has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him.
John Calvin, John, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Jn 6:44.
Scansion: The interesting usage in this stanza is the repetition of an accent on the first syllable:
Dost thou adorn some thus, and why not me?
I’LL not believe it. Lord, thou art my chief.
THOU me commandest to believe in thee.
I’LL not affront thee thus with unbelief.
LORD, make my soul obedient: and when so,
THOU sayst, “Believe,” make it reply, “I do.”