Oh! Graft me in this tree of life within
The paradise of God, that I may live.
Thy life make live in me. I’ll then begin
To bear thy living fruits, and them forth give. 40
Give me my life this way; and I’ll bestow
My love on thee, my life, and it shall grow.
Summary: This ends with a prayer to partake of the life of God, to grafted into the “Tree of Life” planted in paradise. He then promises two responses: he will bear “living fruits” and bestow love upon God, which will itself grow.
Tree of Life: Before we consider the biblical references here to the Tree of Life, there is the question of whence this image of a tree? No tree was explicitly referenced earlier in the poem, although the plain Garden allusions throughout never leave the idea of tree far behind.
Perhaps the closet reference to a tree earlier in the poem is found in the image of the seed which bears life along here raised to the tree:
Glory lined out a paradise in power
Where e’ery seed a royal coach became 20
For Life to ride in, to each shining flower.
Perhaps the particular allusion in Taylor’s mind is from
Genesis 1:29 (AV)
29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat [meat = food].
This contains all of the references to tree and fruit along with seed from earlier in the poem.
The Tree of Life is an image found in the very beginning and the very end of the Bible. First in the Garden
Genesis 2:15–17 (AV)
15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
It is from that tree that Adam was excluded upon his Fall:
Genesis 3:22–23 (AV)
22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: 23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
It is then only to be found in Paradise Regained:
Revelation 22:1–4 (AV)
1 And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits,and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: 4 And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.
In a striking image from Paul’s letter to the Romans, he speaks of the Gentiles being grafted into an olive tree, and in this position to gain the promise. The passage itself contains a number of subtleties, but the overall image of grafting lends itself readily to Taylor’s use here:
Romans 11:17–24 (AV)
17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. 19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. 20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: 21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. 22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. 23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. 24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?
The combining of the image of the Tree of Life, and the grafting here make for a striking parallel. I wonder if Taylor ever used this combination of passages in a sermon.
Life This is been discussed above. The human race after the Fall is like a cut flower: it still has some appearance, but the principle of life is gone. For humanity, our life is all derivative. Life is not inherently us but is given by God. Hence, a human cut off from that principle of life has only certain death
Fruit This has a two-fold reference in this place. By way of image, a tree bearing fruit has us back in Eden and in the New Earth. That is plain enough.
But Taylor is also speaking of how he will be changed by the infusion of life from God. But I think the reference here is to Galatians 5 and the ‘fruit of the Spirit’: that is the transformative effect of the Spirit of God in a human life as that human walks in the Spirit.
This must be understood to understand Taylor’s prayer as a prayer of repentance and hope.
One may naively understand the claim of Christians that once one has been redeemed there is an absolute consistent change without variation. The undeniable truth such consistent, absolute change into the standard of Christian conduct easily leads to the conclusion that Christianity is untrue.
But the claim is not to perfect love and holiness as a sort of automatic event. Surely the standard is clear enough, but the manner of life often is not. This fruit of the Spirit is not something obtained irrespective of the human life. Sadly, it is a matter of fluctuation. Taylor is praying from an ebb.
But this poem strikes as peculiarly repentant. The promise at the end of fruit and love is quite similar to the end of Psalm 51, the great repentance of David which ends with a promise of future worship.
Paul says that this fruit is the result of walking in the Spirit (and this is contrasted with influence of the flesh):
Galatians 5:16–24 (AV)
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
You will see in verse 22 that at the head of the Spirit’s fruit is “love” – which Taylor promises will abound if he is given this spring of life: thus, fruit and love come together as images (and the Kingdom of God, wherein is the Tree of life).
But this brings us back to what is happening in the poem:
Taylor is repenting of his misdirected affections. He is placed his love upon something worthless, even contrary to his life, when his direction should be toward God (his good and his life).
This prayer for fruit and love is a prayer for the Spirit’s influence. While it is in this poem clear enough, this point is made very plain in much Puritan writing. For instance, in the (long) quotation from Thomas Manton (below) we can see the same themes of this poem of fruit and life and repentance.
Taylor was preparing for the Lord’s Table to receive. The motto for the poem “All things are yours whether …. Life” (1 Cor. 3:22). He is seeking to receive life – to be brought beyond condemnation. In the coming to the Table, Taylor is actively seeking the Spirit’s work of communicating Christ to him. He is seeking a renewal of the relationship.
The work of the Spirit in bearing fruit is first the work of the Spirit in sanctification, purging out sin and bringing new life. As Manton writes (and when you see it, Taylor is expressing from the lived experience, the doctrine which Manton is describing):
First, Sanctification. The great work of the Spirit is to be the fountain and principle of the new life of grace within us, or to maintain and keep afoot the interest of Christ in our souls: Gal. 5:25, ‘If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.’ He doth not only begin life, but continueth it, and still actuateth it, enabling us to all the duties thereof. There is having and walking; thence he is compared to a spring or well of living water, that is always springing forth: John 4:14, ‘The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up unto everlasting life.’ Not only a draught, but a well. They that have any measure of true grace have the Spirit as a fountain to make this grace endure in itself and in its effects. Some have only a draught, a vanishing taste, others a cistern or a pond, that may be dried up; but they that have the Spirit have a well, and a well that is always fresh and springing up and flowing forth till this stream become an ocean, and mortality be swallowed up of life. It is a spring that sendeth forth streams to water the ground about it. As the heart of man sendeth forth life to every faculty and member, and a general relief to all his parts, so doth the Spirit influence all our actions. Now both parts of sanctification are promoted by the Spirit, mortification and vivification, subduing of sin and quickening us to holiness. Mortification is seen in two things—purging out the lusts, or suppressing the acts of sin.
1. In purging out the lusts of it. The Spirit is said to cleanse us, and to purify us to the obedience of the truth: 1 Peter 1:22, ‘Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit.’ The Spirit showeth what purity of heart is pleasing to God, and worketh it in us, casting out pride, and hard-heartedness, and malice, and hypocrisy, and sensuality, and all those lusts which defile our hearts, and dispose us to walk contrary to God. It is the contrary principle that sets us a-warring and striving against the flesh.
2. Preventing and suppressing the acts of sin: Rom. 8:13, ‘If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.’ That they may not break out to God’s dishonour and our discomfort. We cannot do it without the Spirit, nor the Spirit without us: Gal. 5:16, ‘This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.’ There is no possibility of getting the power of inbred corruption subdued, or the lusts of sinful flesh curbed to any saving purpose, without the Spirit of God; otherwise lusts will gather strength, and range abroad without any effectual resistance. He warneth us of our danger, and checketh sin. If we would hearken to him, and observe his checks and restraints, sin would not transport us so often beyond the bounds of duty; a man cannot sin so freely as before.
[1.] He doth quicken us to holiness, increasing the internal habits: Eph. 3:16, ‘That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man.’ That we may be fitted for the service of God, for which before we were indisposed to, and prepared to every good work. There is an inward man, holy and gracious qualities infused into the soul, which are so called. These are created by the Spirit of God, and supplied and cherished by him that reneweth strength upon us from day to day, that we may go from strength to strength, and be more able for God’s service. Though a renewed heart be yet continued, yet, as the two olive-trees, Zech. 4:13, dropping into the lamps, and emptying through the golden pipes the golden oil out of themselves; so doth the Spirit of Christ supply an increase of grace to our graces.
[2.] Exciteth to action, and helpeth us and aideth us therein, and inditeth good thoughts, and stirreth up holy motions and desires, besides new qualities, that we may be lively and fresh in God’s service: Ezek. 36:27, ‘I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them:’ Phil. 2:13, ‘For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do.’ Especially in prayer: Rom. 8:26, ‘The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities;’ goeth to the other end of the staff. Clothes do not warm the body till the body warm them, and the body cannot warm them till the soul, which is the principle of life, warm it; so there can be no fervency in prayer without the Spirit, no warmth in the heart. Oh, what a mercy is it that we have an help at hand! the Spirit of God dwelling in our hearts, to relieve us in all our necessities, and quicken us in the ways of God, which else would soon grow wearisome and uncomfortable to us.
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 21 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1874), 292–293.