Change, Edward Taylor, Meditation 36, poem, Poetry, Poetry Analysis, Sin
To find thee Lord thus overflowing kind
A t’find me thine, thus overflowing vile,
A riddle seems unrivetted I find.
This reason saith is hard to reconcile
Does vileness choose? Or can’t thy kindness shown
Me meliorate? Am I not thine own?
The kindness of God toward the sinner, and the vileness of the sinner on the other creates a paradox: a riddle which the poet cannot seem to resolve. Why does this knowledge of God’s grace not effectuate a greater degree or change?
Taylor raises this as three questions, which he will consider at more length.
First question: Does vileness choose? The question is a bit unclear because it not immediately apparent what is chosen. I would take it that by saying vileness has a power of choice is that vileness would then be said to control the will. What exactly there is terms of ideas moving from Taylor, through J Edwards’ father to Jonathan himself I do not know. But in his work The Freedom of the Will, Edwards puts the power of controlling the will in the power of choice. There is some coherence in the thought from Taylor to Edwards.
Does the evil inclination have the full power over even the one who knows the grace of God?
Second question: Is the grace of God insufficient to work a transformation in the believer’s heart? “Or can’t thy kindness shown/Me meliorate?” Is the kindness of God insufficient to work a change. The language here seems to allude to Romans 2:4
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
The kindness of God was meant to lead to repentance, which necessarily entails change. But looking at himself he fails to see the degree of transformation, of repentance which thinks would have necessarily followed.
This leads to the third question: Am I not thine own? There is a possibility that the reason transformation has not taken place is the poet is not transformed. To be truly “born again” (or born from above, in the language of John 3), entails a fundamental transformation: a heart of flesh is exchanged for a heart of stone.
Something must be done beyond bare performance of particular rites. It would be possible to be one who has done a great deal and yet not be truly redeemed. Jesus near the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount says
Matthew 7:21–23 (ESV)
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
So the three possibilities are: The sinful has the greater power. The grace of God cannot actually effectuate change. Or, the grace of God has no effect in the poet’s life, because poet has not been redeemed by God.
The line, A riddle seems unrivetted I find, deserves some consideration. If the riddle is not fastened into place, unriveted, then it seems the riddle does not have much staying power. The riddle will simply drift off.
The riddle is unriveting: it is disturbing. The effect of the riddle is that it is unriveted, it is disturbing this is the third of three things he “finds”. He find God’s grace, his own sin, and an unriveting riddle.
 To find thee Lord thus overflowing kind
 A t’find me thine, thus overflowing vile,
 A riddle seems unrivetted I find.
This particular poem is proving to be difficult, even for Taylor. But perhaps the difficulty is part of the meaning of the poem. He is dealing with a matter which he cannot quite understanding: what is this persistence of sin in his life. It is irrational and contradictory. The poem itself is twisted and hard to understand.