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But am I thine? Oh! What strange thing’s in me?

Enriched thus by thy legacy? Yet find

When one small twig’s broke off, the breach should be

Such an enfeebling thing upon my mind.

Then take a pardon from thy store, and twist

It in my soul for help. ‘Twill not be missed.

Having affirmed that God is filled with a liberality which the world cannot contain, he turns to himself again and ask, am I thine?

This may seem logically erroneous, because he seems to have resolved that issue previously. But to think in this manner fails to understand the psychology of repentance which Taylor displays in this passage. He does not doubt either the goodness of God or the depth of his sinfulness. He confesses both with elaborate attention. 

The question is whether that goodness in God belongs to him.

The question of assurance has been a dogged question in Christian theology. There have been debates about whether it should even be something permitted as a concept absent some direct revelation from heaven. 

Protestant theology through Luther and Calvin affirms the rightness of a sense of assurance and thereafter developed theological explanations for assurance. Puritan theology, in particular, gave profound attention to the question of assurance. 

We could consider assurance from two perspectives: the matter observed objectively as a doctrine; and the matter observed subjectively as a matter of self-examination. 

Taken from either direction Taylor’s subjective experience, struggling  with assurance while faced with his own sense of sin is coherent with Puritan theology. Two examples from the vast corpus may help support this proposition:

“(2.) When assurance is actually stronger than diffidence, and doth certainly prevail against distracting fears, then it is to be accounted certain assurance, though it be still imperfect.—The truth and the degree of a believer’s assurance doth hold proportion to the truth and degree of his grace; and by this proportion of one to the other they do very much illustrate each other. Thus, First: There is an analogy between grace and assurance, in this, that as grace may be true, although it be not perfect, so may assurance be true assurance when imperfect. Again: As where sin reigns there is no grace, so where doubting reigns there is no assurance; but as when grace prevails, it is accounted true grace, so when assurance prevails over doubts, it is to be reckoned true assurance. Lastly. Where grace is perfect without sin, (as in heaven,) there assurance will be perfect without all doubt, and not till then.”

James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 6 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 381. And John Owen:

“Self-condemnation and abhorrency do very well consist with gospel justification and peace. Some men have no peace, because they have that without which it is impossible they should have peace. Because they cannot but condemn themselves, they cannot entertain a sense that God doth acquit them. But this is the mystery of the gospel, which unbelief is a stranger unto; nothing but faith can give a real subsistence unto these things in the same soul, at the same time. It is easy to learn the notion of it, but it is not easy to experience the power of it. For a man to have a sight of that within him which would condemn him, for which he is troubled, and at the same time to have a discovery of that without him which will justify him, and to rejoice therein, is that which he is not led unto but by faith in the mystery of the gospel. We are now under a law for justification which excludes all boasting, Rom. 3:27; so that though we have joy enough in another, yet we may have, we always have, sufficient cause of humiliation in ourselves. The gospel will teach a man to feel sin and believe righteousness at the same time. Faith will carry heaven in one hand and hell in the other; showing the one deserved, the other purchased. A man may see enough of his own sin and folly to bring “gehennam è cœlo,”—a hell of wrath out of heaven; and yet see Christ bring “cœlum ex inferno,”—a heaven of blessedness out of a hell of punishment. And these must needs produce very divers, yea, contrary effects and operations in the soul; and he who knows not how to assign them their proper duties and seasons must needs be perplexed. The work of self-condemnation, then, which men in these depths cannot but abound with, is, in the disposition of the covenant of grace, no way inconsistent with nor unsuited unto justification and the enjoyment of peace in the sense of it. There may be a deep sense of sin on other considerations besides hell. David was never more humbled for sin than when Nathan told him it was forgiven. And there may be a view of hell as deserved, which yet the soul may know itself freed from as to the issue.”

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 547.

This struggle with one’s faith seeking assurance was a matter not uncommon among the Puritans. The whole could be a matter of mere morbid self-introspection leading to despair unless a clear eye is kept upon the absolutely graciousness of God.

A key to seeing this in Taylor’s poem is the use of the word “strange.” When he looks at himself he calls himself a “strange strange thing.” His strangeness in that instance is willingness to sin and lack of hatred for his sin. But here he sees something strange – but it is come from God:

                        What strange thing’s in me?

Enriched thus by thy legacy?

In himself he is strange to not love God more. And here he sees a strange work of God to enrich him by God’s grace.

I must admit I am not quite sure of his reference here:

                                    Yet find

When one small twig’s broke off, the breach should be

Such an enfeebling thing upon my mind.

I don’t know what he means by a twig being broken off. In the next lines he will speak to how little he will be asking from God (because God’s well of grace is so great), and that could be a possible reference to this “small twig”. 

It could be that the broken twig is his own conscious introspection, because that does seem to be “enfeebling.” But as it stands, I am not sure of Taylor’s purpose with these two lines.

The remainder is clear enough, however:

Then take a pardon from thy store, and twist

It in my soul for help. ‘Twill not be missed.

The pardon will not be missed on God’s part, because God has such great store of grace. He asks that God take a pardon and then “twist in my soul for help.”

This is striking language: He is not asking for a pardon which does not remedy. He is not saying forgive me as much as change me: forgive and change my life. 

The pardon is ineffective if it were merely a legal declaration: It is that: God does objectively forgive, but that forgiveness is transformative. 

Bonhoffer’s language of cheap grace comes at this concept from another direction but has the same basic aim: The effect of grace is not merely outside the human subject. It is something which happens to us; it transforms in forgiving us.

The whole of this transformation goes well beyond this note, but it must be understood in part to get a purchase on Taylor’s thought. The reason for our irrationality is our distance from God. Our trouble is that we are wrong with God. 

We do not function correctly except in relationship to God. But sin creates a breach in that relationship and renders us a “strange strange thing.” When God’s grace remedies that breach, it creates a “strange thing” in us, because it transforms us. We come into relationship. 

In that relationship, the introspection and self-diagnosis of sin does not destroy the human because it drives us to Christ and forgiveness. 

That is the key difference between bare guilt and conviction. Guilt is a sight of our failure. Conviction is a sight sin which drives to us to Christ. The Puritans referred to guilt as “legal” but that drive to Christ as “gospel.”