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The previous post on this poem may be found here.

Stanza Three

What is my title but an empty claim?

Am I a fading flower within thy knot?

A rattle, or a gilded box, a flame

Of painted fire, a glorious weedy spot?

The channel ope of union, the ground

Of wealth, relation: yet I’m barren found?


This stanza presents a series of images to set up an apparent contrast between appearance and realty in the Christian life. This contrast raises a conundrum of the Christian faith how can one right with God and have such remnants of sin? How can I be positionally right with God in Jesus Christ and at the same time have a time which does not fully conform to that reality?

This begins with the proposition that righteousness Christ’s righteousness which is received as a gift:

“DOCTRINE. Christ’s righteousness, received by faith, is the sinner’s only security to be depended upon before God. It is the sinner’s only shield, shelter and defence, from the wrath of God.”

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sermons, Part 2, ed. Samuel M’Millan, vol. 4 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1849), 188. Now that righteousness is to work out a transformation, it is not supposed to be a bare name without reality:

“The apostle having shewed his desire of Christ’s righteousness, now comes to shew his desire also of having communion with Christ in his sufferings; shewing that whosoever brags of justification, he must shew it in his sanctification.”

Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 5 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1863), 96. To hold that grace, that imputation of Christ’s righteousness, was aptly termed by Bonhoeffer “cheap grace”:

“Cheap grace means grace as bargain-basement goods, cut-rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, cut-rate sacrament; grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry, from which it is doled out by careless hands without hesitation or limit. It is grace without a price, without costs. It is said that the essence of grace is that the bill for it is paid in advance for all time. Everything can be had for free, courtesy of that paid bill. The price paid is infinitely great and, therefore, the possibilities of taking advantage of and wasting grace are also infinitely great. What would grace be, if it were not cheap grace?”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. Martin Kuske et al., trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, vol. 4, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 43.

The state of perfection will not be had in this life. As John Owen writes, “Indwelling sin always abides whilst we are in this world.” John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 10. This conflicting status creates an enduring conflict in the life of the Christian:

“We have a “body of death,” Rom. 7:24; from whence we are not delivered but by the death of our bodies, Phil. 3:21. Now, it being our duty to mortify, to be killing of sin whilst it is in us, we must be at work. He that is appointed to kill an enemy, if he leave striking before the other ceases living, doth but half his work, Gal. 6:9; Heb. 12:1; 2 Cor. 7:1.

2. Sin doth not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still labouring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh. When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion. Sin doth not only abide in us, but “the law of the members is still rebelling against the law of the mind,” Rom. 7:23; and “the spirit that dwells in us lusteth to envy,” James 4:5. It is always in continual work; “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit,” Gal. 5:17; lust is still tempting and conceiving sin, James 1:14; in every moral action it is always either inclining to evil, or hindering from that which is good, or disframing the spirit from communion with God.”

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 10–11.

This conflict and contrast is the background for Taylor’s despair. Does my life show the life of a true believer? He is not saying that he must be perfect, but he does ask do I show evidence of that fight, of that life?

He does this is a quick series of six images:


What is my title but an empty claim?

A title would give one the right to a status or property. I have the title of Knight, or title to some parcel of land. But what if I’m just parading a title which was not truly issued? What if the King did not actually make me a knight? What if the title to property bad title and someone else holds good title?

What if I only have a name without substance? This is the basic problem: Do I only pretend to be a Christian?

A dead flower

Am I a fading flower within thy knot?

A “knot” is a bouquet of flowers.  God has a bouquet of flowers, his true believers who have received life and righteousness. But me? Maybe I’m in the church physically as a flower in the knot, but I have no life.

An empty toy

A rattle,  A rattle makes a sound, it is merely a toy; it also has no reality of substance to the sound. It’s just an empty sound. Is my profession just a sound?

A gilded box

or a gilded box,

A gilded box would give the appearance of containing something precious, such as a jewel. But in this case it would be only the box without the contents.

A painting

a flame

Of painted fire,

Coleridge will more famously write

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted oceaen.

A fire would be burn; would give heat. A painted fire looks like a fire but has no reality beyond the appearance.

A ruined palace

a glorious weedy spot?

The location has been set aside for great works (a glorious … spot), but rather than a beautiful garden, or a palace, there are weeds. Am I someone who has been called and placed to this honor which is now a place of dishonor? A place which was called to be glorious and is in fact a pit? Weeds will appear by way of allusion in the following question.

And then a question

The channel ope of union, the ground

Of wealth, relation: yet I’m barren found?

He raises here the doctrine of the Union with Christ:

“The union that believers have with Christ in this life is perhaps nowhere more clear than in Christ’s reference to the vine and its branches: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:1–2). How are we to interpret this passage of Scripture? All of our spiritual life, if we have any, must come from the Lord Jesus Christ. It flows from Him to us, as believers, by the gracious activity of His Holy Spirit. The evidence of our having this relationship of union with Christ is the fruit which is seen in our lives. This fruit is not measured in worldly terms, like success in business or commerce, but is to be recognized by the measure of our conformity to the character of Christ Himself: “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22–23). To have a character and life which reflect these fruits is a sure evidence that we are “in Christ” and are being inwardly transformed into His likeness “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).”

Roberts, Maurice. Union and Communion with Christ . Reformation Heritage Books. Kindle Edition.

Roberts explication of the doctrine lays out the problem of Taylor clearly: if I am in this union and if this union produces life, if there is a spiritual vigor which flows from the vine to the branch, where is that life?

Taylor expands the image slightly by including the relationship of wealth: I have a royal relationship. A Christians are said to be, “heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ.” Rom. 8:17. If this royal status is true, then where is the reality of that status?

It seems I am barren.

The barren field raises a far more troubling possibility. The preceding images of one who has taken on the appearance of being a Christian, who claims the relationship, and yet there is no reality, is addressed in a related manner in a chilling “warning passage” of Hebrews which ends with the weedy – or barren – field:

“4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. 7 For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: 8 But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.”

Hebrews 6:4–8 (AV)

Am I the field which will be burned?