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Meditation 38

 1 John 2:1

Oh! What a thing is man? Lord, who am I

That thou shouldst give him thy law? (Oh, golden line)

To regulate his thoughts, words , life thereby.

And judge him wilt thereby too in thy time.

A court of justice thou in heaven holdst

To try his case while here he’s housed on mold.

Prosody:

OH! what a THING is MAN? LORD who am I

That THOU shouldst give HIM thy LAW? (Oh, GOLDen LINE)

To REGulATE his THOUGTS, WORDS, LIFE thereby.

And JUDGE him WILT THEREby TOO in thy TIME.

A COURT of JUSTice THOU in HEAven HOLDST

To TRY his CASE while HERE he’s HOUSED on MOLD.

I take the first syllable as accented due to the exclamation point; this shifts the accent from the first syllable.  This changes tracks the cadence of the original question, “What a thing is man?”  The paired accents with the pause: MAN? LORD place the weight of the questions on the word “LORD.”  The accent on LAW with a question mark (and double pause) create a secondary focus on LAW.

The three accented syllables in a row in the third line draw attention to the scope of the law.

The fourth line is interesting because it lacks a “thou” before “wilt”, which must be then implied by the accent on “wilt.”

The couplet follows standard iambic.

Motto Verse

The motto comes from 1 John 2:

1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

1 John 2:1–3 (AV)  The imagery comes from a law court:

“CASE I. Here is comfort in case of discouraging fear.—“O,” saith a believer, “I fear, my grace is not armour of proof; I fear, the cause will go against me at the last day.” Indeed, so it would, if thou wert out of Christ: but as, in our law-courts, the client hath his attorney or advocate to plead for him, so every believer, by virtue of the interest, hath Christ to plead his cause for him: “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1.) What, though Satan be the accuser, if Christ be the Advocate? Christ never lost any cause [that] he pleaded. Nay, his very pleading alters the nature of the cause: Christ will show the debt-book crossed with his own blood; and it is no matter what is charged, if all be discharged. Here is a believer’s comfort:—his Judge will be his Advocate.”

James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 5 Peter Vinke, “Of Original Sin Inhering” (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 470. And:

“So saith the Apostle 1 John 2:2. I write unto you, little Children, that ye sin not, and if any man sin, (that I shall take notice of by and by) we have an Advocate with the Father, and he is the propitiation for our sins: So that when an ungodly man sins, there the sentence of death comes out against him; But the Lord saith concerning his Children, Let their souls be pardoned, for I have found a ransom: Thou sayest, the best have their sin; True, but one man hath a ransom, hath a price paid for his sin, and thou hast none, none for ought thou knowest: In that condition wherein thou art, thou canst not know that thou hast any: Here’s the difference between Gods dealing with his Children & others, one sins, and the Lord acknowledges a propitiation presently, a ransom, a price, a pardon that’s laid in; but he acknowledges it not for thee.”

Jeremiah Burroughs, “The Fourth Sermon,” in The Difference between the Spots of the Godly, and of the Wicked (London: N.P., 1668), 90–91.

Summary:

Who am I, that you, God, would give me to me the law by which you judge me? You give it to me in this life that it will regulate the course of my life. And this law is good, it is “a golden line” (measure).

Allusions:

Line 1

Oh! What a thing is man?

3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Psalm 8:3–5 (AV) A common scornful jibe of some atheists is “Do you really think God cares about something as insignificant as human beings on out of how who knows how many planets in a universe of trillions of stars?” Same question in the Psalm.

Line 1-2

Lord, who am I

That thou shouldst give him thy law?

David has inquired of Nathan the prophet as to whether David can be a “house” (a temple) for God. Up until that time, Israel had a tent, not a fixed building. God replies that He will build a “house” (a dynasty) for David and that an everlasting king will come from that line (the Messiah, the Christ). David replies to this news:

18 Then went king David in, and sat before the LORD, and he said, Who am I, O Lord GOD? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? 19 And this was yet a small thing in thy sight, O Lord GOD; but thou hast spoken also of thy servant’s house for a great while to come. And is this the manner of man, O Lord GOD? 20 And what can David say more unto thee? for thou, Lord GOD, knowest thy servant.

2 Samuel 7:18–20 (AV) This is an interesting allusion: In the poem, the immediate concern is the “law” why the motto is the Christ’s advocacy. This allusion ties the ideas together.

Line 3:

To REGulATE his THOUGTS, WORDS, LIFE thereby.

This is a concept which is found in various ways throughout the Bible, particularly the Old (or better, First) Testament. For example:

5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. 6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. 7 For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? 8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?

Deuteronomy 4:5–8 (AV)

7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

Deuteronomy 6:7–8 (AV)

Lines 4-6

And JUDGE him WILT THEREby TOO in thy TIME.

A COURT of JUSTice THOU in HEAven HOLDST

To TRY his CASE while HERE he’s HOUSED on MOLD.

The matter of a last judgment is found a few places.  This is perhaps most particular behind these lines:

12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;

Romans 2:12 (AV)

As for the housed on mold – or made of dirt—there is a lovely image Psalm 104. Rather than being an image of our disgrace (we are just dirt and water, a bag of chemicals), the image of condition is a picture of God’s mercy to us:

6 The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. 7 He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel. 8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. 9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. 10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. 13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. 14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.

Psalm 103:6–14 (AV)