Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
The poet has come to the door of Love and welcomed him. The scene is much like the image of Wisdom inviting the young man to come to eat:
Proverbs 9:1–6 (AV)
1 Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars: 2 She hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table. 3 She hath sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places of the city, 4 Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, 5 Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. 6 Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.
And then like the withdrawn lover in the Song of Solomon, he draws back:
Song of Solomon 5:5–6 (AV)
5 I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock. 6 I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.
Why then will he not enter, even though he has been invited. He is Guilty of dust and sin.
Dust and sin are closely linked together, because the primal sin brought about the judgment of returning to dust:
Genesis 3:19 (AV)
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
And here is the beauty of Love. It sees that poor sinner, undressed and unfit to enter. He begins to slink back, and Love says, is there anything you need?
Deuteronomy 2:7 (AV)
7 For the LORD thy God hath blessed thee in all the works of thy hand: he knoweth thy walking through this great wilderness: these forty years the LORD thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing.
Yes, someone who is worthy to be here. To which love responds, you will be that guest.
Here is the beauty of the Love of God: it does not love the sinner because the sinner is worthy. Rather, the love of God makes the sinner worthy of the love. The love of God transforms the object so loved:
Romans 5:6–10 (AV)
6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
Ephesians 5:25–30 (AV)
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
1 John 4:7–11 (AV)
7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
It is a wonder how Herbert so aptly pictures this love which goes and takes the one who is not fit and makes him fit to enter.
And then he says, I have marred the eyes you have made. I cannot look on you, Love. Let me go away as my shame deserves that. No, you will not go. There is blame, but who bore your blame? That is Christ:
2 Corinthians 5:21 (AV)
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Our sin is placed upon Christ; and the merit and righteousness of Christ becomes our. He bore the blame and thus making us fit invites us to a feast:
Matthew 8:10–11 (AV)
10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. 11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
The last line of this poem is marvelous, it is simple and direct. His sin has been carried, his shame taken by another. The insistence of love has overcome all objections, and so there is nothing but to sit and eat.