Tags

, , , ,

(It’s been a while. The previous post on this poem will be found here:

Stanza 3

Any why thus show? Hark, hark, my soul.  He came

To pay thy debt, and being come most just.

The creditor did sue him for the same.

Did win the case, and in the grave him thrust.

Who having in this prison paid the debt.

And took a ‘quittance, made Death’s Valet fret.

Notes

In the first two stanzas, the praises this sight, this man, this “clew of wonders”, the question arises: What precisely is here to be seen and praised. Why is this sight so wonderful:

Any why thus show? The poet is in conversation with his own soul. The soul asks what is here to see, he responds “Hark”. Listen to what I am to tell you.

The image that Christ came to pay a debt owed by sinful humanity was not new with Taylor. Here is just one example of among many prior to Taylor:

that he might become Lord over all sin; he suffered, died and was buried, and made satisfaction for me, paying my debt, not with silver or gold, but with his own most precious blood. And all this that he might become my Lord; for he had no need to do this for himself.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Catechetical Writings: God’s Call to Repentance, Faith and Prayer, trans. John Nicholas Lenker, vol. I, The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther (Minneapolis, MN: The Luther Press, 1907), 118–119.

But what Taylor does is to not take this image as a threadbare cliché, but rather draws out the image in detail: If Christ really came to pay my debt, how does this work? Yet, rather than describe the process in theological terms, he describes in terms of the commonplace of a debtor’s prison.

A debtors prison works as follows: When one fails to pay his debts he is imprisoned until the debt is paid. How this works in a particular instance may vary. Famously, Charles Dickens’ father was imprisoned for debt, sending the young Charles (12) out to work in a shoe blacking factory. (https://www.charlesdickensinfo.com/life/childhood/)

If Christ came to pay my debt: there could be lawsuit brought to enforce the claim:

                        and being come most just.

The creditor did sue him for the same.

The “being come must just” is bit ambiguous. Christ was just in coming. The creditor is just in bringing suit. The creditor sues Christ on my debt. Not surprisingly:

Did win the case,

At this point, the genius of this passage springs forth. A creditor who wins, places the debtor into jail. What jail was available for this debtor? The grave:

and in the grave him thrust.

This making of the grave, the debtor’s prison for sin combines the theological, the historical, and the poetic.  But Christ could not be kept in the grave. Being just himself and being of infinite merit, he can pay my debt. Moreover, being without debt himself, the jail will not hold:

Who having in this prison paid the debt.

Christ was vindicated legally: he was acquitted and came forth.  Death is the keeper of the jail. Death’s Valet is a wonderful touch: It is as if Death kept a servant in place to make sure the prisoner stayed put. Perhaps this is a wry reference to the guards kept about the tomb.

And took a ‘quittance, made Death’s Valet fret.

Death’s Valet is in then in fear because the grave did not hold. The grave has been the most secure prison in the history of the world. Even the resuscitations of life, such as calling Lazarus forth were only temporary. Lazarus went on to die. It is as if he received a furlough. But Christ came forth with a full vindication and acquittal. Death’s most dangerous enemy was walked out the front door of the prison and is now looking for death.