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Reason, lie prison’d in this golden chain.

Chain up thy tongue and silent stand awhile

Let this rich love thy love and heart obtain

To tend thy Lord in all admiring style.

Lord screw my faculties up to the skill

And height of praise as answers thy good will.

Notes

Having examined the impossible goods of the Lord to pay his debt and set him free from the debtor’s prison of death by overing the debt from the prison, the grave, what can be said. This makes no “sense”: What does God obtain from saving me from my own rebellion.

In trying to make sense this, the poet can do no more but turn to his reason, which would seek to explain all and tell his reason to stand back and just admire:

Reason, lie prison’d in this golden chain.

Chain up thy tongue and silent stand awhile

The repetition the word “chain” and the repetition of the image of the prison work well here. The Lord has set me free from the prison, so you stand here imprisoned and be silent. The chain is golden because it is so wonderful, but it is a chain of goodness and release. William Ames had years previous published his “Golden Chain” to speak of God’s salvation and predestination. The image of a golden chain of salvation was taken up by other Puritan writers:

The gracious purpose of God is the fountain-head of all our spiritual blessings. It is the impulsive cause of our vocation, justification, glorification; it is the highest link in the golden chain of salvation. What is the reason that God has entered into a covenant with fallen man? it is from his eternal purpose.

Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 5 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1867), 316–317.

To give just one more instance:

Again, tell me, O despairing soul, is not the grace of God free grace, is not man’s salvation of free grace?2 ‘By grace ye are saved,’ Ephes. 2:8. Every link of this golden chain is grace. It is free grace that chose us, Rom. 11:5. Even so then at this present time also there is ‘a remnant according to the election of grace.’ It is free grace that chooses some to be jewels from all eternity, that chooses some to life, when others are left in darkness.

Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 375.

By referring to this salvation as a golden chain is thus unique to Taylor. But what Taylor does with this image is turn it upon reason which would seek a reason for God’s love. That golden chain of salvation is a golden chain which chains up the mouth of reason.

It has nothing more to say.

Reason seeks to capture and limit and make a thing comprehensible. But this love is to be praised, not to be parsed and understood.

He then explains to his Reason to rather receive what is being given:

Let this rich love thy love and heart obtain

It reminds me of John Donne’s Poem The Canonization which begins

For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love

I do not know if Taylor was familiar with this particular poem, but the progression of images is similar.

And yet, it does not stand in complete silence: but rather than explain he praises:

To tend thy Lord in all admiring style.

Receive this love, then praise: “tend thy Lord” and how so, “in all admiring style.”

He then turns to the Lord with a prayer asking for help to praise the Lord:

Lord screw my faculties up to the skill

And height of praise as answers thy good will.

Lord give me the powers (screw up my facilities). This means to tighten up to prepare. As Lady Macbeth says to her wavering husband: “But screw your courage to the sticking place.”

Prepare and make ready by abilities. Do not let them fail. Make me able to provide the praise which makes the good which you have done me.

This means then that the poem and the act of prayer in the poem are self-referential. Lord help me praise you. The poem is itself the praise which he prayed to receive.

This is an interesting facet of Taylor’s poetry: the degree to which the poem references itself. The preceding stanzas of the poem, which were all praise to the goodness of God are the praise for which he prays at the end of the poem.