This chapter raises two issues, first the serpent. Kuyper takes it that Eve was surprised to hear from the Serpent. This is a disordering of nature: humans speak to and about animals, but speech moves in only one way. She should have or must have realized this was some alien power. In Genesis 2:15, God instructed Adam to “keep” the Garden. That would infer that something dangerous was about.
The verb sh-m-r, to keep, does mean (in appropriate places) an action to protect or preserve. For instance, in 1 Samuel 25:12, David speaks of “guarding” Nabal’s property. As Wenham explains, “Similarly, שׁמר “to guard, to keep” has the simple profane sense of “guard” (4:9; 30:31), but it is even more commonly used in legal texts of observing religious commands and duties (17:9; Lev 18:5) and particularly of the Levitical responsibility for guarding the tabernacle from intruders (Num 1:53; 3:7–8). Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1987), 67.
This leads to the question, “Guard against what?” It does seem odd, at first glance, to see a command to “protect” when all is very good Adam is in Paradise. Thus, Kuyper is correct to see the implied danger in the command “to keep.” Kuyper thinks she must have known of
When a beast appears disrupting the natural order, he should have been recognized immediately as the danger previously warned against. Kuyper asserts Eve did know this was the alien power.
The second issue addressed in this chapter is the counter-factual: What if they had withstood the test? They would have known God better as their king and law giver. Their sin did open up a world of knowledge to them. It was an actual form of knowledge, because God sought to bar them from the Garden by armed Cheribum.
Adam and Eve were deluded in what they obtained: they did not actually raise to the preeminence of determining right and wrong in an absolute sense; merely in a rebellious manner refusing to accept God’s pronouncement. This disruption of the proper relationship with God has left us poor humans with a bad conscience. He refers to that status as a “holy sensation to feel shame.”
We are thus left with shame were there was once honor. It perhaps useful to note at this place that we are promise “honor” at the return of Christ (1 Peter 1:7) and we destined for “glory”. (Rom. 8:30) Such honor and glory will then replace all shame which we now experience.
Now, this promise which the church makes here of praise, is a kind of vow, ‘So will we render,’ &c. To bind one’s-self is a kind of vow.
a. The Purpose of the Vow
Here Sibbes argues in the form of a chiasm. The elements of the argument, reordered, are as follows: The purpose, the end of all things is the glory of God. Human beings fulfill their purpose by giving glory to God. All other things likewise exist for this ultimate end. It is likewise the end of God that God be glorified: God is “moved” by our giving him glory. When we bind ourselves by a vow to give God glory, by giving him thanks, we make an argument which will “prevail with God” (as is explicitly stated in the next paragraph.
This presents a question of the impassibility of God: There is a false understanding of God being impassible which thinks that God must an unresponsive stone, perhaps a pure intellect with the emotional range of a computer. If God has any responsiveness whatsoever to humanity, then God cannot be impassible. This false understanding of impassibility then sets up a false dichotomy, which must contend that since God is shown repeatedly in Scripture to be relational with humanity (God shows wrath, God is love, et cetera), then God must not be impassible.
This doctrine is difficult, primarily I believe, because we start our conception of God with a false conception. A full discussion of this doctrine lies well-beyond this comment on Sibbes’ sermon. However, we can take a quick look, first, at how Sibbes understood the term, and then how of his contemporaries used the term.
He uses the term in reference to our glorified resurrection bodies, “Says he, the body is sown in corruption, but raised in incorruption. Then no more mortality, nor tribulation, nor any sense of sorrow. Some interpreters have thought good to express this by the word impassible, signifying an impossibility of feeling any more hunger, cold, thirst, sorrow, and the like; in brief, not capable of suffering any more; for at first, sin brought in corruption, but then all sin being abolished, corruption, and all things thereunto belonging, must needs cease.” Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 7 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1864), 500–501.
In a related manner, he uses it in reference to Adam (here the word “unpassable”) and in relation to Incarnation: “This should sweeten all our afflictions, that we are dying with Christ, whereby Christ hath communion with us, and whereby we are fitted for communion with Christ; as put case we have sickness or trouble, &c. Christ took upon him flesh, but what? As it was in Adam unpassible?* Christ took upon him our passible nature, as subject to suffer cold, and hunger, and pain, of weariness, and it is fit our bodies should be conformable to the body of Christ, ‘for we are predestinate to be conformed to Christ,’ Rom. 8:29, and therefore when we are put to pain in our callings, or troubled for good consciences, and thereby wear out our bodies, it is but as Christ’s body was used. He took a body that he might suffer, and going about doing good, and be put to hardship. Therefore, if we be put to hardship, it is no more than our Lord Jesus Christ did. And therefore those that be so delicate that will take no pains, endure no sickness, the wind must not blow upon them, the sun must not shine upon them, they love no saving goodness, nothing of the Spirit of Christ, who out of love took our nature upon him, obnoxious to all pain and labour; though not infirmities of our particular persons, yet of our nature. He took upon him our miserable nature, our passible nature, and then he hath our nature in heaven.”
Richard Sibbes, Tvol. 4, p. 408.
In a similar vein to Sibbes, Jonathan Edwards uses it as a reference to the divine nature, in contrast to the state of the Incarnation, “If Christ had remained only in the divine nature, he would not have been in a capacity to have purchased our salvation, not from any imperfection of the divine nature, but by reason of its absolute and infinite perfection. For Christ merely as God was not capable either of that obedience or suffering that was needful. The divine nature is not capable of suffering, for it is impassable and infinitely above all suffering; neither is it capable of obedience to that law that was given to man. ’Tis as impossible that one that is only God should obey the law that was given to man as ’tis that he should suffer man’s punishment.” Jonathan Edwards, “Sermon Fourteen,” in A History of the Work of Redemption, ed. John F. Wilson and John E. Smith, vol. 9, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1989), 295–296.
Charnock uses it to refer to the capacity to be adversely affected by the creation, to suffer, “As patience signifies suffering, so it is not in God. The divine nature is impassible, incapable of any impair; it cannot be touched by the violences of men, nor the essential glory of it be diminished by the injuries of men; but as it signifies a willingness to defer, and an unwillingness to pour forth his wrath upon sinful creatures, he moderates his provoked justice, and forbears to revenge the injuries he daily meets with in the world. He suffers no grief by men’s wronging him, but he restrains his arm from punishing them according to their merits.” Stephen Charnock, The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson; G. Herbert, 1864–1866), 504.
Finally, Thomas Watson uses it in parallel with “impenetrable” and says plainly, the wicked cannot hurt God, “If God be a spirit, then he is impassible,—he is not capable of being hurt. Wicked men set up their banners, and bend their forces against God; they are said to fight against God, Acts 5:39. But what will this fighting avail? What hurt can they do to the Deity? God is a spirit, and therefore cannot receive any hurtful impression; wicked men may imagine evil against the Lord, Nahum 1:9., “What do ye imagine against the Lord?” But God, being a spirit, is impenetrable. The wicked may eclipse his glory, but cannot touch his essence. God can hurt his enemies, but they cannot hurt him. Julian might throw up his dagger into the air against heaven, but could not touch the Deity. God is a spirit, invisible.” Thomas Watson, The Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, Comprising His Celebrated Body of Divinity, in a Series of Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, and Various Sermons and Treatises (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 35.
But saying that God cannot be injured by the creation, does not mean that God is unknowledgeable concerning, nor that God will not act with respect to the creation. That God has said he will hear is an act of promise by God. When Sibbes says that God is “bound” by a vow of thankfulness, it cannot mean that God is unwillingly subjected to the power of the Creature. If the Creature had control over the Creator, then God would be passible.
The nature of the binding is explained in the next paragraph where it says such a vow of praise “prevails” with God: it is a prayer which God has said he will hear. As it says in Ephesians 1:6, God has covenanted and graciously provided for blessed the descendants of Adam “to the praise of his glorious grace.”
The paragraph has been broken out into clauses so that the building up of the argument can be seen more clearly.
Here is the proposition which he will develop:
The church therefore binds herself, that she may bind God; for binding herself by vow to thankfulness, she thereby binds God;
Here he states that God is “moved” – but not in way of suffering:
who is moved with nothing we can do so much as with setting forth of his praise, which was his end in all the creation, the setting forth of his glory.
This explains the rationale upon which he can state that God is moved: God created the cosmos for his glory: that is the end of all things. Thus, when God receives glory from the creation, he is merely receiving the end of what he did in the first instance:
The end of the new creature is the end of all things both in nature and grace; the end whereof is God’s glory, from whence all things come and wherein all things end: as we say of a circle, all things begin and end in it.
He summarizes the rationale in a sentence:
All other things are for man, and man for God’s glory.
There is a mountain of theology in that sentence. One thing to briefly note is how this very sentence runs wildly contrary to non-Christian understandings of the world. It revolts against any understanding which detracts from God’s glory. It revolts against any understanding which denigrates humanity to a level of the remainder of the creation: there is a distinct hierarchy here.
When the soul can say, ‘Lord, this shall be for thy honour, to set forth thy praise,’ it binds God.
Hence, that they might move God to yield to their prayers, they bind themselves by a kind of vow.
Do thus, O Lord, and thou shalt not lose by it, thou shalt have praise; ‘so will we render thee the calves of our lips.’
b. The use of vows
This is a topic which I don’t know I have ever heard a sermon preached upon. Perhaps there was a brief mention here and there – with caveat that this is being noted merely to explain this ancient custom. But a sermon which ever encouraged a vow by a living saint, that I do not recall.
But here, Sibbes explains that we do vow and that we should consciously make certain vows to God:
So promises and vows of praise are alleged as an argument to prevail with God, for the obtaining of that the church begs for: ‘So will we render,’ &c. Not to enter into the commonplace of vows, only thus much I say, that there is a good use of them, to vow and promise thankfulness when we would obtain blessings from God. That which a promise is to men, that a vow is to God; and usually they go together in Scripture, as it is said of David, that ‘he vowed unto God, and sware unto the mighty God of Jacob,’ Ps. 132:2. So we have all in baptism vowed a vow. So that it is good to renew our vows often, especially that of new obedience; and in this particular to vow unto him that we will praise him, and strive that his glory be no loser by us.
He then sets forth two reasons we should vow: We are forgetful; we are inconstant.
i. We should vow, because we forget
Take the time to look through Deuteronomy and search for the uses of the words: ‘forget’ and ‘remember’. Over and again, Moses warns them, “Lest you forget” and fall into sin. Therefore, “remember”. The same danger faces us today:
1. It is good thus to vow, if it were but to excite and quicken our dullness and forgetfulness of our general vow; to put us in mind of our duty, the more to oblige us to God and refresh our memories. This bond, that having promised, now I must do it, provokes the soul to it. As it helps the memory, so it quickens the affections.
ii. We should vow, because we are inconstant:
2. Besides, as by nature we are forgetful, so we are inconstant; in which respect it is a tie to our inconstant and unsteady natures.
He makes a point here about conscience: A well-informed conscience has an effect upon us. To vow is to make our relationship with God a matter of conscious conscience. Our inconstancy and forgetfulness make it necessary for us to use means. The use of means is not sinful, but rather a recognition of our status as creatures.
For there are none who have the Spirit of God at all, with any tenderness of heart, but will thus think: I have vowed to God. If it be a heinous thing to break with men, what is it wittingly and willingly to break with the great God? A vow is a kind of oath. This is the sacrifice of fools, to come to God, and yet neither to make good our vows, nor endeavour to do it.
Sibbes here makes an application to the congregation before him, based upon the fact that they had already taken communion. It has been my experience that communion comes at the end of the service and the mediation upon communion comes only before it is received. Here is says, you have taken and this is what this now imposes upon you:
Let us consider therefore what we have done in this case. By permission of authority, there was a fast lately, when we all renewed our vows (we mocked God else), [and] received the communion. Will God be mocked, think you? No; but howsoever man may forget, God will not, but will come upon us for non-payment of our vows and covenants.
He then expands the point and makes a broader application: What else have you done with God? What prayers, what promises?
Lay we it to heart therefore what covenants we have made with God of late. And then, for the time to come, be not discouraged if you have been faulty in it. There is a general vow, wherein, though we have failed (if we be his children, and break not with God in the main, cleaving to him in purpose of heart, occasionally renewing our purposes and covenants), yet let not Satan discourage us for our unfaithfulness therein.
And what if you have failed:
But be ashamed of it, watch more, look better to it for the time to come, and make use of the gracious covenant; and, upon recovery, say with the church, ‘So will we render the calves of our lips.’
Look carefully at how Sibbes makes this point: (1) see your sin and feel the remorse for your sin; (2) repent and look forward; (3) make gracious use of the covenant: God has not rejected. The covenant of grace is still in place. God sits upon a throne of grace for those, like you, who have sinned. You are qualified to receive grace because you need grace and you seek grace. (4) Therefore, give thanks. Our stumbling should become the occasion of our renewing our pilgrimage.
He now presses the point by first a reference to the sacrificial system of Israel:
It was the custom under the Jewish policy, you know, to offer sacrifices of all sorts. But the Spirit of God speaks here of the church of the Jews under the New Testament; especially what they should be after their conversion, having reference to the Jews in Christ’s time, and to the believing Jews in all times, implying thus much; howsoever, not legal sacrifices of calves, bullocks, sheep, and lambs, yet the ‘calves of the lips,’ which God likes better, are acceptable to him.
He moves this to the Church:
And it likewise implies some humiliation of the church.
He then leads the congregation in a prayer on this point: Note that the final application of this point is not: go and do this later. Sibbes does it right then with them. He prays and teaches them how and what to pray:
Lord, whatsoever else we could offer unto thee, it is thine own, though it were the beasts upon a thousand mountains; but this, by thy grace, we can do, to ‘praise thee,’ Ps. 50:23. For God must open and circumcise our lips and hearts before we can offer him the ‘calves of our lips.’ Thus much the poorest creature in the world may say to God, Lord, ‘I will render thee the calves of my lips.’ Other things I have not. This I have by thy gracious Spirit, a heart somewhat touched by the sense of thy favour. Therefore ‘I will render thee the calves of my lips;’ that is, praise, as the apostle hath it, ‘By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually; that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name,’ Heb. 13:15. ‘So will we render thee the calves of our lips.’
My tazzled thoughts twirled into snick-snarls run. (10)
Thy grace my lord is such a glorious things
It doth confound me when I would it sing.
Summary: The quatrain speaks directly of his inability to form adequate thoughts of the subject matter. He then turns to God confesses, that the glorious nature of grace overwhelms his capacity to speak on the subject.
The quatrain which lays out his frustration demonstrates in itself the difficulty he is having. Imagine one who says that he is quite frightened and is perfectly composed: the proposition and the person would not match. Here, the proposition and the presentation do match.
The concept is relatively simple: The image is of one spinning yarn from wool. The act of bringing his imaginative powers – his “fancy” – into an orderly and fit presentation of verse is like wool being spun into yarn. And yet, rather than an orderly creation of yarn, his yarn has “unspun.” His fancy has not resulted in an orderly poem, but his imagination has “unspun.”
In finest twine of praise I’m muzzled
My tazzled thoughts twirled into snick-snarls run.
Drawing together his image of spinning yarn with the work of creating a poem is a “twine of praise.” But here, rather than the production of praise, there is nothing, “I’m muzzled.” Which is ironic, because this muzzled poem is speaking.
The ninth line is wonderful. There is a spinning of thoughts, but they, they are twirled, but they are also “tazzled.”
has “tazzle” a dialect formation of “teazle” to entangle. Thus, “tangled, fuzzy, twisted, knotted; a tangle, a state of disorder, esp. used of hair.” Which meets the case: this thoughts are tangled up.
They are not merely tazzled, they are twirled and finally in a snick-snarl, which is exactly as it sounds.
The poem which runs through my mind as a comparative exercise is Shakespeare’s sonnet 23 with the lines
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart
The very desire and necessity of the poem makes the poem impossible to construct. The glorious grace of God is such that what poem could address such glory?
The couple makes an interesting move. He has been describing his jumbled thoughts, apparently to a reader. But at the couplet he turns from the human audience and directly addresses God:
Thy grace my lord is such a glorious things
It doth confound me when I would it sing.
Here we come to a confession: At this point is matches most closely with the tone of sonnet 23. It is the very desire to speak which has tied my tongue.
As a final point, to describe the effects of sound and sense would be take away from their effect. Rather than comprehended this particular stanza must merely spoken and experienced. Although not the sing-song chant of Dr. Seuss, I delight in sounds and sense is evident. Another possible comparison would be some poetry of Lewis Carol, like Jabberwocky.
And thou steep’st in thy blood what sin had stained
That th’stains and poisons may not therein stand.
And having stuck thy grace o’re all the same (35)
Thou giv’st it as a glorious gift again.
Summary: The eschatology of Christianity is both personal and universal; it is both in time and beyond time. The time before the Fall is brought forward into eternity. The tree of life which was lost in the Fall in the Garden is in the New Heavens and New Earth. (Rev. 22:2) The rivers of Eden return as the River of Life. (Rev. 22:1) What was had – and lost – is given “as a glorious gift again.” There is also the person eschatology: The damage done by sin is remedied by blood of Christ – which is both a healing gift of grace, and what makes the poet fit to receive grace.
By me all lost, by thee all are regained.
This language of “all” comes directly from motto for this poem, “All things are yours .. the world or life or death or the present or the future”. This theme of “all” played a substantial element of Puritan theology. Thomas Watson wrote an entire book on the subject, “The Christian’s Charter.” Often this “all things” is contrasted at length with good which we can have in this world: goods which do not keep. So for instance, George Swinnock, in chapters 14 & 15 of The Fading of the Flesh, contrasts the difference between what is had the graceless and gracious (one who has received grace) in this world and the different between the sinner’s and the saint’s portion in the life to come.
The all received by grace is not merely the consummation of the world and a life to come. It is a thing present now in this life.
A passage by Thomas Brooks may help to understand what is regained:
O sirs! if God be your portion,
then every promise in the book of God is yours,
and every attribute in the book of God is yours,
and every privilege in the book of God is yours,
and every comfort in the book of God is yours,
and every blessing in the book of God is yours,
and every treasury in the book of God is yours,
and every mercy in the book of God is yours,
and every ordinance in the book of God is yours,
and every sweet in the book of God is yours;
if God be yours, all is yours.
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), 66.
All things are thus fall’n now into thy hand.
There is an irony in this line: in the fall all was lost; but now through the reversal of sin and death by Christ suffering death for others sin, and thus the “all” falls into his hands.
And thou steep’st in thy blood what sin had stained
That th’stains and poisons may not therein stand.
There has been an irony in Christian imagery that the blood of Christ washes the sinner clean. A much later song which became well-known through the Salvation Army’s use:
Are you washed in the blood, In the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb? Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
The perhaps the most direct biblical allusions which line behind this line
Isaiah 1:18 (AV)
18 Come now, and let us reason together,
saith the LORD:
though your sins be as scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they be red like crimson,
they shall be as wool.
There is also the imagery of the sacrifice which runs through the Bible. What is always so strange of these passages is how something can be cleansed with blood? Blood would never make anything clean.
Taylor explains that the sin which has stained his life is removed by means of the blood shed, because the blood takes the place of the sin stained. The garment becomes so soaked in blood that there is no room for the poison and stains
There is an implied image of the thing being cleansed being a garment. The image of the garment being cleansed is present in certain rules concerning being unclean, but perhaps is most directly taken from Jude 18, “the garment spotted by the flesh.”
And having stuck thy grace o’re all the same (35)
Thou giv’st it as a glorious gift again.
The restored garment – the restoration of the entire life – is given back to Taylor as a gift. One relationship here is found in the return of the Prodigal Son. The son who has hatefully rebelled against his father and lost his inheritance returns home to hope for the life of a servant is given a glorious robe and invited to a feast.
This also is similar to the imagery of Pilgrim’s Progress where Christian is given glorious clothing to make his new life.
Also note that the grace conveys “glory”. The hope of the Christian is glorious, but is also glory:
1 Peter 1:3–9 (AV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: 7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: 8 Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: 9 Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
Thus, while the renovation of the Creation will be glorious, there also will be glory of each individual. We will become glorious. In the Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote, ““the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”
Union with Christ
One final note on this stanza is the blood which is graciously given which makes him fit to receive the grace. Blood is as intimate as could exist. Moreover, the life is in the blood. Lev. 11:17. The is this life blood which works the transformation. His identification as being covered in this blood is the gracious condition which makes “all yours.”
And thou STeep’Tt in thy blood what Sin had STained
That th’STains and poiSonS may not therein STtand.
And having STuck thy Grace o’re all the Same (35)
Thou Giv’ST it as a Glorious Gift aGain.
The repetition of the sounds as noted, tied these lines together.
The scansion has some interesting features:
and thou STEEP’ST in THY BLOOD what SIN had STAINED
that TH’STAINS and POIsons may NOT therein STAND
and having STUCK thy GRACE o’re ALL the SAME
THOU GIV’ST it as a GLORious GIFT aGAIN
The accents tracks the alliteration, so that each underscores the other. Thus, the rhythm and the sounds each seek to press the emphasis on meaning of the words.
Hast done the deed: and’t makes the heavens ring. (30)
Summary: The poet undertakes an interesting distance from himself throughout this poem. First, he has been operating from an interesting psychological point of view because he sees himself addicted helpless to sin and simultaneously sees himself from the outside as some sort of loathsome beast. He is an addict who cannot put down the needle and who in the same moment wretches for the vile creature he has become.
In this stanza the looks to find some relief, but knows it is impossible:
We e’re want [that is, whatever it is we lack] we cannot cry for.
There is something we need but there is no way to fulfill this need: we cannot even cry for it.
We cannot look to angels, because we need is from God, and angels cannot convey this to us. Only God himself can do so – and has done so. This unwarranted and unobtained benefit is a cause for joy.
We cannot cry: Crying out in distress is the refrain of the book of Judges. The people of Israel repeatedly turn to idolatry. In response, God leaves them to their unfriendly neighbors. The Israelites then cry out to God, who in turn says them. In the beginning of chapter 2 (the book is not chronological), the Angel of the Lord “went up from Gilgal to Bochim.” Bochim is a Hebrew word which means “weeping.” The Angel tells the people that since they have refused to keep their covenant with God, God will no longer hear their cries and defend them.
Later in Judges 10:14, God again confronts the people who have turned from him. “God and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.”
Taylor seems to have an illusion to these passages: I am so deeply embedded in sin that I cannot cry for help. In particular, the end of line 26 underscores this point: our cry – were able to make such a cry would be of no use, “we cannot have it thus.”
The Angels cannot convey: Even though angels are given as “ministering spirits set out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14) there are limits on the help they can convey.
The degree help needed by Taylor in his state of sin exceeds the assistance of angels. The lack of the human being in the state of sin exceeds some external aid. The language used to describe the condition of sin speaks to an irremediable condition.
The angels are said to have conveyed the law (Heb. 2:2, “the message declared by angels”). This seems to put something into human hands, but “by works of the law, no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
The “golden pipes” of the angels in end only could convey knowledge of guilt.
But thou my Lord … hast done the deed: This speaks to the work of Jesus who destroyed sin and death, and him who had the power of death (Heb. 2:14).
Heart leap for joy and sing … “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I will say rejoice.” (Phil. 4:4)
And’t makes the heavens ring: “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Heb. 1:6.
This is the Lord’s doing
It is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
What e’re we want, we cannot cry for, nay
If that we could, we could not have it thus.
These lines have an interesting rhetorical structure: A conditional, followed by an unconditional rejection: Whatever it is we need, we cannot have it. And even if we could have it, we cannot. The structure of the clauses is held together by the repetition of the word “we”: we want, we cannot cry, we could, we could.
The second stanza is perhaps the most difficult in the poem in that here the ambiguity of reference is focused. It looks upon the ruined imaged and speaks of the heavenly sorrow at the tremendous loss:
What pity ‘s this? Oh! Sunshine art! What fall?
Thou that wast more glorious than glory’s wealth.
More golden far than gold! Lord, on whose wall
Thy scutcheons hung, the image of thyself!
It’s ruined, and must rue, though angels should
To hold it up heave while their heart strings hold.
What pity is this: What a thing is here to pity.
Sunshine art must refer to the original, before it fell. Since Taylor was writing from a rural place in a Northern latitude during the “Little Ice Age,” a reference to sunshine would be especially potent.
He is looking upon the ruined image which was “more glorious than glory’s wealth./More golden far than gold!” Rhythmically, note the inversion of the iamb to a trochee at the beginning of line 8:
THOU that was MORE GLORiou.
The inversion of the “normal” order forces attention upon the “thou”. He focuses our attention upon the lost image.
Jonathan Edwards who was a generation after Taylor, but whose father knew Taylor, writes of God’s glory in Christ (in the funeral sermon for David Brainerd) with similar imagery:
Their beatifical vision of God is in Christ; who is that brightness or effulgence of God’s glory, by which his glory shines forth in heaven, to the view of saints and angels there, as well as here on earth. This is the Sun of Righteousness, which is not only the light of this world, but is also the sun which enlightens the heavenly Jerusalem; by whose bright beams the glory of God shines forth there, to the enlightening and making happy of all the glorious inhabitants. “The Lamb is the light thereof; and so the Glory of God doth lighten it,” Rev. 21:23. No one sees God the Father immediately. He is the King eternal, immortal, invisible. Christ is the Image of that invisible God, by which he is seen by all elect creatures. The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him and manifested him. No one has ever immediately seen the Father, but the Son; and no one else sees the Father in any other way, than by the Son’s revealing him.
Jonathan Edwards, The Works of President Edwards (New York: S. Converse, 1829), 459.
The wall is the thus the human being created to display the image of God. God’s image was hung upon the walls. There are shields upon the walls which show the coat of arms of this royal family. But now it houses a treasonous family.
The closing couplet (lines 11-12) are difficult in terms of their reference:
It’s ruined, and must rue, though angels should
To hold it up heave while their heart strings hold.
“It’s ruined” must refer to the house whose walls bear the image (or at least should do so). But what are we to make of “must rue.” Is that the house should rue it’s loss? Apparently so. But it could also be taken as a cohortative to the reader, you should rue this loss. Both are possible here.
Angels are sent hold up house. This seems to be an oblique reference to Hebrews 1:14, where angels are explained to be ministering spirits sent out to care for those human beings who will inherit salvation on the basis of Christ’s work.
We could also read this entire stanza as a reference to Christ in his passion, where he was struck down, killed and buried. This removes much of the ambiguity of the stanza in-and-of itself. The reader sees this destruction and is called upon the rue the loss of such beauty, while the angels attend to the Savior. And it is angels who “long to look” into this salvation: a salvation which was granted to humanity but not to angels. 1 Peter 1:12.
As noted above, this ambiguity of reference makes theological sense because the image of God which is superlatively in Jesus Christ is by imitation the property of redeemed humanity. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul writes that as the redeemed behold glory of the Lord, the redeemed are transformed into the image which they behold:
2 Corinthians 3:18 (KJV)
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Thus, that image is both Christ and also the property of renewed humanity.
There is also reference to the First Adam, Adam of Genesis 2 who was created in the image of God and so quickly rebelled against his place of honor.
In sum, know these in men in their office, esteem them their labor, do this work in love.
How then are we to appreciate and esteem them? What labor is the congregation called upon to render as a fit reward for such labor.
Before we look to the text, let us consider the relationship between the work of the elder – that is to instruct – and the reward for such work. What actually convey esteem in such a context?
There are some who have coached a children’s sports team, gave instruction in piano, taught someone how to read. Parents teach their children how to drive a car. What is the joy of a teacher when seeing a student?
You are at a piano recital. The teacher is there with her students, the parents and other family are in the room. As each student comes forward and plays their piece, what does the teacher hope? What would give the teacher joy in that moment? Her students doing well; their success.
The coach rejoices in a victory. The school teacher rejoices in the students reading.
A teacher is rewarded by the student having learned the matter and putting the instruction into practice. And it is just this which Paul writes to this congregation. Turn to 1 Thessalonians 1:2
We give thanks always for all of you
Why is that. Look at verse 3:
Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ
Go now to chapter 2, verse 19:
For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not ever you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming? For you are our joy and glory.
What then shows esteem and appreciation for the pastor’s work? Your labor, your love, your hope. Your sanctification is the honor shown to your pastor.
Think how wicked a thing it would be withhold this esteem and respect to your pastor. If you withhold your own life of holiness so as to refuse esteem because you have decided that the pastor is not worthy of such respect, it speaks of remarkable wickedness. You are injuring yourself to refuse such esteem.
You would like someone who be burnt to death in your own house because you have a personal grudge against the fireman who comes to save you. You clutch to the flaming beams and shout, I will die here before I give you the honor of saving me!
Now that you know what you are looking for you will see this point is made throughout the New Testament. Turn over to 3 John 4:
I have no greater joy than this to hear my children are walking in the truth.
Do you seek to honor your pastor, then honor the truth which he strives to teach you week after week. Walk in the truth.
This is for your benefit. In the Christian life, the giving what is due is a blessing to the one who gives. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35. The work of the church is the work of everyone. Walk in the truth.
Who is the one who is blessed? As it says in Psalm 1:2, the blessed man is the one who delights in the law of the Lord. The 119th Psalm begins with these words:
Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
Who walk in the law of the Lord.
The teacher teaches. You bless the teacher by showing that you have learned your lesson. But in this case, you are the one who is blessed. The pastor who labors to teach the truth and to show you the straight path which leads to the heavenly city is seeking your good.
And how do you bless him? By walking in that straight path which leads toward the heavenly city. And what is the cost to you? You will be blessed. This is like a magic treasure that the more you give the more have. Will you esteem your pastor? Then make much of his Lord. The pastor is a steward, the Lord is the pastor’s joy.
Do you think this wrong? It comes from Paul himself.
When Paul was in prison, there were Christians who sought to make Paul’s imprisonment more painful by preaching Christ. This thinking is sad and bizarre. But perhaps these preachers thought: See, we are preaching freely. We are the ones blessed by Christ! Paul is in prison. This only proves that Paul was not all he pretended to be.
It is such a strange thing that when we read of this in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, it seems it must not be true. Paul writes that these men “proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition.” Phil. 1:17. These were busy trying to dishonor Paul by preaching Christ. They thought they would “cause [Paul] distress.”
How does Paul respond?
What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.
Phil. 1:18. You see, Paul was not looking for human beings to praise him; he was looking for praise which comes from Christ:
In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Let us think again about the fear that a pastor preaching our passage in 1 Thessalonians 5 to respect to esteem a pastor. We immediately think, Oh, we must place this man on a pedestal. This means he wants us to all give praise to him. But what does Paul say, My joy is in you and in your holiness. My reward is from Christ. Perhaps you did not anticipate that turn in our investigation.
But there is more. In John chapter 5, and you should turn there now to see these words for yourself, Jesus is speaking with the crowd at the temple. And as seems to have always happened, there at the temple a dispute broke out. These people were seeking proof of Jesus’ claim.
In verse 41, Jesus says, I do not receive glory from men.
Then Jesus applies this principle to all of the people present:
How can you believe, when you receive glory from one-another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?
Now think we me along these lines. The esteem which are to show to your pastor is not directly give glory to him. It is not praise for his brilliance. That is not the way to esteem him.
There is a story told of the great preacher Charles Spurgeon. After a sermon someone said, “That was a great sermon.” He answered, “I know, Satan already told me.”
I do not mean that you should never encourage him. The work of being a pastor can be mighty discouraging. To pray for him, to show friendship to him is all very good. When he has helped you learn a thing, it is right to thank him. But do not think that esteeming the pastor is about praising him as if he were some vain entertainer. That is not the point; but do treat him as a dear friend. We do not give vain to our praise to our friends, but we do encourage them.
You know how to encourage those you love. Do that.
So we have established that walking in the truth is the way in which you actually esteem your pastor. Your holy life is proof of his labor and will become his joy and reward on the day of judgment.
Let me show you this one more time how this works. Paul writes to the church at Corinth. Turn to Second Corinthians chapter 3.
He begins by telling them he is not trying to commend himself: that is, Paul is not seeking to be praised by them. Instead, he writes the Christians of Corinth are actually a letter written by the Spirit:
2 Corinthians 3:1–4 (NASB95)
1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?
2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men;
3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.
The steward of Christ’s riches; the minister of grace; the pastor who teaches you truth looks to see if this truth is written in your life. If you walk in the truth, the pastor is blessed and you are blessed. Your life is proof and reward for his work. And a life of holiness is blessing to you, to your pastor, indeed to everyone about you.
Paul’s command to know, to esteem the pastor is no burden to you. The command is seeking your blessing. But we need one more qualification as we examine this matter of walking in the truth.
There is a way in which walking in the truth – or at least an appearance of the truth – can actually be sinful. It sounds so strange that I will need to prove this to you.
The Pharisees were known to be precise in their obedience to the law. They, of all people, could be said in a way to be “walking in the truth.” They have, but in a wrong way. Paul, writing to the church at Philippi writes in the third chapter of his life before knowing Christ. Paul writes of himself
As to the law, a Pharisee… as to the righteousness which comes from the law, found blameless.
You can take hold of the truth and misuse it. The wrong use of the law can make one rigid, proud, unloving. The truth can make one positively evil, when it is ingested in the wrong way. But the fault does not lie in the law, the fault lies in us. As Paul writes in the 7th chapter of Romans, the “law is holy, and the command is holy and righteous and good.” (12) But sin in us take the law up in the wrong way and turns that which is good to evil. That is the work of sin.
How then do we walk in the truth such that it does not turn to sin? The truth taken up in the right way causes no sin; rather, it brings a blessing as we have seen.
Look over the 2 John 6 and read:
2 John 6 (NASB95)
And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.
Now look at 1 John 2:5,
but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.
The truth of God, the command of the Lord is kept in love. It is not a rigid, joyless obedience to a tyrant it is love toward God and love toward man. This is what the Lord himself said:
Mark 12:28–31 (NASB95)
28One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?”
29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord;
30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
31 “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
What would true obedience look like? It would look like love. Love fulfills the law. This is what Paul wrote to the church at Rome:
Romans 13:8 (NASB95)
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
Do you hear that? Do you want to truly fulfill the law, love. Paul continues on this point:
Romans 13:10 (NASB95)
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
You are supposed to esteem your pastor. How do you do that? You walk in the truth. What does that look like, living in love with one another. And what does love look like? Turn to 1 Corinthians 13. You know the passage well; we always read it at weddings. But I want you to understand something important: Paul wrote this to a church. Yes a marriage should be filled with such love. But it is to a local congregation that Paul gave this instruction.
Do you want respect your pastor? Do you wish to obey the commandment of this passage? Then live like this. When the members of this congregation come together, this is precisely how we should live. This is the fact of a congregation that esteem the pastor:
1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (NASB95)
4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,
5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
You want to bless the pastor, live like this. You want to esteem his labor, bear with one another. You wish to show respect for the Word of God diligently laid before you, explained and made plain? Be patient, be kind. Stop with your arrogance; put an end to seeking your own.
And do this to and for your pastor. He is a shepherd, but he is also a sheep. Show him patience. Be kind to him. Don’t engage in any silly jealousy. Don’t brag and speak as if you could all of this better. Do not seek your own. Don’t be provoked when he fails, because the work of a pastor does not confer perfect sanctification. Bear with him. Believe the best of his family. Weep with him when he weeps. Rejoice with him when he rejoices.
And a last note. Part of the love you must show this man and his family is to provide for their livelihood. You have determined that your congregation would best be blessed by a pastor who can devote himself full time to this work.
Sadly, it is at this point, that many, many congregations and pastors have come to conflict. Congregations routinely begrudge the pastor’s family sufficient money that they should live without constantly burdens. I have known truly sinful ways in which congregations have abused their pastors.
It would not profit at this time to rehearse the history of such stories. But know that it seems to be a mark of pride for congregations to impoverish their pastor; as if his poverty was a mark of their holiness! These same people would think it a scandal if they had to live in such straits. But to starve their pastor they excuse because the pastor will receive some heavenly reward.
Are their pastors who live too well, who abuse their congregation and “fleece the sheep.” Yes. But stealing from the congregation is the mark of a false teacher.
And starving the pastor is the mark of a selfish and sinful congregation.
Why should a pastor live worse than a plumber or painter? The plumber and the painter do good honest work and are rightfully rewarded for their skill. But the pastor? It takes years of education to become a pastor. The work and skill needed to become a pastor could easily have been turned to any number of careers such as being a lawyer or professor. The pastor has given up those opportunities to do good to you.
We want to pay for the best doctor, because we think the doctor can do good or evil to our bodies. And we treat pastors as if their work could be done by anyone, and we pay them accordingly.
The pay of a pastor is not the primary point of this passage. The point is to live in love with one another. But one application of that command to live in love is to care for and protect the pastor and his family – just as you should care for and protect the reputation, and the health, and the well-being of everyone in the congregation.
Esteem the Lord, walk in the truth, live in love. And in so doing you will become a blessing to your pastor.
[A Final Note: I wrote this sermon for a friend’s congregation. The structure is primarily such that someone who was not a member of the congregation would preach this. The reason for that structure is that in 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul is not commending himself but the current leadership of the church. He is not writing, “esteem me”, but “esteem them”.]
But, Lord, as burnished sunbeams forth out fly, Let angel-shine forth in my life outflame, That I may grace Thy graceful family And not to Thy relations be a shame. Make me Thy graft, be Thou my golden stock. Thy glory then I’ll make my fruits and crop.
The rhythm of this final stanza is quite regular until the accent on the first syllable of the fifth line:
MAKE ME, thy GRAFT, be THOU my GOLDen STOCK
The emphasis works particularly well here: it puts an emphasis on an element of the prayer. The entire poem has been a meditation upon what it would be to be grafted into Christ and here he makes his prayer: Make me that graft. The spondee on the first foot of the line makes the prayer a plea, a demand: DO THIS FOR ME!
The language of the angels and fire is not mere commonplace for bright. In Hebrews 1:7 it reads
Of the angels he says
He makes his angels winds,
And his ministers a flame of fire.
And thus, while he is not praying to be made an angel for a fire, the allusion to angles and flame has a basis in the glory given to Christ. The rest of the chapter in Hebrews describes the greatness of Christ over the angelic host.
This last stanza is not merely a prayer that the wonder of being joined to Christ should be Taylor’s. There is the issue honor and shame.
The concept of shame and honor are a major theme throughout the Bible. Shame is first seen in Genesis 2 when Adam and Eve. They experience shame as a result of their sinfulness. The biblical concept of shame contains both an objective and subjective element – both of which are present in the Genesis account.
First, there is the subjective element: I feel ashamed of what I have done. I am not mere guilty, but I worthy to be excluded. This is shown by the human pair both hiding in the trees and trying to make clothing. They feel they cannot be seen by God.
Second, there is an objective element: shame from the position of the other. This is typically seen as being vulnerable to the power of another. For instance in Psalm 25:2, the prayer reads:
O my God, in you I trust let me not be put to shame
Let not my enemies exult over me.
To be in shame is for the enemy to exult. Or in 37:1
In you, O LORD, do I take refuge;
Let me never be put to shame
In your righteousness deliver me.
To be protected from shame is to be rescued.
There is also the reversal of shame. Since suffering, particularly at the hands of an enemy is shameful. But, as Peter writes, the apparent shame of suffering will be reversed by Christ:
1 Peter 1:6–8
6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: 7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: 8 Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
Now shame is something which one can convey to others. To be in the company of one who is shameful is to shame me. This is seen by the nature of being unclean under Mosaic Law: one can convey uncleanness by contact.
To bring Taylor into the relations around Christ has the power to bring shame upon the family. And so Taylor prays that he not bring such shame
But, Lord, as burnished sunbeams forth out fly,
Let angel-shine forth in my life outflame, That I may grace Thy graceful family And not to Thy relations be a shame.
Thus, to avoid such shame, Taylor is dependent upon Christ to make him glorious. Taylor is not contending that such glory is inherent in him – he is asking that be made in him.
This particular prayer has an interesting relation to Hebrews 2 which describes Christ’s relationship to humanity. That God would be sinful humanity would cast shame upon God. God should be ashamed to be with human beings, who are not glorious (which is obvious if you have ever met one of us). But the Son is not ashamed to be called our brother:
Hebrews 2:10–13 (KJV 1900)
10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. 13 And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.
The Son is not ashamed because he sanctifies – he makes holy (which is glorious) – his own. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them brothers. He makes his people who are not glorious glorious and so fit to live with him.
There is a line in C.S. Lewis to the effect that the least saint in glory would be such a wonder we would all be tempted to worship that human being were we to see such a one.
And indeed that hope to be glorious is not a matter of vanity; it is lovely. We are often so petty and ridiculous because we seek to make ourselves glorious – and not receive true glory from our Creator.
1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. Acts3.1-8
The temptation for Peter to make something of this for himself was a strong one. He could become famous in the capital city as a healer. His name would be well known. He could, possibly, make considerable financial gain if he was careful in planning his future, spelling the end to the fishing business in Galilee. But Peter would have none of it. This was Jesus’ doing. Peter had been but an instrument in the hands of his Master. It looks as though Peter thought about this subject a great deal. Christians are bestowed with gifts by God in order that God may be glorified. Writing at a later period, he would say:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:10–11)