Allusion, Edward Taylor, Martyr, Meditation 25, penal substitutionary atonement, poem, Poetry, Revelation 12, Revelation 6, Why Should My Bells
But, my sweet Lord, what glorious robes are those
That thou hast brought out of thy grave for thine?
They do outshine the sunshine, grace the rose.
I leap for joy to think, shall these be mine?
Such are, as wait upon thee in thy wars,
Clothed with the sun, and crowned with twelve stars.
Paraphrase: The poet who is “naked”(except perhaps a winding sheet) and a “blot”. The poet whose bell should chime the Lord’s praise hears the bell toll his own death. Here he naked looks upon the Lord’s grave (who died for him). The Lord arising from the grave brings glorious robes to clothe the poet –and such robes are for all who wait upon the Lord’s wars.
Biblical and Doctrinal Allusions: This stanza describes perhaps the crown jewel of protestant — particularly evangelical (in its classic since, not in the vague, not terribly Christian sense used in the United States) Christianity: penal substitutionary atonement. Put as plainly as possible: sinful human beings exchange their sin and shame for Christ’s glory. Christ bears their sin into his grave and gives to them the glory he has earned in overcoming death.
This doctrine appears in so many places that it is difficult to know precisely which passages Taylor has in mind. There is no particular passage which has precisely these combination of images. Here are some elements of this stanza:
Sharing in Christ’s Death and Glory:
Romans 6:3–4 (AV)
3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Raised from the dead in glory:
1 Corinthians 15:42–43 (AV)
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
Romans 6:9–10 (AV)
9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. 10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
Robes Brighter than the Sun:
Matthew 17:1–2 (AV)
1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, 2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
The Sun, Moon and Stars
This is a reference to the woman of Revelation 12:
Revelation 12:1–2 (AV)
1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: 2 And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
Waiting with New Robes
A particularly appropriate allusion is found in martyrs of Revelation 6:
Revelation 6:9–12 (AV)
9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. 12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;
They are given white robes and are told to waiting until the remaining martyrs (from the wars?) are fulfilled. Such wars are obviously not political wars of any sort.
Allusions in contemporary pastoral work. I cannot say for certain what particular books Taylor had in possession. But, the Puritan ministers of Taylor’s age and before had a tendency to use certain common tropes. This particular trope of receiving a robe is well-attested prior to Taylor and it appears in Jonathan Edwards, in the same location as Taylor and somewhat later than Taylor.
Richard Sibbes used the image of being dressed in Christ’s robes at death:
Why then should we be afraid of death? For then there shall be a further degree of glory of the soul, and after that a further degree of body and soul, when our bodies shall be conformable to the glorious body of Christ, when they shall be spiritual, as it is in 1 Cor. 15:44. I beseech you, therefore, let, us learn this to comfort ourselves against those dark times of dissolution, when we shall see an end of all other glory. All worldly glory shall end in the dust, and lie down in the grave; when we must say that ‘rottenness is our father,’ and the ‘worm our mother,’ Job. 17:14. We can claim no other kin in regard of our body, yet then we shall be more glorious in regard of our souls. Christ shall put a robe of glory upon us, and then afterward we shall be more glorious still.
Richard Sibbes, “The Excellency of the Gospel Above the Law”, in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 4 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1863), 287. Published originally in 1639.
This reference combines the image of the robes with death and with the wait of the Revelation 6 martyrs:
Secondly, That though our bodies lie rotting in the grave, yet that our souls shall be happy and blessed, which was Paul’s comfort: 2 Cor. 5:1, ‘For we know that if this earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building given us of God, not made with hands, but eternal in the heavens.’ So Rev. 6:11, the souls which lay under the altar, crying, ‘How long, Lord’? were comforted with the long white robes given unto them; the present blessed estate of their souls
Richard Sibbes, “The General Resurrection” in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 7 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1864), 326. Published 1629.
Jonathan Edwards combines all of the images present in this stanza in a single paragraph:
This suffering state of the church is in Scripture represented as a state of the church’s travail, John 16:20–21 [“… ye shall weep and lament.… A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come”]. And Rev. 12:1–2 [“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun.… And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered”]. What the church is in travail striving to bring forth during this time, is that glory and prosperity to the church that shall be after the fall of Antichrist, and then shall she bring forth her child.3 This is a long time of the church’s trouble and affliction, and is so spoken of in Scripture, though it be spoken as being but a little season in comparison of the eternal prosperity of the church. Hence the church under the long continuance of this affliction cries out, as in Rev. 6:10, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, [dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth].” And we are told that, “white robes [were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled].”4 So in the twelfth [chapter] of Daniel, sixth verse, “How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?
Jonathan Edwards, “Sermon Twenty,” 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), 373–374.
Scansion: The most interesting line in the stanza reads:
They do outSHINE the SUNSHINE, GRACE the ROSE. There are three accented syllables in a row bridging the pause. The “outshine” and “sunshine” repetition is interesting: the repetition of vowels and consonants makes it difficult to say the words quickly. The slight variation creates a rhyming effect. The use of a cretic (‘-‘) in the final foot brings the entire movement to a stop (this is underscored by the period at the end of this line). It puts great emphasis upon the glory of the robes given. The robes are brighter than the sun, more beautiful than a rose. Such is the glory which Christ gives His. This is the key movement of Christianity: the merit lies all and solely in Christ. It is all borrowed glory; and once given, the glory acts to transform.