Saturday, 20 February 2010

A Poem on Law & Gospel

This post - the first of a series to be posted in the coming days - is by way of response to an erstwhile Lutheran who has 'swum the Tiber' and who now claims that the Law-Gospel hermeneutic is a peculiar doctrine unknown outside of Lutheranism.

While the source may be somewhat obscure to all but those familiar with Scottish church history, the light with which it displays a knowledge of the workings of Law and Gospel for our salvation is brilliant.

It may not be great poetry either, but it can be acknowledged that the author's purpose of enlightening the common Scottish folk of the time as to evangelical doctrine through rhyming verse is well-executed.

Ralph Erskine (1685-1752)
Scottish Presbyterian, Educated at Edinburgh University, Minister at Dunfermline.

A Poem on Law & Gospel (from Erskine's 'Gospel Sonnets', 1745)

The law supposing I have all,
Does ever for perfection call;
The gospel suits my total want,
And all the law can seek does grant.

The law could promise life to me,
If my obedience perfect be;
But grace does promise life upon
My Lord's obedience alone.

The law says, Do, and life you'll win;
But grace says, Live, for all is done;
The former cannot ease my grief,
The latter yields me full relief.

The law will not abate a mite,
The gospel all the sum will quit;
There God in thret'nings is array'd
But here in promises display'd.

The law excludes not boasting vain,
But rather feeds it to my bane;
But gospel grace allows no boasts,
Save in the King, the Lord of Hosts.

The law brings terror to molest,
The gospel gives the weary rest;
The one does flags of death display,
The other shows the living way.

The law's a house of bondage sore,
The gospel opens prison doors;
The first me hamer'd in its net,
The last at freedom kindly set.

An angry God the law reveal'd
The gospel shows him reconciled;
By that I know he was displeased,
By this I see his wrath appeased.

The law still shows a fiery face,
The gospel shows a throne of grace;
There justice rides alone in state,
But here she takes the mercy-seat.

Lo! in the law Jehovah dwells,
But Jesus is conceal'd;
Whereas the gospel's nothing else
But Jesus Christ reveal'd.


Matthias said...

all i can htink of is the words to an old revivalist hymn that we use to sing in the Churches of Christ
"I am not under law but under grace
It was grace that set me free
It was Grace on Calvary'

Erika said...

Thanks for the poem. The second last verse is particularly lovely. I was delighted to see you use poetry in this way and found myself happily swamped in recalling works that have traveled with me for much of my life. I thought immediately of George Macdonald, also Scottish, but a quick look through one of my books revealed nothing so specific re law and gospel. But there were lots of Godly meanderings.

Have you ever read Les Murray’s “The Barranong Angel Case”? Not really L and G theme, but wonderfully illustrative of “he came among his own and they knew him not”. Ideally should be read aloud, if possible in a good laconic Australian manner, and in company. It’s been read at our table over the years and always received well – there is wry humour, too.

I found my copy of an LTJ from 1991 where Aubrey Podlich had an essay on Theologians as Poets. It’s only recently that I read Brueggemann’s “Finally Comes the Poet” and liked it. As far as Australian poets go, Francis Webb’s “Five Days Old” remains for me the most beautiful Christmas meditation. Lines such as “to blown straw was given / all the fullness of Heaven. . . . and “The tiny, not the immense / Will teach our groping eyes” – continue to ravish me. Kevin Hart has some stunning work, too, and James McAuley.

From way, way back is a poem by Ronald Bottrall, “Adam Unparadised”. I was about 18 when I came across this and all these years later it still speaks to the heart with the same intensity. Poets who write these things come by way of dogma, I am certain: their hearts sing unbidden because they have explored the underlying structure and can elaborate with strength and beauty.

I can’t keep up with your posts, so I am behind again. Some of these works are out of print of course. Should you like copies, I could easily provide.

Acroamaticus said...

Hello Erika,

Thank you so much for your kind comments!

You'll be happy to know there are two more parts to Erskine's poem that I will post soon.

I've been posting more frequently than usual this last week - a lot on my mind! I reliase readers may find it hard to keep up, but just read at your own pace.

Ah, poetry! I'll reply more extensively tomorrow. Time to go to bed now.

Acroamaticus said...

Hello again Erika,

I read a lot of poetry in my twenties, most of the notable moderns, including Webb and McCauley among the Australians (surely the two most lyrical of our poets; the latter's translations of the Austrian poet Georg Trakl are worth tracking down), and Auden, MacNeice, Edwin Muir (under-rated, imo) Yeats ( an ancestor was an Anglo-Irish woman named Yeats, traceable back to the days when there were only a handful of Yeats families in Ireland) and T. S. Eliot, who was a favourite and set me in the direction of a return to Christianity.
When I discovered philosophy and theology I stopped reading novels and poetry, and it is only recently that I've taken poetry up again. Now I tend to be dissatisfied with the modernist stuff like Eliot and prefer the classics more, although I don't have enought time to read widely, just dipping in here and there. The same goes for theology, actually - I rarely read 20th century theology these days, much preferring the 19th century and going backwards with greater and greater appreciation!
Are you by any chance a school teacher?