02 December 2007

One of the Greatest Poems Ever Prayed

I shared this with a friend today. If that person needed to hear it again, others may too. I know I need to hear it, pray it, constantly. Very much in the spirit of the Advent call to repentance:

A HYMN TO GOD THE FATHER.
by John Donne


I.
WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

II.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

III.
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.

25 comments:

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I've always loved that poem, too.

Now, though, encountering it after a hiatus of some 20 years, I find that last bit disturbs me.

The persistent wish to make God swear, to find some theological way to put Him, as it were, under lock and key, to obligate Him, or have Him "bind" Himself, seems to me to bespeak a lack of faith in Him, as if one could not trust Him to do the good if He were free.

Anastasia

Cindy said...

Oddly, I'd been thinking of that poem today too. It's a classic, to be sure. I hadn't thought of how well it fits for Advent.

I once heard a performance of this poem set to music by a choir from Wisconsin Lutheran College. It was beautiful.

William Weedon said...

Anastasia,

I think, though, it fits with God choosing to "cut covenants" with His people - that is HE's the one that came up with the idea of the binding promise!

Cindy,

Oh, I've never heard it set to music before. I'll bet it was lovely.

Sch├╝tz said...

Can I recommend a movie? "Wit" with Emma Thompson in it. She plays an English Professor specialising in the poetry of Donne, dying of cancer. The pivotal poem is "Death be not proud". A movie with impact.

Anonymous said...

It seems reminiscent of Jacob wrestling with Christ, refusing to let Him leave without giving a blessing.

jgernander said...

Pastor Weedon,

It's in ELH, titled "Wilt Thou Forgive That Sin." Under the hymns for Trinity 19, to go with the gospel of the healing of the paralytic.

Pastor Jerry Gernander

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

If we want to say of God's promises that they are sure and certain, or thay they are never-failing, or some such thing as that, no doubt we shall be upon safe ground.

But to speak of God being bound -- doesn't that cross the line? Surely we all agree God is never bound, never could be bound, by anything whatsoever.

Instead, He always knew what He wanted to do and would always want to do, and these in utter freedom He freely promised to do -- and just as freely, keeps His promises.

And surely we can rely fully upon this radically free (but *perfect* in all ways, perfect in freedom, and therefore unchanging), loving God.

Anastasia

William Weedon said...

Pastor Gernander,

Wow! Thanks. I've got to run play that now.

Anastasia,

If God chooses in His perfect freedom to bind Himself with a promise - to guarantee to us with His Word that He will do such and such - we don't tell Him: "You're perfectly free. You can't do that." After all, there's Hebrews 6:17,18:

"So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us."

Pr. Lehmann said...

How's the tune on that hymn, Pr. Weedon? Is the text unaltered?

I guess I really do need to get ELH.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

But Hebrews 6:17-18 says the same thing I just said! Namely, that God's "counsel" (purpose) is unchanging. He merely promised to do what was already always His will, already what from the beginning, He had already freely chosen to do.

What He does with His oath is NOT to bind himself, but to encourage us. God remains forever radically, absolutely, perfectly free.

So let us take courage from His promises, but let us never say God is bound. He not God if He is bound.

And so seek, theologically, some way of considering Him bound is, to say the least, unseemly. We can completely, fully trust Him in His freedom.

Anastasia

Pr. Lehmann said...

God is so free that He can bind Himself, and does. It's the very nature of His promises.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Sorry, Pr. Lehmann, but I can't make anything coherent out of such words.

The nature of God's promises is just as the Hebrews passage tells us: to reassure US -- not to bind God.

Surely there is no need for God to be "bound" in order to be faithful and true?

Or is there, for Lutherans?

If not, why this insistence upon seeing God as "bound"?

Anastasia

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

P.S. -- and if so, why?

Anastasia

Pr. Lehmann said...

Genesis 22:16
"By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD..."

Deuteronomy 19:8
"And if the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he has sworn to your fathers..."

Deuteronomy 28:9
"The LORD will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you..."

The reason why God is bound is because He says he is. The need of Him being bound is that He describes Himself that way. He swears by Himself. He makes unbreakable promises. We are faithless, but He is faithful because He has bound Himself in such a way that He cannot break His Gospel Word to us.

The need is that of confessing what the Scriptures say.

Why are you so afraid of a God who makes rocks He can't move, Anastasia?

Josh S said...

Surely there is no need for God to be "bound" in order to be faithful and true?

A non-binding promise is not a promise at all. It's a lie. There is a religion that teaches of such a deity. It's called "Islam."

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Problem is, where does Scripture say God's promises bind Him? That's anthropomorphism. Hebrews gives another reason altogether for the oath.

That God will never break His promises is absolutely certain, but not because He is bound. Rather, it is because He freely WILLS to keep His promises, just as He freely WILLED to make them in the first place and freely WILLS, and always has, to do what is contained in them.


Anastasia

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

God is not faithful "because he has bound Himself." To say that implies that He might not be faithful if He weren't bound, and surely none of us wants to say that! Sujrely that would be blasphemy.

God is just faithful, period, with or without being "bound." He is faithful because He freely wills to be faithful.

Anastasia

Pr. Lehmann said...

The Lord binds Himself because He is faithful.

There is no conflict between divine freedom and God binding Himself to His promises, none at all. He does so freely, not out of compulsion, but He does do it. He very plainly says so.

I really don't understand why you're trying to keep promises from being promises.

What is blasphemy is utter refusal to confess what the Scriptures teach because they don't fit the God you've made up.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

You haven't yet shown us any place in Scripture that says God does this at all, much less "very plainly says so."

You've shown He makes promises, a point not in dispute.

And I've agreed that He always keeps them, a point also not in dispute.

The question, on which you have produced no Scripture and Pr. Weedon has produced one that supports what I'm saying, is, does God keep His promises because He is bound, or just because He is faithful?

Humans are bound by their promises, precisely because they are not faithful and that moral bond is often the only reason we humans keep our promises. It is not so with God. He will keep His promises anyway.

Anastasia

Philip of Maryville said...

I could be wrong, since I have not researched this, but I believe Donne was saying something different than what you all have focused on.
Look at "And having done that, Thou hast done;" and read it this way: "And having done that, Thou hast [surely and already in Christ] done." Grammatically, it seems to me that Thou hast done means Thou HAST done.
Bottom line, Donne may be saying that he himself is all too human and would wish to bind God or get God to declare anew some assurance of forgiveness, but then Donne realizes (for us) that there is no need to beg God. All that we desire--that at our death Thy Son shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore--"Thou hast done." So, Donne can safely conclude, "I fear no more."
As I said, I'm too lazy to research this, so please tell me (show me) if I'm wrong. But I really think the answer is in the grammar.

William Weedon said...

And let's not miss the double entendre with his name. "Thou hast not Donne, for I have more..." Etc. The whole thing was a word play.

As for the back and forth with Anastasia and the others, I have to say that I think you miss the point of the OATH in the Hebrews passage. We know God can't lie. We know that His every Word to us is a promise in and of itself. But note this about the way the Scriptural depiction of our Lord works: he DOES appear to "go back" on certain words of threat. Think of Jonah and Nineveh. But the oath attached to the promises proper (that is to Gospel promises) means this: "And you can bank on the fact that I am never going to go back on this, child! It's for you and forever!"

Philip of Maryville said...

Pr. Weedon, YES! ("And having done that, Thou hast done" [Donne].)
And with that, I am surely done.

Cindy said...

I'd like to track down the music for this, but I'll need a bit of help. Does ELH refer to Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal, Columbus, OH, 1880? Or Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book, St. Louis, 1912? Or something else?

William Weedon said...

Cindy,

Nothing so obscure - Deo gratias! Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary published by Morning Star for the Evangelical Lutheran Synod in 1996.

Cindy said...

Thank you, Pastor Weedon. I should be able to get my hands on that. There's an ELS church nearby that I sometimes visit. They use TLH, but I bet they have an ELH somewhere in the building.

I forgot to mention, I also need a piano. Could you get me one of those as easily as you fulfilled my last request?