Tag Archives: George Herbert

I’ve Found Gold!

Back in the 1600s when modern science was still in the cradle, alchemists devoted themselves to the pursuit of something they called the philosopher’s stone.  They were sure there was such a thing, and if they could just discover it, they would be able to transform base metals into gold.  Alchemists also experimented attempting to find the elixir, which to drink (they just knew) would keep them eternally young.

We who are arguably wiser now know that this is impossible, but it was exciting science back in those days.  If only they could discover how to turn a more common metal, say iron or lead, into gold.  Suddenly the rocks around them would make them rich!  Or this fleeting little life locked in to decay… if only they could discover the magic potion that reverses the inevitable.

And so everyone was talking about this back in the 1600s.  Would one of these alchemists actually find the philosopher’s stone or the elixir of life?  It was exciting to think so in a time when very few people lived into their 60s.  However, an Anglican rector by the name of George Herbert who knew and loved the Lord realized he had already found this stone, this elixir.  Herbert made it the subject of one of his poems, which were published after he died at age 40.  (Some might remember that a line from one of Herbert’s poems, The Call, inspired the title for this blog—A Mending Feast.)

Here is the poem, The Elixir.  It’s a little difficult for the modern ear; if you’re like me, it’ll take a few readings to mine out the riches in it.  But first, a few definitions that will bring Herbert’s use of the English language up to date.

Rude:  primitive, coarse, unthinking, like a brute beast

Prepossessed:  to be preoccupied with, to make something of exclusive concern

Tincture:  dye, stain

Mean:  ignoble, base

Now the poem.

The Elixir

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see;
And what I do in any thing,
To do it as for Thee;

Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossess’d
And give it his perfection.

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.

All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture—“For Thy sake”—
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,
Makes that, and th’ action, fine.

This is the famous stone,
That turneth all to gold;
For that, which God doth touch and own,
Cannot for less be told.

Is this not a wondrous find?  To borrow a favourite phrase of our Lord’s, He that hath ears, let him hear. There is an elixir that transforms drudgery into the divine.  It is found in doing all things as unto the Lord.  Let me not be rushing through life preoccupied with its needs and chores, harnessed to them like an unthinking beast that knows nothing beyond earthly things.  Let me be preoccupied with God in it all, and give my best to Him.

Yes, we can focus our attention on the window pane of life taking note of the streaks in it, and the smudges.  But it’s a bit strange that someone stands before a window looking no further than the pane.  We can look through that and see the heavens revealed.  The base things, the mean things of life, the “servant” things… we need not chafe at these.  I know, we’d all like to leave that to others while we ourselves get on with what we know we were cut out for in this life—being kings and queens.  But—what does God know that I don’t?—inevitably there is something before me that means I must stoop to being a servant.  I am not free to do my own thing, I must obey… someone else.  But God adds a clause in that law—Do it unto the Lord—that makes the doing of it something royal, something refined.

When our lot in life is “mean” things, base things, this is the transforming elixir that makes those very things heavenly.  This tincture, this dye—“For Thy sake”—causes all that is colourless to shine with new luster.  This is the stone that, since God is now involved, the most humbling things can only rightly be told (accounted) as gold.

I like that very much.  This transforms not only the disagreeable duties of life, but the whole of life itself.  Take my own life, for example.  What a plain, ordinary, bland, boring life I live. If I ever wrote my autobiography it would be a bargain-bin book for sure.

Except for one thing… and oh for eyes to see this always!  I’ve found a Stone… and He’s turned my life to gold!  Yes, all the troubles and afflictions, too!  It’s all gold!

Welcome to A Mending Feast

Welcome to A Mending Feast! No, this is not an online sewing bee; it’s my contribution to the Table of the Lord. Please come in and sit down and make yourself at home. It’s my hope that all who partake here will taste and see that the Lord is good, and gracious, and will leave with appetites whetted to know Him more and more.

This has been my own experience at His table, which He invited me to sit down at some forty years ago: me, at the time a beggar sitting in a dunghill. He picked me up, and caused me to sit down among princes at His table. And oh, what a Table it is! It fills me, yet leaves me hungering for more of Him; it grows; it gets better all the time.

And that’s the meaning of the title of this blog, which was inspired from a line in an old poem by George Herbert (1593-1633).

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.

Come my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast,
Such a feast as mends in length,
Such a strength as makes His guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move,
Such a love as none can part,
Such a heart as joys in love.

Isn’t this a wondrous poem? I love poetry that leads me in worship, and this is certainly one of them. Herbert saw that it is Christ Himself who is all things to the Christian — our Way, our Truth, our Life… the Way of the Spirit, of the Wind, that, to walk in is moment-by-moment breath to us; the Truth in Whom mercy and truth are met together, in Whom righteousness and peace have kissed; the Life who, dying in the will of God, vanquished him that had the power of death with his own weapon. He is our Light, our Feast, our Joy… the Light that shows a feast spread for us in the very presence of our enemies…

…A feast that “mends in length.” In the old King’s English Dictionary my friend Reg gave me years ago, one of the definitions for “mend” is, “verb, intransitive: to grow better, to improve.” The perfect word to describe the Feast of the Lord! All the feasts of earth sooner or later come to an end, with the guests departed, the table depleted, the once full dishes now empty and forlorn.

Not so this Table. This feast never ends – and it mends in length: the longer it goes the greater it grows, and just gets better, and better, and better, and fuller, and greater, and richer, and leaves the soul, oh, so satisfied… yet hungering for more, and more, and more.

There’s so much in this beautiful old poem, for there is so much in our wondrous Lord Jesus Christ. His feast is a feast that makes us, imparts strength to us: we sit down famished, weak and feeble, but rise up strengthened for whatever is before us. His joy is a joy that none can move, that no man taketh from us; His love is a love that rejoiceth in the truth, is a love that nothing can separate us from.

…And, whatever it was that our hearts rejoiced in when our hearts were in darkness, now we have a heart like His own – a heart that joys in love.

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