Ralph Erskine Poems >>
The Believer's Espousals : Chapter I.

Hark, dying mortal, if the Sonnet prove
A song of living and immortal love,
'Tis then thy grand concern the theme to know,
If life and immortality be so.
Are eyes to read, or ears to hear, a trust?
Shall both in death be cram'd anon with dust?
Then trifle not to please thine ear and eye,
But read thou, hear thou, for eternity.
Pursue not shadows wing'd, but be thy chase,
The God of glory on the field of grace:
The mighty hunter's name is lost and vain,
That runs not this substantial prize to gain.
These humble lines assume no high pretence,
To please thy fancy, or allure thy sense:
But aim, if everlasting life's thy chase,
To clear thy mind, and warm thy heart through grace.
A marriage so mysterious I proclaim,
Betwixt two parties of such diff'rent fame,
That human tongues may blush their names to tell,
To wit, the Prince of Heaven, the heir of hell!
But, on so vast a subject, who can find
Words suiting the conceptions of his mind?
Or, if our language with our thought could vie,
What mortal thought can raise itself so high?
When words and thoughts both fail, may faith and pray'r
Ascend by climbing up the scripture-stair:
From sacred writ these strange espousals may
Be explicated in the following way.

Chap. I. Sec. I.

The Fall of Adam.

A general account of Man's fall in Adam, and the remedy provided in Christ; and a particular account of Man's being naturally wedded to the law, as a covenant of works.

Old Adam once a heav'n of pleasure found,
While he with perfect innocence was crown'd;
His wing'd affections to his God could move
In raptures of desire, and strains of love.
Man standing spotless, pure, and innocent,
Could well the law of works with works content;
Though then (nor since) it could demand no less
Than personal and perfect righteousness:
These unto sinless man were easy terms,
Though now beyond the reach of wither'd arms.
The legal cov'nant then upon the field,
Perfection sought, man could perfection yield:
Rich had he, and his progeny remain'd,
Had he primeval innocence maintain'd:
His life had been a rest without annoy,
A scene of bliss, a paradise of joy.
But subtil satan in the serpent hid,
Proposing fair the fruit that God forbid,
Man, soon seduc'd by hell's alluring art,
Did, disobedient, from the rule depart,
Devour'd the bait, and by his bold offence
Fell from his blissful state of innocence.
Prostrate, he lost his God, his life, his crown,
From all his glory tumbled headlong down;
Plung'd in a deep abyss of sin and woe,
Where, void of heart to will, or hand to do,
For's own relief he can't command a thought,
The total sum of what he can is naught.
He's able only now t'increase his thrall;
He can destroy himself, and this is all.
But can the hellish brat Heav'n's law fulfil,
Whose precepts high surmount his strength and skill?
Can filthy dross produce a golden beam?
Or poison'd springs a salutif'rous stream;
Can carnal minds, fierce enmity's wide maw,
Be duly subject to the divine law?
Nay, now its direful threat'nings must take place
On all the disobedient human race,
Who do by guilt Omnipotence provoke,
Obnoxious stand to his uplifted stroke.
They must ingulf themselves in endless woes,
Who to the living God are deadly foes;
Who natively his holy will gainsay,
Must to his awful justice fall a prey.
In vain do mankind now expect, in vain
By legal deeds immortal life to gain:
Nay, death is threaten'd, threats must have their due,
Or souls that sin must die, as God is true.

Sect. II.
Redemption Through Christ

The second Adam, sov'reign Lord of all,
Did, by his Father's authorising call,
From bosom of eternal love descend,
To save the guilty race that him offend;
To treat an everlasting peace with those,
Who were and ever would have been his foes.
His errand, never-ending life to give
To them, whose malice would not let him live;
To make a match with rebels, and espouse
The brat which at his love her spite avows.
Himself he humbled to depress her pride,
And make his mortal foe, his loving bride.
But, ere the marriage can be solemniz'd,
All lets must be remov'd, all parties pleas'd;
Law-righteousness requir'd must be procur'd;
Law-vengeance threaten'd, must be full endur'd;
Stern justice must have credit by the match;
Sweet mercy by the heart the bridge must catch.

Poor bankrupt! all her debt must fire be paid;
Her former husband in the grave be laid:
Her present lover must be at the cost
To save and ransom at the uttermost;
If all these things this suitor kind can do,
Then he may win her, and her blessing too.
Hard terms indeed! while death's the first demand:
But love is strong as death, and will not stand
To carry on the suit and make it good,
Though at the dearest rate of wounds and blood;
The burden's heavy, but the back is broad,
The glorious lover is the mighty God.
Kind bowels yearning in th' eternal Son,
He left his Father's court, his heavenly throne,
Aside he threw his most divine array,
And wrapt his Godhead in a veil of clay;
Angelic armies, who in glory crown'd,
With joyful harps his awful throne surround,
Down to the crystal frontier of the sky,
To see the Saviour born, did eager fly;
And ever since beheld with wonder fresh
Their Sov'reign and our Saviour wrapt in flesh:
Who in this garb did mighty love display,
Restoring what he never took away.
To God his glory, to the law its due,
To heav'n its honour, to the earth its hue;
To man a righteousness divine, complete,
A royal robe to suit the nuptial rite:
He in her favours, whom he lov'd so well,
At once did purchase heav'n and vanquish hell.
Oh! unexampled love! so vast, so strong,
So great, so high, so deep, so broad, so long!
Can finite thought this ocean huge explore,
Unconscious of a bottom or a shore!
His love admits no parallel, for why?
At one great draught of love he drank hell dry.
No drop of wrathful gall he left behind;
No dreg to witness that he was unkind.
The sword of awful justice pierc'd his side,
That mercy thence might gush upon the bride.
The meritorious labours of his life,
And glorious conquest of his dying strife;
Her debt of doing, suff'ring, both cancell'd,
And broke the bars his lawfull captive held.

Down to the ground the hellish host he threw,
Then mounting high the trump of triumph blew,
Attended with a bright seraphic band,
Sat down enthron'd sublime on God's right hand;
Where glorious choirs their various harps employ,
To sound his praises with confed'rate joy.
There he, the bride's strong Intercessor, sits,
And thence the blessings of his blood transmits,
Sprinkling all o'er the flaming throne of God,
Pleads for her pardon his atoning blood;
Sends down his holy co-eternal Dove,
To shew the wonders of incarnate love,
To woo and win the bride's reluctant heart,
And pierce it with his kindly-killing dart;
By gospel light to manifest that now
She has no further with the law to do;
That her new Lord has loos'd the fed'ral tie
That once hard bound her, or to do or die;
That precepts, threats, no single mite can crave;
Thus for her former spouse he digg'd a grave;
The law fast to his cross did nail and pin,
Then bury'd the defunct his tomb within,
That he the lonely widow to himself might win.

Sect. III.
Man's Legal Disposition

But, after all, the bride's so malecontent,
No argument, save pow'r, is prevalent
To bow her will, and gain her heart's consent.
The law, her old primordial husband, loves;
Hopeful in its embraces life to have,
Though dead, and bury'd in her suitor's grave;
Unable to give life, as once before;
Unfit to be a husband any more.
Yet proudly she the new address disdains,
And all the blest Redeemer's love and pains;
Though now his head that cruel thorns did wound,
Is with immortal glory circled round;
Archangels at his awful footstool bow,
And drawing love sits smiling on his brow.
Though down he sends, in gospel-tidings good,
Epistles of his love, sign'd with his blood:
Yet lordly she the royal suit rejects,
Eternal life by legal works affects;
In vain the living seeks among the dead,
Sues quick'ning comforts in a killing head.
Her dead and bury'd husband has her heart,
Which cannot death remove, nor life impart.

Thus all revolting Adam's blinded race
In their first spouse their hope and comfort place.
They natively expect, if guilt them press,
Salvation by a home-bread righteousness:
They look for favour in Jehovah's eyes,
By careful doing all that in them lies.
'Tis still their primary attempt to draw
Their life and comfort from the vet'ran law;
They flee not to the hope the gospel gives;
To trust a promise bare, their minds aggrieves,
Which judge the man that does, the man that lives.

As native as they draw their vital breath,
Their fond recourse is to the legal path.
"Why," says old nature, in law-wedded man,
"Won't Heav'n be pleas'd, if I do all I can?
If I conform my walk to nature's light,
And strive, intent to practise what is right?
Thus won't I by the God of heav'n be bless'd,
And win his favour, if I do my best?
Good God? (he cries) when press'd with debt and thrall,
Have patience with me, and I'll pay thee all."
Upon their all, their best, they're fondly mad,
Though yet their all is naught their best is bad.
Proud man his can-do's mightily exalts,
Yet are his brightest works but splendid faults.
A sinner may have shews of Good, but still
The best he can, ev'n at his best, is ill.
Can heav'n or divine favour e'er be win
By those that are a mass of hell and sin?
The righteous law does num'rous woes denounce
Against the wretched soul that fails but once:
What heaps of curses on their heads it rears,
That have amass'd the guilt of num'rous years!

Sect. IV.
Man's Strict Attachment to Legal Terms, or to the Law as a Condition of Life

Say, on what terms then Heav'n appeas'd will be?
Why, sure perfection is the least degree.
Yea, more, full satisfaction must be giv'n
For trespass done against the laws of Heav'n.
These are the terms: What mortal back so broad,
But must for ever sink beneath the load?
A ransom must be found, or die they must,
Sure, ev'n as justice infinite is just.

But, says the legal, proud, self-righteous heart,
Which cannot with her ancient consort part,
"What! wont the goodness of the God of heav'n
Admit of smalls when greater can't be giv'n?
He knows our fall diminish'd all our funds,
Won't he accept of pennies now for pounds?
Sincere endeavours for perfection take,
Or terms more possible for mankind to make?"
Ah! poor divinity and jargon loose;
Such hay and straw will never build the house.
Mistake not here, proud mortal, don't mistake,
Good changes not, nor other terms will make.
Will divine faithfulness itself deny,
Which swore solemnly Man should do, or die?
Will God most true extend to us, forsooth,
His goodness, to the damage of his truth?
Will spotless holiness be baffled thus?
Or awful justice be unjust for us?
Small faithfulness be faithless for our sake,
And he his threats, as we his precepts break?
Will our great Creditor deny himself,
And for full payment take our filthy pelf?
Dispense with justice, to let mercy vent?
And stain his royal crown with 'minish'd rent?
Unworthy thought; O let no mortal clod
Hold such base notions of a glorious God.

Heav'n's holy cov'nant, made for human race,
Consists, or whole of works or whole of grace.
If works will take the field, then works must be
For ever perfect to the last degree:
Will God dispense with less? Nay, sure he won't
With ragged toll his royal law affront.
Can rags, that Sinai flames will soon dispatch,
E'er prove the fiery law's adequate match?
Vain man must be divorc'd, and choose to take
Another husband, or a burning lake.

We find the divine volume no-where teach
New legal terms within our mortal reach.
Some make, though in the sacred page unknown,
Sincerity assume perfection's throne:
But who will boast this base usuper's sway,
Save ministers of darkness, that display
Invented night to stifle scripture day?
The nat'ralist's sincerity is naught,
That of the gracious is divinely taught;
Which teaching keeps their graces, if sincere,
Within the limits of the gospel-sphere,
Where vaunting, none created graces sing,
Nor boast of streams, but of the Lord the spring.
Sincerity's the soul of ev'ry grace,
The quality of all the ransom'd race:
Of promis'd favour 'tis a fruit, a clause;
But no procuring term, no moving cause.

How unadvis'd the legal mind confounds
The marks of divine favour with the grounds,
And qualities of covenanted friends
With the condition of the cov'nant blends?
Thus holding gospel-truths with legal arms,
Mistakes new-cov'nant fruits for fed'ral terms.
The joyful sound no change of terms allows,
But change of persons, or another spouse.
The nature same that sinn'd must do or die;
No milder terms in gospel-offers lie.
For grace no other law-abatement shews,
But how law-debtors may restore its dues;
Restore, yea, through a surety in their place.
With double int'rest and a better grace.
Here we of no new terms of life are told,
But of a husband to fulfil the old;
With him alone by faith we're call'd to wed,
And let no rival bruik the marriage-bed.

Sect. V.
Man's vain attempt to seek Life by Christ's righteousness joined with their own, and legal hopes natural to all.

But still the bride reluctant disallows
The junior suit, and hugs the senior spouse.
Such the old selfish folly of her mind,
So bent to lick the dust, and grasp the wind,
Alleging works and duties of her own
May for her criminal offence atone;
She will her antic dirty robe provide,
Which vain she hopes will all pollution hide.
The filthy rags that saints away have flung,
She holding, wraps and rolls herself in dung.
Thus magure all the light the gospel gives,
Unto her nat'ral consort fondly cleaves.
Though mercy set the royal match in view,
She's loth to bid her ancient mate adieu.
When light of scripture, reason, common sense,
Can hardly mortify her vain pretence
To legal righteousness; yet if at last
Her conscience rous'd begins to stand aghast,
Press'd with the dread of hell, she'll rashly patch,
And halve a bargain with the proffer'd match;
In hopes his help, together with her own,
Will turn to peaceful smiles the wrathful frown.
Though grace the rising Sun delightful sings,
With full salvation in his golden wings,
And righteousness complete; the faithless soul,
Receiving half the light, rejects the whole;
Revolves the sacred page, but reads purblind
The gospel-message with a legal mind.
Men dream their state, ah! too slightly view'd,
Needs only be amended, not renew'd;
Scorn to be wholly debtors unto grace,
Hopeful their works may meliorate their case.
They fancy present prayers and future pains
Will for their former failings make amends:
To legal yokes they bow their servile necks,
And, lest soul-slips their false repose perplex,
Think Jesus' merits make up all defects,
They patch his glorious robe with filthy rags,
And burn but incense to their proper drags:
Disdain to use his righteousness alone,
But as an aiding stirr'p to mount their own;
Thus in Christ's room his rival self enthrone,
And vainly would, dress'd up in legal trim,
Divide salvation 'tween themselves and him.

But know, vain man, that to his share must fall
The glory of the whole or none at all.
In him all wisdom's hidden treasures lie,
And all the fulness of the Deity.
This store alone, immense, and never spent,
Might poor insolvent debtors well content;
But to hell-prison justly Heav'n will doom
Proud fools that on their petty stock presume.

The softest couch that gilded nature knows,
Can give the waken'd conscience no repose.
When God arraigns, what mortal pow'r can stand
Beneath the terror of his lifted hand?
Our safety lies beyond the natural line,
Beneath a purple covert all divine.

Yet how is precious Christ, the way, despised
And his the way of life by doing priz'd!
But can its vot'ries all its levy show?
They prize it most, who least its burden know:
Who by the law in part would save his soul,
Becomes a debtor to fulfil the whole.
Its prisoner he remains, and without hail
Till ev'ry mite be paid; and if he fail,
(As sure he must, since, by our sinful breach,
Perfection for surmounts all mortal reach,)
Then curs'd for ever must his soul remain,
And all the folk of God must say, Amen.
Why, seeking that the law should help afford,
In honouring the law, he slights its Lord,
Who gives his law-fulfilling righteousness
To be the naked sinner's perfect dress,
In which he might with spotless beauty shine
Before the face of majesty divine:
Yet, lo! the sinner works with mighty pains
A garment of his own, to hide his stains;
Ungrateful! overlooks the gifts of God.
The robe wrought by his hand, dy'd in his blood!

In vain the Son of God this web did weave,
Could our vile rags sufficient shelter give:
In vain he ev'ry thread of it did draw,
Could sinners be ov'rmantled by his law
Can men's salvation on their works be built.
Whose fairest actions nothing are but guilt?
Or can the law suppress th' avenging flame,
When now its only office is to damn?
Did life come by the law in part or whole,
Blest Jesus dy'd in vain to save a soul.
Those then who life by legal means expect,
To them is Christ become of no effect;
Because their legal mixtures do in fact
Wisdom's grand project plainly counteract.
How close proud carnal reasonings combine,
To frustrate sovereign grace's great design?
Man's heart by nature weds the law alone,
Nor will another paramour enthrone.

True, many seem by course of life profane,
No favour for the law to entertain;
But break the bands, and cast the cords away,
That would their raging lusts and passions stay.
Yet ev'n this reigning madness may declare,
How strictly wedded to the law they are;
For now (however rich they seem'd before)
Hopeless to pay law-debt, they give it o'er,
Like desp'rate debtors mad, still run themselves in more.
Despair of success shews their strong desires.
Till legal hopes are parch'd in lustful fires.
"Let's give," says they, "our lawless will free scope,
And live at random, for there is no hope.
The law, that can't them help, they stab with hate.
Yet scorn to beg, or court another mate.
Here lusts most opposite their hearts divide,
Their beastly passion, and their bankrupt pride.
In passion they their native mate deface,
In pride disdain to be oblig'd to grace.
Hence plainly, as a rule 'gainst law they live,
Yet closely to it as a cov'nant cleave.
Thus legal pride lies hid beneath the patch,
And strong aversion to the gospel-match.