Thursday, September 20, 2007

GOSPEL SONNETS - Chapter 1 - Section 5

By Ralph Erskine
Chapter 1

SECTION V. – Men’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.
Alledging works and duties of her own
May for her criminal offense atone;
She will her antic dirty robe provide,
Which vain she hopes will all pollutions hide.
The filthy rags that saints away have flung,
She, holding, wraps, and rolls herself in dung;
Thus maugre all the light the gospel gives,
Unto her natural consort fondly cleaves.
Though mercy set the royal match in view,
She’s loath 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 roused begins to stand aghast;
Pressed with the dread of hell, she’ll rashly patch,
And halve a bargain with the proffered match;
In hopes his help, together with her own,
Will turn to peaceful smiles the wrathful frown.
Through 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 the legal mind.
Men dream their state, ah! too, too slightly viewed,
Needs only be amended, not renewed;
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’s 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,(1)
Disdain to use his righteousness alone,
But as an aiding stirrup to mount their own;
Thus in Christ’s room his rival self enthrone;
And vainly would, dressed up in legal trim,
Divine 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,(2)
And all the fulness of the Deity.(3)
This store alone, immense and never spent,
Might poor insolvent debtors well content;
But to hell prison justly Heaven will doom
Proud fools that on their petty stock presume.
The softest couch that gilded nature knows,
an give the wakened conscience no repose.
When God arraigns, what mortal power can stand
Beneath the terror of his lifted hand!
Our safety lies beyond the nat’ral line,
Beneath a purple covert all divine.
Yet how is precious Christ, the way, despised,
And high the way of life by doing prized!
But can its voteries 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.(4)
Its prisoner he remains, and without bail,
‘Till every mite be paid; and if he fail,
(As sure he must, since, by our sinful breach,
Perfection far surmounts all mortal reach,)
Then cursed for ever must his soul remain:
And all the folk of God must say, AMEN.(5)
Why, seeking that the law should help afford,
In honoring the law, he slights its Lord;
Who gave 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 gift 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 every thread of it did draw,
Could sinners be o’ermantled by the 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,
Bless’d Jesus died in vain to save a soul.
Those then who life by legal means expect,
To them is Christ become of no effect;(6)
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 even this reigning madness may declare
How strictly wedded to the law they are;
For now (however rich they seemed 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 parched with lustful fires.
“Let’s give,” say they, “our lawless will free scope,
And live at random, for there is no hope.”(7)
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 obliged 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.

(1) Hab. 1:16
(2) Col. 2:3
(3) Col. 2:9
(4) Gal. 5:3
(5) Deut. 27:26
(6) Gal. 2:21; v. 2, 4
(7) Jer. 18:12

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