Tuesday, July 17, 2012

GOSPEL SONNETS - Chapter 5 - Section 4

by Ralph Erskine
Chapter 5

SECTION IV. - Damnable Pride and Self-righteousness, so natural to all men, has little need to be encouraged by legal preaching.

THE legal path proud nature loves so well,
(Tho' yet 'tis but the clearest road to hell,)
That lo! ev'n these that take the foulest ways,
Whose lewdness no controlling bridle stays,
If but their drowsy conscience raise its voice,
'Twill speak the law of works their native choice,
And echo to the rousing sound, "Ah! true,
I cannot hope to live, unless I DO."
No conscience breast of mortal kind can trace
The mystery deep of being sav'd by grace.
Of this nor is the natural conscience skill'd,
Nor will admit it when it is reveal'd;
But pushes at the gospel like a ram,
As proxy for the law, against the Lamb.
The proud, self-righteous, Pharisaic strain
Is "Blest be God, I'm not like other men;
I read and pray, give alms, I mourn and fast; (1)
And therefore hope I'l get to heaven at last:
For though from every sin I be not free,
Great multitudes of men are worse than me.
I'm none of those that swear, cheat, drink and whore."
Thus on the law he builds his Babel tower.
  Yea, ev'n the vilest cursed debauchee
Will make the law of works his very plea;
"Why (says the rake) what take you me to be?
A Turk or infidel? you lie! I can't
Be term'd so base, but by a sycophant;
Only I hate to act the whining saint.
I am a christian true; and therefore bode
It shall be well with me, I hope in God.
An't I an honest man? yea, I defy
The tongue that dare assert black to mine eye."
Perhaps, when the reprover turns his back,
He'll vend the viler wares o's open'd pack,
And with his fellows, in a strain more big,
Bid damn the base uncharitable whig.
"These scoundrel hypocrites (he'll proudly say)
Think none shall ever merit heav'n but they,
And yet we may compete with them; for see,
The best have blemishes as well as we.
We have as good a heart (we trust) as these,
Tho' not with vain superfluous shew and blaze.
Bigoted zealots, whose sole crimes are hid,
Would damn us all to hell; but God forbid,
Whatever such a whining sect profess,
'Tis but a nice, morose, affected dress,
And though we don't pretend so much as they,
We hope to compass heav'n a shorter way:
We seek God's mercy, and are all along
Most free of malice, and do no man wrong.
But whims fantastic shan't our heads annoy,
That would our social liberties destroy.
Sure, right religion never was designed
To mar the native mirth of human kind.
How weak are those that would be thought nonesuch!
How mad, that would be righteous overmuch!
We have sufficient, though we be not crammed:
We'll therefore hope the best: let them be damned!"
  Ah, horrid talk! yet so the legal strain
Lards even the language of the most profane.
Thus devilish pride o'erlooks a thousand faults,
And on a legal ground itself exalts.
This DO and LIVE, though doing power be lost,
In every mortal is proud nature's boast.
How does a vain conceit of goodness swell,
And feed false hope, amidst the shades of hell?
Shall we, who should by gospel-methods draw,
Send sinners to their nat-ral spouse the law;
And harp upon the doing string to such,
Who ignorantly dream they do so much?
Why, thus, instead of courting Christ a bride,
We harden rebels in their native pride.
  Much rather ought we in God's name to place
His great artill'ry straight against their face;
And throw hot Sinai thunderbolts around,
To burn their towering hopes down to the ground;
To make the pillars of their pride to shake,
And damn their doings to the burning lake;
To curse the doers unto endless thrall,
That never did continue to do all; (2)
To scorch their conscience with the flaming air,
And sink their haughty hopes in deep despair;
Denouncing Ebal's black revenging doom,
To blast their expectation in the bloom;
Till once vain hope of life by works give place
Unto a solid hope of life by grace.
The vig'rous use of means is safely urged,
When pressing calls from legal dregs are purged;
But most unsafely in a fed'ral dress,
Confounding terms of life with means of grace.
Oh! dang'rous is th' attempt proud flesh to please,
Or send a sinner to the law for ease;
Who rather needs to feel its piercing dart,
Till dreadful pangs invade his trembling heart;
And thither should be only sent for flames
Of fire to burn his rotten hopes and claims;
That thus disarmed, he gladly may embrace,
And grasp with eagerness the news of grace.

(1) Luke xviii. 11. 12.
(2) Gal. iii. 10.