Friday, August 11, 2006

God's Criminal in the Dock

William Cowper is one of my favorite 18th English poets. He wrote with a passion that could only proceed from a heart acquainted with personal brokenness and the grace of God. Upon the death of George Whitefield, Cowper penned the following poem. Whitefield, the great contemporary evangelist and friend of Cowper, was often maligned for his unfailing conviction of the sufficiency of Scripture, his steadfast determination to never compromise on the great doctrines of Scripture, and his willingness to reach the lost by preaching the gospel in places, and with methods, that the established church disdained. The poem is entitled "God's Criminal in the Dock" and should be of great comfort for any person who has suffered for staying true to Scripture and the gospel message.

Leuconomus (beneath well-sounding Greek
I slur a name a poet must not speak)
Stood pilloried on infamy's high stage,
And bore the pelting scorn of half an age;
The very butt of slander, and the blot
For ev'ry dart that malice ever shot.
The man that mention'd him at once dismiss'd
All mercy from his lips, and sneer'd and hiss'd;
His crimes were such as Sodom never knew,
And perjury stood up to swear all true;
His aim was mischief, and his zeal presence,
His speech rebellion against common sense;
A knave, when tried on honesty's plain rule,
And, when by that of reason, a mere fool;
The world's best comfort was, his doom was pass'd
Die when he might, he must be damn'd at last.

Now, truth, perform thine office;waft aside
The curtain drawn by prejudice and pride,
Reveal (the man is dead) to wond'ring eyes
This more than monster in his proper guise.

He lov'd the world that hated him the tear
That dropp'd upon his Bible was sincere:
Assailtd by scandal and the tongue of strife,
His only answer was, a blameless life;
And he that forg'd, and he that threw, the dart,
Had each a brother's int'rest in his heart!
Paul's love of Christ, and steadiness unbrib'd,
Were copied close in him, and well transcrib'd.
He follow 'd Paul-his zeal a kindred flame,
His apostolic charity the same.

Like him, cross'd cheerfully tempestuous seas,
Forsaking country, kindred, friends, and ease;
Like him he labour'd, and, like him, content
To bear it, suffer'd shame where'er he went.

Blush, calumny! and write upon his tomb,
If honest eulogy can spare thee room,
Thy deep repentance of thy thousand lies,
Which, aim'd at him, have pierc'd th' offended skies;
And say, Blot out my sin, confess'd, deplor'd,
Against thine image in thy saint, oh Lord!

No blinder bigot, I maintain it still,
Than he who must have pleasure, come what will:
He laughs, whatever weapon truth may draw,
And deems her sharp artillery mere straw.
Scripture, indeed, is plain; but God and he,
On Scripture-ground, are sure to disagree;
Some wiser rule must teach him how to live,
Than this his Maker has seen fit to give;
Supple and flexible as Indian cane,
To take the bend his appetites ordain;
Contriv'd to suit frail nature's crazy case,
And reconcile his lusts with saving grace.
By this, with nice precision of design,
He draws upon life's map a zig-zag line,
That shows how far 'tis safe to follow sin,
And where his danger and God's wrath begin.
By this he forms, as pleas'd he sports along,
His well-pois'd estimate of right and wrong;
And finds the modish manners of the day,
Though loose, as harmless as an infant's play.

Build by whatever plan caprice decrees,
With what materials, on what ground, you please;
Your hope shall stand unblam'd, perhaps admir'd,
If not that hope the Scripture has requir'd.
The strange conceits, vain projects, and wild dreams,
With which hypocrisy for ever teems,
(Though other follies strike the public eye,
And raise a laugh) pass unmolested by;
But if, unblameable in word and thought,
A man arise-a man whom God has taught,
With all Elijah's dignity of tone,
And all the love of the beloved John-
To storm the citadels they build in air,
And smite th' untemper'd wall, 'tis death to spare;
To sweep away all refuges of lies,
And place, instead of quirks themselves devise,
Lama sabacthani before their eyes;
To prove that without Christ all gain is loss,
All hope despair, that stands not on his cross;
Except the few his God may have impress'd,
A tenfold frenzy seizes all the rest.

May God give us more such criminals.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

6 comments: said...

Leuconomus is the Greek translation of "white field" which is of course a play on Whitefield.

RKSOKC66 said...

I have a hard time understanding this type of poetry.

There are too many clauses in each sentence so by the time I get done reading any given sentence I forget what the subject and verb are. Maybe one could diagram these sentences like we learned in school many years ago. This might help to be able to break up the sentences so guys like me could follow what is being said.

This reminds me of some of the sentences in the Pauline Letters in the King James translation. For the sake of modern readers I think long sentences have to be broken up.

I would have to check to confirm this but I think there are some sentences in the KJV that are around 50 words (or more) in length.

I used to have a plain ASCII text file of the entire KJV Bible. I don't know if I still have this or not. If so I could write a program and detect the number of characters between sucessive periods and build a table with verse reference vs. length of verse and then sort this. Then you could see all of the long verses at a glance. said...


I agree.

I think we are a visual culture, and as a result, it is difficult for us all to understand this type of poetry.

However, if a person takes it slow, concentrates on one sentence at a time, it helps.

Rex Ray said...

Without your introduction to this poem, I wouldn’t know straight up what the poet was saying.
I’m reminded of Paul saying he had rather hear ten words he understood than many he didn’t understand. This poem makes King James look like the Living Bible.
By the way, once I made a motion that the Bibles we were buying to give to new converts be something other than King James, but the motion never got a second. (My wife said she didn’t want to cause trouble.)

I have a problem even with the title: “God’s Criminal in the Dock.”
“Dock” was only a place for ships in my understanding until Webster said it also was a place where the accused stands in court. So that word finally made sense, but “Criminal?”

God takes us criminals and makes us HIS CHILDREN. So we are no longer criminals and God has no criminals. The only criminal that God had was his Son. When Jesus took our sins upon himself, he became a criminal and God treated him as such in the pits of hell.
That’s why when we accept Jesus as our Savior we are justified because he has taken our place.

George Whitefield sounds like a great Christian. To do him justice, someone should translate Cowper’s poem into modern English, but would that be too much like doing that to the King James?
Rex Ray

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark said...

Thanks for the poem. I think I may need to read it over again more slowly to properly digest it.