John Keble, The Christian Year (1827)
At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision. —Daniel IX, 23.
“O holy mountain of my God,
“How do thy towers in ruin lie,
“How art thou riven and strewn abroad,
“Under the rude and wasteful sky!”
‘Twas thus upon his fasting-day
The “Man of Loves” was fain to pray,
His lattice open toward the western breeze,
Mourning the home that still his yearning fancy sees.
Oh for a love like Daniel’s now,
To wing to Heaven but one strong prayer
For GOD’S new Israel, sunk as low,
Yet flourishing to sight as fair,
As Sion in her height of pride,
With queens for handmaids at her side,
With kings her nursing-fathers, throned high,
And compass’d with the world’s too tempting blazonry.
‘Tis true, nor winter stays thy growth,
Nor torrid summer’s sickly smile;
The flashing billows of the south
Break not upon so lone an isle,
But thou, rich vine, art grafted there,
The fruit of death or life to bear,
Yielding a surer witness every day,
To thine Almighty Author and his stedfast way.
Oh grief to think, that grapes of gall
Should cluster round thine healthiest shoot
God’s herald prove a heartless thrall,
Who, if he dar’d, would fain be mute!
Even such is this bad world we see,
Which, self-condemn’d in owning Thee,
Yet dares not open farewell of Thee take,
For very pride, and her high-boasted Reason’s sake.
What do we then? if far and wide
Men kneel to CHRIST, the pure and meek,
Yet rage with passion, swell with pride,
Have we not sill our faith to seek?
Nay—but in stedfast humbleness
Kneel on to Him, who loves to bless
The prayer that waits for Him; and trembling strive
To keep the lingering flame in thine own breast alive
Dark frown’d the future even on him,
The loving and beloved Seer,
What time he saw, through shadows dim,
The boundary of th’ eternal year;
He only of the sons of men
Nam’d to be heir of glory then.
Else had it bruis’d too sore his tender heart
To see GOD’S ransom’d world in wrath and flame depart.
Then look no more: or closer watch
Thy course in Earth’s bewildering ways,
For every glimpse thine eye can catch
Of what shall be in those dread days:
So when th’Archangel’s word is spoken,
And Death’s deep trance for ever broken,
In mercy thou may’st feel the heavenly hand,
And in thy lot unharm’d before thy Saviour stand.
The above poem comes from John Keble’s book of devotional poetry, The Christian Year. In it, Keble begins by invoking the imagery of Daniel the Prophet, whose experience of Israel was that of a broken city, a desecrated and ruined temple, a wicked and humbled people, and a nation without a king. From the Old Testament account of Daniel, we learn of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue and the stone cut without hands; which tells of the progress of the Church of God—the rough stone rolling—which shall overcome all nations and whose sovereignty will be without end. What a contrast with Daniel’s lived experience.
Keble then celebrates the glory of the Church and the political fulfillment of Daniel’s vision. In 1829, the Church could claim kings and queens handmaids and nursing-fathers. Christianity seemed to be in the ascendant. Yet the most interesting stanza of Keble’s poem does not celebrate Christian ascendancy, rather it focuses on the hypocrisy of men and women who kneel to God ‘yet rage with passion’ and ‘swell with pride’. Can pride and angry passion coexist with Christian faith and humility? On this Maundy Thursday, Keble invites the reader to allow the empires of anger in our own hearts, and prideful reason in our minds, to be pacified and changed by Christ and His Church.