Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Stay of Contrite Hearts

Second Sunday In Lent
John Keble


And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father. Genesis xxvii. 34. (Compare Hebrew xii. 17. He found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.)


“And is there in God’s world so drear a place
Where the loud bitter cry is raised in vain?
Where tears of penance come too late for grace,
As on the uprooted flower the genial rain?”

’Tis even so: the sovereign Lord of souls
Stores in the dungeon of His boundless realm
Each bolt that o’er the sinner vainly rolls,
With gathered wrath the reprobate to whelm.

Will the storm hear the sailor’s piteous cry,
Taught so mistrust, too late, the tempting wave,
When all around he sees but sea and sky,
A God in anger, a self-chosen grave?

Or will the thorns, that strew intemperance’ bed,
Turn with a wish to down? will late remorse
Recall the shaft the murderer’s hand has sped,
Or from the guiltless bosom turn its course?

Then may the unbodied soul in safety fleet
Through the dark curtains of the world above,
Fresh from the stain of crime; nor fear to meet
The God whom here she would not learn to love;

Then is there hope for such as die unblest,
That angel wings may waft them to the shore,
Nor need the unready virgin strike her breast,
Nor wait desponding round the bridegroom’s door.

But where is then the stay of contrite hearts?
Of old they leaned on Thy eternal word,
But with the sinner’s fear their hope departs,
Fast linked as Thy great Name to Thee, O Lord:

That Name, by which Thy faithful oath is past,
That we should endless be, for joy or woe:—
And if the treasures of Thy wrath could waste,
Thy lovers must their promised Heaven forego.

But ask of elder days, earth’s vernal hour,
When in familiar talk God’s voice was heard,
When at the Patriarch’s call the fiery shower
Propitious o’er the turf-built shrine appeared.

Watch by our father Isaac’s pastoral door—
The birthright sold, the blessing lost and won;
Tell, Heaven has wrath that can relent no more;
The Grave, dark deeds that cannot be undone.

We barter life for pottage; sell true bliss
For wealth or power, for pleasure or renown;
Thus, Esau-like, our Father’s blessing miss,
Then wash with fruitless tears our faded crown.

Our faded crown, despised and flung aside,
Shall on some brother’s brow immortal bloom;
No partial hand the blessing may misguide,
No flattering fancy change our Monarch’s doom:

His righteous doom, that meek true-hearted Love
The everlasting birthright should receive,
The softest dews drop on her from above,
The richest green her mountain garland weave:

Her brethren, mightiest, wisest, eldest-born,
Bow to her sway, and move at her behest;
Isaac’s fond blessing may not fall on scorn,
Nor Balaam’s curse on Love, which God hath blest.

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