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Poems By Poet Ralph Erskine  7/10/2014 3:29:43 AM
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  RALPH ERSKINE (1685-1752)

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Meditations on Smoking Tobacco; or, Smoking Spiritualized

Part 1.

This Indian weed now wither'd quite,
Though green at noon, cut down at night
Shows thy decay;
All flesh is hay.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The pipe so lily-like and weak,
Does thus thy mortal state bespeak.
Thou art ev'n such,
Gone with a touch.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the smoke ascends on high,
Then thou behold'st the vanity
Of worldly stuff,
Gone with a puff.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the pipe grows foul within,
Think on thy soul defil'd with sin;
For then the fire
It does require.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And seest the ashes cast away;
Then to thyself thou may say,
That to the dust
Return thou must.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Part II.

Was this small plant for thee cut down?
So was the Plant of great renown;
Which mercy sends
For nobler ends.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Doth juice medicinal proceed
From such a naughty foreign weed?
Then what's the power
Of Jesse's flow'r?
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The promise, like the pipe, inlays,
And by the mouth of Faith conveys
What virtue flows
From Sharon's Rose.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

In vain th' unlighted pipe you blow;
Your pains in outward means are so,
Till heav'nly fire
Your heart inspire.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The smoke, like burning incense, tow'rs;
So should a praying heart of yours
With ardent cries
Surmount the skies.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
Ralph Erskine



The Believer's Principles : Chap. IV.

Faith and Sense Natural, compared and distinguished.

When Abram's body, Sarah's womb,
Were ripe for nothing but the tomb,
Exceeding old, and wholly dead,
Unlike to bear the promis'd seed:

Faith said, 'I shall an Isaac see;'
'No, no,' said Sense, 'it cannot be;'
Blind Reason, to augment the strife,
Adds, 'How can death engender life?'

My heart is like a rotten tomb,
More dead than ever Sarah's womb;
O! can the promis'd seed of grace
Spring forth from such a barren place?

Sense gazing but on flinty rocks,
My hope and expectation chokes:
But could I, skill'd in Abram's art,
O'erlook my dead and barren heart;

And build my hope on nothing less
That divine pow'r and faithfulness;
Soon would I find him raise up sons
To Abram, out of rocks and stones.

Faith acts as busy boatmen do,
Who backward look and forward row;
It looks intent to things unseen,
Thinks objects visible too mean.

Sense thinks it madness thus to steer,
And only trusts its eye and ear;
Into faith's boat dare thrust its oar,
And put it further from the shore.

Faith does alone the promise eye;
Sense won't believe unless it see;
Nor can it trust the divine guide,
Unless it have both wind and tide.

Faith thinks the promise sure and good;
Sense doth depend on likelihood;
Faith ev'n in storms believes the seers;
Sense calls all men, ev'n prophets, liars.

Faith uses means, but rests on none;
Sense sails when outward means are gone:
Trusts more on probabilities,
Than all the divine promises.

It rests upon the rusty beam
Of outward things that hopeful seem;
Let these its supports sink or cease,
No promise then can yield it peace.

True faith that's of a divine brood,
Consults not with base flesh and blood;
But carnal sense which ever errs,
With carnal reason still confers.

What! my disciples won't believe
That I am risen from the grave?
Why will they pore on dust and death,
And overlook my quick'ning breath?

Why do they slight the word I spake?
And rather sorry counsel take
With death, and with a pow'rful grave,
If they their captive can relieve?

Sense does inquire if tombs of clay
Can send their guests alive away;
But faith will hear Jehovah's word,
Of life and death the sov'reign Lord.

Should I give ear to rotten dust,
Or to the tombs confine my trust;
No resurrection can I see,
For dust that flies into mine eye.

What! Thomas, can't thou trust so much
To me as to thy sight and touch?
Won't thou believe till Sense be guide,
And thrust its hand into my side?

Where is thy faith, if it depends
On nothing but thy finger-ends?
But bless'd are they the truth who seal
By faith, yet neither see nor feel.

Sect. II.

Faith and Sense Spiritual, compared and distinguished. Where also the difference between the Assurance of Faith, and the Assurance of Sense.

The certainty of faith and sense
Wide differ in experience:
Faith builds upon, - Thus saith the Lord;
Sense the views his work and not his word.

God's word without is faith's resort,
His work within doth sense support,
By faith we trust him without pawns,
By sense we handle with our hands.

By faith the word of truth's receiv'd,
By sense we know we have believ'd.
Faith's certain by fiducial acts,
Sense by its evidential facts.

Faith credits the divine report,
Sense to his breathings makes resort:
That on his word of grace will hing,
This on his Spirit witnessing.

By faith I take the Lord for mine,
By sense I feel his love divine:
By that I touch his garment's hem,
By this find virtue thence to stream.

By faith I have mine all on band,
By sense I have some stock in hand;
By that some vision is begun,
By this I some fruition win.

My faith can fend ev'n in exile,
Sense cannot live without a smile.
By faith I to his promise fly,
By sense I in his bosom lie.

Faith builds upon the truth of God,
That lies within the promise broad;
But sense upon the truth of grace
His hand within my heart did place.

Thus Christ's the object faith will eye,
And faith's the object sense may see:
Faith keeps the truth of God in view,
While sense the truth of faith may shew.

Hence faith's assurance firm can stand,
When sense's in the deep may strand;
And faith's persuasion full prevail,
When comfortable sense may sail.

I am assur'd when faith's in act,
Though sense and feeling both I lack;
And thus mysterious is my lot,
I'm oft assur'd when I am not;

Oft pierc'd with racking doubts and fears:
Yet faith these brambles never bears;
But unbelief that cuts my breath,
And stops the language of my faith.

Clamours of unbelieving fears,
So frequently disturb mine ears,
I cannot hear what faith would say,
Till once the noisy clamours stay.

And then will fresh experience find,
When faith gets leave to speak its mind,
The native language whereof is,
My Lord is mine, and I am his.

Sad doubtings compass me about,
Yet faith itself could never doubt;
For, as the sacred volume saith,
Much doubting argues little faith.

The doubts and fears that work my grief,
Flow not from faith, but unbelief;
For faith, whene'er it acteth, cures
The plague of doubts, and me assures.

But when mine eye of faith's asleep,
I dream of drowning in the deep:
But as befals the sleeping eye,
Though in sight remain, it cannot see;

The seeing faculty abides,
Though sleep from active seeing hides;
So faith's assuring pow'rs endure
Ev'n when it ceases to assure.

There still persuasion in my faith,
Ev'n when I'm fill'd with fears of wrath;
The trusting habit still remains,
Though slumbers hold the act in chains.

The assuring faculty it keeps,
Ev'n when its eye in darkness sleeps,
Wrapt up in doubts; but when it wakes,
It rouses up assuring acts.

Sect. III.

The Harmony and Discord between Faith and Sense; how they help, and how they mar each other.

Though gallant Faith can keep the field
When cow'rdly Sense will fly or yield;
Yet while I view their unusual path,
Sense often stands and falls with Faith.

Faith ushers in sweet Peace and Joy,
Which further heartens Faith's employ:
Faith like the head, and Sense the heart,
Do mutual vigour fresh impart.

When lively Faith and Feeling sweet,
Like dearest darlings, kindly meet,
They straight each other help and hug
In loving friendship close and snug.

Faith gives to Sense both life and breath,
And Sense gives joy and strength to Faith;
'O now,' says Faith, 'how fond do I
In Sense's glowing bosom lie!'

Their mutual kindness then is such,
That oft they doting too too much,
Embrace each other out of breath;
As AEsop hugg'd his child to death.

Faith leaping into Sense's arms,
Allur'd with her bewitching charms,
In hugging these, lets rashly slip
The proper object of its grip:

Which being lost, behold the thrall!
Anon Faith loses Sense and all;
Thus unawares cuts Sense's breath,
While Sense trips up the heels of Faith.

Her charms assuming Jesus' place,
While Faith's lull'd in her soft embrace;
Lo! soon in dying pleasures wrapt,
Its living joy away is snapt.

Sect. IV.

The Valour and Victories of Faith.

By Faith I unseen Being see
Forth lower beings call,
And say to nothing, Let it be,
And nothing hatches all.

By faith I know the worlds were made
By God's great word of might;
How soon, Let there be light, he said,
That moment there was light.

By faith I soar and force my flight,
Through all the clouds of sense;
I see the glories out of sight,
With brightest evidence.

By faith I mount the azure sky,
And from the lofty sphere,
The earth a little mote espy,
Unworthy of my care.

By faith I see the unseen things,
Hid from all mortal eyes;
Proud Reason stretching all its wings,
Beneath me flutt'ring lies.

By faith I build my lasting hope
On righteousness divine,
Nor can I sink with such a prop,
Whatever storms combine.

By faith my works, my righteousness,
And duties all I own
But loss and dung; and lay my stress
On what my Lord has done.

By faith I overcome the world,
And all its hurtful charms;
I'm in the heav'nly chariot hurl'd
Through all opposing harms.

By faith I have a conqu'ring pow'r,
To tread upon my foes,
To triumph in a dying hour,
And banish all my woes.

By faith in midst of wrongs I'm right,
In sad decays I thrive;
In weakness I am strong in might,
In death I am alive.

By faith I stand when deep I fall,
In darkness I have light;
Nor dare I doubt and question all
When all is out of sight.

By faith I trust a pardon free
Which puzzles flesh and blood;
To think that God can justify,
Where yet he sees no good.

By faith I keep my Lord's commands,
To verify my trust;
I purify my heart and hands,
And mortify my lust.

By faith my melting soul repents,
When pierced Christ appears;
My heart in grateful praises vents,
Mine eyes in joyful tears.

By faith I can the mountains vast
Of sin and guilt remove;
And them into the ocean cast,
The sea of blood and love.

By faith I see Jehovah high
Upon a throne of grace;
I see him lay his vengeance by,
And smile in Jesus' face.

By faith I hope to see the Sun,
The light of grace that lent;
His everlasting circles run,
In glory's firmament.

By faith I'm more than conqueror,
Ev'n though I nothing can;
Because I set Jehovah's pow'r
Before me in the van.

By faith I counterplot my foes,
Nor need their ambush fear;
Because my life-guard also goes
Behind me in the rear.

By faith I walk, I run, I fly,
By faith I suffer thrall;
By faith I'm fit to live and die,
By faith I can do all.

Sect. V.

The Heights and Depths of Sense.

When Heav'n me grants, at certain times,
Amidst a pow'rful gale,
Sweet liberty to moan my crimes,
And wand'rings to bewail;

Then do I dream my sinful brood,
Drown'd in the ocean main
Of crystal tears and crimson blood,
Will never lie again.

I get my foes beneath my feet,
I bruise the serpent's head;
I hope the vict'ry is complete,
And all my lusts are dead.

How gladly do I think and say,
When thus it is with me,
Sin to my sense is clean away,
And so shall ever be?

But, ah! alas! th' ensuing hour
My lusts arise and swell,
They rage and re-inforce their pow'r,
With new recruits from hell,

Though I resolv'd and swore, through grace,
In very solemn terms,
I never should my lusts embrace,
Nor yield unto their charms;

Yet such deceitful friends they are,
While I no danger dream,
I'm snar'd before I am aware,
And hurry'd down the stream.

Into the gulph of sin anon,
I'm plunged head and ears;
Grace to my sense is wholly gone,
And I am chain'd in fears;

Till straight, my Lord, with sweet surprise,
Returns to loose my bands,
With kind compassion in his eyes,
And pardon in his hands.

Yet thus my life is nothing else,
But heav'n and hell by turns;
My soul that now in Goshen dwells,
Anon in Egypt mourns.

Sect. VI.

Faith and Frames compared; or, Faith building upon Sense discovered.

Faith has for its foundation broad
A stable rock on which I stand,
The truth and faithfulness of God,
All other grounds are sinking sand,

My frames and feelings ebb and flow;
And when my faith depends on them,
It fleets and staggers to and fro,
And dies amidst the dying frame.

That faith is surely most unstay'd,
Its stagg'ring can't be counted strange,
That builds its hope of lasting aid
On things that ev'ry moment change.

But could my faith lay all its load
On Jesus' everlasting name,
Upon the righteousness of God,
And divine truth that's still the same:

Could I believe what God has spoke,
Rely on his unchanging love,
And cease to grasp at fleeting smoke,
No changes would my mountain move,

But when, how soon the frame's away,
And comfortable feelings fail;
So soon my faith falls in decay,
And unbelieving doubts prevail:

This proves the charge of latent vice,
And plain my faith's defects may show;
I built the house on thawing ice,
That tumbles with the melting snow,

When divine smiles in sight appear,
And I enjoy the heav'nly gale;
When wind and tide and all is fair,
I dream my faith shall never fail:

My heart will false conclusions draw,
That strong my mountain shall remain;
That in my faith there is no flaw,
I'll never never doubt again.

I think the only rest I take,
Is God's unfading word and name;
And fancy not my faith so weak,
As e'er to trust a fading frame.

But, ah! by sudden turns I see
My lying heart's fallacious guilt,
And that my faith, not firm in me,
On sinking sand was partly built;

For, lo! when warming beams are gone,
And shadows fall; alas, 'tis odd,
I cannot wait the rising Sun,
I cannot trust a hiding God.

So much my faith's affiance seems
Its life from fading joys to bring,
That when I loose the dying streams,
I cannot trust the living spring.

When drops of comfort quickly dry'd,
And sensible enjoyments fail;
When cheering apples are deny'd,
Then doubts instead of faith prevail.

But why, though fruit be snatch'd from me,
Should I distrust the glorious Root;
And still affront the standing tree,
By trusting more to falling fruit?

The smallest trials may evince
My faith unfit to stand the shock,
That more depends on fleeting sense,
Than on the fix'd eternal Rock.

The safest ark when floods arise,
Is stable truth that changes not;
How weak's my faith, that more relies
On feeble sense's floating boat?

For when the fleeting frame is gone,
I straight my state in question call;
I droop and sink in deeps anon,
As if my frame were all in all.

But though I miss the pleasing gale,
And Heav'n withdraw the charming glance;
Unless Jehovah's oath can fail,
My faith may keep its countenance.

The frame of nature shall decay,
Time-changes break her rusty chains;
Yea, heav'n and earth shall pass away;
But faith's foundation firm remains.

Heav'n's promises so fix'dly stand,
Ingrav'd with an immortal pen,
In great Immanuel's mighty hand,
All hell's attempts to raze are vain.

Did Faith with none but Truth advise,
My steady soul would move no more
Than stable hills when tempests rise,
Or solid rocks when billows roar.

But when my faith the counsel hears
Of present sense and reason blind,
My wav'ring spirit then appears
A feather toss'd with ev'ry wind.

Lame legs of faith unequal, crook;
Thus mine, alas! unev'nly stand,
Else I would trust my stable Rock,
Not fading frames and feeble sand.

I would, when dying comforts fly,
As much as when they present were,
Upon my living joy rely.
Help, Lord, for here I daily err.
Ralph Erskine




M UCH fam'd on earth, renown'd for piety;
A midst bright seraphs now sings cheerfully,
S acred thine anthems yield much pleasure here;
T hese songs of thine do truly charm the ear.
E each line thou wrot'st doth admiration raise;
R ouse up the soul to true seraphic praise.

R eligiously thy life below was spent:
A mazing pleasures now thy soul content.
L ong didst thou labour in the church below;
P ointing out Christ, the Lamb who saves from wo,
H eaven's blessedness on sinners to bestow.

E rskine the great! whose pen spread far abroad,
R edeeming love; the sole device of God;
S ubstantial themes thy thoughts did much pursue;
K ept pure the truth, espous'd but by a few.
I ntegrity of heart, of soul serene;
N o friend to vice, no cloke to the profane:
E mploy'd thy talents to reclaim the vain.
Ralph Erskine



The Believer's Espousals : Chapter I.

Hark, dying mortal, if the Sonnet prove
A song of living and immortal love,
'Tis then thy grand concern the theme to know,
If life and immortality be so.
Are eyes to read, or ears to hear, a trust?
Shall both in death be cram'd anon with dust?
Then trifle not to please thine ear and eye,
But read thou, hear thou, for eternity.
Pursue not shadows wing'd, but be thy chase,
The God of glory on the field of grace:
The mighty hunter's name is lost and vain,
That runs not this substantial prize to gain.
These humble lines assume no high pretence,
To please thy fancy, or allure thy sense:
But aim, if everlasting life's thy chase,
To clear thy mind, and warm thy heart through grace.
A marriage so mysterious I proclaim,
Betwixt two parties of such diff'rent fame,
That human tongues may blush their names to tell,
To wit, the Prince of Heaven, the heir of hell!
But, on so vast a subject, who can find
Words suiting the conceptions of his mind?
Or, if our language with our thought could vie,
What mortal thought can raise itself so high?
When words and thoughts both fail, may faith and pray'r
Ascend by climbing up the scripture-stair:
From sacred writ these strange espousals may
Be explicated in the following way.

Chap. I. Sec. I.

The Fall of Adam.

A general account of Man's fall in Adam, and the remedy provided in Christ; and a particular account of Man's being naturally wedded to the law, as a covenant of works.

Old Adam once a heav'n of pleasure found,
While he with perfect innocence was crown'd;
His wing'd affections to his God could move
In raptures of desire, and strains of love.
Man standing spotless, pure, and innocent,
Could well the law of works with works content;
Though then (nor since) it could demand no less
Than personal and perfect righteousness:
These unto sinless man were easy terms,
Though now beyond the reach of wither'd arms.
The legal cov'nant then upon the field,
Perfection sought, man could perfection yield:
Rich had he, and his progeny remain'd,
Had he primeval innocence maintain'd:
His life had been a rest without annoy,
A scene of bliss, a paradise of joy.
But subtil satan in the serpent hid,
Proposing fair the fruit that God forbid,
Man, soon seduc'd by hell's alluring art,
Did, disobedient, from the rule depart,
Devour'd the bait, and by his bold offence
Fell from his blissful state of innocence.
Prostrate, he lost his God, his life, his crown,
From all his glory tumbled headlong down;
Plung'd in a deep abyss of sin and woe,
Where, void of heart to will, or hand to do,
For's own relief he can't command a thought,
The total sum of what he can is naught.
He's able only now t'increase his thrall;
He can destroy himself, and this is all.
But can the hellish brat Heav'n's law fulfil,
Whose precepts high surmount his strength and skill?
Can filthy dross produce a golden beam?
Or poison'd springs a salutif'rous stream;
Can carnal minds, fierce enmity's wide maw,
Be duly subject to the divine law?
Nay, now its direful threat'nings must take place
On all the disobedient human race,
Who do by guilt Omnipotence provoke,
Obnoxious stand to his uplifted stroke.
They must ingulf themselves in endless woes,
Who to the living God are deadly foes;
Who natively his holy will gainsay,
Must to his awful justice fall a prey.
In vain do mankind now expect, in vain
By legal deeds immortal life to gain:
Nay, death is threaten'd, threats must have their due,
Or souls that sin must die, as God is true.

Sect. II.

Redemption Through Christ

The second Adam, sov'reign Lord of all,
Did, by his Father's authorising call,
From bosom of eternal love descend,
To save the guilty race that him offend;
To treat an everlasting peace with those,
Who were and ever would have been his foes.
His errand, never-ending life to give
To them, whose malice would not let him live;
To make a match with rebels, and espouse
The brat which at his love her spite avows.
Himself he humbled to depress her pride,
And make his mortal foe, his loving bride.
But, ere the marriage can be solemniz'd,
All lets must be remov'd, all parties pleas'd;
Law-righteousness requir'd must be procur'd;
Law-vengeance threaten'd, must be full endur'd;
Stern justice must have credit by the match;
Sweet mercy by the heart the bridge must catch.

Poor bankrupt! all her debt must fire be paid;
Her former husband in the grave be laid:
Her present lover must be at the cost
To save and ransom at the uttermost;
If all these things this suitor kind can do,
Then he may win her, and her blessing too.
Hard terms indeed! while death's the first demand:
But love is strong as death, and will not stand
To carry on the suit and make it good,
Though at the dearest rate of wounds and blood;
The burden's heavy, but the back is broad,
The glorious lover is the mighty God.
Kind bowels yearning in th' eternal Son,
He left his Father's court, his heavenly throne,
Aside he threw his most divine array,
And wrapt his Godhead in a veil of clay;
Angelic armies, who in glory crown'd,
With joyful harps his awful throne surround,
Down to the crystal frontier of the sky,
To see the Saviour born, did eager fly;
And ever since beheld with wonder fresh
Their Sov'reign and our Saviour wrapt in flesh:
Who in this garb did mighty love display,
Restoring what he never took away.
To God his glory, to the law its due,
To heav'n its honour, to the earth its hue;
To man a righteousness divine, complete,
A royal robe to suit the nuptial rite:
He in her favours, whom he lov'd so well,
At once did purchase heav'n and vanquish hell.
Oh! unexampled love! so vast, so strong,
So great, so high, so deep, so broad, so long!
Can finite thought this ocean huge explore,
Unconscious of a bottom or a shore!
His love admits no parallel, for why?
At one great draught of love he drank hell dry.
No drop of wrathful gall he left behind;
No dreg to witness that he was unkind.
The sword of awful justice pierc'd his side,
That mercy thence might gush upon the bride.
The meritorious labours of his life,
And glorious conquest of his dying strife;
Her debt of doing, suff'ring, both cancell'd,
And broke the bars his lawfull captive held.

Down to the ground the hellish host he threw,
Then mounting high the trump of triumph blew,
Attended with a bright seraphic band,
Sat down enthron'd sublime on God's right hand;
Where glorious choirs their various harps employ,
To sound his praises with confed'rate joy.
There he, the bride's strong Intercessor, sits,
And thence the blessings of his blood transmits,
Sprinkling all o'er the flaming throne of God,
Pleads for her pardon his atoning blood;
Sends down his holy co-eternal Dove,
To shew the wonders of incarnate love,
To woo and win the bride's reluctant heart,
And pierce it with his kindly-killing dart;
By gospel light to manifest that now
She has no further with the law to do;
That her new Lord has loos'd the fed'ral tie
That once hard bound her, or to do or die;
That precepts, threats, no single mite can crave;
Thus for her former spouse he digg'd a grave;
The law fast to his cross did nail and pin,
Then bury'd the defunct his tomb within,
That he the lonely widow to himself might win.

Sect. III.

Man's Legal Disposition

But, after all, the bride's so malecontent,
No argument, save pow'r, is prevalent
To bow her will, and gain her heart's consent.
The law, her old primordial husband, loves;
Hopeful in its embraces life to have,
Though dead, and bury'd in her suitor's grave;
Unable to give life, as once before;
Unfit to be a husband any more.
Yet proudly she the new address disdains,
And all the blest Redeemer's love and pains;
Though now his head that cruel thorns did wound,
Is with immortal glory circled round;
Archangels at his awful footstool bow,
And drawing love sits smiling on his brow.
Though down he sends, in gospel-tidings good,
Epistles of his love, sign'd with his blood:
Yet lordly she the royal suit rejects,
Eternal life by legal works affects;
In vain the living seeks among the dead,
Sues quick'ning comforts in a killing head.
Her dead and bury'd husband has her heart,
Which cannot death remove, nor life impart.

Thus all revolting Adam's blinded race
In their first spouse their hope and comfort place.
They natively expect, if guilt them press,
Salvation by a home-bread righteousness:
They look for favour in Jehovah's eyes,
By careful doing all that in them lies.
'Tis still their primary attempt to draw
Their life and comfort from the vet'ran law;
They flee not to the hope the gospel gives;
To trust a promise bare, their minds aggrieves,
Which judge the man that does, the man that lives.

As native as they draw their vital breath,
Their fond recourse is to the legal path.
'Why,' says old nature, in law-wedded man,
'Won't Heav'n be pleas'd, if I do all I can?
If I conform my walk to nature's light,
And strive, intent to practise what is right?
Thus won't I by the God of heav'n be bless'd,
And win his favour, if I do my best?
Good God? (he cries) when press'd with debt and thrall,
Have patience with me, and I'll pay thee all.'
Upon their all, their best, they're fondly mad,
Though yet their all is naught their best is bad.
Proud man his can-do's mightily exalts,
Yet are his brightest works but splendid faults.
A sinner may have shews of Good, but still
The best he can, ev'n at his best, is ill.
Can heav'n or divine favour e'er be win
By those that are a mass of hell and sin?
The righteous law does num'rous woes denounce
Against the wretched soul that fails but once:
What heaps of curses on their heads it rears,
That have amass'd the guilt of num'rous years!

Sect. IV.

Man's Strict Attachment to Legal Terms, or to the Law as a Condition of Life

Say, on what terms then Heav'n appeas'd will be?
Why, sure perfection is the least degree.
Yea, more, full satisfaction must be giv'n
For trespass done against the laws of Heav'n.
These are the terms: What mortal back so broad,
But must for ever sink beneath the load?
A ransom must be found, or die they must,
Sure, ev'n as justice infinite is just.

But, says the legal, proud, self-righteous heart,
Which cannot with her ancient consort part,
'What! wont the goodness of the God of heav'n
Admit of smalls when greater can't be giv'n?
He knows our fall diminish'd all our funds,
Won't he accept of pennies now for pounds?
Sincere endeavours for perfection take,
Or terms more possible for mankind to make?'
Ah! poor divinity and jargon loose;
Such hay and straw will never build the house.
Mistake not here, proud mortal, don't mistake,
Good changes not, nor other terms will make.
Will divine faithfulness itself deny,
Which swore solemnly Man should do, or die?
Will God most true extend to us, forsooth,
His goodness, to the damage of his truth?
Will spotless holiness be baffled thus?
Or awful justice be unjust for us?
Small faithfulness be faithless for our sake,
And he his threats, as we his precepts break?
Will our great Creditor deny himself,
And for full payment take our filthy pelf?
Dispense with justice, to let mercy vent?
And stain his royal crown with 'minish'd rent?
Unworthy thought; O let no mortal clod
Hold such base notions of a glorious God.

Heav'n's holy cov'nant, made for human race,
Consists, or whole of works or whole of grace.
If works will take the field, then works must be
For ever perfect to the last degree:
Will God dispense with less? Nay, sure he won't
With ragged toll his royal law affront.
Can rags, that Sinai flames will soon dispatch,
E'er prove the fiery law's adequate match?
Vain man must be divorc'd, and choose to take
Another husband, or a burning lake.

We find the divine volume no-where teach
New legal terms within our mortal reach.
Some make, though in the sacred page unknown,
Sincerity assume perfection's throne:
But who will boast this base usuper's sway,
Save ministers of darkness, that display
Invented night to stifle scripture day?
The nat'ralist's sincerity is naught,
That of the gracious is divinely taught;
Which teaching keeps their graces, if sincere,
Within the limits of the gospel-sphere,
Where vaunting, none created graces sing,
Nor boast of streams, but of the Lord the spring.
Sincerity's the soul of ev'ry grace,
The quality of all the ransom'd race:
Of promis'd favour 'tis a fruit, a clause;
But no procuring term, no moving cause.

How unadvis'd the legal mind confounds
The marks of divine favour with the grounds,
And qualities of covenanted friends
With the condition of the cov'nant blends?
Thus holding gospel-truths with legal arms,
Mistakes new-cov'nant fruits for fed'ral terms.
The joyful sound no change of terms allows,
But change of persons, or another spouse.
The nature same that sinn'd must do or die;
No milder terms in gospel-offers lie.
For grace no other law-abatement shews,
But how law-debtors may restore its dues;
Restore, yea, through a surety in their place.
With double int'rest and a better grace.
Here we of no new terms of life are told,
But of a husband to fulfil the old;
With him alone by faith we're call'd to wed,
And let no rival bruik the marriage-bed.

Sect. V.

Man'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,
Alleging works and duties of her own
May for her criminal offence atone;
She will her antic dirty robe provide,
Which vain she hopes will all pollution hide.
The filthy rags that saints away have flung,
She holding, wraps and rolls herself in dung.
Thus magure all the light the gospel gives,
Unto her nat'ral consort fondly cleaves.
Though mercy set the royal match in view,
She's loth 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 rous'd begins to stand aghast,
Press'd with the dread of hell, she'll rashly patch,
And halve a bargain with the proffer'd match;
In hopes his help, together with her own,
Will turn to peaceful smiles the wrathful frown.
Though 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 a legal mind.
Men dream their state, ah! too slightly view'd,
Needs only be amended, not renew'd;
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-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:
Disdain to use his righteousness alone,
But as an aiding stirr'p to mount their own;
Thus in Christ's room his rival self enthrone,
And vainly would, dress'd up in legal trim,
Divide 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,
And all the fulness of the Deity.
This store alone, immense, and never spent,
Might poor insolvent debtors well content;
But to hell-prison justly Heav'n will doom
Proud fools that on their petty stock presume.

The softest couch that gilded nature knows,
Can give the waken'd conscience no repose.
When God arraigns, what mortal pow'r can stand
Beneath the terror of his lifted hand?
Our safety lies beyond the natural line,
Beneath a purple covert all divine.

Yet how is precious
Christ, the way,
And his the way of life by
But can its vot'ries 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.
Its prisoner he remains, and without hail
Till ev'ry mite be paid; and if he fail,
(As sure he must, since, by our sinful breach,
Perfection for surmounts all mortal reach,)
Then curs'd for ever must his soul remain,
And all the folk of God must say, Amen.
Why, seeking that the law should help afford,
In honouring the law, he slights its Lord,
Who gives 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 gifts 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 ev'ry thread of it did draw,
Could sinners be ov'rmantled by his 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,
Blest Jesus dy'd in vain to save a soul.
Those then who life by legal means expect,
To them is Christ become of no effect;
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 ev'n this reigning madness may declare,
How strictly wedded to the law they are;
For now (however rich they seem'd 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 parch'd in lustful fires.
'Let's give,' says they, 'our lawless will free scope,
And live at random, for there is no hope.
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 oblig'd 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.
Ralph Erskine

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Poems By Poet Ralph Erskine