George Crabbe

(24 December 1754 - 3 February 1832 / Aldeburgh, Suffulk)

The Borough. Letter Iv: Sects And Professions In Religion - Poem by George Crabbe

'SECTS in Religion?'--Yes of every race
We nurse some portion in our favour'd place;
Not one warm preacher of one growing sect
Can say our Borough treats him with neglect:
Frequent as fashions they with us appear,
And you might ask, 'how think we for the year?'
They come to us as riders in a trade,
And with much art exhibit and persuade.
Minds are for Sects of various kinds decreed,
As diff'rent soils are formed for diff'rent seed;
Some when converted sigh in sore amaze,
And some are wrapt in joy's ecstatic blaze;
Others again will change to each extreme,
They know not why--as hurried in a dream;
Unstable, they, like water, take all forms,
Are quick and stagnant; have their calms and storms;
High on the hills, they in the sunbeams glow,
Then muddily they move debased and slow;
Or cold and frozen rest, and neither rise nor flow.
Yet none the cool and prudent Teacher prize.
On him ther dote who wakes their ectasies;
With passions ready primed such guide they meet,
And warm and kindle with th' imparted heat;
'Tis he who wakes the nameless strong desire,
The melting rapture and the glowing fire;
'Tis he who pierces deep the tortured breast,
And stirs the terrors never more to rest.
Opposed to these we have a prouder kind,
Rash without heat, and without raptures blind;
These our Glad Tidings unconcern'd peruse,
Search without awe, and without fear refuse;
The truths, the blessings found in Sacred Writ,
Call forth their spleen, and exercise their wit;
Respect from these nor saints nor martyrs gain,
The zeal they scorn, and they deride the pain:
And take their transient, cool, contemptuous view,
Of that which must be tried, and doubtless may be true.
Friends of our Faith we have, whom doubts like these,
And keen remarks, and bold objections please;
They grant such doubts have weaker minds oppress'd,
Till sound conviction gave the troubled rest.
'But still,' they cry, 'let none their censures spare.
They but confirm the glorious hopes we share;
From doubt, disdain, derision, scorn, and lies,
With five-fold triumph sacred Truth shall rise.'
Yes! I allow, so Truth shall stand at last,
And gain fresh glory by the conflict past: -
As Solway-Moss (a barren mass and cold,
Death to the seed, and poison to the fold),
The smiling plain and fertile vale o'erlaid,
Choked the green sod, and kill'd the springing blade;
That, changed by culture, may in time be seen
Enrich'd by golden grain and pasture green;
And these fair acres rented and enjoy'd
May those excel by Solway-Moss destroy'd.
Still must have mourn'd the tenant of the day,
For hopes destroy'd, and harvests swept away;
To him the gain of future years unknown,
The instant grief and suffering were his own:
So must I grieve for many a wounded heart,
Chill'd by those doubts which bolder minds impart:
Truth in the end shall shine divinely clear,
But sad the darkness till those times appear;
Contests for truth, as wars for freedom, yield
Glory and joy to those who gain the field:
But still the Christian must in pity sigh
For all who suffer, and uncertain die.
Here are, who all the Church maintains approve,
But yet the Church herself they will not love;
In angry speech, they blame the carnal tie
Which pure Religion lost her spirit by;
What time from prisons, flames, and tortures led,
She slumber'd careless in a royal bed;
To make, they add, the Church's glory shine,
Should Diocletian reign, not Constantine.
'In pomp,' they cry, 'is 'England's Church array'd,
Her cool Reformers wrought like men afraid;
We would have pull'd her gorgeous temples down,
And spurn'd her mitre, and defiled her gown:
We would have trodden low both bench and stall,
Nor left a tithe remaining, great or small.'
Let us be serious--Should such trials come.
Are they themselves prepared for martyrdom?
It seems to us that our reformers knew
Th' important work they undertook to do;
An equal priesthood they were loth to try,
Lest zeal and care should with ambition die;
To them it seem'd that, take the tenth away,
Yet priests must eat, and you must feed or pay:
Would they indeed, who hold such pay in scorn,
Put on the muzzle when they tread the corn?
Would they all, gratis, watch and tend the fold,
Nor take one fleece to keep them from the cold?
Men are not equal, and 'tis meet and right
That robes and titles our respect excite;
Order requires it; 'tis by vulgar pride
That such regard is censured and denied;
Or by that false enthusiastic zeal,
That thinks the Spirit will the priest reveal,
And show to all men, by their powerful speech,
Who are appointed and inspired to teach:
Alas! could we the dangerous rule believe,
Whom for their teacher should the crowd receive?
Since all the varying kinds demand respect,
All press you on to join their chosen sect,
Although but in this single point agreed,
'Desert your churches and adopt our creed.'
We know full well how much our forms offend
The burthen'd Papist and the simple Friend:
Him, who new robes for every service takes,
And who in drab and beaver sighs and shakes;
He on the priest, whom hood and band adorn,
Looks with the sleepy eye of silent scorn;
But him I would not for my friend and guide,
Who views such things with spleen, or wears with pride.
See next our several Sects,--but first behold
The Church of Rome, who here is poor and old:
Use not triumphant raillery, or, at least,
Let not thy mother be a whore and beast;
Great was her pride indeed in ancient times,
Yet shall we think of nothing but her crimes?
Exalted high above all earthly things,
She placed her foot upon the neck of kings;
But some have deeply since avenged the crown,
And thrown her glory and her honours down;
Nor neck nor ear can she of kings command,
Nor place a foot upon her own fair land.
Among her sons, with us a quiet few,
Obscure themselves, her ancient state review,
And fond and melancholy glances cast
On power insulted, and on triumph past:
They look, they can but look, with many a sigh,
On sacred buildings doom'd in dust to lie;
'On seats,' they tell, 'where priests mid tapers dim
Breathed the warm prayer, or tuned the midnight hymn;
Where trembling penitents their guilt confessed,
Where want had succour, and contrition rest;
There weary men from trouble found relief,
There men in sorrow found repose from grief.
To scenes like these the fainting soul retired;
Revenge and anger in these cells expired;
By Pity soothed, Remorse lost half her fears,
And soften'd Pride dropp'd penitential tears.
'Then convent walls and nunnery spires arose,
In pleasant spots which monk or abbot chose;
When counts and barons saints devoted fed,
And making cheap exchange, had pray'r for bread.
'Now all is lost, the earth where abbeys stood
Is layman's land, the glebe, the stream, the wood:
His oxen low where monks retired to eat,
His cows repose upon the prior's seat:
And wanton doves within the cloisters bill,
Where the chaste votary warr'd with wanton will.'
Such is the change they mourn, but they restrain
The rage of grief, and passively complain.
We've Baptists old and new; forbear to ask
What the distinction--I decline the task;
This I perceive, that when a sect grows old,
Converts are few, and the converted cold:
First comes the hotbed heat, and while it glows
The plants spring up, and each with vigour grows:
Then comes the cooler day, and though awhile
The verdure prospers and the blossoms smile,
Yet poor the fruit, and form'd by long delay,
Nor will the profits for the culture pay;
The skilful gard'ner then no longer stops,
But turns to other beds for bearing crops.
Some Swedenborgians in our streets are found,
Those wandering walkers on enchanted ground,
Who in our world can other worlds survey,
And speak with spirits though confin'd in clay:
Of Bible-mysteries they the keys possess,
Assured themselves, where wiser men but guess:
'Tis theirs to see around, about, above, -
How spirits mingle thoughts, and angels move;
Those whom our grosser views from us exclude,
To them appear--a heavenly multitude;
While the dark sayings, seal'd to men like us,
Their priests interpret, and their flocks discuss.
But while these gifted men, a favour'd fold,
New powers exhibit and new worlds behold;
Is there not danger lest their minds confound
The pure above them with the gross around?
May not these Phaetons, who thus contrive
'Twixt heaven above and earth beneath to drive,
When from their flaming chariots they descend,
The worlds they visit in their fancies blend?
Alas! too sure on both they bring disgrace,
Their earth is crazy, and their heaven is base.
We have, it seems, who treat, and doubtless well,
Of a chastising not awarding Hell;
Who are assured that an offended God
Will cease to use the thunder and the rod;
A soul on earth, by crime and folly stain'd,
When here corrected has improvement gain'd;
In other state still more improved to grow,
And nobler powers in happier world to know;
New strength to use in each divine employ,
And more enjoying, looking to more joy.
A pleasing vision! could we thus be sure
Polluted souls would be at length so pure;
The view is happy, we may think it just,
It may be true-- but who shall add, it must?
To the plain words and sense of Sacred Writ,
With all my heart I reverently submit;
But where it leaves me doubtful, I'm afraid
To call conjecture to my reason's aid;
Thy thoughts, thy ways, great God! are not as mine,
And to thy mercy I my soul resign.
Jews are with us, but far unlike to those,
Who, led by David, warr'd with Israels foes;
Unlike to those whom his imperial son
Taught truths divine--the Preacher Solomon;
Nor war nor wisdom yield our Jews delight;
They will not study, and they dare not fight.
These are, with us, a slavish, knavish crew,
Shame and dishonour to the name of Jew;
The poorest masters of the meanest arts,
With cunning heads, and cold and cautious hearts;
They grope their dirty way to petty gains,
While poorly paid for their nefarious pains.
Amazing race! deprived of land and laws,
A general language and a public cause;
With a religion none can now obey,
With a reproach that none can take away:
A people still, whose common ties are gone;
Who, mix'd with every race, are lost in none.
What said their Prophet?--'Shouldst thou disobey,
The Lord shall take thee from thy land away;
Thou shalt a by-word and a proverb be,
And all shall wonder at thy woes and thee;
Daughter and son, shalt thou, while captive, have,
And see them made the bond-maid and the slave;
He, whom thou leav'st, the Lord thy God, shall bring
War to thy country on an eagle-wing.
A people strong and dreadful to behold,
Stern to the young, remorseless to the old;
Masters whose speech thou canst not understand
By cruel signs shall give the harsh command:
Doubtful of life shalt thou by night, by day,
For grief, and dread, and trouble pine away;
Thy evening wish,--Would God I saw the sun
Thy morning sigh,--Would God the day were done!
Thus shalt thou suffer, and to distant times
Regret thy misery, and lament thy crimes.'
A part there are, whom doubtless man might trust,
Worthy as wealthy, pure, religious, just;
They who with patience, yet with rapture, look
On the strong promise of the Sacred Book:
As unfulfill'd th' endearing words they view,
And blind to truth, yet own their prophets true;
Well pleased they look for Sion's coming state,
Nor think of Julian's boast and Julian's fate.
More might I add: I might describe the flocks
Made by Seceders from the ancient stocks;
Those who will not to any guide submit,
Nor find one creed to their conceptions fit -
Each sect, they judge, in something goes astray,
And every church has lost the certain way!
Then for themselves they carve out creed and laws,
And weigh their atoms, and divide their straws.
A Sect remains, which, though divided long
In hostile parties, both are fierce and strong,
And into each enlists a warm and zealous throng.
Soon as they rose in fame, the strife arose,
The Calvinistic these, th' Arminian those;
With Wesley some remain'd, the remnant Whitfield chose.
Now various leaders both the parties take,
And the divided hosts their new divisions make.
See yonder Preacher! to his people pass,
Borne up and swell'd by tabernacle-gas:
Much he discourses, and of various points,
All unconnected, void of limbs and joints;
He rails, persuades, explains, and moves the will
By fierce bold words, and strong mechanic skill.
'That Gospel, Paul with zeal and love maintain'd,
To others lost, to you is now explain'd;
No worldly learning can these points discuss,
Books teach them not as they are taught to us.
Illiterate call us!--let their wisest man
Draw forth his thousands as your Teacher can:
They give their moral precepts: so, they say,
Did Epictetus once, and Seneca;
One was a slave, and slaves we all must be,
Until the Spirit comes and sets us free.
Yet hear you nothing from such man but works;
They make the Christian service like the Turks.
'Hark to the Churchman: day by day he cries,
'Children of Men, be virtuous and be wise:
Seek patience, justice, temp'rance, meekness, truth;
In age be courteous, be sedate in youth.' -
So they advise, and when such things be read,
How can we wonder that their flocks are dead?
The Heathens wrote of Virtue: they could dwell
On such light points: in them it might be well;
They might for virtue strive; but I maintain,
Our strife for virtue would be proud and vain.
When Samson carried Gaza's gates so far,
Lack'd he a helping hand to bear the bar?
Thus the most virtuous must in bondage groan:
Samson is grace, and carries all alone.
'Hear you not priests their feeble spirits spend,
In bidding Sinners turn to God, and mend;
To check their passions and to walk aright,
To run the Race, and fight the glorious Fight?
Nay more--to pray, to study, to improve,
To grow in goodness, to advance in love?
'Oh! Babes and Sucklings, dull of heart and slow,
Can Grace be gradual? Can Conversion grow?
The work is done by instantaneous call;
Converts at once are made, or not at all;
Nothing is left to grow, reform, amend,
The first emotion is the Movement's end:
If once forgiven, Debt can be no more;
If once adopted, will the heir be poor?
The man who gains the twenty-thousand prize,
Does he by little and by little rise?
There can no fortune for the Soul be made,
By peddling cares and savings in her trade.
'Why are our sins forgiven?--Priests reply,
- Because by Faith on Mercy we rely;
'Because, believing, we repent and pray.'
Is this their doctrine?--then they go astray;
We're pardon'd neither for belief nor deed,
For faith nor practice, principle nor creed;
Nor for our sorrow for our former sin,
Nor for our fears when better thoughts begin;
Nor prayers nor penance in the cause avail,
All strong remorse, all soft contrition fail:
It is the Call! till that proclaims us free,
In darkness, doubt, and bondage we must be;
Till that assures us, we've in vain endured,
And all is over when we're once assured.
'This is Conversion: --First there comes a cry
Which utters, 'Sinner, thou'rt condemned to die;'
Then the struck soul to every aid repairs,
To church and altar, ministers and prayers;
In vain she strives,--involved, ingulf'd in sin,
She looks for hell, and seems already in:
When in this travail, the New Birth comes on,
And in an instant every pang is gone;
The mighty work is done without our pains, -
Claim but a part, and not a part remains.
'All this experience tells the Soul, and yet
These moral men their pence and farthings set
Against the terrors of the countless Debt;
But such compounders, when they come to jail,
Will find that Virtues never serve as bail.
'So much to duties: now to Learning look,
And see their priesthood piling book on book;
Yea, books of infidels, we're told, and plays,
Put out by heathens in the wink'd-on days;
The very letters are of crooked kind,
And show the strange perverseness of their mind.
Have I this Learning? When the Lord would speak;
Think ye he needs the Latin or the Greek?
And lo! with all their learning, when they rise
To preach, in view the ready sermon lies;
Some low-prized stuff they purchased at the stalls,
And more like Seneca's than mine or Paul's:
Children of Bondage, how should they explain
The Spirit's freedom, while they wear a chain?
They study words, for meanings grow perplex d,
And slowly hunt for truth from text to text,
Through Greek and Hebrew: --we the meaning seek
Of that within, who every tongue can speak:
This all can witness; yet the more I know,
The more a meek and humble mind I show.
'No; let the Pope, the high and mighty priest,
Lord to the poor, and servant to the Beast;
Let bishops, deans, and prebendaries swell
With pride and fatness till their hearts rebel:
I'm meek and modest: --if I could be proud,
This crowded meeting, lo! th' amazing crowd!
Your mute attention, and your meek respect,
My spirit's fervour, and my words' effect,
Might stir th' unguarded soul; and oft to me
The Tempter speaks, whom I compel to flee;
He goes in fear, for he my force has tried, -
Such is my power! but can you call it pride?
'No, Fellow-Pilgrims! of the things I've shown
I might be proud, were they indeed my own!
But they are lent: and well you know the source
Of all that's mine, and must confide of course:
Mine! no, I err; 'tis but consigned to me,
And I am nought but steward and trustee.'

--------------------------
FAR other Doctrines yon Arminian speaks;
'Seek Grace,' he cries, 'for he shall find who seeks.'
This is the ancient stock by Wesley led;
They the pure body, he the reverend head:
All innovation they with dread decline,
Their John the elder was the John divine.
Hence, still their moving prayer, the melting hymn,
The varied accent, and the active limb:
Hence that implicit faith in Satan's might,
And their own matchless prowess in the fight.
In every act they see that lurking foe,
Let loose awhile, about the world to go;
A dragon flying round the earth, to kill
The heavenly hope, and prompt the carnal will;
Whom sainted knights attack in sinners' cause,
And force the wounded victim from his paws;
Who but for them would man's whole race subdue,
For not a hireling will the foe pursue.
'Show me one Churchman who will rise and pray
Through half the night, though lab'ring all the day,
Always abounding--show me him, I say:' -
Thus cries the Preacher, and he adds, 'Their sheep
Satan devours at leisure as they sleep.
Not so with us; we drive him from the fold,
For ever barking and for ever bold:
While they securely slumber, all his schemes
Take full effect,--the Devil never dreams:
Watchful and changeful through the world he goes,
And few can trace this deadliest of their foes;
But I detect, and at his work surprise
The subtle Serpent under all disguise.
'Thus to Man's soul the Foe of Souls will speak,
- 'A Saint elect, you can have nought to seek;
Why all this labour in so plain a case,
Such care to run, when certain of the race?'
All this he urges to the carnal will,
He knows you're slothful, and would have you still:
Be this your answer,--'Satan, I will keep
Still on the watch till you are laid asleep.'
Thus too the Christian's progress he'll retard: -
'The gates of mercy are for ever barr'd;
And that with bolts so driven and so stout,
Ten thousand workmen cannot wrench them out.'
To this deceit you have but one reply, -
Give to the Father of all Lies the lie.
'A Sister's weakness he'll by fits surprise,
His her wild laughter, his her piteous cries;
And should a pastor at her side attend,
He'll use her organs to abuse her friend:
These are possessions--unbelieving wits
Impute them all to Nature: 'They're her fits,
Caused by commotions in tne nerves and brains;' -
Vain talk! but they'll be fitted for their pains.
'These are in part the ills the Foe has wrought,
And these the Churchman thinks not worth his thought;
They bid the troubled try for peace and rest,
Compose their minds, and be no more distress'd;
As well might they command the passive shore
To keep secure, and be o'erflow'd no more;
To the wrong subject is their skill applied, -
To act like workmen, they should stem the tide.
'These are the Church-Physicians: they are paid
With noble fees for their advice and aid;
Yet know they not the inward pulse to feel,
To ease the anguish, or the wound to heal.
With the sick Sinner, thus their work begins:
'Do you repent you of your former sins?
Will you amend if you revive and live?
And, pardon seeking, will you pardon give?
Have you belief in what your Lord has done,
And are you thankful?--all is well my son.'
'A way far different ours--we thus surprise
A soul with questions, and demand replies:
'How dropp'd you first,' I ask, 'the legal Yoke?
What the first word the living Witness spoke?
Perceived you thunders roar and lightnings shine,
And tempests gathering ere the Birth divine?
Did fire, and storm, and earthquake all appear
Before that still small voice, What dost thou here?
Hast thou by day and night, and soon and late,
Waited and watch'd before Admission-gate;
And so a pilgrim and a soldier pass'd
To Sion's hill through battle and through blast?
Then in thy way didst thou thy foe attack,
And mad'st thou proud Apollyon turn his back?'
'Heart-searching things are these, and shake the mind,
Yea, like the rustling of a mighty wind.
'Thus would I ask: 'Nay, let me question now,
How sink my sayings in your bosoms? how?
Feel you a quickening? drops the subject deep?
Stupid and stony, no! you're all asleep;
Listless and lazy, waiting for a close,
As if at church;--do I allow repose?
Am I a legal minister? do I
With form or rubric, rule or rite comply?
Then whence this quiet, tell me, I beseech?
One might believe you heard your Rector preach,
Or his assistant dreamer: --Oh! return,
Ye times of burning, when the heart would burn;
Now hearts are ice, and you, my freezing fold,
Have spirits sunk and sad, and bosoms stony-cold.
'Oh! now again for those prevailing powers,
Which, once began this mighty work of ours;
When the wide field, God's Temple, was the place,
And birds flew by to catch a breath of grace;
When 'mid his timid friends and threat'ning foes,
Our zealous chief as Paul at Athens rose:
When with infernal spite and knotty clubs
The Ill-One arm'd his scoundrels and his scrubs;
And there were flying all around the spot
Brands at the Preacher, but they touch'd him not:
Stakes brought to smite him, threaten'd in his cause,
And tongues, attuned to curses, roar'd applause;
Louder and louder grew his awful tones,
Sobbing and sighs were heard, and rueful groans;
Soft women fainted, prouder man express'd
Wonder and woe, and butchers smote the breast;
Eyes wept, ears tingled; stiff'ning on each head,
The hair drew back, and Satan howl'd and fled.
'In that soft season when the gentle breeze
Rises all round, and swells by slow degrees;
Till tempests gather, when through all the sky
The thunders rattle, and the lightnings fly;
When rain in torrents wood and vale deform,
And all is horror, hurricane, and storm:
'So, when the Preacher in that glorious time,
Than clouds more melting, more than storm sublime,
Dropp'd the new Word, there came a charm around;
Tremors and terrors rose upon the sound;
The stubborn spirits by his force he broke,
As the fork'd lightning rives the knotted oak:
Fear, hope, dismay, all signs of shame or grace,
Chain'd every foot, or featured every face;
Then took his sacred trump a louder swell,
And now they groan'd, they sicken'd, and they fell;
Again he sounded, and we heard the cry
Of the Word-wounded, as about to die;
Further and further spread the conquering word,
As loud he cried--'The Battle of the Lord.'
E'en those apart who were the sound denied,
Fell down instinctive, and in spirit died.
Nor stay'd he yet--his eye, his frown, his speech,
His very gesture, had a power to teach:
With outstretch'd arms, strong voice, and piercing call,
He won the field, and made the Dagons fall;
And thus in triumph took his glorious way,
Through scenes of horror, terror, and dismay.'


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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 16, 2010



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