Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A DIALOGUE ON NATUREM POWER AND USE OF HUMAN LEARNING, IN RELIGION, by JOHN BYROM



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A DIALOGUE ON NATUREM POWER AND USE OF HUMAN LEARNING, IN RELIGION, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Rust. Yes, academicus, you love to hear
Last Line: Can set in a more proper light—pray do.
Subject(s): Learning; Religious Education; Sunday Schools; Yeshivas; Parochial Schools


RUST. YES, Academicus, you love to hear
The words of Jacob Behmen made so clear;
But the truth is, the fundamental good
At which he aims, you have not understood;
Content with such good notions as befit
Your learned reason and your searching wit,
To make a talk about, you gather still
More ample matter for your hear-say skill:
You know yourself, as well as I, that this
Is all your joy in him; and hence it is
That you are so impatient, ev'ry day,
For more and more of what his pages say;
So vex'd and puzzled, if you cannot find
Their meaning open'd to your eager mind;
Nor add new notions and a stronger force,
To heighten still your talent of discourse.

With all your value for his books, as yet
This disposition makes you to forget
How oft they tell you, and how well they shew,
That this inordinate desire to know,
This heaping up of notions, one by one,
For subtle fancy to descant upon,
While Babel, as you think, is overthrown,
Is building up a new one of your own;
Your Babylonish reason is the pow'r,
That seeks materials to erect its tow'r.
The very scriptures, under such a guide,
Will only nourish your high-soaring pride;
Nor will you penetrate, with all your art,
Of Jacob's writings the substantial part.

The works of Behmen would you understand?
Then, where he stood, see also that you stand;
Begin where he began; direct your thought
To seek the blessing only, that he sought—
The heart of God; that, by a right true faith,
He might be sav'd from sin and satan's wrath.
While thus the humble seeker stood resign'd,
The light of God broke in upon his mind:
But you, devoted to the pow'r alone
Of speculative reason, all your own,
Would reach his ladder's top at once, nor try
The pains of rising, step by step, so high—
But, on this subject, by your looks, I see,
You'd rather hear Theophilus than me.

THEOPH. Why really, Academicus, the main
Of all that Rusticus, so bluntly plain,
Has here been saying, tho' it seem so hard,
Hints truth enough to put you on your guard.
Much in the same mistake your mind has been,
That many of my learned friends are in;
Who, tho' admirers to a great degree,
Of truths in Jacob Behmen, which they see,
Yet, of all people, have the least pretence
To real benefit receiv'd from thence.
Train'd up in controversy and dispute;
Accustom'd to maintain or to refute
All propositions, only by the light
Of their own reason judging what is right,
They take this guide in truths of ev'ry kind,
Both where it sees and where it must be blind;
So that in regions, where a light divine
Demonstrates truth, and reason cannot shine,
The real good is hidden from their view,
And some such system rises up in lieu,
As birth or education, mode or place,
In course of life, has led them to embrace.

Thus with the learned Papist, in his creed,
The learned Protestant is not agreed;
Not that to either truth and light have taught
To entertain so opposite a thought;
But education's contrary supplies
Have giv'n them protestant and popish eyes;
And reason being the accustom'd light
Of both the parties, and of either sight,
Decisions protestant, and popish too,
Can find it work enough, and tools enow,
To shape opinions of a diff'rent growth,
Whilst learning is an open field to both;
And, of its harvest, the inur'd to reap
With greater skill can shew the greater heap.

ACADEM. So then I must, as I perceive by you,
Renounce my learning and my reason too,
If I would gain the necessary lights
To understand what Jacob Behmen writes.
I cannot yield, as yet, to such advice;
Nor make the purchase at so dear a price:
I hope the study of the scripture-text
Will do for me; and leave me unperplex'd
With his deep matters.—Little did I know
That learning had, in you, so great a foe.

THEOPH. Be not uneasy,—learning has in me
No foe at all, not in the least degree;
No more than has the science or the skill
To build a house to dwell in, or a mill
For grinding corn—I think an useful art
Of human things the noblest, for my part:
Knowledge of books or languages, or aught
That any person has been duly taught,
I would not ask him to renounce, or say
They might not all be useful, in their way:
I would not blame, within its proper place,
The art of throwing silk, or making lace;
Or any art, confin'd to its own sphere;
But then the measure of its use is there.
Some we call liberal, and some we call
Mechanic; now the circle of them all
Does but shew forth, in its most perfect plan,
The natural abilities of man;
The pow'rs and faculties of human mind,
Whether the man be well or ill inclin'd.
The most unjust and wicked debauchee,
Regarding neither God nor man, may be,
In any one, or more, of all the train,
Of greater skill than others can obtain.

But now, redemption of the human race
By Christ, with all its mysteries of grace,
Is in itself, as it has always been,
Of quite another nature; nor akin
To art or science, which, for worldly views,
The natural or outward man can use.
It is an inward fitness to revive
That heav'nly nature, which was once alive
In Paradise; that blissful life within
The human creature, which was lost by sin.
It breathes a spark of life, to re-create
The poor fall'n man in his first happy state;
By which, awaken'd into new desires,
After his native country he enquires;
How he may rise above this earthly den,
And get into his Father's house again.

This is redemption; or the life divine
Off'ring itself, on one hand, with design
That inward man, who lost it, to restore
To all the bliss which he was in before;
And, on the other, 'tis the man's desire,
Will, faith, and hope, which earnestly aspire
After that life; the hunger, thirst, and call
To be deliver'd, by it, from the fall.

Now whether man, in this awaken'd strife,
Breathe forth his longings after this good life,
In Hebrew, Greek, or any English sound,
Or none at all, but silent sigh profound,
Can be of no significancy;—He,
That knows but one, or uses all the three,—
Neither to him more distant or more near,
Will this redeeming life of God appear:
Can you conceive it more to shine upon
Men of more languages than men of one?
He who can make a Grammar for High Dutch,
Or Welch, or Greek, can you suppose, as such,
In faith, and hope, and goodness, will excel
A man that scarce his mother-tongue can spell?
If this supposal, then, be too absurd,
No hurt is done, no enmity incurr'd,
To learning, science, reason, critic wit,
By giving them the places which they fit,
Amongst the ornaments of life below,
Which the most profligate as well may know,—
One of the most abandon'd vicious will,—
As one who, fearing God, escheweth ill.

Therefore no truths, concerning this divine
And heav'nly life, can come within the line
Of all this learning: as exalted far
Above the pow'r of trial at its bar;
Where both the jury, and the judges too,
Are born with eyes incapable to view;
Living and moving in this world's demesne,
They have their being in another scene;
The life divine no abler to descry,
Than into Heav'n can look an eagle's eye.

If you, well read in ancient books, my friend,
To publish Homer's Iliad should intend,
Or Caesar's Commentaries, and make out
Some things more plain,—you have the skill, no doubt;
As well provided for the work, perhaps,
As one to make his baskets, one his traps;
But if you think that skill in ancient Greek
And Latin, helps you, of itself, to seek,
Find, and explain the spirit and the sense
Of what Christ said,—it is a vain pretence,
And quite unnatural; of equal kind
With the endeavour of a man, born blind,
Who talks about exhibiting the sight
Of diff'rent colours, beautifully bright.

Doctrines, wherein redemption is concern'd,
No more belong to men, as being learn'd,
Than colours do to him, who never saw
The light that gives to all of them the law,
From like unnatural attempt proceeds
That huge variety of sects and creeds,
Which, from the same true scripture, can deduce
What serves each diff'rent error, for its use:
Papist or Protestant, Socinian class
Or Arian, can as easily amass
The texts of scripture, and by reason's ray,
One as another, urge the endless fray;
Retort absurdities, whenever press'd
Prove its own system, and confute the rest;
Just as blind men, in their disputes, can do
Each others' notions of red, green, or blue.

The light of the celestial inward man,
That died in Paradise, when sin began,
Is Jesus Christ; and, consequently, men
By Him alone can rise to life again:
He, in the heart of man, must sow the seed,
That can awaken heav'nly Life indeed:
Nothing but this can possibly admit
Return of Life, or in the least be fit
Or capable, or sensible of pow'r
From Jesus Christ, in his redeeming hour.
The light, and life, which He intends to raise,
Have no dependence upon word and phrase:
Life, in itself, be it of Heav'n or earth,
Must have its whole procession from a birth.
Would it not sound absurdly, in your mind,
That, if a man be naturally blind,
Care must be had to teach him Grammar well,
Or in the art of Logic to excel;
That he will best obtain, when this is done,
Knowledge of light and colours from the sun?
Yet not one jot is it the less absurd
To think that skill in Greek or Hebrew word,
Of man's redemption can explain the whole,
Or let the Light of God into his soul.

This matter, Academicus, if you
Can set in a more proper light—pray do.





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