5th June 2024

I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the poem ‘Love bade me welcome’ by the metaphysical poet, George Herbert; and if you’re not, it’s time that were changed. Its formal title is Love (III), and it presents Love offering generous welcome and hospitality to a guest shamed to the core to be receiving such undeserved favour. To believing eyes, it immediately becomes obvious that this is a stylised account of gospel salvation and God’s treatment of the human sinner. George Herbert was, of course, an Anglican priest, and he draws freely and subtly on biblical imagery. Let him speak to us now across the centuries.

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

There’s no need for me to gild lilies or to attempt any further explanations. Herbert’s words say it all and encapsulate so beautifully the essential heart of the Christian gospel. If only our more sceptical age could grasp this!

Ken Stewart