St. Julian of Norwich
In the Middle Ages, for many authors, dependence on the will of God is of utmost importance. God being the supreme, all knowing, all powerful foundation of being itself, to try to go against His will and plans is absurd. Many authors and saints derive great comfort, strength, and confidence from following the notion that they are doing God's will, and are striving to perform God's commandments and plans in their life as best they can. This is particularly apparent in the epic poem Beowulf and in the works of St. Julian of Norwich.
The poem Beowulf is a long epic about the exploits of the hero Beowulf in defending the Danish people from the monsters descended from the devil. Throughout the poem, there is a litany of descriptions of Beowulf as having been one who is born to carry out the will of God. His strength, abilities, and might are God given gifts which he uses to help people. The epic is like a drama which unfolds in the favor of the ones who depend completely on the will of God and the good that comes from Him. When “God cursed brute” Grendel, attacks the Hall of Heorot, many of the people pray to pagan shrines and idols, and the text exclaims that “The Almighty Judge of good deeds and bad, the Lord God, Head of the Heavens and High King of the World, was unknown to them” (180-183). But God sends a warrior, in the form of Beowulf, who is there on account of doing the will of God. The Danish people are thankful, and the text claims “Now Holy God has, in His goodness, has guided him here, to the West-Danes, to defend us against Grendel” (381-383). It is God who is the source of all good, all virtue, and all history.
The whole poem demonstrates that Beowulf is one whose strengths and victories are entirely reliant on his dependence on God. Without this divine assistance, Beowulf would not succeed in defending the people against the devilish enemies of God. Beowulf is totally abandoned to whatever it is that God deems should be the outcome of the struggle between him and Grendel. He even goes so far as casting aside his weapons and armor, declaring “Whichever one death fells must deem it a just judgment of God” (440-441). Beowulf is not being arrogant, but is filled with faith in God his Creator, and puts all his trust in the judgments and will of God and not in any creatures, whether it be man-made armor and weaponry or actions and strength of man and his corporeal body. If God wants Beowulf to win the battle against Grendel, He will see to it that the victory is won, regardless of the circumstances of the battle. If God wills that Grendel win, no creature or human instrument will decide the battle in Beowulf's favor. Beowulf is totally committed to the notion that he is doing the right thing, doing God's will, and he carries out this will in confidence that whatever the outcome, his fate is dependent completely on the grace of God. The poem claims that “the Geat placed complete trust in his strength of limb and the Lord's favor” (669-670). He prays that “may the Divine Lord in His wisdom grant me the glory of the victory to whichever side He sees fit” (685-687). Beowulf has total trust in God, and is confident that even if he loses the battle, He will still be in God's friendship for he had done what was asked of him in seeing to his attempt of defending the Danes from the brutish monster.
Within the course of the poem, God is the master of all history and all events. The fate of everyone is either caused or permitted by Him. Even in suffering and failure, we are all under the Providence of God's will. Beowulf exemplifies this principle that all success, even failure, comes through the grace or permission of God's will. The poem is an elegy of the supremacy and omnipotence of God's will over all obstacles, especially that of driving out vicious demons, which can be compared like a metaphor to the most trying of obstacles or trials or temptations, and whatever else the devil and those aligned to him may throw to mankind. The poem states Grendel “would have killed more, had not mindful God and one man's daring prevented that doom. Past and present, God's will prevails” (1055-1057). God's will gives the hero Beowulf courage and strength, that he may focus solely on the task at hand, and not be filled with feelings of self-doubt that may hinder his ability to perform the task. The mission given him is strenuous and arduous, but because of the Almighty will of God, which makes all things possible, “the Heavenly Shepherd can work His wonders always and everywhere” (929-930). He only survived and triumphed because God allowed it, and God willed that it was this one man Beowulf who “with the Lord's assistance, has accomplished something none of us could manage before now” (939-941). This reliance is kept in focus throughout his later battles with Grendel's mother and the venomous dragon.
The author of the poem, who is a Christian, describes Beowulf in that his strength, abilities, talents, leadership and fighting prowess all come from God. God is the creator of all creatures, good and evil, whether it be Beowulf or a demon, and all the strengths of either friend or foe are ultimately goods which may be used for or against God's will and in accordance or out of tune with God's divine architecture. According to the poet, “Beowulf was mindful of his mighty strength, the wondrous gifts God has showered on him; he relied for help on the Lord of All, on His care and favor. So he overcame the foe, brought down the hell-brute” (1270-1274). God created all creatures, but by the obedience or disobedience of either hero or demon to God, they are made either a blessing or a scourge to mankind. In Beowulf's battle with Grendel's mother, the outcome is once again decided by God from all eternity. Beowulf struggles in this battle but one again “holy God, decided the victory. It was easy for the Lord, the Ruler of Heaven, to redress the balance, once Beowulf got back up on his feet” (1153-1156). In the battle there was a force greater than that of Beowulf's which directed the course of the skirmish. It was God who was the one guiding the sword and its deadly blow against Grendel's mother. God is the master of history and temporal events, and it is “He who wields power over time and tide: He is the true Lord” (1610-1611). God knew what would occur. He ordained Beowulf's victory, and no other course of events could have been executed without His determining it to be thus.
Beowulf also affirms his dependence upon God and His will in the negative sense. Not only is it true that only through God's decree Beowulf was able to triumph, but in absence of His holy hand in the matter, Beowulf would surely have lost his life in the struggle. Beowulf exclaims at the celebration of his second victory, “if God had not helped me, the outcome would have been quick and fatal” (1657-1658). It was only through God's touching Beowulf's senses, that he noticed the magical sword which was required to slay the maternal demon under the seas. In the celebration there is a passage which discusses how even great kings and leaders can become corrupt when they ignore or depart from dependence on God's will, and strive to follow their own plans and machinations. He becomes enamored of the gifts given by God and focuses on the creature rather than the Creator, the gifts rather than the Giver of them. God's will, whom “the whole world conforms to” (1738-1739) allows him to build up only to allow him to later fall to the depths, and “when the body he was lent collapses and falls prey to its death” (1754-1755). But Beowulf, even in death, is still reliant on God's will and love, because instead of merely temporal earthly things, he sought “the better part, eternal rewards” (1759-1760) and built up treasures in heaven.
When the dragon arrives to cause chaos and havoc in the land, Beowulf immediately accuses himself, believing that there must have been some sin he committed that requited some sort of punishment. Once he heard the news, “the wise man thought he must have thwarted ancient ordinance of the eternal Lord, broken His commandment” (2329-2331). In all things, God sends or allows trials to bring us back to His goodness. All good things come from God, and even trials and tribulations are allowed as ways of correcting our course, and of seeking to go back to His will. Ultimately, it is this reliance on God and His good will that determines one's fate, in life or in death, and even trials are opportunities for asking God for grace, help, and mercy. While Beowulf himself, and the characters within the poem, are not themselves Christian, the author of the poem, who is a Christian, does what he can to conform the non-Christian religion of Beowulf and his people to the best of his ability to those aspects of their religion and beliefs in God that he can Christianize in some way. The author shows that even those who do not know Christ can still be Christian-like in their trust in their Creator.
Eventually Julian thought she had died, and then all her pain was gone, and she believed it a miracle. She desired to suffer more if it would glorify God. She says, Christ suffered, and “With him I desired to suffer living in my deadly body, as God would give me grace” (415). Julian is totally dependent on God, wishes only to please Him, and her trust in God's merciful will is what helps her through suffering and in fact sanctifies her suffering and pain.
In times of anxiety and uncertainty, it was very helpful for Julian to be humble in her estimation of her own powers and look for a superior being, such as God, to help her through trials and to trust when in doubt. Childlike admiration and adoration of the Creator of us all is a powerful force in the literature of St. Julian. In a world where people are not always reliable, trustworthy, or kind, the belief that One greater than all others loves everyone unconditionally, and takes care of all, is the best way to focus on the task each exists on this world to perform, and to know that all have an advocate who knows all there is to know about everyone, and acts always in the best way for the well being and salvation of all. Julian speaks of the Trinity as God, the mysterious triune God. “The Trinity is our maker, the Trinity is our keeper, the Trinity is our everlasting lover, the Trinity is endless joy and bliss” (415). All good things come from this creative source of all being, without which existence itself would not exist. When Julian is tempted to unbelief in this loving deity, and feels that the urge to sin and disobey grows strong, in that time “our Lord Jesus of his courteous love would show me comfort before the time of my temptation” (415). Suffering is a way of purgation and of driving her away from inordinate love of creatures and giving herself completely to the mercy of God.
Julian particularly is made to focus on her relationship with God, because He is the only one who can provide relief for her. Like many saints, she is hyper-aware of her own sinfulness and need for the mercy of God alone. Julian claims that “this pain is something, as to my sight, for a time, for it purgath and maketh us to know ourself and ask mercy” (419). In this suffering, it is most important for Julian to focus on, adore, thank and praise God for all things, and to take heart that He has not abandoned the suffering soul, for “It is true that sin is cause of all this pain, but all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (419). Everything that comes to her is either caused or permitted by God to lead her back to Him and to His goodness, His mercy, and His love. He is the source of her being and her joy, the foundation of all good, and the director of all history. In all things, especially in sufferings, “He kindleth our understanding, he prepareth our ways, he easeth our conscience, he comforteth our soul, he lighteth our heart and giveth us in party knowing and loving in his blessedful godhead” (422). Saints such as Julian would ask for more suffering if it would bring them closer to Christ, and feel they are blessed to be imitators and participants in the Lord's Passion, suffering, and death on the Cross. The more she suffers, the more she is driven to rely on God, because when no creature or comfort or consolation is present in the most extremes of sufferings, only the consolation that God loves her is enough to salve the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual or whatsoever pain she may be carrying as a Cross in life.
The main lesson Julian gains is “that love is our Lord's meaning” (424). The God who created all out of His own perfect infinite love, will never be outdone in loving everyone. His love was ultimate in the beginning of her creation, and will never be satisfied enough that He will ever stop loving her. God created all, sustains all, and carries us in love, and Julian concludes “In which love we have our beginning, and all this shall we see in God withouten end” (424). In suffering, in sin, in consolation, in virtue, God's love has no end, no limit, no termination.
In the history of humanity, there have been many forms of government, by which some people have tried to create order, harmony, control and stability of power. Throughout British history, there had been all sorts of disputes over how society should be governed. There were many conflicts over what should be prescribed as the proper faith, beliefs, and overall religion. Most of all, there was plenty of fighting over who had the God-given right to rule. Elizabeth I in her words proves that she truly abandons her will to God, humbling herself before Him. Where historically some rulers may have cited divine right through inheritance to back up any decision that may be made by him or her, Elizabeth doesn't treat divine right as a convenience. In fact she takes it as seriously as she should. Some may argue that divine right has been abused by many historical rulers but when it is it is not God's will. Queen Elizabeth is one of the best examples of a ruler who truly understood the role of divine providence in the ruling of people.
For Queen Elizabeth I, it was clear to her and to those who supported her, that, like all royalty, she was chosen by God to rule over the English realm at the time of her coronation. At the time, there was the belief in the divine right of kings. It was believed by many that God Himself decided who was to rule over the land, and whoever was king or queen at the time, was the one selected by God to hold that office. The author of the account of Elizabeth's speech to the City of London the day before her coronation states very explicitly:
In the same speech on the day before her coronation, Elizabeth led a public prayer that so demonstrates her attitude towards God. She puts herself, and all her faculties, at the disposal of God as the ruler of her realm and places her own temporal majesty in the hands of God's eternal majesty. The words of her prayer state:
In another speech, Elizabeth refers to herself merely as an unworthy instrument of God. Outside of God's own favor and grace, she would be totally unworthy to perform the duties she is rendered as Queen of her land. The matters which would be daunting for one to face alone without God's favor and backing, “the princely seat and kingly throne wherein God (though unworthy) hath constituted me, maketh these two causes to seem little in mine eyes,” (Speech to House of Commons, 753) though they are grievous and daunting to another, not appointed to the task. She is quite aware of her own limitations, as a flawed mortal and creature, and gains strength through trust in God to help her “seek to discharge myself of that great burden that God hath laid upon me” (ibid., 754). She says “for of whom much is committed, much is required” (ibid., 754). It is not her own merits by which she carries out her demanding responsibilities, but the God who granted her these gifts of intelligence, eloquence, and leadership who requires her to give back in her actions and fruits, what she has been given in talents and abilities.
In discussing the succession of whoever is to replace her on the throne on the occasion of her death, she tells in her speech to a Joint Delegation of Lords and Commons that the successors should “be of such uprightness and so divine as in them shall be divinity itself” (756). All the good that comes from any monarch in power, especially Elizabeth, is from God alone, and anything contrary to good is not of God, but of His creatures. It is so important for Queen Elizabeth to be cognizant of her source of being and dependence on the Ruler of the Universe. While many can claim to be doing the will of God, it is Elizabeth's only credit that all she does that is good comes from God, while she is the sole authors of her sins or rejection and failure to do God's will. Queen Elizabeth I, claiming not to be divine herself, thinks it important enough to study theology, the science of knowing God, that she claims she “studied nothing else but divinity til I came to the crown” (ibid., 756), and only then did she study the science and arts of governance over men and women. She has been given many gifts by God, and is able to pursue any path, were it to happen that she would be turned out of her anointed office. No one has forced her to the throne, and she could do something else if she chose, and handed power to someone else. She thanks God that “she is indeed endued with such qualities that if I were turned out of the realm in my petticoat, I were able to live in any place in Christendom.” (ibid., 756). She has been given much ability and is able to pull her own weight, even if she were a common person and not a head of state and royalty.
One of the most difficult subjects to discuss about English literature is the constant strife between religious denominations within the world of Christianity. There was much back and forth persecution between Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant Christians before, during and after the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and it is hard to say whether one of the others were right and acted according to God's will. It is by the grace of God that over the centuries, Christians of different beliefs have been able to come from war, torture, executions, and all kinds of violence, to be able to engage in more peaceful forms of interaction, ecumenical dialogue, and joint works of charity and service to those less fortunate.
Queen Elizabeth played a major role in the history of Christianity, and although probably not everything she did in regard to this matter was right or perfect, there were opportunities to try to create peace between different religious factions. She played a role in trying to minimize Catholic influence, and in one poem wrote “Our realm brooks no seditious sects—let them elsewhere meet” (The doubt of future foes, 758). In her speech to the troops at Tillsbury regarding the battle to be waged against the Spanish Armada, she makes the faith a matter of war against differing ideological and religious forces, when she claims that she will “lay down for my God and for my kingdom and for my people mine honor and my blood even in the dust” (763). The kingdom of England is equivalent with the religion of England, and a threat to her faith is a threat to her throne and her rule. She declares in the same speech “we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God and my kingdom” (ibid., 763). Although this strife is unfortunate, and comes probably not from God as a good thing, there at least is some progress since then in peace between Christian denominations. The ugliness of religious violence makes it something that people want to avoid, and try to overcome.
The thesis here is that it is a move in the right direction to place one's dependence in God. Should there be any sin or evil committed, it is due to our own indiscretion and fallen nature. Queen Elizabeth I sets a good example of one who sees herself as not perfect, but and unworthy instrument of God. In her “Golden Speech”, she declares:
Regardless of whether she was perfect or not, her sincere desire to do the will of God in ruling made her more receptive to the graces God gave her and her subjects. She is concerned with the right judgment God will make all of us account for our actions and dealings with God and each other in the end. Receptive to God's scrutiny, she claims she has “ever used to set the Last Judgment Day before my eyes and so to rule as I shall be judged, to answer before a higher Judge” (765) She truly does not want to do anything that may be evil in the eyes of God. If her judgment is faulty, and she did something against His commandments, then it was to her regret that she had done such things. She resorts to “whose judgment seat I do appeal that never was thought was cherished in my heart that tended not unto my people's good” (765). Everything she did was with the intention of promoting the good of her people, according to God's good will, and she envisioned her own judgment before God at the end of time to constantly remind herself that she will be judged by a higher authority than any tribunal composed of men and women. She said to always “remember that we also are to yield an account of our actions before the great Judge” (765). Even though in our attempts to do God's will we may fail, it is a guard against grossly condemnable works and injustices that the desire to do God's will performs. There are many transgressions committed by God-fearing people upon each other, but those who believe themselves to be their own highest authority are able to inflict greater harm upon each other than those who can submit to a higher authority than themselves. Much of the religious strife makes man the measure of truth, and not a transcendent Creator God.
Elizabeth is grateful that God has made her at all successful in her role as queen of her people, and is less proud of being called queen or king, but “as delighted that God hath made me His instrument to maintain His truth and glory” (766). When it comes to her success as a ruler, she takes no credit for herself, giving all the glory to God, exclaiming:
In much poetry, verses and rhymes are used to praise, pray, thank, and glorify God and His mercy. Poetry is used to praise God's goodness, His divine attributes, and especially His mercy and grace in assisting a sinner to repent and convert oneself from sin unto virtue, redemption, and salvation. John Donne was a man who converted from being a very secular and worldly person to a very eloquent religious poet and a great ordained Anglican minister. He used the medium of poetry to bless, praise, adore, and describe God. His religious poems read like a prayer of praise. Here will be discussed his collections of poems called the Holy Sonnets, and the Divine Meditations, in which Donne uses the medium of poetry to weave a great tapestry of prayer, praise, and religious beauty and teaching about God.
The Holy Sonnets and Divine Meditations of John Donne are beautiful pieces of poetry which are expressed as wonderful love poems to God. Donne begins by asking God to “Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise” (Holy Sonnet 1, 1). He wants to detail God's greatness and especially His mercy. He exclaims that God Himself is the treasury of all goodness, and that He crowns all our good works with His sufferings. God is humble in that He came down to earth in the form of a weak baby in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He calls Christ “Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb” (Holy sonnnet 2, 1) and imprisoned Himself in our weakness. He grew as a child who had to learn to talk and function, yet at the temple “The Word but lately could not speak, and lo/It suddenly speaks wonders” (Holy sonnet 3, 5-6). He lived life in the same form as man and allowed Himself to be crucified for our salvation. Donne asks Christ
Now thou art lifted up, draw me to thee,
And at thy death giving such liberal dole,
Moist, with one drop of thy blood, my dry soul. (Holy sonnet 5, 12-14)
Donne asks Christ to help regenerate and build his life back up after a life of sin and disdain for spirituality and religion and Christ Himself. He exclaims that “Thou hast made me, and shall thy work decay?” (Divine meditation 1, 1). Donne seeks conversion and repentance from his former life of sin. He describes God's healing love as a burning fire which cleanses and burns away sin. He requests that God “burn me, O Lord, with a fiery zeal/Of thee and thy house, which doth in eating heal” (Divine meditation 5, 13-14). He complains of those who disingenuously claim faith, and asks God to turn them to true repentance. He asks God to help him be truly converted, saying “Teach me how to repent; for that's as good/As if thou hadst sealed my pardon, with thy blood” (Divine meditation 7, 13-14). All have waited to long to repent, and have been incapable of repenting. Donne must ask God even for the grace to turn and repent. People, like, himself, who feign friendship with God, Donne beseeches “then turn/O pensive soul, to God, for he knows best/Thy true grief, for he put it in thy breast” (Divine meditation 8, 12-14). Even the very turning of man from self-love to God is activated in the heart by God. It is the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, which pours out grace in hearts, even when one is unconverted and unrepentant, and not even seeking God's mercy.
God's mercy is described metaphorically as something that cleanses or washes away sin. Donne petitions God to let his merciful, cleansing blood to not just wash over sin, but to flood it away. He writes:
Oh! Of thine only worthy blood,
And my tears, make a heavenly lethean flood,
And drown it in my sin's black memory (Divine meditation 9, 10-12)
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthral me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. (Divine meditation 14, 12-14)
God made us like unto Himself, in His own image. But having fallen and decided to separate ourselves from Him through sin and disobedience, He went so far as to become one of us, making Himself like unto us, that the relationship in which He made us to be like Himself might be restored. Donne versifies:
The Son of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom he had made, and Satan stol'n, to unbind.
'Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But that God should be made like man, much more. (Divine meditation 15, 11-14)
John Donne says many things about God and the relation of man to his Creator. He emphasizes the greatest of God compared to human beings, and through contrasting metaphors, demonstrates how merciful God is and how paradoxical are His ways to our own nature and inclinations. His poetry praises and is like a prayer to God, a dialogue of a child in verse to a loving Father, whom he loves, respect, and fears, with His grace.
“What Shall I do to be Saved?” - John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress
Over the course of Christianity's development, particularly beginning during the Protestant Reformation, there have been many debates over each individual man’s relationship with God, especially when regarding one's own personal salvation. One major debate has been over the notion that one could earn or merit salvation by good works and through following the law. In John Bunyan's famous allegorical story, called Pilgrim's Progress, written while in prison during the English Restoration, Bunyan portrays the pursuit of personal salvation as a metaphorical journey. Throughout the story, the characters and places introduced represent either something encouraging or hindering the allegorical protagonist Christian's attainment of salvation and Heaven, as epitomized in the much sought after Celestial City. These characters and places also act as symbols for the virtues that add to saving faith or that misdirect one into error, unbelief, or ultimately, damnation in eternal Hell. Here will be analyzed three of the prominent errors Bunyan introduces that hinder and lead him astray from the grace of saving faith, embodied in the characters named Legality, Talkative, and Ignorance.
The story begins with the main character, allegorically named Christian, reading a copy of the Bible and asking the ultimate religious question for a Christian - “What shall I do to be saved?” (14). The consideration of the coming judgment and the fact that everyone is a sinner deserving of great punishment is great on his mind, and he seeks a way to pass through the ultimate judgment of the perfect judge and enter the kingdom of Heaven. In the book are many characters and places which correspond to spiritual realities in the passage of every seeking Christian in his or her desire to be accepted into Heaven by the Savior Jesus Christ.
Later on in his journey, Christian and his traveling companion Faithful meet a man who is perfectly on target in his words, but when it comes to living out those words in a sound religion, he falls short. This man is named Talkative, and when he speaks, one can do nothing in the way of disagreeing with him, for his words are true, but as far as living out the counsel of those words he is found deficient, as his name Talkative foreshadows him to be. He believes in salvation according to faith, and proclaims that few understand “the need of Faith, and the necessity of a work of Grace in their soul, in order to Eternal Life; but ignorantly live in the works of the Law, by which a man can by no means obtain the Kingdom of Heaven” (90). But according to Christian and Faithful, Talkative is what his name says, and he has no religion that acts out the beliefs he proclaims. He is not repentant of sin, and does not perform the works that God requires of him, and faith for Talkative is really merely presumption.
To some, the idea of salvation by works seems to predominate, that Protestants believe there is no need for works. Those who favor works over faith spend more time arguing that people need to perform good works than they spend in actually doing good works. Where they claim that Protestants believe they can just believe in Jesus and get to Heaven and have no reason to repent, do good works, perform duties of charity and religion, and evangelize others. This view is trounced by the statement of Christian:
Hearing is but as the sowing of the seed; Talking is not sufficient to prove that fruit is indeed in the Heart and Life; and let us assure ourselves, that at the day of Doom, mend shall be judged according to their Fruit: It will not be said then, Did you believe? But were you Doers, or Talkers only? And accordingly shall they be judged. The end of the world is compared to our harvest; and you know men at harvest regard nothing but fruit. Not that any thing can be accepted, that is not of Faith; but I speak this to shew you how insignificant the profession of Talkative will be at that Day. (94)
Towards the end of the story, Christian and Hopeful meet a traveler named Ignorance, who is ignorant of his own wretchedness and sin, and believes himself to be saved through his own innate goodness without the justifying righteousness of Christ to offset his own personal sinfulness. Christian exclaims to Ignorance:
That no man can know Jesus Christ but by the revelation of the Father; yea, and Faith too, by which the soul layeth hold upon Christ, (if it be right) must be wrought by the exceeding greatness of his mighty Power; the working of which Faith, I perceive, poor Ignorance! Thou art ignorant of. Be awakened then, see thine own wretchedness, and fly to the Lord Jesus; and by his righteousness, which is the righteousness of God, (for he himself is God) thou shalt be delivered from Condemnation. (167)
Also, it is true, according to Hopeful, that all being sinners, no one can pay the debt of sin unless paid for by a perfect savior. The character Hopeful, in describing his conversion to the Lord, explains that “unless I could obtain the Righteousness of a man that never had sinned; neither mine own, nor all the Righteousness of the World could save me” (158). This man is Jesus, it came to be revealed to Hopeful, and he describes how Jesus took the penalty which all sinners deserve, that of death, and paid that price for all of us, that His Righteousness might be imputed to us. Jesus is infinite God, sinless man, and “He was the Mighty God, and did what he did , and died the Death also, not for himself, but for me; to whom His doings, and the worthiness of them, should be imputed, if I believed on him” (159). So it is through the sacrifice of himself, that Christ, in the ultimate act of love, saves Christian from the punishment of eternal damnation that each of us deserves through sin, and give him the grace of faith, if he accepts this grace, for the purpose of his salvation and sanctification.
It is through knowing our own wretchedness and sinfulness and ultimately the damnation we deserve for our sins, by which we become almost desperate and in ripe condition for seeking our salvation, and journeying for it, and ultimately finding our justification in Jesus Christ. Hopeful describes how despairing he was when he tried, through his own Godless efforts, to attain righteousness and justification. He noticed this most when he saw a “fresh sight of the greatness and vileness of my Sins.” (160) All he could see was Hell and the everlasting damnation of his soul when “suddenly, as I thought, I saw the Lord Jesus looking down from Heaven upon me, and saying, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (160). It is through faith in Christ that all great graces come, and characters like Ignorance lose this salvation, through believing they are the source of their own goodness and salvation. In the end, Christian achieves perfect happiness in the entrance to the Celestial city, in communion with God, and all the other saved saints who have sought out Christ and salvation. The description of Heaven in Pilgrim's Progress is beautiful and inspiring. But it is sad how many do not experience the grace of faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Savior of the World. John Bunyan certainly inspired many to seek out and believe in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Pilgrim's Progress is truly a classic of Christian literature.
In the story by Bunyan, the author does a good job of describing in allegory the journey of a seeking Christian. Bunyan describes well the many pitfalls, hindrances, helps, and allies through the symbolism each character and place represents, by their names and also their descriptions, attributes and actions. Most of all, Bunyan magnificently described the reward for Christian in keeping his hands on the plough and not giving up or being led astray by obstacles or misleading persons and philosophies in the path to salvation. His allegorical story is very applicable to the journey each Christian must make in his journey towards Christ.
During times of great religious strife – and the Reformation was one of those eras – many accusations about the justice or injustice of God, crop up in the discourse of society. Secularism begins to appear, and more and more people abandon the idea of a just and loving God. With all the physical and moral evils, suffering, death, war, famines, earthquakes, and all the other things that can make life miserable for mortal men, some begin to question whether God exists, or if He does, whether He is actually good, just, loving, or even cares what happens to us who are supposed to be His beloved children. In the midst of this dialectical battle there springs up the defenders of the goodness of God, and the order, meaningfulness, goodness, and perfection of the universe He created. Commonly known as philosophical optimism, Alexander Pope was one such vindicator of the reputation and virtue of God the Creator. In his poem Essay on Man, he lays out in rhyming verse the defense of God's goodness and the appropriateness of everything God does, or allows, as part of a greater plan where misfortune turns to blessing, evil is only a precursor to greater good, and all receive their just due from God in Heaven, in ways which we cannot possibly understand this side of eternity.
Pope believes that although there is much suffering and evil in the world, God allows this for a good cause, and ultimately God has dominion over all that exists. His poem describes the created universe as “A mighty maze! But not without a plan” (Essay on Man, 46). He admits that there is sadness and heartbreak and disappointment in this life but urges the reader not to condemn God or deny His existence, but “To vindicate the ways of God to man” (46). He tells people to be humble, and not act as if they understand everything and know how the universe should be governed. We are all finite, fallible creatures, and cannot come up with a better system of laws and order to the universe than has God, who invented, created, and upholds the universe and all that lives within it. Everything is organized as if in a vast chain of being, where all the diversity for creation that can be made is ordered to the ultimate good of all who inhabit God's creation. Pope preaches humility, asking the skeptical or disparaged reader “Is the great chain that draws all to agree,/And drawn, supports, upheld by God or thee?” (46). The critic of God, Pope claims, is putting himself out as the one who knows how the universe should be run, and claims to have been able to do a better job, were he God.
Pope argues from the standpoint of the infinite wisdom of God, who knows better how to place everything and everyone and how to order the relationships between all things and Himself to the best possible form that could be. For every thing that seems bad, there is a good to counteract and overcome that form of evil or injustice. Whenever there is something wrong in our perception, it is right when put into perspective of the whole plan of God for creation. While our vision is limited and finite, God sees the whole picture, and does not allow us to know all, so that “What future bliss, He gives not thee to know,/But gives thy hope to thee to be thy blessing now” (48). There is an added good in not knowing the reasons for things, or for the outcome that is hidden from our perception. Pope argues that from the pride of man's God given reason, man believes himself to be superior to God, and to know what is best for all. Man wants to change the order and law of the universe to suit his own tastes, and “cry, if man's unhappy, God's unjust” (48). Pope dares the critic of God to try to take the reigns and see how much better he can do at the lofty work of creation. He compares the rebellion of men who are unsatisfied with God's creation to the angels who fell from grace and lost Heaven because they would not submit to or serve God's divine plan.
Pope describes in a litany a great diversity of species and genus in God's creation, all the plethora of various forms of life and the functions which each creature performs in the great scheme of things, and denounces the men who decry that man does not have the powers of other creatures, which God did not grant him. Pope asks “Why has man not a microscopic eye?/For this plain reason, man is not a fly” (50). Man has been given reason to explore nature and understand his role in the universe, and yet, Pope complains, people are not humble enough to accept their role, whatever it is, and to live it out. The blindness and weakness we are made with is ordained through a higher purpose, and we are to be trusting in the fact that:
All nature is but art, unknown to thee
All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good:
And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right. (52-53)
Religion and faith in God played a tremendous role in much of the literature of England during the periods discussed here. While religion has been a source of much strife and discord, it also has been used for good benefit in many ways. Like any area of human life, religion can be exploited or used in ways that are deplorable, it is when religion is pursued for the sake of truth, beauty, kindness, service to neighbor, love and charity that man and woman behave and act at their most genuine, caring, and virtuous. It is from religion, religious discussion and religious practice that we have much of our legacy of charity, our beautiful art, hospitals, education, service and charitable organizations, and much improvement in the conditions of civilization. There may be a lot that is not desirable and in fact evil seeping into the practice and teaching of much in religion, but this is a corruption of something good, rather than something that is rotten at its root. Some of the worst attributes in men have come from religion, but far more of the good things have been produced by good religion than by bad. We would be better off with religion as it is, even with its perversions, than we would be if we eliminated religion, religious teaching, and faith in God altogether.
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__________. "From A Speech to a Joint Delegation of Lords and Commons, November 5, 1566." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. B. New York: Norton, 2012. 754-756. Print.
__________. "The doubt of future foes." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. B. New York: Norton, 2012. 758. Print.
__________. "Speech to the Troops at Tillbury." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed.
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__________. "Golden Speech" The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed.
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