Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Poem for this Present Crisis

James Russell Lowell was one of the great literateurs of the last half of the 19th century, and he is still well worth reading today. I was struck by how appropriate his poem "This Present Crisis" speaks to our country at war in Iraq today just as well as it did in the dark days of the Civil War. Meditate on the following, especially the last two stanzas.

This poem is based on Russell's understanding of the freedom God desires for human beings from the things that bewitch, bother and bewilder us. Here is a portion of what he said in the poem, “The Present Crisis”

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,

In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;

Some great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,

Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,

And the choice goes by forever 'twixt that darkness and that light.

Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand,

Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land?

Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet 't is Truth alone is strong,

And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng

Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.

Backward look across the ages and the beacon-moments see,

That, like peaks of some sunk continent, jut through Oblivion's sea;

Not an ear in court or market for the low, foreboding cry

Of those Crises, God's stern winnowers, from whose feet earth's chaff must fly;

Never shows the choice momentous till the judgment hath passed by.

Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record

One death-grapple in the darkness 'twixt old systems and the Word;

Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—

Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,

Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

………………

New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;

They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth;

Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,

Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea,

Nor attempt the Future's portal with the Past's blood-rusted key.

5 comments:

jean said...

Wow! The typical hymnbook version has really scrambled it.

JD Walters said...

Dr Witherington,

This is not related to the topic of the post but I'd like to ask a question: what do you think of Dale Allison's recent monumental assessment of the arguments for and against the Resurrection in his book, "Resurrecting Jesus"? While I thought it was definitely fair and exhaustively examines the literature, I also thought it was a bit too skeptical. And what do you make of the fact that he refers to himself as a "crypto-deist"?

Ben Witherington said...

I have not read the book, but I can tell you that it would have to be mighty good to match up to Tom Wright's great book Resurrection and the Son of God. As for a a crypto-deist, that's not a good thing--- at all.

BW3

Andy Rowell said...

Dr. Witherington,
One quick thing unrelated to this post but you might want to think about adding a Feedburner icon to your blog so that people can subscribe easily.

Blogger Help: Third-party Apps

Rev. C. Solomon said...

A voice awakened me one morning, and said: Our theme, ought to be, to pursue different passions for different people!