Project Canterbury

The Altar; or Meditations in Verse on the Great Christian Sacrifice

By Isaac Williams

London: Joseph Masters, 1849.


I. The Gate of Gethsemane

1.

"I was left alone,--and there remained no strength in me."

Lord, Who for us wert pleas├ęd to appear,
Shorn of Thy glories on that dreadful night,
And in that terrible eclipse of light
To know the agonies of mortal fear,
In human sympathies thus to draw near
To us Thy creatures;--and e'en now in sight
Entering the cloud of sorrows infinite
At that dread gate of anguish, black and drear,
Didst bid Thy friends adieu, while far below,
Cedron, that brook of sorrows, fled away,
Sighing in dark affright;--in all our woe
Be with us, when beneath th' approaching rod
Of our own sins we tremble, in that day
When man must stand alone to meet his God.

2.

"Thine eyes are upon me, and I am not."

In these Thy sad bereavements, stripp'd of all,
Thou showest in Thyself great Nature's law,
Whereby, as sinful man doth onward draw
To God his Maker, and doth hear His call,
He turns into corruption; all things fall
From off him and depart, with silent awe,
As if the Invisible he nearer saw,
Whose Presence guilty Nature doth appal,--
Which doth recoil with horror at the brink,
And in herself again in silence shrink;--
For death is but the unclothing of the soul;
As it approaches Him, its final goal,
Earthly adherences turn to decay,
His Spirit on them blows,-- they pass away.

3.

"They feared as they entered into the cloud."

Where else but in Thy sorrows shall we find
The healing of our own, in that deep fear
Which flesh is heir to; in the coming near
Of that dread hour, when we must leave behind
Those who have grown into our inner mind,
Associates by our pilgrimage made dear,
To enter that dark cloud, where eye and ear,
To scenes without are closed, and have resigned
The things of day and night, with keener sense
To open to the things which are within;--
To that unearthly stillness, more intense,
Where man must meet his Maker, and be known,
Commune and answer with his God alone,
Of judgment, and of sorrow, and of sin.

4.

"Lord, it is good for us to be here."

Then with Thy Finger and Thy Blood imbue
This lesson on the tables of our heart,
Which often all in vain Thy words impart,
That we to earthly friends must bid adieu
In heaven-ward turn'd affection; keep in view
This night of Thy sad parting; and thence know
The art to hold more loosely all below,
Lest with ourselves the loss of them we rue.
So may we better learn to be with Thee,--
Not when Thy visage was with glory starr'd
On Tabor, but with awful sorrows marr'd,
Thy Father's countenance from Thee debarr'd,--
To share Thy griefs, and with that favour'd three
Enter the gate of sad Gethsemane.

5.

"Enter thou into thy chamber, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast."

But onward yet--a little onward still--
Must we withdraw from kindred and from friends
To know that mystery which thought transcends:
Therefore so oft to wilderness or hill
Did our High-Priest retire, Who knew no ill,
To teach that he who 'neath the burden bends
Of sore transgressions,--knowing not the ends
Of love or hate, which shall the chalice fill
Of his eternity,--hath so great need
To seek for refuge, that he must forego
And cast aside all shadows, which below
The undisturb├ęd vision may impede
Of that unseen hereafter; and give heed
To those realities he soon must know.

6.

"Thou art a place to hide me in."

And therefore now, in this dread interval,
Ere we in judgment before God appear,
Whene'er I to Thine altar would draw near,
In solemn preparations would I call
On solitude and silence; and from all
Withdrawn, which wakens here love, hope, or fear,
Commune alone with mine own self, and hear
Thine awful whisper in the judgment-hall
Of mine own secret soul, that cavern deep
Whence issue streams of life. So may I weep,
And in Thy tabernacle long to hide
From the world, from myself, and from my sin;
And where the door is open in Thy side,
With eager arms outstretching, enter in.


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