Project Canterbury

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

By Isaac Williams

London: Joseph Masters, 1849.

XX. The Nailing to the Cross


"They shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth; they shall be afraid of the Lord our God, and shall fear because of Thee."

The long and heavy Cross extended lies
In Golgotha, where on the hideous ground
Many a bone and skull is haply found
Unburied; and in holes where once were eyes
Stables some creeping thing, and looks around,
And 'mid the wrecks of human miseries
Bears witness to the worm that never dies
In the soul's burial-place. What if that sound
Comes from the depths of secret Providence,
Which speaks of man's first parent buried there?
Howbeit, in remembrance of that worm
Which raised in Paradise its serpent form,
It seems to mock at his inheritance,
Cradling itself in crime's worst sepulchre.


"Let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall."

Himself deceived, the sire of death and lies
Deems not how soon on that sepulchral floor
He this his short-lived triumph shall deplore;
That Golgotha he fills with scornful cries
Is the gate of a better paradise
Which he shall never enter any more,
Of which that cruel wood is now the door.
That Cross he now delights in, to his eyes
Henceforth shall be a thing at which, recoiled,
He to the lowest depths shall sink despoiled,
As lightning falls from heaven; that Cross shall prove
The very sceptre of all-conquering love,
Marked on each brow, and reared the heart within,
A refuge from himself and powers of sin.


"And laid the wood in order"...."and laid him on the altar upon the wood."

Upon the ground extended lies the Rood,
In substance, not in shadow, to that mount
Which the true Isaac bare. Who shall recount
His pains, as 'mid the unpitying multitude
And scornful priests, from His pure virginal Flesh,
Marked with those livid wounds that bleed afresh,
They strip His robe adhesive,--on the wood
They stretch His pallid Body; with His Blood
The One true Priest His Altar doth anoint,
As through His outstretch'd palms the iron point
They drive, and through His feet the piercing wound.
His bones may all be number'd, joint by joint.
The God Who made all creatures, on the ground
Rack'd on the accurséd wood lies prostrate bound!


"He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain."

Such was the dying bed Thou didst sustain,
That mind or body found no place of ease,
While mockery stood by, and fierce disdain:
But us 'mid all our sins, if Thou should'st please
To lay at death's dark portal, while disease
Doth drop by drop our ebbing life-blood drain,
Thou sett'st around us tender offices,
And makest soft with love the bed of pain,
While watchers which about us gently stir
Are taught by Thee; and e'en far more than those,
Thou art Thyself our very Comforter;
From that our pillow of desired repose
Thou tak'st the thorns, and for Thine own dost wear,
Laying Thine Head upon their piercing throes.


"When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came in unto Thee."

Lord, I have gazed upon approaching death,
When things which this our earthly sojourn bless
Seemed as in distance growing less and less.
Nor knew before what love then cherisheth,
Spreading the everlasting Arms beneath,
So terrible in Thy deep tenderness,
Which tears alone in silence can express,
With the faint sinking frame and failing breath.
Then, 'mid the agonies of mortal fear,
When dark eternity knocked at the door,
In utter helplessness and guilty pain
Did Thy absolving keys my soul sustain;
Conscious at that dread hour that Thou wast near,
I felt a blessedness unknown before.


"I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of His wrath."

But not so was Thine own departing bed,
When they of Thine acquaintance stood aloof,
Their love in fear forgotten, and reproof
Had broke Thine heart, when in that hour so dread
All was out-poured on Thine unsheltered Head,
Which stood the impetuous storm in our behoof;
When terrors throng'd the sky's o'er-arching roof,
And evil spirits were around Thee shed.
Then as the nails Thy tender hands did strain,
When cruelty sought out each place of pain
So did the sinews of Thine heart give way
Beneath the arrows of the Almighty's wrath,
When Thou didst stand in our descending path
To take on Thee our load in sad dismay.

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