Project Canterbury

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

By Isaac Williams

London: Joseph Masters, 1849.

XXIII. Christ Prays for His Enemies


"When we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son."

To love, be loved, and loved to love again,
This, this is human at man's best estate:
To love not loved, with good to antedate
All love; to pour forth good, and thence obtain
Neglect, unthankfulness, and proud disdain;
To yearn in tender love compassionate
O'er enemies that triumph in their hate;
To pray amid the agonies of pain
For stern tormentors: this--this is Divine;
This is the inextinguishable Flame
That from the Cross, as from a central shrine,
Doth quicken all Creation; this above
Writes up the incommunicable Name
In burning characters, That God is Love.


"God is Love."

Love amid sufferings seen; oh, wondrous sight!
Unearthly Love, the everlasting Fire,
His Head encircled with the bleeding brier,
Amid His foes with strange unharming might,
Consumes not, but sends forth celestial light,
Feeding on heaped-up ills; thence to aspire,
With ampler volume, higher still and higher
Upward into its native Infinite;
Building upon the woes which men have feared
A ladder whereon saints to Heaven may rise.
By mystic staff brought forth to human eyes,
Thus, feeding on the sacrifice, appeared
Flames from the rock, and as they upward veered,
The angel sought therein his native skies.


"They are Thine, O Lord, Thou lover of souls;
for Thine incorruptible Spirit is in all things."

What are the pillars that support the skies,
Holding the mirror of heart-cheering blue?
'Tis all-embracing Love that comes to view,
Whose pillars are the prayers of Him Who dies
For good and evil, friends and enemies.
What is the earth, with every form and hue
Through each successive season ever new,
But Love, whose fostering bosom never dries;
Whose adamantine arms are spread beneath,
Sustaining just and unjust until death?
And what are seas majestic as they move,
With moon and stars that sleep upon their breast,
As on the shore they rise, then sink to rest;
What do their mighty throbbings speak but--Love?


"And he that dwelleth in Love dwelleth in God, and God in him."

But more than all in men of spirit poor,
When sickness or pale fasts the feelings bless,
Love comes to man in her unearthly dress;
Things long since passed, that she shall see no more,
Approach her from the everlasting shore;
And something of a solemn tenderness
The overflowing spirit will oppress.
While of occasions which had once touched sore,
And ministered unkindness, nought remains
But grieving Love, which with unquiet pains,
Fain would undo Hate's sin-engendering stains,
But cannot: inwardly the spirit bleeds,
And for herself and others ceaseless pleads;
While nothing else but prayer can speak her needs.


"Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven."

A little child that folds in love's embrace
One that had harmed it, and forgives the wrong--
Of all things which to earth, sea, sky belong,
This is the fairest; for it finds a place
Within the better kingdom of God's grace,
Filling us with emotions deep and strong,
Which seek a vent in tears or holy song;
And sets to view the Infant Saviour's Face
More than the painter's skill,--the Holy Child
To those that harmed Him more than reconciled,
With meek forgiveness His avenging rod;
Bringing on foes the Presence of their God,
That Presence which is love yet coals of fire,
Melting to penitence the murderer's ire.


"Charity never faileth."

Then, Lord, for this Thy Cross and Thy dear sake,
Teach me that hard-earned skill of loving all,
Foes, friends, and good and evil, great and small;
Of all things wherein self doth pleasure take
My being to unclothe, and from me shake
All those impediments and weights that fall
On the up-veering wing, or sounds that call
From behind: thus my steadfast bent to make,
And the undeviating course to choose,
Till all that's mine and mine own self I lose
In everlasting Love; and seen no more:
As birds that fly into the sunlight, till
The eye can no more follow them, o'er hill,
And valley, and deserted silent shore.

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