My freshman year of college I memorized a poem by a 17th century pastor, George Herbert. I’ve since learned that Herbert died at age 39 as a pastor of a small country church, with never more than 100 people in his congregation. But before he became a pastor, he was a rising star in academia and had been elected as public orator of Cambridge University—a position destined to put him in the national spotlight.
He gave all that up to become a pastor. No one would have known about his poems—or of his secret to such sacrifice—had he not, on his deathbed, given a book to a friend. He said, “Please deliver this book to my dear brother Ferrar, and tell him he shall find in a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed between God and my soul, before I could subject my soul to the will of Jesus my Master, in whose service I have found perfect freedom; ask him to read it: and then, if he think it may turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul, let it be made public; if not, let him burn it; for I and it are less than the least of God’s mercies.”
Poems from that little book have made their way into major anthologies of English poetry and are still studied by poets today.
What was the “secret” of Herbert’s sacrifice? He expressed it in one phrase of the poem that stood out to me just this morning: “All things are more ours by being his.” No secret at all, it’s found in Romans 12:1-2. Truly living is found in becoming a living sacrifice. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Here’s Herbert’s poem in its entirety:
I threaten’d to observe the strict decree
Of my dear God with all my power and might;
But I was told by one it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
“Then will I trust,” said I, “in Him alone.”
“Nay, e’en to trust in Him was also His:
We must confess that nothing is our own.”
“Then I confess that He my succour is.”
“But to have nought is ours, not to confess
That we have nought.” I stood amaz’d at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend express
That all things were more ours by being His;
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.
HT: John Piper’s Servants of Sovereign Joy