There’s heaven above, and night by night
I look right through its gorgeous roof;
No suns and moons though e’er so bright
Avail to stop me; splendor-proof
I keep the broods of stars aloof:
For I intend to get to God,
For ‘t is to God I speed so fast,
For in God’s breast, my own abode,
Those shoals of dazzling glory, passed,
I lay my spirit down at last.
I lie where I have always lain,
God smiles as he has always smiled;
Ere suns and moons could wax and wane,
Ere stars were thundergirt, or piled
The heavens, God thought on me his child;
Ordained a life for me, arrayed
Its circumstances every one
To the minutest; ay, God said
This head this hand should rest upon
Thus, ere he fashioned star or sun.
And having thus created me,
Thus rooted me, he bade me grow,
Guiltless forever, like a tree
That buds and blooms, nor seeks to know
The law by which it prospers so:
But sure that thought and word and deed
All go to swell his love for me,
Me, made because that love had need
Of something irreversibly
Pledged solely its content to be.
Yes, yes, a tree which must ascend,
No poison-gourd foredoomed to stoop!
I have God’s warrant, could I blend
All hideous sins, as in a cup,
To drink the mingled venoms up;
Secure my nature will convert
The draught to blossoming gladness fast:
While sweet dews turn to the gourd’s hurt,
And bloat, and while they bloat it, blast,
As from the first its lot was cast.
For as I lie, smiled on, full-fed
By unexhausted power to bless,
I gaze below on hell’s fierce bed,
And those its waves of flame oppress,
Swarming in ghastly wretchedness;
Whose life on earth aspired to be
One altar-smoke, so pure!–to win
If not love like God’s love for me,
At least to keep his anger in;
And all their striving turned to sin.
Priest, doctor, hermit, monk grown white
With prayer, the broken-hearted nun,
The martyr, the wan acolyte,
The incense-swinging child–undone
Before God fashioned star or sun!
God, whom I praise; how could I praise,
If such as I might understand,
Make out and reckon on his ways,
And bargain for his love, and stand,
Paying a price, at his right hand?
“Johannes Agricola in Meditation” presents the doctrine of predestination as it appears to a devout and poetic soul whose conviction of the truth of such a doctrine has the strength of a divine revelation. Those elected for God’s love can do nothing to weaken it, those not elected can do nothing to gain it, but it is not his to reason why; indeed, he could not praise a god whose ways he could understand or for whose love he had to bargain.
Johannes Agricola: (1492-1566), Luther’s secretary, 1519, afterward in conflict with him, and author of the doctrine called by Luther antinomian, because it rejected the Law of the Old Testament as of no use under the Gospel dispensation. In a note accompanying the first publication of this poem, Browning quotes from “The Dictionary of All Religions” (1704): “They say that good works do not further, nor evil works hinder salvation; that the child of God cannot sin, that God never chastiseth him, that murder, drunkenness, etc., are sins in the wicked but not in him, that the child of grace being once assured of salvation, afterwards never doubteth . . . that God doth not love any man for his holiness, that sanctification is no evidence of justification.” Though many antinomians taught thus, says George Willis Cooke in his “Browning Guide Book,” it does not correctly represent the position of Agricola, who in reality held moral obligations to be incumbent upon the Christian, but for guidance in these he found in the New Testament all the principles and motives necessary.