The Church Militant

by George Herbert

George Herbert

Almightie Lord, who from thy glorious throne
Seest and rulest all things ev'n as one:
The smallest ant or atome knows thy power,
Known also to each minute of an hour:
Much more do Common-weaks acknowledge thee,
And wrap their policies in thy decree,
Complying with thy counsels, doing nought
Which doth not meet with an eternall thought.
But above all, thy Church and Spouse doth prove
Not the decrees of power, but bands of love.
Early didst thou arise to plant this vine,
Which might the more indeare it to be thine.
Spices come from the East; so did thy Spouse,
Trimme as the light, sweet as the laden boughs
Of Noah's shadie vine, chaste as the dove,
Prepar'd and fitted to receive thy love.
The course was westward, that the sunne might light
As well our understanding as our sight.
Where th' Ark did rest, there Abraham began
To bring the other Ark from Canaan.
pursu'd this: but King Solomon
Finish'd and fixt the old religion.
When it grew loose, the Jews did hope in vain
By nailing Christ to fasten it again.
But to the Gentiles he bore crosse and all,
Rending with earthquakes the partition-wall.
Onely whereas the Ark in glorie shone,
Now with the crosse, as with a staffe, alone,
Religion, like a pilgrime, westward bent,
Knocking at all doores, ever as she went.
Yet as the sunne, though forward be his flight,
Listens behinde him, and allows some light,
Till all depart: so went the Church her way,
Letting, while one foot stept, the other stay
Among the Eastern nations for a time,
Till both removed to the western clime.
To Ægypt first she came, where they did prove
Wodners of anger once, but now of love.
The ten Commandments there did flourish more
Than the ten bitter plagues had done before.
Holy Macarius and great Anthonie
Made Pharaoh Moses, changing th' historie.
Goshen was darknesse, Ægypt full of lights,
Nilus for monsters brought forth Israelites.
Such power hath mightie Baptisme to produce,
For things misshapen, things of highest use.
How deare to me, O God, thy counsels are!
Who may with thee compare?

Religion thence fled into Greece, where arts
Gave her the highest place in all men's hearts.
Learning was pos'd, Philosophie was set,
Sophisters taken in a fisher's net.
Plato and Aristotle were at a losse,
And wheel'd about again to spell Christ-Crosse.
Prayers chas'd syllogismes into their den,
And Ergo was transform'd into Amen.
Though Greece took horse as soon as Ægypt did,
And Rome as both; yet Ægypt faster rid,
And spent her period and prefixed time
Before the other. Greece being past her prime,
Religion went to Rome, subduing those,
Who, that they might subdue, made all their foes.
The Warrier his deere skarres no more resounds,
But seems to yeeld Christ hath the greater wounds;
Wounds willingly endur'd to work his blisse,
Who by an ambush lost his Paradise.
The great heart stoops, and taketh from the dust
A sad repentance, not the spoils of lust:
Quitting his spear, lest it should pierce again
Him in his members, who for him was slain.
The shepherd's hook grew to a scepter here,
Giving new names and numbers to the yeare.
But th' Empire dwelt in Greece, to comfort them,
Who were cut short in Alexander's stemme.
In both of these Prowesse and Arts did tame
And tune men's hearts against the Gospel came:
Which using, and not fearing skill in th' one,
Or strength in th' other, did erect her throne,
Many a rent and struggling th' Empire knew
(As dying things are wont,) untill it flew
At length to Germanie, still westward bending,
And there the Churches festivall attending:
That as before Empire and Arts made way,
(for no lesse Harbingers would serve then they)
So they might still, and point us out the place,
Where first the Church should raise her down-cast face.
Strength levels grounds, Art makes a garden there;
Then showres Religion, and makes all to bear.
Spain in the Empire shar'd with Germanie,
But England in the higher victorie;
Giving the Church a crown to keep her state,
And not go lesse than she had done of late.
Constantine's British line meant this of old,
And did this mysterie wrap up and fold
Within a sheet of paper, which was rent
From time's great Chronicle, and hither sent.
Thus both the Church and Sunne together ran
Unto the farthest old meridian.
How deare to me, O God, thy counsels are!
Who may with thee compare?

Much about one and the same time and place,
Both were and when the Church began her race,
Sinne did set out of Eastern Babylon,
And travell'd westward also: journeying on
He chid the Church away, where e're he came,
Breaking her peace, and tainting her good name.
At first he got to Ægypt, and did sow
Gardens of gods, which ev'ry yeare did grow,
Fresh and fine deities. They were at great cost,
Who for a god clearely a sallet lost.
Ah, what a thing is man devoid of grace,
Adoring garlick with an humble face,
Begging his food of that which he may eat,
Starving the while he worshippeth his meat!
Who makes a root his god, how low is he,
If God and man be sever'd infinitely!
What wretchednesse can give him any room,
Whose house is foul, while he adores his broom?
None will beleeve this now, though money be
In us the same transplanted foolerie.
Thus Sinne in Ægypt sneaked for a while;
His highest was an ox or crocodile,
And such poore game. Thence he to Greece doth passe,
And being craftier much then Goodnesse was,
He left behinde him garrisons of sinnes,
To make good that which ev'ry day he winnes.
Here Sinne took heart, and for a garden-bed
Rich shrines and oracles he purchasèd:
He grew a gallant, and would needs foretell
As well what should befall, as what befell.
Nay, he became a poet, and would serve
His pills of sublimate in that converse.
The world came both with hands and purses full
To this great lotterie, and all would pull.
But all was glorious cheating, brave deceit,
Where some poore truths were shuffled for a bait
To credit him, and to discredit those,
Who after him should braver truths disclose.
From Greece he went to Rome: and as before
He was a god, now he's an Emperour.
Nero and others lodg'd him bravely there,
Put him in trust to rule the Romane sphere.
Glorie was his chief instrument of old:
Pleasure succeeded straight, when that grew cold:
Which soon was blown to such a mightie flame,
That though our Saviour did destroy the game,
Disparking oracles, and all their treasure,
Setting affliction to encounter pleasure;
Yet did a rogue, with hope of carnall joy,
Cheat the most subtill nations. Who so coy,
So trimme, as Greece and Ægypt? yet their hearts
Are given over, for their curious arts,
To such Mahometan stupidities
As the old heathen would deem prodigies.
How deare to me, O God, thy counsels are!
Who may with thee compare?

Onely the West and Rome doth keep them free
From this contagious infidelitie.
And this is all the Rock, whereof they boast,
As Rome will one day finde unto her cost.
Sinne not being able to extirpate quite
The Churches here, bravely resolv'd one night
To be a Church-man too, and wear a Mitre:
The old debauched ruffian would turn writer.
I saw him in his studie, where he sate
Busie in controversies sprung of late.
A gown and pen became him wondrous well:
His grave aspect had more of heav'n then hell:
Onely there was a handsome picture by,
To which he lent a corner of his eye.
As Sinne in Greece a Prophet was before,
And in old Rome a mightie Emperour;
So now being Priest he plainly did professe
To make a jest of Christ's three offices:
The rather since his scatter'd jugglings were
United now in one both time and sphere.
From Ægypt he took pettie deities,
From Greece oracular infallibilities,
And from old Rome the libertie of pleasure,
By free dispensings of the Churches treasure.
Then in memoriall of his ancient throne,
He did surname his palace, Babylon.
Yet that he might the better gain all nations,
And make that name good by their transmigrations;
From all these places, but at divers times,
He took fine vizards to conceal his crimes:
From Ægypt anchorisme and retirednesse,
Learning from Greece, from old Rome statelinesse;
And blending these, he carri'd all men's eyes,
While Truth sat by, counting his victories:
Whereby he grew apace, and scorn'd to use
Such force as once did captivate the Jews;
But did bewitch, and finelly work each nation
Into a voluntarie transmigration.
All poste to Rome: Princes submit their necks
Either t' his publick foot or private tricks.
It did not fit his gravitie to stirre,
Nor his long journey, nor his gout and furre:
Therefore he sent out able ministers,
Statesmen within, without doores cloisterers;
Who without spear, or sword, or other drumme,
Than what was in their tongue, did overcome;
And having conquer'd, did so strangely rule,
That the whole world did seem but the Pope's mule.
As new and old Rome did one empire twist;
So both together are one Antichrist;
Yet with two faces, as their Janus was,
Being in this their old crackt looking-glasse.
How deare to me, O God, thy counsels are!
Who may with thee compare?

Thus Sinne triumphs in Western Babylon;
Yet not as Sinne, but as Religion.
Of his two thrones he made the latter best,
And to defray his journey from the east.
Old and new Babylon are to hell and night,
As is the moon and sunne to heav'n and light.
When th' one did set, the other did take place,
Confronting equally the law and grace.
They are hell's land-marks, Satan's double crest:
They are Sinne's nipples, feeding th' east and west.
But as in vice the copie still exceeds
The pattern, but not so in vertuous deeds;
So though Sinne made his latter seat the better,
The latter Church is to the first a debter.
The second Temple could not reach the first:
And the late reformation never durst
Compare with ancient times and purer yeares;
But in the Jews and us deserveth tears.
Nay, it shall ev'ry yeare decrease and fade;
Till such a darknesse do the world invade
At Christ's last coming, as his first did finde:
Yet much there such proportions be assign'd
To these diminishings, as is between
The spacious world and Jurie to be seen.
Religion stands on tip-toe in our land,
Readie to passe to the American strand.
When height of malice, and prodigious lusts,
Impudent sinning, witchcrafts, and distrusts,
(The marks of future bane,) shall fill our cup
Unto the brimme, and make our measure up;
When Seine shall swallow Tiber, and the Thames
By letting in them both, pollutes her streams:
When Italie of us shall have her will,
And all her calendar of sinnes fulfill;
Whereby one may foretell, what sinnes next yeare
Shall both in France and England domineer:
Then shall Religion to America flee:
They have their times of Gospel, ev'n as we.
My God, thou dost prepare for them a way,
For gold and grace did never yet agree:
Religion alwaies sides with povertie.
We think we rob them, but we think amisse:
We are more poore, and they more rich by this.
Thou wilt revenge their quarrell, making grace
To go to them, while that, which now their nation
But lends to us, shall be our desolation.
Yet as the Church shall thither westward flie.
So Sinne shall trace and dog her instantly:
They have their period also and set times
Both for their vertuous actions and their crimes.
And where of old the Empire and the Arts
Usher'd the Gospel ever in men's hearts,
Spain hath done one; when Arts perform the other,
The Church shall come, and Sinne the Church shall smother:
That when they have accomplished the round,
And met in th' east their first and ancient sound,
Judgement may meet them both, and search them round.
Thus do both lights, as well in Church as Sunne,
Lights one another, and together runne.
Thus also Sinne and Darknesse follow still
The Church and Sunne with all their power and skill
But as the Sunne still goes both west and east:
So also did the Church by going west
Still eastward go; because it drew more neare
To time and place, where judgment shall appeare.
How deare to me, O God, thy counsels are!
Who may with thee compare?

Last updated January 14, 2019