Confronting my sinfulness

Sighs and Groans

                                     O do not use me

After my sins! look not on my desert,

But on thy glory! Then thou wilt reform

And not refuse me: for thou only art

The mighty God, but I a silly worm;

                                     O do not bruise me!


                                     O do not urge me!

For what account can thy ill steward make?

I have abus’d thy stock, destroy’d thy woods,

Suckt all thy magazens*: my head did ache,

Till it found out how to consume thy goods:

                                     O do not scourge me!


                                      O do not blind me!

I have deserv’d that an Egyptian night

Should thicken all my powers; because my lust

Hath still sow’d fig-leaves to exclude thy light:

But I am frailty, and already dust;

                                     O do not grind me!


                                     O do not fill me

With the turn’d vial of thy bitter wrath!

For thou hast other vessels full of blood,

A part whereof my Saviour empti’d hath,

Ev’n unto death: since he di’d for my good,

                                      O do not kill me!


                                     But O reprieve me!

For thou hast life and death at thy command;

Thou art both Judge and Saviour, feast and rod,

Cordial and Corrosive: put not thy hand

Into the bitter box; but O my God,

                                     My God, relieve me!


* Storehouses

This week we continue the theme of sighing and groaning which is so important for Herbert. In this poem he is particularly aware of his sins and in verses two-four he identifies himself with some biblical stories where human beings experience judgment

The ill steward reminds us of Jesus’s stories about stewardship e.g. the parable of the talents in Matthew 25

The Egyptian night of the plagues in Exodus 10:22 on the fig leaves used by Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:7

The turn’d vial of the seven golden vials full of the wrath of God in Revelation 15:7

A modern psychiatrist might consider that Herbert is suffering from a lack of self-esteem and that his ‘obsession’ with sin is unhealthy. But his writing can also be seen as a realistic assessment of human greed and failings. Verse two seems a particularly prescient analysis of human environmental vandalism and the admitting of frailty in verse three is a touching recognition of human limitations. Nonetheless whatever we think of them Herbert’s words are startling and challenging.

Ultimately perhaps what is most important is Herbert’s complete faith in God ‘for thou hast life and death’. He is able to fully acknowledge his failings and weaknesses without any need to defend or justify himself because he knows that in the end his God can and will relieve him. What a remarkable freedom and liberation this is!

  • How easy do you find it to acknowledge your sins?
  • How easy do you find it to focus on God’s glory rather than your sins?!
  • What is a psychologically healthy way of understanding and dealing with our sins and frailties?
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