“You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble.” Psalm 32
Edward Taylor, who lived from 1642 to 1729, was probably just an ordinary Puritan preacher. He lived about fifty miles west of Boston, in Westfield, Massachusetts, at a time when he—and many others—thought the way of life of Puritans was in immense and therefore perilous decline. Like other clergymen, he served his people’s physical needs as their physician, as well as their preacher. But I’m sure that in good Puritan fashion he railed on people for their sin.
Few would likely remember Edward Taylor at all today, but sometime in the 1930s, someone at Yale happened upon a sheaf of poems he’d written during his life in Westfield, 250 years before, the vast majority of those poems unpublished and likely unseen.
Weird, even bizarre, often shocking. That’s what students think when first they read Edward Taylor—and so did I. Let me edit a little—so do I. Taylor is given to the most outlandish metaphors—bodily parts and functions galore, just plain strange comparisons, odd ways of saying things—but always with respect to God’s amazing grace. He says divine things in sometimes outlandish ways, some of which you might rather not remember.
It’s Edward Taylor who I’m reminded of when I come to the second half of verse seven in Psalm 32, because, if we stop and think for a moment, we can’t help but be shocked at how greatly David has changed. The psalm begins in bone-chilling fear of the Lord. Just a few verses later, however, we’ve arrived safely “within his bosom,” as old preachers used to say. The Lord God almighty, once the source of horrific fear, has been, by his confession, suddenly transformed into a massive cushiony teddy-bear.
And that reminds me of Taylor’s Meditation 39 (First Series) which is a meditation on 1 John 2:1: “If any man sin, we have an advocate.” Our judge is God, the cosmic author of all law. We’re the perps, of course, and we,
Taylor says, are guilty. But there’s a species of nepotism at work for
us here, because Jesus Christ himself is our lawyer, and he’s our ace in the
hole because he is, get this, the son of the judge.
Sounds like a set up, a divine kangaroo court. If we but ask the Lord to take our case, it’s case closed. That’s far more shocking than any
“My case is bad, Lord, by my advocate,” Taylor says. “My sin is red; I’m under God’s arrest.” He asks the Lord to plead his case, then testifies what he knows from the passage in John: “Although it’s bad. thy plea will make it best.”
And then comes vintage Edward Taylor: “If thou wilt plead my case before the king,/I’ll wagon loads of love and glory bring.” I haven’t a clue what “wagon loads” has to do with the court system, but Edward Taylor wasn’t thinking about in creating great art—he simply wanted to testify to what he knew was forever true and it's just what came to mind--"wagon loads of love."
And so does King David in Psalm 32. This shockingly blessed reversal—from mourning to dancing—is the real live inspiration for the poem. That which he feared now offers comfort; the Lord that scared him silly has become—viola!--a hiding place. That’s weird, it’s bizarre, and eternally shocking. Yep, sure is, and he can’t help say thanks, in wagon loads.
Thanks is the reason both of them write songs—King David and Edward Taylor, each in his own peculiar fashion. And me, too. And you—or you probably wouldn’t be reading these words.
Thanksgiving is at the heart of things.