One of my favourite poems by George Herbert is called ‘Redemption‘:
Having been tenant long to a rich lord,
Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’old.
In heaven at his manor I him sought:
They told me there that he was lately gone
About some land which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.
I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts –
In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts:
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
Who straight, “Your suit is granted,” said, and died.
Was there ever a simpler way of explaining to us how we are redeemed?
Herbert sets it in a situation familiar to all his readers. A tenant wants a new lease at a lower rent because he is not doing well, and so goes to seek the landlord; hearing he is not there, he goes to look for him where he would expect to find ‘a rich lord’ – but he is not there. He finds him among the thieves and the murderers, and, instead of Herbert having to plead his case, he finds it granted. There is no interaction, the landlord knows why his tenant has come, and knows the secrets of his heart, and he gives freely of his riches.
Herbert makes a play on the word ‘suit’, which as well as using in its legal sense, he uses in its original French sense – suivre – to follow, or to make a pilgrimage. As Proverbs 8:17 has it:
I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.
The Christian sees the connection between the granting of the pilgrim’s wishes and the death of the landlord, and would assume, as I do, that the search for the landlord was the search for Jesus, who is to be found not in the halls of the mighty, but the hearts of the poor. The old lease, the attempt to find salvation by the Mosaic law, having failed, the pilgrim sets out to find something new, but instead of having to pay, as he expected, the price for it, he finds that price already paid – and by the landlord.
The result for us, as he tells us in his marvellous poem ‘Death’, is that where death was once: an uncouth hideous thing, / Nothing but bones … /since our Saviour’s death did put some blood Into thy face ; Thou art grown fair and full of grace, Much in request, much sought for, as a good.
Where once we were separated from God by our sin, we are, by His Grace, saved.