Thursday, March 03, 2011

Blake's Urgency

In his later years Blake wrote and drew with a keen sense of
urgency. Undoubtedly familar with Ephesians 5:16 he may have
read John Wesley's famous sermon On Redeeming the Time.

Blake had little to say about Wesley and nothing I can find re the Wesleyans-- for some rather obvious reasons: in those days
Wesley's Methodists were part of the Anglican Church for which
Blake had little or no use; they were not churches, but chapels!
(In UMC and other Methodists groups today many churches carry the name of Wesley Chapel.)

How did John Wesley impact our hero? At one place he gives the credit due:
"But then I rais'd up Whitefield, Palamabron raisd up Westley,
And these are the cries of the Churches before the two
Witnesses['] t
Faith in God the dear Saviour who took on the likeness of men:
Becoming obedient to death, even the death of the Cross
The Witnesses lie dead in the Street of the Great City
No Faith is in all the Earth: the Book of God is trodden under
He sent his two Servants Whitefield & Westley; were they Prophets
Or were they Idiots or Madmen? shew us Miracles!"
Can you have greater Miracles than these? Men who devote
Their lifes whole comfort to intire scorn & injury & death"

Milton Plate 22 and 23)

In one particular the two men had much in common.
Wesley wrote a sermon on Ephesian 5, verse 16:
"Redeeming the time, because the days are evil."

Blake described this same sense of urgency in the beginning of
Chapter Four of Jerusalem (Plate 77), which includes:

"We are told to abstain from fleshly desires that we may lose no time from the Work of the Lord. Every moment lost, is a moment that cannot be redeemed every pleasure that intermingles with the duty of our station is a folly unredeemable & is planted like the seed of a wild flower among our wheat."

And even more pointed are two lines near the end of Gates of Paradise (For the Sexes):
But when once I did descry The Immortal Man that cannot Die
Thro evening shades I haste away To close the Labours of my Day" (Erdman 269)

For all of us as the years grow longer and the days shorter, we may have a similar sense of urgency, depending upon to what degree we can say "
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people" (Luke 2:29-31). Such was the case with William Blake.


Susan J. said...

Wow! This is inspiring - thanks, Larry!

Can you say a bit more about "churches" vs "chapels"? I know "church" as an NT word denoting the community of believers... and I get that a group or a building is called a "church" by its friends, then to call it a "chapel" would be an insult...?

On "redeeming the time" -- do y'all know the book "Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America" by David Hackett Fisher? I wish I could find my copy... one of the parameters on which he compares 4 important groups of Brits in America, is on their understanding of time. And this Eph 5:16 phrase "redeeming the time" is one of his section/chapter headings. As best I can recall...

Susan J. said...

getting older and feeling older yet, I can certainly identify with Blake's sense of urgency....

Larry said...

In Wesley's time chapels were places where people worshipped who would perhaps not have been admitted to the Anglican Church.

Although an ordained priest of the Church Wesley was not allowed to preach there. In desperation he preached to the unwashed, at bear baitings, lotteries, wherever a crowd might gather. They began by taunting him, ended with fantastic crowds who came to hear him preach.

Wesley could not get his constituents in the Anglican Church, so he organized chapels where his converts could worship.

He remained an Anglican priest until the day he died.

Church of course has a multitude of meanings to people nowadays.

Churches of all denominations use all sorts of names to identify a particular place. Many Methodist Churches call themselves .....Chapel.

ellie said...

We got ALBION'S SEED from the library. Big book! We'll try to find time to read some of it.

Susan J. said...

I couldn't find my copy of Albion's Seed so got it from the library too. The part I was referring to, was the way the "four British folkways" each has a different orientation to time and its meaning:

(1) East Anglia / Massachusetts (Puritans) -- "improving the time" - no time-wasting; p. 158ff

(2) South of England / Virginia (Distressed Cavaliers and Indentured Servants; the Chesapeake; Anglicans) -- "killing the time" -- agriculturally oriented; p. 368ff

(3) North Midlands to the Delaware (Quakers) -- "redeeming the time" - e.g. by numbering rather than using pagan names, abolishing holidays, making good use of time but avoiding idolatry e.g. no "time is money" and no haste; p. 560ff

(4) Borderlands to the Backcountry (Scots-Irish Presbyterians to Appalachia) -- "passing the time" - "the rhythms of life were inexorable and ineluctable, and beyond the capacity of mere mortals to change in any fundamental way" (p. 747); spending a lot of time in Appalachia as I do, I see this time orientation all around me...; p. 740ff.