St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Remembering George Herbert”
[Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men]
George Herbert is famous for his poems and his prose work, A Priest in the Temple: or The Country Parson. He is portrayed by his biographer Izaak Walton as a model of the saintly parish priest. Herbert described his poems as “a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed betwixt God and my soul, before I could submit mine to the will of Jesus my Master; in whose service I have found perfect freedom.”
Herbert was born in 1593, a member of an ancient family, a cousin of the Earl of Pembroke, and acquainted with King James I and Prince (later King) Charles. Through his official position as Public Orator of Cambridge, he was brought into contact with the Court. Whatever hopes he may have had as a courtier were dimmed, however, because of his associations with persons who were out of favor with King Charles I—principally John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln.
Herbert had begun studying divinity in his early twenties, and in 1626 he took Holy Orders. King Charles provided him with a living as rector of the parishes of Fugglestone and Bemerton in 1630. His collection of poems, The Temple, was given to his friend, Nicholas Ferrar, and published posthumously.
His version of Psalm 23:
The God of love my shepherd is,
And he that doth me feed:
While he is mine, and I am his,
What can I want or need?
He leads me to the tender grasse,
Where I both feed and rest;
Then to the streams that gently passe:
In both I have the best.
Or if I stray, he doth convert
And bring my minde in frame:
And all this not for my desert,
But for his holy name.
Yea, in deaths shadie black abode
Well may I walk, not fear:
For thou art with me; and thy rod
To guide, thy staff to bear.
Nay, thou dost make me sit and dine,
Ev’n in my enemies sight:
My head with oyl, my cup with wine
Runnes over day and night.
Surely thy sweet and wondrous love
Shall measure all my dayes;
And as it never shall remove,
So neither shall my praise.
Herbert was unselfish in his devotion and service to others. Izaak Walton writes that many of the parishioners “let their plow rest when Mr. Herbert’s saints-bell rung to prayers, that they might also offer their devotion to God with him.” His words, “Nothing is little in God’s service,” have reminded Christians again and again that everything in daily life, small or great, may be a means of serving and worshiping God.
In closing today, let’s read the text of Hymn 592, “Teach me, my God and King.”
1 Teach me, my God and King, in all things
Thee to see, and what I do in anything, to do it as for Thee.
2 To scorn the senses’ sway, while still to Thee I tend;
in all I do be Thou the Way, in all be Thou the End.
3 All may of Thee partake; nothing so small can be,
but draws, when acted for Thy sake, greatness and worth from Thee.
4 If done t'obey Thy laws, e’en servile labors shine;
hallowed is toil, if this the cause, the meanest work divine.
“Nothing is little in God’s service.” May we always remember that. Amen