a cruel joy? anne brontë’s word to the calvinists.

Charlotte Brontë wrote Jane Eyre. Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights. Their sister Anne Brontë wrote this:

A Word To The Calvinists

by Anne Brontë

You may rejoice to think yourselves secure,

You may be grateful for the gift divine,

That grace unsought which made your black hearts pure

And fits your earthborn souls in Heaven to shine.

But is it sweet to look around and view

Thousands excluded from that happiness,

Which they deserve at least as much as you,

Their faults not greater nor their virtues less?

And wherefore should you love your God the more

Because to you alone his smiles are given,

Because He chose to pass the many o’er

And only bring the favoured few to Heaven?

And wherefore should your hearts more grateful prove

Because for all the Saviour did not die?

Is yours the God of justice and of love

And are your bosoms warm with charity?

Say does your heart expand to all mankind

And would you ever to your neighbour do,

— The weak, the strong, the enlightened and the blind –
As you would have your neighbour do to you?

And, when you, looking on your fellow men

Behold them doomed to endless misery,

How can you talk of joy and rapture then?

May God withhold such cruel joy from me!

That none deserve eternal bliss I know:

Unmerited the grace in mercy given,

But none shall sink to everlasting woe

That have not well deserved the wrath of Heaven.

And, O! there lives within my heart

A hope long nursed by me,

(And should its cheering ray depart

How dark my soul would be)

That as in Adam all have died

In Christ shall all men live

And ever round his throne abide

Eternal praise to give;

That even the wicked shall at last

Be fitted for the skies

And when their dreadful doom is past

To life and light arise.

I ask not how remote the day

Nor what the sinner’s woe

Before their dross is purged away,

Enough for me to know

That when the cup of wrath is drained,

The metal purified,

They’ll cling to what they once disdained,

And live by Him that died.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Adam Winters says:

    That is a truly beautiful piece of thought and writing. Thanks for sharing that, Paul. I needed to hear that today.

  2. Paul Roberts says:

    I a glad that you found this poem helpful in some way. I must confess, however, that I find it a bit unsettling.

    She clearly has a way with words, but methinketh her appraisal of Calvinism doth lack understanding. She implies that God’s choice to elect only some is less “sweet” (second stanza) because it is not as universal as her view of election (stanzas nine and ten).

    It reminds me of the parable of the workers in the vineyard from Matthew 20. The householder went to the marketplace five different times over the course of a single day to hire workers for his vineyard. At the end of the day they all received the same pay.

    Our first and natural response is “that’s not fair.” The proper response is “what a gracious householder.”

    Has not Brontë overlooked God’s graciousness in offering salvation to any at all, and chosen instead to object with “that’s not fair”? The issue here is not Calvinism per se, as much as some would like for Calvinism to be the issue behind everything these days. Rather, the issue here is her belief that Calvinists think they are more worthy than others, and that in the end all will be saved because all are equally unworthy. In reality, though, a true Calvinist realizes the universal unworthiness of all sinners and therefore focuses on the inexplicably gracious act of God in the salvation of any sinner — whether Calvinist, Pelagian, Arminian, or Amyraldian.

    And that bothers me.

  3. Adam Winters says:

    I guess I wasn’t reading the whole thing as carefully as I needed to. I was particularly thinking of the fact that my right response to God’s grace in election is not to take the fact for granted that so many people are more worthy of blessing than me (from my human standpoint, anyway).

    But you are right, Paul, that no true Biblically informed Calvinist whose heart has been resurrected by grace should be tempted to think this way.

  4. Paul Roberts says:

    I join you in seeing the depth of God’s grace in my salvation since from my perspective there are so many whose lives seem so much more “worthy.” I guess that’s the problem with our human perspectives, a problem which was hotly debated during Reformation times, namely: whether or not even the most seemingly righteous human acts are rejected by God as not meriting favor. I know that my acts don’t merit squat, and it’s only faulty perception that the acts of others do merit any salvific grace. It’s a humbling thing to realize that all I have in Christ is a result of nothing more than the graciousness of God, isn’t it?

    Good comments, Adam. Keep them coming!

  5. This would be Molly Marshall’s favorite poem!

  6. Paul Roberts says:

    Ah, yes. It is something of a 19th Century battle for the minds, I suppose. I wonder what Anne Bronte’s views on gender roles were.

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