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Religio Laici

John Dryden 1631 (Aldwincle) – 1631 (London)



(OR A LAYMAN'S FAITH)

  Dim, as the borrow'd beams of moon and stars
  To lonely, weary, wand'ring travellers,
  Is reason to the soul; and as on high,
  Those rolling fires discover but the sky
  Not light us here; so reason's glimmering ray
  Was lent not to assure our doubtful way,
  But guide us upward to a better day.
  And as those nightly tapers disappear
  When day's bright lord ascends our hemisphere
  So pale grows reason at religion's sight:
  So dies, and so dissolves in supernatural light.
  Some few, whose lamp shone brighter, have been led
  From cause to cause, to Nature's secret head;
  And found that one first principle must be:
  But what, or who, that Universal He;
  Whether some soul incompassing this ball
  Unmade, unmov'd; yet making, moving all;
  Or various atoms' interfering dance
  Leapt into form (the noble work of chance
  Or this great all was from eternity;
  Not even the Stagirite himself could see;
  And Epicurus guess'd as well as he:
  As blindly grop'd they for a future state;
  As rashly judg'd of Providence and Fate:
  But least of all could their endeavours find
  What most concern'd the good of human kind.
  For happiness was never to be found;
  But vanish'd from 'em, like enchanted ground.
  One thought content the good to be enjoy'd:
  This, every little accident destroy'd:
  The wiser madmen did for virtue toil:
  A thorny, or at best a barren soil:
  In pleasure some their glutton souls would steep;
  But found their line too short, the well too deep;
  And leaky vessels which no bliss could keep.
  Thus anxious thoughts in endless circles roll,
  Without a centre where to fix the soul:
  In this wild maze their vain endeavours end:
  How can the less the greater comprehend?
  Or finite reason reach infinity?
  For what could fathom God were more than He.

  The Deist thinks he stands on firmer ground;
  Cries [lang g]eur{-e}ka[lang e] the mighty secret's found:
  God is that spring of good; supreme, and best;
  We, made to serve, and in that service blest;
  If so, some rules of worship must be given;
  Distributed alike to all by Heaven:
  Else God were partial, and to some deny'd
  The means his justice should for all provide.
  This general worship is to PRAISE, and PRAY:
  One part to borrow blessings, one to pay:
  And when frail Nature slides into offence,
  The sacrifice for crimes is penitence.
  Yet, since th'effects of providence, we find
  Are variously dispens'd to human kind;
  That vice triumphs, and virtue suffers here,
  (A brand that sovereign justice cannot bear
  Our reason prompts us to a future state:
  The last appeal from fortune, and from fate:
  Where God's all-righteous ways will be declar'd;
  The bad meet punishment, the good, reward.

  Thus man by his own strength to Heaven would soar:
  And would not be oblig'd to God for more.
  Vain, wretched creature, how art thou misled
  To think thy wit these god-like notions bred!
  These truths are not the product of thy mind,
  But dropt from Heaven, and of a nobler kind.
  Reveal'd religion first inform'd thy sight,
  And reason saw not, till faith sprung the light.
  Hence all thy natural worship takes the source:
  'Tis revelation what thou think'st discourse.
  Else how com'st thou to see these truths so clear,
  Which so obscure to heathens did appear?
  Not Plato these, nor Aristotle found:
  Nor he whose wisdom oracles renown'd.
  Hast thou a wit so deep, or so sublime,
  Or canst thou lower dive, or higher climb?
  Canst thou, by reason, more of God-head know
  Than Plutarch, Seneca, or Cicero?
  Those giant wits, in happier ages born,
  (When arms, and arts did Greece and Rome adorn)
  Knew no such system; no such piles could raise
  Of natural worship, built on pray'r and praise,
  To one sole God.
  Nor did remorse, to expiate sin, prescribe:
  But slew their fellow creatures for a bribe:
  The guiltless victim groan'd for their offence;
  And cruelty, and blood was penitence.
  If sheep and oxen could atone for men
  Ah! at how cheap a rate the rich might sin!
  And great oppressors might Heaven's wrath beguile
  By offering his own creatures for a spoil!

  Dar'st thou, poor worm, offend Infinity?
  And must the terms of peace be given by thee?
  Then thou art justice in the last appeal;
  Thy easy God instructs thee to rebel:
  And, like a king remote, and weak, must take
  What satisfaction thou art pleas'd to make.

  But i
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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John Dryden

John Dryden was an English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who was made Poet Laureate in 1668. more…

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