by Francis Bacon
Help Lord, for godly men have took their flight,
And left the earth to be the wicked’s den:
Not one that standeth fast to Truth and Right,
But fears, or seeks to please, the eyes of men.
When one with other fall’s to take apart,
Their meaning goeth not with their words in proof;
But fair they flatter, with a cloven heart,
By pleasing words, to work their own behoof.
But God cut off the lips, that are all set,
To trap the harmless soul, that peace hath vow’d;
And pierce the tongues, that seek to counterfeit
The confidence of truth, by lying loud:
Yet so they think to reign, and work their will,
By subtle speech, which enters every where:
And say, our tongues are ours, to help us still,
What need we any higher power to fear?
Now for the bitter sighing of the poor,
The lord hath said, I will no more forbear,
The wicked’s kingdom to invade and scour,
And set at large the men restrain’d in fear.
And sure, the word of God is pure, and fine.
And in the trial never loseth weight;
Like noble gold, which, since it left the mine,
Hath seven times passed through the fiery straight.
And now thou wilt not first thy word forsake,
Nor yet the righteous man, that leans thereto;
But will’t his safe protection undertake,
In spite of all, their force and wiles can do.
And time it is, O Lord, thou didst draw nigh,
The wicked daily do enlarge their bands;
And that, which makes them follow ill a vie,
Rule is betaken to unworthy hands.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was a complex man. He was a statesman, philosopher, the father of empiricism, and thought by some to be the real author of the works attributed to Williams Shakespeare. There are even some who think he hid a marvelous treasure on Oak Island, in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Bacon was also a devout Anglican.
He believed that philosophy and the natural world must be studied inductively, but argued that we can only study arguments for the existence of God. Information on his attributes (such as nature, action, and purposes) can only come from special revelation. But Bacon also held that knowledge was cumulative, that study encompassed more than a simple preservation of the past. “Knowledge is the rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man’s estate,” he wrote. In his Essays, he affirms that “a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.
There are few men as consequential to the modern world as Francis Bacon. The poem above gives us a glimpse into Bacon’s faith. The scientific world, in the 21st century, is not widely regarded as a particularly religious community. One wonders what Bacon would make of that world – which he had a heavy hand in creating – given his religious and philosophical views. Perhaps he would view our education too focused on the scientific method that he helped to pioneer and too lacking in the area of philosophy.
In the first stanza, he bemoans the loss of religious faith in his fellow man. He tells us that the religious leaders of his day were – to a man – deceivers.
In the second stanza, he describes the state of the Church. He asks God to cut off the lips and to pierce the tongues of those who subtly guide mankind toward atheism.
In the first half of the third stanza, Bacon reminds the Lord that he has said that he will, for the sake of the poor, no longer allow the kingdom of the wicked to reign. The second half of the stanza is a description of the value of God’s word: pure, fine, tested by the fire.
The final stanza concludes with Bacon stating that God will neither forsake his word or the righteous men who might fall prey to the deceivers he described above. He says that it’s time for the Lord to draw near and deal with the wicked who are expanding their rule in the world. The title of the poem, in light of its totality, is a plea.
I dare say that this poem continues to ring true for some people of faith in the present day.