Turned to gold

Arthur Middleton
The hymns of George Herbert are familiar to you. In one of his hymns, Teach me my God and King, he sees avarice succinctly expressing the paradox of money. Money becomes the drudge which we elevate into sovereignty, stamp our image on it and-worship it. The result is inevitable; such people fall into the ditch. This falling into the ditch is the folly of the blind people who will not look upon the real world of God, but persist in following their own corruption.

Sovereign remedy

But there is a remedy. This hymn is called the elixir. For that is what the word ‘elixir’ means, a remedy. It is a word used in the ancient science of alchemy (that preceded chemistry). It is a kind of preparation that can change metals into gold. Or it is a preparation that is able to prolong life indefinitely, a supposed remedy for all ills.

And what is this elixir, that sovereign remedy that will make all the difference to the life of the Christian? It is being able to recognize that all things in the daily routine of life

may indeed turn to gold and change their meaning if they are directed to God in willed intention. The whole of life can be lifted out of the psychological into the spiritual sphere. So our prayer is: Teach me, my God and King, / In all things thee to see, / And what I do in any thing, /To do it as for thee,’

Statement of love

The Elixir is a simple statement of love to the Person of God, and the consequence of the love. There is no reward for conscientious piety divorced from love. That is a dead pietism. It is the love which is the active agent in the elixir. He then breaks into another allusion when he describes this love: This is the famous stone / That turneth all to gold; / For that which God cloth touch and own / Cannot for lesse be told,’

This is an allusion to the philosopher’s stone, an imaginary stone, substance, or chemical preparation believed by alchemists to have the power of changing base metals into gold. But Herbert’s stone is no imaginary stone. It is the touch of God’s love that turns all into gold. Everything he touches must be given a value that is equivalent to turning everything to gold.

Face to face with the Person of God, Herbert sees his work in the world as the unceasing labour of praise. Praise of God is a challenge to society and a reiteration that the life not turned to God is no life, and that words not addressed to God are vain. The work of praise is a duty, but a duty of love not fear, which is not only unavoidable but in which there can be no wish of avoiding. God is a loved Person, not an idea, and to praise his goodness is a work of gladness.