Herbert’s Poetic Portrayal of Pastoral Ministry

I’m continuing to glean from the reading of George Herbert’s The Temple, an amazing collection of poems describing the Christian life.  His poem, “Aaron,” is a compelling, honest portrayal of the challenge of pastoral ministry. Herbert poses the problem of the reality of the preacher’s sinfulness and the holiness of God. How can a sinful man lead people to God? The Old Testament picture of priestly service emphasizes the need for holiness. The answer is found only by being clothed in Christ. Any pastor who, deeply aware of his own sinfulness, has struggled with this adequacy should find this poem deeply moving. The culminating line is amazingly beautiful to me, representing Christ-robed confidence.

May this encourage faithful pastors on this Monday.


                Holiness on the head,

Light and perfections on the breast,

Harmonious bells below, raising the dead

To lead them unto life and rest:

Thus are true Aarons drest.


Profaneness in my head,

Defects and darkness in my breast,

A noise of passions ringing me for dead

Unto a place where is no rest:

Poor priest, thus am I drest.


Only another head

I have, another heart and breast,

Another music, making live, not dead,

Without whom I could have no rest:

In him I am well drest.


Christ is my only head,

My alone-only heart and breast,

My only music, striking me ev’n dead,

That to the old man I may rest,

And be in him new-drest.


So, holy in my head,

Perfect and light in my dear breast,

My doctrine tun’d by Christ (who is not dead,

But lives in me while I do rest),

Come people; Aaron’s drest.

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