George Herbert

A hero of the faith who encourages me to reflect on the redeeming love of Christ as we walk through this season is English pastor George Herbert.

Herbert was born on April 3, 1593, in Montgomeryshire, Wales to Richard and Magdalen Herbert. He was the seventh of 10 children and lost his father at the age of three. His father left a sizeable estate to care for his family and provided the means for George to have an excellent education. At age 12, he entered Westminster preparatory school and was an outstanding student, studying Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He then went on to study at Trinity College Cambridge where he graduated second in his class with a BA, and then in 1616, earned his MA and became a fellow of the university. 

In 1619, Herbert was elected Public Orator of Cambridge University, which was a prestigious post. He then went on to serve for a year in Parliament, but through a series of difficult circumstances chose to leave his political ambitions and followed the Lord to serve as a pastor in the Church of England. In 1629, he married Jane Davners and was appointed the rector of a small country church at Bemerton, where he preached faithfully and cared deeply for his congregation. Sadly, after less than three years in ministry, Herbert died of tuberculosis at age 39. 

Most notably, while at Bemerton, Herbert began to write poetry. As his health declined, he sent his book of 167 poems to his friend Nicholas Ferrar. He wrote in his instructions to him, “If he can think it may turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul let it be made public; if not, let him burn it, for I and it are the least of God's mercies.”1

Later that year, Ferrar published the book for Herbert under the title The Temple, and it is still in print today. Through this collection of poems, Herbert is known as one of the greatest religious poets of all time. The central theme of his poetry is the redeeming love of Christ and throughout his work, we find a feast of beauty. He wrote:

How should I praise thee, Lord! How should my rhymes
       Gladly engrave thy love in steel,
       If what my soul doth feel sometimes,
                  My soul might ever feel!2

Herbert’s desire was to “engrave” the love of Christ in the “steel” of language for all to see. Through poetry, he gives us a glimpse of the glory of Christ and encourages us to meditate on His beauty. As our country continues to wrestle with its identity let us reflect on the beautiful redeeming love of Christ and ask God to heal our land.  

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18 ESV)

Bill Gemaehlich is the EVP/COO operations at Insight for Living Ministries

1. Doerksen, Daniel W. “Nicholas Ferrar, Arthur Woodnoth, and the Publication of George Herbert's The Temple, 1633.” George Herbert Journal, vol. 3 no. 1, 1979, p. 22-44. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/ghj.1979.0010.

2. Herbert, George. “The Temple,” Sacred poems and private ejaculations, 1633. Cambridge: Thom. Buck, and Roger Daniel.