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It is not to be cited or quoted without the permission of the author.

'Kiss me with the kisses of his lips': blurred masculinity in early modern spirituality

Tom Webster

In a work of practical divinity notable for its typicality, the Puritan minister Thomas Brooks pressed his congregation to practice self-examination. Only by 'a serious examination of a man's own estate, he may know whether he be Christ's spouse or the devil's strumpet, whether there be a work of grace upon his heart or not'.1 It is the former, positive, analogy that will be the centre of attention here rather than the latter, for nuptial imagery applied to and accepted by godly men proves to be very common once one becomes sensitised to it. And, it should be stressed, this is not a matter of ministers spraying mixed congregations with a variety of analogies in the hope that different ones would strike true with different sections of their flock. In a sermon delivered to MPs during a fast held by the House of Commons, plainly an exclusively male congregation, Stephen Marshall pleaded with them to maintain orthodoxy, using the following image: 'As a man who finds his wife faithfull in the marriage bed, judgeth that she loves him, and that her heart is one with his .... Thus with you, they are are interpreted to keep all his commandments'.2 This was a plea following a more positive image delivered by Marshall's friend, Cornelius Burges, in a sermon delivered to the same people on the same day. For Burges, the covenant between God and the magistrate was that 'this joyning of ourselves to the Lord, is such, as is made by marriage; ... and admits us to the participation of all the most intimate, neerest and choysest expressions of the deerest Love of God, which can be found between the husband and the wife'.3 A recurring appetite for the imagery of the Song of Songs can be explored as a source for the negotiation of godly masculinity in public and private, a route to a greater appreciation of the multi-faceted, and usefully unstable, nature of masculine Puritan identity. We will move geographically to produce a short case-study of one individual, the Scot Samuel Rutherford and then temporally to apply a similar analysis to the spirituality of the Scottish revivals of the eighteenth century.

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Less moderate preachers could take the gender reversal possibilities a little further. Some could go so far as to present the ministers as breast-feeding mothers. For one, the minister is 'a Father to beget us with the immortal seed of the word, a Mother to nourish us up in the same'.19 George Gifford, the preacher at Maldon, used this analogy: 'Wee doe all know this, that when a childe is borne, if it be alive and in health, howe much it doth covet the mothers breast, and howe sweete the milke is to it; in the like manner, when a man is borne of God in the new and heavenly birth, he hath a vehement desire and longing after Gods word, it is marvellous sweete and delectable unto him ... We must labour therefore by reading and hearing the word preached, by meditation and earnest prayer to come to the true understanding and right use of the sacred word of God.'20 According to Thomas Shepard, 'Dish milk and slit milk may convey some nourishment, but breast milk hath spirit going with it; good books may be blessed, but there is not that spirit in them as in lively dispensations of the gospel by ministers themselves.'21 For John Collinges, ministers 'are Fathers and Mothers too, Gal. 4.19. My little Children (saith Paul) with whom I travel in birth, till Christ be formed in you. Gal. 4.29. They are nursing Fathers, and nursing Mothers. The word is the Saints milk. As new born Babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby. 1 Pet. 2.2. If the word be milk, the Ministers mouth is the breast, through which this milk runs into the bowels of the people.'22 John Cotton agreed when he wrote: 'In the hearing of the Word, we are come like New born babes, desiring the sincere milk of the word.'23 This image, an adaptation of I Corinthians 3.1-2, was so common that it provided the title for a series of catechisms by godly ministers. William Crashaw, Henry Jessey, Hugh Peter and John Syme are among the clerics who issued a pamphlet called Milk for Babes or something similar.24 Samuel Crook was said to have 'adminstred ... rationall unadulterated milk for babes in Christ, ... and strong meat for grown men'.25 In a passage disparaging silent ministers, Arthur Hildersham complained that 'it were as intollerable bondage and tyranny to bind Gods people to rest upon the ministry of such as can not instruct them, as it were to compell infants to abide with such nurses as have neither sucke nor foode to give them'.26 Less frequently, ministers working for the reformation of the church might be mid-wives: 'This is the day of the Churches travel, and she hath a hard labour to bring forth a settlement of truth, and reformation: the Ministers of the Gospel are as Midwives, to facilitate the birth.'27 These various roles, each with gendered inflections, were listed in a parenthetical address ad clerum by Joseph Bentham:

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In pastoral terms, Rutherford turned to the attractions of the Bride of Christ on many occasions. There is a considerable gender imbalance in the recipients of this advice, the vast majority directed to his female correspondents. However, this may simply reflect the fact that most of his letters were to women; whether this was a consequence of his spirituality or these circumstances encouraged him to employ the Song of Songs disproportionately is rather a chicken and egg question. In any case, his pastoral work seems to have been very successful, for his work in this area is voluminous. Much of the advice is for patience, a matter of being betrothed rather than being married, the consummation to come on Judgement Day. Marion McNaught was encouraged to 'wait upon the times of the blowing of the sweet south and north wind of His gracious Spirit, that may make you cast a sweet smell in your Beloved's nostrils; and bid your Beloved come down to His garden, and eat of his pleasant fruits' Song of Songs 4.16.45 For Viscountess Kenmure, it is noteworthy that Christ was characterised by a principle part of masculinity, an unmistakeable voice:

For this is the house of wine, where ye meet with your Well-Beloved. Here it is where He kisseth you with the kisses of His mouth, and where ye feel the smell of His garments; and they have indeed a most fragrant and glorious smell. Ye must, I say, wait upon Him, and be often communing with Him, whose lips are as lilies, dropping sweet-smelling myrrh, and by the moving thereof He will assuage your grief; for the Christ that saveth you is a speaking Christ; the Church knoweth Him by His voice Song of Songs 2.8, and can discern His tongue amongst a thousand.46

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I trust your Lord shall remember that, and give you comfort now at such a time as this, wherein your dearest Lord hath made you a widow, that ye shall be a free woman for Christ, who is now suiting for marriage-love of you. And therefore, since you lie alone in your bed, let Christ be as a bundle of myrrh, to sleep and lie all the night betwixt your breasts, Song of Songs 1.13 and then your bed is better filled than before.48

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Part of the attraction of this imagery is that it provided a vivid collection of ways of differentiating between intellectual and 'real' experiences of Christ, the latter clearly being preferable. Stephen Marshall thus identified two forms of the knowledge of spiritual life: the first was theoretical, the second, 'experimental, and practical, and real and convincing. Now the notional knowledge ... by the Common light that accompanies the Ministry of the Word, may break in upon some men; but for the experimental, real inward knowledg of it, they will be strangers to it.'51 Similarly, for Rutherford, those with notional conversion 'talk of Christ by the book and the tongue, and no more; but to come nigh Christ, and hause close with, clasp round the neck Him, and embrace Him, is another thing.'52 This search for experiential veracity makes the sensual nature of many of his comforts more comprehensible. Often it is a matter of the sense of perfume: 'the King's spikenard casteth a fragrant smell Song of Songs 1.12.'53 As a reward for the fact that 'I gave fair warning of all the corruptions now entering into Christ's house,' he received 'many a sweet, sweet, soft kiss, many perfumed, well-smelled kisses, and embracements have I received of my royal Master. He and I have had much love together.'54 On other occasions, the joy is visual: 'My Well-beloved is altogether lovely'; 'one smile of Christ's God-like and soul-ravishing countenance' is beyond any 'worldly price'.55 At its best, closeness to Christ stimulated many of the senses. 'I would seek no more happiness than a sight of Him so near-hand, as to see, hear, smell, and touch, and embrace Him.'56 There was an intense desire for the communion to be without end, almost an impatience that it was not yet so.

Oh, but it is long to that day when I shall have a free world of Christ's love! Oh, what a sight to be up in heaven, in that fair orchard of the new paradise; and to see, and smell, and touch, and kiss, that fair Field-flower, that evergreen Tree of Life! ... Christ, Christ, Christ, nothing but Christ, can cool our love's burning langour. O thirsty love! wilt thou set Christ, the well of life, to thy head, and drink thy fill? Drink, and spare not; drink love, and be drunken with Christ! Nay, alas! the distance betwixt us and Christ is a death. Oh if we were clasped in each] other's arms! We should never twin separate again, except heaven twinned and sundered us; and that cannot be.57

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What heaven can be there liker to hell, than to lust, and green desire, and dwine pine, and fall a swoon for Christ's love, and to want it? Is not this hell and heaven woven through-other? Is not this pain and joy, sweetness and sadness, to be in one web, the one the weft, the other the warp? Therefore, I would that Christ would let us meet and join together, the soul and Christ in each other's arms. Oh what meeting is like this, to see blackness and beauty, contemptibleness and glory, highness and baseness, even a soul and Christ, kiss each other! Nay, but when all is done, I may be wearied in speaking and writing, but, oh, how far am I from the right expression of Christ of His love? I can neither speak nor write feeling, nor tasting, nor smelling: come feel, and smell, and taste Christ and His love, and ye shall call it more than can be spoken. To write how sweet the honeycomb is, is not so lovely as to eat and suck the honeycomb Song of Songs 5.1. One night's rest in a bed of love with Christ will say more than the heart can think, or tongue can utter.59

The sense of failure and an unearned love very clearly links us back to the sense of humility sought after by the godly. The godly self was to be closely watched, enhancing the perception of one's own inadequacy. Thomas Taylor demanded that 'all selfe-respects, selfe-seeking, selfe-aymes must be renounced and the Christian wholly vanish into nothing'.60 Self-denial or, as Stephen Marshall put it, 'continuall self-abhorrency',61 was intended to create a vacuum that might be inhabited by divine plenitude. However, Marshall recognised that the state of selflessness, even with the aid of the Holy Spirit, is an unattainable goal: even a preoccupation with righteousness is a way of life with Self as an end, 'whosoever sic I make use of, it is my self that I set in the throne'. The solution is a degree of denying self-reflexivity: 'study to know what thy sins are, and who thou art, that art a sinner'.62 The disciplines of self-denial and self-examination are designed to turn the necessary condition of selfishness to the creation of a self-abnegating selfhood. For Rutherford, the Song of Songs provided what almost amounts to an escape clause, as a route to, and recognition of dependency and passivity normally unavailable to early modern masculinity.

It comes as no surprise then to find sickness play a part in this search, as we have seen with Samuel Rogers. Rutherford's illness, however, is largely metaphorical. At one point, while he was celebrating Christ's presence, his desire seems almost beyond satiety: 'I have for the present a sick dwining life, with much pain, and much love-sickness for Christ.'63 First in his list of things that moved him 'since it hath pleased my Lord to turn my moon-light into day-light', was the following: 'He hath yoked me to work, to wrestle with Christ's love; of longing wherewith I am sick, pained, fainting, and like to die because I cannot get Himself; which I think a strange sort of desertion. For I have not Himself, whom if I had, my love-sickness would cool, and my fever go away; at least, I should know the heat of the fire of complacency, which would cool the scorching heat of the fire of desire. (And yet I have no penury of His love!) And so I dwine, I die, and He seemeth not to rue take pity on me.'64 The opening masculinist image of wrestling might be noted but there is also a note of unsatisfied desire, an ever-heightened demand, almost a whinge, with an implicit recognition of the desirability of delay. At a later point, the latter is given the emphasis and made more explicit: 'I have a dwining, sickly, and pained life, for a real possession of Him; and am troubled with love-brashes fits and love-fevers; but it is a sweet pain.'65

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I cannot but write to my friends, that Christ hath trysted met me in Aberdeen; and my adversaries have sent me here to be feasted with love banquets with my royal, high, high, and princely King Jesus. Madam, why should I smother Christ's honesty? ... I shall not again quarrel Christ for a gloom frown, now He hath taken the mask of His face, and saith "Kiss thy fill;" and what can I have more when I get great heaven in my little arms? Oh how sweet are the sufferings of Christ for Christ!73

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Scripture also gave Rutherford wine, or drink generally, as a route to passivity and joy, implicitly or explicitly, and in different ways. It was implicit in advice to his female pastoral charges, as in advice to Lady Kenmure, directing her to the 'house of wine, where ye meet with your Well-Beloved.'75 It could be a matter of contrast, when he enthused about 'my Bridegroom's kindness, whose love is better than wine' Song of Songs 1.2.76 At its most positive, he is invited to go to Christ, the well of life, and drink his fill: 'Drink, and spare not; drink love, and be drunken with Christ!'77

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The Scriptural source of most of the Cambuslang nuptial imagery was Isaiah 54.5: 'For thy Maker is thine Husband....' It was the particular favourite of one minister or he preached once on the text very effectively.86 Six out of seven laymen who moved into expressions of gender reversal did so after a sermon by this minister.87 One of the most striking elements that recurs in these accounts is an increased reluctance or an introduction of compensatory actions after embracing the images. One man was in search of a greater humility 'and was in some measure strengthened to resolve upon New obedience, in dependence upon his grace'. In the evening he heard a sermon 'where he described the articles, and terms of a Marriage Covenant Agreement between Christ & Believers in Many particulars; and I found my heart as cheerfully agreeing to every one of them, as ever Bride did to the Articles of a Contract with one to be her Husband'. Later in the evening, however, he reclaimed his masculinity by praying in public with 'courage & strength'.88 Another layman came to meditate on Isa. 54.5 (possibly by association, having heard a sermon on the wedding at Cana in the morning) and felt that his 'heart was melted down with love to God' but, lest he should have proven to be too prone to weakness, he immediately said that it was 'with difficulty that I got my self restrained from shouting aloud from joy.'89 A third layman could be said to have diminished the gender reversal by pluralising the contract, finding comfort in 'the sweetness of that Relation of a Husband he stands in to his People.'90 A younger man moved the nuptial image from centre stage: he 'was made to yeeld up my self in sad spirit & body to be wholly & for ever his, & to make all the Congregation present, as it were, witnesses of my acceptance of him for my Lord & Husband, upon the terms on which He offered himselfe to me,' However, he could only go this far, broadening the image by drawing attention to Christ's other roles as prophet, priest and king.91 For a young unmarried man of 21, the relationship was more complex. After the sermon, 'I felt love to Christ in my soul, & so much joy the sweet kiss of Christ as a husband to my soul,' but his response was 'that the joy of my heart had almost made me cry out among the people, That I was ready to shake hands on the Bargain', that is, to accept Christ as his son-in-law. Later, however, he saw a friend who had been troubled and 'I just flew with my arms about him, & said, such a Minister (12), had married my soul to Christ.' Then he lay down on the hillside and was 'so filled with the love of Christ and contempt of the World, that I even wished, if it were the Lords will, that I might die on the Spot, & never return to the world again', surely a spectacular acceptance of passivity and dependence.92 The last layman had no moments of diffidence; hearing the minister say that 'He was sent to take a wife for his Masters son, asking, if there was any there that wanted to take Christ for their Husband, of bidding them Come, & he would marry them to Christ, after which he laid out the Terms and I found my heart made sweetly to agree with those Terms & found the Evidences he gave of those that were married to Christ wrought in my heart.'93 It could be argued that it is significant that those who made the quickest retreat from their femininity were the older, and married, men, and that those who felt fewer qualms were younger and single and so were more peripheral, had less independence and so took a shorter route to passivity and dependence but this is a matter of difference of degree rather than of kind.

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15 John Collinges, Elisha's Lamentation for Elijah (1657) pp. 6, 8, quotes from pp. 18, 7. A belweather, bellwether is a large castrated sheep.

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23 John Cotton, A Practical Commentary, or an Exposition... on John (1656) p. 338.

24 William Dickinson, Milk for babes. The English Catechisme, Set Downe in the common-Prayer Booke, Briefly explaned (1628); William Crashaw, Milke for Babes. Or, a North-countrie Catechisme. Made Plaine to the Capacitie of the Countrie People (1618); Hugh Peter, Milk for Babes, and Meat for Men (1630); John Syme, The Sweet Milke of Christian Doctrine: in Question and Answer (1617); Robert Abbot, Milk for Babes (1646); Henry Jessey, A Catechisme for Babes (1652); John Cotton, Milk for Babes (1646); idem, Spirituall Milk for Babes (1668). John Carter published a work called Milk for Children, which has not survived: Samuel Clarke, A Collection of the Lives of Ten Eminent Divines and some Other Christians (1662) p. 7.

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33 For instances and some analysis, see Bynum, 'Women's stories, Women's Symbols,' p. 48; Porterfield, Female Piety, p. 15; M. G. Mason, 'The Other Voice: Autobiographies of Women Writers,' in J. Olney (ed.), Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical (Princeton, NJ, 1980) p. 213; M. B. Rose, 'Gender, Genre and History: Seventeenth-Century English Women and the Art of Autobiography,' in eadem (ed.), Women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: Literary and Historical Perspectives (Syracuse, N.Y., 1986) pp. 261-2; W. Martin, 'Anne Bradstreet's Poetry: a Study of Subversive Poetry,' in S. M. Gilbert and S. Gubar (eds.), Shakespeare's Sister: Feminist Essays of Women Poets (Bloomington, Ind., 1979) pp. 21-2. In particular, see Purkiss, 'Producing the voice,' pp. 143-5.

34 Queen's University Belfast Percy Ms 7 f. 310.

35 Percy Ms 7 ff. 319, 313.

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