When the prophet Isaiah was caught up to heaven, he heard the antiphonal chorus of seraphim, singing:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts,
the whole earth is filled with glory!” (Isaiah 6:3)
The Apostle Paul was given a similar vision:
“Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’.” (Acts 9:3-5)
The scales had fallen from Paul’s eyes and he saw what the seraphim see: the whole earth is filled with the glory of Christ, even the dusty road to Damascus. When he wrote his own hymn to Christ in Colossians 1:15-20, he exalted the One by whom, through whom, and for whom all things were created. Christ is before all things and is preeminent in all things. In him, all things hold together.
Once the scales had fallen from his eyes, Paul lived every moment of life in the light from heaven, in view of the glory of Christ, because “Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). For this reason, he exhorts us, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). This sanctified vision of the world and daily life is presented to us in George Herbert’s poem, The Elixir. “Elixir” is a term that comes from the ancient and medieval practice of alchemy. People in the ancient and medieval world were obsessed with alchemy. The goal of alchemy was to discover a special stone, known as the “philosophers stone,” which could be ground up into a powder or “elixir” and mixed in a liquid such as alcohol to produce a “tincture.” If the right recipe was found, it was believed that the tincture could turn base metals into precious metals, cure diseases, and even grant immortality.
Herbert uses the vocabulary of alchemy to give poetic expression to Paul’s sanctified and Christ-centered vision of life. In my next note to the church, I’ll offer my thoughts on the poem. For now, I leave it with you, for your reading and rumination, and I encourage you to discuss it with one another.