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Captain of My Soul

In 1875, a relatively unknown poet penned the words that would cement his place in literary history. William Ernest Henley, recovering from an amputation, wrote the poem that would become known as InvictusPublished without title in 1888, its final stanza still echoes well over a century later.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

The famous philosopher Oscar Wilde wrote the following letter 9 years later after being imprisoned for “gross indecency.” I wonder if Henley’s poem was reverberating in his mind when he wrote it:

The gods had given me almost everything. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social position, brilliancy, intellectual daring: I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art: I altered the minds of men and the color of things: There was nothing I said or did that did not make people wonder…

Tired of being on the heights I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensations. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetops… I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I ended in horrible disgrace.”1

Wilde discovered that taking control of one’s own soul means removing it from the hands of the only capable pilot. What initially seemed like stunning levels of autonomy and freedom became disaster when the currents of his fallen nature led him into unsafe waters – ending in shipwreck.2

“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”3

P.S.4


  1. De Profundis – “From the Depths” []
  2. I Timothy 1:19 (NLT) “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.” []
  3. James 1:14-15 []
  4. I came so close to naming this post, “Jesus Take the Wheel,” but I just couldn’t… []

More Love to Thee

The following hymn, which gained popularity during the 1870’s, was written by Elizabeth Prentiss after two of her children died suddenly of illness in 1856.

Elizabeth, struggling with thoughts of God’s unfairness and in profound grief, was told by her husband that, “Love can keep the soul from going blind.”  Understanding that God is love, and seeing that increased devotion toward him was the solution to her grief, she penned the following verses that would become part of the widely published hymn, “More Love to Thee.”

Once earthly joy I craved,
Sought peace and rest;
Now Thee alone I seek,
Give what is best;
This all my prayer shall be:
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee,
More love to Thee!

Let sorrow do its work,
Send grief and pain,
Sweet are Thy messengers,
Sweet their refrain.
When they can sing with me:
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee,
More love to Thee!

I have been asking the Lord to draw me closer to him, but secretly hoping that it would not involve stress, pain, or struggle. Shortly before reading the above hymn, I read in Hebrews 12:5-11 the following instructions:

And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:

‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;  For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.’

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Possibly the Lord is preparing me for chastening, or considering my recent discouragement, helping me through it. Verses 12-13 follow with this encouragement:

Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.