Explication on "The Windows"
"The Windows," by George Herbert, was written quite masterfully. This poem shows how the power of God influences
the congregation through seeing and hearing. These two senses are illustrated by comparing preachers to windows. Herbert ingeniously shows that by the grace of God, man can become a window through which the glory of God shines, as the window transmit light.
The poem begins with a simple, yet profound question. How can man preach your eternal word? The Bible informs us that man is inherently evil. In the Book of Romans (3:23), it said, "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Herbert wonders how a sinful man can preach God's eternal word. This "word" is Jesus Christ because in the first sentence of the Book of John, it tells us that "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Later, this "Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory(1:14)." Since the "word" is Jesus Christ, then "eternal" is just a characteristic of Jesus Christ's nature. After all, Herbert believed that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and will return during the rapture. In light of this, Herbert asks his readers how a sinful man can shed light about Jesus Christ to his congregation(other sinful men).
Besides man being evil in nature, he is also "a brittle, crazy glass." From the second line until the end of the poem, Herbert begins comparing man to a glass/window. Crazy in the 17th century means flawed. Therefore, man is fragile and flawed. Why would God want a fragile, distorted creature to preach about His glory, Jesus Christ? This question was left unanswered by Herbert.
Instead, Herbert writes, "yet in thy temple thou dost him afford this glorious and transcendent place, to be a window through thy grace." It means that by God's grace man was given a position in the church, despite his unqualified standards. The temple is referred to the church, and "glorious and transcendent" are its characteristics. "Glorious" is used because God is given glory through praise and worship from the congregation. "Transcendent" describes the church because God is beyond comprehension. Therefore, the preacher must attempt to explain God's will to the congregation so that they may give glory to Him.
Despite the fact that man is "brittle and flawed," yet by God's grace, God can afford to have man preach His word. Man was described as a brittle and flawed window in the first stanza. However, in the second stanza, these windows change. "But when thou dost anneal in glass thy story, making thy life to shine within the holy preachers, then the light and glory more reverend grows and more doth win." To "anneal in glass the story," means to use intense heat to put the story into the window. There are many stories in the windows of churches, but one stands out the most. It is the story of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. By suffering intensely on the cross, Christ took away our sin, thus making us clean and holy. Thereby, preachers were cleanse and able to preach God's message. Another theme involves the heat that is needed to make the window shine by annealing the story of Jesus's suffering on the cross. Since holy preachers are windows, then they must undergo much suffering to shine like one. This suffering might involve living a Godly life, practice giving sermons, and serving the congregation. By suffering and letting God change their life, preachers may shine brighter, like a church's window, and win more souls. In the Book of Matthew(5:16) it said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." Therefore, by pursuing the life of Christ, preachers may shine brighter and thus bring glory to God. If a preacher shines bright, then the dark(evil) world may see the light. This would ultimately lead more people to believe (more doth win). However, it warns that if preachers pursue a life unlike the sufferings of Christ, then they are just "wat'rish, bleak, and thin." These descriptions have no substance, just like an evil preacher. This tells us that only preachers who give their life completely to God and pursue the life of Christ will have a positive effect in their ministries.
Finally, the last stanza concludes the poem by summarizing what was said. "Doctrine and life, colors and light, in one when they combine and mingle, bring a strong regard and awe; but speech alone doth vanish like a flaring thing, and in the ear, not conscience ring." "Doctrine and life" refers to theology and living behavior of the preacher. This may mean the content or the delivering of sermons, nonetheless, it involves the sense of hearing. "Color and light" refers to the impact of the window on people, mainly through the sense of seeing. When these two elements, seeing and hearing, are combined, then there exists a preacher that has good theology, good living example, and effective preaching. The effective preaching comes from God because "color and light" of windows are annealed not by man, but by God. Also, it is the color and light of windows that attract people. Therefore, with these combinations, there is a "strong regard and awe" to God, through the preacher. However, the combination of these elements are not physical, but supernatural. Therefore, it is the spirit of God (Holy Spirit) that makes these two senses work together.
However, with only speech alone, the message is not effective at all. Notice that the word flaring is used, illustrating that light momentarily shines. This means that the "light" is temporary and will disappear. To shine temporarily means that there are periods where the preacher is in the dark. How can this blind preacher lead other blind people out of the dark and into the light? This flaring effect may be an evil preacher who's ministry is essentially useless because he can not shine constantly. His sermons go in and come right back out of the ear, the "conscience" does not hear it. Herbert is informing preachers that one must life with "doctrine, life, color, and light to win souls. Preachers are evil, but by God's grace, they are given a chance to be involved with God's ministries. However, one must live the life and constantly rely on God to combine these two senses together. If preachers defile this, then the people who listen to the sermons will not understand it. I believe that this poem stresses that God is the one who makes things work. Even though a preacher may have the most persuasive sermons, without God, the congregation is not moved. It wants not only preachers to rely on God, but also every believer. After all, Jesus Christ is not the only figure on windows, there are also Saints. Maybe Herbert wants us all to be a modern Saint that will be on a church or God's window someday.