This poem is about Christ the lover welcoming someone who feels so unworthy. The sinner feels unworthy and the prayer book reminds us that we sinful and justified. This poem takes this idea a step further. It is Christ's love which draws us nearer and nearer. He reaches out to the sinner; the guest at the inn. We have displayed here, the welcoming heart of God. This is a profoundly biblical poem but then Herbert did spend both morning and evening with the scriptures.
The second stanza echoes Exodus 33 - Moses' encounter with God. The God at whom we dare not look, takes our hand. Though we are dust and sin, he holds us. He loves us and redeems us. There is the language of touch. We have an image of a very tender God.
Later we have allusions to the sacraments.
Christ the lover replies – no – look who bore the blame – the substitutionary nature of the atonement is beautifully expressed. It expresses carefully what Christ has done for us.
We need a similarly tender touch. If we are to imitate Christ, then we are to be equally welcoming to those who would prefer to hide their faces or have had their faces and voices hidden through no fault of their own. People need to know that God welcomes them and he wants them to be there.
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd anything.
A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinds, ungrateful? Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love too my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare then I will serve.
You must sit down sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.