The Puritan Epic Poetess: Why Christians Should Read Lucy Hutchinson’s ‘Order and Disorder’

3. Suggesting How to Preach Scripture Fruitfully

A final reason why Christians – especially those who teach – should read Lucy Hutchinson’s Order and Disorder is that her treatment of Scripture suggests how our preaching can be made more fruitful. Three suggestions arise. They are not new, but they are nonetheless helpful: seeing the gospel in OT texts; drawing instruction from non-imperative scripture; and valuing imagination in preaching scripture.

3a. Using the Old Testament as Christian Scripture

Christians by conviction believe that the OT must be read not simply according to its historical circumstances, but also ‘proleptically’ as fulfilled in Jesus – anticipating in the text something that has not happened yet. Christians commonly do expect the OT should function in this way.[14]

Lucy Hutchinson picks up elements of Genesis 1-3 that are not as often considered in this way and shows us how they foreshadow the gospel. One prominent example is seen in the creation of Eve (III.467-502).[15] Here, having been introduced to sleeping Adam (cf. Gen. 2:21-22), we are directed to look far into the future to see the second Adam, from whose “bleeding side / God form’d the Gospel Church, his mystique Bride” (III.467-8), and thus seeing in the creation of Eve from Adam’s side the creation of the church – the metaphorical bride – from the bleeding side of Christ – the metaphorical bridegroom. What follows this are some reflections on the manner in which Jesus’ sufferings convey life, the spousal love he has for his people, the benefits gained by union with him and the unashamed ‘nakedness’ in which we may stand before Jesus. Scripture references in the margins abound, and invite further reflection on the gospel-significance of Adam and Eve’s pre-fall bliss.

3b. Acquiring Instruction in Christian Faith and Living

Order and Disorder is also valuable to Christian readers and preachers because it suggests ways in which the OT instructs us who live under the New Covenant. Hutchinson aims to tutor her readers, often addressing them and herself as a collective ‘we’ who must learn proper faith and practice from what we see in the text of Genesis.

Lessons can be often more ‘mundane’ than spiritual, concerned more with the everyday conduct of men and women as spouses and parents and employees. This is important for preachers to remember – while it might be easy for any given preacher to emphasize either everyday instruction or spiritual instruction (hopefully not neither!), Order and Disorder gives us examples of both.

When considering the delay in God’s punishment on the errant Adam and Eve, Hutchinson sees invitation to seek God’s mercy, and instruction to wait as long as it takes to receive that clemency which is available nowhere else (IV.341-44). She holds that such an experience of knowing God’s frown without his smile is important, so that we “know the excellence, / and taste the pleasantness of pardoning grace, / that we may it with fuller joy embrace” (IV.358-60). She explains the purpose in this is that “God at first reveals not all his grace, / that men more ardently may seek his face” (IV.365-66), and encourages readers to remember that “As still the Sun’s the same behind the clouds, / Such is God’s love, which his kind anger shrouds” (IV.369-70). Instructions such as these provide direction to preachers and pastors and all believers in guiding distressed seekers of God toward him.

When we come to the curses brought upon the serpent and Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:14-19), we discover instructions of a more domestic nature. Hutchinson first draws out their significance (V.57-192) before considering instruction that can be taken from them (V.193-258). From the curse on the serpent,

       Our first injunction is to hate and flee

       The flatteries of our first grand enemy;

       To have no friendship with his cursed race,

       The int’rest of the opposite seed t’ embrace (V.213-16).[16]

From the curse upon Eve (V.221-36), she draws encouragement for mothers to have children despite the various pains that attend motherhood, and that wives should love their husbands, serving them out of desire instead of duty.[17] When she comes to instruct from Adam’s curse (V.237-258), she asks men to make sure they work for their bread, and not to live off others’ work in the manner of drones (male bees), and directs our attention in the margins to 1Th. 4:11-12 and 2Th. 3:12. She also draws the suggestion that “bread should recompense our industry” (V.242), perhaps as a veiled hint that employers should give fair pay. Later, in an imaginary discussion between Adam and Eve on the outside of Eden,[18] she provides instruction and motivation to husbands and wives to find mutual care and support in each other rather than berating each other or allowing their spouse to deal with life’s struggles as if alone (V.579-596).

Order and Disorder provides suggestions for ways we can draw instruction from scripture, where it is not already explicit, and reminds us to search for both ‘everyday’ and ‘spiritual’ imperatives for those we teach.

3c. Developing the Poetic Imagination for Preaching

Lastly, Hutchinson’s epic encourages us to use our imagination when preaching. She does not endorse fanciful flights of unrestrained imagination,[19] but demonstrates how we can remain grounded in the text of Scripture and also meditatively stimulate a pastorally fertile yet scripturally faithful Christian imagination. Examples permeate Order and Disorder. The creation of the stars called to Hutchinson’s mind the star over Bethlehem (II.200-01). The creation of birds prompted several lessons in character and piety (II.294-319). In a discourse on angels (I.247-296) she marshals a host of biblical texts which both resourced and constrained her angelology.

A more sustained example of this is found in Eve’s speech lamenting her guilt and shame at her role in their expulsion from Eden. As Eve considers the varying ills she now experiences, Hutchinson uses Eve’s eyes as a rhetorical tool to both ‘look around’ at these ills while also providing an anchor point that retains our attention on Eve herself. As you read the following passage, notice how Eve’s eyes look up, down, around, before, behind and lastly, upon Adam:

       Whereever I my eyes, or thoughts convert,

       Each object adds new tortures to my heart.

       If I look up, I dread heavens threatning frown,

       Thorns prick my eyes, when shame hath cast them down,

       Dangers I see, looking on either hand,

       Before me all in fighting posture stand.

       If I cast back my sorrow-drowned eyes,

       I see our ne’re to be recover’d Paradise,

      The flaming Sword which doth us thence exclude,

      By sad remorse and ugly guilt pursued.

       If I on thee a private glance reflect,

      Confusion doth my shameful eyes deject,

      Seeing the man I love by me betray’d,

      By me, who for his mutual help was made,

      Who to preserve thy life ought to have died,

       And I have kill’d thee by my foolish pride (V.421-37).

This excerpt from Order and Disorder shows us a way we can vary the angles by which we consider an idea, as we work out how to present it fruitfully to a congregation.[20] Preaching like this helps preachers to remain interesting. Unifying threads such as Eve’s eyes in this passage help to keep an audience’s attention fixed on a central idea while we shift the perspectives from which the idea is presented.[21]

Order and Disorder carries much value for preaching. It demonstrates ways that Old Covenant texts can be instructive for New Covenant faith, as well as for the more ‘mundane’ aspects of everyday life. The imaginative treatment of many aspects of Genesis 1-3 also supply us with numerous examples of how exposition (in whatever form) can present biblical material in a manner more creative and arresting than mere explanation is able to be.