Poetry of Redemption: An Illustrated Treasury of Good Friday and Easter Poems, by Leland Ryken. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2023. $17.99, paper.

Ryken’s latest work, Poetry of Redemption, selects Psalms, hymns, and spiritual poems (Eph. 5.19) that invite the reader on a devotional journey. Beginning on Palm Sunday, the seven sections walk through the days of this extraordinary week, culminating in the resurrection of our Lord. Although the book’s title mentions Easter, the selections can be used for any time frame. Meditating on the indicative works of Christ in this devotional collection of verse encourages us to apply the imperatives of Christ’s glorious gospel every day of the year.

Sound theology is conveyed through the hymns Ryken has chosen. I recall early in my Christian life, gathering with fellow undergraduates in meetings organized by the Navigators at Michigan State University. Such gatherings always began with the exuberant singing of classic hymns, many of which are in this collection. Besides learning to sing together, we also learned theology, though none of us realized it at the time. All of us profited from singing the truth about Christ’s work, as in this selection by Bernard of Clairvaux’s “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”:

What language shall I borrow
To thank thee, dearest Friend,
For this thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love to thee.

Readers benefit from Dr. Ryken’s almost fifty years of studying and teaching literature at Wheaton College. With skill and craft, he orders the selections clearly and elegantly, providing his own insights. The helpful index at the beginning of the book offers a roadmap to help get the lay of the land before beginning the journey. Ryken provides some of the very best devotional poetry written. He includes two of the most famous of John Donne’s works and four of George Herbert’s finest, including “Love”:

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

Many readers will find Ryken’s Holy Week architecture helpful as they prepare for Easter or anytime a reader longs to engage in a time of contemplation of the work of our Lord. This devotional approach is a strength of the volume.

While recognizing the usefulness of this volume, including the brilliant pieces of art selected to accompany the devotional verse, I have one caution.

The selection “Shall Grace Not Find Means?” from Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) seems a curious choice for this volume. Milton wrote poetry as well as theology (e.g., De Doctrina Christiana, 1825), and it is well accepted that his most famous work, Paradise Lost, reflects his Arianism and supralapsarianism throughout. Although Dr. Ryken comments on this selection, referring to “intra-trinitarian dialogue,” my interpretation of this Miltonian passage reflects a subordinated, unequal role for Jesus as the Son. Paradise Lost is deservedly one of the most revered poems in the English poetry canon, and I can understand wanting to include a passage by Milton. However, it seems theologically confusing in a book dedicated to the Easter-week work of the second person of our Trinitarian God.

Dr. Ryken has, once again, used his many talents and skills to give us another volume focused on helping us appreciate the beauty of poetic writing. Readers will find this both fruitful and delightful in a devotional format focused on the Holy Week in the Christian calendar.

Mark A. Green is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as the President and CEO of Sola Media in San Diego, California. Ordained Servant Online, April, 2023.

Publication Information

Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

Editorial address: Dr. Gregory Edward Reynolds,
827 Chestnut St.
Manchester, NH 03104-2522
Telephone: 603-668-3069

Electronic mail: reynolds.1@opc.org

Submissions, Style Guide, and Citations


Editorial Policies

Copyright information

Ordained Servant: April 2023

Public Aid?

Also in this issue

Christians, Churches, and Public Aid, Part 1

The Voice of the Good Shepherd: The Primacy of Preaching: A Biblical Overview, Chapter 3 [1]

Commentary on the Book of Discipline of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapter 4B

Letters to a Younger Ruling Elder, No. 4: Prayer Work

Can Biblical Exposition Be Beautiful and Powerful? A Review Article

Illustrating Well: Preaching Sermons that Connect, by Jim L. Wilson

Death Is but a Comma

Download PDFDownload MobiDownload ePubArchive


+1 215 830 0900

Contact Form

Find a Church