"Rattle his bones over the stones;
he's only a pauper, whom nobody owns!"
This quote comes from a poem by Thomas Noel (1799 - 1861) entitled The Pauper's Drive. It was referenced in the opening chapter of the recently published book by Neil Gaiman: The Graveyard Book. This rapid little reference kindled my curiosity to read the rest of the rhyme. So I looked it up. By the way, I was first intrigued about both the rhyme and the book by reading this post by Dr. Hodges.
The poem is a short 6 stanza story describing the doleful delivery of this penniless pauper recently deceased to his grim and gloomy grave. No mass of mourners line the roads to rue his resignation from our realm. No elegant eulogies are offered to accompany his entrance into eternity. Only the dreadful dirge of the driver as he regularly repeats "rattle his bones over the stones; he's only a pauper, whom nobody owns!"
To quote directly from this sad sonnet of sorts:
"Oh, where are the mourners? alas! there are none; -
He has left not a gap in this world now he's gone;
Not a tear in the eye of child, woman or man;
To the grave with his carcase as fast as you can"
But in the closing verse of this melancholy measure the author offers an alternative appraisal of this pauper's prognosis
"Bear softly his bones over the stones; Though a pauper, he's one whom his Maker yet owns!"
And it was in this final statement that my mind began to think of the great and glorious advantage obtained by this poor pauper at his passing. Whatever his aridity on earth, it cannot compare to his abundance in glory. If he was, in fact, "owned" by his Maker, then methinks he cares not that he was "disowned" by men. His rags he replaced for riches, his want for wealth, his begging for bounty.
Only a Pauper? Only Paupers go to Paradise. "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of Heaven" (Luke 6:20). Now the poverty of which our Savior speaks is of a spiritual sort. He calls it "poor in spirit" in Matthew's gospel. It is, what one Puritan author describes thus "It is to look with a holy contempt upon ourselves, to value others and undervalue ourselves in comparison of them." (Matthew Henry).
O my soul...have you this pauper's posture, have you his humble heart? Would you willingly be that limited Lazarus of whom Jesus spoke in Luke 16: "But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores (vs. 20-21)." Would you gladly have his portion in life in exchange for his portion in death? "So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom (vs. 22)." What matters more to me? The things of this world...or the things of the world to come? Do I live for treasure on earth...or do I long for treasure in heaven (Mark 10:21)?
But this rhyme does also remind me of the One Great Pauper to whom we owe the salvation of our souls. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). It is hard to be born poor...but harder yet to become poor. And will you, dear reader, give thy heart to this praise-worthy Pauper? Will you own Him now so that He will own you later? Be assured, my friend, this Pauper is poor no more! "Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name..." (Philippians 2:9)
Only a Pauper? Dear reader, shall you have your riches now? Then you shall have thy poverty later. But should you choose to be poor with Christ today...you shall be rich with Him tomorrow.