The opening six stanzas show Willie praising God and being thankful for his place as one of the Elect. In these stanzas Burns ridicules the belief of extreme Calvinism, which he detested. Willie’s God is a monster and Willie’s devotion to him requires callousness and inhumanity.
In Stanza one, Burns emphasises the arbitrary nature of Willie’s God, someone who condemns people for his
glory, who uses his power to keep the vast majority of people
in nicht. There is hyperbole in Willie’s approving comment that God
Sends ane to Heaven an' ten to Hell and irony in the picture of a God so eager to condemn. The Standard Habbie’s ending, on a flourish, underlines the ridiculously unchristian nature of a God who judges people
And no’ for onie guid or ill/ They’ ve done afore Thee!
From Willie’s point of view, there is little point in praising God’s judgement if he does not benefit personally from it. Note that, though these opening stanzas are apparently about God, Willie features in five of them.
Thousands are condemned but he has
grace and is
A burning and a shining light, a Biblical metaphor suggesting his inspirational qualities.
In Stanza four, Burns emphasises how disturbing the extreme Calvinist views are, by presenting Willie’s visualisation of babies going straight to Hell from birth. Willie is grateful and pleased he does not have to
gnash my gums, and weep, and wail/In burnin lakes.
Gums is the detail that reminds us that this is what all babies do when hungry or upset. The fate of sinners in Hell is simply superimposed on an innocent daily event, reinforcing the horror of this being God’s plan for babies.
In Stanza five, Willie reveals his extremely smug and self-praising attitude, beginning
Yet I am here, a chosen sample. Note that his comfortable view of himself is juxtaposed with the horrors of the sinners’ fate in Stanza four. God’s
grace is great and ample only because it includes Willie, who then goes on to list some of his symbolic roles in the Kirk. The feminine rhyme of
temple help to create a flow of praise which ends on the short line where Willie tells God he is
strong as a rock. In the New Testament St Peter is the metaphorical rock the church is founded on and Willie believes he is the equal of any saint.