Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne

XIII. Ingeniumque malum, numeroso stigmate, fassus Pellitur ad pectus, morbique suburbia, morbus.

The sickness declares the infection and malignity thereof by spots.

XIII. Meditation.

We say that the world is made of sea and land, as though they were equal; but we know that there is more sea in the Western than in the Eastern hemisphere. We say that the firmament is full of stars, as though it were equally full; but we know that there are more stars under the Northern than under the Southern pole. We say the elements of man are misery and happiness, as though he had an equal proportion of both, and the days of man vicissitudinary, as though he had as many good days as ill, and that he lived under a perpetual equinoctial, night and day equal, good and ill fortune in the same measure. But it is far from that; he drinks misery, and he tastes happiness; he mows misery, and he gleans happiness; he journeys in misery, he does but walk in happiness; and, which is worst, his misery is positive and dogmatical, his happiness is but disputable and problematical: all men call misery misery, but happiness changes the name by the taste of man. In this accident that befalls me, now that this sickness declares itself by spots to be a malignant and pestilential disease, if there be a comfort in the declaration, that thereby the physicians see more clearly what to do, there may be as much discomfort in this, that the malignity may be so great as that all that they can do shall do nothing; that an enemy declares himself then, when he is able to subsist, and to pursue, and to achieve his ends, is no great comfort. In intestine conspiracies, voluntary confessions do more good than confessions upon the rack; in these infections, when nature herself confesses and cries out by these outward declarations which she is able to put forth of herself, they minister comfort; but when all is by the strength of cordials, it is but a confession upon the rack, by which, though we come to know the malice of that man, yet we do not know whether there be not as much malice in his heart then as before his confession; we are sure of his treason, but not of his repentance; sure of him, but not of his accomplices. It is a faint comfort to know the worst when the worst is remediless, and a weaker than that to know much ill, and not to know that that is the worst. A woman is comforted with the birth of her son, her body is eased of a burden; but if she could prophetically read his history, how ill a man, perchance how ill a son, he would prove, she should receive a greater burden into her mind. Scarce any purchase that is not clogged with secret incumbrances; scarce any happiness that hath not in it so much of the nature of false and base money, as that the allay is more than the metal. Nay, is it not so (at least much towards it) even in the exercise of virtues? I must be poor and want before I can exercise the virtue of gratitude; miserable, and in torment, before I can exercise the virtue of patience. How deep do we dig, and for how coarse gold! And what other touchstone have we of our gold but comparison, whether we be as happy as others, or as ourselves at other times? O poor step toward being well, when these spots do only tell us that we are worse than we were sure of before.

XIII. Expostulation.

My God, my God, thou hast made this sick bed thine altar, and I have no other sacrifice to offer but myself; and wilt thou accept no spotted sacrifice? Doth thy Son dwell bodily in this flesh that thou shouldst look for an unspottedness here? or is the Holy Ghost the soul of this body, as he is of thy spouse, who is therefore all fair, and no spot in her?185 or hath thy Son himself no spots, who hath all our stains and deformities in him? or hath thy spouse, thy church, no spots, when every particular limb of that fair and spotless body, every particular soul in that church, is full of stains and spots? Thou bidst us hate the garment that is spotted with the flesh.186 The flesh itself is the garment, and it spotteth itself with itself. And if I wash myself with snow water, mine own clothes shall make me abominable;187 and yet no man yet ever hated his own flesh.188 Lord, if thou look for a spotlessness, whom wilt thou look upon? Thy mercy may go a great way in my soul and yet not leave me without spots; thy corrections may go far and burn deep, and yet not leave me spotless: thy children apprehended that, when they said, From our former iniquity we are not cleansed until this day, though there was a plague in the congregation of the Lord.189 Thou rainest upon us, and yet dost not always mollify all our hardness; thou kindlest thy fires in us, and yet dost not always burn up all our dross; thou healest our wounds, and yet leavest scars; thou purgest the blood, and yet leavest spots. But the spots that thou hatest are the spots that we hide. The carvers of images cover spots,190 says the wise man; when we hide our spots, we become idolators of our own stains, of our own foulnesses. But if my spots come forth, by what means soever, whether by the strength of nature, by voluntary confession (for grace is the nature of a regenerate man, and the power of grace is the strength of nature), or by the virtue of cordials (for even thy corrections are cordials), if they come forth either way, thou receivest that confession with a gracious interpretation. When thy servant Jacob practised an invention to procure spots in his sheep,191 thou didst prosper his rods; and thou dost prosper thine own rods, when corrections procure the discovery of our spots, the humble manifestation of our sins to thee; till then thou mayst justly say, The whole need not the physician;192 till we tell thee in our sickness we think ourselves whole, till we show our spots, thou appliest no medicine. But since I do that, shall I not, Lord, lift up my face without spot, and be steadfast, and not fear?193 Even my spots belong to thy Son’s body, and are part of that which he came down to this earth to fetch, and challenge, and assume to himself. When I open my spots I do but present him with that which is his; and till I do so, I detain and withhold his right. When therefore thou seest them upon me, as his, and seest them by this way of confession, they shall not appear to me as the pinches of death, to decline my fear to hell (for thou hast not left thy holy one in hell, thy Son is not there); but these spots upon my breast, and upon my soul, shall appear to me as the constellations of the firmament, to direct my contemplation to that place where thy Son is, thy right hand.

XIII. Prayer.

O eternal and most gracious God, who as thou givest all for nothing, if we consider any precedent merit in us, so givest nothing for nothing, if we consider the acknowledgment and thankfulness which thou lookest for after, accept my humble thanks, both for thy mercy, and for this particular mercy, that in thy judgment I can discern thy mercy, and find comfort in thy corrections. I know, O Lord, the ordinary discomfort that accompanies that phrase, that the house is visited, and that, that thy marks and thy tokens are upon the patient; but what a wretched and disconsolate hermitage is that house which is not visited by thee, and what a waif and stray is that man that hath not thy marks upon him? These heats, O Lord, which thou hast brought upon this body, are but thy chafing of the wax, that thou mightst seal me to thee: these spots are but the letters in which thou hast written thine own name and conveyed thyself to me; whether for a present possession, by taking me now, or for a future reversion, by glorifying thyself in my stay here, I limit not, I condition not, I choose not, I wish not, no more than the house or land that passeth by any civil conveyance. Only be thou ever present to me, O my God, and this bedchamber and thy bedchamber shall be all one room, and the closing of these bodily eyes here, and the opening of the eyes of my soul there, all one act.

182 Psalm xci. 13.

183 Ezek. vii. 16.

184 Ezek. xxxvii. 3.

185 Cant. iv. 7.

186 Jude, 23.

187 Job, ix. 30

188 Eph. v. 29

189 Josh. xxii. 17

190 Wisd. xiii. 14

191 Gen. xxx. 33

192 Matt. ix. 12

193 Job, xi. 15.

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37