Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne

XIV. Idque notant criticis medici evenisse diebus.

The physicians observe these accidents to have fallen upon the critical days.

XIV. Meditation.

I would not make man worse than he is, nor his condition more miserable than it is. But could I though I would? As a man cannot flatter God, nor overpraise him, so a man cannot injure man, nor undervalue him. Thus much must necessarily be presented to his remembrance, that those false happinesses which he hath in this world, have their times, and their seasons, and their critical days; and they are judged and denominated according to the times when they befall us. What poor elements are our happinesses made of, if time, time which we can scarce consider to be any thing, be an essential part of our happiness! All things are done in some place; but if we consider place to be no more but the next hollow superficies of the air, alas! how thin and fluid a thing is air, and how thin a film is a superficies, and a superficies of air! All things are done in time too, but if we consider time to be but the measure of motion, and howsoever it may seem to have three stations, past, present, and future, yet the first and last of these are not (one is not now, and the other is not yet), and that which you call present, is not now the same that it was when you began to call it so in this line (before you sound that word present, or that monosyllable now, the present and the now is past). If this imaginary, half-nothing time, be of the essence of our happinesses, how can they be thought durable? Time is not so; how can they be thought to be? Time is not so; not so considered in any of the parts thereof. If we consider eternity, into that time never entered; eternity is not an everlasting flux of time, but time is a short parenthesis in a long period; and eternity had been the same as it is, though time had never been. If we consider, not eternity, but perpetuity; not that which had no time to begin in, but which shall outlive time, and be when time shall be no more, what a minute is the life of the durablest creature compared to that! and what a minute is man’s life in respect of the sun’s, or of a tree? and yet how little of our life is occasion, opportunity to receive good in; and how little of that occasion do we apprehend and lay hold of? How busy and perplexed a cobweb is the happiness of man here, that must be made up with a watchfulness to lay hold upon occasion, which is but a little piece of that which is nothing, time? and yet the best things are nothing without that. Honours, pleasures, possessions, presented to us out of time? in our decrepit and distasted and unapprehensive age, lose their office, and lose their name; they are not honours to us that shall never appear, nor come abroad into the eyes of the people, to receive honour from them who give it; nor pleasures to us, who have lost our sense to taste them; nor possessions to us, who are departing from the possession of them. Youth is their critical day, that judges them, that denominates them, that inanimates and informs them, and makes them honours, and pleasures, and possessions; and when they come in an unapprehensive age, they come as a cordial when the bell rings out, as a pardon when the head is off. We rejoice in the comfort of fire, but does any man cleave to it at midsummer? We are glad of the freshness and coolness of a vault, but does any man keep his Christmas there; or are the pleasures of the spring acceptable in autumn? If happiness be in the season, or in the climate, how much happier then are birds than men, who can change the climate and accompany and enjoy the same season ever.

XIV. Expostulation.

My God, my God, wouldst thou call thyself the ancient of days,194 if we were not to call ourselves to an account for our days? Wouldst thou chide us for standing idle here all the day,195 if we were sure to have more days to make up our harvest? When thou bidst us take no thought for to-morrow, for sufficient unto the day (to every day) is the evil thereof,196 is this truly, absolutely, to put off all that concerns the present life? When thou reprehendest the Galatians by thy message to them, That they observed days, and months, and times, and years,197 when thou sendest by the same messenger to forbid the Colossians all critical days, indicatory days, Let no man judge you in respect of a holy day, or of a new moon, or of a sabbath,198 dost thou take away all consideration, all distinction of days? Though thou remove them from being of the essence of our salvation, thou leavest them for assistances, and for the exaltation of our devotion, to fix ourselves, at certain periodical and stationary times, upon the consideration of those things which thou hast done for us, and the crisis, the trial, the judgment, how those things have wrought upon us and disposed us to a spiritual recovery and convalescence. For there is to every man a day of salvation. Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation,199 and there is a great day of thy wrath,200 which no man shall be able to stand in; and there are evil days before, and therefore thou warnest us and armest us, Take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand in the evil day.201 So far then our days must be critical to us, as that by consideration of them, we may make a judgment of our spiritual health, for that is the crisis of our bodily health. Thy beloved servant, St. John, wishes to Gaius, that he may prosper in his health, so as his soul prospers;202 for if the soul be lean the marrow of the body is but water; if the soul wither, the verdure and the good estate of the body is but an illusion and the goodliest man a fearful ghost. Shall we, O my God, determine our thoughts, and shall we never determine our disputations upon our climacterical years, for particular men and periodical years, for the life of states and kingdoms, and never consider these in our long life, and our interest in the everlasting kingdom? We have exercised our curiosity in observing that Adam, the eldest of the eldest world, died in his climacterical year, and Shem, the eldest son of the next world, in his; Abraham, the father of the faithful, in his, and the blessed Virgin Mary, the garden where the root of faith grew, in hers. But they whose climacterics we observe, employed their observation upon their critical days, the working of thy promise of a Messias upon them. And shall we, O my God, make less use of those days who have more of them? We, who have not only the day of the prophets, the first days, but the last days, in which thou hast spoken unto us by thy Son?203 We are the children of the day,204 for thou hast shined in as full a noon upon us as upon the Thessalonians: they who were of the night (a night which they had superinduced upon themselves), the Pharisees, pretended, that if they had been in their fathers’ days (those indicatory and judicatory, those critical days), they would not have been partakers of the blood of the prophets;205 and shall we who are in the day, these days, not of the prophets, but of the Son, stone those prophets again, and crucify that Son again, for all those evident indications and critical judicatures which are afforded us? Those opposed adversaries of thy Son, the Pharisees, with the Herodians, watched a critical day; then when the state was incensed against him, came to tempt him in the dangerous question of tribute.206 They left him, and that day was the critical day to the Sadducees. The same day, says thy Spirit in thy word, the Sadducees came to him to question him about the resurrection,207 and them he silenced; they left him, and this was the critical day for the Scribe, expert in the law, who thought himself learneder than the Herodian, the Pharisee, or Sadducee; and he tempted him about the great commandment,208 and him Christ left without power of replying. When all was done, and that they went about to begin their circle of vexation and temptation again, Christ silences them so, that as they had taken their critical days, to come in that and in that day, so Christ imposes a critical day upon them. From that day forth, says thy Spirit, no man durst ask him any more questions.209 This, O my God, my most blessed God, is a fearful crisis, a fearful indication, when we will study, and seek, and find, what days are fittest to forsake thee in; to say, now religion is in a neutrality in the world, and this is my day, the day of liberty; now I may make new friends by changing my old religion, and this is my day, the day of advancement. But, O my God, with thy servant Jacob’s holy boldness, who, though thou lamedst him, would not let thee go till thou hadst given him a blessing;210 though thou have laid me upon my hearse, yet thou shalt not depart from me, from this bed, till thou have given me a crisis, a judgment upon myself this day. Since a day is as a thousand years with thee,211 let, O Lord, a day be as a week to me; and in this one, let me consider seven days, seven critical days, and judge myself that I be not judged by thee. First, this is the day of thy visitation, thy coming to me; and would I look to be welcome to thee, and not entertain thee in thy coming to me? We measure not the visitations of great persons by their apparel, by their equipage, by the solemnity of their coming, but by their very coming; and therefore, howsoever thou come, it is a crisis to me, that thou wouldst not lose me who seekest me by any means. This leads me from my first day, thy visitation by sickness, to a second, to the light and testimony of my conscience. There I have an evening and a morning, a sad guiltiness in my soul, but yet a cheerful rising of thy Sun too; thy evenings and mornings made days in the creation, and there is no mention of nights; my sadnesses for sins are evenings, but they determine not in night, but deliver me over to the day, the day of a conscience dejected, but then rectified, accused, but then acquitted, by thee, by him who speaks thy word, and who is thy word, thy Son. From this day, the crisis and examination of my conscience, breaks out my third day, my day of preparing and fitting myself for a more especial receiving of thy Son in his institution of the Sacrament; in which day, though there be many dark passages and slippery steps to them who will entangle and endanger themselves in unnecessary disputations, yet there are light hours enough for any man to go his whole journey intended by thee, to know that that bread and wine is not more really assimilated to my body, and to my blood, than the body and blood of thy Son is communicated to me in that action, and participation of that bread and that wine. And having, O my God, walked with thee these three days, the day of thy visitation, the day of my conscience, the day of preparing for this seal of reconciliation, I am the less afraid of the clouds or storms of my fourth day, the day of my dissolution and transmigration from hence. Nothing deserves the name of happiness that makes the remembrance of death bitter; and, O death, how bitter is the remembrance of thee, to a man that lives at rest in his possessions, the man that hath nothing to vex him, yea unto him that is able to receive meat!212 Therefore hast thou, O my God, made this sickness, in which I am not able to receive meat, my fasting day, my eve to this great festival, my dissolution. And this day of death shall deliver me over to my fifth day, the day of my resurrection; for how long a day soever thou make that day in the grave, yet there is no day between that and the resurrection. Then we shall all be invested, reapparelled in our own bodies; but they who have made just use of their former days be super-invested with glory; whereas the others, condemned to their old clothes, their sinful bodies, shall have nothing added but immortality to torment. And this day of awaking me, and reinvesting my soul in my body, and my body in the body of Christ, shall present me, body and soul, to my sixth day, the day of judgment, which is truly, and most literally, the critical, the decretory day; both because all judgment shall be manifested to me then, and I shall assist in judging the world then, and because then, that judgment shall declare to me, and possess me of my seventh day, my everlasting Sabbath in thy rest, thy glory, thy joy, thy sight, thyself; and where I shall live as long without reckoning any more days after, as thy Son and thy Holy Spirit lived with thee, before you three made any days in the creation.

XIV. Prayer.

O eternal and most gracious God, who, though thou didst permit darkness to be before light in the creation, yet in the making of light didst so multiply that light, as that it enlightened not the day only, but the night too; though thou have suffered some dimness, some clouds of sadness and disconsolateness to shed themselves upon my soul, I humbly bless and thankfully glorify thy holy name, that thou hast afforded me the light of thy Spirit, against which the prince of darkness cannot prevail, nor hinder his illumination of our darkest nights, of our saddest thoughts. Even the visitation of thy most blessed Spirit upon the blessed Virgin, is called an overshadowing. There was the presence of the Holy Ghost, the fountain of all light, and yet an overshadowing; nay, except there were some light, there could be no shadow. Let thy merciful providence so govern all in this sickness, that I never fall into utter darkness, ignorance of thee, or inconsideration of myself; and let those shadows which do fall upon me, faintnesses of spirit, and condemnations of myself, be overcome by the power of thine irresistible light, the God of consolation; that when those shadows have done their office upon me, to let me see, that of myself I should fall into irrecoverable darkness, thy Spirit may do his office upon those shadows, and disperse them, and establish me in so bright a day here, as may be a critical day to me, a day wherein and whereby I may give thy judgment upon myself, and that the words of thy Son, spoken to his apostles, may reflect upon me, Behold I am with you always, even to the end of the world.213

194 Dan. vii. 22.

195 Matt. xx. 6.

196 Matt. vi. 34.

197 Gal. iv. 10.

198 Col. ii. 16.

199 2 Cor. vi. 2.

200 Rev. vi. 17.

201 Eph. vi. 11.

202 3 John, 2.

203 Heb. i. 2.

204 1 Thes. v. 8.

205 Matt. xxiii. 30.

206 Matt. xxii. 15.

207 Matt. xxii. 23.

208 Matt. xxii. 36.

209 Matt. xxii. 46.

210 Gen. xxxii. 26.

211 2 Pet. iii. 8.

212 Ecclus. xli. 1.

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