Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne

XX. Id agunt.

Upon these indications of digested matter, they proceed to purge.

XX. Meditation.

Though counsel seem rather to consist of spiritual parts than action, yet action is the spirit and the soul of counsel. Counsels are not always determined in resolutions, we cannot always say, this was concluded; actions are always determined in effects, we can say, this was done. Then have laws their reverence and their majesty, when we see the judge upon the bench executing them. Then have counsels of war their impressions and their operations, when we see the seal of an army set to them. It was an ancient way of celebrating the memory of such as deserved well of the state, to afford them that kind of statuary representation, which was then called Hermes, which was the head and shoulders of a man standing upon a cube, but those shoulders without arms and hands. Altogether it figured a constant supporter of the state, by his counsel; but in this hieroglyphic, which they made without hands, they pass their consideration no farther but that the counsellor should be without hands, so far as not to reach out his hand to foreign temptations of bribes, in matters of counsel, and that it was not necessary that the head should employ his own hand; that the same men should serve in the execution which assisted in the counsel; but that there should not belong hands to every head, action to every counsel, was never intended so much as in figure and representation. For as matrimony is scarce to be called matrimony where there is a resolution against the fruits of matrimony, against the having of children,285 so counsels are not counsels, but illusions, where there is from the beginning no purpose to execute the determinations of those counsels. The arts and sciences are most properly referred to the head; that is their proper element and sphere; but yet the art of proving, logic, and the art of persuading, rhetoric, are deduced to the hand, and that expressed by a hand contracted into a fist, and this by a hand enlarged and expanded; and evermore the power of man, and the power of God, himself is expressed so. All things are in his hand; neither is God so often presented to us, by names that carry our consideration upon counsel, as upon execution of counsel; he oftener is called the Lord of Hosts than by all other names, that may be referred to the other signification. Hereby therefore we take into our meditation the slippery condition of man, whose happiness in any kind, the defect of any one thing conducing to that happiness, may ruin; but it must have all the pieces to make it up. Without counsel, I had not got thus far; without action and practice, I should go no farther towards health. But what is the present necessary action? Purging; a withdrawing, a violating of nature, a farther weakening. O dear price, and O strange way of addition, to do it by subtraction; of restoring nature, to violate nature; of providing strength, by increasing weakness. Was I not sick before? And is it a question of comfort to be asked now, did your physic make you sick? Was that it that my physic promised, to make me sick? This is another step upon which we may stand, and see farther into the misery of man, the time, the season of his misery; it must be done now. O over-cunning, over-watchful, over-diligent, and over-sociable misery of man, that seldom comes alone, but then when it may accompany other miseries, and so put one another into the higher exaltation, and better heart. I am ground even to an attenuation and must proceed to evacuation, all ways to exinanition and annihilation.

XX. Expostulation.

My God, my God, the God of order, but yet not of ambition, who assignest place to every one, but not contention for place, when shall it be thy pleasure to put an end to all these quarrels for spiritual precedences? When shall men leave their uncharitable disputations, which is to take place, faith or repentance, and which, when we consider faith and works? The head and the hand too are required to a perfect natural man; counsel and action too, to a perfect civil man; faith and works too, to him that is perfectly spiritual. But because it is easily said, I believe, and because it doth not easily lie in proof, nor is easily demonstrable by any evidence taken from my heart (for who sees that, who searches those rolls?) whether I do believe or no, is it not therefore, O my God, that thou dost so frequently, so earnestly, refer us to the hand, to the observation of actions? There is a little suspicion, a little imputation laid upon over-tedious and dilatory counsels. Many good occasions slip away in long consultations; and it may be a degree of sloth, to be too long in mending nets, though that must be done. He that observeth the wind shall not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap;286 that is, he that is too dilatory, too superstitious in these observations, and studies but the excuse of his own idleness in them; but that which the same wise and royal servant of thine says in another place, all accept, and ask no comment upon it, He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand, but the hand of the diligent maketh rich;287 all evil imputed to the absence, all good attributed to the presence of the hand. I know, my God (and I bless thy name for knowing it, for all good knowledge is from thee), that thou considerest the heart; but thou takest not off thine eye till thou come to the hand. Nay, my God, doth not thy Spirit intimate that thou beginnest where we begin (at least, that thou allowest us to begin there), when thou orderest thine own answer to thine own question, Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? thus, He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart?288 Dost thou not (at least) send us first to the hand? And is not the work of their hands that declaration of their holy zeal, in the present execution of manifest idolators, called a consecration of themselves,289 by thy Holy Spirit? Their hands are called all themselves; for even counsel itself goes under that name in thy word, who knowest best how to give right names: because the counsel of the priests assisted David,290 Saul says the hand of the priest is with David. And that which is often said by Moses, is very often repeated by thy other prophets, These and these things the Lord spake,291 and the Lord said, and the Lord commanded, not by the counsels, not by the voice, but by the hand of Moses, and by the hand of the prophets. Evermore we are referred for our evidence of others, and of ourselves, to the hand, to action, to works. There is something before it, believing; and there is something after it, suffering; but in the most eminent, and obvious, and conspicuous place stands doing. Why then, O my God, my blessed God, in the ways of my spiritual strength, come I so slow to action? I was whipped by thy rod, before I came to consultation, to consider my state; and shall I go no farther? As he that would describe a circle in paper, if he have brought that circle within one inch of finishing, yet if he remove his compass he cannot make it up a perfect circle except he fall to work again, to find out the same centre, so, though setting that foot of my compass upon thee, I have gone so far as to the consideration of myself, yet if I depart from thee, my centre, all is imperfect. This proceeding to action, therefore, is a returning to thee, and a working upon myself by thy physic, by thy purgative physic, a free and entire evacuation of my soul by confession. The working of purgative physic is violent and contrary to nature. O Lord, I decline not this potion of confession, however it may be contrary to a natural man. To take physic, and not according to the right method, is dangerous.292 O Lord, I decline not that method in this physic, in things that burthen my conscience, to make my confession to him, into whose hands thou hast put the power of absolution. I know that “physic may be made so pleasant as that it may easily be taken; but not so pleasant as the virtue and nature of the medicine be extinguished.”293 I know I am not submitted to such a confession as is a rack and torture of the conscience; but I know I am not exempt from all. If it were merely problematical, left merely indifferent whether we should take this physic, use this confession, or no, a great physician acknowledges this to have been his practice, to minister to many things which he was not sure would do good, but never any other thing but such as he was sure would do no harm.294 The use of this spiritual physic can certainly do no harm; and the church hath always thought that it might, and, doubtless, many humble souls have found, that it hath done them good. I will therefore take the cup of salvation, and call upon thy name.295 I will find this cup of compunction as full as I have formerly filled the cups of worldly confections, that so I may escape the cup of malediction and irrecoverable destruction that depends upon that. And since thy blessed and glorious Son, being offered, in the way to his execution, a cup of stupefaction,296 to take away the sense of his pain (a charity afforded to condemned persons ordinarily in those places and times), refused that ease, and embraced the whole torment, I take not this cup, but this vessel of mine own sins into my contemplation, and I pour them out here according to the motions of thy Holy Spirit, and any where according to the ordinances of thy holy church.

XX. Prayer.

O eternal and most gracious God, who having married man and woman together, and made them one flesh, wouldst have them also to become one soul, so as that they might maintain a sympathy in their affections, and have a conformity to one another in the accidents of this world, good or bad; so having married this soul and this body in me, I humbly beseech thee that my soul may look and make her use of thy merciful proceedings towards my bodily restitution, and go the same way to a spiritual. I am come, by thy goodness, to the use of thine ordinary means for my body, to wash away those peccant humours that endangered it. I have, O Lord, a river in my body, but a sea in my soul, and a sea swollen into the depth of a deluge, above the sea. Thou hast raised up certain hills in me heretofore, by which I might have stood safe from these inundations of sin. Even our natural faculties are a hill, and might preserve us from some sin. Education, study, observation, example, are hills too, and might preserve us from some. Thy church, and thy word, and thy sacraments, and thine ordinances are hills above these; thy spirit of remorse, and compunction, and repentance for former sin, are hills too; and to the top of all these hills thou hast brought me heretofore; but this deluge, this inundation, is got above all my hills; and I have sinned and sinned, and multiplied sin to sin, after all these thy assistances against sin, and where is there water enough to wash away this deluge? There is a red sea, greater than this ocean, and there is a little spring, through which this ocean may pour itself into that red sea. Let thy spirit of true contrition and sorrow pass all my sins, through these eyes, into the wounds of thy Son, and I shall be clean, and my soul so much better purged than my body, as it is ordained for better and a longer life.

285 August.

286 Eccles. xi. 4.

287 Prov. x. 4.

288 Psalm xxiv. 3.

289 Exod. xxxii. 29.

290 1 Sam. xxii. 17.

291 Lev. viii. 36.

292 Galen.

293 Galen.

294 Galen.

295 Psalm cxvi. 13.

296 Mark, xv. 23.

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