Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne

XXI. ——————— Atque annuit ille,
Qui, per eos, clamat, linquas jam, Lazare, lectum.

God prospers their practice, and he, by them, calls Lazarus out of his tomb, me out of my bed.

XXI. Meditation.

If man had been left alone in this world at first, shall I think that he would not have fallen? If there had been no woman, would not man have served to have been his own tempter? When I see him now subject to infinite weaknesses, fall into infinite sin without any foreign temptations, shall I think he would have had none, if he had been alone? God saw that man needed a helper, if he should be well; but to make woman ill, the devil saw that there needed no third. When God and we were alone in Adam, that was not enough; when the devil and we were alone in Eve, it was enough. O what a giant is man when he fights against himself, and what a dwarf when he needs or exercises his own assistance for himself? I cannot rise out of my bed till the physician enable me, nay, I cannot tell that I am able to rise till he tell me so. I do nothing, I know nothing of myself; how little and how impotent a piece of the world is any man alone? And how much less a piece of himself is that man? So little as that when it falls out (as it falls out in some cases) that more misery and more oppression would be an ease to a man, he cannot give himself that miserable addition of more misery. A man that is pressed to death, and might be eased by more weights, cannot lay those more weights upon himself: he can sin alone, and suffer alone, but not repent, not be absolved, without another. Another tells me, I may rise; and I do so. But is every raising a preferment? or is every present preferment a station? I am readier to fall to the earth, now I am up, than I was when I lay in the bed. O perverse way, irregular motion of man; even rising itself is the way to ruin! How many men are raised, and then do not fill the place they are raised to? No corner of any place can be empty; there can be no vacuity. If that man do not fill the place, other men will; complaints of his insufficiency will fill it; nay, such an abhorring is there in nature of vacuity, that if there be but an imagination of not filling, in any man, that which is but imagination, neither will fill it, that is, rumour and voice, and it will be given out (upon no ground but imagination, and no man knows whose imagination), that he is corrupt in his place, or insufficient in his place, and another prepared to succeed him in his place. A man rises sometimes and stands not, because he doth not or is not believed to fill his place; and sometimes he stands not because he overfills his place. He may bring so much virtue, so much justice, so much integrity to the place, as shall spoil the place, burthen the place; his integrity may be a libel upon his predecessor and cast an infamy upon him, and a burthen upon his successor to proceed by example, and to bring the place itself to an undervalue and the market to an uncertainty. I am up, and I seem to stand, and I go round, and I am a new argument of the new philosophy, that the earth moves round; why may I not believe that the whole earth moves, in a round motion, though that seem to me to stand, when as I seem to stand to my company, and yet am carried in a giddy and circular motion as I stand? Man hath no centre but misery; there, and only there, he is fixed, and sure to find himself. How little soever he be raised, he moves, and moves in a circle giddily; and as in the heavens there are but a few circles that go about the whole world, but many epicycles, and other lesser circles, but yet circles; so of those men which are raised and put into circles, few of them move from place to place, and pass through many and beneficial places, but fall into little circles, and, within a step or two, are at their end, and not so well as they were in the centre, from which they were raised. Every thing serves to exemplify, to illustrate man’s misery. But I need go no farther than myself: for a long time I was not able to rise; at last I must be raised by others; and now I am up, I am ready to sink lower than before.

XXI. Expostulation.

My God, my God, how large a glass of the next world is this! As we have an art, to cast from one glass to another, and so to carry the species a great way off, so hast thou, that way, much more; we shall have a resurrection in heaven; the knowledge of that thou castest by another glass upon us here; we feel that we have a resurrection from sin, and that by another glass too; we see we have a resurrection of the body from the miseries and calamities of this life. This resurrection of my body shows me the resurrection of my soul; and both here severally, of both together hereafter. Since thy martyrs under the altar press thee with their solicitation for the resurrection of the body to glory, thou wouldst pardon me, if I should press thee by prayer for the accomplishing of this resurrection, which thou hast begun in me, to health. But, O my God, I do not ask, where I might ask amiss, nor beg that which perchance might be worse for me. I have a bed of sin; delight in sin is a bed: I have a grave of sin; senselessness of sin is a grave: and where Lazarus had been four days, I have been fifty years in this putrefaction; why dost thou not call me, as thou didst him, with a loud voice,297 since my soul is as dead as his body was? I need thy thunder, O my God; thy music will not serve me. Thou hast called thy servants, who are to work upon us in thine ordinance, by all these loud names — winds, and chariots, and falls of waters; where thou wouldst be heard, thou wilt be heard. When thy Son concurred with thee to the making of man, there it is but a speaking, but a saying. There, O blessed and glorious Trinity, was none to hear but you three, and you easily hear one another, because you say the same things. But when thy Son came to the work of redemption, thou spokest,298 and they that heard it took it for thunder; and thy Son himself cried with a loud voice upon the cross twice,299 as he who was to prepare his coming, John Baptist, was the voice of a crier, and not of a whisperer. Still, if it be thy voice, it is a loud voice. These words, says thy Moses, thou spokest with a great voice, and thou addedst no more,300 says he there. That which thou hast said is evident, and it is evident that none can speak so loud; none can bind us to hear him, as we must thee. The Most High uttered his voice. What was his voice? The Lord thundered from heaven,301 it might be heard; but this voice, thy voice, is also a mighty voice;302 not only mighty in power, it may be heard, nor mighty in obligation, it should be heard; but mighty in operation, it will be heard; and therefore hast thou bestowed a whole psalm303 upon us, to lead us to the consideration of thy voice. It is such a voice as that thy Son says, the dead shall hear it;304 and that is my state. And why, O God, dost thou not speak to me, in that effectual loudness? Saint John heard a voice, and he turned about to see the voice:305 sometimes we are too curious of the instrument by what man God speaks; but thou speakest loudest when thou speakest to the heart. There was silence, and I heard a voice, says one, to thy servant Job.306 I hearken after thy voice in thine ordinances, and I seek not a whispering in conventicles; but yet, O my God, speak louder, that so, though I do hear thee now, then I may hear nothing but thee. My sins cry aloud; Cain’s murder did so: my afflictions cry aloud; the floods have lifted up their voice (and waters are afflictions), but thou, O Lord, art mightier than the voice of many waters;307 than many temporal, many spiritual afflictions, than any of either kind: and why dost thou not speak to me in that voice? What is man, and whereto serveth he? What is his good and what is his evil?308 My bed of sin is not evil, not desperately evil, for thou dost call me out of it; but my rising out of it is not good (not perfectly good), if thou call not louder, and hold me now I am up. O my God, I am afraid of a fearful application of those words, When a man hath done, then he beginneth;309 when this body is unable to sin, his sinful memory sins over his old sins again; and that which thou wouldst have us to remember for compunction, we remember with delight. Bring him to me in his bed, that I may kill him,310 says Saul of David: thou hast not said so, that is not thy voice. Joash’s own servants slew him when he was sick in his bed:311 thou hast not suffered that, that my servants should so much as neglect me, or be weary of me in my sickness. Thou threatenest, that as a shepherd takes out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the children of Israel, that dwell in Samaria, in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus, in a couch, be taken away;312 and even they that are secure from danger shall perish. How much more might I, who was in the bed of death, die? But thou hast not so dealt with me. As they brought out sick persons in beds, that thy servant Peter’s shadow might over-shadow them,313 thou hast, O my God, over-shadowed me, refreshed me; but when wilt thou do more? When wilt thou do all? When wilt thou speak in thy loud voice? When wilt thou bid me take up my bed and walk?314 As my bed is my affections, when shall I bear them so as to subdue them? As my bed is my afflictions, when shall I bear them so as not to murmur at them? When shall I take up my bed and walk? Not lie down upon it, as it is my pleasure, not sink under it, as it is my correction? But O my God, my God, the God of all flesh, and of all spirit, to let me be content with that in my fainting spirit, which thou declarest in this decayed flesh, that as this body is content to sit still, that it may learn to stand, and to learn by standing to walk, and by walking to travel, so my soul, by obeying this thy voice of rising, may by a farther and farther growth of thy grace proceed so, and be so established, as may remove all suspicions, all jealousies between thee and me, and may speak and hear in such a voice, as that still I may be acceptable to thee, and satisfied from thee.

XXI. Prayer.

O eternal and most gracious God, who hast made little things to signify great, and conveyed the infinite merits of thy Son in the water of baptism, and in the bread and wine of thy other sacrament, unto us, receive the sacrifice of my humble thanks, that thou hast not only afforded me the ability to rise out of this bed of weariness and discomfort, but hast also made this bodily rising, by thy grace, an earnest of a second resurrection from sin, and of a third, to everlasting glory. Thy Son himself, always infinite in himself, and incapable of addition, was yet pleased to grow in the Virgin’s womb, and to grow in stature in the sight of men. Thy good purposes upon me, I know, have their determination and perfection in thy holy will upon me; there thy grace is, and there I am altogether; but manifest them so unto me, in thy seasons, and in thy measures and degrees, that I may not only have that comfort of knowing thee to be infinitely good, but that also of finding thee to be every day better and better to me; and that as thou gavest Saint Paul the messenger of Satan, to humble him so for my humiliation, thou mayst give me thyself in this knowledge, that what grace soever thou afford me to-day, yet I should perish to-morrow if I had not had to-morrow’s grace too. Therefore I beg of thee my daily bread; and as thou gavest me the bread of sorrow for many days, and since the bread of hope for some, and this day the bread of possessing, in rising by that strength, which thou the God of all strength hast infused into me, so, O Lord, continue to me the bread of life: the spiritual bread of life, in a faithful assurance in thee; the sacramental bread of life, in a worthy receiving of thee; and the more real bread of life in an everlasting union to thee. I know, O Lord, that when thou hast created angels, and they saw thee produce fowl, and fish, and beasts, and worms, they did not importune thee, and say, Shall we have no better creatures than these, no better companions than these? but stayed thy leisure, and then had man delivered over to them, not much inferior in nature to themselves. No more do I, O God, now that by thy first mercy I am able to rise, importune thee for present confirmation of health; nor now, that by thy mercy I am brought to see that thy correction hath wrought medicinally upon me, presume I upon that spiritual strength I have; but as I acknowledge that my bodily strength is subject to every puff of wind, so is my spiritual strength to every blast of vanity. Keep me therefore still, O my gracious God, in such a proportion of both strengths, as I may still have something to thank thee for, which I have received, and still something to pray for and ask at thy hand.

297 John, xi. 43.

298 John, xii. 28.

299 Matt. xxvii. 46, 50.

300 Deut. v. 22.

301 2 Sam. xxii. 14.

302 Psalm lxviii. 33.

303 Psalm xxix.

304 John, v. 25.

305 Rev. i. 12.

306 Job, iv. 16.

307 Psalm xciii. 3, 4.

308 Ecclus. xviii, 8.

309 Ecclus. v. 7.

310 1 Sam. xix. 15.

311 2 Chron. xxiv. 25.

312 Amos, iii. 12.

313 Acts, v. 15.

314 Matt. ix. 6.

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