Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne

V. Solus adest.

The physician comes

V. Meditation.

As sickness is the greatest misery, so the greatest misery of sickness is solitude; when the infectiousness of the disease deters them who should assist from coming; even the physician dares scarce come. Solitude is a torment which is not threatened in hell itself. Mere vacuity, the first agent, God, the first instrument of God, nature, will not admit; nothing can be utterly empty, but so near a degree towards vacuity as solitude, to be but one, they love not. When I am dead, and my body might infect, they have a remedy, they may bury me; but when I am but sick, and might infect, they have no remedy but their absence, and my solitude. It is an excuse to them that are great, and pretend, and yet are loath to come; it is an inhibition to those who would truly come, because they may be made instruments, and pestiducts, to the infection of others, by their coming. And it is an outlawry, an excommunication upon the patient, and separates him from all offices, not only of civility but of working charity. A long sickness will weary friends at last, but a pestilential sickness averts them from the beginning. God himself would admit a figure of society, as there is a plurality of persons in God, though there be but one God; and all his external actions testify a love of society, and communion. In heaven there are orders of angels, and armies of martyrs, and in that house many mansions; in earth, families, cities, churches, colleges, all plural things; and lest either of these should not be company enough alone, there is an association of both, a communion of saints which makes the militant and triumphant church one parish; so that Christ was not out of his diocess when he was upon the earth, nor out of his temple when he was in our flesh. God, who saw that all that he made was good, came not so near seeing a defect in any of his works, as when he saw that it was not good for man to be alone, therefore he made him a helper; and one that should help him so as to increase the number, and give him her own, and more society. Angels, who do not propagate nor multiply, were made at first in an abundant number, and so were stars; but for the things of this world, their blessing was, Increase; for I think, I need not ask leave to think, that there is no phœnix; nothing singular, nothing alone. Men that inhere upon nature only, are so far from thinking that there is any thing singular in this world, as that they will scarce think that this world itself is singular, but that every planet, and every star, is another world like this; they find reason to conceive not only a plurality in every species in the world, but a plurality of worlds; so that the abhorrers of solitude are not solitary, for God, and Nature, and Reason concur against it. Now a man may counterfeit the plague in a vow, and mistake a disease for religion, by such a retiring and recluding of himself from all men as to do good to no man, to converse with no man. God hath two testaments, two wills; but this is a schedule, and not of his, a codicil, and not of his, not in the body of his testaments, but interlined and postscribed by others, that the way to the communion of saints should be by such a solitude as excludes all doing of good here. That is a disease of the mind, as the height of an infectious disease of the body is solitude, to be left alone: for this makes an infectious bed equal, nay, worse than a grave, that though in both I be equally alone, in my bed I know it, and feel it, and shall not in my grave: and this too, that in my bed my soul is still in an infectious body, and shall not in my grave be so.

V. Expostulation.

O God, my God, thy Son took it not ill at Martha’s hands, that when he said unto her, Thy brother Lazarus shall rise again,53 she expostulated it so far with him as to reply, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection, at the last day; for she was miserable by wanting him then. Take it not ill, O my God, from me, that though thou have ordained it for a blessing, and for a dignity to thy people, that they should dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations54 (because they should be above them), and that they should dwell in safety alone55 (free from the infestation of enemies), yet I take thy leave to remember thee, that thou hast said too, Two are better than one; and, Woe be unto him that is alone when he falleth;56 and so when he is fallen, and laid in the bed of sickness too. Righteousness is immortal;57 I know thy wisdom hath said so; but no man, though covered with the righteousness of thy Son, is immortal so as not to die; for he who was righteousness itself did die. I know that the Son of Righteousness, thy Son, refused not, nay affected, solitariness, loneness,58 many, many times; but at all times he was able to command more than twelve legions of angels59 to his service; and when he did not so, he was far from being alone: for, I am not alone, says he, but I, and the Father that sent me.60 I cannot fear but that I shall always be with thee and him; but whether this disease may not alien and remove my friends, so that they stand aloof from my sore, and my kinsmen stand afar off,61 I cannot tell. I cannot fear but that thou wilt reckon with me from this minute, in which, by thy grace, I see thee; whether this understanding, and this will, and this memory may not decay, to the discouragement and the ill interpretation of them that see that heavy change in me, I cannot tell. It was for thy blessed, thy powerful Son alone, to tread the wine-press alone, and none of the people with him.62 I am not able to pass this agony alone, not alone without thee; thou art thy spirit, not alone without thine; spiritual and temporal physicians are thine, not alone without mine; those whom the bands of blood or friendship have made mine, are mine; and if thou, or thine, or mine, abandon me, I am alone, and woe unto me if I be alone. Elias himself fainted under that apprehension, Lo, I am left alone;63 and Martha murmured at that, said to Christ, Lord, dost not thou care that my sister hath left me to serve alone?64 Neither could Jeremiah enter into his lamentations from a higher ground than to say, How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people.65 O my God, it is the leper that thou hast condemned to live alone;66 have I such a leprosy in my soul that I must die alone; alone without thee? Shall this come to such a leprosy in my body that I must die alone; alone without them that should assist, that should comfort me? But comes not this expostulation too near a murmuring? Must I be concluded with that, that Moses was commanded to come near the Lord alone;67 that solitariness, and dereliction, and abandoning of others, disposes us best for God, who accompanies us most alone? May I not remember, and apply too, that though God came not to Jacob till he found him alone, yet when he found him alone, he wrestled with him, and lamed him;68 that when, in the dereliction and forsaking of friends and physicians, a man is left alone to God, God may so wrestle with this Jacob, with this conscience, as to put it out of joint, and so appear to him as that he dares not look upon him face to face, when as by way of reflection, in the consolation of his temporal or spiritual servants, and ordinances he durst, if they were there? But a faithful friend is the physic of life, and they that fear the Lord shall find him.69 Therefore hath the Lord afforded me both in one person, that physician who is my faithful friend.

V. Prayer.

O eternal and most gracious God, who calledst down fire from heaven upon the sinful cities but once, and openedst the earth to swallow the murmurers but once, and threwest down the tower of Siloam upon sinners but once; but for thy works of mercy repeatedst them often, and still workest by thine own patterns, as thou broughtest man into this world, by giving him a helper fit for him here; so, whether it be thy will to continue me long thus, or to dismiss me by death, be pleased to afford me the helps fit for both conditions, either for my weak stay here, or my final transmigration from hence. And if thou mayst receive glory by that way (and by all ways thou mayst receive glory), glorify thyself in preserving this body from such infections as might withhold those who would come, or endanger them who do come; and preserve this soul in the faculties thereof from all such distempers as might shake the assurance which myself and others have had, that because thou hast loved me thou wouldst love me to my end, and at my end. Open none of my doors, not of my heart, not of mine ears, not of my house, to any supplanter that would enter to undermine me in my religion to thee, in the time of my weakness, or to defame me, and magnify himself with false rumours of such a victory and surprisal of me, after I am dead. Be my salvation, and plead my salvation; work it and declare it; and as thy triumphant shall be, so let the militant church be assured that thou wast my God, and I thy servant, to and in my consummation. Bless thou the learning and the labours of this man whom thou sendest to assist me; and since thou takest me by the hand, and puttest me into his hands (for I come to him in thy name, who in thy name comes to me), since I clog not my hopes in him, no, nor my prayers to thee, with any limited conditions, but inwrap all in those two petitions, Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, prosper him, and relieve me, in thy way, in thy time, and in thy measure. Amen.

53 John, xi. 23.

54 Num. xxiii. 9.

55 Deut. xxxiii. 28.

56 Eccles. iv. 10.

57 Wisd. i. 15.

58 Matt. xiv. 23.

59 Matt. xxvi. 13.

60 John, viii. 16.

61 Psalm xxxviii. 11.

62 Isaiah, lxiii. 3.

63 1 Kings, xiv. 14.

64 Luke, x. 40.

65 Lam. i. 1.

66 Lev. xiii. 46.

67 Exod. xiv. 2.

68 Gen. xxxii. 24. 25.

69 Ecclus. vi. 16.

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