Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne

VII. Socios sibi jungier instat.

The physician desires to have others joined with him.

VII. Meditation.

There is more fear, therefore more cause. If the physician desire help, the burden grows great: there is a growth of the disease then; but there must be an autumn too; but whether an autumn of the disease or me, it is not my part to choose; but if it be of me, it is of both; my disease cannot survive me, I may overlive it. Howsoever, his desiring of others argues his candour, and his ingenuity; if the danger be great, he justifies his proceedings, and he disguises nothing that calls in witnesses; and if the danger be not great, he is not ambitious, that is so ready to divide the thanks and the honour of that work which he begun alone, with others. It diminishes not the dignity of a monarch that he derive part of his care upon others; God hath not made many suns, but he hath made many bodies that receive and give light. The Romans began with one king; they came to two consuls; they returned in extremities to one dictator: whether in one or many, the sovereignty is the same in all states and the danger is not the more, and the providence is the more, where there are more physicians; as the state is the happier where businesses are carried by more counsels than can be in one breast, how large soever. Diseases themselves hold consultations, and conspire how they may multiply, and join with one another, and exalt one another’s force so; and shall we not call physicians to consultations? Death is in an old man’s door, he appears and tells him so, and death is at a young man’s back, and says nothing; age is a sickness, and youth is an ambush; and we need so many physicians as may make up a watch, and spy every inconvenience. There is scarce any thing that hath not killed somebody; a hair, a feather hath done it; nay, that which is our best antidote against it hath done it; the best cordial hath been deadly poison. Men have died of joy, and almost forbidden their friends to weep for them, when they have seen them die laughing. Even that tyrant, Dionysius (I think the same that suffered so much after), who could not die of that sorrow, of that high fall, from a king to a wretched private man, died of so poor a joy as to be declared by the people at a theatre that he was a good poet. We say often that a man may live of a little; but, alas, of how much less may a man die? And therefore the more assistants the better. Who comes to a day of hearing, in a cause of any importance, with one advocate? In our funerals we ourselves have no interest; there we cannot advise, we cannot direct; and though some nations (the Egyptians in particular) built themselves better tombs than houses because they were to dwell longer in them, yet amongst ourselves, the greatest man of style whom we have had, the Conqueror, was left, as soon as his soul left him, not only without persons to assist at his grave but without a grave. Who will keep us then we know not; as long as we can, let us admit as much help as we can; another and another physician is not another and another indication and symptom of death, but another and another assistant, and proctor of life: nor do they so much feed the imagination with apprehension of danger, as the understanding with comfort. Let not one bring learning, another diligence, another religion, but every one bring all; and as many ingredients enter into a receipt, so may many men make the receipt. But why do I exercise my meditation so long upon this, of having plentiful help in time of need? Is not my meditation rather to be inclined another way, to condole and commiserate their distress who have none? How many are sicker (perchance) than I, and laid in their woful straw at home (if that corner be a home), and have no more hope of help, though they die, than of preferment, though they live! Nor do more expect to see a physician then, than to be an officer after; of whom, the first that takes knowledge, is the sexton that buries them, who buries them in oblivion too! For they do but fill up the number of the dead in the bill, but we shall never hear their names, till we read them in the book of life with our own. How many are sicker (perchance) than I, and thrown into hospitals, where (as a fish left upon the sand must stay the tide) they must stay the physician’s hour of visiting, and then can be but visited! How many are sicker (perchance) than all we, and have not this hospital to cover them, not this straw to lie in, to die in, but have their gravestone under them, and breathe out their souls in the ears and in the eyes of passengers, harder than their bed, the flint of the street? that taste of no part of our physic, but a sparing diet, to whom ordinary porridge would be julep enough, the refuse of our servants bezoar enough, and the offscouring of our kitchen tables cordial enough. O my soul, when thou art not enough awake to bless thy God enough for his plentiful mercy in affording thee many helpers, remember how many lack them, and help them to them or to those other things which they lack as much as them.

VII. Expostulation.

My God, my God, thy blessed servant Augustine begged of thee that Moses might come and tell him what he meant by some places of Genesis: may I have leave to ask of that Spirit that writ that book, why, when David expected news from Joab’s army,99 and that the watchman told him that he saw a man running alone, David concluded out of that circumstance, that if he came alone, he brought good news?100 I see the grammar, the word signifies so, and is so ever accepted, good news; but I see not the logic nor the rhetoric, how David would prove or persuade that his news was good because he was alone, except a greater company might have made great impressions of danger, by imploring and importuning present supplies. Howsoever that be, I am sure that that which thy apostle says to Timothy, Only Luke is with me,101 Luke, and nobody but Luke, hath a taste of complaint and sorrow in it: though Luke want no testimony of ability, of forwardness, of constancy, and perseverance, in assisting that great building which St. Paul laboured in, yet St. Paul is affected with that, that there was none but Luke to assist. We take St. Luke to have been a physician, and it admits the application the better that in the presence of one good physician we may be glad of more. It was not only a civil spirit of policy, or order, that moved Moses’s father-in-law to persuade him to divide the burden of government and judicature with others, and take others to his assistance,102 but it was also thy immediate Spirit, O my God, that moved Moses to present unto thee seventy of the elders of Israel,103 to receive of that Spirit, which was upon Moses only before, such a portion as might ease him in the government of that people; though Moses alone had endowments above all, thou gavest him other assistants. I consider thy plentiful goodness, O my God, in employing angels more than one in so many of thy remarkable works. Of thy Son, thou sayest, Let all the angels of God worship him;104 if that be in heaven, upon earth he says, that he could command twelve legions of angels;105 and when heaven and earth shall be all one, at the last day, thy Son, O God, the Son of man, shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him.106 The angels that celebrated his birth to the shepherds,107 the angels that celebrated his second birth, his resurrection, to the Maries,108 were in the plural, angels associated with angels. In Jacob’s ladder,109 they who ascended and descended, and maintained the trade between heaven and earth, between thee and us, they who have the commission, and charge to guide us in all our ways,110 they who hastened Lot,111 and in him, us, from places of danger and temptation, they who are appointed to instruct and govern us in the church here,112 they who are sent to punish the disobedient and refractory,113 that they are to be mowers and harvestmen114 after we are grown up in one field, the church, at the day of judgment, they that are to carry our souls whither they carried Lazarus,115 they who attended at the several gates of the new Jerusalem,116 to admit us there; all these who administer to thy servants, from the first to their last, are angels, angels in the plural, in every service angels associated with angels. The power of a single angel we see in that one, who in one night destroyed almost two hundred thousand in Sennacherib’s army,117 yet thou often employest many; as we know the power of salvation is abundantly in any one evangelist, and yet thou hast afforded us four. Thy Son proclaims of himself that the Spirit hath anointed him to preach the Gospel,118 yet he hath given others for the perfecting of the saints in the work of the ministry.119 Thou hast made him Bishop of our souls,120 but there are others bishops too. He gave the Holy Ghost,121 and others gave it also. Thy way, O my God (and, O my God, thou lovest to walk in thine own ways, for they are large), thy way from the beginning, is multiplication of thy helps; and therefore it were a degree of ingratitude not to accept this mercy of affording me many helps for my bodily health, as a type and earnest of thy gracious purpose now and ever to afford me the same assistances. That for thy great help, thy word, I may seek that not from comers nor conventicles nor schismatical singularities, but from the association and communion of thy Catholic church, and those persons whom thou hast always furnished that church withal: and that I may associate thy word with thy sacrament, thy seal with thy patent; and in that sacrament associate the sign with the thing signified, the bread with the body of thy Son, so as I may be sure to have received both, and to be made thereby (as thy blessed servant Augustine says) the ark, and the monument, and the tomb of thy most blessed Son, that he, and all the merits of his death, may, by that receiving, be buried in me, to my quickening in this world, and my immortal establishing in the next.

VII. Prayer.

O eternal and most gracious God, who gavest to thy servants in the wilderness thy manna, bread so conditioned, qualified so, as that to every man manna tasted like that which that man liked best, I humbly beseech thee to make this correction, which I acknowledge to be part of my daily bread, to taste so to me, not as I would but as thou wouldst have it taste, and to conform my taste, and make it agreeable to thy will. Thou wouldst have thy corrections taste of humiliation, but thou wouldst have them taste of consolation too; taste of danger, but taste of assurance too. As therefore thou hast imprinted in all thine elements of which our bodies consist two manifest qualities, so that as thy fire dries, so it heats too; and as thy water moists, so it cools too; so, O Lord, in these corrections which are the elements of our regeneration, by which our souls are made thine, imprint thy two qualities, those two operations, that, as they scourge us, they may scourge us into the way to thee; that when they have showed us that we are nothing in ourselves, they may also show us, that thou art all things unto us. When therefore in this particular circumstance, O Lord (but none of thy judgments are circumstances, they are all of all substance of thy good purpose upon us), when in this particular, that he whom thou hast sent to assist me, desires assistants to him, thou hast let me see in how few hours thou canst throw me beyond the help of man, let me by the same light see that no vehemence of sickness, no temptation of Satan, no guiltiness of sin, no prison of death, not this first, this sick bed, not the other prison, the close and dark grave, can remove me from the determined and good purpose which thou hast sealed concerning me. Let me think no degree of this thy correction casual, or without signification; but yet when I have read it in that language, as a correction, let me translate it into another, and read it as a mercy; and which of these is the original, and which is the translation; whether thy mercy or thy correction were thy primary and original intention in this sickness, I cannot conclude, though death conclude me; for as it must necessarily appear to be a correction, so I can have no greater argument of thy mercy, than to die in thee and by that death to be united to him who died for me.

99 2 Sam. xviii. 25.

100 So all but our translation takes it; even Buxdor and Schindler.

101 2 Tim. iv. 11.

102 Exod. xviii. 13.

103 Num. xi. 16.

104 Heb. i. 6.

105 Matt. xxvi. 53.

106 Matt. xxv. 31.

107 Luke, ii. 13, 14.

108 John, xx. 12.

109 Gen. xxviii. 12.

110 Psalm xci. 11.

111 Gen. xix. 15.

112 Rev. i. 20.

113 Rev. viii. 2.

114 Matt. xiii. 39.

115 Luke, xvi. 22.

116 Rev. xxi. 12.

117 2 Kings, xix. 35.

118 Luke, iv. 18.

119 Eph. iv. 12.

120 1 Pet. ii. 25.

121 John, xx. 22.

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