Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne

VIII. Et Rex ipse suum mittit.

The King sends his own physician.

VIII. Meditation.

Still when we return to that meditation that man is a world, we find new discoveries. Let him be a world, and himself will be the land, and misery the sea. His misery (for misery is his, his own; of the happiness even of this world, he is but tenant, but of misery the freeholder; of happiness he is but the farmer, but the usufructuary, but of misery the lord, the proprietary), his misery, as the sea, swells above all the hills, and reaches to the remotest parts of this earth, man; who of himself is but dust, and coagulated and kneaded into earth by tears; his matter is earth, his form misery. In this world that is mankind, the highest ground, the eminentest hills, are kings; and have they line and lead enough to fathom this sea, and say, My misery is but this deep? Scarce any misery equal to sickness, and they are subject to that equally with their lowest subject. A glass is not the less brittle, because a king’s face is represented in it; nor a king the less brittle, because God is represented in him. They have physicians continually about them, and therefore sickness, or the worst of sicknesses, continual fear of it. Are they gods? He that called them so cannot flatter. They are gods, but sick gods; and God is presented to us under many human affections, as far as infirmities: God is called angry, and sorry, and weary, and heavy, but never a sick God; for then he might die like men, as our gods do. The worst that they could say in reproach and scorn of the gods of the heathen was, that perchance they were asleep; but gods that are so sick as that they cannot sleep are in an infirmer condition. A god, and need a physician? A Jupiter, and need an Æsculapius? that must have rhubarb to purge his choler lest he be too angry, and agarick to purge his phlegm lest he be too drowsy; that as Tertullian says of the Egyptian gods, plants and herbs, that “God was beholden to man for growing in his garden,” so we must say of these gods, their eternity (an eternity of threescore and ten years) is in the apothecary’s shop, and not in the metaphorical deity. But their deity is better expressed in their humility than in their height; when abounding and overflowing, as God, in means of doing good, they descend, as God, to a communication of their abundances with men according to their necessities, then they are gods. No man is well that understands not, that values not his being well; that hath not a cheerfulness and a joy in it; and whosoever hath this joy hath a desire to communicate, to propagate that which occasions his happiness and his joy to others; for every man loves witnesses of his happiness, and the best witnesses are experimental witnesses; they who have tasted of that in themselves which makes us happy. It consummates therefore, it perfects the happiness of kings, to confer, to transfer, honour and riches, and (as they can) health, upon those that need them.

VIII. Expostulation.

My God, my God, I have a warning from the wise man, that when a rich man speaketh every man holdeth his tongue, and, look, what he saith, they extol it to the clouds; but if a poor man speak, they say, What fellow is this? And if he stumble, they will help to overthrow him.122 Therefore may my words be undervalued and my errors aggravated, if I offer to speak of kings; but not by thee, O my God, because I speak of them as they are in thee, and of thee as thou art in them. Certainly those men prepare a way of speaking negligently or irreverently of thee, that give themselves that liberty in speaking of thy vicegerents, kings; for thou who gavest Augustus the empire, gavest it to Nero too; and as Vespasian had it from thee, so had Julian. Though kings deface in themselves thy first image in their own soul, thou givest no man leave to deface thy second image, imprinted indelibly in their power. But thou knowest, O God, that if I should be slack in celebrating thy mercies to me exhibited by that royal instrument, my sovereign, to many other faults that touch upon allegiance I should add the worst of all, ingratitude, which constitutes an ill man; and faults which are defects in any particular function are not so great as those that destroy our humanity. It is not so ill to be an ill subject as to be an ill man; for he hath an universal illness, ready to flow and pour out itself into any mould, any form, and to spend itself in any function. As therefore thy Son did upon the coin, I look upon the king, and I ask whose image and whose inscription he hath, and he hath thine; and I give unto thee that which is thine; I recommend his happiness to thee in all my sacrifices of thanks, for that which he enjoys, and in all my prayers for the continuance and enlargement of them. But let me stop, my God, and consider; will not this look like a piece of art and cunning, to convey into the world an opinion that I were more particular in his care than other men? and that herein, in a show of humility and thankfulness, I magnify myself more than there is cause? But let not that jealousy stop me, O God, but let me go forward in celebrating thy mercy exhibited by him. This which he doth now, in assisting so my bodily health, I know is common to me with many: many, many have tasted of that expression of his graciousness. Where he can give health by his own hands he doth, and to more than any of his predecessors have done: therefore hath God reserved one disease for him, that he only might cure it, though perchance not only by one title and interest, nor only as one king. To those that need it not, in that kind, and so cannot have it by his own hand, he sends a donative of health in sending his physician. The holy king St. Louis, in France, and our Maud, is celebrated for that, that personally they visited hospitals, and assisted in the cure even of loathsome diseases. And when that religious Empress Placilla, the wife of Theodosius, was told that she diminished herself too much in those personal assistances and might do enough in sending relief, she said she would send in that capacity as a Christian, as a fellow-member of the body of thy Son, with them. So thy servant David applies himself to his people, so he incorporates himself in his people, by calling them his brethren, his bones, his flesh;123 and when they fell under thy hand, even to the pretermitting of himself, he presses upon thee by prayer for them; I have sinned, but these sheep, what have they done? Let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me and against my father’s house.124 It is kingly to give; when Araunah gave that great and free present to David, that place, those instruments for sacrifice, and the sacrifices themselves, it is said there by thy Spirit, All these things did Araunah give, as a king, to the king.125 To give is an approaching to the condition of kings, but to give health, an approaching to the King of kings, to thee. But this his assisting to my bodily health, thou knowest, O God, and so do some others of thine honourable servants know, is but the twilight of that day wherein thou, through him, hast shined upon me before; but the echo of that voice, whereby thou, through him, hast spoke to me before, then when he, first of any man, conceived a hope that I might be of some use in thy church and descended to an intimation, to a persuasion, almost to a solicitation, that I would embrace that calling. And thou who hadst put that desire into his heart, didst also put into mine an obedience to it; and I, who was sick before of a vertiginous giddiness and irresolution, and almost spent all my time in consulting how I should spend it, was by this man of God, and God of men, put into the pool and recovered: when I asked, perchance, a stone, he gave me bread; when I asked, perchance, a scorpion, he gave me a fish; when I asked a temporal office, he denied not, refused not that; but let me see that he had rather I took this. These things thou, O God, who forgettest nothing, hast not forgot, though perchance he, because they were benefits, hath; but I am not only a witness, but an instance, that our Jehoshaphat hath a care to ordain priests, as well as judges:126 and not only to send physicians for temporal but to be the physician for spiritual health.

VIII. Prayer.

O eternal and most gracious God, who, though thou have reserved thy treasure of perfect joy and perfect glory to be given by thine own hands then, when, by seeing thee as thou art in thyself, and knowing thee as we are known, we shall possess in an instant, and possess for ever, all that can any way conduce to our happiness, yet here also, in this world, givest us such earnests of that full payment, as by the value of the earnest we may give some estimate of the treasure, humbly and thankfully I acknowledge, that thy blessed Spirit instructs me to make a difference of thy blessings in this world, by that difference of the instruments by which it hath pleased thee to derive them unto me. As we see thee here in a glass, so we receive from thee here by reflection and by instruments. Even casual things come from thee; and that which we call fortune here hath another name above. Nature reaches out her hand and gives us corn, and wine, and oil, and milk; but thou fillest her hand before, and thou openest her hand that she may rain down her showers upon us. Industry reaches out her hand to us and gives us fruits of our labour for ourselves and our posterity; but thy hand guides that hand when it sows and when it waters, and the increase is from thee. Friends reach out their hands and prefer us; but thy hand supports that hand that supports us. Of all these thy instruments have I received thy blessing, O God; but bless thy name most for the greatest; that, as a member of the public, and as a partaker of private favours too, by thy right hand, thy powerful hand set over us, I have had my portion not only in the hearing, but in the preaching of thy Gospel. Humbly beseeching thee, that as thou continuest thy wonted goodness upon the whole world by the wonted means and instruments, the same sun and moon, the same nature and industry, so to continue the same blessings upon this state and this church by the same hand, so long as that thy Son, when he comes in the clouds, may find him, or his son, or his son’s sons ready to give an account and able to stand in that judgment, for their faithful stewardship and dispensation of thy talents so abundantly committed to them; and be to him, O God, in all distempers of his body, in all anxieties of spirit, in all holy sadnesses of soul, such a physician in thy proportion, who are the greatest in heaven, as he hath been in soul and body to me, in his proportion, who is the greatest upon earth.

122 Ecclus. xiii. 23.

123 2 Sam. xix. 12.

124 2 Sam. xxiv. 17.

125 2 Sam. xxiv. 22, 23.

126 2 Chron. xix. 8.

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