Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne

IX. Medicamina scribunt.

Upon their consultation they prescribe.

IX. Meditation.

They have seen me and heard me, arraigned me in these fetters and received the evidence; I have cut up mine own anatomy, dissected myself, and they are gone to read upon me. O how manifold and perplexed a thing, nay, how wanton and various a thing, is ruin and destruction! God presented to David three kinds, war, famine and pestilence; Satan left out these, and brought in fires from heaven and winds from the wilderness. If there were no ruin but sickness, we see the masters of that art can scarce number, not name all sicknesses; every thing that disorders a faculty, and the function of that, is a sickness; the names will not serve them which are given from the place affected, the pleurisy is so; nor from the effect which it works, the falling sickness is so; they cannot have names enough, from what it does, nor where it is, but they must extort names from what it is like, what it resembles, and but in some one thing, or else they would lack names; for the wolf, and the canker, and the polypus are so; and that question whether there be more names or things, is as perplexed in sicknesses as in any thing else; except it be easily resolved upon that side that there are more sicknesses than names. If ruin were reduced to that one way, that man could perish no way but by sickness, yet his danger were infinite; and if sickness were reduced to that one way, that there were no sickness but a fever, yet the way were infinite still; for it would overload and oppress any natural, disorder and discompose any artificial, memory, to deliver the names of several fevers; how intricate a work then have they who are gone to consult which of these sicknesses mine is, and then which of these fevers, and then what it would do, and then how it may be countermined. But even in ill it is a degree of good when the evil will admit consultation. In many diseases, that which is but an accident, but a symptom of the main disease, is so violent, that the physician must attend the cure of that, though he pretermit (so far as to intermit) the cure of the disease itself. Is it not so in states too? Sometimes the insolency of those that are great puts the people into commotions; the great disease, and the greatest danger to the head, is the insolency of the great ones; and yet they execute martial law, they come to present executions upon the people, whose commotion was indeed but a symptom, but an accident of the main disease; but this symptom, grown so violent, would allow no time for a consultation. Is it not so in the accidents of the diseases of our mind too? Is it not evidently so in our affections, in our passions? If a choleric man be ready to strike, must I go about to purge his choler, or to break the blow? But where there is room for consultation things are not desperate. They consult, so there is nothing rashly, inconsiderately done; and then they prescribe, they write, so there is nothing covertly, disguisedly, unavowedly done. In bodily diseases it is not always so; sometimes, as soon as the physician’s foot is in the chamber, his knife is in the patient’s arm; the disease would not allow a minute’s forbearing of blood, nor prescribing of other remedies. In states and matter of government it is so too; they are sometimes surprised with such accidents, as that the magistrate asks not what may be done by law, but does that which must necessarily be done in that case. But it is a degree of good in evil, a degree that carries hope and comfort in it, when we may have recourse to that which is written, and that the proceedings may be apert, and ingenuous, and candid, and avowable, for that gives satisfaction and acquiescence. They who have received my anatomy of myself consult, and end their consultation in prescribing, and in prescribing physic; proper and convenient remedy; for if they should come in again and chide me for some disorder that had occasioned and induced, or that had hastened and exalted this sickness, or if they should begin to write now rules for my diet and exercise when I were well, this were to antedate or to postdate their consultation, not to give physic. It were rather a vexation than a relief, to tell a condemned prisoner, You might have lived if you had done this; and if you can get your pardon, you shall do well to take this or this course hereafter. I am glad they know (I have hid nothing from them), glad they consult (they hid nothing from one another), glad they write (they hide nothing from the world), glad that they write and prescribe physic, that there are remedies for the present case.

IX. Expostulation.

My God, my God, allow me a just indignation, a holy detestation of the insolency of that man who, because he was of that high rank, of whom thou hast said, They are gods, thought himself more than equal to thee; that king of Aragon, Alphonsus, so perfect in the motions of the heavenly bodies as that he adventured to say, that if he had been of counsel with thee, in the making of the heavens, the heavens should have been disposed in a better order than they are. The king Amaziah would not endure thy prophet to reprehend him, but asked him in anger, Art thou made of the king’s counsel?127 When thy prophet Esaias asks that question, Who hath directed the spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor, hath taught him?128 it is after he had settled and determined that office upon thy Son, and him only, when he joins with those great titles, the mighty God and the Prince of peace, this also, the Counsellor;129 and after he had settled upon him the spirit of might and of counsel.130 So that then thou, O God, though thou have no counsel from man, yet dost nothing upon man without counsel. In the making of man there was a consultation; Let us make man.131 In the preserving of man, O thou great Preserver of men,132 thou proceedest by counsel; for all thy external works are the works of the whole Trinity, and their hand is to every action. How much more must I apprehend that all you blessed and glorious persons of the Trinity are in consultation now, what you will do with this infirm body, with this leprous soul, that attends guiltily, but yet comfortably, your determination upon it. I offer not to counsel them who meet in consultation for my body now, but I open my infirmities, I anatomize my body to them. So I do my soul to thee, O my God, in an humble confession, that there is no vein in me that is not full of the blood of thy Son, whom I have crucified and crucified again, by multiplying many, and often repeating the same, sins; that there is no artery in me that hath not the spirit of error, the spirit of lust, the spirit of giddiness in it;133 no bone in me that is not hardened with the custom of sin and nourished and suppled with the marrow of sin; no sinews, no ligaments, that do not tie and chain sin and sin together. Yet, O blessed and glorious Trinity, O holy and whole college, and yet but one physician, if you take this confession into a consultation, my case is not desperate, my destruction is not decreed. If your consultation determine in writing, if you refer me to that which is written, you intend my recovery: for all the way, O my God (ever constant to thine own ways), thou hast proceeded openly, intelligibly, manifestly by the book. From thy first book, the book of life, never shut to thee, but never thoroughly open to us; from thy second book, the book of nature, where, though subobscurely and in shadows, thou hast expressed thine own image; from thy third book, the Scriptures, where thou hadst written all in the Old, and then lightedst us a candle to read it by, in the New, Testament; to these thou hadst added the book of just and useful laws, established by them to whom thou hast committed thy people; to those, the manuals, the pocket, the bosom books of our own consciences; to those thy particular books of all our particular sins; and to those, the books with seven seals, which only the Lamb which was slain, was found worthy to open;134 which, I hope, it shall not disagree with the meaning of thy blessed Spirit to interpret the promulgation of their pardon and righteousness who are washed in the blood of that Lamb; and if thou refer me to these books, to a new reading, a new trial by these books, this fever may be but a burning in the hand and I may be saved, though not by my book, mine own conscience, nor by thy other books, yet by thy first, the book of life, thy decree for my election, and by thy last, the book of the Lamb, and the shedding of his blood upon me. If I be still under consultation, I am not condemned yet; if I be sent to these books, I shall not be condemned at all; for though there be something written in some of those books (particularly in the Scriptures) which some men turn to poison, yet upon these consultations (these confessions, these takings of our particular cases into thy consideration) thou intendest all for physic; and even from those sentences from which a too late repenter will suck desperation, he that seeks thee early shall receive thy morning dew, thy seasonable mercy, thy forward consolation.

IX. Prayer.

O eternal and most gracious God, who art of so pure eyes as that thou canst not look upon sin, and we of so unpure constitutions as that we can present no object but sin, and therefore might justly fear that thou wouldst turn thine eyes for ever from us, as, though we cannot endure afflictions in ourselves, yet in thee we can; so, though thou canst not endure sin in us, yet in thy Son thou canst, and he hath taken upon himself, and presented to thee, all those sins which might displease thee in us. There is an eye in nature that kills as soon as it sees, the eye of a serpent; no eye in nature that nourishes us by looking upon us; but thine eye, O Lord, does so. Look therefore upon me, O Lord, in this distress and that will recall me from the borders of this bodily death; look upon me, and that will raise me again from that spiritual death in which my parents buried me when they begot me in sin, and in which I have pierced even to the jaws of hell by multiplying such heaps of actual sins upon that foundation, that root of original sin. Yet take me again into your consultation, O blessed and glorious Trinity; and though the Father know that I have defaced his image received in my creation; though the Son know I have neglected mine interest in the redemption; yet, O blessed Spirit, as thou art to my conscience so be to them, a witness that, at this minute, I accept that which I have so often, so rebelliously refused, thy blessed inspirations; be thou my witness to them that, at more pores than this slack body sweats tears, this sad soul weeps blood; and more for the displeasure of my God, than for the stripes of his displeasure. Take me, then, O blessed and glorious Trinity, into a reconsultation, and prescribe me any physic. If it be a long and painful holding of this soul in sickness, it is physic if I may discern thy hand to give it; and it is physic if it be a speedy departing of this soul, if I may discern thy hand to receive it.

127 2 Chron. xxv. 16.

128 Isaiah, xlii. 13.

129 Isaiah, ix. 6.

130 Isaiah, xi. 2.

131 Gen. i. 26.

132 Job, vii. 20.

133 1 Tim. iv. 1; Hos. iv. 12; Isaiah, xix. 14.

134 Rev. vii. 1.

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