Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne

XI. Nobilibusque trahunt, a cincto corde, venenum, Succis et gemmis, et quæ generosa, ministrant Ars, et natura, instillant.

They use cordials, to keep the venom and malignity of the disease from the heart.

XI. Meditation.

Whence can we take a better argument, a clearer demonstration, that all the greatness of this world is built upon opinion of others and hath in itself no real being, nor power of subsistence, than from the heart of man? It is always in action and motion, still busy, still pretending to do all, to furnish all the powers and faculties with all that they have; but if an enemy dare rise up against it, it is the soonest endangered, the soonest defeated of any part. The brain will hold out longer than it, and the liver longer than that; they will endure a siege; but an unnatural heat, a rebellious heat, will blow up the heart, like a mine, in a minute. But howsoever, since the heart hath the birthright and primogeniture, and that it is nature’s eldest son in us, the part which is first born to life in man, and that the other parts, as younger brethren, and servants in his family, have a dependance upon it, it is reason that the principal care be had of it, though it be not the strongest part, as the eldest is oftentimes not the strongest of the family. And since the brain, and liver, and heart hold not a triumvirate in man, a sovereignty equally shed upon them all, for his well-being, as the four elements do for his very being, but the heart alone is in the principality, and in the throne, as king, the rest as subjects, though in eminent place and office, must contribute to that, as children to their parents, as all persons to all kinds of superiors, though oftentimes those parents or those superiors be not of stronger parts than themselves, that serve and obey them that are weaker. Neither doth this obligation fall upon us, by second dictates of nature, by consequences and conclusions arising out of nature, or derived from nature by discourse (as many things bind us even by the law of nature, and yet not by the primary law of nature; as all laws of propriety in that which we possess are of the law of nature, which law is, to give every one his own, and yet in the primary law of nature there was no propriety, no meum et tuum, but an universal community overall; so the obedience of superiors is of the law of nature, and yet in the primary law of nature there was no superiority, no magistracy); but this contribution of assistance of all to the sovereign, of all parts to the heart, is from the very first dictates of nature, which is, in the first place, to have care of our own preservation, to look first to ourselves; for therefore doth the physician intermit the present care of brain or liver, because there is a possibility that they may subsist, though there be not a present and a particular care had of them, but there is no possibility that they can subsist, if the heart perish: and so, when we seem to begin with others, in such assistances, indeed, we do begin with ourselves, and we ourselves are principally in our contemplation; and so all these officious and mutual assistances are but compliments towards others, and our true end is ourselves. And this is the reward of the pains of kings; sometimes they need the power of law to be obeyed; and when they seem to be obeyed voluntarily, they who do it do it for their own sakes. O how little a thing is all the greatness of man and through how false glasses doth he make shift to multiply it, and magnify it to himself! And yet this is also another misery of this king of man, the heart, which is also applicable to the kings of this world, great men, that the venom and poison of every pestilential disease directs itself to the heart, affects that (pernicious affection), and the malignity of ill men is also directed upon the greatest and the best; and not only greatness but goodness loses the vigour of being an antidote or cordial against it. And as the noblest and most generous cordials that nature or art afford, or can prepare, if they be often taken and made familiar, become no cordials, nor have any extraordinary operation, so the greatest cordial of the heart, patience, if it be much exercised, exalts the venom and the malignity of the enemy, and the more we suffer the more we are insulted upon. When God had made this earth of nothing, it was but a little help that he had, to make other things of this earth: nothing can be nearer nothing than this earth; and yet how little of this earth is the greatest man! He thinks he treads upon the earth, that all is under his feet, and the brain that thinks so is but earth; his highest region, the flesh that covers that, is but earth, and even the top of that, that wherein so many Absaloms take so much pride, is but a bush growing upon that turf of earth. How little of the world is the earth! And yet that is all that man hath or is. How little of a man is the heart, and yet it is all by which he is; and this continually subject not only to foreign poisons conveyed by others, but to intestine poisons bred in ourselves by pestilential sicknesses. O who, if before he had a being he could have sense of this misery, would buy a being here upon these conditions?

XI. Expostulation.

My God, my God, all that thou askest of me is my heart, My Son, give me thy heart.147 Am I thy Son as long as I have but my heart? Wilt thou give me an inheritance, a filiation, any thing for my heart? O thou, who saidst to Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him upon the earth,148 shall my fear, shall my zeal, shall my jealousy, have leave to say to thee, Hast thou considered my heart, that there is not so perverse a heart upon earth; and wouldst thou have that, and shall I be thy son, thy eternal Son’s coheir, for giving that? The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?149 He that asks that question makes the answer, I the Lord search the heart. When didst thou search mine? Dost thou think to find it, as thou madest it, in Adam? Thou hast searched since, and found all these gradations in the ill of our hearts, that every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil continually.150 Dost thou remember this, and wouldst thou have my heart? O God of all light, I know thou knowest all, and it is thou151 that declarest unto man what is his heart. Without thee, O sovereign Goodness, I could not know how ill my heart were. Thou hast declared unto me, in thy word, that for all this deluge of evil that hath surrounded all hearts, yet thou soughtest and foundest a man after thine own heart;152 that thou couldst and wouldst give thy people pastors according to thine own heart;153 and I can gather out of thy word so good testimony of the hearts of men as to find single hearts, docile and apprehensive hearts; hearts that can, hearts that have learned; wise hearts in one place, and in another in a great degree wise, perfect hearts; straight hearts, no perverseness without; and clean hearts, no foulness within: such hearts I can find in thy word; and if my heart were such a heart, I would give thee my heart. But I find stony hearts too,154 and I have made mine such: I have found hearts that are snares;155 and I have conversed with such; hearts that burn like ovens;156 and the fuel of lust, and envy, and ambition, hath inflamed mine; hearts in which their masters trust, and he that trusteth in his own heart is a fool;157 his confidence in his own moral constancy and civil fortitude will betray him, when thou shalt cast a spiritual damp, a heaviness and dejection of spirit upon him. I have found these hearts, and a worse than these, a heart into the which the devil himself is entered, Judas’s heart.158 The first kind of heart, alas, my God, I have not; the last are not hearts to be given to thee. What shall I do? Without that present I cannot be thy son, and I have it not. To those of the first kind thou givest joyfulness of heart,159 and I have not that; to those of the other kind thou givest faintness of heart;160 and blessed be thou, O God, for that forbearance, I have not that yet. There is then a middle kind of hearts, not so perfect as to be given but that the very giving mends them; not so desperate as not to be accepted but that the very accepting dignifies them. This is a melting heart,161 and a troubled heart, and a wounded heart, and a broken heart, and a contrite heart; and by the powerful working of thy piercing Spirit such a heart I have. Thy Samuel spake unto all the house of thy Israel, and said, If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, prepare your hearts unto the Lord.162 If my heart be prepared, it is a returning heart. And if thou see it upon the way, thou wilt carry it home. Nay, the preparation is thine too; this melting, this wounding, this breaking, this contrition, which I have now, is thy way to thy end; and those discomforts are, for all that, the earnest of thy Spirit in my heart;163 and where thou givest earnest, thou wilt perform the bargain. Nabal was confident upon his wine, but in the morning his heart died within him.164 Thou, O Lord, hast given me wormwood, and I have had some diffidence upon that; and thou hast cleared a morning to me again, and my heart is alive. David’s heart smote him when he cut off the skirt from Saul;165 and his heart smote him when he had numbered his people:166 my heart hath struck me when I come to number my sins; but that blow is not to death, because those sins are not to death, but my heart lives in thee. But yet as long as I remain in this great hospital, this sick, this diseaseful world, as long as I remain in this leprous house, this flesh of mine, this heart, though thus prepared for thee, prepared by thee, will still be subject to the invasion of malign and pestilent vapours. But I have my cordials in thy promise; when I shall know the plague of my heart, and pray unto thee in thy house,167 thou wilt preserve that heart from all mortal force of that infection; and the peace of God, which passeth all understandings shall keep my heart and mind through Christ Jesus.168

XI. Prayer.

O eternal and most gracious God, who in thy upper house, the heavens, though there be many mansions, yet art alike and equally in every mansion; but here in thy lower house, though thou fillest all, yet art otherwise in some rooms thereof than in others; otherwise in thy church than in my chamber, and otherwise in thy sacraments than in my prayers; so though thou be always present and always working in every room of this thy house, my body, yet I humbly beseech thee to manifest always a more effectual presence in my heart than in the other offices. Into the house of thine anointed, disloyal persons, traitors, will come; into thy house, the church, hypocrites and idolators will come; into some rooms of this thy house, my body, temptations will come, infections will come; but be my heart thy bedchamber, O my God, and thither let them not enter. Job made a covenant with his eyes, but not his making of that covenant, but thy dwelling in his heart, enabled him to keep that covenant. Thy Son himself had a sadness in his soul to death, and he had a reluctation, a deprecation of death, in the approaches thereof; but he had his cordial too, Yet not my will, but thine be done. And as thou hast not delivered us, thine adopted sons, from these infectious temptations, so neither hast thou delivered us over to them, nor withheld thy cordials from us. I was baptized in thy cordial water against original sin, and I have drunk of thy cordial blood, for my recovery from actual and habitual sin, in the other sacrament. Thou, O Lord, who hast imprinted all medicinal virtues which are in all creatures, and hast made even the flesh of vipers to assist in cordials, art able to make this present sickness, everlasting health, this weakness, everlasting strength, and this very dejection and faintness of heart, a powerful cordial. When thy blessed Son cried out to thee, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? thou didst reach out thy hand to him; but not to deliver his sad soul, but to receive his holy soul: neither did he longer desire to hold it of thee, but to recommend it to thee. I see thine hand upon me now, O Lord, and I ask not why it comes, what it intends; whether thou wilt bid it stay still in this body for some time, or bid it meet thee this day in paradise, I ask not, not in a wish, not in a thought. Infirmity of nature, curiosity of mind, are temptations that offer; but a silent and absolute obedience to thy will, even before I know it, is my cordial. Preserve that to me, O my God, and that will preserve me to thee; that, when thou hast catechised me with affliction here, I may take a greater degree, and serve thee in a higher place, in thy kingdom of joy and glory. Amen.

147 Prov. xxiii. 26.

148 Job, i. 8.

149 Jer. xvii. 9.

150 Gen. vi. 5.

151 Amos, iv. 13.

152 1 Sam. xiii. 14.

153 Jer. iii. 15.

154 Ezek. xi. 19.

155 Eccles. vii. 26.

156 Hos. vii. 6.

157 Prov. xxviii. 26.

158 John, xiii. 2.

159 Ecclus. l. 23.

160 Lev. xxvi. 36.

161 Josh. ii. 11.

162 1 Sam. vii. 3.

163 2 Cor. i. 22.

164 1 Sam. xxv. 37.

165 1 Sam. xxiv. 5.

166 2 Sam. xxiv. 10.

167 1 Kings, viii. 38.

168 Phil. iv. 7.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53