Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne

XXII. Sit morbi fomes tibi cura.

The physicians consider the root and occasion, the embers, and coals, and fuel of the disease, and seek to purge or correct that.

XXII. Meditation.

How ruinous a farm hath man taken, in taking himself! How ready is the house every day to fall down, and how is all the ground overspread with weeds, all the body with diseases; where not only every turf, but every stone bears weeds; not only every muscle of the flesh, but every bone of the body hath some infirmity; every little flint upon the face of this soil hath some infectious weed, every tooth in our head such a pain as a constant man is afraid of, and yet ashamed of that fear, of that sense of the pain. How dear, and how often a rent doth man pay for his farm! He pays twice a day, in double meals, and how little time he hath to raise his rent! How many holidays to call him from his labour! Every day is half holiday, half spent in sleep. What reparations, and subsidies, and contributions he is put to, besides his rent! What medicines besides his diet; and what inmates he is fain to take in, besides his own family; what infectious diseases from other men! Adam might have had Paradise for dressing and keeping it; and then his rent was not improved to such a labour as would have made his brow sweat; and yet he gave it over; how far greater a rent do we pay for this farm, this body, who pay ourselves, who pay the farm itself, and cannot live upon it! Neither is our labour at an end when we have cut down some weed as soon as it sprung up, corrected some violent and dangerous accident of a disease which would have destroyed speedily, nor when we have pulled up that weed from the very root, recovered entirely and soundly from that particular disease; but the whole ground is of an ill nature, the whole soil ill disposed; there are inclinations, there is a propenseness to diseases in the body, out of which, without any other disorder, diseases will grow, and so we are put to a continual labour upon this farm, to a continual study of the whole complexion and constitution of our body. In the distempers and diseases of soils, sourness, dryness, weeping, any kind of barrenness, the remedy and the physic is, for a great part, sometimes in themselves; sometimes the very situation relieves them; the hanger of a hill will purge and vent his own malignant moisture, and the burning of the upper turf of some ground (as health from cauterizing) puts a new and a vigorous youth into that soil, and there rises a kind of phœnix out of the ashes, a fruitfulness out of that which was barren before, and by that which is the barrenest of all, ashes. And where the ground cannot give itself physic, yet it receives physic from other grounds, from other soils, which are not the worse for having contributed that help to them from marl in other hills, or from slimy sand in other shores, grounds help themselves, or hurt not other grounds from whence they receive help. But I have taken a farm at this hard rent, and upon those heavy covenants, that it can afford itself no help (no part of my body, if it were cut off, would cure another part; in some cases it might preserve a sound part, but in no case recover an infected); and if my body may have had any physic, any medicine from another body, one man from the flesh of another man (as by mummy, or any such composition), it must be from a man that is dead, and not as in other soils, which are never the worse for contributing their marl or their fat slime to my ground. There is nothing in the same man to help man, nothing in mankind to help one another (in this sort, by way of physic), but that he who ministers the help is in as ill case as he that receives it would have been if he had not had it; for he from whose body the physic comes is dead. When therefore I took this farm, undertook this body, I undertook to drain not a marsh but a moat, where there was, not water mingled to offend, but all was water; I undertook to perfume dung, where no one part but all was equally unsavoury; I undertook to make such a thing wholesome, as was not poison by any manifest quality, intense heat or cold, but poison in the whole substance, and in the specific form of it. To cure the sharp accidents of diseases is a great work; to cure the disease itself is a greater; but to cure the body, the root, the occasion of diseases, is a work reserved for the great physician, which he doth never any other way but by glorifying these bodies in the next world.

XXII. Expostulation.

My God, my God, what am I put to when I am put to consider and put off the root, the fuel, the occasion of my sickness? What Hippocrates, what Galen, could show me that in my body? It lies deeper than so, it lies in my soul; and deeper than so, for we may well consider the body before the soul came, before inanimation, to be without sin; and the soul, before it come to the body, before that infection, to be without sin: sin is the root and the fuel of all sickness, and yet that which destroys body and soul is in neither, but in both together. It is the union of the body and soul, and, O my God, could I prevent that, or can I dissolve that? The root and the fuel of my sickness is my sin, my actual sin; but even that sin hath another root, another fuel, original sin; and can I divest that? Wilt thou bid me to separate the leaven that a lump of dough hath received, or the salt, that the water hath contracted, from the sea? Dost thou look, that I should so look to the fuel or embers of sin, that I never take fire? The whole world is a pile of fagots, upon which we are laid, and (as though there were no other) we are the bellows. Ignorance blows the fire. He that touched any unclean thing, though he knew it not, became unclean,315 and a sacrifice was required (therefore a sin imputed), though it were done in ignorance.316 Ignorance blows this coal; but then knowledge much more; for there are that know thy judgments, and yet not only do, but have pleasure in others that do against them.317 Nature blows this coal; by nature we are the children of wrath;318 and the law blows it; thy apostle Saint Paul found that sin took occasion by the law, that therefore, because it is forbidden, we do some things. If we break the law, we sin; sin is the transgression of the law;319 and sin itself becomes a law in our members.320 Our fathers have imprinted the seed, infused a spring of sin in us. As a fountain casteth out her waters, we cast out our wickedness, but we have done worse than our fathers.321 We are open to infinite temptations, and yet, as though we lacked, we are tempted of our own lusts.322 And not satisfied with that, as though we were not powerful enough, or cunning enough, to demolish or undermine ourselves, when we ourselves have no pleasure in the sin, we sin for others’ sakes. When Adam sinned for Eve’s sake,323 and Solomon to gratify his wives,324 it was an uxorious sin; when the judges sinned for Jezebel’s sake,325 and Joab to obey David,326 it was an ambitious sin; when Pilate sinned to humour the people,327 and Herod to give farther contentment to the Jews,328 it was a popular sin. Any thing serves to occasion sin, at home in my bosom, or abroad in my mark and aim; that which I am, and that which I am not, that which I would be, proves coals, and embers, and fuel, and bellows to sin; and dost thou put me, O my God, to discharge myself of myself, before I can be well? When thou bidst me to put off the old man,329 dost thou mean not only my old habits of actual sin, but the oldest of all, original sin? When thou bidst me purge out the leaven,330 dost thou mean not only the sourness of mine own ill contracted customs, but the innate tincture of sin imprinted by nature? How shall I do that which thou requirest, and not falsify that which thou hast said, that sin is gone over all? But, O my God, I press thee not with thine own text, without thine own comment; I know that in the state of my body, which is more discernible than that of my soul, thou dost effigiate my soul to me. And though no anatomist can say, in dissecting a body, “Here lay the coal, the fuel, the occasion of all bodily diseases,” but yet a man may have such a knowledge of his own constitution and bodily inclination to diseases, as that he may prevent his danger in a great part; so, though we cannot assign the place of original sin, nor the nature of it, so exactly as of actual, or by any diligence divest it, yet, having washed it in the water of thy baptism, we have not only so cleansed it, that we may the better look upon it and discern it, but so weakened it, that howsoever it may retain the former nature, it doth not retain the former force, and though it may have the same name, it hath not the same venom.

XXII. Prayer.

O eternal and most gracious God, the God of security, and the enemy of security too, who wouldst have us always sure of thy love, and yet wouldst have us always doing something for it, let me always so apprehend thee as present with me, and yet so follow after thee, as though I had not apprehended thee. Thou enlargedst Hezekiah’s lease for fifteen years; thou renewedst Lazarus’s lease for a time which we know not; but thou didst never so put out any of these fires as that thou didst not rake up the embers, and wrap up a future mortality in that body, which thou hadst then so reprieved. Thou proceedest no otherwise in our souls, O our good but fearful God; thou pardonest no sin, so as that that sinner can sin no more; thou makest no man so acceptable as that thou makest him impeccable. Though therefore it were a diminution of the largeness, and derogatory to the fulness of thy mercy, to look back upon the sins which in a true repentance I have buried in the wounds of thy Son, with a jealous or suspicious eye, as though they were now my sins, when I had so transferred them upon thy Son, as though they could now be raised to life again, to condemn me to death, when they are dead in him who is the fountain of life, yet were it an irregular anticipation, and an insolent presumption, to think that thy present mercy extended to all my future sins, or that there were no embers, no coals, of future sins left in me. Temper therefore thy mercy so to my soul, O my God, that I may neither decline to any faintness of spirit, in suspecting thy mercy now to be less hearty, less sincere, than it uses to be, to those who are perfectly reconciled to thee, nor presume so of it as either to think this present mercy an antidote against all poisons, and so expose myself to temptations, upon confidence that this thy mercy shall preserve me, or that when I do cast myself into new sins, I may have new mercy at any time, because thou didst so easily afford me this.

315 Lev. v. 2.

316 Num. xv. 24.

317 Rom. i. 32.

318 Eph. ii. 3.

319 1 John, iii. 4.

320 Rom. vii. 23.

321 Jer. vi. 7; vii. 26.

322 James, i. 14.

323 Gen. iii. 6.

324 1 Kings, xi. 3.

325 1 Kings, xxi.

326 2 Sam. xi. 16-21.

327 Luke, xxiii. 23.

328 Acts, xii. 3.

329 Eph. iv. 22.

330 1 Cor. v. 7.

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