John Donne

Evelyn Simpson, Helen Gardner, and T. S. Healy (eds), Selected Prose

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pg 23526. From an Anniversary Sermon Preached at St.Dunstans, upon the commemoration of a Parishioner,a Benefactor to that Parish. [? 29 June 1624]1

So, if he who is Serpens serpens humi, the Serpent condemned to creep upon the ground, doe transforme himselfe into a flying Serpent, and attempt our nobler faculties, there is Serpens exaltatus, a Serpent lifted up in the wildernesse to recover all them that are stung, and feel that they are stung with this Serpent, this flying Serpent, that is, these high and continued sinnes. The creeping Serpent, the groveling Serpent, is Craft; the exalted Serpent, the crucified Serpent, is Wisdome. All your worldly cares, all your crafty bargainee, all your subtill matches, all your diggings into other mens estates, all your hedgings in of debts, all your planting of children in great allyances; all these diggings, and hedgings and plantings savour of the earth, and of the craft of that Serpent, that creeps upon the earth: But crucifie this craft of yours, bring all your worldly subtilty under the Crosse of Christ Jesus, husband your farmes so, as you may give a good account to him, presse your debts so, as you would be pressed by him, market and bargaine so, as that you would give all, to buy that field, in which his treasure, and his pearle is hid, and then you have changed the Serpent, from the Serpent of perdition creeping upon the earth, to the Serpent of salvation exalted in the wildernesse. Creeping wisedome, that still looks downward, is but craft; Crucified wisedome, that looks upward, is truly wisedome. Between you and that ground Serpent God hath kindled a war; and the nearer you come to a peace with him, the farther ye go from God, and the more ye exasperate the pg 236Lord of Hosts, and you whet his sword against your own souls. A truce with that Serpent, is too near a peace; to condition with your conscience for a time, that you may continue in such a sin, till you have paid for such a purchase, married such a daughter, bought such an annuity, undermined and eaten out such an unthrift, this truce, (though you mean to end it before you die) is too near a peace with that Serpent, between whom and you, God hath kindled an everlasting war. A cessation of Arms, that is, not to watch all his attempts and tentations, not to examine all your particular actions, A Treaty of Peace, that is, to dispute and debate in the behalf and favour of a sin, to palliate, to disguise, to extenuate that sin, this is too near a peace with this Serpent, this creeping Serpent. But in the other Serpent, the crucified Serpent, God hath reconciled to himself, all things in heaven, and earth, and hell. You have peace in the assistance of the Angels of heaven, Peace in the contribution of the powerfull prayers, and of the holy examples of the Saints upon earth, peace in the victory and triumph over the power of hell, peace from sins towards men, peace of affections in your selves, peace of conscience towards God. From your childhood you have been called upon to hold your peace; To be content is to hold your peace; murmure not at God, in any corrections of his, and you doe hold this peace. That creeping Serpent, Satan, is war, and should be so; The crucified Serpent Christ Jesus is peace, and shall be so for ever. The creeping Serpent eats our dust, the strength of our bodies in sicknesses, and our glory in the dust of the grave: The crucified Serpent hath taken our flesh, and our blood, and given us his flesh, and his blood for it; And therefore, as David, when he was thought base, for his holy freedome in dancing before the Ark, said he would be more base; so, since we are all made of red earth, let him that is red, be more red; Let him that is red with the blood of his own soul, be red again in blushing for that rednesse, and more red in the Communion of the blood of Christ Jesus; whom we shall eat all the days of our life, and be mystically, and mysteriously, and spiritually, and Sacramentally united to him in this life, and gloriously in the next.

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Editor’s Note
1 On the text: 'And dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life' (Gen. iii. 14).
The reversion of the living of St. Dunstan's-in-the-West was given to Donne soon after he took orders by Richard, third Earl of Dorset. He succeeded on the death of the incumbent on 1 March 1624. He appointed a curate, Matthew Griffiths, to do the ordinary clerical duties, and installed him in the vicarage; but he took pains to preach fairly regularly himself. Among his parishioners was Izaak Walton, who had a linen-draper's shop in Fleet Street, west of Chancery Lane.
Professor Baird Whitlock found an entry in the St. Dunstan's records for 29 June 1624: 'paid to Mr. Deane for a sermon for Mr. Adams xs'. The 29th of June was the day (year unknown) of the funeral of the Mr. Adams who had left money for these commemorative sermons. Donne preached the Adams sermon again in 1626,1627, and 1628. Evelyn Simpson accepted Professor Whitlock's suggestion that this was the first of these sermons.
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