John Donne

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

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pg 33557. From a Sermon Preached at S. Pauls, for Easter-day. 16281

(i)

The whole frame of the world is the Theatre, and every creature the stage, the mediutn, the glasse in which we may see God. Moses made the Laver In the Tabernacle, of the looking glasses of women: Scarce can you imagine a vainer thing (except you will except the vain lookers on, in that action) than the looking-glasses of women; and yet Moses brought the looking-glasses of women to a religious use, to shew them that came in, the spots of dirt, which they had taken by the way, that they might wash themselves cleane before they passed any farther.

There is not so poore a creature but may be thy glasse to see God in. The greatest flat glasse that can be made, cannot represent any thing greater than it is: If every gnat that flies were an Archangell, all that could but tell me, that there is a God; and the poorest worme that creeps, tells me that. If I should aske the Basilisk, how camest thou by those killing eyes, he would tell me, Thy God made me so; And if I should aske the Slow-worme, how camest thou to be without eyes, he would tell me, Thy God made me so. The Cedar is no better a glasse to see God in, than the Hyssope upon the wall; all things that are, are equally removed from being nothing; and whatsoever hath any beeing, is by that very beeing, a glasse in which we see God, who is the roote, and the fountaine of all beeing. The whole frame of nature is the Theatre, the whole Volume of creatures is the glasse, and the light of nature, reason, is our light, which is another Circumstance.

Of those words, John 1. 9. That was the true light, that lighteth every man that commeth into the World, the slackest sense that they can admit, gives light enough to see God by. If we spare S. Chrysostomes sense, That that light, is the light of the Gospel, and of Grace, and that that light, considered in it self, and without opposition in us, does enlighten, that is, would enlighten, every man, if that man pg 336did not wink at that light; If we forbear S. Augustines sense, That light enlightens every man, that is, every man that is enlightned, is enlightned by that light; If we take but S. Cyrils sense, that this light is the light of naturall Reason, which, without all question, enlightneth every man that comes into the world, yet have we light enough to see God by that light, in the Theatre of Nature, and in the glasse of Creatures. God affords no man the comfort, the false comfort of Atheism: He will not allow a pretending Atheist the power to flatter himself, so far, as seriously to thinke there is no God. He must pull out his own eyes, and see no creature, before he can say, he sees no God; He must be no man, and quench his reasonable soule, before he can say to himselfe, there is no God. The difference betweene the Reason of man, and the Instinct of the beast is this, That the beast does but know, but the man knows that he knows. The bestiall Atheist will pretend that he knows there is no God; but he cannot say, that hee knows, that he knows it; for, his knowledge will not stand the battery of an argument from another, nor of a ratiocination from himselfe. He dares not aske himselfe, who is it that I pray to, in a sudden danger, if there be no God? Nay he dares not aske, who is it that I sweare by, in a sudden passion, if there be no God? Whom do I tremble at, and sweat under, at midnight, and whom do I curse by next morning, if there be no God? It is safely said in the Schoole, Media perfecta ad quæ ordinantur, How weak soever those meanes which are ordained by God, seeme to be, and be indeed in themselves, yet they are strong enough to those ends and purposes, for which God ordained them.

(ii)

The light of glory is such a light, as that our School-men dare not say confidently, That every beam of it, is not all of it. When some of them say, That some soules see some things in God, and others, others, because all have not the same measure of the light of glory, the rest cry down that opinion, and say, that as the Essence of God is indivisible, and he that sees any of it, sees all of it, so is the light of glory communicated intirely to every blessed soul. God made light first, and three dayes after, that light became a Sun, a more glorious Light: God gave me the light of Nature, when I pg 337quickned in my mothers wombe by receiving a reasonable soule; and God gave me the light of faith, when I quickned in my second mothers womb, the Church, by receiving my baptisme; but in my third day, when my mortality shall put on immortality, he shall give me the light of glory, by which I shall see himself. To this light of glory, the light of honour is but a glow-worm; and majesty it self but a twilight; The Cherubims and Seraphims are but Candles; and that Gospel it self, which the Apostle calls the glorious Gospel, but a Star of the least magnitude. And if I cannot tell, what to call this light, by which I shall see it, what shall I call that which I shall see by it, The Essence of God himself? and yet there is something else than this sight of God, intended in that which remaines, I shall not only see God face to face, but I shall know him, (which, as you have seen all the way, is above sight) and know him, even as also I am knowne.

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Editor’s Note
1 On the text: 'For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know, even as also I am known' (1 Cor. xiii. 12).
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