John Donne

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

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64. From a Sermon Preached at S. Pauls, upon Whitsunday. 16291


The Action of the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, in this place, is expressed in a word, of a double, and very diverse signification; for it signifies motion, and it signifies rest. And therefore, as S. Augustine argues upon those words of David, Thou knowest my downe sitting, and my uprising, That God knew all that he did, betweene his downe sitting and his uprising; So in this word which signifies the Holy Ghosts first motion, and his last rest, we comprehend all that was done in the production, and creation of the Creatures. This word, we translate, As the Eagle fluttereth over her young ones, so it is a word of Motion; And S. Hierom upon our Text expresses it by Incubabat, to sit upon her young ones, to hatch them, or to preserve them, so it is a word of rest. And so, the Jews take this word to signifie, pg 354properly the birds hatching of eggs. S. Cyprian unites the two significations well, Spiritus sanctus dabat aquis motum, & limitem; The Holy Ghost enabled the waters to move, and appointed how, and how far they should move. The beginnings, and the waies, and the ends, must proceed from God, and from God the Holy Ghost: That is, by those meanes, and those declarations, by which God doth manifest himselfe to us, for that is the office of the holy Ghost, to manifest and apply God to us. Now the word in our Text is not truly Ferebatur, The Spirit moved, which denotes a thing past; but the word is Movens, Moving, a Participle of the present; So that we ascribe first Gods manifestation of himself in the creation, and then the continuall manifestation of himself in his providence, to the holy Ghost; for God had two purposes in the creation, Ut sint, ut maneant, That the creature should be, and be still; That it should exist at first, and subsist after; Be made, and made permanent. God did not mean that Paradise should have been of so small use when he made it; he made it for a perpetuall habitation for man. God did not mean that man should be the subject of his wrath when he made him; he made him to take pleasure in, and to shed glory upon him. The holy Ghost moves, he is the first author; the holy Ghost perpetuates, settles, establishes, he is our rest, and acquiescence, and center; Beginning, Way, End, all is in this word, Recaph; The Spirit of God moved, and rested. And upon what? And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.


To end all with the end of all, Death comes to us in the name, and notion of waters too, in the Scriptures. The Widow of Tekoah said to David in the behalfe of Absalon, by the Counsaile of Joab, The water of death overflowes all; We must needs dye, saies she, and are as water spilt upon the ground, which cannot be gathered up againe: yet God devises meanes, that his banished, be not expelled from him. So the Spirit of God moves upon the face of these waters, the Spirit of life upon the danger of death. Consider the love, more than love, the study, more than study, the diligence of God, he devises meanes, that his banished, those whom sins, or death had banished, be not expelled from him. I sinned upon the strength of my youth, and pg 355God devised a meanes to reclaime me, an enfeebling sicknesse. I relapsed after my recovery, and God devised a meanes, an irrecoverable, a helpless Consumption to reclaime me; That affliction grew heavy upon me, and weighed me down even to a diffidence in Gods mercy, and God devised a meanes, the comfort of the Angel of his Church, his Minister, The comfort of the Angel of the great Counsell, the body and blood of his Son Christ Jesus, at my transmigration. Yet he lets his correction proceed to death; I doe dye of that sicknesse, and God devises a meanes, that I, though banished, banished into the grave, shall not be expelled from him, a glorious Resurrection. We must needs dye and be as water spilt upon the ground, but yet God devises meanes, that his banished shall not be expelled from him.

And this is the motion, and this is the Rest of the Spirit of God upon those waters in this spirituall sense of these words, He brings us to a desire of Baptisme, he settles us in the sense of the obligation first, and then of the benefits of Baptisme. He suffers us to goe into the way of tentations, (for Coluber in via, and every calling hath particular tentations) and then he settles us, by his preventing, or his subsequent grace. He moves, in submitting us to tribulation, he settles us in finding, that our tribulations, do best of all conforme us to his Son Christ Jesus. He moves in removing us by the hand of Death, and he settles us in an assurance, That it is he that now lets his Servants depart in peace; And he, who as he doth presently lay our soules in that safe Cabinet, the Bosome of Abraham, so he keepes an eye upon every graine, and atome of our dust, whither soever it be blowne, and keepes a roome at his owne right hand for that body, when that shall be re-united in a blessed Resurrection; And so The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

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Editor’s Note
1 On the text: 'And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters' (Gen. i. 2).
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