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John Donne

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

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pg 32856. From a Sermon Preached at White-hall, February 29. 16281


He that will dy with Christ upon Good-Friday, must hear his own bell toll all Lent; he that will be partaker of his passion at last, must conform himself to his discipline of prayer and fasting before. Is there any man, that in his chamber hears a bell toll for another man, and does not kneel down to pray for that dying man? and then when his charity breaths out upon another man, does he not also reflect upon himself, and dispose himself as if he were in the state of that dying man? We begin to hear Christs bell toll now, and is not our bell in the chime? We must be in his grave, before we come to his resurrection, and we must be in his death-bed before we come to his grave: we must do as he did, fast and pray, before we can say as he said, that In manus tuas, Into thy hands O Lord I commend my Spirit. You would not go into a Medicinal Bath without some preparatives; presume not upon that Bath, the blood of Christ Jesus, in the Sacrament then, without preparatives neither. Neither say to your selves, we shall have preparatives enough, warnings enough, many more Sermons before it come to that, and so it is too soon yet; you are not sure you shall have more; not sure you shall have all this; not sure you shall be affected with any. If you be, when you are, remember that as in that good Cus- tome in these Cities, you hear cheerful street musick in the winter mornings, but yet there was a sad and doleful bel-man, that wak'd you, and call'd upon you two or three hours before that musick came; so for all that blessed musick which the servants of God shall present to you in this place, it may be of use, that a poor bell-man wak'd you before, and though but by his noyse, prepared you for their musick.


For to suffer for God, man to suffer for God, I to suffer for my Maker, for my Redeemer, is such a thing, as no such thing, exceptingpg 329 only Gods sufferings for man can fall into the consideration of man. Gods suffering for man was the Nadir, the lowest point of Gods humiliation, mans suffering for God is the Zenith, the highest point of mans exaltation: That as man needed God, and God would suffer for man, so God should need man, and man should suffer for God; that after Gods general Commission, fac hoc & vives, do this and thou shalt live, I should receive and execute a new Commission, Patere hoc & vives abundantius, suffer this and you shall have life, and life more abundantly, as our Saviour speaks in the Gospel; that when I shall ask my soul Davids question, Quid retribuam, what shall I render to the Lord, I shall not rest in Davids answer, Accipiam Calicem, I will take the cup of salvation, in applying his blood to my soul, but proceed to an Effundam Calicem, I will give God a Cup, a cup of my blood, that whereas to me the meanest of Gods servants it is honor enough to be believed for Gods sake: God should be believed for my sake, and his Gospel the better accepted, because the seal of my blood is set to it; that that dew which should water his plants, the plants of his Paradise, his Church, should drop from my veines, and that sea, that red sea, which should carry up his bark, his Ark, to the heavenly Jerusalem, should flow from me: This is that that poures joy even into my gladness, and glory even into mine honor, and peace even into my security; that exaltes and improves every good thing, every blessing that was in me before, and makes even my creation glorious, and my redemption precious; and puts a farther value upon things inestimable before, that I shall fulfil the sufferings of Christ in my flesh, and that I shall be offerd up for his Church, though not for the purchasing of it, yet for the fencing of it, though not by way of satisfaction as he was, but by way of example and imitation as he was too. Whether that be absolutely true or no, which an Author of much curiosity in the Roman Church saies, that Inter tot millia millium, amongst so ny thousand thousands of Martyrs in the Primitive Church, it cannot be said that ever one lack'd burial, (I know not whence he raises that) certainly no Martyr ever lack'd a grave in the wounds of his Saviour, no nor a tomb, a monument, a memorial in this life, in that sense wherein our Saviour speaks in the Gospel, That no man shall leave house, or Brother, or wife for him, but he shall receive pg 330an hundred fold in this life; Christ does not mean he shall have a hundred houses, or a hundred wives, or a hundred Brethren; but that that comfort which he lost in losing those things shall be multiplied to him in that proportion even in this life. In which words of our Saviour, as we see the dignity and reward of Martyr- dome, so we see the extent and latitude, and compass of Martyr- dome too; that not only loss of life, but loss of that which we love in this life; not only the suffering of death, but the suffering of Crosses in our life, contracts the Name, and entitles us to the re- ward of Martyrdome. All Martyrdome is not a Smithfeild Martyr- dome, to burn for religion. To suffer injuries, and upon advantages offerd, not to revenge those injuries is a Court Martyrdome. To resist outward tentations from power, and inward tentations from affections, in matter of Judicature, between party and party, is a Westminster Martyrdome. To seem no richer than they are, not to make their states better, when they make their private bargains with one another, and to seem so rich, as they are, and not to make their states worse, when they are call'd upon to contribute to publiek services, this is an Exchange-Martyrdome. And there is a Chamber-Martyrdome, a Bosome-Martyrdome too; Habet pudlcitia servata Martyrium suum, Chastity is a dayly Martyrdome; and so all fighting of the Lords battails, all victory over the Lords Enemies, in our own bowels, all chearful bearing of Gods Crosses, and all watchful crossing of our own immoderate desires is a Martyrdome acceptable to God, and a true copy of our pattern Stephen, so it be inanimated with that which was even the life and soul and price of all Stephens actions and passions, that is, fervent charity, which is the last contemplation, in which we propose him for your Example; that as he, you also may be just paymasters in discharging the debt, which you owe the world in the signification of your Names; and early Disciples and appliers of your selves to Christ Jesus, and humble servants of his, without inordinate ambition of high places; and constant Martyrs, in dying every day as the Apostle speaks, and charitable intercessors, and Advocates and Mediators to God, even for your heaviest Enemies.

pg 331(iii)

Here I shall only present to you two Pictures, two pictures in little: two pictures of dying men; and every man is like one of these, and may know himself by it; he that dies in the Bath of a peaceable, and he that dies upon the wrack of a distracted conscience. When the devil imprints in a man, a mortuum me esse non curo, I care not though I were dead, it were but a candle blown out, and there were an end of all: where the Devil imprints that imagination, God will imprint an Emori nolo, a loathness to die, and fearful appre- hension at his transmigration: As God expresses the bitterness of death, in an ingemination, morte morietur, in a conduplication of deaths, he shall die, and die, die twice over; So ægrotando ægrotabit, in sicknesse he shall be sick, twice sick, body-sick and soul-sick too, sense-sick and conscience-sick together; when, as the sinnes of his body have cast sicknesses and death upon his Soule, so the inordinate sadnesse of his Soule, shall aggravate and actuate the sicknesse of his body. His Physitian ministers, and wonders it works not; He imputes that to flegme, and ministers against that, and wonders again that it works not: He goes over all the humors, and all his Medicines, and nothing works, for there lies at his Patients heart a dampe that hinders the concurrence of all his faculties, to the intention of the Physitian, or the virtue of the Physick. Loose not, O blessed Apostle, thy question upon this Man, O Death where is thy sting? O Grave where is thy victory? for the sting of Death is in every limb of his body, and his very body is a victorious grave upon his Soule: And as his Carcas and his Coffin shall lie equally insensible in his grave, so his Soule, which is but a Carcas, and his body, which is but a Coffin of that Carcas, shall be equally miserable upon his Death-bed; And Satan's Commissions upon him shall not be signed by Succession, as upon Job, first against his goods, and then his Servants, and then his children, and then himselfe; but not at all upon his life; but he shall apprehend all at once, Ruine upon himselfe and all his, ruine upon himselfe and all him, even upon his life; both his lives, the life of this, and the life of the next world too. Yet a drop would redeeme a shoure, and a Sigh now a Storme then: Yet a teare from the eye, would pg 332save the bleeding of the heart, and a word from the mouth now, a roaring, or (which may be worse) a silence of consternation, of stupefaction, of obduration at that last houre. Truly, if the death of the wicked ended in Death, yet to scape that manner of death were worthy a Religious life. To see the house fall, and yet be afraid to goe out of it; To leave an injur'd world, and meet an incensed God; To see oppression and wrong in all thy professions, and to foresee ruine and wastefulnesse in all thy Posterity; and Lands gotten by one sin in the Father, molder away by another in the Sonne; To see true figures of horror, and ly, and fancy worse; To begin to see thy sins but then, and finde every sin (at first sight) in the proportion of a Gyant, able to crush thee into despair; To see the Blood of Christ, imputed, not to thee, but to thy Sinnes; To see Christ crucified, and not crucifyed for thee, but crucified by thee; To heare this blood speake, not better things, than the blood of Abel, but lowder for vengeance than the blood of Abel did; This is his picture that hath been Nothing, that hath done nothing, that hath proposed no Stephen, No Law to regulate, No example to certifie his Conscience: But to him that hath done this, Death is but a Sleepe.

Many have wondred at that note of Saint Chrysostom's, That till Christ's time death was called death, plainly, literally death, but after Christ, death was called but sleepe; for, indeede, in the old- Testament before Christ, I thinke there is no one metaphor so often used, as Sleepe for Death, and that the Dead are said to Sleepe: Therefore wee wonder sometimes, that Saint Chrysostome should say so: But this may be that which that holy Father intended in that Note, that they in the old-Testament, who are said to have slept in Death, are such as then, by Faith, did apprehend, and were fixed upon Christ; such as were all the good men of the old-Testament, and so there will not bee many instances against Saint Chrysostome's note, That to those that die in Christ, Death is but a Sleepe; to all others, Death is Death, literally Death. Now of this dying Man, that dies in Christ, that dies the Death of the Righteous, that embraces Death as a Sleepe, must wee give you a Picture too.

There is not a minute left to do it; not a minutes sand; Is there a minutes patience? Bee pleased to remember that those Pictures pg 333which are deliver'd in a minute, from a print upon a paper, had many dayes, weeks, Moneths time for the graving of those Pictures in the Copper; So this Picture of that dying Man, that dies in Christ, that dies the death of the Righteous, that embraces Death as a Sleepe, was graving all his life; All his publique actions were the lights, and all his private the shadowes of this Picture. And when this Picture comes to the Presse, this Man to the streights and agonies of Death, thus he lies, thus he looks, this he is. His understanding and his will is all one faculty; He understands Gods purpose upon him, and he would not have God's purpose turned any other way; hee sees God will dissolve him, and he would faine be dissolved, to be with Christ; His understanding and his will is all one faculty; His memory and his fore-sight are fixt, and concentred upon one object, upon goodnesse; Hee remembers that hee hath proceeded in the sinceritie of a good Conscience in all the wayes of his calling, and he foresees that his good name shall have the Testimony, and his Posterity the support of the good men of this world; His sicknesse shall be but a fomentation to supple and open his Body for the issuing of his Soule; and his Soule shall goe forth, not as one that gave over his house, but as one that travelled to see and learne better Architecture, and meant to returne and re-edifie that house, according to those better Rules: And as those thoughts which possesse us most awake, meete us againe when we are asleepe; So his holy thoughts, having been alwaies conversant upon the direct- ing of his family, the education of his Children, the discharge of his place, the safety of the State, the happinesse of the King all his life; when he is faln a sleepe in Death, all his Dreames in that blessed Sleepe, all his devotions in heaven shall be upon the same Subjects, and he shal solicite him that sits upon the Throne, and the Lamb, God for Christ Jesus sake, to blesse all these with his particular bless- ings: for, so God giveth his beloved sleep, so as that they enjoy the next world and assist this.

So then, the Death of the Righteous is a sleepe; first, as it delivers them to a present rest. Now men sleepe not well fasting; Nor does a fasting Conscience, a Conscience that is not nourish'd with a Testimony of having done well, come to this Sleepe: but dulcis somnis operantl, The sleepe of a labouring man is sweete.To pg 334him that laboureth in his calling, even this sleepe of Death is welcome. When thou lyest downe thou shalt not be afraid, saith Salomon; when thy Physician sayes, Sir, you must keepe your bed, thou shalt not be afraid of that sick-bed; And then it followes, And thy sleepe shall be sweet unto thee; Thy sicknesse welcome, and thy death too; for, in those two David seems to involve all, I will both lay me downe in Peace, and sleep; imbrace patiently my death-bed and Death it selfe.

So then this death is a sleepe, as it delivers us to a present Rest; And then, lastly, it is so also as it promises a future waking in a glorious Resurrection. To the wicked it is far from both: Of them God sayes, I will make them drunke, and they shall sleepe aperpetuall sleepe and not awake; They shall have no part in the Second Resurrection. But for them that have slept in Christ, as Christ sayd of Lazarus, Lazarus Sleepeth, but I goe that I may wake him out of sleep, he shall say to his father; Let me goe that I may wake them who have slept so long in expectation of my coming: And Those that sleep in Jesus Christ (saith the Apostle) will God bring with him; not only fetch them out of the dust when he comes, but bring them with him, that is, declare that they have beene in his hands ever since they departed out of this world. They shall awake as Jacob did, and say as Jacob said, Surely the Lord Is in this place, and this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven, And into that gate they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, no darkenesse nor dazling, but one equall light, no noyse nor silence, but one equall musick, no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but one equall communion and Identity, no ends nor beginnings, but one equall eternity. Keepe us Lord so awake in the duties of our Callings, that we may thus sleepe in thy Peace, and wake in thy glory, and change that infallibility which thou affordest us here, to an Actuall and undeterminable possession of that Kingdome which thy Sonne our Saviour Christ Jesus hath purchased for us, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible Blood. Amen.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 On the text: 'And when he had said this, he fell asleep' (Acts vii. 60).
29 February 1628 was the first Friday in Lent, Donne's usual day for preaching at Court.
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