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John Donne

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

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pg 35665. From a Sermon Preached at St. Pauls Crosse, November 22. 16291


That, which mis-affected them towards Christ, was not that he induced a Religion too low, too sordid, too humble, but not low enough, not humble enough; and therefore they would out-bid Christ, and undertake more, than his Disciples practised, or himselfe prescribed. Their Master, John Baptist, discerned this distemper in them, then when they said to him, Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, baptizes as fast as thou, and all the world comes to him. John Baptist deals plainly with them, and he tels them, that they must not be offended in that, for so it must be, He must increase, and I must decrease. This troubled them; and because it did so, John sends them personally to Christ, to receive farther satisfaction. When they come at first to him, they say, Sir, we fast, and, even the Pharisees fast, why doe not you, and your Disciples fast too? And then our blessed Saviour enlarges himselfe to them, in that point of fasting, and they goe home satisfied. Now they returne againe, and they continue their wonder, that Christ should continue his greatnesse, and his estimation in the world, they exceeding him so far in this outward austerity of life, which was so specious, and so winning a thing amongst the Jews. But duo Discipuli fortasse duo populi, These two Disciples of John may have their Disciples in the world to this day; And therefore forbearing their persons, we shall consider their off-spring; Those men, who in an over-valuation of their own purity, despise others, as men whom nothing can save; and those men, who in an over-valuation of their own merits, think to save themselves and others too, by their supererogations.

pg 357Begin we with the first, The over-pure despisers of others; Men that will abridge, and contract the large mercies of God in Christ, and elude, and frustrate, in a great part, the generall promises of God. Men that are loth, that God should speak so loud, as to say, He would have all men saved, And loth that Christ should spread his armes, or shed his bloud in such a compasse, as might fall upon all. Men that think no sinne can hurt them, because they are elect, and that every sin makes every other man a Reprobate. But with the Lord there is Copiosa redemptio, plentifull redemption, and an overflowing cup of mercy. Aquæ quae non mentiuntur, As the holy Ghost sayes more than once, more than many times, in the Prophets, Waters that will not lye, that will not dry, not deceive, not disappoint any man. The wisdome that is from above, is first pure, and then peaceable. Purity, Sincerity, Integrity, Holinesse, is a skirt of Christs garment; It is the very livery that he puts upon us; wee cannot serve him without it, (we must serve him in holiness and purenesse) we cannot see him without it, without holinesse no man shall see God. But then to be pure, and not peaceable, to determine this purity in our selves, and condemne others, this is but an imaginary, but an illusory purity. Not to have relieved that poor wretch, that lay wounded, and weltring in his bloud in the way to Jericho, was the uncharitablenesse of the Levite, and the Priest, in that parable. But that parable presents no man so uncharitable, as would have hindred the Samaritan, from pouring his Oyle, and his Wine into the wounds of that distressed wretch. To hinder the bloud of Christ Jesus, not to suffer that bloud to flow as far, as it will, to deny the mercy of God in Christ, to any sinner, whatsoever, upon any pretence, whatsoever, this is to be offended in Christ, to be scandalized with his Gospel; for, that's his own precept, Have salt in your selves, (bee it purity, the best preservative of the soul) And then, Have peace with one another, Deny no man the benefit of Christ; Blesse thou the Lord, praise him, and magnifie him, for that which hee hath done for thee, and beleeve, that he means as well to others, as to thee. And these are one Sect of the Disciples of Johns Disciples, That think there are men, whom Christ cannot save, And the other is of men that think they can save other men.

pg 358(ii)

So then there is a Viatory, a preparatory, an initiatory, an inchoative blessednesse in this life. What is that? All agree in this definition, that blessednesse is that in quo quiescit animus, in which the minde, the heart, the desire of man hath settled, and rested, in which it found a Centricall reposednesse, an acquiescence, a contentment. Not that which might satisfie any particular man; for, so the object would be infinitely various; but that, beyond which no man could propose any thing; And is there such a blessednesse in this life? There is. Fecisti nos Domine ad te, & inquietum est Cor nostrum, donec quiescat in te; Lord thou hast made us for thy selfe, and our heart cannot rest, till it get to thee. But can we come to God here? We cannot. Where's then our viatory, our preparatory, our initiatory, our inchoative blessednesse? Beloved, though we cannot come to God here, here God comes to us; Here, in the prayers of the Congregation God comes to us; here, in his Ordinance of Preaching, God delivers himselfe to us; here in the administration of his Sacraments, he seals, ratifies, confirmes all unto us; And to rest in these his seals and means of reconciliation to him, this is not to be scandalised, not to be offended in him; and, not to be offended in him, not to suspect him or these meanes which he hath ordained, this is our viatory, our preparatory, our initiatory and inchoative Blessednesse, beyond which, nothing can be proposed in this life. And therefore, as the Needle of a Sea-compasse, thought it shake long, yet will rest at last, and though it do not look directly, exactly to the North Pole, but have some variation, Yet, for all that variation, will rest, so, though thy heart have some variations, some deviations, some aberrations from that direct point, upon which it should be bent, which is an absolute conformity of thy will to the will of God, yet, though thou lack something of that, afford thy soul rest: settle thy soule in such an infallibility, as this present condition can admit, and beleeve, that God receives glory as well in thy Repentance, as in thine Innocence, and that the mercy of God in Christ, is as good a pillow to rest thy soule upon after a sinne, as the grace of God in Christ is a shield, and protection for thy soule, before. In a word, this is our viatory, our preparatory, our initiatory, and inchoative pg 359blessedness, beyond which there can bee no blessedness proposed here, first to receive a satisfaction, an acquiescence, that there are certaine and constant meanes ordained by Christ, for our reconciliation to God in him, in all cases, in which a Christian soule can bee distressed, that such a treasure there is deposited by him, in the Church, And then, the testimony of a rectified Conscience, that thou hast sincerely applied those generall helpes to thy particular soule. Come so farre, and then, as the Suburbs touch the City, and the Porch the Church, and deliver thee into it, so shall this Viatory, this preparatory, this initiatory and inchoative blessednesse deliver thee over to the everlasting blessednesse of the Kingdome of heaven.

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Editor’s Note
1 On the text: 'And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me' (Matt. xi. 6).
This sermon, in a simple, direct style suited to a large open-air audience, should be read with the violent political and religious conflicts of 1628 and 1629 in mind. The year 1629 saw the beginning of the eleven years of Charles's personal rule, and Laud, who had become Bishop of London in 1628, was attempting to enforce strict order in the Church and silence controversial preaching. Donne, though a fervent royalist, preached no sermon on the Divine Right of Kings, and his defences of the doctrine and practice of the Church of England are, as here, incidental to his main pastoral concern: the preaching of the fundamentals of the Christian Faith as held by all Churches.
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