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John Donne

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

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6. From a Sermon Preached at White-Hall, April 2.16201


There's no Simony in heaven, that a man can buy so much as a door-keepers place in the Triumphant Church: There's no bribery there, to fee Ushers for accesse; But God holds that ladder there, whose foot stands upon the earth here, and all those good works, which are put upon the lowest step of that Ladder here, that is, that are done in contemplation of him, they ascend to him, and descend again to us. Heaven and earth are as a musical Instrument; if you touch a string below, the motion goes to the top: any good done to Christs poor members upon earth, affects him in heaven.


It is not then with Riches in a family, as it is with a nail in a wall, that the hard beating of it in, makes it the faster. It is not the hard and laborious getting of money, the fixing ofthat in a strong wall, the laying it upon lands, and such things as are vulgarly distinguished from moveables, (as though the world, and we were not moveables) nor the beating that nail hard, the binding it with Entailes, of Iron, and Adamant, and perpetuities of eternity, that makes riches permanent, and sure; but it is the good purpose in pg 201the getting, and the good use in the having. And this good use is not, when thou makest good use of thy Money, but when the Common-wealth, where God hath given thee thy station, makes use of it: The Common-wealth must suck upon it by trade, not it upon the Common-wealth, by usury. Nurses that give suck to children, maintain themselves by it too; but both must be done; thou must be enriched so, by thy money, as that the state be not impoverished. This is the good use in having it; and the good purpose in getting it, is, that God may be glorified in it. Some errours in using of Riches, are not so dangerous; for some imploying of them in excesses, and superfluities, this is a rust without, it will be fil'd off with good counsel, or it will be worn off in time; in time we come to see the vanity of it: and when we leave looking at other mens cloaths, or thinking them the better men for their cloaths, why should we think, that others like us the better for our cloaths; those desires will decay in us. But an ill purpose in getting of them, that we might stand of our selves, and rely upon our Riches, this is a rust, a cancer at the heart, and is incurable. And therefore, if as the course, and progress of money hath been in the world from the beginning, (the observation is St. Augustins, but it is obvious to every man acquainted with history) That first the world used Iron money, and then Silver money, and last of all, Gold; If thy first purpose in getting, have been for Iron, (that thou have intended thy money to be thy strength, and defence in all calamities) And then for silver, (to provide thee abundance, and ornaments, and excesses) And then for gold, to hord, and treasure up in a little room; Thesaurizasti iram, thou hast treasured up the anger of God, against the day of anger.

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Editor’s Note
1 On the text : 'There is an evil sickness that I have seen under the sun : riches reserved to the owners thereof, for their evil. And these riches perish by evil travail : and he begetteth a son, and in his hand is nothing' (Eccles. v. [13 and 14]).
Two sermons on this text appear together in XXVI Sermons. They would seem to be actually parts of a single sermon, divided by John Donne the Younger to make up the number he had promised. The second extract here is from what is headed in the Folio 'The Second Sermon Preached at White-hall upon Eccles. v. 12 and 13'.
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