JOHN DONNE 1571/2 - 1631
THE PASTOR OF SOULS
Born into a Catholic family just two years after Pope Pius V had excommunicated Elizabeth I in 1570, the Donne family faced all the dilemmas that imposed. Until then those who still worshipped the old way were not troubled providing they were loyal to the Supreme Governor of the Church. Elizabeth had made it clear she had no desire to look into people’s souls. Now that changed. The old Catholics became known as Papists and they were forced to choose between Queen or Pope. Indeed Donne’s brother, Henry, died in prison after his arrest for giving sanctuary to a priest. As John discovered he could not graduate from Cambridge as he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy and went on to study Law at Lincoln’s Inn. However it was nigh impossible to obtain a position of any rank as a Catholic. When did Donne decide to conform to the established Church in England? It was probably in the mid- 1590’s. Why did he turn his back on the old religion? Was it to have a successful career? Anyway he went off with Raleigh and Essex on raids on Cadiz and Azores and became secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton. While secretary he fell in love with Egerton’s neice, the sixteen year old Anne, and they were secretly married. However he had not counted on the father’s wrath that brought imprisonment, debt, disillusion and illness. From his poetry the world knows how much Donne loved his Anne and when she died he wrote no more love poetry. Yet in that death which coincided with his ordination his passion turned to Christ and His people. The passionate lover and poet became the passionate pastor and preacher who drew hundreds to his sermons, especially after he became Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1622, a position he held until his death in 1631. In common with other Caroline Divines his preaching had a sacramental and universal appeal that opposed the rigid but popular Calvinist doctrines. Although the academic world probably remembers Donne more as a great metaphysical poet of the English Renaissance, it is his pastoral ministry that draws me foremost to him, so passionately preached to his congregations. In the image of John 3.16 Donne explained as God so loved that He gave, so must the pastor to his people; "if the pastor loves, there will be a double labour; [and] if the people love, there will be double respect." Hence whenever there is love between priest and people, both will be able to "forbear bitter reproofs." The priest particularly should act as God would as He would always finds in man "something ... to love." "God is in love with this man, and this soul, and this will, and would have it." Therefore His love "is not so poor a love, as our love to one another."
GOD’S MERCY AND OUR JOY
The Holy Spirit brooding over creation as a hen does towards her chicks, was the perfect example for a pastor to take in his ministry, indicated Donne. [God’s] minister shall so spread his wings over his people, as to defend them from all inordinate fear, from all suspicion and jealousy, from all diffidence and distrust in the mercy of God; ... shows them the best treasures that is committed to his stewardship, he shows them heaven, and God in heaven, sanctifying all their crosses in this world, inaminating all their worldly blessings, raining down His blood into their emptiness, and His balm into their wounds, making their bed in all their sickness, and preparing their seat, where He stands soliciting their cause, at the right hand of His father. And so the minister has the wings of an eagle, that every soul in the congregation may see as much as he sees, that is, a particular interest in all mercies of God, and the merits of Christ. Those merciful wings are spread over everyone, and so for this divine none should be excluded from heaven if they would just repent. ... every man has a key to this door of heaven; every man has some means to open it; every man has an oil to anoint this key, and make it turn easily; he may go with more ease to heaven than ... to hell. One of the hallmarks of being a Christian is joy, and so Donne encouraged his flock to raise their hearts "to a holy joy, ... in the Holy Ghost, for under the shadow of His wings, ... you should rejoice." He further described in a Lincoln Inn sermon, the experiencing of "joy" as the "inward badge and mark" of being a Christian," while "salvation and the fruits of Paradise" are "the joys of heaven." There is always joy "in heaven, ... at the conversion of a sinner"; yet to "prepare and preserve the joys of heaven" one must taste "joy here", as "this Kingdom of Heaven ... is in us, and [therefore] ... that joy ... is in us". Yet it was imperative for that joy to be refined and to "purge away all dross, and lees from your joy" as "no false joy enters into heaven, but yet no sadness neither." Our "spiritual joy" should be expressed in the apostle's words, "Rejoice in the Lord; rejoice, and again, I say rejoice." Furthermore we should also rejoice for "those temporal blessings," and our "zeal of God's service." Closely linked with experiencing joy in life is love, the very foundation for our Christian faith. "Love [is] ... the root of all, the fruit of all, [and] ... the soul of all.” As love was truly manifested in Christ, Donne preached that no one could say “as the man at the Pool, I have no man to help me ... for I have a Man, the Man Jesus; Him, Who by being man, knows my misery, and by being God, can and will show mercy unto me.”
Donne also believed to meet the pastoral needs of his people, it was essential to preach the "Catholic doctrine" as this encompassed "our whole lives, from our first to our last childhood. ... It is the art of Arts, the root and fruit of all true wisdom," expressed by manifesting Christ to all through preaching of His salvation, Baptism and the sacrament of Holy Communion. At the heart of Catholic doctrine as taught by all the Caroline Divines was the Incarnation by which man was not only redeemed but also restored, illustrated in this image of "the heart of man" as a "hortus, ... a garden, a paradise, where all that is wholesome, and all that is delightful grows". Even when he is "miserable, and a banished, and a damned creature, ... [he is] ... His creature still", and always has a spark of goodness. As man is made in the "image of God", that image can never "be burnt out of [the] soul.” Indeed from "the first minute that my soul is infused, the image of God is imprinted in my soul; so forward is God on my behalf, and so early does He visit me." Thus Donne proclaimed very liberally the doctrines of God's goodness and man's salvation. "God made us for His glory, and His glory is not the glory of a tyrant, to destroy us, but His glory is in our happiness." The only thing God "hates ... [is] your sin" and that sin He has taken upon Himself. Thus "He came to save ... to offer it to them whom He did intend it to, but He came really and truly to save." It certainly was not the intention "to show us salvation, and then say there it is, in Baptism, ... in preaching, and in the other sacraments," but unfortunately "there is a decree of predestination against you," and therefore you cannot have it. His intention was none other than "venit salvare."
Begin where you will at any act in yourself, at any act in God, yet there was mercy before that, for His mercy is eternal, eternal even towards you. ... Earth cannot receive, heaven cannot give such another universal soul to all: all persons, all actions, as mercy. And were I the child ... who were to live an hundred years, I would ask no other marrow to my bones, no other wine to my heart, no other light to my eyes, no other art to my understanding, no other eloquence to my tongue, than the power of apprehending for myself, and the power of deriving and conveying upon others by my ministry, the mercy, the early mercy, the everlasting mercy of yours, and my God.
PREACHING AGAINST REPROBATION AND PREDESTINATION
Living at a time when the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination was popular, Donne insisted God "gives none of His ministers leave to say to any man, you are not redeemed, [or] does He give [the] wounded [or] afflicted conscious leave, to say to itself, I am not redeemed." The Gospel states clearly "He came to save; and whom? Sinners. Those, who the more they acknowledge themselves to be so, the nearer they are to this salvation." Consequently the pastor must bring "the comfortable promises of the Gospel," especially to those "who groan under the burden of their sins", and "break ... that heart that is stubborn" so that it can "fix itself upon the merits and mercies of Christ Jesus." Therefore "our instructions are to preach ... repentance" which is the Gospel, while "the seal is the administration of the Sacraments", both of which are "necessary for salvation." For those who doubt whether God will forgive their "relapses into sins repented, ... faint repentances, ... sinful thoughts, ... blasphemous words ... [and] sins against their neighbour, ... and self," Donne assured them He does, "otherwise His mercy endures not for ever." Yet he warned that "salvation is ... endangered when we make only "half-repentances," and do not repent "those sins, which offer themselves to our knowledge, and memory." There is only one true repentance, that is, "to bewail our sins, and forbear the sins we have bewailed." Yet once one has repented, the way to salvation was clear for God. He "has opened a pool of Bethesda to all, where not only he who comes at first, but he who comes even at last, he who comes washed with the water of baptism in his infancy, and he who comes washed with the tears of repentance in his age, may receive health and cleanness.” Thus “when God bids you rise from your sins, say not ... it is too late, because when He bids you rise, He enables you to rise ... by the power of that will which only His mercy and ... grace has created in you.”
Preaching against reprobation, Donne insisted:
If we shall say, that God's first string in His instrument, was reprobation, that God's first intention was for His glory to damn man; and that then He put in another string, of creating man, that so He might have somebody to damn; and then another of enforcing him to sin, that so He might have a just cause to damn him; and then another, of disabling him to lay hold upon any means of recovery: there is no music in all this, no harmony, no peace in such preaching.
The truth is that "God is loathe to lose us." Moreover "men are weary of hearing any other thing, than election and reprobation, and whom, and when, and how, and why God has chosen, or cast away." When the Puritans say "they do not mean to make God the Author of sin; ... yet when they say, that God [only] made man that ... He might have something to damn, and that He made him sin ... that He might have something to damn him for, ... they come" very close to "making God the Author of sin." In fact Donne insisted it was the other way round:
God is no disposer to sin, but He is the disposer of sin; God is not Lord of sin, as author of sin; but ... as steward of it; and He dispenses not only for our sins, but the sins themselves.
However there was one sin which even God's wide mercy cannot reach, and that was the sin against the Holy Spirit. To do so would be acting contrary to His nature. Sinning against the Spirit, included "presumption and desperation ... impenitence and hardness of heart, ... the resisting of truth acknowledged before, and the envying of other men who have made better use of God's grace than we have done"; or "to ... hate ... another church, another man, because they stand out in defence of the truth." Therefore Donne urged his congregation to "consider with fear and trembling" this "one sin."
Donne also warned against the Calvinistic teaching of irresistible grace; "whether this grace ... be resistible or no, whether man be not perverse enough to resist this grace, why should any perverse or ungracious man dispute?" Those who teach this "would have it mean, that when God would have a man, He will lay hold upon him, by such a power of grace, as no perverseness of that man, can possibly resist." Although Donne acknowledged some truth in this as "the grace of God is more powerful than any resistance of any man or devil," yet he warned he who puts "his conversion upon ... God" taking hold of Him "by such power of grace", he cannot resist "may stay, till Christ come again, to preach to the Spirits who are in prison." From the Gospel it is clear that "Christ promises to come to the door, ... and to enter if any man open" but He does not "break open the door: it was not His pleasure to express such an earnestness, such an irresistibility in His grace." Undoubtedly "Christ beats His drum, but does not press men," as His nature is such to serve "with voluntaries." Consequently he warned each member of his congregation not to feel "so secure in his election, as to forbear to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling," and to accept that "God saves no man against his will." He also warned those who search "too far into the secrets of God, shall be dazzled, confounded by that glory." The very words of Christ should make "the very elect stand in fear of falling." It is possible, stated Donne "that a man may receive the word" even "with joy" but as Christ says, it can only be temporarily, "for, as soon as persecution comes," he is "instantly ... scandalized and shaken."
Donne further illustrated just how dangerous it was to have a false sense of a security by being so sure of one's election. This can happen even "when you have had Christ offered to you, by the motions of His grace, and sealed ... by His sacraments." It is possible that "you will cast Him so far from you, that you [will] know not where to find Him", after "you have poured Him out [of] ... your eyes in profane and counterfeit tears, which should be your soul's rebaptism for your sins" or after "you have blown Him away in corrupt and ill intended sighs, which should be gemitus columbae, the voice of the turtle, to sound your peace and reconciliation with your God," or when you curse Him "in execrable and blasphemous oaths." Not only have you "cast Him so far", so that you cannot "find Him" but you have become "so indifferent [to] ... sin, ... you know not when you did lose Him, [or] ...that there is any such man, as Dominus tuus, a Jesus, that is, your Lord." It is dangerous when others hide Christ from you; but ... when you yourself do cast Him away" then it "is desperate."
So it is not surprising that one of Donne’s most popular preaching themes was God’s mercy as the doctrine of predestination restricted God's overflowing mercy. Every Christian, he believed, had the right to plead for God's mercy, but yet there were those who "have almost brought it to nothing ... [by pronouncing] that God never meant to show mercy ... but to a few." For Donne there was never a time when there was not mercy, “His mercy has no relation to time, no limitation in time, it is not first, nor last, but eternal, everlasting".
Donne maintained that the fact God has told us about hell "is ... a monument ... of His mercy" because if we were not warned about it, "we should all fall into [it]." Such ministers are "too ... thrifty of God's grace, too sparing of the Holy Ghost that restrain God's general propitious, venite omnes." Therefore "no man can say to another, God means not you." Thus Donne was very critical of those who "afford no salvation to any but themselves," not only because it hindered the pastoral work within the parish but also of putting themselves "in the greatest danger to be left out ... [as] nothing hinders our own salvation more, than to deny salvation, to all but ourselves." He reminded such people that Saint Paul who had acquired a great deal more knowledge "presents ... a Christian [as] ... a person who has surrendered himself over to a sad, ... serious, and ... severe examination of all his actions, that all be done to the glory of God; ... [and] for ...true joy."
Donne had no illusions about man and preached often on his sinfulness; "we were conceived in sin"; and thus we inherit "original sin." Man has a dram of poison, original sin in an invisible corner we know not where, and he cannot choose but poison himself and all his actions with that; we are so far from being able to begin without grace, as then where we have the first grace, we cannot proceed to the use of that without more." Hence "the core of Adam's apple is still in their throat. ... Adam's disobedience works in them still, and therefore God's physic, the affliction cannot work. Donne depicted sin "not only a deviation, ... but ... a sinking, a falling, ... [which] makes [man] ... insensible of any end." Despite man's falling "in original sin, [God] ... erects us by a new breath of life, in the sacrament of Baptism." However alas after baptism "we fall lower than before we were raised, from original into actual ... and habitual sins." Although some of these "habitual sins" may be "light sins," Donne taught that "even these come to possess us, and separate us from Christ." There were also those "hard to be seen," sins because by the very "nature of man ... we see not out of a natural blindness in ourselves", especially those in regard to "gathering riches." Besides there lurked those "whispering sins", even "silent sins, sins that never tell the conscience they are sins". In fact "the light of nature has taught you to hide your sins from other men, and you have been so diligent in that, ... you ... cannot find them in your own conscience." You have sinned out your soul so profusely, so lavishly, that you dare not cast up your accounts, you dare not ask yourself whether you have any soul left; [or] how far are you from giving any testimony to Christ. ... You dare not testify to yourself, nor hear your conscience take knowledge of your transgressions, but had rather sleep out ... or drink out your days, than leave one minute for compunction to lay hold on. In such circumstances "can you hope that God ... [who] sees your soul through [what] is [even] darker than" these sins to "your corrupt flesh, ... can be blinded with drawing a curtain between your sin and Him?" To his flock Donne pleaded, "O bestow as much labour, as you have done, to find corners for sin, to find out those sins in those corners where you have hid them." Then "come to Him for mercy" as you acknowledge your sins. "If you feel now at this present, a little tenderness in your heart, ... if you ... come to know ... you are a sinner, you do therefore presently know your sins." If not, warned Donne, men will find themselves in hell because they "never thought what was sin". As Donne knew only too well from his own experiences, sin was an insidious thing, and therefore inch by inch worms its way into our souls, and gradually gnaws away, destroying our consciences and any concept of holy living. Consequently to make his congregation aware of sin's subtlety, he preached that when man first commits sin, "he hears his own fall" as "if there is a tenderness in every conscience at the beginning", but then as he progresses committing sin it becomes like dropping a coin "into a river; we hear it fall, and we see it sink, and by and by we see it deeper, and at last we see it not at all." There we remain in our "sinking" until he meets the "stone [in] Christ" through "some hard reprehension, some hard passage of a sermon, ... some cross in the world, ... or something from the hand of God, that breaks him", and he is shattered like the stone. However Donne assured his people "there are means of piecing us again ... [through] vessels of repentance" provided they have not "perfect in the practice of their sin". Sometimes that "fall" is a good thing, or as St. Augustine expressed it, "a sinner falls to his advantage ... as that he may thereby look the better to his footing ever after", or even in the words of St. Bernard that only the "fallen" can truly say, "Redemptor meus es tu". Providing one does not sink to the bottom of the river, to be severed from "any beam of grace" for ever, a "sinking" can bring one closer to his Redeemer and Lord and a desire to become His disciple. For this to happen: Put you on the Lord Jesus, and keep Him on, put Him not off again. Christ is not only the Stuff, but the Garment ready made; He will not be translated and turned, and put into new fashions, nor laid up in a wardrobe, but put on all day, all the days of our life; though it rain, and rain blood; how foul soever any persecution make the day, we must keep on that garment, the true profession of Christ Jesus. Consequently it was essential to realize that the life of "a Christian is always in [either] a proficiency or deficiency." If you do not go forward, you go backwards, explained Donne. Therefore you must never "say I have done enough, I have made my profession already, I have been catechized, I have been thought fit to receive the Communion." If this is your attitude, wake up from your sleep, for although you are in the church, you are no "farther in the way, than [when your] Godfathers carried [you] in their arms, to engraft [you] in the Church by Baptism". He urged his flock to recall how "Christ Himself, increased in wisdom, and in stature, and in favour with God, and man;" in the same way "must a Christian also labour to grow and increase" in knowledge and enlightenment of "his faith." Like most Caroline Divines Donne was very much concerned about those who left their conversion until their death-bed. However he is more generous about it than Taylor and Hammond were, declaring that until "the last bell rings ... the Church is open, and grace offered in the Sacraments," but he warned not to think "heaven may be had for a breath at last, when they who stand by your bed and hear that breath cannot tell whether it [is] ... a religious breathing ... after the next life, or only a natural breathing". Thus it is preferable to act "at the beginning" rather than at the end.
Hence Donne tried to hearten the "unconverted" by informing them that it was possible to find "God in all your gettings, in all your preferments, in all your studies," and in these He "will be abundantly sufficient to you." Assuredly there is salvation for those who believe "aright, ... and [continues] to express it in his life."
FAITH AND GOOD WORKS
Donne insisted that salvation could not be attained simply by having faith. Faith had to be expressed in good works. Thus “justification by faith” even as a “precious ring” must be "enamelled with that beautiful doctrine of good works." Thus "our faith grows into a better state, and into a better liking, by our good works," so that "faith is perfected by working; for, faith is dead, without breath, without spirit, if it be without works." Hence "we are created, we are baptized, we are adopted for good works", and although "faith has a pre-eminence because works grows out of it, ... yet works have the pre-eminence" in the sense "that they include faith in them, and that they dilate, and diffuse, and spread themselves more declaratory, than faith does." More importantly "our good works are more ours, than our faith is," because faith we "have received", while our works is what "we have done". Though faith is "the only true root" for belief "in this life", on Judgement day, we shall be judged "by our fruits", that is the produce of "good works" and not by faith.
"True love and charity is to do the most that we can, all that we can for the good of others; ... Charity is to do all to all; and the poorest of us all can do this to any."
Every person stands "in need of one another", and although the "rich and poor are contrary to one another, but yet both necessary to one another."; However of the two "the poor man is the more necessary", because without him the rich could not exercise charity in order to send some "of his riches to heaven." Thus Donne urged the wealthy to "be content to discharge" some of your wealth "upon those poor souls, whom God has not made poor for any sin of theirs, or of their fathers, but only to present rich men" with the opportunity of exercising "their charity, and [an] occasion of testifying their love to Christ; ... When a poor wretch begs of you, and you give, you do but justice, it is His."
That charity, at the last day will be weighed. As Donne expressed it, "Beloved, at last, when Christ Jesus comes with His scales....every man shall be weighed with God: Be pure as your Father in heaven is pure, is the weight that must try us all"; those who trust to their "own purity ... [when] weighed ... are found too light, ... [and] separated from the face of God, because you have not taken the purity of that Son upon you." Therefore Donne warned not "to think yourself whole before you are: neither murmur, nor despair of your recovery, if you be not whole so soon as you desire. ... Your regeneration ... cannot be done in an instant."
PRAYER AND MEDITATION
"Prayer is our whole service to God." In a rather touching simile Donne described one's praying like "a flower at sun-rising, conceives a sense of God in every beam of His and spreads and dilates itself towards Him in a thankfulness, in every small blessing that He sheds upon her." When one prayed one became "the temple of the Holy Ghost", which meant "it is the Holy Ghost itself who prays".
At the heart of prayer life was faith; "very prayer must be made with faith." Hence Donne taught that "the first step to faith is to wonder, to stand and consider with a holy admiration, the ways and proceedings of God with man". Thanksgiving was also important as it is the only offering we can make to God who loves us and "looks for nothing again, and yet He looks for thanks". This thanksgiving should be also evident in our lives "to the winning and confirming of others." Such thanksgiving Donne compared to the clockmaker who "bestows all that labour upon several wheels," so that "the bell might ... sound, and that thereby the hand might give knowledge to others how the time passes".
Hence much help was given from the pulpit by Donne to grow spiritually through deep, meditative thoughts, as well as making his parishioners alert to all the temptations which flood the soul during prayer time. A lot of this help came from his own experiences which he shared with his congregations, and indeed he preached as much to himself as he did to his people. For instance in this sermon to the nobility he addressed his own "unworthy soul" to realize also that in contemplation "you are presently in the presence" because if something hinders "you from coming into His presence, His presence comes unto you.” Donne encouraged his flock to love their Saviour "to the end", not "only in the Hosanna's of Christ, ... or only in the Transfiguration of Christ, ... but love Him in His Crucifigatur, ... when it is a scornful thing to love Him, ... love Him when it is a suspicious thing, a dangerous thing to love Him."
Love Him not only in spiritual transfigurations, when He visits your soul with glorious consolations, but even in His inward eclipses, when He withholds His comforts, and withdraws His cheerfulness, even when He makes as though He loved not you, love Him. Love Him, all the way, to His end, and to your end too, to the laying down of your life for Him.
Another pastoral message was to encourage the flock to practise imitatio Christi. So we find Donne preaching, we should "conform ourselves to our great example and pattern" as He is "the most exemplar man for all theological [and moral] virtues." This meant "learn of me" so as to learn "how to love; ... make Me your pattern, because "I am meek and gentle ... and not suspicious, froward and not hard to be reconciled." Furthermore you can "learn of me" through "my spouse, my Church, ... [where] I speak to her always in My Word"; I shall not "leave her unprovided of apparel, and decent ornaments, for I have allowed her such ceremonies" as are conducive "to edification"; and I have left her sufficient food in "the first and second sacraments." Whenever there is "a spiritual hunger ... and weight of sin, ... there is plentiful refreshing and satisfaction to be had, in the absolution of sin."
Thus the imitation of Christ meant striving for perfection which could only be achieved through pureness of heart, although "absolute pureness cannot be attained in via,[but] in patria" where we shall know "that beatific vision of God which is salvation." Donne therefore emphasized the importance of "pureness" which is seated in "the heart" in everyday living, especially when "our heart is naturally foul." Nevertheless "our heart may be cleansed" through God's grace when we utter David's prayer Create, O Lord, a pure heart within me. This work "God does especially delight in" because it builds "upon His own foundations" so that He now "fuels this fire, and purifies you", thus giving you a "new heart" which must be kept "clean ... by a continual diligence, and vigilance over all our particular actions." Yet this "new heart" is constantly challenged by the "heart of sin". He warned his congregation that unless the latter were "cast up ... sin ... will quickly come to be that whole body of death, which St. Paul complains of" (Rom.7:24). Hence to follow in Christ's footsteps, it is essential to be vigilant against the "sin of relapse". To overcome the subtlety of Satan let us "consider that every sin is a crucifying of Christ, and every sin is a precipitation of yourself from a Pinnacle;" and that there is "power in grace, upon your repentance, to wash away your greatest sins." Furthermore "God never puts His children to ... [the] necessity of doing any sin," and thus "it is not a little request to you, to beware of little sins, ... [for] there is no pureness of heart, till even these cobwebs and crumbs be swept away". It is only "he who has a pure heart, a care to glorify God, in a holy watchfulness" in all his actions who will exclude those "lesser sins", and who will "stand safe, confident, unshaken, in His holy place, even in the judgment of God."
Worshipping God with reverence, dignity and beauty in His House that is kept “comely and clean” was essential for Donne. "How glorious is God as He calls up our eyes to Him, in the beauty and splendour and service of the Church." Donne maintained that "he who undervalues outward things in the religious service of God, though he begin at the ceremonial and ritual things," will be very soon be also calling "sacraments, ... sermons and public prayers, but outward things in contempt." After all, ceremonies induce "order ... uniformity and obedience" and without them "religion ... will vanish." Indeed they are "the garments of religion, ... a sweet savour of life". For some, however, religion is "nothing but the first thoughts and ebullitions of a devout heart." Therefore such actions as "kneeling or lifting up of hands" or silently meditating "pious affection" upon a prayer, are not purer enough for a service to God." Donne reasoned if "God was content to take a body", we should not "leave Him naked, nor ragged"; but clothe Him as we would our children. After all the bell which rings for services beckons you to Him.
To give God His worth in worship it was necessary that both the body and soul be offered. Just as "the body and soul do not make a perfect man, except they be united", so it is in worship. Bodily worship included reverencing His Name Jesus as He is "not only ... a worker of our salvation, but He is the author of the very decree of our salvation, as well as of the execution of that decree." It also included “kneeling or lifting up of hands.”
For those who go to church "without holiness" of intent Donne admonished. Without such "holiness", not only "no man shall see God" but he also "mocks ... God, and His religion" and his priests. Unfortunately many come to church simply "for company, ... observation, [or] ... music." How dangerous and "unwholesome" for the soul is this attitude because the Sacrament becomes "deadly"; he also "looses the benefit of the prayers of the congregation" and also of the sermon. In the last of these he hears not "the sermon of the sermon" but instead "logic, or ... rhetoric, or ... ethic, or the poetry of the sermon." Such an attitude will "procure his own damnation." He particularly censured the irreverence of some of his listeners, and reminded them that the church is where God "has promised to be found", and therefore one goes to church "to meet Him". He also informed them that God's House is "the house of prayer", (although in heaven it is the house of praise), "it is His court of requests; there he receives petitions, there He gives orders upon them." However "you come to God in His House as though you came to keep Him company, [and] to sit ... and talk with Him half an hour"; or worse still "you come as ambassadors, covered in His presence, as though you came from as great a Prince as He." You also use His Temple to "make your bargains, for biting, for devouring usury, and then you come up hither to prayers, and so make God your broker." What you are doing is nothing more than robbing and spoiling and eating "His people as bread, by extortion, and bribery, and deceitful weights and measures, and deluding oaths in buying and selling." His House is certainly not intended to be "a den of thieves"; instead it "is sanctum sanctorum, the holiest of holiest, and [you] make it only sanctuarium." His House "should be a place sanctified by your devotions, [but] you make it only a sanctuary to privilege malefactors", or worse still "a place that may redeem you from the ill opinion of men, who must in charity be bound to think well of you, because they see you here."
Donne also reminded his listeners that within His House we should follow "Our Lord's example" where there is both praying and preaching, and therefore be attentive to both. Although preaching may be omitted, prayer never can be. Donne emphasized that the only prayer acceptable to God is the "Liturgy and service" of the Church", and not "extemporal, inconsiderate prayer." Therefore it was imperative to worship according to the Prayer Book. There were also those present in church who, while the sermon was being delivered, would comment to the person next to him,that this part was "false" or "heretical", while during the Communion, there would be some who dare to say,"your minister is no priest, and so your Bread and Wine no sacrament."
It is therefore not surprising to find Donne in his Spittle sermon of 1622 upbraid those who "come to the Sermon, but not to the Sacrament," or simply "keep his solemn, ... festival,and anniversary times of receiving the sacrament, but never care for being instructed in the duties appertaining to that high mystery." Donne warned that "a man may thread sermons by half dozens a day, and place his merit in the number, a man may have been all day in the perfume and incense of preaching," but never has received "the Savour of life unto life." Indeed there are "some things an ape can do as well as a man; [and] some things an hypocrite as well as a saint." Both Sacrament and sermon were necessary, and go together like "thunder and lightning, ... [as] preaching is the thunder, that clears the air, disperses all clouds of ignorance; ... [while] the Sacrament is the lightning, the glorious light, and presence of Christ Jesus Himself." Together they are "the outward means of salvation".
Those “poor and naked things of themselves” become “such means to seal, and convey the graces, which accompany this redemption of our souls, to our souls."
"there are so many visible signs of invisible grace, that every correction from God's hand is a rebaptism to me." Yet they must always be seen as mysteries, and therefore it was dangerous to pry "in what circumstances or part of that holy action grace is given, or when, or how it enters." This is especially true with the Holy Eucharist.
The giving of that sacramental grace begins at Baptism. "We cannot come into the Church, but by water, by Baptism." We come into the world under the burden of that curse; aqua er igni interdicimur; we have nothing to do naturally, with the spiritual water of life, with the fiery beams of the Holy Ghost, till He has wrought our restitution from this banishment, restore us to this water, by pouring out His own blood.
Donne likened Baptism to the very beginnings of creation; "for as in the first creation, the first thing, that the Spirit of God, did was to move "upon ... the waters, so the first creature, that is sanctified by Christ's institution, to our salvation, is this element of water." Very importantly, Baptism means "to put on Christ"; this Donne pointed out produces "semen dei, ... and the good seed are the children of the kingdom. ... Through His precious promises, we are made partakers of the divine nature." Furthermore "Baptism ... signifies our dying, and burial with Christ ... so in that large sense, our whole life is a baptism." It is also the beginning of our sanctification as we put on Christ. "If you were not baptized into His name, then you have no interest, no benefit by His death, nor by anything which He suffered." However he warned those who seek baptism for the wrong reason will "perish eternally". Donne admonished those who opposed the use of the cross in Baptism, and stated "we had rather cross one another, and cross the church, than cross the child." He reminded these people that "as God showed Moses a tree, which made those waters in the wilderness sweet, when it was cast in," so we should also "remember that there is the tree of life, the cross Christ Jesus, and His merits, in this water of baptism.", When we can all come to agree "that ... virtue proceeds from the cross of Christ, the God of unity, ... peace and concord, let us admit any representation of Christ's cross, rather than admit the true cross of the devil." It is the latter "which is a bitter and schismatic crossing of Christ in His Church: for it is there in His Church, that He leads us to these waters." Thus "Baptism imprints a cross upon us, [so] that we should not be afraid of our own crosses"; Furthermore "by all these waters, by all these Cross ways, we go directly to the eternal life, the kingdom of heaven, for they are lively fountains, fountains of life." More importantly the imprinting of the cross on the forehead is a "seal ... a testimony that ... [Christ] died for us" and therefore we should conform ourselves to Him." After receiving Baptism, Donne stressed, that once the child has been prepared, it is essential for him, as for his parents to receive "the Sacrament of the Body of Christ". However before receiving the Sacrament, it was necessary to receive Confirmation where it was confirmed that the "child is already regenerated by water and the Holy Ghost," is furthered strengthened. The most important aspect of this service was that it provided the candidate with an opportunity to give "an account of faith and proficiency", which was a requisite to venture upon the Sacrament." While here on earth this is the preparation for that greater life after death. Therefore every Christian should be frequent in receiving "the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus" as it also bestows cleansing and reconciling grace. In his preaching on the Eucharist Donne taught on its sacrificial nature, involving both priest and people as they offered up "the sacrifice of prayer and praise". The priest however offered up an additional sacrifice, what Donne called "a real sacrifice". ... Christ Jesus crucified to Almighty God for the sins of the people, so, as that very body of Christ, which offered Himself for a propitiary sacrifice upon the cross, once for all, that body, and all that body suffered is entreated, that for the merits of that person, so presented and offered unto Him, and ... [therefore] He will be merciful to that congregation, and apply those merits of His to their particular souls. This Caroline Divine stressed the importance of preparation to receive the Blessed Sacrament worthily. In one of the loveliest depiction of devotion ever written, Donne combined preparation for the Blessed Sacrament with a meditation on aspects of the last twenty-four hours of Our Lord's earthly life. For both it is necessary "with a sincere humility" to be reconciled "with all the world". Only then have you "spent that first part of ... His last day, in ... conformity with Him." Yet "a worthy receiving of the Sacrament consists in a continuation of holiness after, as well as in a preparation before", and thus we must imitate our Lord who after instituting and receiving the Sacrament, "spent the ... night in prayer, in preaching [and] in psalms." Only then have you "confirmed yourself to Him". Yet our prayer time must experience "His agony and bloody sweat, [and] ... shedding of tears, and ... a readiness to shed blood for His glory". When we ponder "about midnight He was taken and bound with a kiss"; we must contemplate if we have betrayed Him in anything, shed "Peter's tears" and made amends before the cock crows. "In the morning" when our Lord was taken to Pilate "did you accuse yourself" of sin, rather than "smother and justify such as were truly sins?" Have you followed this by redeeming "your sin, by fasting, ... alms ... disciplines and mortifications in the way of satisfaction to the justice of God?" It is only when you have done all these that you have "confirmed yourself to Him", and only then are we ready for the cross where "now hangs that sacred Body upon the cross rebaptized in His own tears and sweat and embalmed in His own blood alive." All these emanate his "compassion ... so conspicuous, so manifested ... that you may see them through His wounds. There those glorious eyes grew faint in their light, so [that] the sun [too] ashamed to survive them, departed." There that soul was surrendered "into His father's hands" voluntarily. Linger there "in that blessed dependency, to hang upon Him Who hangs upon the cross, there bathe in His tears" and look upon "His wounds," before lying "down in peace in His grave, until He [grants] you a resurrection and an ascension into that kingdom which He has purchased for you with the inestimable price of His incorruptible blood."
Auricular confession was taught by Donne to be beneficial for one's spiritual health throughout life, and therefore should not be regarded as a sacrament simply when seriously ill or burdened with “deadly sin.” All should "make a special confession", after which "the priest shall absolve them". As sacramental confession was misconstrued by the Puritans and abused by the Papists, Donne admonished any who "think himself wiser than the Church", and is ignorant "of what the true Church holds in that point, or defrauds himself of nourishment out of a false fear of poisons and fumes, when there are none."
"God sent us to preach forgiveness of sins; where we find no sin, we have no commission to execute." He therefore suggested when listening to a sermon remember ... your own sins, first, and then every word that falls from the preacher's lips shall be a drop of the dew of heaven, a dram of the balm of Gilead, a portion of the blood of your Saviour, to wash away that sin, so presented by you to be so sacrificed by Him." However he warned "if you only of the congregation find that the preacher has not touched you, [or] ... your sins, know then, that you were not in his commission for the remission of sins." This should make you fear "that your conscience is either gangrene and insensible of all incisions, and cauterizations, that can be made by denouncing the judgments of God (which is as far as the preacher can go). It also suggests that "your whole constitution, ... is sin." This means that "the preacher cannot hit your particular sin, because your whole life and the whole body of your actions is one continual sin."
THE CHRISTIAN YEAR
The year began with Advent, the season for the "preparation to the incarnation of Christ". There were four ways to "consider...the coming of Christ" in four ways:
First there is verbum in carne, the word came in the flesh, in the Incarnation; and then there is caro in verbo, He who is made flesh comes in the Word, that is, Christ comes in the preaching thereof; and He comes again in carne saluta, when at our dissolution, and transmigration, at our death He comes by His spirit, and testifies to our spirit that we the children of God; and lastly He comes in car nel reddita, when He shall come at the Resurrection, to redeliver our bodies to our souls, and to deliver everlasting glory to both.
Christmas opens the door to our redemption; "Christ Jesus ... came ... for the relief of sinners." He came not "only of poor parents, but of a sinful race; and though He exempted His blessed Mother, more than any from sin, yet He is now content to be born again of sinful mothers." Major feast followed another until Trinity. Saints days were also celebrated with enthusiasm as illustrated with St. Andrew. He is "the first Christian, the first begotten of the new Testament", while the last to be kept in the Church's year was the wonderful feast of all Saints. This Donne explained was celebrated "in honour of the Trinity, ... angels, ... apostles, ... martyrs, ... confessors, ... saints, and all the elect children of God. So that it is truly a festival grounded upon that article of the Creed, The Communion of Saints." Moreoever "in our devout contemplation" it unites us with "the Head of the Church, God Himself", as well as the Church "Triumphant and Militant." Thus it is a festival in "relation to all saints, both living and dead". Singled out by Donne for special honour was the Blessed Virgin Mary "into whom no reigning power of the devil ever entered; in such an acceptation then Christ came per mundam in mundum into an unclean world." There were also the fasts of the year. These were "not a mere human imposition", but the express "commandment ... from God to His people". Therefore the Church has set aside certain times which began in the Primitive Church for fasting, such as Lent, Wednesdays and Fridays. However he stressed that "the act of fasting" was not to store up any "merit" as practised within the Church of Rome for such things as "satisfaction for sins, and an acquisition of life everlasting."
THE ENGLISH CHURCH
For Donne it was the Church "which proposed to me all that is necessary to my salvation, in the Word, and seals all to me in the Sacraments." In his preaching, Donne emphasized the catholicity of his Church. While at the Hague in 1619 he maintained that "the Church loves the name of Catholic; ... it is a glorious, and an harmonious name"; and entreats his auditors to "love ... those things wherein she is Catholic ... those universal and fundamental doctrines, which in all Christian ages, and in all Christian Churches, have been agreed by all to be necessary to salvation; ... then you are a true Catholic." In fact it is the "old doctrines, old disciplines, old words and form of speech in His service [that] God loves best", certainly "not innovations."
In one of his St. Paul's sermons Donne encouraged members of his congregation to give "joyful thankfulness" to God for putting them "in a church which withholds nothing from you, that is necessary to salvation, whereas in [one] ... Church they lack a great part of the Word, and half the Sacrament," ... [and] in another ... the additional things exceed the fundamental, ... the traditions of men, [and] the commandments of God."
The English Church, Donne emphasised, was very old and therefore most definitely apostolic and catholic.
God shone upon this island early ... in the plantation of the Gospel, ... and early in the Reformation of the Church ... we had not the model of any foreign Church for our pattern; we stripped not the Church into a nakedness, nor into rags; we divested her not of her possessions, nor of her ceremonies, but received such a reformation at home, by their hands whom God enlightened, as left her neither in a dropsy nor in a consumption; neither in a superfluous and cumbersome fatness, nor in an uncomely and faint leanness and attenuation.
This devotion to the Church of England was particularly manifested in defending it against the Puritan concept of it. Donne insisted that it was nearer to God "and to the institutions of His Christ" than any other Church. "It is an ill nature in any man, ... to conceive jealousies, and to suspect his Mother's honour, or his sister's chastity, than a strange woman's." Furthermore Donne maintained that "it is an irreverent unthankfulness to think worse of that church, which has bred, ... fed, ... and led us thus far towards God, than of a [reformed] foreign church." Unity of Christ’s body was important to Donne, and was a feature of Caroline Divine preaching. It is well illustrated in the opening words of this christening sermon. "Almighty God has ever loved unity, but he never loved singularity". Further on in this sermon, he pleaded, "let us not divide and mangle Christ, or tear his Church in pieces, by froward and frivolous disputations", such as "whether Christ gave His divinity for us, or His humanity." Be content that Christ has redeemed us not "with corruptible things, but with the precious blood of Christ Jesus."
He yearned for unity of all Christians, and believed that "Roman and Reformed, and all other distinctions of place, discipline or person,[should be] ... one Church, journeying to one Jerusalem, and directed by one guide, Christ Jesus". However unity of "the whole Catholic Church" must be "in the form and profession established, in any one of these churches", (preferably the Church of England),"which have not by any additions destroyed the foundation and possibility of salvation in Christ Jesus."
As much as Donne longed for unity within Christ's Body on earth he sensed that such unity could only be achieved in Christ in the Church triumphant. Christ's "end was [to have] a glorious church, [without] ... spot or wrinkle; ... here it cannot be" as it still has wrinkles and spots through man's sinful nature. Hence this "glorious church ... holy to Himself, is reserved for the triumphant time when she shall be in possession of that beauty, which Christ foresaw in her, long before when He said, You are all fair my love, and there is no spot in you". Thus the sin of disunity and schism which Donne believed were caused by the Papists and Puritans alike weighed heavy upon "our Mother" and upon all the Caroline Divines. Our sins have grieved our Mother; that is made the Church ashamed, and blush that she has washed us, and clothed us, in the whiteness and innocency of Christ Jesus in our Baptism, and given us His Blood to drink in the other Sacrament. Our sins have made our Mother the Church ashamed in herself. Donne insisted that disunity and uncharitableness within our Church, caused by the Puritans, will make us all the more susceptible to the jaws of the Roman Church, especially with their already uncharitableness, which he described "not a torrent, not a sea, but a general flood, a universal deluge, that swallows all the world." The Papists deny "the possibility of salvation to the whole ark, the whole Christian Church, but one cabin in that ark, the Church of Rome." Yet a short time ago a man "might have been saved for believing the Apostles' Creed", but now he must accept "the Trent Creed too." The Church of Rome "will press for all, and yield nothing." The only way the Church of Rome would have "us be saved" is "if we should believe their unbloody sacrifice in the Mass, ... their metaphysics, their transcendent transubstantiation, ... their purgatory fires, ... [and] their apparitions of souls and spirits",and therefore reform our "doctrines and ceremonies." accordingly.
Donne's preaching one felt always came from the heart and his own struggle through his loss, failures and struggle to be faithful to the gracious God. This is so evident in much of his poetry too as in this Holy Sonnet.
Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ; That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new. I, like an usurp'd town, to another due, Labour to admit you, but O, to no end. Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, But is captived, and proves weak or untrue. Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, But am betroth'd unto your enemy ; Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again, Take me to you, imprison me, for I, Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.