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John Donne's Devotions
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XIX. EXPOSTULATION.

MY God, my God, thou art a direct God, may I not say a literal God, a God that wouldst be understood literally and according to the plain sense of all that thou sayest? but thou art also (Lord, I intend it to thy glory, and let no profane misinterpreter abuse it to thy diminution), thou art a figurative, a metaphorical God too; a God in whose words there is such a height of figures, such voyages, such peregrinations to fetch remote and precious metaphors, such extensions, such spreadings, such curtains of allegories, such third heavens of hyperboles, so harmonious elocutions, so retired and so reserved expressions, so commanding persuasions, so persuading commandments, such sinews even in thy milk, and such things in thy words, as all profane authors seem of the seed of the serpent that creeps, thou art the Dove that flies. O, what words but thine can express the inexpressible texture and composition of thy word, in which to one man that argument that binds his faith to believe that to be the word of God, is the reverent simplicity of the word, and to another the majesty of the word; and in which two men equally pious may meet, and one wonder that all should not understand it, and the other as much that any man should.

Lord, thou givest us the same earth to labour on and to lie in, a house and a grave of the same earth; so, Lord, thou givest us the same word for our satisfaction and for our inquisition, for our instruction and for our admiration too; for there are places that thy servants Hierom and Augustine would scarce believe (when they grew warm by mutual letters) of one another, that they understood them, and yet both Hierom and Augustine call upon persons whom they knew to be far weaker than they thought one another (old women and young maids) to read the Scriptures, without confining them to these or those places. Neither art thou thus a figurative, a metaphorical God in thy word only, but in thy works too. The style of thy works, the phrase of thine actions, is metaphorical. The institution of thy whole worship in the old law was a continual allegory; types and figures overspread all, and figures flowed into figures, and poured themselves out into farther figures; circumcision carried a figure of baptism, and baptism carries a figure of that purity which we shall have in perfection in the new Jerusalem. Neither didst thou speak and work in this language only in the time of thy prophets; but since thou spokest in thy Son it is so too. How often, how much more often, doth thy Son call himself a way, and a light, and a gate, and a vine, and bread, than the Son of God, or of man? How much oftener doth he exhibit a metaphorical Christ, than a real, a literal? This hath occasioned thine ancient servants, whose delight it was to write after thy copy, to proceed the same way in their expositions of the Scriptures, and in their composing both of public liturgies and of private prayers to thee, to make their accesses to thee in such a kind of language as thou wast pleased to speak to them, in a figurative, in a metaphorical language, in which manner I am bold to call the comfort which I receive now in this sickness in the indication of the concoction and maturity thereof, in certain clouds and recidences, which the physicians observe, a discovering of land from sea after a long and tempestuous voyage. But wherefore, O my God, hast thou presented to us the afflictions and calamities of this life in the name of waters? so often in the name of waters, and deep waters, and seas of waters? Must we look to be drowned? are they bottomless, are they boundless? That is not the dialect of thy language; thou hast given a remedy against the deepest water by water; against the inundation of sin by baptism; and the first life that thou gavest to any creatures was in waters: therefore thou dost not threaten us with an irremediableness when our affliction is a sea. It is so if we consider ourselves; so thou callest Genezareth, which was but a lake, and not salt, a sea; so thou callest the Mediterranean sea still the great sea, because the inhabitants saw no other sea; they that dwelt there thought a lake a sea, and the others thought a little sea, the greatest, and we that know not the afflictions of others call our own the heaviest. But, O my God, that is truly great that overflows the channel, that is really a great affliction which is above my strength; but thou, O God, art my strength, and then what can be above it? Mountains shake with the swelling of thy sea;265265    Ps. 46:3. secular mountains, men strong in power; spiritual mountains, men strong in grace, are shaken with afflictions; but thou layest up thy sea in storehouses;266266    Ps. 33:7. even thy corrections are of thy treasure, and thou wilt not waste thy corrections; when they have done their service to humble thy patient, thou wilt call them in again, for thou givest the sea thy decree, that the waters should not pass thy commandment.267267    Prov. 8:29. All our waters shall run into Jordan, and thy servants passed Jordan dry foot;268268    Josh. 3:17. they shall run into the red sea (the sea of thy Son’s blood), and the red sea, that red sea, drowns none of thine: but they that sail on the sea tell of the danger thereof.269269    Ecclus. 43:24. I that am yet in this affliction, owe thee the glory of speaking of it; but, as the wise man bids me, I say, I may speak much and come short, wherefore in sum thou art all.270270    Ecclus. 43:27. Since thou art so, O my God, and affliction is a sea too deep for us, what is our refuge? Thine ark, thy ship. In all other afflictions, those means which thou hast ordained in this sea, in sickness, thy ship is thy physician. Thou hast made a way in the sea, and a safe path in the waters, showing that thou canst save from all dangers, yea, though a man went to sea without art:271271    Wisd. 14:3. yet, where I find all that, I find this added; nevertheless thou wouldst not, that the work of thy wisdom should be idle.272272    Wisd. 14:5. Thou canst save without means, but thou hast told no man that thou wilt; thou hast told every man that thou wilt not.273273    Acts 27:11. When the centurion believed the master of the ship more than St. Paul, they were all opened to a great danger; this was a preferring of thy means before thee, the author of the means: be, my God, though thou beest every where: I have no promise of appearing to me but in thy ship, thy blessed Son preached out of a ship:274274    Luke 5:3. the means is preaching, he did that; and the ship was a type of the church, he did it there. Thou gavest St. Paul the lives of all them that sailed with him;275275    Acts 27:24. if they had not been in the ship with him, the gift had not extended to them. As soon as thy Son was come out of the ship, immediately there met him, out of the tombs, a man with an unclean spirit, and no man could hold him, no not with chains.276276    Mark 5:2. Thy Son needed no use of means; yet there we apprehend the danger to us, if we leave the ship, the means, in this case the physician. But as they are ships to us in those seas, so is there a ship to them too in which they are to stay. Give me leave, O my God, to assist myself with such a construction of these words of thy servant Paul to the centurion, when the mariners would have left the ship, Except these abide in the ship, you cannot be safe:277277    Acts 27:31. except they who are our ships, the physicians, abide in that which is theirs, and our ship, the truth, and the sincere and religious worship of thee and thy gospel, we cannot promise ourselves so good safety; for though we have our ship, the physician, he hath not his ship, religion; and means are not means but in their concatenation, as they depend and are chained together. The ships are great, says thy apostle, but a helm turns them;278278    James 3:4. the men are learned, but their religion turns their labours to good, and therefore it was a heavy curse when the third part of the ships perished:279279    Rev. 8:9. it is a heavy case where either all religion, or true religion, should forsake many of these ships whom thou hast sent to convey us over these seas. But, O my God, my God, since I have my ship and they theirs, I have them and they have thee, why are we yet no nearer land? As soon as thy Son’s disciple had taken him into the ship, immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.280280    John 6:21. Why have not they and I this dispatch? Every thing is immediately done, which is done when thou wouldst have it done. Thy purpose terminates every action, and what was done before that is undone yet. Shall that slacken my hope? thy prophet from thee hath forbidden it. It is good that a man should both hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.281281    Lam. 3:26. Thou puttest off many judgments till the last day, and many pass this life without any; and shall not I endure the putting off thy mercy for a day? And yet, O my God, thou puttest me not to that, for the assurance of future mercy is present mercy. But what is my assurance now? what is my seal? It is but a cloud; that which my physicians call a cloud, in that which gives them their indication. But a cloud? Thy great seal to all the world, the rainbow, that secured the world for ever from drowning, was but a reflection upon a cloud. A cloud itself was a pillar which guided the church,282282    Exod. 13:21. and the glory of God not only was, but appeared in a cloud.283283    Exod. 16:10. Let me return, O my God, to the consideration of thy servant Elijah’s proceeding in a time of desperate drought;284284    1 Kings 18:43. he bids them look towards the sea; they look, and see nothing. He bids them again and again seven times; and at the seventh time they saw a little cloud rising out of the sea, and presently they had their desire of rain. Seven days, O my God, have we looked for this cloud, and now we have it; none of thy indications are frivolous, thou makest thy signs seals, and thy seals effects, and thy effects consolation and restitution, wheresoever thou mayst receive glory by that way.


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