We went to a church today: Kea, Myself and Kea’s mother, as a coterie shunted from our usual places of worship and we tried to find somewhere we could praise God. We went to those who will not conform with the woke presbyterians. One pastor did the liturgy: he was a plumber. The sermon was about Christmas being a time we would be home, and how in Christ we had a home.
Well and good. But we used to eat sterner stuff. So: in the hope of preserving what is lost, sermon, then the poem. Donne was preaching in 1627. at St Pauls, and continually quotes the Vulgate. Most educated people had some Latin. And those of learning carried it casually.
First then, our first consideration constitutes that proposition, ordinary duties, arising out of the evidence of God’s word, require a present execution. There are duties that bind us semper, and ad semper, as our casuists speak; we are always bound to do them, and bound to do them always; that is, always to produce actus elicitos, determinate acts, successive and consecutive acts, conformable to those duties; whereas in some other duties, we are only bound to an habitual disposition, to do them in such and such necessary cases; and those actions of the latter sort, fall in genere deliberativo, we may consider circumstances, before we fall under a necessity of doing them; that is, of doing them then, or doing them thus,: of which kind, even those great duties of praying, and fasting are; for we are always bound to pray, and always bound to fast; but not bound to fast always, nor always to pray. But for actions of the first kind, such as are the worshipping of God, and the not worshipping of images; such as are the sanctifying of God’s Sabbaths, and the not blaspheming of his name, which arise out of clear and evident commands of God; they admit no deliberation, but require a present execution. Therefore as St. Stephen .saw Christ, standing at the right hand of his Father, (a posture that denotes first a readiness to survey, and take knowledge of our distresses, and then a readiness to proceed, and come forth to our assistance) so in our Liturgy, in our service, in the congregation, wo stand up at the profession of the Creed, at the rehearsing the Articles of our faith, thereby to declare to God, and his church, our readiness to stand to, and our readiness to proceed in that profession. The commendation which is given of Andrew, and Peter for obeying Christ’s call, lies not so much in that they left their nets, as in that forthwith, immediately, without farther deliberation, they left their nets, the means of their livelihood, and followed Christ. The Lord and his Spirit hath anointed us to preach, says the prophet Isaiah: to preach what? the acceptable year of the Lord. All the year long the Lord stands with his arms open to embrace you, and all the year long we pray you in Christ’s stead, that you would be reconciled to God*. But yet God would fain reduce it to a narrower compass of time, that you would hear his voice to-day, and not harden your hearts to-day: and to a narrower compass than that, Dabitur in ilia hora, says Christ, The Holy Ghost shall teach you in that hour: in this hour the Holy Ghost offers himself unto you: and to a narrower compass than an hour, Blessed are ye that hunger now, and that mourn now, that put not off’ years, nor days, nor hours, but come to a sense of your sins, and of the means of reconciliation to God, now, this minute. And therefore, when ye read, just weights, and just balances, and just measures, a just Hin and a just Ephah shall ye hame, I am the Lord your God, do not you say, so I will hereafter, I will come to just weights and measures, and to deal uprightly in the world as soon as I have made a fortune, established a state, raised a competency for wife and children, but yet I must do as other men do; when you read Remember that you keep holy the Sabbath day*, (and by the way, remember that God hath called his other holy days, and holy convocations, Sabbaths too,) remember that you celebrate his Sabbaths by your presence here, do not you say, so I will if I can rise time enough, if I can dine soon enough; when you read, swear not at all, do not you say, no more I would but that I live amongst men that will not believe me without swearing, and laugh at me if I did not swear; for duties of this kind, permanent and constant duties arising out of the evidence of God’s word, such as just and true dealing with men, such as keeping God’s Sabbaths, such as not blaspheming his name, have no latitude about them, no conditions in them; they have no circumstance, but are all substance, no apparel, but are all body, no body, but are all soul, no matter, but are all form; they are not in genere deliberative, they admit no deliberation, but require an immediate, and an exact execution.
But then, for extraordinary things, things that have not their evidence in the word of God formally revealed unto us, whether we consider matters of doctrine, and new opinions, or matter of practice, and new commands, from what depth of learning soever that new opinion seem to us to rise, or from height of power soever that new command seem to fall, it is still in genere deliberative, still we are allowed, nay still we are commanded to deliberate, to doubt, to consider, before we execute. As a good author in the Roman Church says, Perniciosius est ecclesiw”, It is more dangerous to the church, to accept an apocryphal book for canonical, than to reject a canonical book for apocryphal: so may it be more dangerous to do some things, which to a distempered man may seem to be commanded by God, than to forbear some things, which are truly commanded by him. God had rather that himself should be suspected, than that a false god should be admitted.
The works of John Donne. SERMON V.PREACHED AT ST. PAUL’S ON CHRISTMAS-DAY, 1627. Exod. IV. 13.
Donne is not that sentimental. He expects that those who claim to be of Christ will be honest in their doings and keep the commandments. There is no leeway. The glosses of his time, the legends, the prophets and ranters — we have always had them among us — did not fit into his Catholic vision of the Church. All are called: some will respond. There is grace and peace but we show it by what we do.
Even in his poetry. There is no sentiment here. That was a disorder of the Victorians and the moderns. Donne was happy instead to praise God, but note the last two stanzas. Christ was not the only person who would suffer. Mary would watch this, and that would pierce her heart.
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod’s jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
This is Donne the father, the lover, the soldier. On his knees. So should we be.
To keep the theme of the noble and good, this is a performance of Gabriels Oboe. Both the composer and Mr Adams have passed from this life.