From “Sermon of Commemoration of the Lady Danvers” (1627)

Many, and many, and very many, infinite, and infinitely infinite are the terrors of that day. “Nevertheless, my soul, why art thou so sad, why art thou disquieted within me?” (Ps. 42:6) Thou hast a Goshen to rest in, for all this Egypt; a Zoar to fly to, for all this Sodom; a sanctuary and horns of the altar, to hold by, for all this storm. “Nevertheless,” says our text, though there be these scornful jests, though there be these real terrors, nevertheless, there are a “we,” certain privileged persons.

To those who pretended an interest in Christ, and had none, to those who would exorcise possessed persons and cast out devils, in the name of Jesus, without any commission from Jesus, to those sons of Sceva, the devil himself could say “Qui vos?” [Who are you?] “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you” (Acts 19:15)? To those who live in an outward conformity to Christ, but yet seek their salvation in the light of nature, and their power of resisting temptations in their moral constancy, the devil may boldly say, “Qui vos” [Who are you?] Jesus I know, and the Church I know; but who are you?” I would that I had no worse enemies than you.

Nevertheless we, for all his scorns, for all these terrors, shall have an answer to his “Qui vos?” And be able to tell him that we are that “gens sancta” and that “regale sacerdotium” that this apostle speaks of (I Pet. 2:9), that “holy people,” made holy by his covenant and ordinances; and that “royal priesthood,” which as priests, have an interest in his sacrifice, his Son; and as kings, have an interest in that crown, which for his Son’s sake, he hath ordained for us.

We are they who have seen the marks of his election, in their first edition, the Scriptures; and seen them again in their second edition, as they are imprinted in our consciences, in our faith, in our manners, and so we cannot mistake nor be deceived in them.

We are that “seed of God” that Malachi speaks of (Mal. 2:15), which God hath sowed in his Church; and by that extraction, we are partakers of the divine nature itself (2 Pet 1:4). And so, we grow to be the sons of God.” And by that title, “joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). And so to be “Christs ourselves,” as God calls his faithful, his anointed, his “Christs” (Ps. 105:15). And from thence, we grow to that height to be of the quorum in that commission “I have said you are gods,” (Ps. 82:6). and not only gods by representation, but we become the same Spirit with the Lord, that as a Spirit cannot be divided in itself, “so we are persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor any creature, shall be able to separate us from God.” (Rom. 8:38).

“If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant still” (I Cor. 14:38). If he will not study his own case, let him be subject to these scorns and these terrors still. But… the unlearnedst Christian that is (be he a true Christian) hath learning enough to establish himself so that neither scorns nor terrors can shake his foundations. So then you see, what fellowship of the faithful, what household of the righteous, what communion of saints it is that falls under this denomination, “we.” We that have laid our foundations in faith and made our building upon it in holiness of life. We that have learned, and learned by the right rule, the rule of Christianity, how to put a right value upon this world, and those things which can but concern our body in this world.

John Donne (1572-1631) was an English cleric, poet, and scholar, acclaimed as one of the finest preachers of his day. He is widely considered the preeminent metaphysical poet, prized for his inventiveness in the use of metaphor and his dramatic, vigorous style. He was ordained after a political and military career, serving as chaplain at Lincoln’s Inn, and for the last ten years of his life, as dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. His Sermon of Commemoration of the Lady Danvers was preached in Chelsea Old Church on July 1, 1627, several weeks after the death of his friend Magdalen Newport Herbert Danvers. Danvers was the mother of the saintly poet and spiritual writer George Herbert, who first published the sermon, along with several Latin and Greek poems of his own composition. John Donne is commemorated on the liturgical calendar of several Anglican churches on March 31.