From “Sermon of Commemoration of the Lady Danvers” (1627)
He is the true coward, that is afraid of every inconvenience, which another may cast upon his person or fortune. He that hath too high a price upon his body will sell his soul cheap.
But we can say of the fires of tribulation, as Origen says (whether he speaks of the fires of conflagration at the last day or these fires of purification on our way to it) that all our fiery tribulations fall under the nature and definition of sacraments. They are so many visible signs of invisible grace, that every correction from God’s hand is a rebaptism to me, and that I can see that I should not have been so sure of salvation without this sacrament, without this baptism, without this fire of tribulation. If I can bring this fire to that temper, which Lactantius speaks of, that it be a fire that shall conform itself to me to do as I would have it, that is concoct, and purge, and purify, and prepare me for God.
If my Christianity make that impression in me, which Socrates his philosophy did in him, who, as Gregory Nazianzene testifies of him when he lay a condemned man in prison, in that prison taught his disciples that the body of man was a worse prison than the one he lay condemned in.
If I can bring these fires to this compass and to this temper, I shall find that as the ark was in the midst of the waters and yet safe from the waters, and the bush in the midst of the fire and yet safe from the fire, so, though Jerome say, (and upon good grounds) that it is an act of greater boldness than any man, as man, can avow, and a testimony of a clearer conscience than any man, as man, can pretend to have, to press God for the day of judgment and not to fear that day…Yet I shall find, that such a family, such a society, such a communion there is, and that I am of that quorum that can say, ‘Come what scorns can come, come what terrors can come, In Christo omnia possumus, [We can do all things in Christ], though we can do nothing of ourselves, yet as we are in Christ, we can do all things, because we are fixed in him, “according to his promises.”
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.