His Later Mercies are His Larger Mercies

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

As God hath provided us an endlessness in the world to come, so to give us an inchoation, a representation of the next world, in this one, God hath instituted an endlessness in this world too.  God hath imprinted in every natural man, and doth exalt in the supernatural and regenerate man, an endless and indeterminable desire of more than this life can minister to him. Still God leaves man in expectation, And truly, that man can scarce prove the immortality of the soul to himself that feels not a desire in his soul of something beyond this life. Creatures of an inferior nature are possessed with the present. Man is a future creature. In a holy and useful sense, we may say that God is a future God. To man especially he is so. Man’s consideration of God is specially for the future.

We can express man’s afternoon, his future perpetuity, his everlastingness by one way, but it is a fair way, a noble way. This: that how late a beginning soever God gave man, man shall no more see an end, no more die, than God himself, that gave him life. Therefore, says the apostle here, “we” we that consider God “according to his promise, expect” future things, look for more at God’s hand hereafter, than we have received heretofore. For “his mercies are new every morning” (Lam. 3:23), and his later mercies are his largest mercies.

How many, how great nations perish, without ever hearing the name of Christ. But God wrapped me up in his covenant and derived me from Christian parents. I sucked Christian blood, in my mother’s womb, and Christian milk, at my nurse’s breast. The first sound that I heard in the world was the voice of Christians, and the first character that I was taught to know was the cross of Christ Jesus.

How many children that are born so, born within the covenant born of Christian parents, do yet die before they be baptized, though they were born heirs to baptism? But God hath afforded me the seal of that Sacrament. And then, how many that are baptized, and so eased of original sin, do yet proceed to actual sins, and are surprised by death, before they receive the seal of their reconciliation to Christ, in the sacrament of his body and his blood, but God hath afforded me the seal of that sacrament too.

What sins soever God forgave me this morning, yet since the best (and I am none of them) “fall seven times a day” (Prov. 24:16) God forgives me seven more sins, tomorrow, than he did today, and seven, in this arithmetic is infinite. God’s temporal, God’s spiritual blessings are inexhaustible. “What have we that we have not received” (I Cor. 4:7)? But what have we received, in comparison to that which is laid up for us?

And therefore, “we expect,” we determine ourselves in God so as that we look for nothing, but from him. But not so that we hope for no more from him, than we have had. For that were to determine God, to circumscribe God, to make God finite. Therefore, we bless God for our possession, but yet we expect a larger reversion. And the day intended in this text shall make that reversion our possession, which is the day of judgment.

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.


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