If I Be with Him in His Afflictions

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

If any distresses in my fortune and estate, in my body, and in my health, oppress me, I may find some recipes, some medicines, some words of consolation in a Seneca, in a Plutarch, in a Petrarch. But I proceed in a safer way, and deal upon better cordials, if I make David and the other prophets of God my physicians, and see what they prescribe me in the Scriptures, And look how my fellow-patient Job applied that physic by his patience.

And if anything heavier than that which fell upon Job fall upon me, yet I may propose one, to myself, upon whom there fell more than can fall under any man. For all mankind fell upon him, and all the sins of mankind fell upon him, and yet he had a glorious victory, a triumph over all that. And he is not only my rule, and my example, but my surety and my promise. “That where he is, I shall be also” (John 14:13). Not only, where he is in glory now, but in every step that he made in this world. If I be with him, in his afflictions, I shall be with him in his victory, in his triumph.

I shall be with him wherever he was in this world. I shall be with him, in his agonies and sadness of soul…In his surrender of himself “not my will, but thine, O Father, be done.” I shall be with him upon his cross, but in all my crosses, and in all my jealousies and suspicions of that cry that “God, my God hath forsaken me,” I shall be with him still in his “into thy hands I commend my spirit,” in  a confidence and assurance that I may commit my Spirit into his hands. For all this I do, “according to his promise that where he is, I shall be also.”

If men were made of tears, as they are made of the elements of tears, of the occasions of tears, of miseries, and if all men were resolved to tears, as they must resolve to dust, all were not enough to lament their miserable condition, who lay hold upon the miserable comforters of this world. Upon their own merits, or upon the supererogations of other men, of which there are no promises they lay hold, and yet they cannot find that true promise, which is implied in those examples of Job and Christ, applicable to themselves.

Nevertheless we, we that can do so, we that can read that promise, “that where they are, we shall be,” that what he hath done for them, he will also do for us, “we according to his promise,” declared in his Scriptures, in the midst of scoffers, and in the midst of terrors, expect and look for more than we have yet.

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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