Perfect Our Repentance

From “On Patience in Adversity, Awaiting the Will of God” (ca. 1630)

Limit not God in his ways or times, but if you would be heard by him, hear him: if you would have him grant your prayers, do his will. We pray you in Christ’s stead be reconciled to God. And are you reconciled? Do you hear the trumpet now? Christ Jesus prays for you to his Father in heaven, that you might be converted. And are you converted?…

Our seeing God hereafter is the blessedness we hope for, and our comfort for the way to that is that he sees us, for so we never are, never shall be out of sight of one another. If any sinner would wish that God did not see him, he would lose more by it than he should get. Though he would be glad not to be seen by God in his sinful pleasures, yet he would be sorry to be seen by him in his miseries and afflictions, and the miseries, the afflictions, of this life are more than the pleasures in the most habitual sinner.

God sees every tear, our first tear, and is affected with that. When the child was dead, David arose from the ground and ate bread. When the sin is dead by your true repentance, raise yourself from this sad dejection and come and eat the bread of life, the body of your savior, the seal of your pardon…

God knows your desires and your groans, but he will not take knowledge of them to your comfort to stop your desires, to perfect your repentance, except you bring them judiciously before him – your desires by way of confession and your groans by way of thanksgiving.

It is nothing for a rich man to say in general, “Lord all I have is from you, and if you will have it again I am ready to part with it.” This is a hypocritical compliment to say to God or man, all is at your service.

But rather give God some part of that, house Christ Jesus where he is homeless, help to beautify and build that house where his name may be glorified and his sabbath sanctified, clothe him where he is naked, feed him in his hunger, deliver him in his imprisonment, when he suffers this in his afflicted members. All your recognitions of God without subsidies, without benevolences, without relieving him in his distressed children, are but ceremonial, but hypocritical compliments.

So your telling God that he knows all your desires and groans, this is an easy matter for anyone, a word said too soon. Rather, bring all these before him, show him where and how, when by neglecting his grace you have started into these and those desires, and where and how and when you have taken light at his visitation to return towards him, and then he shall overthrow your work and build up his own, extinguish your desires, and perfect your repentance…

Study all the history and write all the progress of the Holy Ghost in yourself. Take not the grace of God, or the mercy of God, as a medal or a wedge of gold to be laid up, but change your medal or your wedge into current money, find this grace and this mercy applied to this end, this action…

Hide nothing from God, neither the diseases you were in, nor the degrees of health that you are come to, nor the ways of your falling or rising. If I mistake not the measure of your conscience, you will find an infinite comfort in this particular tracing of the Holy Ghost and his working in your soul.

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. Donne is commemorated on the liturgical calendar of several Anglican churches on March 31.


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