To Beat Down Their Confidence

From “Sermon Number 18” (1619)

The woe and commination of our prophet had one aim, too beat down their scorn which derided the judgments of God in this world; and a second aim, to beat down their confidence, that thought themselves of themselves able to stand in God’s judgment in the next world; so it hath a third mark between these two, it hath an aim upon them, or some other mistaking of their own estate and case, works an over-hasty and impatient desire of death.

And in this sense and acceptation, the day of the Lord is the day of our death and transmigration out of this world, and the darkness is still everlasting darkness. Now for this we take our lesson in Job, “man’s life is a warfare” (Job. 7:1); man might have lived at peace, [but] he himself chose a rebellious war, and now that war [on] which he willingly embarked himself at first, though it be against his will now, he must go through with,

In Job we have our lesson, and in St. Paul we have our law, “Take ye the whole armor of God, that ye may be able, having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:11); that is, that having overcome one temptation, you may stand in battle against the next, for it is not… that we should think to triumph of we had overcome the heat and intemperance of youth, but we must fight it out to our lives’ end.

And then, we have the reward of this lesson, and of this law limited, “no man is crowned, except he fight according to this law,” that is, he persevere to the end. And as we have our lesson in Job, our rule and reward in the apostle, who were both great commanders in the warfare; so we have our example in our great general, Christ Jesus “who though his soul were heavy, and heavy unto death” (Matt. 26:38), “though he had a baptism to be baptizded with, and he was straightened and in pain till it were accomplished” (Luke 12:50); and “though he had power to lay down his soul, and take it up again,” and “no man else could take it from him” (John 10:18), yet he fought it out to the last hour, and till his hour came he would not prevent it nor lay down his soul.

Woe unto them that desire any other end of God’s correction, but what he hath ordained and appointd, for what shall you get by choosing your own ways? “Darkness, and not light.” For they shall pass out of this world, in this inward darkness of melancholy, and dejection of spirit, into the outward darkness, which is an everlasting exclusion from the Father of lights, and from the kingdom of joy; their case is well expressed in the next verse of our text, “They shall fly from a lion, and a bear shall meet them; they shall lean on a wall, and serpent shall bite them;” they shall end this life by a miserable and hasty death, and out of that death shall grow an immortal life in torments, which no weariness, nor desire, nor practice, can ever bring to an end.

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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