John Donne: Expostulation XIII. Ingeniumque malum

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff


John Donne

MY God, my God, thou hast made this sick bed thine altar, and I have no other sacrifice to offer but myself; and wilt thou accept no spotted sacrifice? Doth thy Son dwell bodily in this flesh that thou shouldst look for an unspottedness here? or is the Holy Ghost the soul of this body, as he is of thy spouse, who is therefore “all fair, and no spot in her”? [Cant. 4:7] or hath thy Son himself no spots, who hath all our stains and deformities in him? or hath thy spouse, thy church, no spots, when every particular limb of that fair and spotless body, every particular soul in that church, is full of stains and spots?

Thou bidst us “hate the garment that is spotted with the flesh.” The flesh itself is the garment, and it spotteth itself with itself. And “if I wash myself with snow water, mine own clothes shall make me abominable,” [Job 9:30] and yet “no man yet ever hated his own flesh.” [Eph. 5:29]

Lord, if thou look for a spotlessness, whom wilt thou look upon? Thy mercy may go a great way in my soul and yet not leave me without spots; thy corrections may go far and burn deep, and yet not leave me spotless: thy children apprehended that, when they said, “From our former iniquity we are not cleansed until this day, though there was a plague in the congregation of the Lord.” [Josh. 22:17]

Thou rainest upon us, and yet dost not always mollify all our hardness; thou kindlest thy fires in us, and yet dost not always burn up all our dross; thou healest our wounds, and yet leavest scars; thou purgest the blood, and yet leavest spots. But the spots that thou hatest are the spots that we hide.

The carvers of images cover spots, [Wisd. 13:14] says the wise man; when we hide our spots, we become idolators of our own stains, of our own foulnesses. But if my spots come forth, by what means soever, whether by the strength of nature, by voluntary confession (for grace is the nature of a regenerate man, and the power of grace is the strength of nature), or by the virtue of cordials (for even thy corrections are cordials), if they come forth either way, thou receivest that confession with a gracious interpretation.

When thy servant Jacob practised an invention to procure spots in his sheep, [Gen. 30:33] thou didst prosper his rods; and thou dost prosper thine own rods, when corrections procure the discovery of our spots, the humble manifestation of our sins to thee; till then thou mayst justly say, “The whole need not the physician”; [Matt. 9:12] till we tell thee in our sickness we think ourselves whole, till we show our spots, thou appliest no medicine.

But since I do that, shall I not, “Lord, lift up my face without spot, and be steadfast, and not fear”? [Job 11:15] Even my spots belong to thy Son's body, and are part of that which he came down to this earth to fetch, and challenge, and assume to himself. When I open my spots I do but present him with that which is his; and till I do so, I detain and withhold his right. When therefore thou seest them upon me, as his, and seest them by this way of confession, they shall not appear to me as the pinches of death, to decline my fear to hell (for thou hast not left thy holy one in hell, thy Son is not there); but these spots upon my breast, and upon my soul, shall appear to me as the constellations of the firmament, to direct my contemplation to that place where thy Son is, thy right hand.