John Donne: Expostulation


John Donne

MY God, my God, I do not expostulate with thee, but with them who dare do that; who dare expostulate with thee, when in the voice of thy church thou givest allowance to this ceremony of bells at funerals. Is it enough to refuse it, because it was in use among the Gentiles? so were funerals too. Is it because some abuses may have crept in amongst Christians? Is that enough, that their ringing hath been said to drive away evil spirits? Truly, that is so far true, as that the evil spirit is vehemently vexed in their ringing, therefore, because that action brings the congregation together, and unites God and his people, to the destruction of that kingdom which the evil spirit usurps.

In the first institution of thy church in this world, in the foundation of thy militant church amongst the Jews, thou didst appoint the calling of the assembly in to be by trumpet; [Numb. 10:2] and when they were in, then thou gavest them the sound of bells in the garment of thy priest. [Ex. 18:33-4] In the triumphant church, thou employest both too, but in an inverted order; we enter into the triumphant church by the sound of bells (for we enter when we die); and then we receive our further edification, or consummation, by the sound of trumpets at the resurrection. The sound of thy trumpets thou didst impart to secular and civil uses too, but the sound of bells only to sacred.

Lord, let not us break the communion of saints in that which was intended for the advancement of it; let not that pull us asunder from one another, which was intended for the assembling of us in the militant, and associating of us to the triumphant church. But he, for whose funeral these bells ring now, was at home, at his journey's end yesterday; why ring they now? A man, that is a world, is all the things in the world; he is an army, and when an army marches, the van may lodge to-night where the rear comes not till to-morrow. A man extends to his act and to his example; to that which he does, and that which he teaches; so do those things that concern him, so do these bells; that which rung yesterday was to convey him out of the world in his van, in his soul; that which rung to-day was to bring him in his rear, in his body, to the church; and this continuing of ringing after his entering is to bring him to me in the application. Where I lie I could hear the psalm, and did join with the congregation in it; but I could not hear the sermon, and these latter bells are a repetition sermon to me.

But, O my God, my God, do I that have this fever need other remembrances of my mortality? Is not mine own hollow voice, voice enough to pronounce that to me? Need I look upon a death's head in a ring, that have one in my face? or go for death to my neighbour's house, that have him in my bosom? We cannot, we cannot, O my God, take in too many helps for religious duties; I know I cannot have any better image of thee than thy Son, nor any better image of him than his Gospel; yet must not I with thanks confess to thee, that some historical pictures of his have sometimes put me upon better meditations than otherwise I should have fallen upon? I know thy church needed not to have taken in, from Jew, or Gentile, any supplies for the exaltation of thy glory, or our devotion; of absolute necessity I know she needed not; but yet we owe thee our thanks, that thou hast given her leave to do so, and that as, in making us Christians, thou didst not destroy that which we were before, natural men, so, in the exalting of our religious devotions now we are Christians, thou hast been pleased to continue to us those assistances which did work upon the affections of natural men before; for thou lovest a good man as thou lovest a good Christian; and though grace be merely from me, yet thou dost not plant grace but in good natures.