John Donne: Expostulation


John Donne

I HAVE not the righteousness of Job, but I have the desire of Job: “I would speak to the Almighty, and I would reason with God.” [Job 13:3]

My God, my God, how soon wouldst thou have me go to the physician, and how far wouldst thou have me go with the physician? I know thou hast made the matter, and the man, and the art; and I go not from thee when I go to the physician. Thou didst not make clothes before there was a shame of the nakedness of the body, but thou didst make physic before there was any grudging of any sickness; for thou didst imprint a medicinal virtue in many simples, even from the beginning; didst thou mean that we should be sick when thou didst so? when thou madest them? No more than thou didst mean, that we should sin, when thou madest us: thou foresawest both, but causedst neither.

Thou, Lord, promisest here trees, “whose fruit shall be for meat, and their leaves for medicine.” [Ezek. 47:12] It is the voice of thy Son, “Wilt thou be made whole?” [John 5:6] that draws from the patient a confession that he was ill, and could not make himself well. And it is thine own voice, “Is there no physician?” [Jer. 8:22] that inclines us, disposes us, to accept thine ordinance. And it is the voice of the wise man, both for the matter, physic itself, “The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth, and he that is wise shall not abhor them,” [Ecclus. 38:4] and for the art, and the person, the physician cutteth off a long disease. In all these voices thou sendest us to those helps which thou hast afforded us in that.

But wilt not thou avow that voice too, “He that hath sinned against his Maker, let him fall into the hands of the physician”; [Ecclus. 38:15] and wilt not thou afford me an understanding of those words? Thou, who sendest us for a blessing to the physician, dost not make it a curse to us to go when thou sendest. Is not the curse rather in this, that only he falls into the hands of the physician, that casts himself wholly, entirely upon the physician, confides in him, relies upon him, attends all from him, and neglects that spiritual physic which thou also hast instituted in thy church. So to fall into the hands of the physician is a sin, and a punishment of former sins; so, as Asa fell, who in his disease “sought not to the Lord, but to the physician.” [1 Chron. 16:12]

Reveal therefore to me thy method, O Lord, and see whether I have followed it; that thou mayest have glory, if I have, and I pardon, if I have not, and help that I may.

Thy method is, “In time of thy sickness, be not negligent”: wherein wilt thou have my diligence expressed?

Pray unto the Lord, and he will make thee whole.” [Ecclus. 38:9]

O Lord, I do; I pray, and pray thy servant David's prayer, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are vexed:” [Ps. 6:2] I know that even my weakness is a reason, a motive, to induce thy mercy, and my sickness an occasion of thy sending health. When art thou so ready, when is it so seasonable to thee, to commiserate, as in misery?

But is prayer for health in season, as soon as I am sick? Thy method goes further: “Leave off from sin, and order thy hands aright, and cleanse thy heart from all wickedness.” [Ecclus. 38:10]

Have I, O Lord, done so? O Lord, I have; by thy grace, I am come to a holy detestation of my former sin. Is there any more?

In thy method there is more: “Give a sweet savour, and a memorial of fine flour, and make a fat offering, as not being.” [Ecclus. 38:11] And, Lord, by thy grace, I have done that, sacrificed a little of that little which thou lentest me, to them for whom thou lentest it: and now in thy method, and by thy steps, I am come to that, “Then give place to the physician, for the Lord hath created him; let him not go from thee, for thou hast need of him.” [Ecclus. 38:12]

I send for the physician, but I will hear him enter with those words of Peter, “Jesus Christ maketh thee whole”; [Acts 9:34] I long for his presence, but I look “that the power of the Lord should be present to heal me.” [Luke 5:17]