John Donne: Expostulation


John Donne

MY God, my God, what am I put to when I am put to consider and put off the root, the fuel, the occasion of my sickness? What Hippocrates, what Galen, could show me that in my body?

It lies deeper than so, it lies in my soul; and deeper than so, for we may well consider the body before the soul came, before inanimation, to be without sin; and the soul, before it come to the body, before that infection, to be without sin: sin is the root and the fuel of all sickness, and yet that which destroys body and soul is in neither, but in both together. It is the union of the body and soul, and, O my God, could I prevent that, or can I dissolve that? The root and the fuel of my sickness is my sin, my actual sin; but even that sin hath another root, another fuel, original sin; and can I divest that? Wilt thou bid me to separate the leaven that a lump of dough hath received, or the salt, that the water hath contracted, from the sea? Dost thou look, that I should so look to the fuel or embers of sin, that I never take fire?

The whole world is a pile of fagots, upon which we are laid, and (as though there were no other) we are the bellows. Ignorance blows the fire. He that touched any unclean thing, though he knew it not, became unclean, [Lev. 5:2] and a sacrifice was required (therefore a sin imputed), though it were done in ignorance. [Num. 15:24]

Ignorance blows this coal; but then knowledge much more; for there are that “know thy judgments, and yet not only do, but have pleasure in others that do against them.” [Rom. 1:32] Nature blows this coal; “by nature we are the children of wrath”; [Eph. 2:3] and the law blows it; thy apostle Saint Paul found that “sin took occasion by the law,” that therefore, because it is forbidden, we do some things. If we break the law, we sin; “sin is the transgression of the law”; [1 John 3:4] and sin itself becomes a law in our members. [Rom. 7:23]

Our fathers have imprinted the seed, infused a spring of sin in us. “As a fountain casteth out her waters, we cast out our wickedness, ”but“ we have done worse than our fathers,” [Jer. 6:7; 7:26] We are open to infinite temptations, and yet, as though we lacked, we are tempted of our own lusts. [James 1:14] And not satisfied with that, as though we were not powerful enough, or cunning enough, to demolish or undermine ourselves, when we ourselves have no pleasure in the sin, we sin for others' sakes.

When Adam sinned for Eve's sake, [Gen. 3:6] and Solomon to gratify his wives, [1 Kings 11:3] it was an uxorious sin; when the judges sinned for Jezebel's sake, and Joab to obey David, [2 Sam. 11:16-21] it was an ambitious sin; when Pilate sinned to humour the people, [Luke 23:23] and Herod to give farther contentment to the Jews, [Acts 12:3] it was a popular sin.

Any thing serves to occasion sin, at home in my bosom, or abroad in my mark and aim; that which I am, and that which I am not, that which I would be, proves coals, and embers, and fuel, and bellows to sin; and dost thou put me, O my God, to discharge myself of myself, before I can be well? When thou bidst me to “put off the old man,” [Eph. 4:22] dost thou mean not only my old habits of actual sin, but the oldest of all, original sin? When thou bidst me “purge out the leaven,” [1 Cor. 5:7] dost thou mean not only the sourness of mine own ill contracted customs, but the innate tincture of sin imprinted by nature?

How shall I do that which thou requirest, and not falsify that which thou hast said, that sin is gone over all? But, O my God, I press thee not with thine own text, without thine own comment; I know that in the state of my body, which is more discernible than that of my soul, thou dost effigiate my soul to me.

And though no anatomist can say, in dissecting a body, "Here lay the coal, the fuel, the occasion of all bodily diseases," but yet a man may have such a knowledge of his own constitution and bodily inclination to diseases, as that he may prevent his danger in a great part; so, though we cannot assign the place of original sin, nor the nature of it, so exactly as of actual, or by any diligence divest it, yet, having washed it in the water of thy baptism, we have not only so cleansed it, that we may the better look upon it and discern it, but so weakened it, that howsoever it may retain the former nature, it doth not retain the former force, and though it may have the same name, it hath not the same venom.