John Donne: Expostulation


John Donne

O GOD, my God, thy Son took it not ill at Martha's hands, that when he said unto her, “Thy brother Lazarus shall rise again,” [John 11:23] she expostulated it so far with him as to reply, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection, at the last day”; for she was miserable by wanting him then. Take it not ill, O my God, from me, that though thou have ordained it for a blessing, and for a dignity to thy people, “that they should dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations” [Num. 23:9] (because they should be above them), and “that they should dwell in safety alone” [Deut. 33:28] (free from the infestation of enemies), yet I take thy leave to remember thee, that thou hast said too, “Two are better than one”; and, “Woe be unto him that is alone when he falleth,” [Eccles. 4:10] and so when he is fallen, and laid in the bed of sickness too.

Righteousness is immortal”; [Wisd. 1:15] I know thy wisdom hath said so; but no man, though covered with the righteousness of thy Son, is immortal so as not to die; for he who was righteousness itself did die. I know that the Son of Righteousness, thy Son, refused not, nay affected, solitariness, loneness, [Matt. 14:23] many, many times; but at all times he was able to command “more than twelve legions of angels [Matt. 24:13]” to his service; and when he did not so, he was far from being alone: for, “I am not alone,” says he, “but I, and the Father that sent me.” [John 8:16] I cannot fear but that I shall always be with thee and him; but whether this disease may not alien and remove my friends, so that “they stand aloof from my sore, and my kinsmen stand afar off,” [Ps. 38:11] I cannot tell. I cannot fear but that thou wilt reckon with me from this minute, in which, by thy grace, I see thee; whether this understanding, and this will, and this memory may not decay, to the discouragement and the ill interpretation of them that see that heavy change in me, I cannot tell.

It was for thy blessed, thy powerful Son alone, “to tread the wine-press alone, and none of the people with him.” [Is. 63:3] I am not able to pass this agony alone, not alone without thee; thou art thy spirit, not alone without thine; spiritual and temporal physicians are thine, not alone without mine; those whom the bands of blood or friendship have made mine, are mine; and if thou, or thine, or mine, abandon me, I am alone, and woe unto me if I be alone. Elias himself fainted under that apprehension, “Lo, I am left alone”; [1 Kings 14:14] and Martha murmured at that, said to Christ, “Lord, dost not thou care that my sister hath left me to serve alone”? [Luke 10:40] Neither could Jeremiah enter into his lamentations from a higher ground than to say, “How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people.” [Jer. 1:1]

O my God, it is the leper that thou hast condemned to live alone; [Lev. 13:46] have I such a leprosy in my soul that I must die alone; alone without thee? Shall this come to such a leprosy in my body that I must die alone; alone without them that should assist, that should comfort me? But comes not this expostulation too near a murmuring? Must I be concluded with that, that Moses “was commanded to come near the Lord alone”; [Exod. 14:2] that solitariness, and dereliction, and abandoning of others, disposes us best for God, who accompanies us most alone? May I not remember, and apply too, that though God came not to Jacob till he found him alone, yet when he found him alone, he wrestled with him, and lamed him; [Gen. 32:24, 25] that when, in the dereliction and forsaking of friends and physicians, a man is left alone to God, God may so wrestle with this Jacob, with this conscience, as to put it out of joint, and so appear to him as that he dares not look upon him face to face, when as by way of reflection, in the consolation of his temporal or spiritual servants, and ordinances he durst, if they were there? But a “faithful friend is the physic of life, and they that fear the Lord shall find him.” [Ecclus. 6:16] Therefore hath the Lord afforded me both in one person, that physician who is my faithful friend.