In a special, brief email out of the ordinary ones that come to you on the twelfth each month, I wanted to share a quote with you as a little Christmas gift, from the great John Donne, seventeenth-century preacher and poet. I came across it, of all places, in a novel—The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge. This is an excerpt from a longer sermon that Donne preached on the evening of Christmas Day in 1624.
…we will speak of that which is older than our beginning, and shall over-live our end, the mercy of God. Nay, to say that mercy was first is but to post-date mercy; to prefer mercy but so is to diminish mercy. The names of first and last derogate from it, for first and last are but rags of time, and His mercy hath no relation to time, no limitation in time. It is not first nor last, but eternal, everlasting. Let the devil make me so far desperate as to conceive a time when there was no mercy, and he hath made me so far an atheist as to conceive a time when there was no God. As long as there hath been love, and God is love, there hath been mercy. And mercy, in the practice and in the effect, began not at the helping of man when he was fallen and become miserable, but at the making of man, when man was nothing… God… brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light. He can bring thy summer out of winter, though thou have no spring. Though in the ways of fortune, or misunderstanding, or conscience, thou have been benighted till now, wintered and frozen, cloudy and eclipsed, damp and benumbed, smothered and stupefied till now, now God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon, to banish all shadows; as the sheaves in the harvest, to fill all penuries. All occasions invite His mercies, and all times are His seasons… God goes forward in his own ways, and proceeds as he began, in mercy. One of the most convenient hieroglyphics of God is a circle, and a circle is endless. Whom God loves He loves to the end; and not only to their own end, to their death, but to His end; and His end is, that He might love them still.
This is such a rich and dense passage (can you imagine hearing it as a sermon?!) that I am going to sit with it for a few days. Perhaps you might wish to do the same. Merry Christmas to all of you, and thank you for reading Medievalish this year.
P.S. For the Medievalish Book Club subscribers, I hope that John Donne’s sermon reminds you very much of our last set of chapters with Julian of Norwich!
Thank you for this!
That is how I came across it too ! And it led me to find a book of many more of his sermons on the London Library. I didn’t realise that ‘no man is an island’ is also from his sermon