ADVENT MEDITATION: God Has The Keys Of Death, by John Donne

From Death’s Duel

To God, the Lord, belongs escape from death. (Psalm 68:20)


This whole world is but a universal churchyard, but our common grave, and the life and motion that the greatest persons have in it is but as the shaking of buried bodies in their graves by an earthquake.  That which we call life is but a week of death, seven days, seven periods of our life spent in dying, a dying seven times over; and there is an end.  Our birth dies in infancy and our infancy dies in youth, and youth and the rest die in age, and age also dies and determines all.  Nor do all these, youth out of infancy, or age out of youth, arise as a phoenix out of the ashes of another phoenix formerly dead, but as a wasp or a serpent out of a carrion, or as a snake out of dung.  Our youth is worse than our infancy, and our age worse than our youth.  Our youth is hungry and thirsty after those sins which our infancy did not know; and our age is sorry and angry, that it cannot pursue those sins which our youth did.  And besides, all the way, so many deaths, that is, so many deadly calamities, accompany every condition and every period of this life, that death itself would be an ease to those who suffer them.  Yet God has the keys of death, and can let me out at that door, that is, deliver me from the manifold deaths of this world, the every day’s death, and every hour’s death, by that one death, the final dissolution of body and soul, the end of all.

But is that the end of all?  Is that dissolution of soul and body the last death that the body shall suffer? (for we do not speak now of spiritual death).  It is not.  Though it may be an issue from the manifold deaths of this world, yet it is an entrance into the death of corruption and putrefaction and vermiculation and incineration and dispersion in and from the grave in which every dead man dies over again.  Even those bodies that were “the temples of the Holy Ghost” come to this dilapidation, to ruin, to rubbish, to dust.  Truly, we must consider this posthumous death, this death after burial, that after God (with whom are the issues of death) has delivered me from the death of the womb, by bringing me into the world, and from the manifold deaths of the world, by laying me in the grave, I must die again in an incineration of this flesh, and in a dispersion of that dust; that that monarch, who spread over many nations alive, must in his dust lie in a corner of that sheet of lead, and there but so long as that lead will last; and that private and retired man, that thought himself his own forever, and never came forth, must in his dust of the grave be published, and (such are the revolutions of the graves) be mingled in his dust with the dust of every highway and of every dunghill, and swallowed in every puddle and pond: this is the most inglorious and contemptible vilification, the most deadly and peremptory nullification of man, that we can consider.

If we say, can this dust live? perchance it cannot; it may be the mere dust of the Earth, which never did live, nor never shall.  It may be the dust of that man’s worms which did live, but shall no more.  It may be the dust of another man, that concerns not him of whom it is asked.  This death of incineration and dispersion is, to natural reason, the most irrecoverable death of all; and yet “to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death”; and by re-compacting this dust into the same body, and reanimating the same body with the same soul, he shall in a blessed and glorious resurrection give me such an issue from this death as shall never pass into any other death, but establish me into a life that shall never pass into any other death, but establish me into a life that shall last as long as the Lord of Life himself.  Though from the womb to the grave, and in the grave itself, we pass from death to death, yet, as Daniel says, The Lord our God is able to deliver us, and will deliver us.


 keys-to-death

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