by Erwin dela Rosa
“And unto God the Lord belong the issues of death.”
This is the gist of John Donne’s Death’s Duel, a sermon he delivered himself, a member of the clergy, a lawyer, and a writer/poet during England’s Jacobean Period. As if by fate, John Donne died a few weeks after delivering this sermon.
Death’s Duel is inspired and based on the reality that each human will (at some point in time) encounter and be confronted by death. It is a metaphysical view of human’s inevitable fate – death. John Donne himself is a metaphysical writer/philosopher. He had a passion in dealing with one of life’s ultimate realities – that everyone will be confronted by death, thus the title “Death’s Duel”. Donne’s timely or untimely death added legendary effects to the sermon.
Donne’s exposition showed that “the disposition and manner of our death; what kind of issue and transmigration we shall have out of this world, whether prepared or sudden, whether violent or natural, whether in our perfect senses or shaken and disordered by sickness… our ways of departing out of this life are in [God’s] hands [alone].”
What is comforting about Donne’s sermon is that in death (in whatever form it will be) when it confronts humans “[God] will have a care of us in the hour of death, of whatsoever kind our passage be.”
Being a Christian minister he explained that there is “deliverance by death, by the death of this God, our Lord Christ Jesus” we receive salvation.
He said: “First, as the God of power, the Almighty Father rescues his servants from the jaws of death; and then as the God of mercy, the glorious Son rescued us by taking upon himself this issue of death; and then, between these two, as the God of comfort, the Holy Ghost rescues us from all discomfort by his blessed impressions beforehand, that what manner of death – whatsoever be ordained for us, yet this exitus mortis shall be introitus in vitam, our issue in death shall be an entrance into everlasting life.”
He added that “our deliverance [is] à morte, in morte, per mortem – from death, in death, and by death – that he that is our God is the God of all salvation, because unto this God the Lord belong the issues of death.”
According to Donne our life is a continuous journey from one form of death to another.
He said, “In all our periods and transitions in this life, are so many passages from death to death; our very birth and entrance into this life is exitus à morte, an issue from death…that which we call life is but hebdomada mortium, 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,” he said.
All our problems, struggles, obstacles and challenges in life are forms of death according to Donne when he said, “Something heavier than death fall upon me every day.”
However in the multiple deaths that humankind encounter Donne said that “God deliver[s] me from the manifold deaths of this world, the omni die, and the tota die, 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.”
Donne referred to the death of the sinless Christ as the one and final death which saved all humankind from spiritual death. Hence, those who believe in Christ will only receive physical death.
If unto God alone belong the issues of death, Donne said that “it belongs to God, and not to man, to pass a judgment upon us at our death, or to conclude a dereliction on God’s part upon the manner thereof.”
With all the deaths we undergo in this life Donne emphasized that “our critical day is not the very day of our death, but the whole course of our life.”
“[Although] the body suffers in the hour of death,” Donne said, “[Through Christ’s death we receive] liberatio per mortem, a deliverance by the death of another.’ So it took death to bring us beyond our death, which is eternal life – the prize of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Using Donne’s platform and claim that unto God alone belongs the issues of death, we can then confront the issues of capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, murder, vigilante killing, genocide, and summary execution with a firm stand and principle. And this principle is that unto God along belong the issues of death and judgment. In plain words it is not for humans to claim the life of another human(s), but it is God’s and God’s alone.
I am so glad that I belong to a church with a core social principle that seeks to preserve life and to leave the issues of death unto God.
Donne ended, “There we leave you in that blessed dependency, to hang upon him that hangs upon the cross, there bathe in his tears, there suck at his wounds, and lie down in peace in his grave, till he vouchsafe you a resurrection, and an ascension into that kingdom which He hath prepared for you with the inestimable price of his incorruptible blood. Amen.”