HOLY SONNET VII
At the round earth’s imagin’d corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scatter’d bodies go—
All whom the flood did and fire shall o’erthrow,
All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you whose eyes,
Shall behold God, and never taste death’s woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space,
For if, above all these, my sins abound,
‘Tis late to ask abundance of thy grace
When we are there; here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent; for that’s as good
As if thou hadst seal’d my pardon with thy blood.
Being a Christ follower requires repentance. The word means “turning away” and indeed, following Jesus means turning away from sin. His teaching singularly called his listeners back from the rebelliousness of sin to a heart of obedience. His lessons were not only motivational; they were commandments. He said that love for Him would be demonstrated by obedience (John 14:15) and He likewise told His apostles to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20).
In the parable of The Prodigal Son found in Luke’s gospel, the Bible says the young man returned to his father when “he came to himself” (Luke 15:17). We have all experienced the regret of sinful choices, but sometimes it’s just the regret of getting caught or being in bad circumstances. When the regret is one that calls our heart to long for God and His forgiveness, we are finally ready to go home.
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness, Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ” Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
Art: Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt van Rijn, Holland, Circa 1668
Literature: HOLY SONNET VII by John Donne. The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne. Edited by C. M. Coffin. New York: Modern Library, 1952.
Donne calls on angelic trumpets to summon all of humanity, living and dead, for judgment. But then he reverses himself and says, “Wait! I need time for repentance.” At the end, he suggests, with a touch of irony, that he needs not only the divine gift of God’s own life but also the grace of a repentant heart to reassure him that God truly intends his good.