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Donne: A Hymn to God the Father

March 30, 2011

“A Hymn to God the Father”
by John Donne
WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.

We will be singing this text as Hymn #140 this Sunday during Communion, which may initially seems a strange choice for a communion hymn, but let me share with you what I wrote for our e-newsletter this week.  Then I would love to hear your thoughts, both about the poem and your reaction to it and about how you think it works or doesn’t work as a communion hymn.

Fr. Ryan+

The hymn in general is about a penitent seeking forgiveness of sins, which initially might seem a strange choice for a communion hymn, but it works well in Lent and it was a subject with which Donne was very personally familiar.  The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ calls us to remember what it is that Christ did for us – effected the forgiveness of sins for the whole world by giving his life as an expiation for those sins (there’s a LOT more to it than that, but we won’t get into it today).

In verse 1 the penitent seeks forgiveness of sins that they hate, but ones which they also know they have done before.  This is not the first time the penitent has needed forgiveness for these sins and they acknowledge that they will need more.

Verse 2 sees the penitent recognizing that by their own sins, they have led others into sin as well, which they feel most strongly.  In recognizing their own complicity, they see that these were sins which they not only did not quit, but willfully carried on with for years.

The penitent finally acknowledges in verse 3 what they feel is their gravest sin: namely that they fear they are beyond the salvation which Jesus offers.  The penitent concludes with a prayer that Jesus will not let this be so, that Jesus will do for them what has been promised.  Safe in the knowledge of that, the penitent “fear[s] no more.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 30, 2011 3:52 pm

    Hi, Ryan+. I preached on this hymn text for 1Lent

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