Batter My Heart

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

from “Holy Sonnets”

These words of John Donne’s come to my mind often. I feel the truth of them. I bear witness to them. His grasp of the dilemma of the converted and his poetic and succinct means of expressing our thralldom and need for liberation, and a liberator, from outside ourselves, is profound and true and acknowledged by all in our honest moments.

Donne put into graphic and poetic language what the Apostle Paul knew:

Romans 7:21   So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  ESV

What honest convert hasn’t said to himself, “wretched man!”, or, “I see a war raging in my own mind and will” or a variation of the same? The promise of freedom given by Jesus* is in fact a walk, or a crawl, down a very long corridor, out of the prison of our sinful disposition; a death march on the way to fullness of life that lasts as long as this body of sin draws breath.

Donne’s grasp of the dilemma of the saint who longs to leave his sinning days behind, but can’t, and his willingness to put his own struggle on display in this sonnet is heartening. Our moral failures, usually more numerous than anyone else would guess, are not unique to any of us but common to all of us. We’re not as bad as others may think– we’re worse.

In a recent interview with Marvin Olasky of World Magazine** Barbara Duguid expresses a similar theme to Donne’s:

Olasky: You write emphatically: “You will never be able to find steady joy in this life until you understand, submit to, and even embrace the fact that you are weak and sinful.”

Duguid: Here’s the thing: Who are we going to trust for our sanctification, and who is more trustworthy with it, us or the Holy Spirit? If we are God’s workmanship and He has begun a good work, He’s going to oversee it every step of the way and finish it.

For performance driven people, and we are many, the chief sin is the pride that fools us into thinking we’re better than we are, or nobler, or stronger, or more spiritual. But the humble is able to see with Donne and Duguid that we’re not as good as we long to be, we’re worse than others know, and in admitting those truths there is liberation, or at least there are small steps toward the liberation we long for.

Thank God for the growing knowledge that allows us to see sin in our lives and our need for a Savior. Not just One to bear the penalty of our sin and take away the judgment we deserve, but One who calls us by name and leads us wisely and lovingly out of ourselves and more fully into his holy light. This crawl and walk of liberation lasting till that time that we know as we have been known, until we see as we have been seen, face to face.

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


  • *John 8:36
  • ** World Magazine, October 27, 2018 (Cathie and I are decades long subscribers to World magazine and heartily recommend that Christian journal.)


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