Study Guide

A Hymn to God the Father Quotes

  • Sin

    Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
      Which was my sin, though it were done before? (1-2)

    How can a baby already have committed a sin? The idea of Original Sin isn't observed by every Christian tradition, but apparently the speaker believed he was born guilty. He even claims the sin as his own, though it was done long before he was born.

       When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
      For I have more. (5-6)

    There are more sins where that came from. The speaker already knows he will sin again, because it is his nature. Is he saying that he might as well not try too hard to avoid sin, since it'll happen anyway? If so, why bother trying to behave, if sinning is inevitable? Maybe he's simply recognizing his own inherent flaws here.

    I have a sin of fear (13)

    The speaker believes that his fear is a sin. Is that because it causes him to doubt God, even though that's a pretty understandable and universal condition? Ultimately, it seems like the sins the speaker confesses to are all sins of human nature, like fear.

  • Compassion and Forgiveness

    Wilt thou forgive (1)

    He repeats this line four times in the first two stanzas, each for a different sin. But then, in the final stanza, Donne abandons this repetition and the speaker is more sure of his salvation. Why, if he already knows God will forgive him, does the speaker still ask?

       When thou hast done, thou hast not done, (5)

    It seems like the speaker sees God's forgiveness like an all-you-can-eat buffet (mmm, buffet…); it never runs out. But, if God really is God, wouldn't He already know that? Why would the speaker need to remind Him?

    But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
      Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore; (15-16)

    The "Son" Donne is referring to is Jesus, who was the son of God sent to die for mankind's sins. If this bargain still holds up at the speaker's death, he's saying, then he will die forgiven. The speaker is so concerned that this bargain won't hold, though, that he asks God to swear by Himself that it will.

  • Fate and Free Will

    Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
      Which was my sin, though it were done before? (1-2)

    If this sin was his before he was even born, then it doesn't seem like he gets much choice in the matter. The concept of Original Sin dooms us humans to accept the fate of sinner before we actually have a chance to earn it. (It'd be kinda like putting a baby in jail for the crimes his parents committed.) The speaker's idea of Original Sin means we don't really have free will; our fate is already decided.

    […] that sin, through which I run,
      And do run still, though still I do deplore? (3-4)

    It seems like the speaker hates sinning but does it anyways. Does he feel like sinning is inevitable because he's human, and thus it's out of his hands? Or is he just too lazy to stop?

       And, having done that, thou hast done;
      I fear no more. (17-18)

    As long as God forgives the speaker, he can make it to heaven. It seems like the speaker isn't taking much responsibility for his fate; he's resigned to the role of sinner. It's God who does all the saving. He's saying that man is incapable of saving himself from a dark fate.