Sermon VI. Palm Sunday.
Of the Holiness after Sin: In the Renewed Life
THE case of Judas is perhaps the most marked instance we possess in Holy Scripture of the threefold division into which an Act of Penitence is divisible--'Contrition,' 'Confession,' and 'Satisfaction.' The words, in the Holy Gospel for the Day, which stand on either side of the text, show, in the Theological meaning of the term, that what 'Satisfaction' could be made by that unhappy man, for the awful Sin which he had committed, had been offered:--"Then Judas," we read, "brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the Chief Priests and Elders." And, when they declined again to accept the price of the BLOOD of God, and derided him for his untimely remorse, "he cast down the [89/90] pieces of silver in the Temple, and departed." Such was the only 'Satisfaction' which Judas, under the circumstances, was capable of making: for he unburdened himself of the wages of iniquity, almost as soon as he had received them. The text itself contains a statement of the 'Confession' of his stupendous Guilt:--"I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the Innocent Blood." Whilst S. Matthew distinctly states of Judas that, "when he saw that" our Blessed LORD "was condemned, he repented himself:" and thus, after the manner of one who could contemplate self-murder in addition to the sin of Deicide, he felt some of the pangs of 'Contrition.'
It is a thought most painful to dwell upon, to feel assured that any one individual man, any person we know or know of, any single human being with whose life and actions we are even partially acquainted, should be lost, for ever lost. The fact in the abstract that many walk along the broad way to perdition, as the knowledge of a pestilence which decimates a far-off land, affects us but little. That which happens to the mass ever influences us less powerfully, and takes a less firm hold upon the mind, than any thing which occurs to the individual; as the death of some dear one brings us nearer to the Unseen World than the records of [90/91] mortality in the columns of the daily papers. But, to think of some one person like ourselves, once a guileless child, who had felt and returned a Mother's love; who was once beloved of his Divine Master, who was called to follow, and actually followed Him; who was a companion of Jesus for three long years; who had watched and prayed, and suffered hunger and thirst with JESUS; whose feet had been washed and whose Soul had been fed by JESUS, that such an one now, at this very moment, should be enduring, by anticipation, a foretaste of the undying agony of Hell Fire, is a consideration awful enough to soften the hardest heart, and sufficiently startling to make the most thoughtless thoughtful. And yet, my Brethren, of all the millions that have ever lived, for one and one only the Church holds out no hope of salvation; of one, and only one, has she not hesitated to say that he was lost, eternally lost--and that one is Judas.
Men have laboured in vain to decide upon the Sin of Judas, of what sort it might be. Of course the title of 'the Traitor,' he who betrayed his Divine Master, will form the surname of the lost Apostle, so long as the term 'Judas-kiss' is a byword for double-dealing and deceit. And, undoubtedly, the bartering away of his Lord's Life at the price of a slave, was the culminating point [91/92] of his iniquity towards his God. Before he gained this unenviable pre-eminence amongst his fellows in wickedness, Judas doubtless passed through many stages in the Guilt of Sin. Hence, those who find his besetting fault in covetousness, who calculate the many times he steeled himself against the loving warnings of his Loving LORD, who see in his unequalled and final perfidy the developed germ of former evil, are not wanting in discernment. But for one who takes his stand-point on Sin as an elevation, whence to view the fall of this elected Member of the Apostolic College, a very different cause must be assigned for the actual perdition of this lost Soul. Where the iniquity of Judas towards his GOD ceased, his Sin against his own immortal Soul more especially began. And it is not too much to affirm, that so far as the Traitor was capable of adding sacrilege to High-treason against Heaven, so far as, before the Pentecostal Gift, the suicide-in-will was enabled to commit the unpardonable Sin against the Holy Ghost, Judas undoubtedly was guilty of the Sin of a sacrilegious Act of Confession.
Into this subject, however, I will not further enter than to draw your attention to two points. Firstly:--That an authorized system of Confession was in active operation amongst the Jews under the Old Law, although of course there was no [92/93] Sacramental form of Absolution to perfect the Act of Penitence. The addition of Absolution upon true Repentance, was one way of many in which our Blessed LORD, in the New Law, may be seen to have fulfilled the Old. And secondly:--That though the 'Satisfaction' of Judas left nothing to be desired, and though his 'Confession,' so far as his Sin of Deicide had need to be confessed, was complete, yet his 'Compunction' was imperfect. And not feeling genuine 'Contrition,' neither his Avowal of, nor his making Amends for his heinous Guilt, availed to save him from an Act of sacrilegious Confession.
Last Sunday morning, Brethren, after having considered in former Lectures, with more or less fulness, certain phases in the wide Question of Sin, we dwelt upon the three mental conditions through which many persons are called upon to pass, ere they are prepared for the requirements, or are meet to receive the blessings of Sacramental Confession. The subject of the last Sermon, as stated in the first, is this:--"After having unburdened our Consciences in the Sacrament of Absolution, we shall be at liberty to consider, How 'we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the Glory of God's holy Name.'" And I will say distinctly, and at once, so far as God enables me to judge of [93/94] the teaching of His Church, that Holiness after Sin is to be perfected, and the Renewed Sacramental Life of the Penitent is to be sustained, in the case of ordinary men and women, by a fixed, stated, and regular use of the Ordinance of Confession. I have been forced, from the exigencies of the case, and from the nature of these Sermons, to beg to be allowed to take much for granted. I ask this indulgence again. And I ask it, not because I am unwilling, if it be needful, to contest this point; but in order that I may be at liberty at once to enter upon some practical suggestions on regular Confession, more suitable to the occasion than controversy, or argument.
There are two kinds of minds, and two sorts of persons to whom habitual Confession proves to be of much assistance in their Spiritual Life. These two classes may be considered as including a large number of the faithful, though perhaps the larger number ought to be placed between these two extremes. They may shortly be described, as those who have led sinful lives, and those who have not. Of course the great bulk of mankind, when their life is considered as a whole, can be placed in neither category. So far as we may describe them, though we possess not the means, nor the power, nor the will of judging, they occupy midway [94/95] positions between these two ends of the balance, between Holiness and Sin, sometimes inclining to one side and sometimes to the other, but neither consistently good, nor thoroughly abandoned--an exceedingly large class, and one that needs special treatment. But at either end of this vast company stand the two extremes, those who in time past have avowedly been on the side of Sin and against God; and, though they would be the last to assert it, those who, on the whole, have been on the part of God and against Sin. Both these classes will benefit greatly by the use of systematic Confession, though in different ways; in what manner, and how, it will be well now to consider.
It would be no easy task to decide which of these two classes would benefit to the largest extent by the use of Confession. The idea appears to be widely dispersed, that Confession, if tolerated at all in the present Century and Age of the Church, should be confined to the penitential discipline of those who have fallen into Sin of the deepest dye. For such, it is sometimes allowed, with an unwonted exhibition of forbearance on the part of Society, that its employment may possess a certain value not its own, as well as an amount of comfort which does not of necessity belong to it. A more short-sighted mistake, on such a subject, could not be conceived. It needs considerable spiritual [95/96] proficiency to decide, for which of the two classes in question Confession is of the most advantage. But, if we admit that its use is of the deepest inward consolation to the Sinner, and of the largest practical utility to the Saint, we shall not perhaps very far mis-state the truth. Confession, however, is of almost equally essential need in the conversion of the Sinner, and in the perfecting of the Saint. As a law, which of course has its exceptions, none who have lived vicious lives can truly turn to GOD without the aid of Sacramental Confession; and as a law, which has fewer exceptions, none who live devoted lives, without its support can rise to the highest states of Sanctity.
Let us endeavour to perceive in what way Confession will benefit both the man who formerly, without disguise, has lived for this world, and the man who, up to his light and with the blessing of GOD, is seeking to live for the next. The effect of the realization of Sin on these two men will be very opposite. It matters but little what may be the particular Sins into which either of them may have fallen; and it will be the better plan to avoid the mention of any special Sin. But there are dangers which beset the work of individualization, in both cases, which need to be guarded against. Perhaps the one who has lived, in the [96/97] main, a life of wickedness, when the realization of Sin dawns upon his Soul, and he seeks refuge in the assurance held out in Confession, may turn his mind too exclusively to the heinousness of Sin, and look too little at the infinite Love of GOD. His danger would be, that of falling into hardness or despair. Perhaps the one who has lived on the whole a life of devotion, when the reality of Sin, into which he has fallen, comes before him, and he obtains Pardon through the Precious Blood, may depend too entirely upon the Mercy of GOD, and think too lightly of the sinfulness of Sin. And his danger would be, either that of presumption or of carelessness. I do not say that such would be the rule in either case; but in both states of life and disposition, there would be such a tendency to be watched against, and such a liability to be avoided.
In the one case, the enormity of Guilt and the load of Sin would be liable to lead a man to doubt the possibility of his forgiveness in the Sacramental cleansing. In the other, the Goodness and Gentleness of God in dealing with both Sinner and the Sin, in the Ordinance of Absolution, would have a tendency to persuade a man to think little of offending so Benign and Pitiful a Being. The effect in both cases, from opposite causes, would be indifference to Sin. Despair would lead, from the [97/98] absence of all hope, through recklessness, to indifference to past Guilt. And indifference to future Guilt would inevitably ensue, from a too certain hope of assured forgiveness, made sanguine by encouraged laxity. Both might equally be influenced by 'Contrition,' which is the hatred of Sin from the love of God. Both might equally be far from 'Attrition,' which is the hatred of Sin from the dread of punishment. But, in the one instance, the heart would dwell more upon the Majesty of the Law, with fear. In the other, the mind would naturally cling to the Tenderness of the Gospel, with familiarity. Both might possess a hearty detestation of Sin in general, and of their own Sins in particular. But the first would be tempted to doubt GOD'S Mercy; the second would be seduced into forgetfulness of God's Justice. Despair would follow in one instance. Laxity must result in the other. In both cases, Sacramental Confession is absolutely essential.
Yes, my Brethren, the Sacrament of Confession is the only health-giving cure for either of these maladies. In that Ordinance of the Gospel all things appear, not as they seem to be, but as they are. Scales fall from the eyes of those who make use of it; and from viewing Sin, conventionally, as in a glass darkly, men are enabled to see it actually, and face to face. There is no such [98/99] touchstone of honesty and truth, no such testimony of earnest desire for Penitence and amendment of life. And Gou undoubtedly blesses those who place themselves under its influence, with a larger amount of spiritual discernment than they possessed before. Hence it is, that in the two cases we have considered, Confession is of so much, though of so opposite a value. For one who is tempted to despair, the evidence of the Tender-mercy and pitiful Loving-kindness of our Divine Master, in His dealings with Souls, is so abundantly set forth, that whilst the heinousness of Sin is not less apparent, the Love of JESUS and all that He did and suffered, shines forth in its own exceeding brightness. And for him who is tempted to laxity and forgetfulness of Divine Justice, the need of watching against even the most distant occasion of temptation is imperative, when he considers that the slightest Sin was enough to cause, aye, and for its Atonement did cause, the Agony and Bloody Sweat, the Cross and Passion, the precious Death and Burial of the Son of God.
In no Sacrament of the Gospel is this double reality brought so closely home to the Soul of man, as in that of Absolution--the Love of JESUS, and the sinfulness of Sin. And therefore it is, that Confession is of such benefit, as an habitual [99/100] practice for those who, having attained to Holiness after Sin, desire, with GOD'S Help, to continue in the Renewed Life till GOD is pleased to call them hence unto Himself. The sinfulness of Sin is realized, amongst others, by this one thought--that it partakes of the nature of Infinity. A single Sin of a single Soul may indeed be, though I say not that it is, finite. But in relation to the ETERNAL, against Whose Will it is committed, and to the Infinite, Whose Sacrifice was needed for its Atonement, it is far otherwise. And, because both these relations are in their nature. Infinite, Sin then assumes another aspect, Sin then becomes charged with the proportions of Infinity--a truth which bears not only on the subject we are considering, but also on that awful, but undoubted Verity, the Eternity of Future Punishment. Whilst of the Love of JESUS in this Sacrament of His Love, we can only say with the Saintly Hymnist, "to those who find "--
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The Love of Jesus, what it is
None but His loved Ones know."
I have spoken of stated, regular, habitual Confession as a means of continuing the Renewed Life of Holiness after Sin. And I wish to be allowed [100/101] to add, that in the employment of these adjectives I have no intention, in this place, to express any advice upon the frequency or seldomness with which this Sacrament should be approached. This is a question to be settled, not by any general rule which may be laid down before a Congregation, but individually, in the private counsels of Ministerial 'Direction.' Whilst, therefore, I do not hesitate to speak of habitual Acts of Confession as, in my judgment, in accordance with the intention of the Church, and in opposition to those who hold to its spasmodic character, and to its chief or main employment in exceptional cases; yet, on the time and manner of its use, I express no opinion whatever. I cannot, however, refrain from saying this--That as we advance in Sanctity, our Confessions will increase, probably, in their number, certainly in their fervour; and, that whilst the Soul will at first feel the need of but seldom unburdening herself in the tribunal of Penance, eventually she will seek the higher and deeper consolations of Confession, at once with more anxiety, with greater benefit, and not less often. And, as the Church has ordered that none of her children, without being self-excommunicate, should present themselves at God's Altar fewer times than thrice in the year, it would seem to be in harmony with her mind, as it is also in unison with ancient precedent, to suggest, that [101/102] for faithful Catholics, men and women, Confession should be employed, in its minimum use, before the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist, at the three great Festivals, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.
The only duty now remaining is, to conclude this Course of Sermons. That they are not what they ought to have been, what they might have been in other hands, none is more conscious than myself. But I have done my best to fulfil the wishes which placed' me where I stand. In a short half-hour, or in a long one, much cannot be said on the large subject on which I have spoken to you. Especially, I feel that much more than I have been able to say should have been placed before you on Self-Examination, Sacramental Confession of Sin, and the Renewed Life of Holiness. And, on one part of the subject on which I had hoped to speak, I have been forced to be entirely silent--namely, on certain popular objections against Confession, amongst others, that it destroys that very needful quality, which is so highly esteemed in the present day, and which Sacramental Confession, when duly used, strengthens instead of weakens--I mean, in a Christian sense of the term, the quality of Self-reliance.
However, that which I have been enabled, by [102/103] God's help, to place before you, my Brethren, I commend to your consideration, and to His Blessing. And I cannot do better, than bring this Sermon to a conclusion in the words of a great French Jesuit Preacher, of the seventeenth Century, Bour-daloue, from a Spiritual Work of his, which will be known to some of you, and is entitled, 'A Retreat for Eight Days.' They consist of some Considerations, both condensed and expanded from the original, on the subject of Mortal Sin, from the Second Day's Meditation, upon the words of the Prophet Jeremiah:--"Know therefore and see, that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy GOD."
It is essential for us to know, says that holy Man, what Mortal Sin is; for it is not only the greatest of all evils, but, in truth, it is the sole and only Evil, the sovereign and chiefest Evil of God. It is the only Evil; for all other evils, except Sin, are not absolute evils. Disease, poverty, contempt, are, in the Counsels of GOD, blessings and not evils, if only we make that use of them which God would have us to make. Sin alone is the Evil, of which God has not been, God cannot be the Author; because Sin is an actual, an essential Evil. It is the sovereign Evil, as God is the Sovereign Good; and for this cause, Sin ought to be detested [103/104] in a sovereign manner, beyond all created things. Behold then, O my Soul, the measure of the detestation thou oughtest to conceive against Mortal Sin. Thou oughtest to hate it as much as thou dost love thy GOD. For, didst thou love any thing in the world as much as thou lovest GOD, from that moment thou wouldest cease to love God as God: and, if thou fearest any other evil as much as, or more than Mortal Sin, from that moment thou wouldest cease to hate and fly from it, as much as thou oughtest to fly from and to hate it.
But that which should be of the utmost concern to us is this--That Mortal Sin is the sovereign Evil of GOD; because it is, in truth, the love of the Creature instead of the CREATOR, more than the Creator, and above the Creator. And this preference is shown herein--That the sinner, feeling the need either of abandoning pleasure or of losing Grace, chooses deliberately to lose GOD, rather than give up his selfish gratification.
After this, continues the Author, we ought never to forget four Truths, which are as certain as they are awful; nor fail to ask ourselves four Questions which arise out of them:--
I. That God, for only one Mortal Sin, cast from the Highest Heaven to the bottomless Pit the Angels that fell from their first estate.
 If GOD spared not the Angels that sinned, why should He spare me?
II. That, for only one Mortal Sin, GOD expelled Man from Paradise, and condemned him and his descendants after him to death.
If one Sin deserved such condign punishment, what do my many Sins deserve?
III. That, in order to atone for that one Mortal Sin and its results, it was needful that the Eternal Son should become Man, and suffer Death, even the Death of the Cross.
Have I ever realized this Truth, that for my Sins, even for mine, JESUS died?
IV. That, for one Mortal Sin, committed but in a moment, the Justice of GOD demands an Eternity of Punishment.
Have I ever realized this awful thought, that God's Mercy cannot overpower God's Justice?
These Truths and these Questions, dear Brethren, if pondered upon, if answered, will make us, one and all, join heartily in this Petition from the Litany with which these 'Sermons on Sin' shall be closed:--
"That it may please Thee to give us true [105/106] Repentance; to forgive us all our Sins, Negligences, and Ignorances; and to endue us with the Grace of Thy Holy Spirit to amend our lives according to Thy Holy Word;
"We beseech Thee to hear us, Good Lord."
Now, to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be ascribed all Glory, for ever and for evermore. Amen.