1 John 1.9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
IF we say that we have no sin, we sin in saying so: for we give God the lie, who by his Prophet hath said, There is none that doth good, and sinneth not, and by his Apostle, that in many things we offend all: and we make ourselves liars, If we say that we have no sin, there is no truth in us; who can say I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin? If any proud Pharisee doth, he deceives himself, saith S. John. Nam si non dixeris Deo quod es, damnat in te Deus quod inveniet, if we deny those sins we have, God that sees them will condemn us for them. A vainglorious Pharisee his God I thank thee I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, &c. will not justify us before God. The poor Publican's humble confession, with a God be merciful [1/2] to me a sinner, is the only way to pardon and forgiveness. For if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
In which words we have, First, Confessionis Necessitatem, without confession there's no remission; if we confess our sins God will forgive them; not otherwise. Secondly, Confessionis Fructus, the fruits of confession: first, Condonabit Deus, if we confess our sins, God will forgive us our sins. Secondly, Purgabit ab omni iniquitate, if we confess our sins, God will purge us from all iniquity; he will forgive us our sins non imputando poenam, by remitting the punishment due to them, and then purgabit maculam infundendo gratiam, he will purge us from all iniquity by the infusion of his grace: and that, 1. Quia fidelis, because he is faithful, he hath promised that who so confesseth his sins, and forsaketh them, shall have mercy: so that if we confess our sins, his mercy will forgive them, will purge us from all iniquity, because he is faithful. 2. quia Justus, Our blessed Saviour by his death and sufferings hath made a full satisfaction for our sins, he hath paid an infinite price, for a pardon for all those that will confess their sins: so then if we confess our sins, he will forgive them, because he is just.
First, of the first part, the necessity of Confession: if we confess, God will forgive, not otherwise. Confession was always the way to Absolution, and never was pardon promised, but upon these terms, if we confess. Thus it ran in the Law; And it shall be when he shall be guilty in any of these things, that he [2/3] shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: and the Priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin. Thus here in the Gospel; If we confess our sins, God will forgive them. This si confiteamur implies a non visi confiteamur, if we confess our sins, God will forgive them, implies that unless we confess, God will not forgive. Conditional promises bind not to performance, till the condition be fulfilled: and such a promise is this pardon here promised with an if, If we confess. Of necessity therefore we must confess, if ever we desire to obtain the pardon promised. Dum tacui inveterantur ossa mea, saith the Psalmist: tacuit confessioneme, non tacuit miseriam. He concealed not his misery, that he complained of all the day long, and bitterly too, his complaint was roaring; through my roaring all the day long: yet all this while he felt no ease, for day and night thy hand was heavy upon me, and my moisture is like the drought in Summer: quia tacuit confessionem, because he concealed his sins. At last he resolves to confess, Dixi, confitebor; & presently came a pardon: I said I will confess my sins unto the Lord and so thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Non vis ut ille damnet? tu damna; vis ut ille ignoscat? tu agnosce, if we would have God forgive us, we must condemn our seloves; if we would have him pardon, we must confess. And good reason for it: should we sin and have a pardon without confessing, it could not stand with the wisdom of God, for so he should have lost the honour of his mercy: had he not required of us confessionem peccatorum, he had never had confessionem gratiarum. God therefore, that he might be [3/4] sure to have at least the thin reward of thanks for his mercy, requires that we should make known our misery, before he would show us his mercy; that we should confess our sins, before he would forgive us our iniquities. Nor will every confession serve the turn. Nor Pharaoh's hypocritical confession, who in a fit of melancholy, says, I have sinned; but as soon as the hand of God was removed, is resolved to sin yet more: Nor Saul's slight confession, only lest Samuel should dishonour him before the people, like some in S. Augustine's time, who confident enough of their own innocency, would yet with their neighbours for company say, forgive us our trespasses. Scio quia justus sum, sed quid dicturus sum ante homines? For their righteousness they were of the Pharisees mind, 'twas exact enough, they need not cry God mercy, yet because other Publicans say their prayers, they are content to say with them, God be merciful unto us sinners, to avoid the censure of pride and arrogance.
Others again worse than these, are free enough to confess their sins, but it's with pride and glorying. Stulti quasi per insum operantur iniquitatem, they make a sport of committing sins, and then make a jest of confessing them. This confession is worse than their other sins: for either they think there is no God to regard, which is flat Atheism; or which is worse, with them in the Psalm, that he is full as bad as themselves, one that delights as much to hear their impieties, as they joy either in acting or confessing them. No such confession must [4/5] we make, if we hope for pardon. But confession must be better conditioned. 1. It must be humilis accusans nos ipsos. We must accuse our selves, not laying the blame on others. 2. It must be penitens et cum dolore, with grief and sorrow for them. 3. Integra et perfecta, we must confess all our sins we know, not willingly concealing any. 4. Cum proposito obediendi, with a purpose of obedience for the time to come.
First our confession must be humilis et accusans nos ipsos, acknowledging not the fact only, but the guilt; confessing not only the sin, but confessing it to be our own. If we confess our sins, saith the Text. 1. Nostra peccata, non naturae, our sins, not laying the blame on Nature. 2. nostra peccata, non Diaboli, not with Eve shifting them off to the Devil. 3. nostra peccata, non Dei, our sins, not making God the Author.
We must confess our sins, non naturae, not laying the blame on nature. There were some in 8. Augustine, that when they were convinced of theirn sins, answered thus for themselves, non mirum si deditus sum fornicationi, quia talis creatus sum naturae et fragilitatis; no great matter if I have committed adultery, my natural inclination tempted me to lust; and no wonder if I commit murder, my choleric disposition forceth me to wrath. Foeminarum vox est, as St. Jerome saith in another case, it is womanish excuse, and a cloak for our sloth, to say I could not resist, the temptation was so strong; for we might resist, if remembering our vow in Baptism, we would manfully fight against it; and it is [5/6] not want of strength, but want of will that makes us so easily vanquished. Manichaeus est qui dicit hominem peccatum vitare non posse, it was the error of the Manichees to say that man could not avoid sin. Nos vero didicimus, saith S. Jerome, but we have learned from the constant doctrine of the Catholick Church, hominem semper et peccare et none peccare posse, that at all times man may sin, or not sin if he will. Those natural lusts and passions which are unavoidable, and those sudden motions which cannot be prevented, are not imputed to us, God doth not charge us with them. So saith S. Chrysostom in opere imperfecto, upon those words, If a man looks upon a woman, to lust after her, he hath committed adultery in his heart: Non si quis concupiverit secundum inevitabile desiderium carnis, sed siquis concupiverit secundum voluntatem animae et consensum, statuens implore quod cupit, ille adulter est. These natural lusts are no sins, if we check and stop them before they exceed the bounds of reason: then and not until then are they counted sins, when we freely cherish those desires, and resolve to bring them into act. And therefore when we sin, we cannot justly accuse our natural inclination, but our wills: our natural inclinations may incline us to sin, but the sin is ours by willingly consenting. And therefore if we will speak truly, we must confess our sins, accusing ourselves, not our natural inclination: that first. Secondly we must confess our sins, acknowledging them our own, not putting them upon the Devil: the [6/7] Devil may tempt us, he cannot force us to sin: if he could, we might justly plead, they were none of ours, but his: but if the Devil had such power, S. James would never have said, Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Tempt us he may by propounding outward pleasant objects to the sense, and that is tentatio exterior: again he tempts by instilling secret suggestions, and that is called tentatio interior: sed in potestate hominis est tentanti non consentire, man hath power by the grace of God to resist those temptations, and it is our consent that giveth sin the birth. The sin therefore is not properly the Devil's, who only tempts to it, but ours who freely consent and commit it. He is someway guilty of the sin, because he is a tempter, and therefore had his curse for it, but to speak properly we are the sinners that commit the sin. And therefore the Devil's curse freed not Eve of hers, nor must we think to excuse ourselves by saying, The Devil did tempt me, and I did eat, but since the sin is ours, we must in humility confess it; si confiteamur peccata nostra non Diaboli; if we confess our sins, not shifting them off to the Devil that is the second. Thirdly We must confess our sins not making God the Author. Confitebor adversus me iniquitates meas Domino. I will confess my sins unto the lord, but against myself not against him. S. Augustine upon this place complaineth of some in his time, that would confess their sins, but against God, not against themselves: when they were told of their faults they would [7/8] reply, Deus hoc voluit, quid ego feci? God would have it so, and how could I help it? Without his grace: we cannot avoid sin, and therefore if he will not preserve us by his grace, we that can do nothing without it, what offence do we commit, wherein are we to blame? I wish there were not some amongst us of this mind, who though they will not in plain terms, yet per circuitum, in effect say full as much: but let them hear what S. Augustine says, Licet nil consequi possis sine misercordia illa quam repellis, potes tamen libere tenere gratiam, qua retinenda potes evitare culpam; although we cannot of our selves avoid those sins without the grace of God, yet we might, if we would have that grace which would enable us to avoid them. Non ideo no habet homogratiam, quia Deus non dat, sed quia homo non accipit: and if man hath not this grace of God, the want is not in God who freely offers, and invites us to it, but in our selves who willfully refuse it, and put it from us. Idcirco culpa nostra est, quia fugimus gratiam; therefore when we sin, the sin is ours, who flee that grace which followeth us, and never leaves us but with grief; Quoties volui et noluistis! Say not thou therefore, He hath caused me to err; for he hath no need of the sinful man: and let no man say, He is tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted to evil, neither tempts he any man; but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lusts: then when lust hath conceived, it brings forth sin. Since then our lust conceives the sin, we must needs own it, and confess, if [8/9] we confess truly that the sin is ours, not God's, accusing our selves, not making God the author: and that is the third. The second condition of our confession is, it must be poenitens et cum dolore. It is not enough to say, I have sinned, but with S. Peter we must go out and weep. The Saints of God they do so, Job's eyes poured out tears to God, David's eyes gushed out a flood of waters, which made his bed to swim. Mary Magdalen wept tears enough to make a bath for our Saviour's feet; and S. Ambrose telleth us of some in his time, that did sulcare fronte lachrymis, that furrowed their face with their tears. Weeping and tears were then in fashion. Sozomen tells us in his seventh book and 16th chapter that the penitents then did cum planctu et lamentatione semetipsos in terram pronos projicere, that they lay prostrate upon the ground weeping and sighing, as unworthy to look up to heaven, till the Bishop came and raised them up: but this publick exomologhsiV is out of fashion now, and 'twere vain for me to persuade to it: but Job's tears, David's rivers of water, Mary Magdalen's weeping are good patterns for us now. Or if that be too much, if our eyes cannot with Job pour forth tears, nor with David gush our rivers of water, Nonne stillabit oculus noster, shall not our eye afford one drop, or twain? There is no sin so small but would fetch a sigh from our heart, and a tear from our eye if we well considered whom it offended: it grieves the holy Spirit, and shall not we grieve for grieving him? It made our blessed Saviour sigh, and sweat, and bleed, and die, and shall not we sigh for it, which made him die? It grieves our heavenly father, he [9/10] is sorry for our offences, and shall not we mourn for that which makes him sorrowful? If we do not, our confession is not right, not as it should be, and in vain do we hope for pardon, for such a dry and dull confession. It is true, if we confess our sins, God will forgive them, but not unless we confess, poenitenter et cum dolore, with grief and sorrow: and that is the second condition of true Confession, it must be poenitens et cum dolore, with grief and sorrow for our sins.
3. Our Confession must be integra et perfecta, we must not confess by halves, acknowledging some, and concealing others, but freely all that we can remember. He that saith he hath no sin, hath no truth in him, saith S. John: and he that denies any one sin that he knows he hath committed, hath but little truth in him; and the God of truth will not pardon such as will not speak the truth from their heart. All our sins therefore must be confessed; omnia veniala, omnia mortalia, so say the Casuists: all sins of weakness, all sins of presumption, all must be confessed, if we would have God to pardon all. Scio Deum inimicum omni crimini: quomodo ergo qui crimen reservat, de alio recipient veniam? God is an enemy to every sin, and will not pardon any if we willingly conceal but one: his pardon is general, he never forgives one sin but he forgives all, and our confession must be answerable, we must confess not one but all, that after diligent search and examination we find we have committed. For secret sins that have slipped out of our memory and cannot [10/11] be recalled, God does not require a particular Confession, but a general acknowledgment in gross in enough: Lord cleanse thou me from my secret sins, wipes off all those. But the Casuists put us a case, what if we be doubtful either first of the fact, whether we have committed it or not; we fear we have, but cannot certainly be resolved: or secondly of the guilt, the fact we confess, but cannot with all our skill determine whether it be a sin or not: willingly we would confess it we thought it were a sin, but cannot be resolved of that. Shall we now in humility downright confess that we have offended? No. Deus non agnoscit mendacem istam humilitatem, God likes not that false humility. Cum humilitatis causa mentiris, si non eras peccator antequam mentireris, mentiendo efficieris quod vitaras. This very confession against our conscience makes us sinners, if we were none before. What then, shall we deny it and say, we have not sinned? No, that is full as bad or worse. The Casuists give us this rule, since the sin is doubtful, confess it so: if we question the fact, and cannot remember that, yet fear lest we have committed, it, confess it with a si feci, if I have done it, Lord pardon thy servant in this thing. Again, if we remember the fact, but doubt of the guilt, and cannot with all our diligence be resolved whether it were a sin or not, confess it then with a si peccavi, if it be a sin which I have committed, then Lord be merciful to me a sinner. Thus they teach and not without ground: for in confession we are witnesses against ourselves before the throne of [11/12] justice; and therefore must do, what witnesses are bound to speak, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as God shall help us. And this is the third qualification of our Confession; it must be integra et perfecta, we must confess all our sins, not willingly concealing any.
4. Our Confession must be cum proposito obediendi, with a purpose of obedience for the time to come. Not every one that confesseth, but he that confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall have mercy. As good say nothing, as say I have sinned, unless we resolve to do no more. Nil prodest homini confiteri, si mens ab iniquitate non revocetur, 'tis to no purpose to confess our sins, unless we resolve against them for the future. And as we confess that we have turned from God by sinning, so we must profess our purpose of turning to God by obedience. Against thee, thee only have I sinned, saith the Psalmist; there is his confession of sin: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me; that speaks his purpose of obedience. Lachrimavit Ephraim; there is his contrition: Converte me Domine, et converter, there is his desire of conversion and obedience. Actual amendment, good works done; these are the worthy fruits of penitent Confession, no part of it: but votum obediendi, a purpose of amendment, a resolution of doing good works is no fruit, but an integral part of this confession. And therefore we never find any man in the way of Penance confessing his sins, but ever his first question is, Quid faciam? What must I do? S. Paul his first words when he began: Quid oportet [12/13] me facere? The Gaoler's first words when he began to repent: What shall we do? Say all the people to Saint John, when they came to the Baptism of Repentance. The light of reason prompts us, that as we have wronged God, and displeased him by doing amiss, so we must endeavour to appease him, and make him amends by doing well: As we have dishonoured him by our sins, so we must endeavour a restitution, and glorify him by our good works; and he confesseth not aright that wants this resolution: for true confession is not without hearty contrition, and contrition includes a vow of obedience. S. Paul teacheth so much. Godly sorrow, saith he, operatur timorem, it works a fear of offending him whom we grieve to have offended already; and operatur vehemens desiderium, it works an earnest and hearty desire to please and content him, whom we sorrow that we have displeased and injured. Here is a fear of denial, and a desire of doing well, both which make up perfect obedience, and both these in this godly sorrow which worketh repentance. So then he that fears not to offend, that desires not to please, never sorrowed from his heart, and he that thus never sorrowed, never truly confessed: for true confession implies contrition, and so by consequence a purpose of obedience. Peccavi, quid faciam tibi? It is the language of every true penitent, I have sinned, what shall I do unto thee O thou preserve of men? If burnt offerings were desires, he would spare for no cost; thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee. If labour and service will content, he [13/14] will refuse no hardship: fac me mercenarium, saith the prodigal; Father, I have sinned, and am no more worthy to be called thy son, make me as an hired servant, set me to task, I will willingly bear the heat and the burden of the day to regain thy lost favour: or else dic quid faciam, Domine? Let God buy say what he would have done, and he is resolved, whatsoever God shall command that will he hear and do. And this is the last condition of confession, it must be cum proposito obediendi, with a purpose of obedience.
Thus have we seen the nature of confession, and by that learned how to confess: sed ubi confessarius? Where's a Confessor, all this while? Where is any to take our confessions? Here is none in the text to confess to, if we had a mind to it. None indeed expressly named, but here is one plainly enough described, here is one that can pardon our sins, that can purge us from all our iniquities; and to whom can we better confess, than to him that hath the power of absolution? Would you know who this he is? I even I, saith God, am he who blotteth out all your iniquities, and that forgiveth your sins: to him, even to him then let us confess: be sure, this is necessary, and no pardon to be hoped for, unless we confess to him at least. But there is another Confessor that would not be neglected. Qui confiteri vult, ut inveniat gratiam, quaerat sacerdotem, scientem solvere et ligare, saith S. Augustine; he that would be sure of pardon, let him seek out a Priest, and make his humble confession to him; for God, who alone hath the prime and original right of forgiving sins, [14/15] hath delegated the Priests his Judges here on earth, and given them the power of absolution; so that they can in his name, forgive the sins of those that humbly confess unto them. But is not this blasphemy, said the Scribes once? It is not Popery, say some with us now? Take the counsel that is given in Job, cap. 8, verse 8. Enquire of the former generations, ask of the Fathers, and they shall tell thee.
Ask then S. Chrysostom, and hear what he saith in his fifth Homily, upon these words of Isaiah, I saw the Lord sitting upon a Throne. What is comparable (saith he) to the power of the Priest, to whom Christ hath said, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. Heaven waits and expects the Priests sentence here on earth: for the Priests sits Judge on earth, the Lord follows the servant, and what the servants binds or looses here on earth, clave non errante, that the Lord confirms in heaven: words so clear for the judiciary formal Absolution of the Priest, as nothing can be said more plain. Please you next to inquire of S. Jerome, who is said to be the Patron of that opinion, that holds the Priest's power barely declarative, and so indeed, not at all: yet he speaks home, in his Epistle ad Heliodorum de vita solitaria. God forbid, saith he, that I should speak a word amiss against the Priests. Qui sacro ore corpus [15/16] Christi conficiunt, that is in the holy Eucharist; per quos nos Christiani sumus, that is in Baptism; Qui claves regni caelorum habentes, quodammodo ante diem judicii judicant, that is by remitting or retaining sins. He that can construe judicant, and understand what it signifies, needs no comment upon these words. Hear next what S. Gregory the Great says in his 26 Homil. Upon the Gospels, Apostoli princpatum supreme judicii fortiuntur, ut vice Dei quisdam peccata retineant, quibusdam relaxant; the Apostles and in them all Priests were made God's Vicegerents here on earth, in his name to retain and forgive sins, not declaratively only, but judicially: animarum judices fiunt,as he goes on, they are made the Judges of the souls of men, casting the obstinate down to the gates of Hell, by the fearful power of excommunication, and lifting the penitent into Heaven by the blessed power of Absolution. And he is no better than a Novatian that denies it, saith S. Ambrose. I could name more Fathers, as St. Augustine, S. Cyprian and others, but I spare. These I have named, are enough to give testimony of the former generation, men too pious to be thought to speak blasphemy, and too ancient to be suspected of Popery. But to put all out of doubt, let's search the Scriptures; look into the 20th of S. John, ver. 23. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained: here is plainly a power of remitting sins granted to the Priest, by our blessed Saviour. Nor can it be understood of remitting sins by preaching as some expound it, nor by [16/17] baptizing, as others guess. For both these, preach and baptize, they could do long before: but this power of remitting they received not till now, that is, after his resurrection. That they could preach and baptize before, 'tis plain. Preach they might, they had a licence for it; S. Matth. 10. 7. As ye go, preach, saying, &c. and baptize they could and did, John 4.2. Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his Disciples. But this power of remission in the text, they received not till now, (that is after his resurrection) as appears, first by the ceremony of breathing, by that signifying that they he infused that power into them which he bade them receive; and secondly by the word receive, which he could not properly have used if they had been endued with it before. So then it is not the power of preaching, or baptizing which is here given the Apostles, but as the Fathers interpret the place, a peculiar power of pronouncing, as God's deputed Judges, pardon and remission to the penitent, a power of absolving from sins, in the name of God all such as penitently confess unto them: a form of which Absolution our holy Mother the Church, hath prescribed in the visitation of the Sick. He then that assents to the Church of England, or believes the Scriptures, or gives credit to the ancient Fathers, cannot deny the Priest the power of remitting sins: and since he can in the name of God forgive us our sins, good reason we should make our confession to him. Surely God never gave the Priest this power in vain: he gave it for our benefit, and expects that we should do the best we can to make use of it, [17/18] having ordained in the Priest the power of absolution, he requires that we should use the best means we can to obtain that blessing. Now the only means to obtain this absolution, is our confession to him. The Priest may not, nor cannot absolve any but the penitent, nor can he know their penitence, but by their outward expression: it is God's prerogative to know the thoughts of the heart, the Priest's eye cannot pierce so far, he only reads the sorrows of our hearts by our outward confession, without the which we cannot receive, nor he give the benefit of absolution. Poenitentiam igitur agite, qualss agitur in Ecclesia, Confess as the Church directs us, confess to God, confess also to the Priest, if not in private, in the ear, since that is out of use (male aboletur, saith a devout Bishop, 'tis almost quite lost, the more the pity;) yet how ever, confess as the Church appoints, publickly before the Congregation, that so we may at least by this reap the great benefit of absolution. And if we slight this, hear what S. Augustine says, Tom. 10. Hom. 49. Nemo sibi dicat, Occulte ago, quia apud Deum ago, &c. Let no man flatter himself, and say, I confess in private to God, and God knows my heart will pardon me, though I never at all confess to the Priest. Ergo sine causa dictum esset, Quae solveritis in terra, &c. Hath God in vain said, whose sins ye remit, they are remitted? Hath God in vain given the Priest the power of the Keys? Frustramus ergo verbum dei? Shall we by our willful neglect go about to make void the promise of Christ? God forbid! If we have offended this way already, [18/19] preveniamus judicium Dei per confessionem, the only way top prevent the terrible judgment of the last day, is timely to confess our sin to God, and to the Priest. For, if we confess in humility our sins with grief and sorrow for them; if we confess them faithfully, not concealing any, and with a purpose of amending our lives: be our sins what can be, they cannot be so great, so grievous, but God will forgive them. S. Ambrose doubts not, but Judas's sin as great as it was, might have been forgiven if he had confessed to his Saviour, as he did to the Jews, I have sinned in betraying innocent blood. Say not then with Cain, My sin is greater than can be forgiven: for thou canst confess it aright, never fear forgiveness, unless thou conceivest (which is impossible) that it is greater, than either the truth, or justice of God: for if we confess our sins, he is faithful, and just to forgive us our sins, saith the text. Nor say, I have sinned too often to be forgiven, Numerus non vincit gratiam, the number of our sins cannot exceed his mercy: if we sinned a thousand times, confess as oft, and he that hath commanded us to forgive our brother, as oft as he shall repent, will certainly forgive us. The text is not if we confess once or twice he will forgive us, but indefinite, if we confess our sins, how great soever, how often soever committed, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins. If we with the prodigal confess, Father I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son, the Father of mercies will behold us with the eye of pity, will melt us with his grace, embrace us with [19/20] the arms of mercy, will own for us his sons, and clothe us with the robes of righteousness, and lastly will slay the fatted Calf that we may eat and be merry: our blessed Saviour who was slain from the beginning of the world, shall be slain as it were afresh in the Sacrament, that we eating his flesh, and drinking his precious blood, may be made merry with the taste of those joys here, with which we shall be fully satisfied hereafter. Amen.
To God the
Father, God the Son, God the Holy
Ghost, be all honour, and glory,
praise and thanksgiving both
now and evermore,