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PART II. THE LIFE OF FAITH AND LOVE FOLLOWED BY THE CRUCIFIXION OF THE LIFE OF NATURE.


CHAPTER SIXTEENTH.


On the Confession of Sin.


SHOULD those, who are so far advanced in the religious life as to be justly regarded as sanctified or holy persons, confess sin? This is a question, which is sometimes asked with a degree of solicitude and from good motives. And besides, it is often adduced as one of the greatest objections to the doctrine of the realization of holiness in the present life, that those, who have experienced it, ought not to, and cannot confess sin.

FIRST. The confession of sin during the whole course of the present life is exceedingly proper, for various reasons; and in the first place, because sin is an unspeakable evil. We suppose that those, who have experienced a perfected state of faith and love, will understand this remark more fully than others. They have tasted the bitter fruits of sin; they have in many cases endured a severe and terrible contest in driving it from the heart; they are now engaged momentarily in a constant warfare to prevent its re-entrance; they know it is the one great thing and the only thing which separates the soul from God; they know that every sin, even the smallest, is exceedingly heinous in God's sight; they feel that they had rather die a thousand deaths, than voluntarily commit even the smallest sin. Now when they remember, that during a considerable portion of their lives they were sinning against God every day and hour; despising, injuring, and insulting continually that great and good Being, whom now their hearts as continually adore, they are penetrated with the deepest grief. They never, never can forget the greatness of their former degradation and guilt. And, in their present state of mind, they never can remember it, without being, at each distinct retrospection, deeply humbled and penitent. Indeed, as true confession consists much more in the state of the heart than in the expression of the lips, and as the surest mark of true confession is an earnest striving after the opposite of that which is confessed as wrong, those, who are earnestly seeking and practicing holiness, may be said in the highest sense of the terms to be always acknowledging and always lamenting their sin. Their watching, their strife, their warfare is against sin, as the evil and bitter thing which their soul hates; and which their souls shall ever hate whenever and wherever committed, whether by themselves or others, at the present time or in times past.

SECOND.— There is a propriety and a practical importance in the confession of sin, during the whole course of the present life, because our various infirmities, our defects of judgment, our frequent ignorance of the motives and characters of our fel­low-men, and the relatively wrong acts and feelings which originate in these sources, from which no one, in the present period of the history of the church, can reasonably expect to be free, require an atonement, as well as our willful or voluntary transgressions. We do not suppose, that it is necessary here to enter into an argument for the purpose of showing, that such imperfections, originally flowing from our fallen condition and our connection with Adam, require the application of Christ' s blood. Such is not only our own belief; but we have reason to believe, that it is a doctrine which is generally conceded by those, who will be likely to take an interest in these inquiries. There are various passages of Scripture, such as Lev. 4:3, and Numb. 15:27-30, which have relation to such infirmities and sins, and which might be properly consulted, if the present were an occasion to enter into a minute examination of the subject.

It is in accordance with what has now been said, that Christians, who are well established in the interior life, whenever they have fallen into such errors and infirmities, experience no true peace of mind, until they find a sense of forgiveness. For an error in judgment, for an ill-placed word when there was no evil design or intention of saying what was wrong, for an action which was undesignedly a mistaken one either through undue remissness or through undue haste, for any unavoidable blindnesses and ignorances whatever, which are followed by evil and unhappy results, they find no resource but in an immediate and believing application to the atoning blood. It is true, they do not ordinarily have those bitter feelings of condemnation and remorse, which they have, when they have committed a deliberate transgression; but they feel deep humiliation and sorrow of heart; they see the results of sin flowing from the original rebellion; and have what may perhaps be called an
instinctive conviction, that the occasion is a fitting one for penitent grief and for humble confession. Now as such infirmities are very frequent, and as indeed they are unavoidable, so long as we come short of the intellectual and physical perfection of Adam, we shall have abundant occasion to confess our trespasses; and it will ever be true, that our sin, in this sense of the term, will always be before us.

It may be proper to remark here, that it was probably in this view of the subject that Mr. Wesley, while he maintained with great ability and earnestness the doctrine of Christian perfection or of perfect love, did not hold to the doctrine of sinless perfection. That is to say, he maintained that it was both our duty and our privilege to love God with all our heart; and also that this state of mind, viz. of assured faith and perfected love, had been actually, and in many cases, realized. He maintained, nevertheless, that this state was consistent with all those wrong judgments which are involuntary and unavoidable, and consequently with relatively wrong acts and affections; that we are continually liable to transgress in the respects which have been mentioned, even while we are in a state of perfect love, and that the best of men may say from the heart,

"Every moment, Lord, I need
"The merit of thy death."


Under these circumstances, he thought it proper and necessary, that even persons, who, on evangelical principles, could justly lay claim to the blessing of sanctification, should continually humble themselves before God and make confession. This view seems to be correct. And it is very desirable when we look at it in its practical results, as well as in its moral relations, that it should continue to be maintained, because it will constantly prompt us not only to seek perfection in love, which is the most important thing, but to seek perfection in manners, habits, health, words, knowledge, and all good judgment.

THIRD. It is proper, furthermore, to confess our sins, because there may be sins in us, and not merely those which result from infirmity and are involuntary, which are seen by the omniscient eye of God, but which may not be obvious to ourselves. We have no doubt that, as a general thing, we may rely upon our consciousness in confirmation of the great fact of perfection in love. Certainly it is a reasonable idea, that, as a general thing, a man may know in himself or in his own consciousness, whether he loves God or not; and whether he loves him with his whole heart or not. At the same time there may occasionally be cases, in which he is left in some degree of doubt. He may through the influence of some sudden temptation, be driven so closely upon the line which separates rectitude from sin, that it is almost impossible for him to tell whether he has kept within it. The Scriptures also recognize the great deceitfulness of the human heart. Who, then, is able, either on philosophical or scripture principles, to assert, absolutely and unconditionally, that he has been free from sin, at least for any great length of time? We may, therefore, with great propriety, even if there were no other reason but this, ask the forgiveness of our trespasses, of our sins, or of whatever God sees amiss in us. And it is unquestionably our duty so to do.

We may add here, that it is generally, and perhaps we may say, universally the case that those, who give good evidence of being in that state which we variously describe as assurance of faith and as perfect love, and which involves the possession of the blessing of present sanctification, speak of their state in a qualified, rather than in an absolute manner. In other words, they generally express themselves, (and it is exceedingly proper that they should do so,) merely as if they hoped or had reason to hope that they had experienced this great blessing, and were kept free from voluntary and known sin. Such a mode of expression seems to be unobjectionable; it is consistent with confession, and corresponds to the precise state of the case.

FOURTH.— It ls proper and important also to acknowledge our having sinned against God and to humble ourselves before him on account of sin, because we are thus continually reminded of the unspeakable condescension and mercy of God as manifested in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is impossible, that a truly holy mind, one that has deeply felt the living God within, should ever forget the depth of its former degradation, however different and however encouraging may be its present state. And whenever it calls to recollection its former pollution, it cannot be otherwise than deeply impressed with a sense of the Savior's wonderful goodness and love. May we not even conjecture, that it will be our privilege through all eternity to remember and to confess our former fallen state? Even in heaven, renewed and purified as we shall be, we shall, in one sense at least, be sinners saved by grace; and shall undoubtedly repeat with joy the song of the ransomed, "Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation."

With these considerations we leave the subject, after a single remark further. While it is proper for all to make a confession during life, it is nevertheless true, that the mind of a person, who is truly in a sanctified state, is chiefly occupied with supplications and thanksgivings. Such persons may be said for the most part to be always praying, always supplicating, and in every thing giving thanks. The state of those, who possess this blessing, is very different from the condition of persons, who have nothing but their sins to speak of. Such is their peace of mind, such their delight in God's character, such their sense of inward purity, such their conformity to God's will, that their prevalent state must necessarily be one of divine communion and of holy rejoicing.