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Our sinful inability

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 23 Feb 2021

Lee Gatiss presents a modernised text of Part 2 of Homily 2, “A Homily of the Misery of All Mankind and of their Condemnation to Death Everlasting, by Their Own Sin.”

Since true knowledge of ourselves is very necessary to come to the right knowledge of God, you have heard in the last homily how humbly all godly people have always thought of themselves. They are taught to think and judge of themselves this way by God their Creator in his holy word. For of ourselves we are crabtrees, that can bring forth no apples. We are of ourselves of such earth as can bring forth only weeds, nettles, brambles, briers, corncockle, and darnel.

Our imperfect fruit
Our fruits are declared in the fifth chapter of Galatians. We have neither faith, charity, hope, patience, chastity, nor anything else that is good, except from God, and therefore these virtues are called there “the fruit of the Spirit”, and not the fruit of mankind (Galatians 5:19-23). Let us therefore acknowledge ourselves before God to be pitiable and wretched sinners (as indeed we are). And let us earnestly repent, and humble ourselves heartily, and cry to God for mercy. Let us all confess with mouth and heart, that we are full of imperfections. Let us know our own works, how imperfect they are, and then we shall not stand foolishly and arrogantly in our own conceits, nor think we can obtain justification by our merits or works.

For truly there are imperfections in our best works. We do not love God so much as we are bound to do, with all our heart, mind, and power. We do not fear God so much as we ought to do. We do not pray to God, but with great and many imperfections. We give, forgive, believe, live, and hope imperfectly. We speak, think, and do imperfectly. We fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh imperfectly. Let us therefore not be ashamed to confess plainly our state of imperfection; indeed, let us not be ashamed to confess imperfection, even in all our best works. 

Let none of us be ashamed to say with holy Saint Peter, “I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Let us say with the holy Prophet David, “We have sinned like our fathers; we have done wrong and acted wickedly” (Psalm 106:6). Let us all make open confession with the prodigal son to our father, and say with him, “We have sinned against heaven, and against you (O Father). We are not worthy to be called your children” (Luke 15:18-19). Let us all say with holy Baruch, “O Lord our God, to us is worthily ascribed shame and confusion, and to you righteousness. We have sinned, we have done wickedly, we have acted unrighteously in all your commands” (Baruch 2:6, 12). Let us all say with the holy Prophet Daniel, “O Lord, righteousness belongs to you, but to us belongs confusion. We have sinned, we have committed iniquity, we have offended. We have fled from you, and departed from all your precepts and judgments” (Daniel 9:7, 5). So we learn of all good men in holy Scriptures, to humble ourselves, and to exalt, extol, praise, magnify, and glorify God.

Our need of mercy
Thus we have heard how evil we are of ourselves — how of ourselves, and by ourselves, we have no goodness, help, nor salvation. On the contrary, we have sin, damnation, and death everlasting. If we deeply weigh and consider this, we shall better understand the great mercy of God, and how our salvation comes only by Christ. For in and of ourselves, we find nothing by which we may be delivered from this miserable captivity (2 Corinthians 3:5), into which we were cast through the envy of the devil, by transgressing God’s commandment in our first parent Adam. We have all become unclean (Psalm 51:1-10), but none of us are able to cleanse ourselves, nor to make each other clean. We are by nature the children of God’s wrath, but we are not able to make ourselves the children and inheritors of God’s glory (Ephesians 2:3).

We are sheep that have gone astray (1 Peter 2:25), but we cannot by our own power come again to the sheepfold, so great is our imperfection and weakness. In ourselves, therefore, we may not glory, since of ourselves we are nothing but sinful. Neither may we rejoice in any works that we do, which are all so imperfect and impure that they are not able to stand before the righteous throne of God, as the holy Prophet David says, “Enter not into judgment with your servant (O Lord), for no one living shall be found righteous in your sight” (Psalm 143:2). To God therefore we must flee, or else we shall never find peace, rest, and quietness of conscience in our hearts.

For he is the Father of mercies and God of all consolation (2 Corinthians 1:3). He is the Lord, with whom is plenteous redemption (Psalm 130:7). He is the God who of his own mercy saves us, and sets out his charity and exceeding love towards us (Titus 3:5; Romans 5:8). Of his own voluntary goodness, when we were dead, he saved us, and provided an everlasting kingdom for us. And all these heavenly treasures are given us, not for our own deserts, merits, or good deeds (which of ourselves we do not have) but of his mere mercy, freely.

Saved in Christ alone
And for whose sake? Truly it is for Jesus Christ’s sake, that pure and undefiled lamb of God (1 Peter 1:19). He is that dearly beloved Son, for whose sake God is fully pacified, satisfied, and set at one with man. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), of whom only it may be truly spoken, that he did all things well (Mark 7:37), and in his mouth was found no deceit or guile (1 Peter 2:22). None but he alone may say, “The prince of this world is coming but he has no hold on me” (John 14:30). And he alone may also say, “Which of you shall prove me guilty of any fault?” (John 8:46) He is the high and everlasting Priest, who has offered himself once-and-for-all upon the altar of the cross and with that one offering has made perfect for evermore those who are sanctified (Hebrews 7:24-27, 10:14, 13:10). He is the only mediator between God and mankind (1 Timothy 2:5-6), who paid our ransom to God with his own blood (Revelation 5:9, 1:5), and with that has cleansed us all from sin (1 John 1:7). He is the Doctor who heals all our diseases (Psalm 103:3). He is that Saviour who saves his people from all their sins (Matthew 1:21).

To be short, he is that flowing and most plenteous fountain, of whose fulness all we have received (John 1:16). For in him alone are all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God hidden (Colossians 2:3). And in him, and by him, we have from God the Father all good things, whether of the body or the soul (Romans 8:32). O how much are we bound to this our heavenly Father for his great mercies, which he has so plenteously declared to us in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour! What worthy and sufficient thanks can we give to him? Let us all with one accord burst out with joyful voice, ever praising and magnifying this Lord of mercy, for his tender kindness shown to us in his dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

So far, we have heard what we are of ourselves: truly sinful, wretched, and damnable. Again, we have heard how of ourselves, and by ourselves, we are not able either to think a good thought or work a good deed, so that we can find in ourselves no hope of salvation, but rather whatever makes for our destruction. Again, we have heard of the tender kindness and great mercy of God the Father towards us, and how beneficial he is to us for Christ’s sake, without our merits or deserts, even of his own mere mercy and tender goodness.

Now, how these exceedingly great mercies of God, spread abroad in Christ Jesus for us, are obtained, and how we are delivered from the captivity of sin, death, and hell, it shall (with God’s help) be further declared in the next Homily. In the meantime — indeed, at all times — let us learn to know ourselves, our frailty and weakness, without any ostentation or boasting of our own good deeds and merits. Let us also acknowledge the exceeding mercy of God towards us, and confess that just as from ourselves comes all evil and damnation, so likewise of him comes all goodness and salvation, as God himself says by the Prophet Hosea, “O Israel, you are destroyed, in me only is your help and comfort” (Hosea 13:9).

If we thus humbly submit ourselves in the sight of God, we may be sure that on the day of judgment he will lift us up to the kingdom of his dearly beloved Son, Christ Jesus our Lord — to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory for ever.  Amen.

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society

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