Wednesday, September 08, 2004

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? The deceitful heart/mind and the Confession of Sin in the BCP

Following my exposition of Jeremiah 17: 9 on the deceitfulness of the human mind/heart [How deceitful is the heart?, Sept 7], one respondent asked a question with respect to the words of the General Confession in The Book of Common Prayer (1662/1928). First, here are the words:

We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too
much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy
holy laws, We have left undone those things that we ought to have done, And we
have done those things which we ought not to have done. And there is no health
in us

And here is the question: How much is too much?

Let us note first of all that it is assumed that everyone, that is each of the baptized gathered for Daily Prayer, says this prayer and that it applies to each of them fully.

Secondly, let us note that the content of the confession of sin here is presented through basically biblical images and teaching -- sheep forsaking the shepherd, the heart/mind as being deceitful, the breaking of God's laws and the absence in the soul of any principle of everlasting life (health/salvation). The total picture presented by these words and images is that each of us as individual persons and all of us as the congregation of Christ's flock are daily in need of the forgiveness of God because, whatever the state of our receipt of grace and growing sanctification, we remain always both sinful and sinners -- until this body of flesh is replaced at the Resurrection by the immortal body of glory.

Too much --- it is possible that these two words point to the fact that knowingly and deliberately (in contrast to unconsciously) we have followed the less than perfect or evil intentions of our "deceitful hearts/minds." Most of the time our thoughts, words and actions proceed from our deceitful minds as imperfect and sinful but we are not aware that they are so, for we assume they are acceptable to God. However, there are times when our self-knowledge, guided by the light of God's law, tells us that such and such thoughts, words and deeds are offensive to God, but, nevertheless, we still find some kind of pleasure or satisfaction in pursuing them.

Thus it is possible that the "too much" refers to the overflow of the sins proceeding from the fact of original sin, the possession of a diseased nature, the reality of a deceitful, devious and corrupt heart/mind. This overflow could have been prevented by calling upon the Lord for help!

The Rev'd Dr Peter Toon September 8 2004

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