Of Confession and Self-examination
Self-examination should always precede Confession, and in the nature and manner of it should be conformable to the state of the soul: the business of those that are advanced to the degree of which we now treat, is to lay their whole souls open before God, who will not fail to enlighten them, and enable them to see the peculiar nature of their faults. This examination, however, should be peaceful and tranquil, and we should depend on God for the discovery and knowledge of our sins, rather than, on the diligence of our own scrutiny.
When we examine with constraint, and in the strength of our own endeavours, we are easily deceived and betrayed by self-love into error; |we believe the evil good, and the good evil| (Isa. v.20); but when we lie in full exposure before the Sun of Righteousness, His Divine beams render the smallest atoms visible. It follows from hence that we must forsake self, and abandon our souls to God as well in examination as Confession.
When souls have attained to this species of prayer no fault escapes reprehension; on every commission they are instantly rebuked by an inward burning and tender confusion. Such is the scrutiny of Him who suffers no evil to be concealed; and under His purifying influence the one way is to turn affectionately to our Judge, and bear with meekness the pain and correction He inflicts. He becomes the incessant Examiner of the soul; it can now, indeed, no longer examine itself, and if it be faithful in its resignation, experience will convince the soul that it is a thousand times more effectually examined by His Divine Light than by the most active and vigorous self-inspection.
Those who tread these paths should be informed of a matter respecting their Confession in which they are apt to err. When they begin to give an account of their sins, instead of the regret and contrition they had been accustomed to feel, they find that love and tranquillity sweetly pervade and take possession of their souls: now those who are not properly instructed are desirous of withdrawing from this sensation, to form an act of contrition, because they have heard, and with truth, that it is requisite: but they are not aware that they lose thereby the genuine contrition, which is this Intuitive Love, infinitely surpassing any effect produced by self-exertion, and comprehending the other acts in itself as in one principal act, in much higher perfection than if they were distinctly perceived, and varied in their sensation. Be not then troubled about other things when God acts so excellently in you and for you.
To hate sin in this manner is to hate it as God does. The purest love is that which is of His immediate operation in the soul: why should it then be so eager for action? Let it remain in the state He assigns it, agreeable to the instructions of Solomon: |Put your confidence in God; remain in quiet, where he hath placed you| (Eccles. xi.22).
The soul will also be amazed at finding a difficulty in calling faults to remembrance: this, however, should cause no uneasiness; first, because this forgetfulness of our faults is some proof of our purification from them; and in this degree of advancement it is best. Secondly, because when Confession is our duty God will not fail to make known to us our greatest faults, for then He Himself examines, and the soul will feel the end of examination more perfectly accomplished than it could possibly have been by the utmost exertion of its own endeavours.
These instructions, however, would be altogether unsuitable to the preceding degrees while the soul continues in its active state, wherein it is right and necessary it should in all things use the utmost industry in proportion to the degree of its advancement. It is those that have arrived at this more advanced state whom I would exhort to follow these instructions, and not to vary their one simple occupation even on approaching the Communion; they should remain in silence, and suffer God to act freely and without limitation. Who can better receive the Body and Blood of Christ than he in whom the Holy Spirit is indwelling?