From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Concerning Confession and Satisfaction
Our opponents make a great mistake if they imagine that canonical satisfactions are truer punishments than true terrors in the heart. It is a foolish distortion to call these frigid satisfactions “punishments,” instead of referring to those horrible terrors of conscience like David mentions. “For the waves of death encompassed me” (Psa 18:4; 2 Sam 22:5). Who would not rather, clad in mail and equipped, seek the church of James, the basilica of Peter, and so forth, than bear that indescribable force of grief that exists even in ordinary persons who are truly repentant?
Pulling It Together: Those who are truly repentant would surely seek the grace and mercy of God instead of trying to fix the matter themselves. Imagine a husband or wife who has truly wronged his or her spouse, offering a box of chocolates, a bouquet of roses, or even a fancy meal, in an effort to gain forgiveness. Imagine a child who has dishonored a parent, taking the trash out for a week or cleaning his room in an attempt to compensate for that dishonor. Those who have been wronged are not interested in being bought off. A spouse or a parent want genuine sorrow, something that first happens in the heart.
It is much easier to buy a bouquet than to offer the sweetness of a real apology, followed, of course, by real devotion to the person who was wronged. We deceive ourselves when we think such bribery will bring peace to that person—or to ourselves. It is difficult to trust in the mercy of the person we have hurt, so we try to do something that might make them feel better, certainly, but even more, to make ourselves feel better.
But this does not work with God any more than it does with people. We must have faith. We must trust that these people love us. So, we can see that we must also trust in God’s love. This is the only way to have any peace in the conscience. Just as roses will not provide rest in human relationships, neither will pilgrimages, special offerings, or other so-called satisfactions provide peace in our relationships with God. These are the “swift steeds” we would ride upon to escape our guilt. But the further we ride, the more frightened and guilty we will become. For by these efforts at buying off God we are actually fleeing from him, instead of toward him. We must simply be willing to repent by returning to God with hearts broken by sin, believing that he still loves and forgives poor sinners.
Prayer: Forgive me, Lord, a poor and wretched sinner. Amen.
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