How they are to be admonished who lament sins of deed, and those who lament only sins of thought.
(Admonition 30.) Differently to be admonished are those who deplore sins of deed, and those who deplore sins of thought. For those who deplore sins of deed are to be admonished that perfected lamentations should wash out consummated evils, lest they be bound by a greater debt of perpetrated deed than they pay in tears of satisfaction for it. For it is written, He hath given us drink in tears by measure (Ps. lxxix. 6): which means that each persons soul should in its penitence drink the tears of compunction to such extent as it remembers itself to have been dried up from God through sins. They are to be admonished to bring back their past offences incessantly before their eyes, and so to live that these may not have to be viewed by the strict judge.
Hence David, when he prayed, saying, Turn away thine eyes from my sins (Psa. 51.3 1288 ), had said also a little before, My fault is ever before me (Psa. 51.3); as if to say, I beseech thee not to regard my sin, since I myself cease not to regard it. Whence also the Lord says through the prophet, And I will not be mindful of thy sins, but be thou mindful of them (Isa. 1:0, Isa. 43:25, Isa. 26:0). They are to be admonished to consider singly all their past offences, and, in bewailing the defilements of their former wandering one by one, to cleanse at the same time even their whole selves with tears. Whence it is well said through Jeremiah, when the several transgressions of Judæa were being considered, Mine eye hath shed divisions of waters (Lam. iii. 48). For indeed we shed divided waters from our eyes, when to our several sins we give separate tears. For the mind does not sorrow at one and the same time alike for all things; but, while it is more sharply touched by memory now of this fault and now of that, being moved concerning all in each, it is purged at once from all.
They are to be admonished to build upon the mercy which they crave, lest they perish through the force of immoderate affliction. For the Lord would not set sins to be deplored before the eyes of offenders, were it His will to smite them with strict severity Himself. For it is evident that it has been His will to hide from His own judgment those whom in anticipation He has made judges of themselves. For hence it is written, Let us come beforehand before the face of the Lord in confession (Psa. 95.2 1289 ). Hence through Paul it is said, If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged (1 Cor. xi. 31). And again, they are to be admonished so to be confident in hope as not to grow torpid in careless security. For commonly the crafty foe, when he sees the soul which he trips up by sin to be afflicted for its fall, seduces it by the blandishments of baneful security. Which thing is figuratively expressed in the history of Dinah. For it is written, Dinah went p. 61b out to see the women of that land; and when Sichem, the son of Hemor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he loved her, and seized her, and lay with her, and defiled her by force; and his soul clave unto her, and he soothed her with kind blandishments when she was sad (Gen. xxxiv. 1-3). For indeed Dinah goes out to see the women of a foreign land, when any soul, neglecting its own concerns, and giving heed to the actions of others, wanders forth out of its own proper condition and order. And Sichem, prince of the country, overpowers it inasmuch as the devil corrupts it, when found occupied in external cares. And his soul clave unto her, because he regards it as united to himself through iniquity. And because, when the soul comes to a sense of its sin, it stands condemned, and would fain deplore its transgression, but the corrupter recalls before its eyes empty hopes and grounds of security to the end that he may withdraw from it the benefit of sorrow, therefore it is rightly added in the text, And soothed her with blandishments when she was sad. For he tells now of the heavier offences of others, now of what has been perpetrated being nothing, now of God being merciful; or again he promises time hereafter for repentance; so that the soul, seduced by these deceptions, may be suspended from its purpose of penitence, to the end that it may receive no good hereafter, being saddened by no evil now, and that it may then be more fully overwhelmed with punishment, in that now it even rejoices in its transgressions.
But, on the other hand, those who bewail sins of thought are to be admonished to consider anxiously within the recesses of their soul whether they have sinned in delight only, or also in consent. For commonly the heart is tempted, and in the sinfulness of the flesh experiences delight, and yet in its judgment resists this same sinfulness; so that in the secrets of thought it is both saddened by what pleases it and pleased by what saddens it. But sometimes the soul is so whelmed in a gulph of temptation as not to resist at all, but follows of set purpose that whereby it is assailed through delight; and, if outward opportunity be at hand, it soon consummates in effect its inward wishes. And certainly, if this is regarded according to the just animadversion of a strict judge, the sin is one, not of thought, but of deed; since, though the tardiness of circumstances has deferred the sin outwardly, the will has accomplished it inwardly by the act of consent.
Moreover, we have learnt in the case of our first parent that we perpetrate the iniquity of every sin in three ways; that is to say, in suggestion, delight, and consent. Thus the first is perpetrated through the enemy, the second through the flesh, the third through the spirit. For the lier-in-wait suggests wrong things; the flesh submits itself to delight; and at last the spirit, vanquished by delight, consents. Whence also that serpent suggested wrong things; then Eve, as though she had been the flesh, submitted herself to delight; but Adam, as the spirit, overcome by the suggestion and the delight, assented. Thus by suggestion we have knowledge of sin, by delight we are vanquished, by consent we are also bound. Those, therefore, who bewail iniquities of thought are to be admonished to consider anxiously in what measure they have fallen into sin, to the end that they may be lifted up by a measure of lamentation corresponding to the degree of the downfall of which they are inwardly conscious; lest, if meditated evils torment them too little, they lead them on even to the perpetration of deeds. But in all this they should be alarmed in such wise that they still be by no means broken down. For often merciful God absolves sins of the heart the more speedily in that He allows them not to issue in deeds; and meditated iniquity is the more speedily loosed from not being too tightly bound by effected deed. Whence it is rightly said by the Psalmist, I said I will declare against myself my iniquities to the Lord, and thou forgavest the impiety of my heart (Ps. xxxi. 5). For in that he added impiety of heart, he indicated that it was iniquities of thought that he would declare: and in saying, I said I will declare, and straightway subjoining, And thou forgavest, he shewed how easy in such a case pardon was. For, while but promising that he would ask, he obtained what he promised to ask for; so that, since his sin had not advanced to deed, neither should his penitence go so far as to be torment; and that meditated affliction should cleanse the soul which in truth no more than meditated iniquity had defiled.
In English Bible, li. 3.60b:1289
Ibid. xcv. 2.