Author(s)Lee Gatiss
Date 18 February 2016

In the second part of Homily 2 on “the misery of mankind”, the preacher makes a strong contrast between the fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of mankind. The Spirit brings life and vitality: faith, hope, love, patience, chastity. But of itself the human heart is only able to produce weeds, nettles, and rotten fruit. Even our best works are utterly imperfect.

We need to acknowledge and confess this openly, if we are to know God truly. Because, as John Calvin also says at the start of his summa pietatis, “the miserable ruin into which the revolt of the first man has plunged us, compels us to turn our eyes upwards… For as there exists in man something like a world of misery ... our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us that in the Lord, and none but he, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves” (Calvin’s Institutes 1.1.1).

But here’s how the Church of England’s official sermon on the subject continues that thought…

“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 men 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 but weeds, nettles, brambles, briers, cockle, and darnel.

Our fruits are declared in the fifth chapter of Galatians. We have neither faith, charity, hope, patience, chastity, nor any thing 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.  Let us therefore acknowledge ourselves before God to be miserable 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.”