Ambrose: The Messy Work of the Lord Jesus

20 12 2011

Of course I have some reservations about this excerpt from Concerning Repentance (Book II, ch7), however, if you are able to lay aside some of the difficulties and hone in on the principles Ambrose is here advocating, what then do you come away with?  You come away with a picture of Jesus who goes into places of death, stink and decay.  He isn’t disgusted by them, but occupies them in order to transform the dead inhabitants into living people.  Of course we’re here talking about sin.  Too many people are afraid to let Jesus into the most decayed places of their lives because they are ashamed of those places.  So those places stay secret.  As long as they stay secret, they remain in decay and death.  However, if we invite Jesus into these places, he calls to the dead sinner “Come out!” and person walks out under the power of Jesus from the place of death.  (at the end of this excerpt I’ve written a little paragraph on how to work this out practically.  Check it out below!)

53. Why do you fear to confess your sins to our good Lord? Set them forth, He says, that you may be justified. The rewards of justification are set before him who is still guilty of sin, for he is justified who voluntarily confesses his own sin; and lastly, the just man is his own accuser in the beginning of his speaking. Proverbs 18:17 The Lord knows all things, but He waits for your words, not that He may punish, but that He may pardon. It is not His will that the devil should triumph over you and accuse you when you conceal your sins. Be beforehand with your accuser: if you accuse yourself, you will fear no accuser; if you report yourself, though you were dead you shall live.

54. Christ will come to your grave, and if He finds there weeping for you Martha the woman of good service, and Mary who carefully heard the Word of God, like holy Church which has chosen the best part, He will be moved with compassion, when at your death He shall see the tears of many and will say: Where have ye laid him? John 11:34 that is to say, in what condition of guilt is he? in which rank of penitents? I would see him for whom you weep, that he himself may move Me with his tears. I will see if he is already dead to that sin for which forgiveness is entreated.

55. The people will say to Him, Come and see. John 11:34 What is the meaning of Come? It means, Let forgiveness of sins come, let the life of the departed come, the resurrection of the dead, let Your kingdom come to this sinner also.

56. He will come and will command that the stone be taken away which his fall has laid on the shoulders of the sinner. He could have removed the stone by a word of command, for even inanimate nature is wont to obey the bidding of Christ. He could by the silent power of His working have removed the stone of the sepulchre, at Whose Passion the stones being suddenly removed many sepulchres of the dead were opened, but He bade men remove the stone, in very truth indeed, that the unbelieving might believe what they saw, and see the dead rising again, but in a type that He might give us the power of lightening the burden of sins, the heavy pressure as it were upon the guilty. Ours it is to remove the burdens, His to raise again, His to bring forth from the tombs those set free from their bands.

57. So the Lord Jesus, seeing the heavy burden of the sinner, weeps, for the Church alone He suffers not to weep. He has compassion with His beloved, and says to him that is dead, Come forth, John 11:43 that is, You who lies in darkness of conscience, and in the squalor of your sins, as in the prison-house of the guilty, come forth, declare your sins that you may be justified. For with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:10

58. If you have confessed at the call of Christ the bars will be broken, and every chain loosed, even the stench of the bodily corruption be grievous. For he had been dead four days and his flesh stank in the tomb; but He Whose flesh saw no corruption was three days in the sepulchre, for He knew no evils of the flesh, which consists of the substances of the four elements. However great, then, the stench of the dead body may be, it is all done away so soon as the sacred ointment has shed its odour; and the dead rises again, and the command is given to loose his hands who till now was in sin; the covering is taken from his face which veiled the truth of the grace which he had received. But since he has received forgiveness, the command is given to uncover his face, to lay bare his features. For he whose sin is forgiven has nothing whereof to be ashamed.

So how is this done?  For Ambrose (I think this is Biblical (1 John 1, James 5), this is not a private spiritual exchange between the sinner and Jesus.  Rather, this action of confession is done in the church.  In other words, you confess your sins in the church, and the church brings Jesus to the tomb and shows him the decaying soul inside.  The importance of confessing sins with someone else is that we need to be reconciled to both Christ and the church.  We’re not individuals, but part of a Body.  Now, I would want to qualify what I mean by confessing “to the church”.  By this I don’t mean you need to go find a priest for confession.  Nor do I mean that publically proclaiming a general confession to the church is sufficient.  Rather, find someone you trust.  Confess specific sins (even the most shameful!) and have your “confessor” ask Jesus to come into this dead place on your behalf and call you out of it.  A final note.  This is not a practice that leads to justification.  Rather, it is a process that aids sanctification.  Confession does not bring about salvation, rather it aids in your spiritual and moral maturity.