Holy Self-Despair

 The historic Christian Creed says, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”  What does that mean?  Obviously there is a whole chorus of biblical teaching on this topic.  In the following paragraphs Herman Witsius (d. 1708) gives us one helpful angle on the meaning of this phrase in the Creed.

“We confess that we are chargeable not merely with one sin, but with many and highly aggravated sins (1 John 1:9, James 3:2).  We confess also, that on account of our transgressions, God could justly cast us into the prison of hell, from where we would not be permitted to escape until we had paid the uttermost farthing (Matt. 28:34).  We acknowledge the righteousness of all those judgments which God inflicts upon us, to manifest his wrath and his hatred of sin (Ps. 51:4, Rom. 3:19).”

“We confess, in summary, that our salvation must not be sought in any merits or in any satisfaction of our own; but instead in the free remission of our debts – debts which we ourselves are equally unable to deny and to unable to clear (Rom. 4:6, 7).”

“Attentive consideration and sincere confession of these truths are highly useful and necessary to produce in us that humility and that holy self-despair.  For without humility and holy self-despair we can neither participate of the Divine favor, nor flee to Christ as our refuge, nor build a firm and solid hope on his grace.”

“Let this therefore be the prayer of the soul trembling before God at the sight of its offences: ‘Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you’ (Ps. 143:2).”  [This is repeated in the New Testament: ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’ (Lk. 18:13).]

These slightly edited paragraphs can be found on pages 395-396 of Herman Witsius’ Sacred Dissertations on the Apostle’s Creed.

rev. shane lems

1 thought on “Holy Self-Despair”

  1. Amen!

    Q #81. Who are to come to the table of the Lord?

    A. Those who are displeased (missfallen) with themselves for their sins, yet trust that these are forgiven them

    Witsius is so good…


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