Wakeful, Watchful Love

From “Secret Faults,” The Love and Wisdom of God (1883)

There is no crime laid against Dives, the rich man who lifted up his eyes without hope in the other world, except ease and neglect of the poor. Not great and notorious sinners but those who had neglected in this life to visit the sick and clothe the naked and feed the poor are chosen as the types of those who will be placed on the left hand and go into everlasting punishment.

It is the gentleness, the calmness, the moderation, the exact equity of these charges which make them so terrible. We may be free from great and overt crimes, free from the dominion of presumptuous sins, and yet fall under condemnation. It was the consciousness of this exact equity of God’s judgments which caused the double prayer of the Psalmist of which the text forms a part, ” Keep thy servant from presumptuous sins,” and “who can tell how oft he offendeth? O cleanse Thou me from my secret faults.”

There are some sins so secret that they almost cease to be capable of being called sins, because we do not any longer perceive them — those sins which our former sins have now prevented us from perceiving or feeling to be sinful; that heaviness of ear and blindness of eye which prevents the heart from understanding and being converted and healed; a dullness to spiritual truth which now perhaps from its very nature mercifully diminishes the guilt of each half-conscious act, but a dullness, a deafness, a blindness which need never have been and for which we are responsible. For these our now almost unconscious offences we need at least to be humble and to ask for pardon; for we have reason to fear that during the past year there may have been many heavenly voices whispering around us which we have not been quick enough to catch; many things our eyes might have seen that should have been to us messengers from a higher world to be interpreted as in dictations of our heavenly Father’s will, had our eyes been lighted with the fire of true wakeful, watchful love; intended to remind us whence we are and whither we are going. But we have missed them, and at the close of another year we fear that the ear has not heard, nor the eye seen, nor the heart understood as fully as it might, had we been what God intended we should be.

From these my secret sins, then, the sins which are unknown to me because of my former sins, do Thou, O God, who knowest what I might have been, before another year begins, cleanse me and set me free.

Edward King (1829-1910) was one of the great leaders of late nineteenth century Anglo-Catholicism, widely admired for his courage and personal holiness. He was Regius Professor of Moral Theology at Oxford and played a key role in the founding of St. Stephen’s House, Oxford. He became Bishop of Lincoln in 1889, serving until his death. “Secret Faults” was preached before the University of Oxford on the Sunday before Advent, 1883. King is commemorated on the calendar of the Church of England on March 8.


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