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Ezra, rending his garment at the evening sacrifice, and falling on his knees, and spreading out his hands unto the Lord his God, and saying, “Oh! my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass
is up unto the heavens.”*
Or again, to read the words of the Psalmist, well versed as he was in the ways of piety,—“When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring:”—but "I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord : and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.”t But yet examples such as these,-and it is unnecessary to observe how numerous they are, and how perpetually reiterated throughout the scriptures, especially in the history of the followers of Christmare an irresistible evidence, which we must not overlook, of the absolute necessity of some preliminary confession to those who are about to enter on the general solemnities of public worship. And he must be careless indeed of the character in which he stands before God, who presumes -in defiance, as it thus appears, of all precept and all precedent- to supplicate the mercy of his Maker without acknowledging how miserably he * Ezra ix. 5,6. † Psalm xxxii. 8, 5. See also Neh. i. 6, ix. 2.
needs it, and confessing the enormity of those transgressions which have bowed him to the dust, and have interfered, like a dark and terrible cloud,* to hide the glory of heaven from his view.
Now, in further illustrating the doctrine of the text, it is my design on the present occasion, by the grace of God, to inquire how far the liturgy of our church has provided for our con-' formity to this universal and unanswerable direction of holy scripture. And as in the last discourse an attempt was made to explain the spirit and purport of the form called “The Exhortation," so let us now proceed, in a similar manner, to examine the succeeding part of the service, entitled “ The Confession.” And in doing so, we will consider the several clauses of that formulary in the order in which they occur.
1. The opening clause is a general acknowledgment of the manner and degree in which we have offended God. The assembled congregation have listened to the previous summons which called on them for confession, and the first words in which they persume to address their Maker are those of penitence and sorrow. They call him “ Father”-the condescending Parent who loves his children with more than an earthly love, and is ever ready to rescue them from evil.
* Isaiah lix. 1.
They call him
Almighty”-able to save ; and “Merciful"--willing to deliver. They tell him that, “ like lost sheep, they have erred and strayed from the ways
which he had prescribed. They declare that they have given way to their natural corruption by “ following too much the devices and desires of their own hearts." They acknowledge that they have, in general, broken and “offended against his holy and eternal laws." They confess that they have, in particular, committed that violation by sins of omission, in “ leaving undone those things which they ought to have done;” and by sins of commission, in doing those things which they ought not to have done.” And they declare, as a general consequence of such repeated iniquity, that there is unsoundness in all their hearts, that a spiritual disorder has grown over and oppressed their souls, and that “there is no health in them.” Like the Jews, in that great and magnificent solemnity which they held after the re-building of their temple, (and which is described in the ninth chapter of Nehemiah,) as we approach unto the presence of our God to offer upto Him the sacrifice of our common worship and our common praise, while we perceive a countless multitude of mercies on His part for which our gratitude is greatly due, and which the history
of former times unfolds to our sight, we find nothing in the retrospect of our past lives but the records of continued sin. “Thou,” said they, at the conclusion of a long list of blessings, " thou camest down upon Mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven,” and “ madest known unto them thy holy sabbath,” and “gavest them bread from heaven for their hunger, and broughest forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst.” “ But,” they proceeded, at the beginning of a longer catalogue of their transgressions" but our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments. And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them.”*
And we too can literally say, in reviewing the various relations, past and present, in which we have stood, and still stand, with regard to God, that we have nothing in His conduct to trace but mercy, nothing in ours but ingratitude. Heindeed hath promised, by the gospel of his son, to work for us a far greater miracle than he did for Israel - the eliciting a fountain of pure devotion from the stony rock of man's hardened heart—the sending down the mannah of his grace upon the barren wilderness of his perverted soul. He hath promised to give
* Neh. ix. 13, 14, &c.
us every blessing that a reasonable creature can desire, to arm us against present trial, to lead us to future joy, to satisfy all the wants of an immortal soul, to invest it with a glory like his own; but, against grace, against mercy, against a thousand opportunities of repentance, we have sinned and offended still. We were naturally, indeed, as sheep without any keeper, scattered abroad, and faint and desolate;* nay, we had before, like them, gone astray; and such had still been inevitably our lot, but for that unmerited mercy which “ laid on Christ the iniquities of us all,” and raised up for us a shepherd willing and able to deliver. † But even that good shepherd--so aggravated is the offence, so dreadful the infatuation of those who sin against the gospel promises-even that “good shepherd,” though he had laid down his life for the sheep, we have now forsaken. We have fled from him, like his apostate disciples, in the humiliation of the cross. We have “strayed from his ways” even when the bitterness of that death was past-when he has spoken most comfortably of mercy and deliverance, and when he has offered to raise us with himself from the bondage of the flesh and the captivity of the grave, and to lead us to a glory like his own. * Matt. ix. 30; Mark vi. 34. † Isaiah liii. 6; 1 Peter ii. 25.