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" As many as are of the works of the law, are under the
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Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent ; create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamerting our sins, and acknowledging our wretch-, edness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Collect for Asb-Wednesday.
THE Commination Service of the Church of 1 England, which is directed to be used on the first day of Lent, commonly called Ash-Wednesday, is a service of a peculiarly awful nature. It has been objected to as uncharitable. But this objection, as we shall presently see is founded in ignorance of its character, and misconstruction of its object.
The preface to this service informs us, that “in the primitive church there was a godly discipline, that at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted of notorious sins, were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord: and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend." The name of Ash-Wednesday, which distinguishes the first day of Lent, arose out of this ancient discipline. On the first day of Lent the penitents were required to present themselves, clothed with sackcloth before the Bishop, who with his clergy repeated the seven penitential psalms. Ashes were then sprinkled on the heads of the penitents, and they were ejected from the church, to which they were not re-admitted till the Thursday before Easter. The Churcb of England, not without reason, laments the want of discipline in her community. More was intended to be done at the Reformation of the English Church, than could in consequence of the interruptions which the Reformation met with, be carried into effect. There is little hope to be entertained, in the present state of society, that the primitive discipline of the church will be restored, whereby open sinners might be removed from among the faithful. And, indeed, such is the state of things now existing in the church, that excommunication, or exclusion from the Lord's Supper, which was the severest punishment among the primitive professors of Christianity, would be no punishment at all among the generality of those who bear the Christian name, since they voluntarily exclude themselves from this blessed ordinance, and have no desire to partake of it.
Under these circumstances the Church of England has introduced a service, which is called A - COMMINATION, or Denouncing of God's anger and judgment against sinners, with certain prayers to be used on the first day of Lent, and at other times, as the Ordinary shall direct.
This yearly service of our church is founded on an ordinance of the Jewish church, of which an account is given in the 27th chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, Indeed there were two branches of that ordinance, one to assist the memory, and the other to affect the heart. An altar was to be built of twelve stones, taken from the bed of the river Jordan, when the Israelites passed miraculously through it. The stones of the altar were to be covered with plaster, and thereon was to be written the holy law of God. This was to shew that all acceptable obedience must flow from gratitude to God for mercies received at his hands. The miraculous passage through Jordan was directed to be recorded by an altar for sacrifice, and that altar was to bear on its sides the rule of obedience. Thus obligation and duty were united in the same Divine Ordinance. The Israelites were reminded of the goodness of God, and that goodness was to lead them to repentance and obedience, while the altar, thus built,
taught them the necessity of atonement for sin. This branch of the ordinance our church has imitated by placing tables on which the teu commandments are written, over or near the Communion table, where the sacrifice of the death of Christ is commemorated by the Lord's Supper, and where Christians are continually reminded of the inestimable benefit of redemption by their Saviour's precious blood. But, in order that the heart might be the more deeply affected with a sense of sin, as aggravated by a remembrance of Divine mercy, it was further enjoined, that the sentences of God's cursing against impenitent sinners should be solemnly pronounced in the bearing of all Israel. There were two mountains on the further side of the river Jordan, called Ebal and Gerizim. On these the tribes of Israel were ordered to be drawn up, six tribes on the one mountain, and six on the other. The Levites, the ministers of religion, were tben directed to pronounce aloud the blessings and curses of the Divine Law, and the people were to answer to each of them, “AMEN.” The fulfilment of this command is recorded Josh. viii. 30, &c. Tbis solemn transaction must have been very impressive and affecting, and seems to have been productive of a lasting effect; for we read Josh. xxiv. 31. that “ Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which bad known all the works of the Lord that he had done for Israel.” On this ordinance in the history of Israel a few remarks may prove instructive and useful.
It should be remembered that there is a difference between the Mosaic dispensation and the Christian; though, under both, there hath been but one way of salvation to the fallen children of Adam. The difference is this, that the Gospel was more obscurely revealed under the former dispensation, than it now is under the latter. In the solemn transaction which