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goodness of God extended to us for the sake of Christ, yet we are told that that mercy cannot be obtained but by humility, contrition, penitence, and entire resignation to his will.
II. But though these duties of self-abasement are at all times obligatory, the concluding part of the form of exhortation declares that they áre peculiarly incumbent on us at our occasional meetings in the house of God.
And although we ought at all times humbly to acknowledge our sins before God, yet ought we most chiefly so to do when we assemble and meet together, to render thanks for the great benefits we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary as well for the body as the soul.” And here, again, we have a doctrine in complete opposition to the proud imaginings of the natural heart of man. One might antecedently have supposed that some, at least, of these duties of thanksgiving and praise, and bearing the word, and supplication- the four fold objects of our assemblies in the house of God could have been performed without such a preceding exercise of humiliation; but scripture authority forbids the thought. Not unto miserable sinners as we are, does the Psalmist's invitation
apply—“ Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous, for praise is comely for the upright.”* Not unto us, if left alone with our natural infirmities, can be ascribed even the ability to pray aright, when we are assured and “ know that God heareth not sinners.”+ Not for us is it to indulge the momentary thought of supplicating, in our own names, the mercies of heaven, who have heard and meditated on those fearful and humiliating words,“ What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous ?. Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints ; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight. How much more abominable and filthy is man!” Nay, the very visions that are opened to us of the high transactions of heaven, must help further to remind us of our own unspeakable and entire unworthiness in the sight of God, when we find that the beings who are about the throne, and admitted to the immediate presence of Deity, fall down on their faces before him, in the profoundness of humiliation and self-abasement, as though even they were not meet to gaze on the inconceivable brightness of the glory of God.Ş
We cannot, therefore, presume to appear, in any wise, before him, without first renouncing * Psalm xxxii. 1. † John ix. 31. # Job xv. 14.
§ Rev. vii. 11.
every claim to merit of our own, and declaring that, in all we ask for, and all we do, our sole dependence is on the merits of Christ, and the infinite mercy of God. Nor can any one office of public worship be performed aright until such an acknowledgement has been duly made. Thanksgiving is indeed abundantly owing for the benefits we have received at his hands; but how feeble must be that expression of gratitude, how unworthy that offering of thanks, which comes from a heart well satisfied with its own corruptions, and which, therefore, appreciates not the infinity of God's mercy, and seeks not, with the right and overwhelming sense of its deficiency, to be cleansed in the atoning blood of Christ! Without confession too, it is but mockery to talk of praise. Praise - the outpouring of a joyous and a happy spirit-gushes not forth from that fountain which is embittered still with the poison of unrepented sin ; nor will it spring up from that heavy and burthened heart which is bowed down with the dark secrets of transgressions unconfessed. The word of God too-- how worse than vanity it is to read it, if we read not to obey, if we come to listen with unhumbled hearts, or without the self-abasing consciousness of its infinite value to our sinful and ruined souls ! And as for prayers--by what
device of human skill shall we send them up to the throne of grace, with what pinions of the dove shall we wing their flight to the seat of mercy, if we trust in our own efforts to convey them there, or if we disclaim not our dependence on aught but Christ—" by whom alone we have access, by one Spirit, unto the Father"to claim attention to them on His own behalf, to present them by His mediation, to second them by His intercession, and to introduce us, as it were, under the protection of His mighty arm, into the presence chamber of the King of kings?
Such, then, is the form, and such the doctrines therein contained, by which our church has provided for the partial performance of the precept contained in the text. That this preliminary exhortation is purely scriptural, that it is also reasonable, and highly conducive to devotion, I have endeavoured here briefly to shew, and I trust will require no further proof. It only remains for me to entreat you to reflect seriously on its deep force of meaning, and to attend carefully to its general spirit, when it is read in the service of our church. Suffer not-though its constant repetition may have palled on the ears of the unthinking, suffer not, in future, that the nature and purport of its solemn call should press lightly on the attention, or pass unheeded by. Consider, I pray you,
with what kind of spirit it requires us to come into the presence of God. Observe how it demands of us the renunciation of every sentiment of self-righteousness and of self-dependence, of worldly-mindedness and of pride. How it distinctly assures us that, without penitence and deep humility, without the acknowledgment of our many sins, without the teachableness and simplicity of a child, it is impossible to serve God as we ought. And recollect, finally, that, while it declares to us the temper of mind with which we should draw near unto our heavenly Father, it is impossible, unless we abide strictly by those directions, to carry on the remaining solemnity as we ought; nor, unless we listen carefully to the reasons for confession, can we duly follow the minister to that succeeding office, when he goes on to say, as an inference from these preliminary arguments, Wherefore, I pray and beseech you, as many as are here present, to accompany me with a pure heart and humble voice unto the throne of the heavenly grace.”