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ON THE LITURGY.---THE CONFESSION.
1 John i. 8, 9. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The spirit of this plain and explicit precept is one which pervades the whole of scripture, and is to be clearly traced, as well in the injunctions of the law, as in the more gracious encouragements of the gospel. To come before God with presumptuous confidence, and boldly, without some preliminary acknowledgment of our unworthiness, or some earnest petition for mercy, to demand his blessing, -as though we had really done nothing to forfeit his favour, and had no previous pardon to ask, were indeed to come before him with a falsehood on our lips, and to impose on ourselves a deception of the most fearful and perilous kind. Not even the costly ceremonies of the Mosaic ritual were able, without some such humiliation, to propitiate the wrath of heaven: nor could the most ample trespassoffering find any favour or acceptance in the sight of God, as we are expressly told amongst the details of the Levitical law, without a previous confession of the sins which required His pardon.* And it is hardly necessary to say how especially urgent is the gospel —the more complete developement, as it was, in this as in other particulars, of the covenant of grace on the necessity and importance of that full perception and acknowledgment of our sins, and that utter renunciation of all merits of our own, which are required by the injunction in the text. Not to the proud, or the self-righteous, or the unrepentant was any portion of its merciful promises addressed. It was to the conscious offender, the burthened and the weary sinner, the lost sheep of the house of Israel, that Christ published his tidings of joy : and as “they that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick,” so He "came not to call the righteous,” (much less the self-righteous,)“ but sinners to repentance.
The examples, moreover, of pious and godly men, recorded in holy writ, are calculated to force deeply on our conviction the important truth that prayer without confession is but an unavailing, if not absolutely an unmeaning service. Those who, to our undiscerning eyes, would seem to have had the least occasion for supplicating the pardon of heaven, appear to have ever been the most acutely touched with the sense of their manifold infirmities. It is a startling thing, and one that must seem a paradox and a mystery to the careless professor, who has not taken the pains to probe the secrets of his own heart, and who fondly fancies that all is right within, to read of Daniel,--on the brightness of whose untarnished character history has fixed no spot, --praying unto God, and saying, “O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; we have sinned and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts, and from thy judgments ;"_“O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces.”+ Or to observe the pious * Matthew ix. 13.
+ Daniel ix. 4, 5, 7..
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, “Ob! 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 grown 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.”+ 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 Christ-are 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.
I. 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. l.