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in God's way of mercy. For what is it that you have to say to him in such a case ?. It is even horrible to think of : " Lord, such and such sins trouble me, and I freely confess them to be sins; but there is one or more which I cannot part with, at least not now, though, perhaps, I may some time or other." Do not deceive yourselves'; for whilst you are in this mind, this is all your confession amounts to; and though I have put it to you in such a manner as may well make you astonished, yet God knows it to be the very language of the heart. Forgiveness from the Lord is well worth obtaining at any rate, and it is a grievous thing to think of living and dying without it; but he is at a word with us, and has given us the text as our guide to the mercy he has to bestow on us : “ I will acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine unrighteousness have I not hid; I said, I will confess my sins unto the Lord, and so thou forgavest the wickedness of my sin.” You have often heard and repeated these words in the course of the Sunday's service, without thought or serious application of them to your own state. I beseech you, ask yourselves, and learn from me the meaning of them now. Doubtless, you would have your sins forgiven, and
. , live all your days in that comfort. Then, here is your rule; you must acknowledge them, you must hide none of them, you must confess them all to the Lord. It is a vain thing to think of being accepted of him while you spare one. One sin is sin, and the wages of all sin is death. What better then would you be, supposing that
all others were confessed, if there is one still standing out against you to condemn you? Though you are not an adulterer, a fornicator, or a profane swearer, yet if you are a drunkard, or an evil-speaker, or a sabbath-breaker, or so bent upon the gain of this world as to keep your heart from God, you are an unrighteous person, and the sentence upon all such singly is, “ They shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” The enemy of your souls, the devil himself, will suffer you, or, if it be possible, even help you to confess all your sips but one, if he could be sure you would keep that one. And, by confession of sin, you will understand confession with a purpose to forsake it; and that not only, or not chiefly, because you would be hurt by it in your body, estate, worldly interest, or reputation ; but with a lively sense upon your minds that it is sin against God, and that his will is to be your law in all things. So think, and so do, and then as you are without guile before God, naked and open to yourselves as you are to him, you may assure yourselves that you are the blessed of the Lord, and that your sins are forgiven. If you value this blessedness, and desire above all things to obtain it, you will be glad to hear,
II. What helps and means you are to make use of for this purpose, namely, that the confession of your sins may be full, sincere, and hearty.
1. To this end, set before you the law of God in the ten commandments, not once or twice in your lives, but often. You might do it daily, if you were so disposed, and the oftener the better. The point already insisted on was, that confession must be made of all sins as distinctly and particularly as possible, without keeping back, or sparing any. None of them must be hidden from God. He knows them without our speaking, and we cannot hide them from him, if we would ; but he wants to have us know them, and by telling him, to tell ourselves of them. And the way to do this is to make conscience of studying his commandments, in order to be well skilled in them, whatever else we are ignorant of. He says, Thou shalt do this, thou shalt not do that: alas! what will become of US if we live at random, and care for none of these things ? Or how shall we put ourselves in the way of God's forgiveness, if we have no will to know what he requires of us, and wherein we have offended? 1 say, then, if you would confess your sins to God in truth and sincerity, and have a sure guide in this necessary work, make it your business to understand and be well grounded in the will and law of God, as set before you in the commandments. Think them over one by one, from time to time, and lay yourselves constantly to that rule, with this knowledge always at hand, that it is at the hazard of your souls if you do diminish any thing from them.
The law consists of two parts, one relating to God, the other to our neighbour, and both are equally sacred. Now, if you could justify yourselves in respect of your behaviour to men, yet can you say that you are as clear in respect of your duty to God? That you love him and his worship, that you honour his holy name, and delight in his sabbaths ? Or do you shrink up all your religion into the decency of an outward appearance, and centre all your hopes in the regularity of your moral or prudential conduct, to the neglect of what both reason and revelation teach you to regard in the first place, and, perhaps, with an utter contempt of devotion to God? And, on the other hand, supposing that you are a devout worshipper of God, and strict in the performance of all religious duties (which you know you are not), are you equally exact with regard to men, so as to bear malice or ill-will to none on any account whatsoever, never to injure, defraud, or speak evil of any man, or withhold any good from him that is in your power, and want makes his due ?
This is the method you must take, if you would be in earnest with God and your souls; and, whenever you do, you will find work enough for confession, and cannot be far to seek for many sins which now are never thought of. But this is not all; the law of God reacheth to the heart, and if you do not go with it into that depth, and keep a watchful eye upon what passes there, you do nothing. Christ tells you of murder and adultery, without the outward acts of those sins; and if there be anger, or uncleanness, or any evil motions and desires abiding in the heart, his law strikes at them as well as outward sin; and if we do not search and condemn ourselves for all sin, both secret and open, we shall make but lame work of our confession. What is the reason that many are so blind to themselves, think so little of the necessity of forgiveness, and entertain such low and unworthy notions of the greatness of our redemption by Christ, but because they are wilfully ignorant of the extent and purity of the law in every part of it, either making no account of their duty to God, and sins against the first table, which certainly are not less than others, or tracing none up to the heart, where God looks for them, and, according to the state of it, judges every man's condition?
2. If you would have the comfort of knowing that you are sincere with God and your souls in your repentance and confession of sin, go over the several stages or parts of your lives, and consider what you have donė, and how you have behaved in each of them, as child or parent, master or servant, husband or wife, together with the sins you are most liable to from your constitution or particular calling; and do this likewise with the commandments in your hand, and with a strict regard to that rule. Remember, the point is whether your sins shall be covered or not; imputed or not imputed; all forgiven, or all standing out in full force against you, at the hour of death, and the day of judgment; and no helps for coming at the knowledge of them must be slighted. If there is no forgiveness of sins, but by a full and free confession of them, and if you truly desire it, you will search for them every where, and in every part of your lives, as carefully as you would for a thief, who you knew was lurking in your house to rob and murder you.
3. Call to mind those awakening awful words which stand at the head of the ten commandments, and have them deeply imprinted in your hearts --“ I am the Lord thy God.” Whose authority do you despise, whose law do you break, whose will do you rebel against, when you ,
Ꭹ venture upon the commission of sin? The will and law of that God, whose creature and servant you are, who made you for obedience, and strictly requires it at your hands, who has revealed himself to you as a God terrible in judgment, and forewarned you that contempt of him and his law will expose you to his heavy displeasure, and bring inconceivable and everlasting misery on your soul and body. Let not this part of Scripture be always a dead letter to yoù ; but if you would know the curse and exceeding great evil of sin, and what cause you have to confess and lament your own before God, ask yourselves, what was it that turned Adam out of paradise, and brought death into the world? What was it that drowned the earth with its inhabitants ? What was it that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? What was it that crucified the Lord of glory? And, again, when you hear the words, “ I am the Lord thy God," think who it is that made and preserves you, and surrounds you with his benefits, whose bread you eat, whose sun shines upon you, whose rain waters your fields, whose providence continually watches over you, whose love follows you from the cradle to the grave, whose arms and bosom you lie in, at whose will you draw every breath, who gave his only begotten Son to save you from the curse and ruin of your sin, and hath provided an eternity of happiness for you ; and this will show you the meaning of David's expression, the wickedness of my sin,'in so strong a light, and every