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Service and the sermon. Each of them has a different subject, a different purport: each has, so to say, a different keynote. The keynote of the first part is repentance: the keynote of the second part is praise: the keynote of the third part is prayer.
What has just been said of the Morning Service, you will easily see, applies to the Evening Service also; which differs from the Morning Service in little else than in having no Litany. Thus you may be enabled to take a sort of bird's-eye view of the whole; and having seen what are the chief limbs or members which make up the body of our Common Prayer, you will be better able to perceive how its various parts hang together, and what is the use and purpose of each, accord
Thus too will you find
ing to the place it fills. less difficulty in following me while I go through them in detail.
The service opens, you know, with certain sentences of Scripture, one or more of which the minister is to read with a loud voice, that everybody hear them. These sentences all teach the same truth,—that it is our duty to confess our sins with our lips, to grieve over them and renounce them with our hearts, and to forsake them in our lives; and they assure us that, if a man do this, God will graciously forgive him, and take him back
into favour. This is the great, the most comfortable truth, which these sentences agree in declaring and because they all agree in declaring the same truth, it is needless for the minister to read more than one or two of them. Did they teach different truths, it might be proper to read them all. But as it is, if a man is only ready to take God at his word, one clear assurance of forgiveness will be enough to set his doubts at rest. Else, if he is not satisfied with the clearness and fulness of the assurance, as he hears it read by the minister, if he wants more than one assurance to quiet his fears in a matter of such great moment, he has all the eleven sentences in his Prayerbook, with a direction to the chapter each comes from: so he has only to take down his Bible, when he gets home, and to turn to the passages. Thus, by comparing scripture with scripture, he may convince himself, that God is indeed gracious and merciful, and ready to forgive and receive the humble and contrite sinner.
You will have no trouble in understanding why this assurance is placed at the very opening of the service. The chief purpose of our coming to church is, or at least ought to be, to pray to God. But to pray to God, unless we believed and knew that God would hear our prayers, would be mere idleness. Therefore are we told that he will hear
us, yea that, sinners as we are, he will hear us, and that, if we will confess and repent of our sins, he will pardon us and take us into favour. This is the great thing we need to know: knowing this we may have boldness to offer up our prayers before the throne of grace.
But we will look at these passages a little closer, that you may understand how full the assurance is which they give us, how plain, how satisfactory, how well fitted for all sorts and conditions of men. The first of them is taken from the 18th chapter of the prophet Ezekiel: "When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive." Now the natural question for a man to ask, when he hears this sentence read for the first time, is, "Who says this? how does the prophet know this? what authority has he to make such a promise? may I rely upon the truth of it?" I answer, You may: you may rely upon it most safely for the speaker is God himself. Look at the first verse of the chapter. It begins thus : "The word of the Lord came to me again, saying." For this promise then of eternal life to the wicked who turn away from their wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, we have God's own word: and who can doubt that word? who can think that, though this may have been so for
merly, it is not so now? That word, we know, standeth fast for ever.
The same holds of the gracious invitation in the verse from the prophet Joel. That too, if we turn to the passage, we shall find, is ushered in by a declaration that it comes from God himself. "The day of the Lord (says the prophet) is great and very terrible; and who can abide it? Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye to me with all your hearts; and rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil." Here again, you see, we have God's own word, warning us to flee from the wrath to come, and assuring us that, if we do so with hearty sorrow, we shall find that he is gracious and merciful, and full of kindness, and that he will turn away from his anger, and will only visit us with his love.
Perhaps however a man may say : all be very true: God may be ready to shew mercy to others but I am too great a sinner: God cannot forgive me: my offenses are so very bad, I am ashamed to confess them before him." What says the Bible to such a man? Are you polluted with worse sins than David's, when he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and had sent her husband to be slain by the sword of the chil
dren of Ammon? Are your sins worse than adultery and treacherous murder? Yet David turned to God; David confessed his sins; David had courage to pray to God; so should you. This is the reason why the second, third, and fourth of these opening sentences are all taken from the fiftyfirst Psalm; which was written in the bitterness of David's sorrow, after the prophet Nathan had brought him to a sense of his heinous guilt.
On the other hand, should any one say, "I have nothing to confess or repent of; I never did anybody any harm; I come to church regularly every Sunday; I am quite as good as my neighbours,”should any one talk in this foolish way,-and this is much the likelier error of the two, inasmuch as a hundred men get entangled in the snares of presumption and selfsufficiency, for one who falls into the pit of despair,-for such presumptuous talkers there is an answer ready in the sentence from the book of Daniel, which stands next to the one from the prophet Joel: "To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, although we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed his voice, to walk in his law which he set before us." These words form part of the prayer which Daniel offered up, when, to use his own words, he was confessing his sin, and the sin of his people. He then who is purer, who is holier, who is juster, who is more