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have stained his soul during the week, he will be ready and anxious to bear his part in the general Confession. He will join in it with the spirit: for he will feel the evil of sin, and his need of pardon. He will join in it with the understanding also: for he will know how to apply the different parts of it to his own case. Thus spirit and lips and understanding will unite to offer up a holy and acceptable confession.
But what does the Confession consist of? It begins with a full and entire acknowledgement of our sins, that "we have erred and strayed from God's ways, like lost sheep." This reminds us of the passage in the prophet Isaiah, (liii. 6,) where it is said, that "all we, like sheep, have gone astray." Just as your sheep would go astray on the downs, if they were left long together without a shepherd or a dog to take care of them, and would be unable to find their way back to the fold, and the longer they were left to themselves, the further they would stray, so we too, if left to ourselves, are sure to stray; so we do stray day after day, and week after week: and what would become of us, unless the voice of the shepherd sounded in our ears on a Sunday, to call us back to the fold? As Isaiah goes on to say, "We have turned every one to his own way;" or, as it stands in our Prayerbook, "we have followed the devices and desires
of our own hearts."
We have followed them too
much: indeed we follow them too much in following them at all. This is the sin, on account of which the prophet Jeremiah rebukes the Israelites (xviii. 12): because they said, “We will walk after our own devices, and will every one do the imagination of his evil heart." This indeed is the sum and substance of our sinfulness, that we are ever following our own devices, our own desires, instead of the commands of God. Therefore are we for ever offending against God's holy laws. For the root of all evil is our choosing to have a will of our own and for this reason, whatever we do, so long as our natural will is not broken and slain,whatever we do, though we ourselves may think it innocent, or even praiseworthy,—is sinful in the sight of God. Thus we ever do what we ought not to do, and leave what we ought to do undone : nor is there any health in us. We cannot of ourselves cure this inborn disease: we cannot crush our will, and bring it into submission to the will of God. This acknowledgement of sin is followed by a supplication for pardon, a supplication grounded, not on any merit or claim of ours, but on God's free mercy, promised to those who confess their sins and are truly penitent, for the sake of Jesus Christ. The whole is then wound up by an entreaty, that, as we have no strength of ourselves
to help ourselves, God will vouchsafe for the sake of Jesus Christ to give us his Holy Spirit, so that we may be enabled to live soberly, righteously, and godly, to the glory of his holy name.
You see how much there is in this Confession, and therefore how great need there is that you should come to it with all your faculties alive and awake. Perhaps it may help you to understand it better, if I translate it into other words, and try to bring out its meaning a little more fully. The substance of it might be exprest pretty nearly in the following manner:
O God, our heavenly Father, we know thy great power, and dread it; for we have sinned in many ways against thee. But we also know thy great mercy; and in this we put our only hope, this is our only comfort. We are thy chosen people, thy flock, even as the Jews were of old but like them we have strayed from thy fold, and have forsaken the path of thy commandments. Thou hast given us thy word to guide us: but we have left it to walk after our own fancies, and to work out our own conceits. Some of us have
given up our souls to the cares of this world: some of us have been led aside and ensnared by the deceitfulness of riches: some of us have run headlong after shameful and forbidden pleasures. Our hearts sink within us at the thought of our dis
obedience; and our souls are faint with the sickness of sin. But thou, O Lord, art merciful: spare us, we beseech thee, although we deserve nothing but punishment. As thou didst promise by thy prophet Jeremiah (xxx. 17) that thou wouldst restore health to thy servant Jacob, and wouldst heal him of his wounds, so restore our souls to health, and heal them of their deadly wounds, and take us back into thy favour. Thou hast promised forgiveness through thy dear Son to all who turn to thee with true repentance. For his sake, and for thy word's sake, forgive us, who now desire to come back to thee. Increase and perfect our repentance; and grant us thy grace, that we may leave all our evil ways, and may keep henceforth in the right path, walking in holiness and piety before thee, in justice and charity toward our neighbour, and in temperance and purity within ourselves, that so we may please thee both in will and deed unto the end of our lives.
Thus much at least is contained in the Confession, when taken in its full meaning. After a confession of this sort, how consoling and comfortable ought the Absolution to be which the priest, as God's messenger, announces and proclaims to you! It is indeed the most delightful part of a minister's duty, to declare the glad
tidings of forgiveness to those who are sorrowing for sin, and, as the Scripture expresses it, to bind up the wounds of the broken-hearted. Our office at times is painful: for at times we have to find fault and reprove. But in the absolution we have a different and a joyful task. We are to declare and ınake known to all Christians, that their sins are loosed, and that God has pardoned them, provided they are truly penitent; that is, provided they forsake their sins, and keep God's holy commandments, and do that which is lawful and right. Else the pardon proclaimed by the minister is of no effect. The impenitent have no share in it. They continue unforgiven, and are still under God's wrath.
After the congregation and the minister have been reconciled to God by the Confession, and after the glad tidings of forgiveness have been proclaimed, the minister and the people join in offering up the Lord's prayer. Thus we are brought to the end of the first of the three parts, into which the Morning Service may be divided. Of that most perfect form of words, which in a few short petitions sums up whatever man can want, or ought to wish for, I shall not speak at present. I must keep it for a course of sermons by itself.