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afar off. But the great end and tendency of this duty, is to bring us acquainted with our own temper and character, that so our hearts may be suitably affected with a sense of our sins, and our resolutions strengthened for new obedience. Confession, in general, is the lively exercise of the soul, contemplating its own sinful nature, and reviewing the evil of its conduct; unfolding its defilements with humility and self-abasement before God, with a fixed determination of forsaking them, and in the hope of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. It is pleading guilty to all the accusations of a tender and faithful conscience, awakened by due reflection on the spirituality and extent of the divine law, compared with the extreme imperfection of the sinner's obedience. Genuine confession is always attended with shame and sorrow for sin, and never fails, through the aids of the Spirit, to issue in reformation of life. In one word, it is the natural expression of true evangelical repentance.
But let us descend to particulars. Confession unto God includes,
1. Distinct knowledge of sin, and a thorough acquaintance with our own temper and character.
. The very mention of this is sufficient to shew its importance. As there are some who have foolishly imagined that they are guilty of no sins, and have been accordingly led to look upon the duty here recommended as unnecessary, so, on the other hand, to make confession of sins with which we are altogether unacquainted, and which we are conscious of never having committed, is so far from being required in the Scriptures, that it betrays the deepest hypocrisy and dissimulation, and is really nothing less than a solemn mockery of the Almighty. There are others, again, whose knowledge of sin is derived more from common report, than from self conviction. They readily confess themselves to be sinners, but look upon guilt as a very trivial thing, and have such ideas of the excellence of their characters, that they fondly imagine their vices are more than compensated by the contrary virtues of which they think themselves possessed. But such false and superficial conceptions of
sin, and of the character, can never make any deep or abiding impressions. They may produce a cold and formal acknowledgment, but can have little effect upon the heart, and can never be supposed to bring forth that unreserved and impartial confession which the gospel requires.
In order to arrive at a thorough knowledge of our sins and of our real character, we ought, with the strictest attention, to review the whole of our past life and conversation. We must recollect, as far as possible, wherein we have failed and come short of our duty, and, still more, the many instances in which we have been guilty of wilful and actual violation of the laws of God. In this review the real penitent will not hurry over, what some may be ready to imagine small or venial sins; he considers no offence against his God a matter of indifference. With still greater care will he canvass his
and presumptuous sins, if such he has committed, and will endeavour to discover every circumstance of their aggravation,
That this self-inquiry may produce the fuller information, it becomes all of you, brethren, to trace your actions to
their proper sources, to attend to the motives by which they have in different instances been influenced, and, in all cases, to pay the utmost regard to the sentence which a faithful conscience pronounces upon them. In a word, you must spare no pains, in order to acquire a thorough knowledge of your own heart, the foul fountain from whence these polluted streams flow
Here, indeed, we are extremely ready to impose upon ourselves. The understanding proves a dupe to the passions. Corruption prevails against reason and conscience; all the faculties of the soul are swayed by its authority. Loath to part with our darling sins, we are willing to shelter them under the thinnest covering. We readily grasp at every excuse, and eagerly lay hold on the most trifling circumstances which can extenuate guilt.
In this difficult work we have the Scriptures of truth for our guide, and from them the greatest assistance is to be derived. The law of God, in the hand of the Spirit, is the only effectual and infallible mean of giving us the true know
ledge of our spiritual state ; " for by the “ law is the knowledge of sin.” It takes cognisance even of the thoughts of the heart, as well as of the outward actions. Accordingly, we find that reading of the law preceded all the solemn confessions recorded in the Bible. We can indeed never judge of our temper and conduct aright, until we compare them with this unerring rule.
And when men attempt to examine their actions by any other standard, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves amongst themselves, they are sure to be misled, or, as the apostle expresses it, “ they are not 66 wise.” 2 Cor. x. 12.
This was the case with the self conceited Pharisee, when he thanked God that he was not like other men. St Paul himself declares, that he “ was alive without the “ law once, but when the commandment “came,” and with light and power entered his heart, he immediately discovered his mistake; then, says he, “ sin revived " and I died.” And here, my friends, I
it upon you as a truth, pever to be forgotten, that the mere knowledge of the external letter of the law is not