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ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF SIN, THE ONLY COMFORTABLE WAY.
PSALM li. 3.
"I acknowledge my faults, and my sin is ever before me."
Ir may seem, and, I doubt not, to most persons it has seemed before now, as if the continual recollection of one's sins, according to this example of David, and the plain advice of Holy Scripture, must make life very melancholy. And upon this, people easily persuade themselves that it could not be the intention of our good and merciful God, who giveth us all things richly to enjoy, that we should pass our time here in penitential sorrow. Therefore they go on without scruple, determined to "let nothing daunt them," to take all their own sins, and all the threatenings of ALMIGHTY GOD, easily and coolly; to amuse themselves while they live here, as if they were quite sure that all will turn out well for them in the end.
This plan, however, seldom or never answers, even with regard to the false peace of this present evil world. If nothing else happens, their bodies decay, and that will not let their minds be easy. Cares, more or fewer, will come on: they do not go the right way to obtain GOD'S HOLY SPIRIT to assist in bearing them : and so they go on, grumbling and fretting, without any real and abiding comfort, and sink at last into their graves without any solid Christian Hope.
How much happier those who will be persuaded, before it is too late, to take the advice of God and His Church, and daily judge themselves for their past sins, that they may not be judged of the LORD. Such persons, I say, take the only method to insure themselves anything like true peace of conscience. It is true, to receive this saying at first requires some little Faith. When we are told, that vexing ourselves on purpose for our transgressions is the way to be more peaceful and easy in mind, this sounds at first like a hard saying. But let a man have as much faith and trust in the great PHYSICIAN of our souls, as we all of course have in those whom we consult for our bodily health, and the matter will be plain enough. Men do not scruple putting their bodies to some present pain and disorder, because they have faith in their advisers, that such application will make them easier by-and-by. Why will they not take God's word, as to the effect of a painful repentance in giving their souls ease and quiet? Let them only make the trial, steadily persisting for some good while in the practice of watching and rebuking themselves. They will find that GOD'S HOLY SPIRIT has an infinite number of ways of His own, ways which they never dreamed of, for quieting the truly contrite spirit, and teaching a kind of sober rejoicing in the LORD, even at the same time that men are humbled by the attentive remembrance of their own transgressions.
For when we bid a man, after David's example, to have his sins ever before him, it is not that we mean him to dwell on his sins alone, as sometimes men do when their minds and bodies are distempered, and they wholly swallowed up with a bitter feeling of remorse. That was not David's repentance: that is not Christian repentance. For when a man's heart, by God's grace, is truly touched with a sense of his sins, as committed against his divine and merciful SAVIOUR, he naturally seeks that SAVIOUR in prayer, he looks to His gracious words in the Gospel, he anxiously inquires of His Church whether any way remains, and what is the best way he can take for showing a better and more thankful mind. He looks in the Scripture as earnestly as a repenting child would look into a letter or message from his offended father: and what is the message which he finds there? "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I
will give you rest." 'Him that cometh to me I will in no wise
cast out." He looks in the Scripture, and what sort of examples does he find? Not perfect, spotless, angelical beings, but sinners, frail men like himself, who, by the help of GoD's HOLY SPIRIT, laid hold of His gracious pardon "offered to them by His SON, recovered His favour, and saved their souls. To be sure, the remembrance of our past offences is of itself sad and painful enough but that is not the question: we cannot avoid that; : for come it will, sooner or later: but the question is, Which would you rather, remember them when it is too late to cure them, or remember them while you have the Holy Scripture in your hands, the Church and the Sacraments within your reach, the noble examples of the Saints and Penitents of old still possible to be followed by you? It is painful enough in any case to be obliged to acknowledge that one has any grievous bodily distemper but the fact being so, which would you prefer—to know it, and think of it in good time, or to wait till it was become quite incurable? Depend upon it, he who reads his Bible humbly and continually, because he has his sins ever before him, will find his Christian care and fear soon rewarded, even in the way of present peace and consolation. He will be often withdrawn from himself to contemplate the glorious and engaging patterns which God's Book will show him among God's people. It will be in some measure as if in the midst of his remorse he had had a visit from Abraham, or David, or St. Paul, or even from our blessed LORD Himself. He will feel by degrees as all men, by GOD'S grace, would feel in such holy society; not less sorry and ashamed of his sins, but more and more enabled to mix with his shame and sorrow steady resolutions of avoiding the same for the future, and assured hope, through God's assistance, of becoming really and practically better.
Above all, you must think much and often of your sins, if you would have true and solid comfort in thinking of the Cross of CHRIST. Those who do not know something of the misery to which they would have been left, if their justly offended God had passed them over; how can they ever be duly thankful for His infinite condescension and mercy in dying for them? Is not this the very reason why the great body of mankind care so very little for the Cross, namely, that they never seriously consider what
would have been their own lot without it? They do not in earnest acknowledge their faults; their sin is never before them, such as it is really: they only acknowledge in general that they are sinners, but hoping they are no worse than other people, they do not appear to themselves to need any particular redemption or relief. The consequence is, the glad tidings of the Gospel fall on their ears like a dead letter. They have been told indeed that CHRIST died for them, and that the HOLY SPIRIT of GOD came down to prepare them for eternal life. But it seems to them a mere matter of course: they feel no particular need either of pardon or sanctification. If they would learn to be a little more serious: if they would open their eyes, and really look at their own ways compared with God's Word: if they would keep but one day's fair account of the hundreds and thousands of sins and negligences by which they are daily offending their GoD if they would but try to see how nearly they are treading on the brink of endless destruction: they could not surely be so indifferent to the doings and sufferings of the Son of GOD. But let them once understand their danger, let them be once duly humbled, and then, when they turn to the Cross, they will begin really to taste and see how gracious the LORD is. Let them know how frail and weak they are, and they will a little comprehend how inestimable the blessing of having an ALMIGHTY FRIEND near them, even the most HOLY SPIRIT of GOD, to support them in all dangers, and strengthen them in all temptations. We see in the Communion Service, that in the Church's judgment no one is fit to partake of the signs of the LORD'S Body, except he can say from his very heart, that "the remembrance of his sins is grievous unto him, and the burthen of them intolerable." The greatest blessing in this world, the worthy participation of the LORD's Supper, is only to be had on that very condition, which inconsiderate persons think would be depriving life of all enjoyment—the remembrance and deep feeling of the woe and burthen of our sins.
Then let it be considered, that by such grave thoughts of ourselves, we keep up a continual recollection of God's Presence; which, to be sure, to a helpless being, wanting support every moment, must be the greatest of all consolations. What I mean is this: take two persons equally exposed to the changes and
chances of life, and let the chief difference of them be, that the one is used, on Christian principles, to examine himself, and judge and condemn himself for his own faults, daily, every evening of his life: the other, to pass things over lightly, just as the generality of people do. Then let us suppose some sorrow or sickness, some great calamity, to fall upon both of them: which of the two will be best able to endure it? which will have most root in himself? The one, being used to try and judge himself, as in the presence of GOD ALMIGHTY, is used to think of HIM as present. He may say as David did, "I have set GoD always before me, for He is on my right hand, therefore I shall not fall." Come what will, therefore, the man of scrupulous tender conscience, who acknowledges his faults, and keeps his sins ever before him, will know at once which way to look. His eye will turn immediately upwards, in humble acknowledgment that whatsoever his sorrow is," he knows for certain that it is God's visitation." Bitter as his trial may be in many respects, it comes accompanied by this consolation, that it proves GoD not to have forsaken him. He is not left alone in the world. The affliction shews that his Heavenly FATHER still thinks him worth the chastening, still owns him as a son. For what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?"
These, I say, when affliction comes, are the natural thoughts of that man, who makes it his business to correct himself for his sins, and keep them always before him. But how is it with the other sort of person, the man who lets nothing alarm him? who passes lightly over every thing? What has he to cheer and support him, when his hour of affliction comes, as come it must, sooner or later, to all; and when his mere natural spirits flag, and he is thrown back upon his own thoughts for comfort? Must he not feel in a great measure without hope, inasmuch as he has in a great measure lived without GOD in the world? He has not been used to place himself from time to time before the Throne of his Judge; to pour out his heart before him; to confess all his sins as to a merciful and all-knowing FATHER. Of course, then, it is strange to him, and out of his way, to seek for refuge, and shelter, and relief, in the ever-open arms of the same indulgent FATHER. He is like a ship in the wide sea, tossed about without knowing which way the haven lies. But