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upon his repentance, that the Lord had put it away, 2 Samxii. 13. yet he makes a penitent confession of it before God, and says, Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight, Psal. li. 4.
[2.] We shall now consider with what frame of spirit sin is to be confessed; and this ought to be done,
1st, With a due sense of the infinite evil thereof, as it reflects dishonour on the divine perfections; and particularly as it is opposite to the holiness and purity of God, and a contempt cast on his law, which expressly forbids it, and a disregarding the threatenings denounced thereby against those who violate it, and renders us liable to his wrath, as a sin-revenging Judge, pursuant to the intrinsic demerit thereof: And therefore it is justly styled an evil thing and bitter; the only thing that can be called a moral evil; and it is certainly bitter in the consequences thereof.
2dly, We are to confess sin with humility, shame, confusion of face, and self-abhorrence; and that more especially, by reason of the vile ingratitude there is in it, as committed by those who are under the greatest engagements to the contrary duties.
3dly, Sin is to be confessed with the hope of obtaining forgiveness through the blood of Christ, as laying hold on the promises of mercy, which are made to those who confess and forsake it, Prov. xxviii. 18. and, with an earnest desire, to be delivered from the prevailing power thereof, by strength derived from Christ.
[3.] We shall now consider what sins we are to confess before God; and these are, either the sin of our nature, or those actual transgressions that proceed from it.
1st, The sin of our nature. As fallen creatures, we are destitute of the image of God; and, having contracted corrupt habits, by repeated acts of rebellion against him, all the powers and faculties of our souls are vitiated thereby, and we not only indisposed and disinclined to what is good, but naturally bent to backslide from God, and to commit the greatest abominations, if destitute of his preventing, restraining, or renewing grace: Thus the apostle says, I know that in me, (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing, Rom. vii. 18. And this is to be considered as what has universally defiled and depraved our nature; and therefore we ought to cry out with the leper, Unclean, unclean, Lev. xiii. 45. or, as the prophet says, From the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in us, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores, Isa. i. 6. We are to consider it as that which insinuates itself into our best duties; and it is like the fly in the precious ointment; and it is of such a nature, that when we have been enabled to gain some
advantage against it, it will afterwards recover strength. Notwithstanding all our endeavours to the contrary. It is like an incurable disease in the body, which, though we endeavour to keep it under for a while, yet it will prevail again, till the frame of nature is demolished, and thereby all diseases cured at once: Nevertheless, when we confess and are humbled for this propensity, that is in our nature to sin, we are to pray and hope, that the prevailing power thereof may be so far weakened, that, by the principle of grace, implanted in regeneration, and excited by the Spirit, in promoting the work of sanctification, though it dwells in us it may not entirely have dominion over us, or we be thereby denominated the servants of sin.
2dly, We are to confess the many actual sins that we daily commit, with all their respective aggravations; sins of omission and commission, both of which are contained in the apostle's confession; The good that I would, I do not; but the evil zvhich I would not, that I do, Rom. vii. 19. Our sinful neglects of duty are numberless; we are to confess our not having redeemed our time, but spent it in those trifles and vain amusements that profit not; particularly if we have misimproved the very flower and best part of our time and strength, and not remembered our Creator in the days of our youth. This Job reckons the principal ground and reason of the evils that befal him in his advanced age, when he says, Thou writest bitter things against me; and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth, Job xiii. 26. And we are humbly to confess our not having improved, and, thereby, lost many opportunities for extraordinary service, either to do, or to get good: Thus the prophet says, Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times, and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow observe the time of their coming, but my people know not the judgment of the Lord, Jer. viii. 7. We are also to confess our ne glecting to comply with the calls and invitations of the gospel; upon which account we are said, to receive the grace of God in vain, 2 Cor. vi. 1. or not to know the time of our visitation, Luke xix. 44. but when God has called, we have refused; when he has stretched out his hand, no man regarded, but have set at nought all his counsel, and would none of his reproof, Prov. i. 24, 25. We are also to confess our neglect of public and secret duties, or worshipping of God in a careless indifferent manner; as the prophet represents the people, saying, Behold, what a weariness is it, and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of Hosts; and ye have brought that which was torn, and the lame and the sick; should I accept this at your hands? Mal. i. 13. We are also to confess our neglect of relative duties, in not instructing those under our care, nor reproving them for sin committed, nor sympathizing with the afflicted, apr warning those who are going out of God's way; by which
means a multitude of sins might have been prevented, whereby many have been ruined through our sinful neglect.
As for sins of commission, which are also to be confessed; these are either such as were committed before or after our conversion to God; the former of which contain a disowning his authority, or right to obedience; the latter, an ungrateful disregard to, or forgetfulness of the greatest benefits received from him. We are also to confess those sins which are contrary to the moral law, or the very light of nature; which we are often guilty of: And, that we may be furnished with matter, and give scope to our thoughts and affections therein, it may be of use for us to consider the sins forbidden under each of the Ten Commandments, which have been before particu larly insisted on. We ought also to confess the various aggravations of sin; and, to assist us therein, those things that are contained in a foregoing answer *, may be of some use to us, especially if we make a particular application thereof to our own case, and observe how far we have reason to fall under a sense of guilt, or charge ourselves with crimes of the like nature.
Moreover, we are to confess the sins we have committed against the engagements or grace of the gospel; the low thoughts we have sometimes had of the person of Christ, his love to us, or the benefits we have been made partakers of from him, while we have been ready to say, as the daughters of Jerusalem are represented speaking, What is thy beloved more than another beloved, Cant. v. 9. and how much we have hardened our hearts against him, refusing to submit to his yoke, or bear his cross; how often we have been ashamed of his cause and interest, especially when called to suffer reproach for it. Have we not sometimes questioned the truth of his promises, refused to submit to his righteousness, and depend upon it alone for justification, while we have had too high thoughts of ourselves, glorying and valuing ourselves upon the performance of some moral duties, which we have put in the room of Christ?
We ought to confess how much we have opposed him in all his offices; not depending on him as a prophet to lead us in the way of truth and peace, but have leaned to our own understanding, and therefore have been left to pervert, disbelieve, or, at least, entertain some doubts about the great doctrines of the gospel; or, if our minds have been rightly informed therein, yet we have not made a practical improvement thereof, for our spiritual advantage. Have we not opposed him as a priest, and neglected to set a due value on that atonement he has made for sin, not improving his intercession for
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us, who is entered into the holy place, made without hands, to encourage us to come boldly to the throne of grace? Have we not also refused to submit to him as king of saints, or seek protection from him against the assaults of our spiritual enemies? These things are to be confessed by us in prayer; and that with such a sense of our own guilt, that we ought to acknowledge ourselves to be, (as the apostle says concerning himself.) the chief of sinners, 1 Tim. i. 15.
I am sensible that many will be ready to conclude, that much of what has been said concerning sins to be confessed, is applicable to none but those that are in a state of unregeneracy; and, among them, few can say, that they are the chief of sinners, unless they have been notoriously vile and scandalous in the eye of the world; and that the apostle Paul, when he applies this to himself, has a peculiar reference to what he was before his conversion.
But to this it may be replied; that it is impossible we should know so much of the sins of others, together with their respective aggravations, as we may of those that have been committed by ourselves. And if we have not been left to commit those gross and scandalous sins, which we have beheld in them with abhorrence, this is not owing to ourselves, but the grace of God, by which we are what we are; which, if we had been destitute of, we should have been as bad as the worst of men; and if our hearts have been renewed and changed thereby, so that we are kept from committing those sins that are inconsistent with a state of grace; yet there are very heinous aggravations attending those we have reason to charge ourselves with whereby we have acted contrary to the experience we have had of the efficacious influence of the Holy Spirit, and have been guilty of very great ingratitude against him, that has laid us under the highest obligations. Thus concerning confession of sin, when drawing nigh to God in the duty of prayer.
(2.) We are now to consider another part of prayer, namely, that we are therein thankfully to acknowledge the mercies of God: Thus the Psalmist says, Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise; be thankful unto him, and bless his name, Psal. c. 4. And elsewhere, I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving; and will call upon the name of the Lord, Psal. cxvi. 17. that is, I will join prayer and praise together. Nothing is more obvious, than that favours received ought to be acknowledged; otherwise we are guilty of that ingratitude which is one of the vilest crimes. Not to acknowledge what we receive from God, is, in effect, to deny our obligation to him; which will provoke him to withhold from us those other mercies which we stand in need of.
This duty ought to be performed at all times, and on all occasions: Thus the apostle says, In every thing by prayer and
supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be made known unto God, Phil. iv. 6. This is evident, in that there is no condition of life but what has some mixture of mercy in it; and that this may be more particularly considered, we may observe, that the mercies we receive from God, are either outward or spiritual, common or special; the former of these he gives to all without distinction; as it is said, The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works, Psal. cxlv. 9. And elsewhere, he is kind unto the unthankful, and to the evil, Luke vi. 35. and maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust, Matt. v. 45. The latter sort of mercies he bestows on the heirs of salvation, in a covenant-way, as the purchase of the blood of Christ, and a pledge of farther blessings which he has reserved in store for them: There are mercies which we have in hand, or in possession, and others which we have in hope or in reversion: Thus the apostle speaks of the hope which is laid up for the saints in heaven, Col. i. 3, 5. which he thanks God for in his prayer for
Again, the mercies of God may be considered either as personal or relative; the former we are more immediately the subjects of; the latter affect us so far as we stand related to others, for whose welfare we are greatly concerned, and whose happiness makes a very considerable addition to our own.
[1.] We are to express our thankfulness to God for personal mercies; and accordingly we are to bless him for the advantages of nature, which are the effects of divine goodness: Thus the Psalmist says, I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and zvonderfully made, Psal. cxxxix. 14. Though the human nature falls very short of what it was at first, when the image of God was perfectly enstamped on all the powers and faculties of the soul; and it is not what it shall be when brought to a state of perfection in heaven: Yet there are many natural en dowments which we have received from God, as a means for our glorifying him, and answering the end of our being, in the whole conduct of our lives: And,
1st, As to what concerns the blessings of providence, which we have received in every age of life. In our childhood and youth we have great reason to be thankful, if we have had the invaluable blessing of a religious education, and have been kept or delivered from the pernicious influence of bad examples, from whence that age of life oftentimes receives such a tincture as tends to vitiate the soul, and open the way for all manner of sin, which will afterwards insinuate itself into, and prevail, like an infectious distemper, over all the powers and faculties thereof. What reason have we to bless God if we have been favoured with restraining or preventing grace, whereby we have been kept from youthful lusts, which are