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« shall I eat, what shall I drink, and wherewithal 6 shall I be clothed,” are the questions which have engrossed the whole of their attention ; while the all-important inquiry, “What shall I do to be “ saved,” has never occupied a serious thought. And even among those persons who are well informed in the theory of Divine truth, there are many who know nothing more than the theory. They have no clearer conceptions of it than a blind man would have of light and colours, to whom some friend had communicated, through the organ of hearing, the system of philosophy. It may moreover be oberved that those who have been taught of God, and in consequence of Divine instruction have been brought to an experimental acquaintance with the doctrines of the gospel, need to be continually reminded of them. For so treacherous is the sinful heart of man, that, as inscriptions made on the sand of the seashore are in danger of being obliterated by the next returning wave, so every religious impression is liable to be erased from the human breast by the next worldly object that is presented, unless God is pleased to perpetuate and deepen it by His Word and Spirit.
That man is a lost sinner, and that his salvation must be wholly of and from God—that man has destroyed himself by sin, and is incapable of becoming his own saviour; insomuch that if he be delivered from the wrath to come, and be restored to the favour and image of God, his deliverance and restoration, in their rise, progress and accomplishment, must be the effects of infinite mercy and almighty power—these are the leading truths of Divine revelation, which are inculcated, in different modes of speech and in various striking images, throughout every part of the Bible.
These truths which are thus proclaimed and enforced in the Scriptures, are incorporated with every page of our national liturgy, and form the basis of every act of worship which is prescribed for our use. What the book of Revelation teaches us to believe, the book of common prayer teaches us to practise. In that repentance and faith are described, in this they are acted. In that we learn our need of salvation and the way of obtaining it; in this we reach out our hand, and take of the fruit of the tree of life—we eat, and live for ever.
The collect for the fourth Sunday in Lent may be considered as an epitome of the Liturgy; it is a compendious repetition of all those acts of repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ which are elsewhere enjoined. It is an echo of the voice of God which cries,
Repent ye and believe the Gospel.” We cannot therefore dispute the truth of those declarations which the Scriptures make about our misery by nature, without falsifying the devotional arowal of our own lips, and proving ourselves to be hypocrites in our solemn acts of worship.
Our collect consists of -A humble confession that “we worthily deserve to be punished," and An earnest petition that "by the comfort of “ God's grace we may mercifully be relieved,
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
This confession is made by all those persons who join in our service. It is designed for the use of all the members of our church ; not only of those who have been gross transgressors of the Divine law, but of those also who have “ escaped the pollution which is in the world through lust."
And it is with the strictest
propriety adapted to the lips of all men : for though there is a difference in the degrees of guilt which men have contracted, there is no distinction of innocent and guilty persons, since « all have sinned and come short of the glory of “ God.” And though the degree of punishment apportioned to the measures of guilt will certainly vary, yet in all instances the “wages of sin is “ death” everlasting; and “if we say that we “ have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the “ truth is not in us.” Two inquiries will free this confession from all ambiguity, and enable us to determine whether we have been honest in making it or not.
The first question that arises from this confession relates to the extent of that punishment which we acknowledge that we have deserved. And on the answer which we give to this question will depend the degree of humiliation we shall feel while we avow our guilt, and the degree of earnestness with which we shall implore relief. Now unassisted reason can make no satisfactory reply to this inquiry, because it cannot ascertain the malignity of sin, nor duly appreciate its demerit. Human reason,
Human reason, in its present fallen state, enveloped in thick mists of ignorance and biassed by self-love, is sure to form a wrong estimate on this, and indeed on every other theological question. To the solution of the question proposed Omniscience alone is competent, because it depends on the nature of God against whom we have transgressed-on the quality of our obligations to Him as our Creator and Law-giver and on the natural powers bestowed on man in his creation-state before sin had impaired them; for the law considers man' as created and not as fallen in its requisition of obedience and denunciation of wrath. Now these are topics which no finite understanding can fully comprehend, and much less the feeble and diseased mind of corrupted creatures who occupy this mole-hill the earth. But what reason cannot determine God hath made known in His word, and “we know that “ the judgment of God is according to truth." The punishment which sin, in all cases, hath
worthily deserved,” is declared to be eternal in its duration, and tremendous in its nature. Scripture images afford us some faint ideas of it; but all the ideas that we form of it must necessarily be very inadequate to the reality. However, the demerit of sin and the extent of the punishment which it deserves, as they are manifested by the denunciations of Divine wrath in the Scriptures, by the nature of the remedy. which hath been provided, by the forebodings and foretastes which some impenitent sinners have felt and expressed in the present life, and by the tortures of an awakened conscience under the teaching of the Holy Ghost, are calculated to rouse our fears to the highest pitch of intenseness, and to hasten our escape from the wrath 66 to come.”
The second question relates to the meritorious cause of the punishment which we deprecate. This has, of necessity, been already pointed out, but it requires a more particular consideration. An answer to it is suggested in our collect, in which we avow that we deserve to be “punished for our evil deeds.”. And it is to be observed that our church, in order that there might be no possibility of prevarication or evasion in the language of her members, has added to the verb in which the confession is couched an adverb of the same meaning, for the purpose of strengthening the avowal of guilt, and of pointing out more fully the condign nature of that punishment which is threatened and to which we are all exposed. “We worthily de“serve to be punished.” All sin, as being a breach of the Divine law, justly incurs the threatened curse by which that law has been sanctioned. Adam, by his first transgression, “worthily “ deserved” it for himself; and, as a federal head, for all his posterity. And though the act of which he was guilty may appear to have been of small consequence, it was a contempt of Divine goodness, a denial of Divine veracity, a rejection of Divine authority, and an invasion of Divine prerogatives. It comprehended within itself every species of sin which has since been committed, and was a complicated violation of all the precepts of both tables of the law. Our derived pollution moreover exposes us to the penalty of the Divine law, for « concupiscence “ and lust hath of itself the nature of sin." But our collect only notices our actual transgressions, and among these only "our evil deeds”, because these are sufficient to prove us guilty and leave us in self-despair. “We have done what we “ ought not to have done." It is not necessary that the reader should charge himself with murder, adultery, theft, or drunkenness, in order to justify the confession which he makes; for all tendencies to an act prohibited by the law are included in the prohibition, and incur the penalty annexed to it. “Whosoever is angry with “ his brother without a cause is in danger of " the judgment; and whosoever looketh on a “ woman, to lust after her, hath committed " adultery with her already in his heart."