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to recollect and charge themselves with distinctly, fall very short of the sense they have of their condition, and do by no means fill
up that which they know to be the measure of their iniquities. · And hence it is, that after the most careful examination of themselves, and the most solemn repentance for all their known sins, they do not always enjoy that peace and tranquillity of soul which they expected, and had promised themselves, as the blessed fruits of contrition ; but suffer extremely under uncertain hopes and fears, not being able to satisfy themselves that their repentance was perfect, which they know was formed on a knowlege of their sins that was very imperfect.
The holy Psalmist had this sense of his condition, and felt how unable he was sufficiently to acknowlege his own guilt before God, when he broke forth into the complaint with which the text begins, “Who can understand his errors ?' or as it runs in the translation which is more familiar to us,
- Who can tell how oft he offendeth ?' In this distress his only refuge was to the mercy of God, confessing, with the greatest humility of heart, that his transgressions were not only more than he could bear, but even more than he could understand : " Cleanse thou me from my secret faults.' Whenever men entertain doubts of their own sincerity and due performance of religious acts, it is extremely difficult to reason with their fears and scruples, and to dispossess them of the misapprehensions they have of their own state and condition. Such suggestions as bring ease and comfort to their minds come suspected, as proceeding from their own or their friends' partiality; and they are afraid to hope, Test even to hope in their deplorable condition should prove to be presumption, and assuming to themselves more than in reason or justice belongs to them. But when we can show them men of approved virtue and holiness, whose praise is in the book of life, who have struggled with the same fears and waded through even the worst of their apprehensions to the peaceful fruits of righteousness; it helps to quicken both their spirits and their understanding, and at once to administer knowlege and consolation. And for this reason we can never sufficiently admire the wisdom of God in setting before us the examples of good men in their lowest and most imperfect state.
been shown to us only in the brightest part of their character, despair of attaining to their perfection might incline us to give over the pursuit, by throwing a damp on our best resolutions : but when we see them rising to virtue and holiness from the same wretched condition which we are in, and laboring under the same difficulties, the same anxieties and torments of mind ; when we see their very souls convulsed with the pang's
of pentance, and their faith almost sinking under the doubtfulness of their condition; when we hear them cry to God in the words of anguish, not knowing how to pray, or in what terms to lament their sins; when we see this nakedness of their souls, and find that they are like one of us, what secret comfort must it give to an afflicted spirit, what support to a mind oppressed with the sense of guilt, to find in these great examples what heavenly joy and peace often spring from the lowest depths of sorrow and woe!
And there is indeed, with respect to the comfort and security of a sinner, a great difference between arguments drawn from general reasonings and reflexions, and those which are suggested from the experience and practice of holy men. In the case before us, if we consider the words of the text without regard had to the person who spoke them, we may raise many reflexions from the great variety of human actions, and the complicated nature of them, from the short-sightedness of the understanding and the weakness and imperfection of the faculties, to show how very hard it is, and almost impossible, for any one perfectly to understand his errors: whence might be deduced the reasonableness of the petition,
« Cleanse thou me from secret faults;' because where we cannot in particular recollect, we can only in general lament, our iniquities : beyond this probability we cannot go to determine the method in which God will deal with sinners. But take the words as spoken by David, of the sincerity of whose repentance and the acceptance of it with God we nothing doubt, and the conclusions will be much fuller, and such as cannot fail to refresh the soul of every languishing penitent; for in this view the words fairly afford us these two propositions:
First, that the security and efficacy of repentance do not depend on a particular recollection of all our errors.
Secondly, that for such errors as we cannot recollect, a general confession and repentance are full and sufficient.
These two propositions contain the plain doctrine of the text; so plain, that I need not spend your time in enlarging on it. But that we may not mistake in the application of it to ourselves, and hope for forgiveness whilst we are willingly ignorant of our sins, and to save the trouble and pain of recollection, endeavor to cover them all under general ejaculations and petitions for mercy; I beg your patience whilst 1 set before you of what kind and nature the sins are which we may justly call our secret sins, and for the expiation of which a general confession and repentance will be accepted. And, first, we may
among our secret sins those which our liturgy has taught us to ask repentance and forgiveness for, under the general names of negligences and ignorances. For neglect of our duty, and negligence in discharging it, are two things; the one arising from a dislike and aversion to the work, and attended with a consciousness and consent of mind; the other proceeding commonly from want of thought or want of disposition; two infirmities which we care not to accuse ourselves of, and yet from which we are seldom free; insomuch that when we think ourselves most secure of a good disposition and firm resolution to go through the business of our duty, they often forsake us in the midst of our work, and we find ourselves on a sudden becalmed, our inclinations grown faint and languid, and too sick of the employment to support us in the prosecution of it.
Such surprises good men have frequently complained of in their devotions: they set out with zeal and fervency of spirit, with eyes and hearts uplifted to God, till some chance object diverts the eyes, some favorite care steals into the heart, and they both wander and are lost in the multiplicity of objects and imaginations which succeed each other; and when their thoughts return to the proper object, they are as one that awaketh from a dream. Offences of this kind are secret to us even whilst they are committing, the mind not being conscious to the delusion; and yet they are so frequent in every part of our duty, that when we call ourselves to the strictest account,
it is impossible to find their number, or to bring every single act to our remembrance.
Secondly, sins of ignorance are secret sins likewise, as the very name they are distinguished by imports. “Where there is no law,' says the Apostle, there is no transgression;' and therefore unavoidable ignorance seems to be rather a misfortune than a crime; and though it be dumb and cannot speak in its own defence, yet its very silence will be a stronger plea in the presence of the Almighty than all the labored excuses which the wit of knowing sinners has invented. In all cases where men may be said to offend through ignorance, they must be equally insensible of the crimes they commit, and the ignorance they labor under; and therefore equally incapable of repenting particularly of their sins and of their ignorance. For when men venture boldly on actions, being conscious to themselves that they know not whether they are going right or wrong, their sin is presumption and not ignorance; and should they chance to blunder into the right way, it is much to be doubted, whether the happiness of their mistake will excuse the rashness of their attempts. Such repentance therefore as this must be ňombered, not with our secret faults, but with such sins, as being acted with consciousness and consent, carry in them an avowed contempt of the majesty and authority of God : for if a man thinks virtue and vice so indifferent, that he may venture to choose blindfold which to follow, there wants no better evidence that his heart is not right with God, who can with so much coolness and temper affront his honor.
But though the ignorance itself be presumptuous, and is such as, being conscious to, we must certainly be accountable for ; yet the mistakes, the follies, the sins it leads us to, may be unknown to us, both at the time of our offending and of our repenting: and whatever aggravation they receive from the obstinate ignorance they proceed from ; how much soever the heinousness of them may deserve to be distinguished in our sorrow and contrition; yet, since the mind cannot reach the knowlege of them, they can only be lamented under the general character of secret sins. Nor is this the only case in which our sins partake of the malice of the will, and yet escape the notice of the understanding : for,
Thirdly, nothing shows more the corruption of the will or disinclination of the heart to virtue, than confirmed customs and habits of sinning; and yet in this perfection of vice we lose the very sense and feeling of sin. Habits grow
from often repeated actions; and, though at first they require distinct acts of the will to give them being, yet at last we grow so perfect, so ready at the work as not to want the authority and consent of the mind : as servants, who, by being often told their masters' work, at last fall into the road of their business without being called on, and yet act as much under the direction of their miasters' will as when they were under their daily or hourly instruction. And so it is in habits: the mind, which is the governing principle, lies by, and the work goes on without being attended to. Of many instances give me leave only to mention one, which shall be that of common swearers and blasphemers of the holy name: a vice in itself so prodigious, that no aggravation can heighten -it, no excuse can lessen it! And yet those who are most guilty of this sin are least sensible of it: it is so familiar to them that they are not conscious when they offend : blaspheming is their idiom, a turn in their way of speaking, and oaths the mere expletives of their language. And when every sober heart trenibles to hear what they utter, they only are unconcerned, as only being ignorant of the accursed malice with which they defy the living God. For all these things God will call sinners into judgment; in his book they are noted down : but yet when sinners call themselves to judgment, they only can tell that they have grievously offended : the measure of their iniquity they know not, nor the many aggravations of it: and therefore the utmost that the sincerest penitent can do is to lament the offences of his heart and tongue, which he is not able to remember, and pray to God that he likewise will be pleased to blot out the remembrance of his iniquities.
Fourthly, the Apostle has advised us 'not to be partakers of other men's sins;' which shows, that when others sin, being led to it by our influence, example, or encouragement, we sharë with them in the guilt of their iniquity. How far our influence spreads, to what instances, and what degrees of vice, how many we seduced by our example, or hardened by our encou