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Let us inquire, On what our hope of acceptance with God is founded, whether on Divine mercy or personal merit, remembering that the one or the other exclusively must be the basis of our confidence, and that no coalition can be formed between them. And let us inquire further, to what source we look for ability to perform the will of God; whether to Divine gracey or' to personal and inherent strength'; remembering that, in this view also, self-confidence cannot be confounded with trust in God. But there is yet a further subjeet of inquiry. Have we formed any steadfast purpose of doing the will of God? Do we see the necessity of a conformity thereto? Are we at all anxious about salvation? If no such purpose is formed, no such necessity discerned, and no such anxiety felt, we are totally uninterested in the employment of the church, and have no part nov lot with her. We are in this case “dead in " trespasses and sins," and our outward acts of worship are the unmeaning acts of an automaton, and abominable in the sight of God the searcher of hearts.
Having joined in a solemn act of adoration, we proceed to implore a favourable audience to our prayers, pleading Divine mercy as the only basis for our expectation of success. The “ prayers' 'which we beseech God “mercifully" to hear," include both those which we have already offered, and those which we are about to offer. In this petition we in effect smite individually on our breast, crying, “ God be mer. “ ciful to me a sinner.” The requests which we make are of the highest importance; since, on the alternative of their being granted or refused, depends no less than our eternal salvation
or damnation. But what plea shall we urge for the purpose of conciliating Divine favour? We have looked all around us. We have searched narrowly every corner of our hearts and every act of our lives in order to discover if any thing personal can furnish us with an argument which may be efficaciously addressed to Him, from whom alone what we want can be derived. But we can find nothing. On the contrary, the further we carry our inquiry, the more we discover that it is hostile to our wishes and destructive to our hopes. Sin in a thousand shapes constitutes the sum total of the discovery in. which our search has issued. What then shall we do? We must obtain help or perish. We do that which necessity dictates, which wisdom approves, which the word of God warrants: we cast ourselves on Divine mercy, and cry, Lord, “mercifully hear our prayers.”. Such is the genuine spirit of this petition. But, alas, how many recite it, who feel not the pressure of want, nor the earnestness of desire for relief; who are unconscious of personal unworthiness, and whose appeal to mercy is a solemn mockery of God and of His grace! Many who rehearse our collect, or add their “ Amen” at the close of it, (we have reason to fear) are indifferent about “ pleasing God either in will or deed;" have no sense of their own impotency, and therefore perceive no need of “the help of His “grace.”
In the short but comprehensive confession which follows, we acknowledge that “by rea
son of the frailty of our mortal nature we can “ do 10 good thing without God." Oh, that all who repeat this felt the force and extent of their own words! The language which they are
taught to use is certainly the language of truth and soberness; for He who cannot err hath said, “Without me ye can do nothing,” nothing that is good. But have we weigbed the import of our own confession ? Are we convinced of its agreement with truth? Do we estimate duly the importance of it?
For the purpose of ascertaining the truth of this confession, let us inquire what is our natural state, for of that our collect speaks. What, then, is the state of man by nature? Let our Lord reply to the question : " That which is " born of the flesh, is flesh.” Our first parents having corrupted themselves, their descendants to the latest generations are necessarily corrupt also; for water must partake of the qualities which are inherent in the fountain from which it issues. But is this corruption universal? Does it pervade the whole man, soul and body, and all the faculties of both, so as to exclude every spark of goodness? Let St. Paul reply: “In me, * that is in my flesh" or natural man, “dwelleth “ no good thing.” “Man, of his own nature, is fleshly and carnal, corrupt, naught, sinful, and disobedient to God; without any spark of goodness in him, without any virtuous or Godly motions, only given to evil thoughts and wicked deeds. As for the marks of the Spirit, the fruits of faith, charitable and godly motions, if he have any at all in him, they proceed only of the Holy Ghost, who is the only worker of our sanctification, and maketh us new men in Christ Jesus."*
It is further to be remarked that according to our collect, even after the grace of regeneration, which those who recite it are supposed to have received, we are still dependent on further communications of grace for the power both to will and do that which is pleasing to God.
* Homily for Whitsunday,
. The " frailty of our mortal nature,” the spiritual debility which corruption remaining in our bodies produces (which bodies are subject to death on account of sin, and which death only will free from corruption) is such as to oppress the seed of immortal life, and impede all the spiritual activities of the new man, and thereby disable us for the performance of any good without the continual aid of almighty .grace.
“The flesh “Justeth against the Spirit, so that we cannot do " the things that we would ;" and even the in clination to good is itself maintained by a Divine agency. A branch separated from the tree has no life or fructifying virtue in itself, nor any means of deriving it to itself from an extrinsecal
In like manner, we have no spiritual life in ourselves. The Spirit of God is that to the soul which the soul is to the body. The body has its members, but can exert none of them without the soul. The soul also has its natural faculties, but it can make no spiritual use of them without Divine influence. We cannot repent, believe, or obey, without supernatural energy continually derived from God.
Now let us inquire, if we are sincere in making the acknowledgment, that “by reason of the “ frailty of our mortal nature we can do no good
thing without God," not even so much as think a good thought? Are we honest members of the church of England which puts this confession into the mouths of all her children? If we are, then we cultivate in ourselves a spirit of humility,
faith, and prayer. We desire to engage in no act of duty without a recurrence to God for “the “ help of His grace." “ Lord, help me,” is the habitual cry of our hearts. But may we indulge a charitable hope that this humble and dependent state of mind generally prevails among the professed members of our church? Are not many of them like beggars who assume at times the tattered garb of mendicity, the semblance of cripples, and the tone of importunate intreaty, for the purpose of deception, while they are unconscious of any real wants or infirmities? If you listen to their language at church, you would believe them to be, in their own estimation,
poor « and miserable and wretched and blind and « naked;" while it is plain, both from their avowed sentiments and general conduct, that they deem themselves to be « rich and increased in “ goods, and to have need of nothing."
The humble confession of our collect is followed by a petition for “the help of God's grace; that is, for a communication of Divine influence to the soul, diffusing light through the mind, love through the heart, and energy through all the affections. We shall determine what “the help' which is implored means, while we consider the end for which it is implored.
The end for which the help of God's grace" is here besought is a very important one.
It is " that in keeping His commandments we may “ please Him both in will and deed.” Can any object proposed to the mind be more momentous ? Is there any thing more likely to excite the desires: and energies of the soul ? Surely not, were not our minds blinded by unbelief, and “tied and " bound with the chain of onr sins."