|Vol. IV, No. 6
Elul 5606, September 1846
By A Moralizing Layman.
My Dear Readers,—
It will not seem strange to you, that in the selection of subjects for these remarks, such themes should be chosen as are uppermost in the mind of the writer at the moment of writing; and inasmuch as “from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh,” so will the tenor of these addresses accord most closely to the train of thoughts at that time occupying his attention. It is under the influence of such feelings that your attention on the present occasion will be solicited to the consideration of the duties of repentance and contrition, subjects at any moment worthy of your serious reflection; but in the present season, forming a peculiar claim to your entire thoughts. The text which has been selected for this purpose you will find in the 51st Psalm, 17th verse.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
There are a certain class of mortals in this world, who appear to have a curious view of our accountability for sin. They are, perhaps, more peculiar to our own faith, from some little favour shown to their fantastic notions in the jurisprudence of our laws, and therefore flourish with us in greater luxuriance than in other sects. This class of people imagine that a regular and daily registration of all our actions is kept in the high chancery of Heaven, and that at a certain period a sort of balance is struck between our good and evil deeds, at which moment of balancing they dedicate a single day to the service of God, attending the sanctuary and abstaining from food, the merit of which they imagine will not only be sufficient to equalize and counterbalance all the sins of the past year, but will leave a considerable surplus in their favour, upon the credit of which they can immediately commence a new career of excesses and transgressions. It is certainly an exceedingly comfortable belief for such as have faith in its efficacy, purchasing, as it were, by a single day’s privation, the privilege of unlimited indulgence for all the others in the year; but upon what text of Scripture so false a hope is founded, would be difficult for them to explain. Ezekiel tells us in a voice not to be misunderstood, that although we may have passed an entire life in righteousness, yet if we should at the last moment be tempted into the commission of sin, in that hour all our former righteousness shall be accounted to us for nothing, and we shall be dealt with only with reference to the sin in which we have transgressed; and although it is true that this prophet also says, that the man who will forsake his wickedness shall be saved, yet he does not mean its abandonment for a single day, but for ever; and thus, in both respects, brings clearer to our conception, the utter inefficiency of repentance for sin, based upon such futile and visionary views. Is it not a mockery to present ourselves, as contrite and repenting sinners, before the offended majesty of Heaven, appealing with the language of our lips for forgiveness, and urging the sacrifices of that day as evidence of the earnestness of our contrition and our desire to propitiate; holding up to Heaven the deluding hope, that we have been thoroughly awakened to a sense of our sinfulness, and now, by fasting and prayer, are striving for pardon; and yet, all the time, cherishing our darling vices, and conscious, fully conscious, that the very termination of that day will witness the commencement of a new career of sin and transgression? Can we hope to deceive God? It is vain for us thus to delude ourselves. The prescient Eye, that knoweth all futurity, knoweth the designs of our hearts, and like convicted criminals, denying our guilt, we are only adding to the weight of our punishment. We have mistaken the nature of the repentance which at this time we are called upon to offer to our God. There can be but one description of true repentance. It must be a heartfelt conviction that we have committed great wrong, an earnest desire to repair the evil, and a firm determination never again thus to offend. We must feel the weight of our transgression, we must realize sensibly and fully the extent of our offence, and we must be prepared with our entire strength of heart and soul united, to offer up such atonement as will appease the party injured, rendering such reparation as may be in our power. We must not repent as if fear of punishment had brought us to confession; but our sorrow should manifest that our heart had newly discovered truth, and thus made known its love for the good, whilst writhing in pain at the remembrance of past evil. Every faculty of our being should be brought into service, that no portion of our composition should remain exempt from the universal feeling of sorrow for our past sins. And we should arraign our conscience, and see whether our penitence was really true or only falsely put on, and by its response, awaken our souls to renewed efforts. We should thus examine ourselves, because it is difficult to offer true repentance, and there is so much selfishness mingled with all our appeals to Heaven; and it would be increasing sin by feigning a contrition not realized by the soul: and you should beware
Such is very partially the nature of true repentance, such the nature of the offering you are called upon at this time to render unto heaven. We are none of us unincluded in the list. “Born in sin, and shapen in iniquity,” our lives, even of the most virtuous, have witnessed evil sufficient to claim the heartiest repentance we can offer. You may have avoided great crimes, because your circumstances rendered their commission unnecessary; but you may have a catalogue of minor deeds, which, all other things considered, may be equally glaring in enormity. Those who imagine that
act under a delusive belief which will lure them to destruction. Avoid a delusion so teeming with evil consequences, and cast from you a reliance so frail.
We therefore know and feel that we have committed error, and we are also conscious that unless our sins are forgiven we shall be utterly condemned. With this conviction we assemble at our houses of prayer, and offer with our lips the words of our litany, which make the show of confession. Does the heart throb responsive to the tongue, and does the conscience feel the sting of remorse as the catalogue of offences is recited? Is our sight blinded with our tears of sorrow, and our utterance choked by the emotions of our grief? Or do we repeat, in listless monotony, the language of the confession, more intent on the harmony of the melody than the overwhelming nature of that strain of impassioned grief? Consider these questions, my dear readers, and ascertain and reflect how near is your own approach to a condition of true repentance. Remember that the outward semblances of contrition are as nothing in the sight of Heaven; fasting and prayer, although the means by which we should manifest the truth of our piety, constitute no merit unless the heart and spirit unite in proper frame and condition. We would undergo far greater privations to attain mere temporal gratifications, than this affliction of the body upon which we base such strong hope for mercy; and the offering of prayer, always efficacious, loses its force and value if it prove the mere language of the lips; and thus are we taught that to be truly acceptable our sacrifices must be “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” We must cast off our “high-blown pride,” we must throw away the garb of worldly arrogance, we must dismiss the evil train that haughtiness has summoned, and with a spirit bowed by humility, contrite by awakened repentance, seek the favour of Heaven. We cannot hope for acceptance whilst envy, pomp, and pride, hold an abiding place in our breasts: these do not assimilate with broken and contrite hearts; and we may pray continually, we may offer deeds of charity in heart and purse, we may repeat every portion of the litany, we may be most scrupulous in the observance of the exactions of our faith, but all these will fail if our vain-glorious and pompous spirit be not reduced to humility and meekness.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.” It is for this that thou hast been afflicted, and how sweet is the consolation, teaching the assurance that in that hour of desolating grief our hearts were being more truly prepared to meet heaven. Reflect upon this, my dear reader, upon whom the hand of God either now or heretofore hath lain heavily, that when thy spirit was torn with agony, and thy heart broken by the heavy affliction God called thee to endure, that in the midst of thy anguish, whilst thy spirit was bent beneath the blow of heaven, thy soul was reconciled to God, who thus in the dispensations of his providence found thee a way to salvation. And when each night upon thy pillow, thy head rests in solemn meditation over the actions of the past day, let the remembrance of griefs like these shed a chastening influence over thy soul, that it may be made meek and humble, rendering in this season of repentance a sacrifice to God “that He will not despise.”