unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar," &c.
And who will not confess their sin, say you? Who doth not confess sins daily, and, therefore, who is not forgiven and pardoned? But stay, and consider the matter again. Take not this upon your first light apprehensions, which in religion are commonly empty, vain, and superficial, but search the scriptures, and your own hearts that ye may know what confession means. It may be said of that external custom of confession that many of you have, that the Lord hath not required it, -- "sacrifices and burnt offerings thou wouldest not." Some external submissions and confessions, which you take for compensation for sins and offences against God, -- these, I say, are but abomination to the Lord, but "a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise," Psal. li.16, 17. And, "Lo, I come to do thy will, I delight in it," Psal. xl.7, 8. When external profession and confessions are separated from the internal contrition of the heart and godly sorrow for sin, and when both internal contrition and external profession and confession are divided from conformity, or study of conformity to God's will, then they are in no better acceptance with God than those external sacrifices which God rejected, though he had required them, because they were disjoined from the true life of them and spiritual meaning, that is, faith in a mediator, and love to obedience. If confession flow not from some contrition of heart if there be not some inward spring of this kind, the heart, opened and unfolding its very inside before God, breaking in pieces, which makes both pain or sense, and likewise gives the clearer view of the inward parts of the heart, and if it be not joined with affection to God's will and law, earnest love to new obedience, it is but a vain, empty, and counterfeit confession, that denies itself. I suppose, a man that confesses sin which he feels not, or forsakes not, in so doing, he declares that he knows not the nature of sin; he may know that such an action is commonly called sin, and, it may be, is ashamed and censured among men, and therefore he confesseth it; but while he confesseth it without sense or feeling, he declares that he takes it not up as sin, hath not found the vileness and loathsomeness of the nature of it nor beheld it as it is a violation of the most high Lord's laws, and a provocation of his glorious holiness. Did a soul view it thus, as it is represented in God's sight, as it dishonours that glorious Majesty, and hath manifest rebellion in it against him, and as it defiles and pollutes our spirits; he could not, I say, thus look upon it, but he would find some inward soul abhorrence and displeasance at it, and himself too. How monstrous would it make him in his own sight? It could not but affect the heart, and humble it in secret before God; whereas your forced and strained confessions made in public, they are merely taken on then, and proceed from no inward principle. There is no shadow of any soul humiliation, in secret, but as some use to put on sackcloth when they come to make that profession, and put it off when they go out, so you put on a habit of confession in public, and put it off you when you go out of the congregation. To be mourning before the Lord, in your secret retirements, -- that you are strangers to. But I wonder how you should thus mock God, that you will not be as serious and real in confessing as in sinning. Will you sin with the whole man, and confess only with the mouth? Will ye not sin with delight, and not confess it with a true sorrow that indeed affects the heart? Now, do you honour God by confessing, when the manner of it declares, that you feel not the bitterness of sin, and conceive not the holiness and righteousness of God, whom you have to do withal? Even so, when you confess sin, which you do not forsake, you in so far declare that you know not sin, what it is you confess, and so, that you have mocked him who will not be mocked; for, what a mockery is it, to confess those faults which we have no solid effectual purpose to reform, to vomit up your sins by confession, that we may with more desire and lust lick up the vomit again, and to pretend to wash, for nothing else, but to return to the puddle, and defile again! My brethren, out of the same fountain comes not bitter water and sweet; James iii.11. Since that which ordinarily proceeds from you is bitter, unsavoury to God and man, carnal, earthly, and sensual, your ways are a displayed banner against God's will, then lay your account, all your professions and acknowledgments are of the same nature, -- they are but a little more sugared over, and their inward nature is not changed, is as unacceptable to God, as your sins are.
I would give you some characters out of the text, to discover unto you the vanity and emptiness of your ordinary confessions. The confession of sin must be particular, universal, perpetual, or constant; -- particular, I say, for there are many thousands who confess that they are sinners, and yet do not at all confess their sins; for, to confess sins is to confess their own real actual guiltiness, that which they indeed have committed or are inclined to do. So the true and sincere confession of a repenting people is expressed, 1 Kings viii.38, "What prayer or supplication soever be made by any man, which shall know the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands, then hear thou in heaven, and forgive every man whose heart thou knowest." Now consider whether or not you be thus acquainted with your own hearts and ways, as to know your particular plague and predominant sin. Are you not rather wholly strangers to yourselves, especially the plague of your hearts? There are few that keep so much as a record or register of their actions done against God's law, or their neglect of his will; and therefore, when you are particularly posed about your sins, or the challenge of sin, you can speak nothing to that, but that you never knew one sin by another; that is, indeed, you never observed your sins, you never knew any sin, but contented yourself with the tradition you received that you were sinners. But if any man be used to reflect upon his own ways, -- yet generally, the most part of men are altogether strangers to their hearts, -- if they know any evil of themselves it is at most but something done or undone, some commission or omission, but nothing of the inward fountain of sin is discovered. I beseech you, then, do not deceive yourselves with this general acknowledgment that you are sinners, while in the meantime your real particular sins are hid from you, and you cannot choose but hide in a generality from God. Certainly, you are far from forgiveness, and that blessedness of which David speaks, (Psal. xxxii.) for this belongs to the man "that hideth not his sins, in whose heart there is no guile." And this is the plainness and sincerity of the heart, rightly to discern its own plagues, and unfold them to him. David, no doubt, would at any time have confessed that he was a sinner, but mark how heavy the wrath of God was on him for all that, because he came not to a plain, ingenuous, and humble acknowledgment of his particular sins. "I confessed my sin, and mine iniquity I hid not." While you confess only in general terms, you confess other's sins rather than yours, but this is it -- to descend into our own hearts, and find out our just and true accusation, our real debt, to charge ourselves as narrowly as we can, that he may discharge us fully, and forgive us freely.
Next, I say, confession must be universal, that is, of all sin, without partiality or respect to any sin. I doubt if a man can truly repent of any sin, except he in a manner repent of all sin; or truly forsake one sin, except there be a divorcement of the heart from and forsaking of all sin; therefore the apostle saith, "If we confess our sins," not sin simply, but sins, taking in all the body and collection of them, for it is opposed to that, "if we say we have no sin," &c. Then there lies a necessity upon us to confess what we have; we have all sin, and so should confess all sins. Now, my meaning is not, that it is absolutely necessary that a soul come to the particular knowledge and acknowledgment of all his sins, whether of ignorance or infirmity, nay, that is not possible, for "who can understand his errors?" saith David, "cleanse thou me from secret sins," Psal. xix.12. There are many sins of ignorance, that we know not to be sins, and many escapes of infirmity, that we do not advert to, which otherwise we might know. Now, I do not impose that burden on a soul, to confess every individual sin of that kind; but this certainly must be, -- there must be such a discovery of the nature of sin, and the loathsomeness of it in God's sight, and the heinous guilt of it, as may abase and humble the soul in his presence, there must be some distincter and clearer view of the dispositions and lusts of the heart, than men attain generally unto, and, withal, a discovery of the holy and spiritual meaning of God's law, which may unfold a multitude of transgressions, that are hid from the world, and make sin to abound in a man's sight and sense -- for when the law enters, sin abounds, and to close up this, as there are many sins now discovered unto such a soul, which lay hid before, the light having shined in upon the darkness, and, above all, the desperate wickedness of the heart is presented, so there is no sin known and discerned, but there is an equal impartial sorrow for it, and indignation against it. As a believer hath respect to all God's commands, and loves to obey them, so the penitent soul hath an impartial hatred of all sin, even the dearest and most beloved idol, and desires unfeignedly to be rid of it. Hence your usual public confessions of sin are wiped out of the number of true and sincere confessions, because you pretend to repent of one sin, and in the meantime, neither do ye know a multitude of other sins that prevail over you, nor do you mourn for them, nor forsake them. Nay, you do not examine yourselves that way, to find out the temper of your hearts, or tenor and course of your ways. You pretend to repent for drunkenness, or such like, and yet you are ordinary cursers, swearers, liars, railers, neglecters of prayer, profaners of the Sabbath, and such like, and these you do not withal mourn for. In sum, he that mourns only for the sin that men censure, knoweth and confesseth no sin sincerely. If you would indeed return unto God from some gross evils, you must be divorced in your affections from all sin.
Then this confession should be perpetuated and continued as long as we are in this life, for that is imported by comparing this verse with those it stands between. "If we say we have no sin, if we say at any time, while we are in this life, if we imagine or dream of any such perfection here," we lie. Now, what should we do then, since sin is always lodging in our mortal bodies, during this time of necessary abode beside an ill neighbour? What should be our exercise? Even this, -- confess your sins, confess, I say, as long as you have them, draw out this the length of that. Be continually groaning to him under that body of death, and mourning under your daily infirmities and failings. That stream of corruption runs continually -- let the stream of your contrition and confession run as incessantly, and there is another stream of Christ's blood, that runs constantly too, to cleanse you. Now, herein is the discovery of the vanity and deceitfulness of many of your confessions, public and private, the current of them soon dries up, there is no perpetuity or constancy in them, no daily humbling or abasing yourselves, but all that is, is by fits and starts upon some transient convictions or outward censures and rebukes, and thus men quickly cover and bury their sins in oblivion and security and forget what manner of persons they were. They are not under a duly impartial examination of their ways, take notice of nothing but some solemn and gross escapes, and these are but a short time under their view.
Now, let me apply a little to the encouragement of poor souls, who being inwardly burdened with the weight of their own guiltiness, exoner themselves by confession in his bosom. As you have two suits, and two desires to him, -- one, that your sins may be forgiven, another, that they may be subdued, so he hath two solemn engagements and ties to satisfy you, -- one to forgive your sins, and another to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. The soul that is truly penitent, is not only desirous of pardon of sin -- that is not the chief or only design of such a soul in application to Christ, -- but it is withal to be purified from sin and all unrighteousness, and to have ungodly lusts cleansed away. And herein is the great application of such an one's reality, -- it will not suffice or satisfy such an one, to be assured of delivery from wrath and condemnation, but he must likewise be redeemed from sin, that it hath no dominion over him. He desires to be freed from death, that he may have his conscience withal purged "from dead works to serve the living God," Heb. ix.14. He would have sin blotted out of an accusing conscience, that it may be purged out of the affections of the heart, and he would have his sins washed away, for this end especially, that he may be washed from his sins, Rev. i.5. Now, as this is the great desire and design of such a heart, in which there is no guile, to have sin purified and purged out of us as well as pardoned, so there is a special tie and obligation upon God our Father, by promise, not only to pardon sin, but to purge from sin, not only to cover it with the garment of Christ's righteousness, and the breadth of his infinite love but also to cleanse it by his Spirit effectually applying that blood to the purifying of the heart. Now, where God hath bound himself voluntarily, and out of love, do not ye lose him by unbelief, for that will bind you into a prison: but labour to receive those gracious promises, and to take him bound as he offers. Believe, I say that he will both forgive you, and in due time will cleanse your heart from the love and delight of sin. Believe his promise, and engagement by promise to both and this will set a seal to his truth and faithfulness. There is nothing in God to affright a sinner, but his justice, holiness, and righteousness, but unto thee who, in the humble confession of thy sins, fliest into Jesus Christ, that very thing which did discourage thee, may now encourage and embolden thee to come, for "he is just and faithful to forgive sins." His justice being now satisfied, is engaged that way to forgive, not to punish.