Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore.
~ Ezra 10:1
And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee. O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him; Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him. And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil: for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem. As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth.Therefore hath the LORD watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the LORD our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice. And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly. O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake. O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.
~ Daniel 9:3-19
For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
~ 2 Corinthians 7:10
Use of Humiliation, by Richard Baxter. This is an excerpt from his work, “The Reformed Pastor”.
Chapter 3 – Application
Section 1 – The Use of Humiliation
Reverend and dear brothers, our business here this day is to humble our souls before the Lord for our past negligence, and to implore God’s assistance in our work for the time to come. Indeed, we can scarcely expect the latter without the former. If God will help us in our future duty, he will first humble us for our past sin. Someone who does not have a great sense of his faults so as to sincerely lament them, will hardly have any more to reform them. The sorrow of repentance may exist without a change of heart and life; that is because an emotion may be more easily evoked than a true conversion. But the change cannot take place without some good measure of that sorrow. Indeed, we may justly begin our confessions here: it is too commonplace with us to expect something from our people, which we ourselves would seldom do or have. What pains we take to humble them, while we ourselves are unhumbled! How hard we expostulate with them to wring a few penitential tears out of them (and all too little), while our own eyes are dry! Alas! How we set them an example of hard-heartedness, while we are endeavouring to melt and soften them by our words! Oh, if we only studied half as much to affect and amend our own hearts, as we do those of our hearers, it would not be as it is with many of us! It is a great deal too little that we do for their humiliation; but I fear it is much less that some of us do for our own humiliation. Too many do something for other men’s souls, while they seem to forget that they have souls of their own to regard. They convey the matter as if their part of the work lies in calling for repentance, and the hearers’ lies in repenting; theirs lies in speaking with tears and sorrow, and other men’s lies in weeping and sorrowing; theirs lies in decrying sin, and the people’s lies in forsaking it; theirs lies in preaching duty, and the hearers’ lies in practicing it.
But we find that the guides of the Church in Scripture confessed their own sins, as well as the sins of the people. Ezra confessed the sins of the priests, as well as those of the people, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God. Daniel confessed his own sin, as well as the people’s sin. I think, if we consider well the duties already stated, and how imperfectly we have performed them, we do not need to hesitate answering whether we have cause for humiliation. I must say, though I condemn myself in saying it, that whoever reads just this one exhortation of Paul to the elders of the church at Ephesus, and compares his life with it, must be stupid and hard-hearted if he does not melt under a sense of his neglects, and is not laid in the dust before God, and forced to bewail his great omissions, and to fly for refuge to the blood of Christ, and to his pardoning grace. I am confident, brothers, that none of you in your own judgment would approve of the libertine doctrine that decries the need for confession, contrition, and humiliation, and indeed, would do so in order to pardon sin! Is it not a pity, then, that our hearts are not as orthodox as our heads? But we have only half-learned our lesson when we simply know it and can say it. When the understanding has learned it, it is more of a chore to teach our wills and our affections, our eyes, tongues, and hands. It is a sad thing that so many of us preach our hearers asleep; but it is sadder still, if we have studied and preached ourselves asleep, and have talked so long against being hard of heart, until our own heart has grown hardened under the noise of our own reproofs.
And so that you may see that it is not a baseless sorrow that God requires of us, I will call to your remembrance our many sins, and set them in order before you, so that we may deal plainly and faithfully in a free confession of them, and so that God, who is “faithful and just, may forgive them, and cleanse us from all iniquity.”1 I suppose I have your hearty consent in this; and even though I may disgrace you and others in this office, you will not be so offended by me that you will not readily subscribe to the charge, and be humble self-accusers; and I am not so inclined to
1 1 John 1:9
justify myself from the accusation of others, that I will not also unreservedly put my name with the first in the bill of indictment. For how can a wretched sinner, one who can be charged with so many and so great transgressions, presume to justify himself before God? Or how can someone plead he is guiltless, whose conscience has so much to say against him? If I cast shame upon the ministry, it is not on the office, but on our persons, by revealing the sin which is our shame. The glory of our high employment does not convey any glory for our sin; for “sin is a reproach to any people.”2 And whether pastors or people, it is only those who “confess and forsake their sins that will have mercy,” while “he that hardens his heart will fall into mischief.”3
I will not undertake to enumerate the great sins that we are guilty of; therefore, passing over any particular one is not to be taken as a denial or justification of it. But I will consider it my duty to give a few instances which cry loudly for humiliation and speedy reformation.
But first I must premise it with this profession: that, notwithstanding all the faults which may now be found among us, I do not believe that England ever had so able and so faithful a ministry since it became a nation, as it has today; and I fear that few nations on earth, if any, have its like. I am sure the change has been so great within these past twelve years,4 that it is one of the greatest joys that I ever had in the world to behold it. Oh, how many congregations are now plainly and frequently taught, who lived then in great obscurity! How many able, faithful men there are now in a county, in comparison to what we had then! How graciously God has prospered the studies of many young men who were little children in the beginning of the recent troubles, so that now they crowd out most of their seniors! How many miles I would have gone in the last twenty years to have heard one of those ancient reverend divines, whose congregations have now grown thin, and their roles esteemed minor, by reason of the notable improvement of their juniors! In particular, how mercifully the Lord has dealt with this poor county of Worcester, in raising up so many who do credit to the sacred office, and who freely and self-denyingly lay themselves out for the good of souls, being zealous and steadfast in it! I bless the Lord that has placed me in such a neighbourhood where I may have the brotherly fellowship of so many able, faithful, humble, unanimous, and peaceable men. Oh that the Lord would long continue this admirable mercy to this unworthy county! And I hope I will rejoice in God while I live that the change I have lived to see here has become common in other parts: that so many hundreds of faithful men are so hard at work to save souls, despite the muttering and gnashing of teeth of the enemy; and that more are quickly springing up. I know there are some men who, being of another mind as to church government, will be offended at my very mention of this happy alteration, and I respect their positions. But I must profess that, even if I were absolutely prelatical,5 if I knew my heart, I could not help but rejoice. What! Not rejoice at the prosperity of the Church, because men differ in opinion about its order? Should I shut my eyes against the mercies of the Lord? Are the souls of men so contemptible to me that I would envy them the bread of life, simply because it was broken by a hand that did not have the approval of the prelate? O that every congregation was thus supplied with its bread! But everything cannot be done at once. They had a long time to settle a corrupted ministry; and when the ignorant and the scandalous are thrown out, we cannot readily create abilities in others to replenish the supply. We must await the time of their preparation and growth. And then, if England does not drive away the gospel by their abuses, and their willful lack of reform, and their hatred of the light, then they are likely to be the happiest nation under heaven. As for all the sects and
2 Prov 14:34
3 Prov 28:13-14
4 That is, since the convening of the Westminster Assembly in 1643.
5 That is, completely in favour of a church hierarchy that promotes the authority and over-arching influence of bishops; and a form of unitary government that will not suffer other denominations or other “independent” churches.
heresies that are creeping in and troubling us daily, I do not doubt that the gospel, if managed by an able and self-denying ministry, will effectually disperse and shame them all.6
But, you may say, “This is not confessing sin; it applauds those whose sins you pretend to confess.” To this I answer, it is due acknowledgment of God’s kindness, and it is thanksgiving for his admirable mercies. I say it so that I may not appear unthankful in confessing it, nor appear to cloud or vilify God’s graces as I expose the frailties that accompany them in many of us; for many things are sadly out of order in the best of us, as will become apparent from the following particulars.
1. One of our most heinous and palpable sins is pride. This sin has too large an interest in the best of us, but it is more hateful and inexcusable in us than in other men. Yet is it so prevalent in some of us, that it dictates our discourses, it chooses our company, it shapes our demeanour, and it puts the accent and emphasis on our words. It fills some men’s minds with aspirations and designs: it possesses them with envious and bitter thoughts against those who stand in their light, or who eclipse their glory in any way, or hinder the growth of their reputation. Oh what a constant companion, what a tyrannical commander, what a sly, subtle, and insinuating enemy this sin of pride is! It goes with men to the draper, the mercer, and the tailor7: it chooses for them their cloth, their trimming, and their fashion. Fewer ministers would style their hair and clothing according to the latest fashion, if it were not for the command of this tyrannous vice. And I wish this were all of it, or the worst of it. But, alas! How frequently it goes with us into our study, and there it sits with us and does our work! How often it chooses our subject, and, more frequently still, our words and ornaments! God commands us to be as plain as we can, so that we may inform the ignorant; and as convincing and serious as we are able, so that we may melt and change their hardened hearts. But pride stands by and contradicts everything, and produces its toys and trifles. It pollutes rather than polishes; and under a pretence of laudable flourishes, it dishonours our sermons with childish decorations: as if a prince was to be dressed in the costume of a stage-player, or a painted fool. It persuades us to paint the window, so that it may dim the light: and to say to our people things they cannot understand; to let them know we are able to speak well – but unprofitably. If we have a plain and cutting passage of Scripture, our flowery speech takes off the edge, and dulls the life of our preaching under the pretence of filing off the roughness, unevenness, and excess. When God charges us to deal with men as if for their lives, and to beg them with all the earnestness that we are able to muster, this cursed sin controls all of it, and condemns the most holy commands of God. It says to us, “What! Will you make people think you are mad? Will you make them say you are raving? Can you not speak soberly and moderately?”8 And thus pride makes many a man’s sermons; and what pride makes, the devil makes; and what sermons the devil would make, and to what end, we may easily conjecture. Though the subject matter is about God, yet if the dress, and manner, and end are from Satan, then we have no great reason to expect success.
6 This is 1655. Oliver Cromwell defeated the Royalists in 1644. In 1648, George Fox founded the Quakers, who broke away from the Church of England. In 1650, the Thirty Years War ended. In 1651, Thomas Hobbes wrote The Leviathan. There is chaos in the streets, and England seems on the verge of anarchy: the Royalists and Catholics are trying to regain power, and Cromwell is forced to rule with an iron fist. Within the church, factions are arising daily, countered by church officials and laws designed to suppress them. Outside the church, factions are also arising daily, as the people call for alternatives to landed aristocracy, church aristocracy, and even democratic tyranny. In this setting, Baxter is pleading for unity in the Church under Christ; not under the laws of secular government; and not under the coercion of church government. The Puritans, fed up with the constraints of law, and with widespread opposition to the Dissenters, now seek to emigrate to the Americas. There they hope to separate church and state, and to bar the government from interfering in the affairs of the Church, which has caused so much strife for so long.
7 The draper is a seller of cloth; the mercer retails it with its accessories; and the tailor trims and fashions it for the consumer.
8 1 Cor 14:23 – This passage concerns not speaking in tongues, so that all may be understood, and the church may be edified.