The Westminster Directory of Public Worship rightly recommends a prayer of confession of sin before the preaching of the Word. It helpfully provides an example of the content of such a prayer. How our churches, and the people in them, would be blessed by such a confession Sunday after Sunday. The preface is most helpful in describing the purpose of such a prayer.
“AFTER reading of the word, (and singing of the psalm), the minister who is to preach, is to endeavour to get his own and his hearers hearts to be rightly affected with their sins, that they may all mourn in sense thereof before the Lord, and hunger and thirst after the grace of God in Jesus Christ, by proceeding to a more full confession of sin, with shame and holy confusion of face, and to call upon the Lord to this effect:
To acknowledge our great sinfulness, First, by reason of original sin, which (beside the guilt that makes us liable to everlasting damnation) is the seed of all other sins, hath depraved and poisoned all the faculties and powers of soul and body, doth defile our best actions, and (were it not restrained, or our hearts renewed by grace) would break forth into innumerable transgressions, and greatest rebellions against the Lord that ever were committed by the vilest of the sons of men; and next, by reason of actual sins, our own sins, the sins of magistrates, of ministers, and of the whole nation, unto which we are many ways accessory: which sins of ours receive many fearful aggravations, we having broken all the commandments of the holy, just, and good law of God, doing that which is forbidden, and leaving undone what is enjoined; and that not only out of ignorance and infirmity, but also more presumptuously, against the light of our minds, checks of our consciences, and motions of his own Holy Spirit to the contrary, so that we have no cloak for our sins; yea, not only despising the riches of God’s goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, but standing out against many invitations and offers of grace in the gospel; not endeavouring, as we ought, to receive Christ into our hearts by faith, or to walk worthy of him in our lives.
To bewail our blindness of mind, hardness of heart, unbelief, impenitency, security, lukewarmness, barrenness; our not endeavouring after mortification and newness of life, nor after the exercise of godliness in the power thereof; and that the best of us have not so steadfastly walked with God, kept our garments so unspotted, nor been so zealous of his glory, and the good of others, as we ought: and to mourn over such other sins as the congregation is particularly guilty of, notwithstanding the manifold and great mercies of our God, the love of Christ, the light of the gospel, and reformation of religion, our own purposes, promises, vows, solemn covenant, and other special obligations, to the contrary.
To acknowledge and confess, that, as we are convinced of our guilt, so, out of a deep sense thereof, we judge ourselves unworthy of the smallest benefits, most worthy of God’s fiercest wrath, and of all the courses of the law, and heaviest judgments inflicted upon the most rebellious sinners; and that he might most justly take his kingdom and gospel from us, plague us with all sorts of spiritual and temporal judgments in this life, and after cast us into utter darkness, in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth for evermore.
Notwithstanding all which, to draw near to the throne of grace, encouraging ourselves with hope of a gracious answer of our prayers, in the riches and all-sufficiency of that only one oblation, the satisfaction and intercession of the Lord, Jesus Christ, at the right hand of his Father and our Father; and in confidence of the exceeding great and precious promises of mercy and grace in the new covenant, through the same Mediator thereof, to deprecate the heavy wrath and curse of God, which we are not able to avoid, or bear; and humbly and earnestly to supplicate for mercy, in the free and full remission of all our sins, and that only for the bitter sufferings and precious merits of that our only Saviour Jesus Christ.
That the Lord would vouchsafe to shed abroad His love in our hearts by the Holy Ghost; seal unto us, by the same Spirit of adoption, the full assurance of our pardon and reconciliation; comfort all that mourn in Zion. speak peace to the wounded and troubled spirit, and bind up the broken-hearted; and as for secure and presumptuous sinners, that he would open their eyes, convince their consciences, and tum them from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they also may receive forgiveness of sin, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in Christ Jesus.
With remission of sins through the blood of Christ, to pray for sanctification by his Spirit; the mortification of sin dwelling in and many times tyrannizing over us; the quickening of our dead spirits with the life of God in Christ; grace to fit and enable us for all duties of conversation and callings towards God and men; strength against temptations; the sanctified use of blessings and crosses; and perseverance in faith and obedience unto the end.