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life. It is one of the first steps in the path of the just; it accompanies him through every stage; and, even at the close of his earthly career, his bosom not unfrequently heaves with the sigh of contrition. There is, of course, in the sacred writings, no duty more early, more frequently, or more forcibly, en joined. The prophets in the old testament called on the people, in order to be prepared for temporal blessings, or to be relieved from temporal calamities, to repent. At the advent of Messiah, John called on the Jews, in order to be prepared for his coming, to repent; and our Saviour commisioned his disciples, as constituting one of the prominent features of the gospel, "to preach the doctrine of repentance for the remission of sins." It is indeed held up to view, as the first requirement, and the brightest evidence, of the Christian character.
But on this subject, all-interesting as it is, there appears to be no small degree of confusion prevailing in the Christian world. Instead of a single, specifick act, it is confounded with other exercises; or used to comprise the whole sphere of Christian duty. In point of rank, indeed, it stands among the highest; but in regard to its nature, it is entirely distinct from faith, from love, from patience, from hope, and from humility. The object of the present discourse will, therefore, be,
I. To explain the nature of repentance; and then,
II. To propose motives to the practice of it.
I. Repentance, according to the etymology of the word, in the Greek language, signifies a change of mind, accompanied by corresponding change of practice. It is, however, used in the sacred writings, as its most appropriate meaning, to signify that grief and sorrow which arise in the bosom of a man, who is deeply penetrated with the consciousness of having done that which he ought not to have done; and of having left undone that which he
should have done. True evangelical repentance summarily implies a hatred of sin and all sinful propensities; not from dread of punishment, but from a lively sense of their turpitude, their offensiveness to God, and injurious consequences to man. It is the voluntary exercise of a heart changed from evil to good, which is led to "hate every false way." It does not consist in hating merely the name of sin, but all sinful practices, whether in ourselves or others. Thus, a real penitent may have, like other men, a natural desire for wholesome food, but he will abhor gluttony and every excess. All the bounties of Providence, and the fruits of industry, and laudable enterprise, he will receive with gratitude; but unjust and wicked gains, and the fruits of fraud, avarice, and oppression, he will most cautiously avoid, and utterly detest. He may not be averse to social intercourse, or to innocent recreations; but from a sense of their evi! tendency, he will be on his guard against the smallest approach to vice and dissipation; against waste of time, and every appearance of evil. may not be destitute of passions, or strong emotions, for he is but a man, and a man of like passions with others;
but he will be shocked at intemperate bursts of passion, and be grieved espe cially, when he becomes himself the victim of an unruly temper. not be disinclined to speak of God and sacred things; but he shudders, when the name of God is invoked in a profane and irreverent manner; or sacred ordinances and religious institutions are treated with levity and disrespect. His aversion is deep-rooted and uniform to all unlawful deeds, which are contrary to the divine command, and destructive of human happiness.
True, evangelical repentance is not an overwhelming burst of passion, a frantick emotion, springing up suddenly, and with as rapid a transition, followed by contrary emotions; but is a collected, heart-felt sorrow,occasioned
by the consciousness of our sinful lusts and propensities, our depravity, weakness, and irresolution; which render us so averse to duty, and incline us, es. pecially, to consider the duties we owe to God, as being so burdensome; which so much dispose us to detract from them; which occasion such deep regret at the quantity of time devoted to them, and render us so eager to return from them to the world, in order to engage in the trifling concerns of time and sense. These considerations awaken the sigh of contrition, call forth those struggles which are necessary in the Christian warfare, and constitute that repentance, which brings forth the good fruits of holiness, and "needeth not to be repented of."
before the exercise of repentance, was pursuing the world and its lusts, its empty honours and fleeting pleasures, he is now pursuing the real honours, the ineffable and never ending joys of the world to come. Whereas he had turned aside, in the pursuit of earthly riches, and his conscience had been defiled; he now returns to the right path, is washed by the tears of penitence, and pursues, with new ardour, the unsearchable riches of righteousness. Whereas he was before pursuing the wages of sin, he is now seeking after the rewards of holiness. Whereas he was before anxious chiefly for the applause of his fellow creatures, he is now solicitous only to obtain the approbation of God; and whereas he was before travelling the broad road to destruction, he is now walking in the straight and narrow path which leadeth to life." Not as though he had already attained, or were already perfect;" but he "presses toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God." His face is toward the skies; though, alas! his feet are often entangled by the snares and toils of this lower world, in which he is doomed to walk.
The first part of the Christian life is regeneration. By means of this, the subject is brought into covenant with God, and is made a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. But as in the natural, so in the spiritual life, a man can be born but once. He must afterward be fed and nourished by the word and ordinances, in order that he may 66 come unto the perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.' The spiritual man may be weakened by lack of nourishment, or be defiled by the malady of sin. Repentance, then, is the medicine by which he is to be healed, or the ablution by which he is to be cleansed. A good man may fall seven times a day; and if he may so often fall by sinning, there is no other way for him to rise, but by as often repenting. By repentance it is, that the Christian who has strayed away from his Father's house, returns to it again. He turns from sin to the service of God, when, ceasing to be governed by lust and passion, and the slavish customs and manners of the world, he is guided by the "wisdom which is from above," and follows after righteousness and true holiness." In both which cases, he is as one pursuing, or as one travelling. Whereas, in the former case,
This is in general the character of the true penitent. But it is proper that some notice should be taken of the distinction between fear and penitence. There may be, and often is, great fear, where there is no real penitence. Fear is the offspring of despair; and this may exist without one spark of love to God or hatred of sin. There may consciousness of unworthiness, and a lively persuasion, that if we had nothing to plead but our own merits, we should deserve everlasting rejection from the presence of God; but, as a view of the goodness of God is one of the most effectual means of bringing men to repentance, the consideration of it ought always to be present to the truly penitent, and keep him from fear and despair. Frightful apprehensions of God, and despair of his goodness and mercy, are alike dishonourable to his being, repugnant to his will, and remote from
genuine contrition. He tells us that he dwells with the humble and contrite one; and where he is present, there must be freedom; his presence will dispel slavish fear. The sinner may, and ought to tremble at God's word; but if he does nothing more, he stops at the very threshold of duty, and pauses at the incipient stage of his journey. Repentance is complete, when this trembling ends. The moment the sinner is inspired with love, and is resolved by grace to forsake sin; the moment he turns from the errour of his ways, to follow the only living and true God, he has experienced a complete exercise of contrition, and is restored to the favour of God through Jesus Christ. The moment that, like the prodigal, he returns to his Father's house, the Father is ready to meet him and welcome him to the abode from which he had strayed.
Still, however, he may wander occasionally; he no doubt will wander. But, if he return again in the exercise of unfeigned sorrow, he will be accepted; for God is not wil ling that any who come to him should perish, but that all should come to repentance. All who embrace him, by a true and lively faith, will most certainly be saved. Though their sins be as scarlet, they shall (by repentance) be as wool; and though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as snow. The true penitent will ascribe nothing to his own merits; but at the end of life will be conscious, that, dur ing his whole Christian life, a continued struggle has been carried on between sin and holiness; the flesh has lusted against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; the spirit has been willing, but the flesh weak; and nothing but grace, restraining grace, has kept him from being overpowered by remaining corruption. After he has done all, he is willing to acknowledge himself an unprofitable servant. ·
Confession is another important branch of this duty. "He that cover
eth his sins," says Solomon, "shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy." "There is no man," says he again, "that liveth and sinneth not ;" and John the apostle informs us, that, "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." It is pride, pharisaical pride, which prevents us from owning ourselves to be sinners; a pride which must be humbled, before we can derive any essential benefit from the merits and sacrifice of Je sus Christ. There are some, who are willing enough to acknowledge themselves sinners, but are unwilling to own themselves guilty of a single fault. This, also, is another ramifica. tion of pride, not less reprehensible, but chargeable with more inconsistency than the former. This must be resisted likewise, and the humble task of confession be submitted to, not only in respect to inward depravity, but outward transgression. We must be wil ling to acknowledge our faults, and confess them; not to man, but to God, who alone is able to pardon them. We must, indeed, repair, as far as possible, the injuries done to others, and be wil ling to make confession to those we have injured, and entreat their forgiveness; but we must repair to God, and to him alone for final ablution, and cleansing from all sin.
Confession must be made according to the full extent of our transgressions. Not one must be intentionally excepted or concealed. It may not be possible for us to make the catalogue complete, or enumerate any considerable portion of the offences committed against the divine Majesty. But we must have lively views of our deformity, and be deeply humbled under the sense of our awful distance from that standard of perfection, which is set before us in the example of Jesus Christ; and be willing, on this account,
with Job, to " loathe and abhor our. selves in dust and ashes." In vain shall we expect to be accepted of God, if we attempt to palliate, or retain a single sin. What better would you be for having expelled all foes, while one traitor was retained in the camp to betray you? How much safer will you be, after having confessed all sin, should one be still left to rise up in judgment against you?
But confession, which is the most obvious, rational, and effectual exercise of repentance, is very humiliating, and therefore too little regarded. Men easily perceive themselves to be sinners on the whole, but not in the detail. They will acknowledge the depravity of their natures, but defend themselves against any unfavourable insinuation, with all the energy and zeal of injured innocence.
This habit of self-concealment, and of hiding our sins from God, foolish as it may appear, is general, and seems to have been entailed by Adam on his posterity, from the time of his fatal trangression. From the moment of guilt, his foolish heart became darkened. Instead, therefore, of exercising his usual confidence in God, and going to meet him with the language of humble contrition, and supplication for pardon, he attempted to hide himself among the trees of the garden. Alas! poor, unhappy man! what is become of that clearness of discernment, that intuitive perception of rectitude, propriety, and consistency of conduct, in which thou wast at first created? What, hide thyself from the power and inspection of that Being, who is omnipotent and omniscient! "How is the gold become dit, and the fine gold changed!" How strangely are all the faculties of the mind and heart changed, by the admission of sin! This unhappy propensity to self-delusion, has Adam entailed on all his children. We are all of us foolish enough to think that we can hide our sins from God. This is to be accounted for, in
the first place, from ignorance of the scheme of redemption. Till made ac. quainted with the character and mediation of Jesus Christ, the sinner, alarmed at the number and magnitude of his offences, could not be able to discover any ground of pardon and acceptance; and would, therefore, sink into despair at the view of them, but for this habit of palliation, or hope of concealment. Again, another reason for this conduct is that love of sin which springs from our native propensity, and is confirmed by habit. Till the heart is changed, and the love of sin eradicated, and the love of holiness implanted in its stead, the sinner is afraid to confess his sins, because then his conscience would enforce the necessity of reformation; and till he has, by the eye of faith, discerned the beauty of holiness, and the enormity of sin, nothing appears so dreadful as separation from darling sins. He would rather risk the salvation of his soul on uncovenanted mercy, than be included in any scheme of salvation, of which divorce from long habits of sinful indulgence should be a necessary condition. variety of subterfuges and false pretences are resorted to, in order to sooth the pangs of a wounded conscience; and thus man, blinded by sin, fatally imposes on himself. But it is not so with the humble and contrite one, who, borne down by the burden of sin, has resorted to the word of God for relief, and has obtained clear views of the way and means of salvation. To him confession is a plain, and, comparatively speaking, pleasing duty; for it is an unburdening of his conscience, a relief from impediments to duty, and a removal of those blemishes which disqualify him for the divine favour. He has, therefore, no excuses to make, but confesses every sin freely, with all its respective aggravations; and strives, with extreme solicitude, to dethrone its dominion, destroy its influence, and extirpate every relick of corruption. His desire is to be entirely
Hence a great
But, as the essence of repentance consists in change of heart and conduct, in turning about, and mending our ways and our doings, let us now see, from what, to whom,-by whose aid, -and by what means, we are to return. We are to turn from all sin; from filthy lusts, which resist the will of God; from idleness, and negligence of his commands; from errour and infidelity, superstition and idolatry; and adopt the true faith and worship of God, and walk in his commandments and ordinances blameless. We must return to God, our heavenly Father, from whom, as rebellious children, we have strayed. We have wandered far from him, and have unthankfully abused his mercies upon our lusts. We have broken covenant with him, and served other gods-the objects of worldly mindedness and carnal affection-and have leagued ourselves with his enemies, and have rebelled against him. We must, therefore, lay down the weapons of rebellion, own our allegiance to him, and acknowledge his sovereignty, and his undisputed right to reign and rule in our hearts; we must renew our covenant with him, and dedicate ourselves unreservedly to his service. But this must be done by faith, by firm belief in his being and in his word, and implicit reliance on his promises. We must also come by Jesus Christ. Since the adoption of the new covenant, the only mode of access to the Father is through the merits, the mediation, and the intercession, of his dearly beloved and only begotten Son. "I am the door," says the blessed Saviour, "by me, if a man enter, he shall come in and go out, and find pasture." "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh
unto the Father but by me." And, as to the manner of turning, we must come unto God with our whole heart, with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.
We must engage heartily
in the worship and service of God, and not only be separated from those sins which formerly had dominion over us, but declare hostility against them. We must say, with the humble prodigal, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son ;" and, in the language of the publican, cry out, "God be merciful to me a sinner!”
Thus, my brethren, have I endeavoured to explain to you the nature of repentance; and from what has been said, we see that it is a plain and reasonable duty; that it is not mysterious nor incomprehensible; not calculated to foster superstition or fanaticism; not confined to a single act; but that it is altogether of a practical nature, and a duty which needs to be frequently, and, to a certain degree, constantly discharged. When we daily go to our Father, and supplicate him to forgive us our trespasses, we must be accompanied by penitent hearts, otherwise our supplications will be of no avail. Every time we transgress, we must be renewed again by repentance. generation is indeed a single act, and can occur but once in the Christian life, but we may be converted and "be renewed day by day."
II. Let us now conclude, by suggesting a few motives to the practice of this duty.
1. One consideration to this effect is, the need in which all men stand of the exercise of repentance. Of this we are assured in holy scripture. "The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. They are all gone aside; they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no not one.' This is spoken of the whole human race. They are all "very far gone