« הקודםהמשך »
either artfully or ignorantly confound these distinct ideas; and then pretend that sincerity is all that is necessary to salvation.
But this short specimen must suffice; though many more false inferences from the text might be mentioned; the wise man has, however, summed them all up in one verse: “ Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil.” Eccles. viii. 11.
IV, Let us in the last place make some practical use of the subject.
The view of the unfathomable love of God, which hath been given, should increase men's abhorrence of sin, and dread of its consequences. The more glorious and excellent the Lord appears to be, the greater degree of odiousness must be contained in every transgression against him; and crimes committed under the clear light of the gospel, must on that account be peculiarly inexcusable. While therefore sinners should take warning to flee from the wrath to come, (for how will “they escape if they neglect so great salvation," and harden themselves in disobedience, because our God is merciful?) it is incumbent on us all to humble ourselves more and more for all our numberless offences, as most hateful and unreasonable, because committed against infinite goodness and excellency.
On the other hand, the subject is most delightfully suited to encourage the poor trembling penitent, how many or heinous soever his sins may have been. Poor desponding soul, remember that God is Love. Consider what he hath done to make way for the honourable exercise of his mercy. There were two obstacles in the way of our felicity; namely, his justice, and our proud obstinacy. He hath removed the former by“ not sparing his own Son," but giving him a sacrifice for our sins; and he overcomes the latter when he “ gives us repentance to the acknowledging of his truth.” If then thou dost now submit to his righteousness, confess thy sins, and apply for salvation according to his merciful invitations; thou mayest assuredly expect a gracious reception; for he who commended his love to his enemies, by giving his own Son to die for them, cannot reject the weeping contrite supplicant, who pleads the all-prevailing name of Jesus, in humble faith, and fervent desires of finding mercy and grace through him.
Here again we may learn the standard of true excellency. The most shining characters, which genius hath selected to immortalize, have commonly been illustriously mischievous; and the unqualified admiration with which they are often mentioned, exceedingly misleads inexperienced youth. But God is Love; and the more we resemble and imitate him in this endearing attribute, the greater real excellency we unquestionably possess. Let us then be “ followers of God,” and “ walk in love,” after his pattern, in all the various displays of it which have been considered: then we shall certainly be known and approved as his children, and found meet for the eternal inheritance of his heavenly kingdom.
Finally, if we be conscious of having fed for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us in the gospel, let us receive the trials allotted us, as the wise and holy appointments of divine love; let us not judge of the Lord's dispensations by our feelings or reasonings, but by his holy word; and let us submit to his will, whatever he may withhold, take away, or inflict; assured that he manages all our concerns in that manner, which is most conducive to our eternal interests, and best suited to illustrate the riches of bis paternal liberality.
ACTS, XXVI. 19, 20.
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to ihe heavenly vision : but
shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
The propriety and address of the apostle Paul's speech before Agrippa, Fes. tus, and that august assembly, in whose presence he stood as the prisoner of Jesus Christ, have been generally admired: but the faithfulness and courage, with which he pleaded the cause of the gospel, are perhaps still more deserving of our attention. He paid no court to his illustrious auditors ; he attempted not to ingratiate himself with them, or even to shun their contempt or aversion : while he used the most effectual means of convincing them, not only that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but that faith in him was absolutely necessary to salvation, and that all men without exception ought to.“ repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”
Having given a brief narration of his own miraculous conversion ; he produced his commission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles:-" I have appeared unto thee," says the divine Saviour, “ to make thee a minister and a witness, both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which ] will appear unto thee: delivering thee from the people and the Gentiles, to whom now I send thee; to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon," says the apostle, “ I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but shewed," first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, “ that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” He did not think that in doing thus, “ he was disobedient to the heavenly vision :" whence we may assuredly conclude, that in his view of Christianity, these practical subjects entirely consisted with the doctrines of faith and grace, with which his epistles abound. The several Christian graces may, and should be distinguished, as they have their appropriate nature and use: but they cannot be separated in the person who possesses them. For instance, an impenitent believer, and an unbelieving penitent are ideal characters: true faith is a penitent faith, and true repentance is believing repentance: yet the nature and use of repentance and faith should plainly be distinguished. This will appear more evidently, while from the text we take occasion to consider,
1. The importance of the subject, as it appears from the Scriptures.
I. Let me call your attention, my brethren, to the importance, or prominence of this subject, as it appears from the Scriptures, especially from the New Testament.
« O genera
John the Baptist was the predicted forerunner of the Measiah, who was sent to prepare the way of the Lord when he came in human nature among his ancient people the Jews : but how did he execute his important office ? He came preaching, “ Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Let me entreat your serious attention to this circumstance :-notwithstanding the advantages of that favoured nation, with all their notions and forms of godliness; there was no order of men, no religious sect, no individual whatever, that did not want repentance, as a preparation for welcoming the Messiah, and sharing the blessings of his spiritual kingdom. Insomuch, that the Baptist said to the Pharisees, as well as to the Sadducees, tion of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our Father.” Matt. iii. 7—10. Not long after, our Lord himself condescended to preach the gospel ; and he too said, “ Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When the apostles went forth at his command, they “ preached every where that men should repent:” and it appears from part of his discourse to the seventy disciples, that they were charged with the same commission ; for he said on that occasion, “ Woe unto thee, Chorazin, woe unto thee, Bethsaida ; for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in thee, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes." Luke, x. 10–14.
Does our Lord say in one place, “ The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost?” He elsewhere explains it, “ I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Does the good Shepherd rejoice and call his friends to rejoice with him, when he has brought home. the lost sheep? “ So likewise is there joy in heaven,” even “ among the angels of God,"
"" over one sinner that repenteth:” and when the prodigal, returning to his father, was graciously welcomed, all the family was called on to rejoice; “ for this, my son, was lost and is found, was dead and is alive.”
On the other hand, Christ “ upbraided the cities, in which his mighty works had been done, because they repented not.” He told the people, “ that the men of Nineveh would rise up in judgment with that generation and condemn it; because they repented at the preaching of Jonas: and behold a greater than Jonas is here." He warned the Jews, that “except they repented, they would all likewise perish.”. And he summed up the reasons of his gentleness to notorious sinners, and his severity in rebuking the Pharisees, in this remarkable passage :-“ A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first and said, Son, go to work to-day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not : but afterward he repented and went. And he came to the second and said likewise : and he answered and said, I go, Sir; and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not : but the publicans and harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterwards, that ye might believe him!” Matt. xxi, 28–32.
When 'our Lord was risen from the dead, and about to ascend unto the Father, he said to his apostles on one occasion, “ Go ye, preach the gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved : and he that believeth not shall be damned.” At another time he instructed them in this manner. “ Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Mark xvi. 15, 16. Luke xxiv. 46, 47. We may know how the apostles understood their Lord, after they were filled with the Holy Ghost, if we attend to Peter, on the day of Pentecost, thus addressing the convinced Jews, “ Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins :" and afterwards, Repent and be converted, that your sins may de blotted out; not because your sins are blotted out ; as some modern systems seem to require: and why should men alter the order of Scriptural exhortations, unless they mean to change or confuse the doctrine of Scripture? Acts ii. 38. iii. 13.
When Peter related the circumstances of Cornelius's conversion to his brethren at Jerusalem, they made this remark, " Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” Acts xi. 18. When Paul at Athens, before the celebrated council of Areopagus, boldly exposed the ignorance of this renowned seat of pagan philosophy, he said, “ The times of this ignorance God winked at, but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” Acts xvii. 30. And stating the substance of his preaching before the elders of Ephesus, he thus expressed himself, “ Testifying, both to the Jews and also to the Gentiles, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Acts xx. 21.
The same apostle, addressing the unbelieving Jews, thus expostulates with them, “ Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance ; But after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath ?” Rom. iii. 4, 5. To the Corinthians he says, “ Godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of." And he expressed his fears, that when he came among them he should lament many, which had sinned and had not repented.” 2 Cor. vii. 10. xii. 21. When he described the case of those who had sinned beyond the reach of mercy, he says, “ It is impossible to renew them to repentance ;” and on the other hand he directed Timothy, “ In meekness to instruct those that opposed themselves, if peradventure God would give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” Where it is particularly to be remarked, that repentance is considered as an essential preparation of mind for the reception of the truth, in order that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who have been taken captive by him at his will.” 2 Tim. ii. 25, 26. Heb. vi. 6. And this agrees with Peter's advice to Simon Magus,
Repent of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee.” Acts viii. 22.
The testimonies already produced may probably be deemed more than sufficient for the purpose : but let every one remember, that we are not only concerned to prove the truth of the doctrine: it is also requisite to shew that the experience and exercise of repentance are indispensably necessary to salvation; and that this hath been a matter of the last importance in religion under every dispensation. I shall however only select one passage from the Old Testament, with which to conclude this part of our subject. “ I will judge you, every one according to your ways, saith the Lord God; repent and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart and new spirit, for why will ye die, O house of Israel ? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God; therefore repent, and turn ye.” Ezek. xviii. 30—32. Let us then consider,
11. Certain things, which are implied in the language of the text, “ That men should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”
It is evidently implied in these words, that all men have sinned. God would never require any one to repent, who had never offended : yet “he commands all men every where to repent.” Sin is the transgression of the divine law, either by omission or commission, by defect or redundance, in thought, word, or deed. Few indeed of the human race are acquainted with the full extent and spirituality of this perfect rule: yet all know more than they practise. Every man's conscience therefore must testify, if he allow himself time for reflection, that he hath often wilfully neglected his known duty, and acted contrary to the conviction of his own mind, for the sake of some idolized worldly object. And this alone proves, that he ought to repent and turn to God, from whom he hath in this manner inexcusably departed.
But “ the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men;" and not merely against a few scandalous and enormous crimes. Many painful effects of the divine displeasure are experienced during the present life, which universally terminate in death: then the sinner's " body returns to the dust whence it was taken, and the soul returns to God that gave it.” Criminals suffer many things previous to their trial; but the principal punishment is subsequent to condemnation: thus “ it is appointed to men once to die, and after death the judgment :” and we are “ warned to flee from the wrath to come ;" from which Jesus delivers his people; who must suffer and die like other men. The connection therefore between sin and future condemnation to everlasting punishment, which cannot be escaped without repentance, is clearly implied in the language of the text.
Nor should we forget, that this condemnation is merited; for unless sin deserves the punishment denounced, there can be no free mercy in remitting it. When the apostles were sentenced to st or death, for preaching the gospel, they might lament the injustice of the magistrates, but they could not repent of their own conduct in “ obeying God rather than men. Such persons, as deem the laws of any country iniquitous, and their governor's oppressive, will complain when they suffer for disobedience; but they cannot repent, unless they be convinced of criminality in themselves. Nor can any man repent of breaking the law, and falling under the condemnation of God, unless he allow that he deserves the threatened punishment. It would carry us too far, to prove or illustrate the justice of God in the sentence pronounced against transgressors, by stating the rebellion, ingratitude, and enmity, which more or less connect with all our violations of the divine law; but surely, if crimes against our fellow-creatures may deserve death, sins against our infinitely glorious Creator merit a punishment proportionably more dreadful. It is not commonly supposed that malefactors are sufficiently impartial, even if in other respects competent, to decide on the equity of the laws, or to amend the criminal code. It becomes us therefore, rather to subinit to the justice of God, and to supplicate his mercy, than to reply against him, as if we would condemn that we may be justified.
The text implies likewise, that all have turned away from God. The characters of men are greatly diversified, but all “ have forsaken the fountain of living waters, to hew out for themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water." A postacy from God, or a refusal to render him the wor. ship, love, gratitude, and obedience which he demands; alienation of heart from him, and a disposition to seek happiness any where, rather than in his favour and service, are universal. “ All' we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way." All men are become idolaters ; they desire and delight supremely in the creature, in one form or other; while a self-sufficient independent spirit, a proneness to self-admiration, and to seek their own will or glory as the ultimate end of all their actions, constitutes another kind of universal idolatry. Hence the necessity of repenting and turning to God, as the supreme object of our love, and the source of our felicity.
But we must also observe, that the text contains an intimation of mercy, and of the way the Lord hath opened, in which the returning sinner may approach him, with full confidence of a gracious reception. If there were any one, who had so grievously offended, that no forgiveness would be vouchsafed him, even if he did most sincerely and penitently seek it; God would never command that man to repent, and turn to him. When a company of malefactors have been convicted on the clearest evidence of the most atrocious crimes; a command from their prince to own their guilt, and apply for mercy in a prescribed way, would be considered as an encouragement to expect a pardon. A hope would spring up in every breast; and if any, who