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things yc are loo superstitious:—the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now command eth all men every where to repent."
Repentance towards God is the great and leading duty enjoined both in the Old and in the New Testament. Along with every revelation of the Divine will; along with every new commission to prophets and holy men to preach this Divine will, the duty of repentance is always inculcated in the Rtrongest terms. The Patriarch Noah preached repentance to the world before the flood. John the Baptist begun his public ministry by preaching the doctrine of repentance. "Except ye repent, ye shall perish," was the awful denunciation of our Lord. And his apostles constantly began or ended their sermons with exhortations to this duly. This message so often delivered to the world, I now address to you; and demand your serious attention to this most important subject. And, in further treating upon it, I shall, in the first place, explain to you the nature of repentance; and, secondly, lay before you the motives whieh ought to influence your minds to the practice of this duty.
I. I proposed to explain the nature of true repentance.
Repentance unto life, as it is well defined in that excellent summary of theology, the Shorter Catechism, is, "A saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his kin, aud apprehension of the mercy ol God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatted of his sin, turn from it unto God, with lull purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience." According to this definition, repentance includes, first, a true sense of sin; secondly, grief and hatred of sin; thirdly, apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, the forsaking of sin, and endeavouring alter new obedience.
First, A true sense of sin. This must be the groundwork of all the rest, because it it impossible to hate what we do not feel. It is impossible to conceive a hatred and aversion against a thing of which we are not sensible, or to flee from a danger of which we have no apprehension. Where there is no sense of sin, therefore, there can be no repentance. Accordingly, the Pharisee who trusted in himself that he was righteouB, was too proud, even when he was praying to God, to confess any guilt of bis own. «' God, 1 thank thee," says he, "that 1 am not as other men are." He was conscious, it seems, of no sin, though inwardly full ol rottenness and hypocrisy. Such inseusi,
bility is a certain sign of a hardened and impenitent heart, and can proceed from nothing but a gross and conceited ignorance, a wretched inconsideration, or a long continuance in sin, that has rendered the conscience callous and past feeling. This first step of repentance supposes the sinner, in the first place, to be feelingly affected with a sense of his sins; to have his mind enlightened and his conscience awakened by the word of God; to be convinced from thence of the irregularity of his ways, and their contrariety to the holiness of the Divine nature; to labour under the load of his guilt; and in the consciousness of his own ill deserving, to be ready to sink under the number and the weight of his transgressions. Such were the sentiments of David's heart, and such the confession of his tongue. "I acknowledge my transgression; my sin is ever before me; mine iniquities are gone over my head; as a burden they are too heavy for me." This sense of sin is often accompanied with the emotions of fear. For when the sinner, already convicted in his own conscience, begins to reflect upon his past life, and at the same time to look up to God whom he has offended, and forwards to eternity, upon the brink of which he daily stands shivering; what a spectacle of terror must this be to a man who has been long spiritually blind, and whose eyes are but just opened to see this startling scene! And behold, behind him a formidable troop of sins; sins red as crimson, and numberless as the sand upon the sea shore! Above a holy and a just God,] the Judge of th'c world, armed with the thunders of his wrath! Before him the infernal world, disclosing all its horrors, and ready to swallow him up in perdition! Doubtless the terrors of the Lord, when thus set in array, against a self-condemned sinner, will fill him with fear and dismay, especially when he considers that God is greater than his heart, and knoweth all things. The second step of repentance is being affected with a grief and hatred of sin. The former was a selfish feeling; this is a generous passion. The former respects sin as ruinous to the sinner; this regards it as offensive to God. When the penitent is already affected with a deep sense of the danger of his sin, how will it wound his mind, and pierce him to the heart, to consider that he has not only been long an enemy to himself, but also an enemy to God; to consider that he has trespassed so far upon infinite goodness; that he has dallied so long with infinite justice; that be has mispent the precious talents committed to him of heaven; that he has abused the faculties of his immortal soul: that he has been defacing the image of God his Maker, and that with his own bands he has been excluding himself from happiness, from heaven, and from the presence of the Lord. These, and such alarming thoughts, pierce to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit; enough to constrain the sorrowful penitent to lift up his eyes in the midst of his torment, and to cry out with Job in tho bitterness of his soul, "I have sinned, and what shall I answer to thee, O thou Preserver of men? Alas! the arrows of the Almighty are within me; the poison of thein drinkctli up my spirit. But what grieves me most is, that I have offended Thee the Author of my life, and the Preserver of my being; that I have sinned against so much goodness, and provoked such tend.er mercy. Mine iniquities deserve thy wrath and vengeance. But thy goodness reacheth from henven to earth. Thy mercy, like thyself, is infinite. Let this remorse, which I now Ice!, be the only punishment of my sin; and let me not be finally deliveied over to the tormentors. This I request and pray on account of the merit of my Redeemer. His righteousness is all-sufficient and meritorious. By it may I obtain favour and acceptance with thee, and be transslated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God."
The third step in repentance towards God is an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, and a forsaking of sin. This is properly an act of faith. Faith and repentance are twin graces of tlie soul, and can never be separated. True repentance includes faith, and true faith includes repentance. The mercy of God through a Redeemer being proclaimed in the Gospel, and a new and living way to the holiest of all being setopeu by the blood of Jesus, the true penitent flics lor refuge to the hope set before him, and lays hold on eternal life. He forsakes his sins, and walks in newness of life. He begins *ith alacrity to run the race set before him, and feels to hi* blesseil experience, that the ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness, and that all her paths are peace. This is the crowning act of true repentance, and the test of its sincerity. That is not true repentance, when the sinner, after feeling some compunctions of mind, some touches of remorse, form; a few feeble resolutions, which he breiks at the first approach of temptation. He Is not a true penitent, who after mourning over his old sins, begins a new course of wickedness. This is only changing one sin for another. A man, who has spent his youth in profusion and extravagance, may devote his riper years to avarice and the cares of the world. Such a person is indeed a different man, but he is not a penitent. In like manner, a person who has been at the head of the follies and the vices of the world, who has taken the lead in all fashionable and criminal gratifications, may grow tired of such a course of life, as human nature will tire of every thing: Such a person may take a fit of devotion, and rush into a variety of gloomy superstitions and severities; but this is not true repentance. This is only passing from one error to another. This is only giving a different direction to your passions. Repentance must effect a thorough change, or it is no repentance at all. Neither is he a true penitent who, after being affected with remorse for sin, falls into the same course again; who is always sinning and always repenting; and who goes on in a sad circle of making resolutions, and breaking them as soon as they are made. True repentance is repentance from dead works to serve the living God. It consists in confessing and forsaking our sins. It consists in denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and abounding in the fruits of righteousness unto eternal life.
I do not mean by this, that any man in this life is altogether free from sin. Imperfections cleave»to the best. Who can say that his hands are clean, or his heart pure? Good men oft-times may be off their guard ; they may be surprised in the hour of temptation, and be overtaken in a fault, but they will never sin upon a plan; they will never make a system of iniquity ; they will not deliberately concert plots of wickedness upon their beds, and rise up to execute with warmth what liiey have contrived with coolness. The grace of God does not act by fits and starts; is not a transient but an abiding principle. The Christian is fixed and immoveable, and abounding in the work of the Lord. He is not of those apostates, mentioned by the Apostle Jude, who resemble the morning clouds, that are ever varying their form, and are carried about with every wind; who resemble wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. But he advances from strength to strength; his path is like the light of the morning, which shinelh more and more unto the perfect day.
There is one other part of repentance which I have not Tel mentioned, and which merits your serious attention; that is, making restitution and reparation, as far as lies in your power, for the evils you have done. "If I hare wronged any man," said Zaccheus when he repented, " lo I restore him fourfold." Have you wronged any man in his property? Have you taken away his goods? Make restitution. Have you wronged any man in his reputation? Have you taken away his good name? Make reparation: Confess that you was n defamer: Confess that you was a liar. Hoveyoii offended and injured any one? Ask his forgiveness. Let no false shame hinder yon from doing your duty. You have good cause to be ashamed. Be always ashamed to offend; but never blush for your returning virtue. Let no false shame, therefore, no foolish obstinacy, no pride of heart, prevent you from a thorough reformation. Better be exposed to shame here than be doomed hereafter to everlasting pains.
II. I proposed to lay before you the motives to repentance.
And, in the first place, The superior light and information derived to the world by the Christian religion concerning the rule of righteousness according to which we ought to conduct our lives, suggests a strong motive and inducement to repentance. God indeed never left himself without a witness in the world. He made the firmament bright with his glory, and commanded the heavens, with all their host, to declare his handiwork. With his own finger he inscribed the laws of justice and of virtue upon the heart of man. Attentive to this voice of God within, and assisted by those impressions of Divinity without, the mornl ter.chers among the Gentiles struck out many useful discoveries, and taught many valuable lessons of wisdom to the world. They wandered not in the dark concerning the essentials of natural religion. They were not ignorant of the chief duties of life. The invisible things of God, even his eternal power and Godhead, they discovered by the works of creation; and having the law of nature written in their hearts, they were a law unto themselves. Hut the defect which they laboured under, was the want of authority to enforce the discoveries which they made, and the want of a proper sanction to the rules of lite