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the book of creation, so legible to all. When it is said that God winked at these times of ignorance, it may mean, as our translators seem to have understood it, that God seemed to connive at, or not to take notice of this universal ignorance that had overspread the world, so as to send his prophets to them for their reformation. In this view, there is a strong antithesis between the first and the last parts of my text.q.d.“ God once seemed to connive at the idolatry and superstition of mankind, and to let them go on, without sending his messengers to call them to repentance ; and in these dark times their impenitence was the less inexcusable. But now the case is altered ; now he has introduced a glo. rious day, and he plainly and loudly calls and commands all men every where to repent; and therefore, if you now continue impenitent, you are utterly inexcusable.” Or the word may be rendered, God overlooked these times of ignorance : he overlooked them by way of displeasure : he would not favour such guilty times with a gracious glance of his eye: and in righteous displeasure, he did not so much as give them an explicit call to repentance : or he overlooked them by way of forbearance. Ignorant and idolatrous as the world was, he did not destroy it, but bore it from age to age, with a design to publish a more explicit command to repent : and now that time is come ; that time, for the sake of which a long-suffering God had borne with a guilty world so long. Now he commands all men every where to repent ; all men, Gentiles as well as Jews : every where in the dark heathen lands, as well as in the enlightened spot of Judea.
Repentance is indeed a duty enjoined by our natural reason, and strongly enforced by the Jewish religion ; but it is the gospel that affords the strongest motives and allurements, and the best helps and advantages for repentance. The gospel was first introduced by a loud call to repentance : Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, was the united cry of John the Baptist, of Christ, and his disciples. And St. Paul sums up the substance of his preaching in these two articles, Repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts xx. 21.
Repentance is universally acknowledged to be an essential ingredient in the religion of a sinner. They who deny the christian religion, and particularly the necessity of Christ's death to make atonement for sin, they deny it upon this supposition, that the light of nature teaches us the necessity of repentance, and that alone is a sufficient atonement. Thus, even infidels, Jews,
Pagans and Mahometans, agree in asserting the necessity of repentance. It is this grand catholic uncontroverted duty, and not the little disputable peculiarity of a party, that I am now about to inculcate upon you : And he that hath an ear to hear let him hear,
But here, I hope, you are ready to request me, “ Pray let us know what repentance is, before you exhort us to it. we know what it is to repent, and whether we have truly repented or not?”
If this be your desire, it directly coincides with my main design: and I shall endeavour, with the utmost plainness and faithfulness, to tell you what gospel repentance is, and belp you to determine whether ever you have been the subjects of it.
Now it is evident both from scripture and common sense, that every pang of sorrow for sin, and every instance of reformation, is not that repentance which we have now under consideration. If horror of conscience, and fears of hell, could constitute true repentance, then Judas was a true penitent ; for his horror and fear were so great that he could not live under it. If sudden pangs of terror and remorse, with some resolutions to amend, could constitutę true repentance, then Felix, the heathen governor, was a true penitent ; for we are told, that, while Paul reasoned before him, concerning temperance, righteousness, and judgment to come, he trembled, Acts xxiv. 25, and seemed resolved to give him another hearing on these subjects. If a reformation in many instances were the same thing with repentance, then Herod, the murderer of John the Baptist, was a true penitent ; for we are told, he heard John gladly, and did many things at his exaltation. Mark vi. 20. These knew nothing of repentance unto life ; and therefore we may feel what they felt, and yet remain impenitent.
I scarcely think there are any of you so hardy and reprobated of God, as never to have experienced any sort of repentance. It is likely there is not one in this assembly but has sometimes been scared with dreadful apprehensions of death, hell, and the conse, quences of sin : and perhaps you have cried and wept to think of your sinful life, and trembled to think what would be the end of it. You have also prayed to God to forgive you, and resolved and promised you would reform. Nay, it is possible, the terrors of the Lord and a sense of guilt, may have almost overwhelmed and distracted you, haunted you from day to day and disturbed your nightly slumbers. On these accounts you conclude, per. haps, that you are true penitents: but, alas ! after all this, you may be but impenitent sinners. True evangelical repentance has the following distinguishing characteristics ; by which I request you to examine yourselves.
I. It extends to the heart as well as to the practice. Every true penitent, indeed, has an affecting sense of the many sins and guilty imperfections of his life; but then his repentance does not stop there, but he looks into the horrid arcana, the secrets of wickedness within. He traces up these corrupt streams to the more corrupt fountain in his heart, from which they flow. A blind mind, a stupid beart, a heart disaffected to God, that could live content for months, tor years without loving God, a heart dead to his service, a heart insensible to eternal things, a heart excessively set upon things below, a secure conscience, a stub. born ungovernable will ; these, to the true penitent, appear the greatest crimes, while, by a thoughtless world, they are hardly noticed as slight imperfections. Hence when his walk in the eyes of men is unblameable, and even imitable, he still finds daily occasion for repentance and humiliation before God. For O ! his heart, or his inward temper, is not such as it should be : be does not love God nor man as he knows he should : he does not delight in the service of Go as he should : every thought, ev. ery motion of his heart towards forbidden objects alarms hin, like a symptom of the plague, or the stirring of an enemy in ambush ; and he is immediately in arms to make resistance, The world in general are very well pleased if the matter of their actions be good, and if they abstain from what is materially evil : but this does not satisfy the true penitent : he narrowly inspects the principles, the motives, and the ends of his actions; and there he finds sufficient cause for mortification and sorrow, even when his actions in themselves are lawful and good. In short, every true penitent is a critic upon his own heart ; and there he . finds constant cause for repentance while in this imperfect state.
The proof of this is so evident, that I need hardly mention it. Can you suppose it will satisfy a true lover of God and goodness, just to have a clean outside, while his heart is a mere mass of corruption ? Will it content such a one, that he performs all the outward duties of religion, if there be no life or spirn in them? Will God account that man truly penitent, who thinks it enough that he is not guilty of open acts of wickedness, though he indulges it, and loves it in his heart? No ; such repentance is a
shallow, superficial thing, and is good for nothing. David's repentance reached his heart. Hence, in his penitential psalm (li.) he not only confesses his being guilty of the blood of Uriah, but that he was shapen in iniquity, and conceived in sin, and earnestly prays, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm li. 5, 6, 10. And he is deeply sensible of the want of truth or integrity in the inward parts.
Now, my brethren, if this be an essential ingredient in true repentance, do not some of you see, that you are destitute of it! and, consequently, that you are still impenitent sinners, and ready to perish as such ? A dreadful conviction! But do not shut your eyes against it; for, until you see your error, you cannot correct it.
II. In evangelical repentance there is a deep sense of the intrinsic evil of sin, and a hearty sorrow for it as done against God.
Many that think they repent of sin have no proper sorrow upon the account of sin against God, but only on account of the punishment it is like to bring upon themselves. It is not sin they hate, but hell. Were it possible for them to enjoy their sins, and yet be happy, they would never think of repenting ; and hence repentance is really an hardship in their view. Need I tell you that such a servile, forced repentance, is good for nothing? If the criminal is very sorry, not because he has offended, but because he is to be executed for it, would you call him a true penitent? If your slave cries and trembles, not from a sense of his offence against you, but for fear of the lash, do you think he truly repents of it ? No; it is self-love, and not the love of duty ; it is fear of the punishment, and not hatred of the crime, that is the principle of this servile, ungenerous repentance.
Hence you may see you may be very sorry for your sin, because it may fix a scandal upon your character, because it may have injured your temporal estate, or because it may ruin you in the eternal world : I say, you may be very sorry for sin on such servile reasons as these, and yet know nothing of true repent. ance. True repentance is a more kindly, generous thing ; it proceeds from an affecting sense of the baseness and malignity of sin in itself. Sin appears to the true penitent, as some sorts of poison to us; that is, not only hateful because it is deadly and destructive, but hateful and nauseous in itself. I do not mean that the fear of punishment is no ingredient in true repentance : the love of God and self-love are very consistent if the latter is kept in a due subordination to the former ; and therefore the fear of punishment has great weight even with the evangelical penitent. But I mean the fear of punishment is not the principal, much less the only spring and motive of true repentance; the true penitent hates sin, even when he is not thinking of heaven or hell, but only viewing it in its own nature. Though it were allowed him to go to heaven in the ways of sin, he would by no means choose it. Heaven itself would be the less acceptable to him, if it were the end of such a course.
He is also deeply sorry for sin, as against God, or as contrary to him. As rebellion against his authority, as a contrariety to his holiness, as an opposition to his will and pleasure, as a most base, ungrateful return for all his goodness, and as the cause of all the agonies of the blessed Jesus ; he hates it, he mourns over it with ingenuous and kindly relentings of heart. It was sin in this view, as against God, that lay heaviest upon David's heart. He seems to have forgotten the injury he had done to Uriah and his wife, while all his attention was engrossed by the horror of his crime, as against God. Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight. Psalm li. 4. It was this view of sin that armed Joseph, in the heat of youth, with power to resist the solicitations of his mistress. How shall I do this great wickedness, and sin against God ? Gen. xxxix. 9, O! the thought of sinning against God, against so glorious, so gracious and excellent a Being, pierced him to the heart, and he could not bear it. Thus it is with every true penitent. It wounds him to the heart to think that he should treat so good and holy a God so basely. This thought would break his heart, even though sin should be attended with no danger to himself; and it does in fact grieve him, and melt down his soul into generous sorrows, even when he has not one thought of his own danger.
Nay, of so generous a nature is evangelical repentance, that the penitent soul never melts so freely, nor bursts out into such a flood of ingenuous sorrows, as when it has reason to hope that a gracious God has freely forgiven it. Then it sees the base ingratitude and complicated vileness of sin, as committed against so gracious, a God. God's forgiving the penitent is a reason to him why he should never forgive himself. If God had concealed the glory of his grace, and rendered himself less lovely, he would be less sensible of the evil of sinning against him, and less sorry