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THE NATURE OF REPENTANCE.
I shall not spend my time in critically inquiring into the etymology or the meaning of the words, which are translated repentance in our version of the Bible. Suffice it to observe that Metapedcouas, one word frequently used, signifies to be afterwards careful or uneasy; and uetavosa, that more commonly used. signifies a change of mind, of judgment and disposition; which ideas, severally and conjunctly express the nature of repentance, as it may more fully be learned from the general tenor of the scriptures. I would then define true repentance to be, ‘A genuine sorrow for sin, attended with a real inclination to undo, if it were possible, all that we have sinfully done ; and consequently an endeavour, as far as we have it in our power, to counteract the consequences of our former evil conduct; with a determination of mind, through divine grace, to walk for the future in newness of life, evidenced to be sincere by “ fruits “ meet for repentance;” that is, by all holy dispositions, words and actions.' Enlarging on this definition, I shall have an opportunity of expressing my sentiments on the nature of real repentance, and distinguishing it from various counterfeits.
I. Repentance comprehends a genuine sorrow for sin. This implies that there is a spurious sorrow on account of sin, which a man may have to
excess, without real repentance. This kind of sorrow arises from self-love, alarmed with the fear of punishment, without regard to the just desert of it. A man is indeed grieved: yet, not that he has sinned, but that God exceedingly hates sin, is determined to punish it, and is able to execute this determination in spite of all opposition. He is extremely sorry that the law is so very strict, and greatly terrified when he reflects on the danger to which he stands exposed: but he is not grieved at heart for the odious ungrateful part he has acted. -In human affairs, many under condemnation to death appear thus penitent, whose insincerity is detected by a pardon, and they rush upon the commission of new crimes. Many penitents of this description we meet with on sick beds, or in circumstances of imminent danger: they are under excessive terrors, shed abundance of tears, and make many fair promises ; but, when the alarm is over, their repentance is repented of, and their concern lost in company and worldly pursuits. They likewise abound among the hearers of the gospel. Like Felix, when the word of God is brought home to their consciences, they tremble, and perhaps weep: but they are soon quieted; and return to the pursuit of their worldly interests and pleasures with unabated alacrity. Many of these embrace false and loose schemes of religion, are buoyed up with presumptuous hopes, and practically say, “let
us sin on, that grace may abound.” Having got over their alarm, their repentance is finished; they live without remorse for the past, or tenderness of conscience for the present: nor have they any trouble in general about their sins; except, per
chance, some outrage to common decency put them to shame before their fellow-sinners.
These transient alarms and convictions are most effectually made use of by Satan, to keep men from true repentance. A general persuasion prevails that we ought to repent; though few understand the real nature of repentance. However, this general persuasion frequently excites, from time to time, considerable uneasiness of conscience to him who considers himself as impenitent.
But, when men falsely imagine that they have repented, or do repent, this uneasiness ceases, and they continue impenitent with a quiet mind.
Let me here intreat the reader to pause, and put a few questions on the subject to himself. 'Has
it not been thus with me? Is it not so to this hour? ‘Do I not keep my conscience from reproaching me, or silence its friendly admonitions, by some general apprehension that I am at times a penitent?'—I beseech thee leave not this consideration, till thou hast carefully examined it, as in the sight of God, and with the day of judgment before thine eyes. Most certain it is, that multitudes live all their lives in a continued course of sinning and repenting, in this way; and at length die impenitent.
But a man may be really sorry for particular sins without being a true penitent. Conscience sometimes so reproaches men for certain enormous violations of all laws, human and divine, as to render them a terror to themselves : yea, they are exceedingly sorry that they ever committed those particular crimes, and would gladly undo them were it possible: and yet, this has nothing
in it of the nature of true repentance. Thus Judas repented of betraying Christ, confessed his guilt, made restitution, and even sought to prevent the consequences of his base treachery: indeed, he was so stung with remorse, that he could not live under the anguish, but became his own executioner. Yet he was not a true penitent; for our Lord assures us, “ It had been good for that man “ had he never been born.” And we do not find that he ever expressed the least remorse for his hypocrisy, his coveteousness, or his other wickedness of heart and life, which he had continued in all his days. The case is often the same with murderers, who are unspeakably troubled for one act of violence to a fellow creature; but not in the least concerned for all the contempt, ingratitude, and enmity, of which they have been guilty towards God. And the same is often observable in respect of many other notorious offenders. This sorrow is not excited by a conviction, resulting from knowledge and reflection, of deep criminality, in having sinned heinously by disobeying a good God, and breaking a good law; but it arises from the horror of having done violence to natural light and their own consciences, to that degree, that none of their former excuses and pretences can pacify them: God having preserved thus much of himself, and of his law, in our reason and conscience, as a check upon natural depravity, and to bridle the headstrong corruptions of those who neither fear him nor regard men; yet cannot act out all their evil purposes without becoming their own tormentors.
But the sorrow of a true penitent is for sin, as
committed against God, being rebellion against his rightful authority, and transgression of his holy law. “ Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.”* He mourns “after “a godly sort,” with a godly sorrow,” or a sorrow which directly regards God. His sorrow springs from the consideration of the majesty, purity, and excellency, of that glorious Being whom he has offended; the reasonableness of the law which he has transgressed; the obligations to obedience which he has violated; the injustice and ingratitude of which he has been guilty; and the complicated odiousness of his conduct. As every sin partakes of the same nature, and implies the same disregard to God, he mourns for all and
every one; whether man were injured by it or not; whether it were secret or open ; a sin of omission or of commission; and whether it were, or were not contrary to the notions, maxims, customs, and allowance of the world. Yea, every sinful temper, imagination, and inclination; every idle, unprofitable word; every evil action of his whole life, as upon examination it recurs to his remembrance ; excites afresh his godly sorrow. In proportion as he recollects the numberless instances of God's unwearied patience and kindness to him, in former years, he becomes more sensible of his own ingratitude, forgetfulness, and disobedience: and the further he is enlightened to see the glory of God, the more hateful all sin appears, and the more he mourns over his own offences.
As, therefore, the glory of the divine character
* Psalm li. 4.
+ 2 Cor. vii. 9, 10.