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tionably the more alarmed at its approach. So much does it concern us, thus to fit our apprehensions to our dangers, that, in case we do otherwise, we shall sometimes, although in a state of sin, and in the utmost danger of total and eternal ruin, be more careful to shun the inconsiderable or mistaken evils of this life, than the infinite miseries of the next; and as often as duty (which frequently happens) is attended with present danger, shall be too strongly tempted to avoid the danger, by slighting the duty ; that is, like an 'ill-managed horse, that starts from a bird, and throws himself over a precipice, we shall fly from the smaller evils that attend on virtue to try us, into the infinitely greater miseries wherewith vice is punished.
Is it not very strange, that reasonable creatures should so miserably misplace their apprehensions, and know so little how to proportion them to their dangers, when the evils to be apprehended are so widely, so vastly, different both in kind and degree? And is it not matter of still greater amazement, that people who discover, on all other occasions, the greatest sensibility and force of thought, should often be found among the blindest of those, who tremble at mere momentary or imaginary mischiefs, and plunge forward into endless misery, with a measure of stupidity exceeding that of the most senseless brute? There are several infirmities that help to pass this
gross and fatal imposition on us; such as, first, that too great attachment to the things about us, which, engaging all our attention, leaves us little or none for things to come. We are so taken up with hearing, feeling, tasting, seeing, that we can foresee nothing, at least nothing beyond the present state of things. A small screen, placed near the eye, can shut out the most glorious and extended prospect; nor do we even care to look by it, if it happens to catch our observation with two or three pretty fantastic figures, or painted landscapes.
Again, the faith of many is weak, and of course, their apprehensions of misery in another life must be proportionably feeble. Their doubts in this case, contrary to what happens in all other cases, prevent their fears.
Others, although their reason is convinced, and they do actually believe, yet their hearts are not engaged. They have faith, but it is asleep or dead. They believe, but they do not so much as tremble.
Many, again, dont know the state of their own minds. They are farther gone in sin than they imagine. Habit hath made their vices familiar to them. Besides, they do not much care for discovering deformities in themselves. Thus they are not sure they need repentance; or if they are, yet not knowing the inveteracy of their disorder, they know not how speedy and powerful the cure ought to be.
But farther : Most people are tender of themselves; so that although they believe in a future state, and know themselves to be unfit for the happiness of that state ; nay, although they find themselves daily hạrdening in sin, and drawing nearer to the brink of ruin; yet they so tenderly love their ease, and their pleasures, they so horribly dread the thought of denying themselves, of weeping, of mortifying, of dying to sin, that they are unable to look repentance in the face. Though the gangrene is spreading apace, and with it death is making a hasty progress, yet they cannot resign the limb to the saw, because it will hurt them. The distemper, although extremely dangerous, may be cured; but then the medicine is bitter, and the patient's palate is so delicate, that he cannot swallow it. How then will death, eternal death, go down with him.
Foolish and senseless as he may seem, who is in this unhappy state of mind, yet we frequently see persons of the quickest apprehension, and clearest understanding, thus circumstanced. They believe sin, unrepented of, will be punished with eternal misery. They have at times, a shocking sense of that misery. They are convinced the pleasures of sin bear no proportion to it. All this, however, does not hinder them from indulging themselves in sins of the grossest nature, with as little regard to their danger, as the most thorough-paced infidel or fool can boast of. Strong as their faith is, their passions are yet stronger. Besides, the object of passion is present; that of faith is future ; and presence outweighs infinity, in the balance of a sensual or worldly mind. Reason and faith act no other part, than that of spies on the actions of such men.
The generality of ill livers, vainly hoping for length of days, and time to repent, lose the present opportunity, which,
for many reasons, is always the best. They desire and hope for what they are already possessed of, as if they were not to have the same, or greater amusements, to engross every moment of their future time, as it shall arrive. They will soon repent, but not now. This is their rule and resolution today; and, in one sense, they are true to it, for it shall be their resolution too to-morrow; and so on, till at length the time comes when they must repent; but, unhappily for them, death comes with it, and it is too late.
It may be, if the nature and necessity of repentance, together with the encouragements, motives, and helps, to it, were brought properly under our consideration, we should not only know better how to set about the necessary work, but find more alacrity to carry us through it.
First then, as to the nature of repentance, we may be sure it is not a mere remorse. Mere guilt is sufficient to condemn us; but it must be something else that can procure a discharge and pardon for us.
Nor is it a bare ceasing from sin, through fear of punishment, or the severity of affliction, or the decay of passion and desire in old age. In all this there is no hatred of sin, nor love of God; but only a chain laid on the neck of our sinful inclinations, which alike disables us from doing good and hurt; whereas, in a true repentance, we must learn to do well,' as necessarily ‘as cease to do evil.'
Again, it is not a late concern for sin, like that of Judas, when the opportunity and power of repairing the mischief we have done is quite past. Though such a concern should be deep enough to put a man on destroying himself, yet what amends does he make by so doing, either to God, or the world, for all the injuries he has offered to both? Or what account does this enable him to give of the good he had in his power to do, but neglected ?
In a true repentance there must be a deep abhorrence of sin, on account of its own natural foulness. Without this we can never be secure of keeping temptations at a sufficient distance. If we do not hate them, we shall be too ready to parley with them; and this is almost necessarily attended with a reconciliation to them.
In sincere repentance, we must truly represent to ourselves the great certainty and severity of the punishment which sin is attended with. Without thus fixing our eyes on that shocking prospect, the present pleasure of sin may easily find means to entertain our thoughts.
A true repentance is impossible, without the love of God. We are not to hope, that mere selfish motives shall recommend our return from sin. Such may possibly force us to forsake sin ; but there must be something beyond those to bring us to God; and nothing but love can do that. We must fly to him, for his sake, as well as our own. Besides, till we sincerely love God,' we can have no security that we shall keep his commandments.'
Again, in a true repentance there ought to be a strong mixture of shame. Without this, we may be sure our repentance is neither generous nor sincere. We cannot approach God, after having grievously offended him, without being overwhelmed with shame and confusion. If we do, it must argue great hardness and presumption, which are never found to accompany repentance.
Lastly, to distinguish repentance from despair, it must be attended with hope and trust in God. Without this ingredient, the mind will be tempted to abandon itself to all manner of wickedness, as having neither hope of a better, nor fear of a worse, condition. It will be apt to say to itself, as the men of Judah did to Jeremiah, there is no hope, so I will walk after my own devices, and will do the imagination of my evil heart."
If our repentance is enlivened and recommended by these good qualities, it can scarcely choose but be deep, sincere, and lasting; it can hardly fail of producing 'good works, and fruits meet for repentance;' and therefore may justly hope for approbation and acceptance from God.
It is a most dangerous mistake to promise ourselves God's pardon, without an entire change of the heart. If it continues the same, it will produce the same thoughts and desires, and those the same actions, at least as soon as ever the short fit of sorrow for sin is over. It is impossible,'out of the treasure of an evil heart, to bring forth any but evil things.' We must 'crucify the world to ourselves,' as St. Paul expresses it; 'we must mortify the deeds of the flesh.' We must first die to sin,' and then be born again, and live unto righteousness.'
A true repentance is no sudden fit nor flash of sorrow for sin; no start of devotion, that rises and falls with an occasional or accidental disposition of mind. As it is to change our minds from sinful to virtuous, it must be solid and lasting. As in bodily disorders relapses are of the most dangerous consequence, because they fall upon a constitution already worn out and enfeebled; so, in disorders of the mind, they are no less apt to be fatal, because they fall upon reflections already raised in vain, upon baffled resolutions, and broken vows.
To conclude then, repentance is such a hearty sorrow for sin, as is sufficient to make us abhor and abstain from it for the future, and turn all our affections to God, and our endeavours to his service.
If, after forming penitential resolutions, the person should live to make trial of their strength, and find they can really stand that trial, he may then assure himself of the mercy and forgiveness of God; for, as before, his sins made him odious in the all-seeing eyes of his Maker; so his good disposition and behaviour, recommended by the intercession of Christ (in whose blood his former sins are washed away), make him now the object of God's favour. He is not now what he was before ; and therefore God regards him in a new light. The evil that he hath been guilty of is remembered to him no more. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him. In turning away from the wickedness that he hath committed, and doing that which is lawful and right, he hath saved his soul alive. He hath escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and he is delivered.' He is plucked, as a firebrand, out of the flames of hell, and planted by the tree of life, where he shall bud afresh, where he shall bloom and flourish for ever.
But in case the person, who forms these resolutions of amendment, hath no time left, either to try or confirm them in, it being then impossible for him to know whether his repentance is sincere or not, he must summon all the strength of his soul; he must call in, with the most ardent prayers, the assistance of God's Holy Spirit; and, with the united strength of both, try to tear out sin from his heart: he must, in short, do all he can ; that if he may not have assurances of pardon, he may at least have hopes.
But, secondly, as to the necessity of repentance; we all