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Being who superintends the affairs of the human race, and who, when men in their superstitious wanderings imagined that the Godhead was like to gold, and silver, and precious stones, graven with art and man's device, winked at those times of ignorance, but now
6 commandeth all men everywhere to repent."
In the sequel of this discourse, I shall first explain the nature of the duty enjoined; and, secondly, enforce it.
I. I am to explain the nature of the duty enjoined.
This duty is Repentance. The term repentance denotes an after-thought, or a change of mind. This change originates in certain views, is attended by certain feelings, and is followed by very important consequences. What these views, accompaniments and results are, we shall now endeavour to state and illustrate.
1st, What are the views in which repentance originates.
These are a just sense of sin, and a right apprehension of God's mercy. Prior to conversion, sinners bave no adequate conception of the evil nature of sin. Their understandings are darkened, they are past feeling, and are so hardened through the deceitfulness of sin as to be almost inaccessible to conviction. Ignorant of the spirituality of God's law, grossly mistaken in the estimate which they have formed of their own characters, and torpid as to their consciences, they contrive to stifle those general convictions to which all are more or less liable, and muster a thousand apologies to conceal, extenuate, or excuse their omissions and iniquities. Some view sin as a natural, and therefore an unavoidable infirmity. Many suppose that their deeds of benevolence, or other virtues, will compensate for their vices. Not a few console themselves by instituting a comparison between their own character and that of the more negligent around them. While multitudes continue to sin, flattering themselves with the hope of escaping, by future
repentance, that righteous retribution which they so justly merit. Nay, more, as men advance in depravity and refinement, they devise polished expressions by which to varnish vice and give it the air of virtue. Indifference to religion is styled liberality of sentiment. Avarice and rapacity are transmuted into prudence and economy. Pride, arrogance, and revenge, are deemed the exhibition of a proper spirit. Prodigality is extolled as generosity; and even amours and abominable adulteries are disguised under the softened expression of gallantry. All, in short, implicated in the common guilt, are equally solicitous to hide from themselves the deformity of sin, and the odiousness of their own characters. Their hearts are shut against the admission of the truth, and they strive to forget that the all-seeing God takes notice of and is much displeased with their iniquities. The sinner hath said in his heart, “ God hath forgotten—he hideth his face-he will never see it, neither will he ever require it."
These refuges of lies are swept away when God communicates repenting grace to the sinner. Spiritually enlightened, he can no longer shut his eyes on the truth that sin is a transgression of God's law—a want of conformity to it. He now regards it as rebellion against the divine government-as a flagrant insult offered to the majesty of heaven. He regards sin as a withdrawment of his allegiance to the Divine Being—as an act which introduces disorder into his own moral constitution which tends to disturb the harmony of the universe, and bring down upon the heads of the guilty the vengeance of the Almighty, “For the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” The nature, the number, the variety, and the aggravations of his sins are now beheld in the light of God's law, and judged of by this unerring standard of rectitude. Convicted of sin, his mouth is for ever stopped; and, without presuming to urge a single plea in his favour, he stands guilty before God.
The sinner, thus arraigned, convicted, and condemned,
is deprived of his self-confidence is impressed with the imminence of his danger, and bereaved of that peace
wbich till now he had uninterruptedly enjoyed. Alarmed for his own safety, he asks, with trembling anxiety, “What sball I do to be saved ?" It is now that the gospel intervenes to point out the way of salvation, remove his ignorance, and relieve his distress. He is told of the love of God, the mission of his Son, and the forgiveness of sin through faith in the atonement of Jesus. He obtains just views of the divine character. The holy, just, and omnipotent God was hitherto an object of dislike rather than of affection, of terror rather than of veneration. Now he is welcomed as a father, a friend, a benefactor. The sinner is gladdened by the discovery that God is reconciled through the death of his Son, and is not to be feared as a foe, or dreaded as a judge. This change in his views of the divine character is followed by a corresponding change in his procedure. He lays aside his enmity, is ashamed of his ingratitude, and is humbled into penitence. Thus, by a view of the demerit and evil of sin on the one hand, and by a believing view of God's mercy through a mediator on the other, he is led to repentance.
2d, What are the feelings by which this change is attended.
The principal of these are contrition on account of sin, and hatred of it.
These feelings are inseparable from godly repentance. In different persons they may exist in different degrees, but they exist in all, and are produced by the views to which we have already referred. This connection between the
perception of guilt and certain uneasy feelings on account of it, holds not only in matters of a spiritual nature, but in those which are of daily occurrence. The doing of a mean action, a violation of etiquette, betrayment of trust, indulgence in secret vice, and the being guilty of any offence against decency, morality, or the established customs of society, when remembered, seldom fail to disquiet the mind and give it trouble. And, if the remembrance of these fills us with shame and bitter regret, is it surprising that the discovery of our wickedness against the kindest of benefactors and the best of fathers should grieve us to the heart, and fill us with confusion ?
Wherever genuine contrition exists, wherever the heart of flesh is substituted for the heart of stone, there we have a sacrifice with which God is well pleased. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." (Psalm li. 17.) Those of this spirit may be despised of men, but they will not be rejected of God. He saw the despised publican in the temple, and justified him. He heard the moanings of Ephraim, and listened with satisfaction to his lamentations. “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus-Thou bast chastised me, and I was chastised as a bulloek uñaccustomed to the yoke; turn thou me, and I sball be turned, for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I turned and repented, and after that I was instructed I smote upon my thigh. I was ashamed, yea even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him I do carnestly remember him still; therefore
my bowels are troubled for bim; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.”
Let me remind you, however, my hearers, that whilst there is godly sorrow there is a sorrow which is not after a godly sort_a sorrow which though ever so pungent yet worketh death. Of this description were the rueful looks and the disfigured faces of the Pharisees, the remorse of Abab, and the despair of Judas Iscariot. To this kind of penitence, it is to be feared, belong numerous instances of death-bed
repentance, concerning which we so often heara species of repentance in which thousands are but too much
disposed to confide. Ah, how many are there who spend their time, their talents, their health, in worldly pursuits, to the neglect of the one thing needful, who, when danger threatens them, when disease invades their frame, when death is at the door, and judgment is at hand, are afraid and begin to tremble. They confess their sins, express the deepest contrition, promise amendment of life, and vow to God, that if he spare them but a little longer, they will devote themselves to his service, and no more be the willing slaves of their lusts and of their pleasures. Deceptive appearances! delusive professions! Let but the danger disappear, the disease be removed, death be put off for the present, and the bar of God retire into the distance, their sorrow is assuaged, their fears are dissipated, their resolutions are forgotten, their amendment is postponed, all—all has evanlished like the morning cloud or the early dew.
What a view, my hearers, is thus given us of human nature. What inconsistency! what folly! what madness! But this is no overcharged painting. Facts, alas! bear witness to the correctness of the picture! Too well is it seen that a true sense of sin and its exceeding sinfulness had no share in producing the anguish of their minds—the injury done to the government of God constituted no part of that for which they are sorry--the insult offered to the holy majesty of heaven is the least part of their concern. They weep, and fear, and tremble.
Why? Because God is holy - because his law is strict-because they must face an angry God-because they are in danger of being damned.
Godly sorrow, my hearers, arises not more from the discovery of the danger of sin, than from a sense of sin itself. It is this that pains the repentant sinner, excites the anguish of his heart, and rends his very soul. He mourns over the bad example which he has set before his family, his friends, his dependants, and society; and for all the injury which, through his lack of holiness, they bave sustained. But