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"that repenteth, more than over ninety SER M. " and nine just persons that need no re
pentance." Nothing can possibly set the dignity of repentance higher the Almighty himself perhaps, and certainly the heavenly host, are represented as receiving an increase of happiness from the reformation of a sinner; nay, it is mentioned as giving them higher satisfaction than the continuance of ninety and nine persons in a state of uninterrupted righteousness.How are we to account for this? Is there not something in it very strange, and almost contradictory? What is it not better to have been engaged in such a course of action as to preclude the necessity of a change; to have done nothing which requires sorrow, so to have lived as to have no need of repentance? Is not prevention better than remedy; or are we to sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! The great hazard of our being so enaI 3 moured
SERM. moured of our vices as never to be willing to forsake them, or of our being cut off in the midst of them, and so prevented from being able, is alone sufficient to deter a rational being from acting on this conclusion.
But yet repentance appears to be preferred before constant righteousness.
If this really be the meaning of this passage, it perhaps may be accounted for in the following manner:
By the ninety and nine just persons mentioned in the text, we are not to under stand persons absolutely and unexceptionably virtuous, but persons who possess that degree of limited virtue, which falls to the share of fallible men; persons, who have their imperfections and frailties, but who yet live so in the main as to be under no necessity of altering the whole course of their lives, and so may be said to need no repentance. Now to these the sincere penitent may possibly be superior; he may,
I say, for it becomes us to speak with dif- SER M. fidence for first, if the value of virtue be in proportion to the difficulty of practising it, it is certainly much more difficult to stop in the career of vice, and to turn to what is lawful and right, than to persevere in the same good course, in which we have been always engaged. The single effort, by which we recover ourselves from the downhill road to perdition, requires a greater share of resolution than an hundred acts of habitual virtue. Add to this, that penitents are usually much more zealous in the practice of religion, much more strict in their integrity, than those who have never grossly offended: their trouble and remorse for their sins spur them on in the ways of goodness and piety, and a lively sense of their past errors makes them more fearful of displeasing God, and very anxiously desirous to atone for their former deficiency by superior present exactness. Their
SER M. Their affection to their Maker is usually more vehement, and burns with a brighter flame; they have not only the same causes with others to adore and to love him, but this additional one, that he most kindly gave them time and inclination to see the folly and danger of their evil ways; that he did not cut them off in their sins, but by the suggestions of his holy spirit has brought them within view of heaven and happiness. "To whomsoever much is for"given, the same will love much." Penitents likewise are in general more eager for the conversion of others, from a deep sense of what was once the danger of their own state; they have also less pride, from the recollection of what themselves formerly were, and are more compassionate and charitable to the vices and follies of their neighbour.
So that sinners do certainly very often, when they have once repented, arrive at a
greater degree of perfection, than those, SERM. who have been always trained and accustomed to a good life.
If however it should still be thought,
that the highest mansions in heaven will be reserved for those who have never departed either very long, or very far from their obedience, still it must be allowed that the efficacy of repentance is very great: it gives joy to the inhabitants of heaven, redeems the penitent from destruction, and entitles him, if not to the very highest, yet certainly to a distinguished situation in the kingdom of God.
I shall conclude this discourse by tracing out the usual progress of repentance, and the marks by which it may be discerned, whether it be a repentance unto salvation. The first and main step in this rugged road, is, consideration; and that, once properly
*See Dr. Powell, towards the conclusion of his Sermon on the Prodigal Son. used,