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"the heavenly vision; but shewed first unto them "at Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout "the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, "that they should repent, and turn to God, and "do works meet for repentance :" And before the Ephesian elders: "Testifying both to Jews " and Greeks repentance towards God, and faith "towards our Lord Jesus Christ."
Did the apostle speak of a sin that is never pardoned? he added, "It is impossible to renew to "repentance" those who have committed it. He exhorts Timothy " in meekness to instruct those "that oppose themselves, if peradventure God "would give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover "themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are "taken captive by him at his will."
Without repentance, therefore, it is as plain and clear, as the testimony of Christ and his apostles can make it, that there is no salvation. "Except
ye repent ye shall all likewise perish." Without repentance, faith is dead, hope is mere presumption, and religious affections are delusive, transient, and inefficacious.
But let it also be remarked that, wherever true repentance is found, there is life eternal: "Then "hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance "unto life." He has so arranged the plan of the gospel that repentance is inseparably connected with forgiveness, righteousness and complete salvation. "Godly sorrow worketh repentance unto "salvation, not to be repented of." "When the "wicked man turneth away from his wickedness,
" and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall "save his soul alive." "Repent and turn from "all your transgressions; and so iniquity shall "not be your ruin." "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and "let him return unto the Lord, and he will have 66 mercy on him, and to our God for he will abundantly pardon." These passages, and many others, are so expressed, and marked with such precision, that if there be any meaning in words true repentance is inseparable from eternal salvation.
: Some however object, that this does not consist with the doctrine of salvation by grace, and justification by faith alone. But I would ask, Whether the apostles did not use this language, as well as preach that doctrine? And, as none can disprove, and few will deny, that they did both, I inquire whether they were inconsistent with themselves, and with each other?
That salvation is by grace, and justification by faith alone, is certainly the doctrine both of the scriptures and of our church: but if faith be "alone," it is "dead." If alms are offered to a beggar, his hand alone receives the alms: but a dead hand could not receive them.
None, who understand Christianity, doubt but that repentance, hope, fear, and love, exist in every true believer; yet faith alone justifies him before God: because the righteousness and atonement of Christ are the sole ground of our justification; and faith alone receives Christ, that we may "be made the righteousness of God in him." But this
faith is the faith of the penitent, and not of the impenitent: it" works by love," and it brings forth holy fruit.
While the poor criminal, who fled for refuge to the altar, laid hold of the horns with his hand alone; his heart would beat, his blood circulate, and his other limbs and senses perform their proper functions. Thus the sinner, by faith alone lays hold of Christ; yet his soul is alive to God, and all the graces of the Spirit of life are at the same time exercised according to their proper nature and function. "Now abideth faith, hope, "charity, these three: but the greatest of these is "charity."
The text suggests yet one more remark; “God grants repentance unto life." This means more than that he has opened a way for the penitent sinner to come to him and live; or that he calls on sinners to repent. It implies that repentance is the gift of God. "If peradventure God may "give them repentance." "Christ is exalted to "be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance "and forgiveness of sins." "The Spirit con"vinces men of sin, of righteousness, and of judg"ment:" and, when the Lord " pours out the Spirit of grace and supplication," men "look on "him whom they have pierced and mourn.'
How often in our excellent liturgy do we unite in prayer, that God would give us repentance and his Holy Spirit! The language we have been lately using, is very emphatical. Create and make ' in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily 'lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our
wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness, through 'Jesus Christ.'1
While we preach repentance, we would pray to God that he may bestow on you the invaluable gift of repentance unto life: and you should pray in behalf of yourselves and each other, for the same blessings. For both true repentance and living faith spring up in that heart, and that alone, which is quickened from the death of sin unto 'the life of righteousness."
II. We consider the nature and effects of repentance unto life.
Many distinctions on this subject have been made by divines, which have often tended to perplex, rather than to satisfy, anxious inquirers. Doubtless, some exercises of the mind have the semblance of repentance, which are not genuine. When, for instance, a man has made a bargain, and it turns out worse than he expected, he is sorry that he made it; but he is not humbled under a sense of criminality. And, when a sinner finds that his sinful pursuits are likely to cost him much dearer than he imagined; having discovered that the divine law is very strict, and its sentence very dreadful; he may be greatly alarmed and distressed about the consequences, and secretly quarrel with the command and the sanction; and yet have no genuine repentance: nay, he may be in a state of heart diametrically opposite to it.
Repentance, according to the scripture, may be
1 Collect for Ash Wednesday.
stated to begin, or to be introduced, by consideration. "Thus saith the Lord, consider your ways." "Because he considereth, and turneth away from "all his transgressions; he shall surely live and "not die."1
Look into the world around you, my brethren; survey the lives of mankind in general. What total inconsideration must we observe, and how little do men think of the wrath of God, of the day of judgment, or of the rule prescribed for their conduct! How little do they reflect on their relations and obligations to the great Creator and Judge of the world! How little do they attend even to their own thoughts, words, and actions! How very little to the motives from which they act! The greater number live in a perpetual hurry either of business or of pleasure, or of both in succession. Among the superior classes especially there is a regular system of banishing consideration. All dissipation, whether of a more public or retired nature, not only tends, but is intended, to deliver men from the uneasiness of solitude and serious reflection; and the desire of this deliverance is the source whence vast multitudes derive abundant gains! In devising amusement, with tolerable ingenuity, they cannot fail of obtaining an ample compensation.
Thus the prodigal son is represented as devoid of consideration, when "wasting his substance in "riotous living." But at length "he came to "himself:" he began to reflect on the past, on
1 Ezek. xviii. 28.