Page images

depravity, that will carry conviction to stupid, selfrighteous, and self deceived sinners. Upon this subject, it is impossible to be too plain and explicit. It is necessary, to teach sinners the nature and criminality of selfishness, not only to convince them of their guilt and danger, but also to convince them of their immediate and indispensable obligation to perform every duty, which God has required them to perform. As soon as they see and feel, that they are totally selfish, they cannot help seeing and feeling, that they have no excuse for the neglect of duty, but are under imme. diate and indispensable obligations, “to turn from all their transgressions; to make them a new heart and a new spirit; to repent and believe the gospel; and to walk in newness of life.” When they clearly see and sensibly feel, that all their depravity and criminality consists in their free and voluntary exercises of selfishness, they can no longer plead it as an excuse for impenitence and unbelief, because they know, that it depends upon their own choice, whether they shall love, or hate God; whether they shall continue in, or cease from sin; whether they shall accept, or reject the offers of mercy; and whether they shall be saved, or lost. They feel the whole authority of the law and of the gospel, binding them to turn and live, while they realize, that their depravity is not their calamity, but their guilt. And when the preachers of the gospel have thus shown sinners the plague of their own hearts, they may with propriety and force address them in the language of the apostles, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, Be ye reconciled to God.”

give him any new natural power, faculty, or principle of action; but only gives him new affections or exercises of heart It is true, indeed, the Holy Spirit commonly awakens and convinces a sinner, before he converts him. He makes him see his danger, and feel his desert of eternal destruction, before he reconciles him to God, or turns him from sin to holiness. But as both sin and holiness consist in free, voluntary exercises, so the divine Spirit in converting a sinner only turns him from sinful to holy exercises.

Having premised this, I proceed to consider the order, in which he produces the first gracious affections. If love be distinct from repentance, and repentance distinct from faith, which cannot be reasonably denied; then one of these affections must be exercised before another in a certain order. They cannot all be exercised together. The question now is, which is the first, second, and third in order. And here it is easy to see, that love must be before either repentance, or faith. Pure, holy, disinterested love, which is diametrically opposite to all selfishness, is the essence of all true holiness; and, of consequence, there can be no holy affection prior to the love of God being shed abroad in the heart,

A sinner must exercise love to God, before he can exercise repentance of sin, which is a transgression of his law. Though while he hates God, he may be sorry that he has provoked his displeasure; yet he cannot be sincerely sorry, that he has disobeyed and dishonoured a Being whom he hates. True repentance consists in that self-loathing and self-abasement for sin, which arises from a clear view of the glory and excellence of the divine character. Hence says Job to God, “I have heard of thee, by the hearing of the ear: but pow mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself,

and repent in dust and ashes.” No sinner, while in a state of enmity and opposition to God, can exercise such genuine repentance. This can flow from no other source, than supreme love to the supreme excellence of the Deity. Love, therefore, in the very nature of things, must be prior to repentance. The renewed sinner always loves God, before he repents of sinning against him. The holy Spirit, in the first instance, turns the heart of the sinner from hatred to love. Love is always the very first exercise of a renewed sinner. We cannot conceive it to be possible, that he should exercise either repentance, or faith, before he loves God whom he had hated. The fruit of the Spirit, yea, the first fruit of the Spirit, is that pure, holy, disinterested love, which is the fulfilling of the law.

The next fruit of the Spirit is repentance. As soon as the renewed sinner loves God supremely, he must loath and abhor himself for hating, opposing, and dishonouring such a holy and amiable Being. True repentance naturally and almost instantaneously follows true love to God. The renewed heart is tender and teachable, and leads the subject of it, to exercise godly sorrow and genuine repentance for all his past ingratitude, impenitence, and obstinacy. So God represents the true convert. “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus: Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I 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.? The sinner no sooner loves God, than he justifies him, and condemns himself. Like the penitent publican, he freely acknowledges himself to be a sinner, and accepts

the punishment of his sins. The malefactor on the cross no sooner loved the suffering Saviour, than he repented of his sins, and accepted the punishment of them. Paul no sooner exercised true love to God, than he repented of his sins, and sincerely acknowledged the justice of the law, which condemned him to die. "For, says he, I was alive once without the law; but when the commandment camne, sin revived, and I died And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” As soon as the holy Spirit reconciles the sinner to God, he naturally loaths and condemns himself, as God loaths and condemns him, for his sins. He does not stand to inquire, whether God loves him and intends to save him, before he repents; for he feels both bound and disposed to repent, though God should cast him off forever. As it is morally impossible for the sinner to repent before he loves God, so it is morally impossible for him to refrain from repenting after he loves him. True repentance always flows from love to God, and not merely from a hope of salvation.

As repentance follows love, so faith follows both love and repentance. When the sinner loves, he will repent, and when he repents, he will exercise not merely a speculative, but a saving faith. It is morally impossible for a sinner to love Christ for condemning sin in the flesh, until he hates sin, and sincerely repents of it. It is morally impossible, that he should love the grace of the gospel, until he loves the justice of the law. It is morally impossible, that he should feel his need of a Saviour, until he sees and feels, that God would be righteous and amiable in sending him to destruction. But as soon as he loves the divine character, and the divine law, and condemns himself as the law condemns

him, he is prepared to love Christ and to depend upon him alone, for pardon and acceptance in the sight of God. He chooses to be saved through the atonement of Christ, because he sees no other way, in which Godcan be just, and yet justify and save him from deserved punishment. Having exercised love and repentance towards God, he is prepared to exercise faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ. Agreeably to this order of gracious exercises, John preached, saying, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And after John, “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Thus it appears, that love is the first exercise of the renewed sinner; repentance the second; and faith the third. This is the order, in which these gracious exercises always take place, and it is morally impossible, that they should take place in any other order. There may be a false faith, and a false repentance, before a false love; but there cannot be a true repentance before a true love, nor a true faith before a true repentance. True, disinterested love, which is the fruit of a divine influence, is always the first exercise of the renewed sinner, and both his repentance and faith flow from such pure love. So that faith's working by love does not mean, that love flows from faith; but that faith flows from love. I shall now endeavour to show,

II. The importance of representing these first exercises of the renewed heart in the Order I have mentioned. Upon this point, there is a diversity of opinions among those, who believe the absolute necessity of a spiritual and saving change, in order to salvation. Some say, that faith, repentance, and love are all produced at once in regeneration, and that they cannot

« PreviousContinue »