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On the nature of repentance ; and the motives furnished by the gospel for engaging in this duty.
BEFORE Jesus Christ, who came to finish transgression and to make an end of sin, appeared in the character of a publick teacher, the world was involved in the double night of ignorance and errour. The heathen nations were sunk in the grossest idolatry, superstition, and wickedness. Both the religion and the lives even of the favourite people of God were sadly corrupted. They were divided into innumerable parties and sects ; and, as, usually, happens, amidst their eager contentions for their own particular opinions, true religion and virtue passed unregarded. The Pharisees and Sadducees, the two principal sects, follow
ed roads directly opposite, but both equally averse from the true spirit of religion. The former taught,as the doctrines of God, the commandments of men ; and the latter overturned all religion and morality, by denying their first principles, the resurrection of the body, the existence of spirits, and consequently a state of retribution after death. In such a situation of things, a forerunner was necessary to clear the way for our Saviour's appearance, and to prepare the minds of the Jews for the reception of the gospel. This forerunner was John the baptist. The principal subject of his preaching was repentance. This was most likely to answer the end for which he was sent; and this duty he enforced by a powerful consideration, which the old prophets and preachers of righteousness could not make use of, namely, the near approach of the kingdom of God. • Repent ye ;" said he, “ for the
kingdom of heaven is at hand.” By the kingdom of heaven, in the New Testament, and, particularly, in the discourses of our Lord, is commonly meant the gospel state, that kingdom which God hath erected on earth, and the administration of which he hath committed to his Son, for bringing back the rebellious
to their duty, for delivering them from the power of sin and the dominion of the devil, and for bringing many sons unto glory. Under this dispensation, new motives to repentance are afforded, and God, though he suffered the former times of ignorance to pass without condemnation, now calls all men, every where, to repent.
But repentance was, not only, a necessary preparation for the kingdom of heaven ; it, also, continued to be the subject of frequent and earnest exhortation with Jesus and his disciples. Our Lord began his ministry in the very same words with his forerunner ; and explained and inculcated the duty of repentance in various parables and discourses. In the beautiful and striking parable of the prodigal son, the progress of vice, and the return to duty are delincated in the plainest and most forcible manner.
A young man, prompted by curiosity and a love of pleasure, leaves the peaceful retreats of his father's house, and ventures forth into the world, in quest of enjoyment. But the sea of life was too stormy, a id beset with too many dangers for so unsteady and inexperienced a pilot. He falls into the snares of the wicked ; he goes with the
multitude to do evil; and, in a far country, beyond the reach of a parent's care, he indulges in debauchery, intemperance, and riotous living. But the pleasures of sin are only for a season, and the end of them is death. The scene is soon reversed : his substance is soon wasted : the voice of mirth and joy is heard no more : the venal tribe who courted his favour and gilded his prosperity, disappear in the day of darkness. He, who, formerly, had servants at his command, and said unto one go and he goeth, and unto another come and he cometh, is now obliged to perform the office of the vilest slave : he who once fed on all the luxuries of the banquet, is now glad to satisfy the cravings of hunger with the husks which are eaten by the swine : he who was clothed with purple and fine linen, can now scarcely procure a rag to defend him from the severities of the season. But, even in this deplorable state, he is nearer the kingdom of heaven than when he first departed from his native land. An important change is soon to be accomplished. Reflection, which the sound of pleasure had lulled asleep, is now awakened. His eyes are, now, opened to the folly, and guilt, and danger of his situation. He awakens from his infatuated dreams, and says, « how many hired servants of
father's have “ bread enough and to spare, and I perish with
hunger !” Impressed with this idea, and confident of the tender affection of his father, he, instantly, determines to arise and go to his father. It is this change of mind, this return to duty, this repentance unto life which is the object of our present attention. I shall, therefore, endeavour,
I. To explain the nature of true repentance.
performance of this duty which the gospel affords, and
III. Conclude the discourse with some observations connected with the subject.
1. The best description of repentance that has, perhaps, ever been given, is to be met with in the shorter catechism of this church, in answer to this question (87) “ tance unto life?" We shall therefore take it as our guide in explaining the nature of this duty. Repentance unto life is a saving
grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense “ of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of “ God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred " of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full
" What is repen