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“ purpose of, and endeavour after new obe« dience.”
It must be observed, then, that repentance is the gift of God, and is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. That man has it in his own power to repent and return unto God, is an idea inconsistent with a proper notion of repentance and a true knowledge of human nature. It is plainly contrary to scripture. There is, it must be allowed, in every man's mind, a principle of conscience which points out to him his duty, and which punishes every breach of its laws with a painful feeling of remorse. In the present state of human nature, however, this principle is, evidently, unequal to the task of man's cure ; it is, seldom, faithful to its trust ; and, even, that sorrow for sin which it produces is far from being that genuine repenlance to which it seems to bear some resemblance. It proceeds from improper motives, and stops short before it hath produced any change. It ends, at last, like the returning of the dog to his vomit, or of the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. The scriptures assure us, that, it is God who worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure ; and, that, it is he alone who granteth repentance unto the acknowledging of the truth. Still, you say, “it is required of us as
our duty." Most undoubtedly : but so is every one of those christian graces which Christ hath purchased for us. Even reconciliation to God, which is, certainly, procured by the death and insercession of Jesus, is commanded us in scripture. “We pray you in Christ's
stead,” says the apostle, “ be ye reconciled “ unto God." « Make ye a new heart,” says God by the prophet Ezekiel, and yet, soon after, he inakes this new promise, “a new heart “ will I give you and a right spirit will I put “ within you.” The exercise of repentance, then, is our duty, but the true source of it is the spirit of God.
Previous to it, however, two changes are produced, which, though not properly parts of it, are absolutely necessary to its existence. The first is a conviction of sin ; a sense of its guilt and danger. When the sinner is led, by the spirit, to compare his conduct and character with the law of God, that perfect rule of life, the commandments of which are exceedingly broad, he sees many defects in them to which he was before a stranger ; he is convinced, that he has sinned, and, in innumerable
respects, come short of the glory of God. He finds that he has omitted many parts of his duty, and, in many instances, acted contrary to it. He sees that even in those actions which appeared good, his motives to the performance of them were improper, and consequently destroyed their merit. “I was alive without " the law once,” says St. Paul, “ but when “ the commandment came, sin revived, and I “ died.” By the law, then, is the knowledge of sin. And when a sinner thus arrives at the knowledge of his iniquity, he, also, becomes sensible of the guilt and danger which he has incurred. When he contemplates the nature of God, and that strict obedience which he requires, he shrinks back with horrour at his own ingratitude towards his greatest Benefactor; he views, with deep concern, that pollution which separates him from his God, and that guilt which exposes him to the displeasure of his Maker. Innocence hath forsaken his breast, and peace is never found but in her train. Guilt, and her attendant fear, prey upon his soul.
his soul. When the thunders roll, and the lightnings flash, that voice of power which speaks peace to the good, sounds dreadful in the ears of that nian whom conscience appals with awful forebodings of punishment to come. He trembles at the thoughts of that curse which is due to every one who continueth not to do all things which are written in the book of the law.
This previous change was experienced by the prodigal son.
“ He came to himself.” Formerly he lived as in a fairy land, where magick and enchantment dressed up every thing in false and gaudy colours, where all was beauty to the eye and musick to the ear; but the spell was dissolved, the fictions of imagination were fled, and he beheld the real wretchedness of his situation. The wicked man is beside himself. Madness, saith Solomon, is in the heart of the sinner. The life of sin is like a dream, during which we believe ourselves seated at a rich banquet, but when we awake we find it all an illusion. It is a state of delirium or infatuation which makes us believe that we are rich and increased in goods, and, that, we stand in need of nothing; but when we come to our senses, we find ourselves wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
The second thing previous to repentance is an apprehension of the mercy of God, in
Christ, to such as are penitent. It is, perhaps, of no great consequence to determine the precise order in which faith and repentance take place ; for they are intimately connected and never separated. It seems absurd to say, that, a man can believe, before he has any knowledge of sin, before he sees that he has done wrong. But faith in Christ appears naturally to follow those alarms, and that anxiety of mind, into which conviction throws the sinner. Indeed, a hope of pardon is, absolutely, necessary to the very existence of repentance : for without it, conviction would lead only to despair : and we will never repent of those sins from the punishment of which we cannot escape.
Horrours of conscience and anticipations of wrath seize and overwhelm the sons of reprobation. Such pangs felt the murderer of his brother, and the son of perdition. The devils, who are without hope, are without repentance. But the true penitent sees the chera ubim and the flaming sword, which kept the way to the tree of life, removed by the blood of Jesus ; he sees the gates of mercy laid open for the admission of the returning sinner; he beholds the God of love stretching out his hands, and recalling his rebellious children.