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aggravation of the sins committed against it, and when our Lord comes to pass sentence upon us, will add to the number of our stripes. Nay, if God should inflict no positive torment upon sinners, yet their own minds would deal most severely with them upon this account; and nothing will wound their consciences more, than to remember against what light they have offended. For herein lie the very nature and sting of all guilt, to be conscious to ourselves, that we knew what we ought to have done, and did it not.' The vices and corruptions which reigned in the world before, will be pardonable, in comparison of ours. • The times of that ignorance God winked at: but now he commands all men everywhere to repent. Mankind had some excuse for their errors before, and God was pleased in a great measure to overlook them; but if we continue still in our sins, we have no cloak for thein. All the degrees of light which we enjoy, are so many talents committed to us by our Lord, for the improving whereof, he will call us to a strict account; ' For unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required; and to whom he hath committed much, of him he will ask the more.' And nothing is more reasonable, than that men should account for all the advantages and opportunities they have had of knowing the will of God; and that as their knowledge was increased, so their sorrow and punishment should proportionably rise, if they sin against it. The ignorance of a great part of the world is deservedly pitied and lamented by us; but the condemnation of none is so dreadful, as of those who, having the knowledge of God's will, neglected to do it. How much better had it been for them, not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them! If we had been born, and brought up in ignorance of the true God and his will, "we had had no sin,' in comparison of what now we have: but now that we see, our sin remains. This will aggravate our condemnation beyond measure, that we had the knowledge of salvation so clearly revealed to us.
Our duty lies plainly before us; we know what we ought to do, and
what manner of persons we ought to be, in all holy conversation and godliness. We believe the coming of our Lord to judgement; and we know not how soon he may be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,' not only to take ven. geance on them that know not God,' but on them that have known him, and yet obey not the gospel of his Son.' And if all this will not move us to prepare ourselves to do our Lord's will, we deserve to have our stripes multiplied. No condemnation can be too heavy for those, who offend against the clear knowledge of God's will, and their duty.
Let us then be persuaded to set about the practice of what we know; let the light which is in our understandings, descend upon our hearts and lives ; let us not dare to continue any longer in the practice of any known sin, nor in the neglect of anything, which we are convinced is our duty. As we have received from the pages of revelation, how we ought to walk and to please God, so let us labour to abound more and more.
SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT.
DUTY OF REPENTANCE. Matt. iii. 8.-Bring forth fruits meet for repentance. The duty of repentance seems peculiarly adapted to the present solemn season of Lent, upon which we have just entered. We will suggest some considerations on the nature of the duty; the motives to its performance; and the rules by which it should be conducted.
I. We may define repentance to be, a change of mind, operating in a change of conduct. But we shall become still better acquainted with the nature of it, if we view its process, and resolve it into its several parts, in due order.
The first step in the process must of necessity be conviction ; since he cannot be persuaded to repent, who is not first convinced that he has sinned; no man will think of returning into the right way, unless he be made sensible that he has wandered out of it. To produce this conviction, is not so easy a task, as at first sight it may seem to be: since, when evil is pursued, it is pursued under the appearance of good; by VOL. I.
such appearance the sinner for a time is deceived, blinded, deluded, infatuated ; and in this state sometimes continues to pass his life, through mere indolence, inattention, want of consideration. Conviction is produced gradually. Upon some hint given to a man, either from within or from without, he begins to suspect himself in the wrong ; and then, if he be honest enough to prosecute the enquiry, discovers at length, that he actually is so. Sometimes it is flashed upon the mind at once-He awakes, and the dream is at an end. Under the direction of that blessed Spirit, whose office, we are told, it is, to convince,' or convict the world of sin,' it is produced by various means, by disappointments, by crosses, by losses, by sickness, by the death of a friend, by a passage in Scripture, or a discourse upon one, by the incidents of common life, or the changes that happen in the natural world; in short, there is hardly a circumstance of so trivial a nature, but that a kind Providence, in some instance or other, has been pleased to make it instrumental to this salutary purpose. On the brethren of Joseph, after an interval of more than twenty years, the conviction was wrought by the usage they experienced from him, when unknown, in Egypt. It put them upon reflecting, of what offence they could have been guilty in the former part of life, which might deserve to be punished in this particular manner. Conscience stepped forth, and gave the necessary information. •We are verily guilty concerning our brother ; therefore is this distress come upon us.' The case of David was of a more obstinate nature. A delineation of his crime under a parable was not sufficient to awaken him. Nothing could do this, but a direct, home, personal application — Thou art the man.'—He started from a deep sleep of ten months, and fell prostrate on the dust, before his God— I have sinned!' -Let every sinner, when tempted to despair, recollect the answer, and bless the gracious Being from whom it proceeded – The Lord hath put away thy sin.'
The second step to conviction, in the process of repentance, is sorrow.— The man who has offended his Maker, and is be, come thoroughly sensible that he has done so, and of the consequences of his having done so, cannot but be grieved to find himself in such a situation. The degree of this sorrow is varied almost infinitely by the different temperaments of mind and body in the penitents, and the different views under which sin presents itself to their several imaginations. And, therefore, the same degree is not to be exacted of all. By enthusiasm it has been not unfrequently aggravated even to frenzy and madness. In Scripture it is drawn with an aspect perfectly sober, but yet described, in many instances, as very intense ; like that occasioned by the languors of sickness in its last stage, or the pain arising from dislocated or broken bones, and venting itself in complaints and lamentations, in sighs and tears. Indeed, the prophet exhorts us (and, by adopting their expressions into her services, the Church directs us actually to assert that we follow their exhortations) to turn to the Lord our God,' not only with fasting,' but with weeping.' There are temporal calamities, which can draw tears plentifully from most persons; nay, a fictitious representation of them, we find, can produce the effect. Spiritual ones, perhaps, would do the same, if we felt them as we ought to feel them; as due retirement and meditation would cause us to feel them; and as we shall one day feel them, when death shall be seen levelling his dart at our pillow, and the throne of judgement rising to the view, beyond him. But, as was before observed, the degrees of sorrow, as well as the modes of expressing it, will vary, as belonging more to the sensitive nature, than to the rational. And for the avoiding all scruple and doubtfulness on this head, it may be laid down for certain, that the least degree of sorrow is sufficient, if it produce a reformation; the greatest insufficient, if it do not.
A third step in the process of repentance is confession. One of an ingenuous mind, who is heartily sorry for his offences, will not be ashamed or backward to own that sorrow. In transactions with a fellow creature, we cannot hope that a fault will be overlooked, which has not been acknowledged; or pardon granted, before it has been asked. I said, I will confess my sins unto the Lord; and so thou forgavest the wickedness of my sin.'
A fourth step in the process of repentance is resolution to amend. A sorrowful confession of what we have done amiss, will of course occasion a wish, that it had not been done; a desire to undo it so far as it may be possible ; and, above all, à resolution not to do the same again, but to take a course directly the reverse of that which we had before taken; in other words, to alter, to reform, to amend our lives.
One step more remains, and only one, but that very steep and difficult of ascent, which is, to carry what we have resolved, into execution. It is this which finishes and crowns all the rest, being indeed the step, for the attainment of which all the rest were taken, and which therefore renders them of any value; as it shows the penitent to have been sincere in taking them, to have considered them not as efficacious in themselves, but as means to an end—an end, thus, and thus alone to be accomplished.
Such is the nature of repentance. It begins with conviction of sin, passes on to sorrow of the heart, confession of the mouth, and resolution of amendment; and it terminates in reformation of life.
II. The motives to it come now to be considered.
Evil to be avoided, and good to be obtained, are the motives which influence and produce all human actions.
The evil to be avoided, is the judgement of God,' consequent upon sin, and sure to overtake it, if unrepented of. Sin, which is the transgression of the law, cannot but be noticed by him who gave that law; and if noticed, must be punished, either in this life, or that which is to come. No principle can be plainer than this; for otherwise, a law would serve no purpose but that of bringing contempt upon the maker of it. There is not an instance, perhaps, upon record of any age or nation, where the idea of punishment has not been connected with that of guilt; and the certainty of such connection is the great subject of all the Scriptures.
Sin is often punished in this life; much oftener than we are aware; indeed so often, that we may say to you as Moses to Israel :- If you have sinned against the Lord, be sure your sin will find you out.' It would be in vain, however, to dissemble, that, in the present state, as is the offence, such is not always the punishment. Notoriously profligate sinners often partake not, to appearance, the common evils of life, but pass their days in prosperity, affluence, and health, and die without any visible tokens of the divine displeasure.
To take off, in some measure, the force of the objection, it must be remarked, that, besides those judgements of God, which lie open to the observation of mankind, there are others even in the present life, of a secret and invisible kind, known only to the party by whom they are felt. There is a court