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BY ELIHU THAYER
MARK, vi. 12. .4nd they went out, and preached that men should repent. Xn the preceding part of this chapter, we have the account of Christ's sending his twelve disciples to preach ; and he doubtless gave them particular directions what to preach. — On what doctrines to insist. And may we not, from the manner of their preaching judge of the tenor of his directions to them on this subject ? " And they went out, and preached that men should repent." Christ had told them the nature and importance of the commission with which they were charged, and informed them, " that it would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city which should refuse to hear them. ' ' And as they went forth, preaching repentance, it is reasonable to conclude, they had been thus instructed by their Lord and master, and that he con-
Oil Repentance. 305 sidered this a cardinal doctrine of his gospel which his disciples were to publish. In discoursing upon these words, it will be natural to describe in the I. Place, the nature of this important duty. II. Show its extent. And, III. Point out the motives by which this should be enforced.
I. What is repentance ? It is taken for granted in all passages of this kind, that man is a fallen, guilty creature. For they who haye never offended their Maker by sin, have no reason for repentance. " Just persons have no need of repentance." When therefore Christ orders repentance to be preached to the world, it implies that the world is in a fallen, guilty state. To preach repentance to a creature not guilty would be impertinent ; it would be an imposition. But Christ has commanded repentance to be preached to all nations, and " he commands all men every where to repent." This he tells us was one important branch of his own business into the world ; " I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance," Repentance is an essential part of the religion of a sinner ; and therefore it becomes very important to distinguish true repentance from every counterfeit appearance. You will then give me your attention while I endeavour to display its nature. And I would first observe, that repentance is an exercise of the heart, not of the intellectual part of man. It is a moral exercise, for it is connected with the divine approbation ; and it is certain, according to the constitution of the covenant of grace, that all broken hearted penitents shall inherit i40
306 On Repentance. the kingdom of heaven. There is therefore something" more in true repentance, than a conviction of the understanding and conscience of the evil of sin. Repentance according to the original, is a change of mind ; and is called repentance towards. God ; doubtless because it is a turning from the love of sin, to the love of holiness. All holy exercises are of the same nature, but are called by different names, as they respect different objects. That peculiar exercise of heart, which
is denominated repentance, has for its immediate object, the evil cf sin ; and essentially consists in a heartaffecting sense of one's own character as a sinner. Repentance, consisting in a sense of the vilenes of our own characters as sinners, necessarily implies godly sorrow, which consists in a sense of the evil of sin, as opposed to the pure and holy nature of God. God hates sin, because it is opposed to the good and happiness of the universe ; and he, who has godly sorrow for sin, hates it for the same reason. And repentance implies both a sense of the hateful nature of sin, and of our own vileness on account of the sinfulness of our nature ; and this is so essential to the character of a true penitent, that there can be no such thing as true repentance, when there is no sense of self-pollution and defilement. This appears from the examples of repentance recorded in scripture ; and the manner in which true penitents have expressed the feelings of their hearts. Job expressed the penitent exercises of^ his heart in the following language, " Behold I am vile, what shall I answer thee ?" " I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye secth thee.
On Heptntattee. 307 wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes." David expresses his repentance in this confession, " I have sinned against the Lord;" "Against thee, thee only have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight." See the same temper of heart exhibited by the prodigal son, when he returned to his father. " Father" said he, "I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called ihy son." Sec in the publican the same exercise expressed in these words, " God be merciful to me a sinner." True repentance, as appears from these passages, does not consist in wishing I had never sinned, but in self abhorrence on account of it. This being the nature of re-
pentance, it appears that the love, and allowed practice of any sin are inconsistent with a truly penitent temper. All sin is of the same nature, and therefore to suppose that a true penitent may love any kind of sin, and allowedly live in the practice of it, is a contradiction ; for it is supposing, that he approves of that, which by the supposition he abhors and forsakes. True repentance is therefore of such a nature, that the subject of it, breaks off his iniquities of heart, lip, and life. Light and darkness, may as consistently be supposed to prevail in the same place and at the same time, as that the love and practice of any known sin can prevail in the heart, which is the subject of true repentance. They cannot exist together ; and when the love and practice of any sin is habitual, there is reason to fear, and I believe I may safely add to conclude, there never was any true repentance in that heart. For grace in the heart is an immortal seed, and does not forsake the
308 On Replmtanee. oTound in which it hath taken root, but grows and spreads its branches, and finally triumphs over the noxious weeds of sin, which spring up spontaneously in the natural heart. From the nature of true repentance, and from the nature of sin, it appears, that no person can truly repent of one sin and yet remain impenitent, with respect to others. For all sin being of the same nature, that Qxercise which may be properly called repentance with respect to any one sin, is in its own nature hatred of all sin. A person may have his mind much upon some particular sin, which he has committed, and be deeply affected with a view of it, while there are many others of which he is guilty, which are not so immediately in his view ; yet as all sin is of the same nature, that which is of the nature of true repentance of one sin, is repentance of all sin. From these observations it also appears, that no person
has any reason to think he has true repentance of any one sm, while he lives in the indulgence of any corruption ; or that he is in a pardoned, justified state, while he finds any sin agreeable to him. For repentance is before forgiveness ; which is plain from this single consideration, that all the impenitent are in a state of condemnation. It has been shown, that repentance is inconsistent with the love and allowed indulgence of sin of any kind. They therefore who love and habitually indulge in any known sin are not in a justified, but in an impenitent and condemned state. Whatever they may imagine, they are under the curse of the divine law, and the wrath of God abideth on them. He that sinneth allowedly knoweth not God.
On Repentance. 309 > ' True repentance is a compliance with the gospel, by which the guilty escape the \vnith and curse of God due for sin ; and every such jierson sees sin in its hateful nature, and feels in some degree properly toward it. In short he sees himself, and is humbled to the dust on account of his own vileness. He sees that he may properly abhor himself, and he does abhor himself. This is the character of the humble, contrite heart. As to the extent of this duty which was the II. Thing to be considered. We may observe, that the AiK)stle informs us " that God now commands all men every where to repent." Which words imply that repentance is the immediate duty of all men. o man, no sinner, can live a single day, a single hour without repentance without violating this command of God. otliing is more plain than that an impenitent temper of heart is exceedingly criminal ; it is impossible it should be otherwise ; for were we to suppose, that a temper to love sm were not criminal, sin would
change its nature and be no longer sin. But the love of sin is in its own nature wrong, hence it follou's, that repentance, which is a turning from sin to God is always a duty, and there never jvas nor can be a sinner found, who ought not immediatel)' to repent, or in other words, hate sin and turn from it. The obligation to repentance results from the reasonableness, that God should be loved and obeyed by his rational creatures, and from the odious, destructive nature and tendency of sin. It must be the duty of every moral agent who has sinned, to exercise the temper of a penitent. So long as all moral beings are under indis-
510 On Mepefitanee. pensable o^iligations to love God and hate sin, so long it will he their duty, when sinners, to repent and love their Maker. The command to repent is not to be considered in the light of a mere positive precept which makes something our duty, which before was not a duty. A gracious attendance on the supper of the Lord is a duty resting on a positive command, and was not a duty before it was thus commanded. But the obligation of sinners to. repent is not of this nature ; but results from their relation to God as his creatures ; and repentance was a. duty antecedent to any express command in the case. The command, requiring repentance of all men, is only a declaration of what was right and suitable in the reason and nature of things. It was always proper, and indeed an indispensable duty for all creatures to love God, and. hate sin, and for the same reason it is the duty of every simier to return to God by repentance. The express command of God does not in tliis case alter the nature of duty, nor make that now a duty, which was not so before, but only expresses what is in its own nature Tight. It is however true that sinners are under greater obligations to repentance, since the light and grace of
the gospel have appeared, than before. They now know their Master's will, by an express revelation ; their obligations to this duty are more clear and urgent ; and they are more criminal in living in impenitence. For guilt ever increases according to the light and evidence against wliich a creature sins. On this principle it was that our Saviour said, " the servant who \nQ\ his master's vv^ill and prepared not himself, nor
On Repentance. ' 'all did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes." Besides all who live impenitently under the light of the gospel, cast open contempt on the authority of the great and blessed God, " who now commands all men every where to repent. Such persons virtually despise all the grace revealed in the gospel, that new and living way of salvation for sinners. God can consistently ¦pardon the penitent only for the sake of Christ. Repentance is then an important, reasonable and necessary duty, from which no man is, or can be exempted. It is binding on ail sinners in all places, and at all times, especially upon the sinner who enjoys the superior advantages of gospel light. I shall now in the III. Place, according to the method proposed, show the reasons which urge this duty. 1. It is the duty of sinners to repent because of the evil of sin. Repentance, you will remember is a turning from sin to God. Sin is an infinite evil, it is fraught with infinite mischief, and in its own nature tends to destroy all the holiness and happiness in the imiverse. All the misery in the universe proceeds from sin, and could it have its unrestrained influence, it would dethrone God, and destroy his kingdom -
This is evident from what in fact takes place in every heart where sinful affections predominate. Here it dethi'ones God and sets up some detestable idol in his place; and this is the tendency of sin universally. This being the tendency of sin, it is in its nature infinitely hateful, and repentance is the most reasonable
312 On Repentance. service. When a man repents and forsakes sin, then, and not till then does he act reasonably ; and feel suitably toward God, and the into-est of his kingdom. The evil of sin is therefore the proper motive to repentance. 2. God commands sinners to repent. This is another reason of the duty. There is no sinner who hears the gospel, but hears God, his rightful Lord and Sovereign calling him to repentance. This is a cardinal doctrine of the gospel, and so essential to the christian system that no person can be said to preach the gospel, who does not in the name of God call sinners to repentance. — But is it reasonable for a creature to obey God ? Then it is the sinner's duty to repent, for God commands it. 3. Another reason why sinners should repent is,» that there is no such thing as receiving the benefits of the gospel v/ithout it. The final benefits of Christ's redemption are reserved for the penitent only. Hence Christ thus declares his commission, " The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek ; he hath sent me to bind up the broken in heart, and to comfort all that mourn." This is only another expression for the penitent ; and it is in fact contrary to Christ's design to comfort impenitent sinners. The peculirir promises and comforts of the gospel belong to the penitent
only. The impenitent sinner has no share in them ; nor could he enjoy them. — They are as far out of his reach, while an impenitent sinner, as heaven is. o sinner can receive Christ as his Prophet, Priest and King, and
On Repentance, 313 cordially approve of his character as Mediator, till his heart is humble and broken for sin. — Until sin, which Christ came into the world to condemn, appears to him exceedingly sinful. o man can love the character of Christ Avho condemned sin in all its forms, until he himself disapproves and forsakes it. Without repentance then, no advantage can be derived from Christ. What an important and pressing motive is this, to repentance ! And tliis brings into view a 4. Reason why sinners should repent, which is, that without repentance they must perish. They who fail of tlie benefits of Christ^s redemption are lost and undone forever. On this subject there can be no question. Jesus Christ has decided this in language as express as could be used. " Except you repent ye shall all likewise perish." If Jesus be the faitliful and true witness of God the matter is fixed. There is no way of salvation provided for the impenitent, remaining such. Christ has opened a way for sinners to repent, and for the penitent to be saved ; but none to save men without repentance. Let no man then deceive you with vain words ; vain words indeed which lead sinners to hope to be saved in their sins ; without repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Did Moses ; did the prophets ; did Christ ; did the Apostles encourage men to hope that they would be saved without repentance and holiness of life ? — I need not tell you in what manner they preached: you know their united voice is: — without holiness no man shall see the Lord. How then can you hope,
if you are strangers to repentance which is the first 4-1
314 On Repentance. step in the way to heaven. Such an hope cannot be founded on the gospel, and if it be not founded there, it can be nothing but presumption. You can know whether you have ever had evangeHcal repentance or not ; you can know whether you Hve in the commission of any known sin; in the omission of any known duty. If so, you may be confident you never had that repentance which is unto life, that need,^ eth not to be repented of. Let me entreat you not to hope, that you are in a state of security without repentance. I can say no more than Christ has said ; Except ye repent ye shall all perish. These are all very important reasons why sinners should repent and turn to God through Christ ; I say through Christ, for there is no other way of returning to God ; he is the way and the only way to heaven for a fallen, guilty creature. And this discovers to us how inseparable the connexion is between repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He who turns from sin, turns to God, and the turning of a sinner to God is through the Mediator and implies faith in him. It is the very spirit of repentance to lead the soul to embrace a holy Saviour, and comply with the requisitionis of his gospel, as they are made known to him. Hence we find in the time of tlie Apostles, when once sinners were brought to repentance, they embraced Christ, received the ordinance of baptism and were admitted. into the church. A truly penitent heart will lead a man to cry out as Saul did, " Lord what wilt thou have me to do ?"
On Repentance. 315 Thus I have attempted to illustrate and explain the nature of gospel repentance, which consists, not in hating misery but in hating sin. ot in wishing I had never sinned and exposed myself to the penalty of the divine law; but in seeing its evil against God, and forsaking it. And this we have shewn is a duty incumbent on all men, especially upon all who are under advantages to see the evil of sin. And that the motives to repentance under the gospel iu-e more clearly disr covered, and therefore press this duty more urgently on sinners under the advantages of gospel light and grace. W^e have also offered some reasons for the duty of repentance wliich are of the highest importance and concern to all men. IMPROVEME T. 1. Let us notice the great importance of the duty on which we have spoken. Indeed repentance is the first step in the path of duty, in the way to heaAcn. o duty ce.n be rightly paformed without this temper of heart. We can therefore see the reason why Ciirisi and his Apostles preached repentance to sinners as their first and immediate duty. Without a penitent heart no man is accepted in any dut3\ 2. If repentance be so important, should we not be careful lest we are deceived ? A mistake as to the nature of repentance, leads men into mistakes in almost every thing else. When repentance is made to con-
sist in passion ; in terror ; in fear of punishment ; such religion \w\\\ continue as long as passion, fear, and terror last. Such persons are led into this mistake, that tliey may have religion and lose it.
316 On Repentance. 3. The subject shows us, that all impenitent sinners, old and young, are in a criminal, dangerous state. Such possess a heart which is infinitely hateful in the sight of God. They are the willing servants of sin, and live in the open violation of a command which we have shown to be the most reasonable ; a command which must be obeyed, or the sinner must be an outcast from the favour of God forever. And all this time he is exposed to death, which will close his period of probation and fix his state for eternity. Who can describe the danger of his situation ? It is indescribable ! yet O how insensible are sinners of this. —
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