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Testifyiog both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. — Acts xz. 21.
EVERY one knows that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, began with the Baptist preaching repentance always along with faith (Matt iii. 2) : " Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand ; " as much as to say, Repent, as ye believe in that kingdom which is coming. It has not been so generally noticed that Jesus began his preaching with the same themes (Matt. iv. 17) : " From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." And now in the Christian church we find Paul, who had sent for the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him at Miletus, reminding them that when among them he had testified to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance towards God and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ. These two, repentance and faith as they had been proclaimed by the forerunner of our Lord, by our Lord himself, and by the great preacher among the apostles, are to be preached in all ages, to all people,
to the uneducated, but also to the educated ; not only
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to the heathen, the outcast, the degraded, but also to the refined, the enlightened; "to the Jews, and also to the Greeks." The preacher is unfaithful to the trust committed to him who does not from time to time enforce the necessity of faith and repentance.
These two are not the highest of the graces. Repentance was not required of man in Paradise, nor is it enjoined upon the angels and saints in heaven. There is a higher grace than faith : " There abideth these three : faith, hope, and charity ; but the greatest of these is charity." Repentance and faith are not the highest round of the ladder; they are rather the lowest step on which we must place our feet if we would ascend. They are the two saving graces of the Christian character. They do not constitute the temple ; they are the two-leaved gates standing
open by which we enter. It will serve little purpose to begin with saying to the sinner, " Love God and be holy and perfect ; " for he finds that when he would attempt this, he miserably fails; when he would mount to heaven without faith as wings, he falters and falls. The teacher does not begin with trying to teach his pupils science and philosophy; he imparts simpler and more rudimentary lessons, and would thus carry them to higher truths. The physician does not say to his patients. Be healthy and strong; he requires them to submit to a regimen, and to partake of the medicines that may heal them. It is after this manner that our Lord deals with man,
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and this in thorough accordance with our nature. Faith and repentance are the milk and not the strong meat which Christ gives to babes. As sinners they have to start from this low ground, that they may succeed in rising to love and obedience, to holiness and heaven.
REPENTANCE TOWARDS GOD.
I need not dwell on the necessity of repentance. If all men have sinned, it needs no argument to prove that all should repent Is there one in this assembly who thinks that he needs no repentance, — some proud formalist whose spirit is expressed in the language, " Stand by, for I am holier than thou ; " some self-righteous Pharisee who is willing to acknowledge that this publican should mourn over his sins, but assumes that for himself he does not require to grieve very long or deeply over offences which are so slight and trivial, and these balanced by excellences, — I affirm, and affirm it deliberatively, that there is no man within these walls who has greater need to have his heart melted. " Except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish."
But what is the nature of the repentance which is so imperatively required of us? // is, first , a true sense of sin. It does not consist in a mere fear of the consequences of sin, as when a man gets himself into trouble by a wrong act, and is vexed, annoyed.
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and angry with himself for being so foolish, and regrets that he ever did the deed. One may do all this, and meanwhile have no appreciation of the evil of his conduct ; he loves the sin as much as he ever did before, and if he could avoid the consequences, he would engage in it as greedily as ever. Cain was not a penitent when he expressed himself, " My punishment is greater than I can bear ; " this shows that he had a sense of the consequences of the sin, but not of the sin itself. It will be found of the person who goes no farther than this, that his compunctions have little or no influence in preserving him from like sins in time to come. He regrets to day, only to return to the offence to-morrow.
The true penitent has a sense of the evil of sin in itself. He regards it as a disobedience to that law of love which he perceives to be holy, just, and good. He grieves over it as giving offence to that God who is so pure and holy, and who has shown him such kindness. He sees it to be injurious to the best interests of the soul, and in many forms of it to be unjust or injurious to his fellow-men. View-
ing it in this light, he sees it to be evil, and only evil. Before, he rolled it as a sweet morsel under his tongue, and when charged with it he was inclined to deny it, or excuse it, or explain it away. Now, he sees it to be utterly bad and inexcusable, and he acknowledges it to God, — and to his fellow-men when it has done them injury.
Sometimes the repentance begins in a sense of
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some particular sin ; but it does not stop there. As the sinner discovers the stream to be polluted, he traces it up to the fountain and discovers that the heart is corrupt. Show the physician an outward symptom, a pain or weakness or colored spot on a limb, and he may have to follow it to its source in a deeply-seated distemper. So it is with the penitent : an outbreak of selfishness, or lust, or passion at once reveals to him that the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint, and that from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet there is no soundness. In other cases, penitence begins in a deep sense of the
evil of sin generally, and the depravity of our nature. But when it is genuine, it becomes a sense of the individual sins into which we have fallen. It is re* corded in the life of a faithful minister, that on visiting a dying woman he found her describing herself as an awful sinner; but having doubts of her spiritual state, he went over with her the ten commandments, to find that she could not be brought to acknowledge that she had been guilty of breaking any one of them, which proved to him that she was deceiving herself. The true penitent sees the evil of sin both in the corruption of the heart and the particular sins that spring from that source.
Secondly, in true repentance there is an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ. It is not a sorrow apart from Christ, nor independent of him ; neither is it a sorrow without hope. Despondency,
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or despair, is not repentance. The showers are always lightened by sunshine from heaven, and the
tears run down the furrows made by smiles. It is not good for any man to mourn alone, and cover up his sorrow in his bosom, there like a cancer to eat ever inward. Listen to the experience of the Psalmist (Ps. xxxii. 3) : " When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer." Such was his experience as long as he confined his feelings to his bosom ; but he goes on to say : '' I acknowleged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." From that instant he had peace; as we have seen an angry sky discharging itself in showers, and the whole landscape joyous with smiling sunshine. The proper attitude of the penitent is that of the woman who was a sinner, mentioned in the Gospels. She had been brought to see her sin, and to know that there was a Saviour ; she learns that he has gone into the house of a Pharisee ; she follows him hither, at the risk of being repulsed; she comes into the place where he was; she bends over his body; tears fall from her eyes upon the feet of Jesus, and afraid lest she might have given offence, she wipes them with the hair of
her head. Such is the proper position of the true penitent, — not mourning in empty solitude, but
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seeking out Christ, coming to him in holy boldness^ pouring out his sorrows to him, and laying his sins upon him.
Thirdly, the sinner turns unto God with the earnest and determined purpose to give up his sin. This is the consummation of the whole. This is fieravola, — the change of mind in which true penitence is consummated. There may be other and lower kinds of repentance, so called in Scripture, but not called fieravola. Pharaoh repented, in a sense, when the plagues were upon him and his people ; but when they passed away, his repentance also passed away. Judas is said to have repented, and he returned the thirty pieces he had received as the price of blood; but he went out and banged himself. Genuine repentance always carries with it reformation. At this point, faith joins on to penitence. Faith brings us to God, but we are driven to this
step by penitence. As the result of the whole, the view we have got of sin leads us to turn away from it; but for this purpose we turn to God through faith, and obtain strength to accomplish our end. There may be a struggle before we succeed, — nay, there may be one struggle after another; there may be partial defeat, but always succeeded by triumph. This is the fruit, and it is the test of the genuineness of the penitence : " By their fruits shall ye know them ; " " Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance."
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