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code. It becomes us, therefore, rather to submit to the justice of God, and to supplicate his mercy, than to reply against him, as if we “would condemn him " that we may be justified.”
Our text implies likewise, that all have turned away from God. The characters of men are greatly diversified, but all “ have forsaken the Fountain of living "waters, to hew out for themselves broken cisterns “that can hold no water.” Apostacy from God, or a refusal to render him the worship, love, gratitude, and obedience which he demands; alienation of heart from him, and a disposition to seek happiness any where, rather than in his favour and service, are universal. “ All we like sheep have gone astray, we " have turned every one to his own way." All men are become idolaters; they desire and delight súpremely in the creature, in one form or other: while a self-sufficient independent spirit, a proneness to selfadmiration, and to seek our own will or glory, as the ultimate end of all our actions, constitutes another kind of universal idolatry. Hence the necessity of repenting and turning to God, as the supreme object of our love, and the source of our felicity.
But we must also observe, that the text contains an intimation of mercy, and of the way in which the returning sinner may approach God with full confidence of a gracious reception. When a company of malefactors have been convicted on the clearest evi. dence of the most atrocious crimes; a command from their prince to own their guilt and apply for mercy
in a prescribed way, would be considered as an encouragement to expect a pardon: A hope would
spring up in every breast; and if any who had unre. servedly complied with this injunction, should at last be led to execution, they would think themselves trifled with, however just their punishment might otherwise be. Now the Lord hath revealed himself as infinitely merciful to the fallen race of men; he hath opened “a new and living way,” for our approach to him upon a throne of grace; he hath invited us to draw near, and plead the name of our heavenly Ad. vocate, and the merits of his atoning sacrifice; “ he “ hath commanded all men every where to repent:" and from these things we confidently infer, that every one, without exception, who through grace obeys * the call,' will be saved, by the free mercy of God in Christ Jesus. In short, if any man were sinless, and had no need of repentance; or if any were so sinful that repentance would avail him nothing; the general language of the text would not be suited to the case: but as all have sinned, and “ with the Lord there is
mercy and plenteous redemption;" as no impenitent sinner can be saved, and no true penitent can be lost; therefore all men are exhorted and commanded to
repent and turn to God, and do works meet for re
III. Then we proceed to consider the peculiar na. ture of repentance and turning unto God.
The parable of the prodigal son was evidently in. tended as an illustration of this important subject: and the following verse is a most suitable introduction to our discussion of it. " When he came to himself, he “ suid, How many hired servants of my father's have " bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hun.
“ ger!” He had been infatuated, he had acted as one in a delirium, or insane: but now the disorder is removed, he awakes as out of sleep, recovers the use of his faculties, and perceives his misery and danger. He sees every object in a new light; he forms a very different judgment of his father's conduct, and the rules and privileges of his family; of his own perverse behaviour, of his associates in vice, and in short of every thing connected with his character, situation, and prospects. From this revolution in his judgment, a total alteration takes place in his conduct. He considers the meanest servant of his father as comparatively happy, and himself as a wretched outcast deserved. ly perishing. His only hope in this extreme distress arises from a persuasion of the tender compassion of his father, whom before he had regarded as opposing his happiness: and he determines at all events to return to him, and seek to be reconciled, as the only hope of escaping destruction.
Thus the sinner, having long thought the Lord a hard Master, and religion a wearisome service: and in vain sought liberty and pleasure in sin and folly; at length, by rich mercy, is brought to himself, recovers from his delirium or fascination, to see his misery and lament his madness. Now he perceives that God is worthy of all love, obedience, and adoration; that his law is holy, just, and good; that his service is perfect freedom, and his favour, life and felicity; and that sin is but another name for folly, bondage, and ruin. He is convinced that the poorest believer is far happier than the most prosperous of the wicked, that his past conduct calls for the deepest humiliation, that his pre
sent situation is perilous in the extreme, and that his only refuge is in the compassion of that God, against whom he hath ungratefully rebelled. Influenced by such considerations, he arises from his grovelling indulgences and low pursuits; he repents and turns to God, with humble confessions and fervent prayers; he struggles through difficulties, resists temptations, and rises above dark desponding fears; and finds our heavenly Father far more ready to pardon, welcome, and bless him, than he could possibly have expected.
Yes, my brethren, many of you know the meaning of this parable by your own happy experience: and comparing the bitterness of your sinful courses, with the peace and joy which you have found in believing; you are ready to say to others, “ Come, taste and see “how gracious the Lord is, and how blessed they are " that trust in him.”—But are there not also among you some persons who never thus “came to them. “ selves?” and have no acquaintance with the change that hath been described?-A few instances may in. deed occur, where repentance and conversion have begun so early in life, and been matured so gradually, as to leave no distinct traces of this experience: but they who are strangers to it, are almost universally ignorant of vital Christianity and its saving efficacy. True converts, however imperceptible their progress, are always conscious of desires and dispositions, not natural to fallen man: and they are more prone to question, whether a change, wrought quietly and
gradually, can be genuine; than to suppose a more distinct awakening to a sense of guilt and danger not before felt, to be in general unnecessary.
This “coming to themselves,” is often attended with alarm and terror, (which, however, are not at all essential to repentance;) and it is always productive of godly sorrow; a deep and unfeigned concern for having offended our great and glorious Creator, broken his good laws, acted so foolish and base a part, and done so much injury to our neighbours and relatives. This is likewise connected with self-abasement, lowly thoughts of ourselves, and a disposition to plead guilty before God, and confess our sins unreservedly, with shame and remorse. Thus the Lord speaks of penitent Ephraim by his holy prophet. “I “ have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus, “ Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a “bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. Turn thou
me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my “God. Surely after I was turned, I repented; and “ after I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh; I
was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did “bear the reproach of my youth.”*— The effects of repentance are described after a similar manner in Ezekiel: “ That thou mayest remember and be con“ founded, and never open thy mouth any more for “thy shame, when I am pacified towards thee for all that " thou hast done, saith the Lord God.”+ For “he " looketh upon men, and if any say I have sinned, and
perverted that which is right, and it profited me not, " he shall deliver his soul from going down into the "pit, and his life shall see the light.”}
" He that " covereth his sins shall not prosper; but he that con
* Jer. xxxi, 18-20. † Ezek. xvi, 63. Jeb, xxxiii, 27, 28.