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give repentance and forgiveness of sin.” Acts 5.31. The law did not allow of repentance, nor promise pardon. The design of it was to keep us in the favour and communion with God, but afforded no means of reconciliation after our offending him. Repentance was no degree of perfection before man's fall, but is a relief of his imperfection after it. The law called the righteous to obedience, the gospel calls sinners to repentance.
That there is no causality or merit in repentance to procure our pardon. The mercy of God for the most precious merits and mediation of Jesus Christ is the only cause of pardon. A flood of repenting tears, an effusion of our blood, are of too low a price to make any satisfaction to God, to deserve a return of his favour. The most sincere love of holiness, and stedfast resolution to forsake sin, which is the principal part of our repentance, can be no satisfaction for our past offences, for it is the natural duty of man before the commission of sin : repentance is only a vital qualification in the subject that receives the pardon.
That the grace of God is very conspicuous in dispensing pardon, according to the order of the gospel to repenting sinners, For first, repentance renders the divine mercy most honourable in the esteem of those who partake of it.
Our Saviour tells us, “ The whole need not a physician, but those who are sick." He that feels his disease, and is strongly apprehensive of its danger, values the counsel and assistance of a physician above all treasures. The repenting sinner who is under the strong conviction of his guilt, and his being always obnoxious to the judgment of God, and eternal misery the consequence of it, he values the favour of God as the most sovereign good, and accounts his displeasure as the supreme evil. Repentance inspires flaming affections in our prayers and praises for pardon. The repenting sinner prays for pardon with as much fervency as Daniel prayed in the den, to be preserved from the devouring lions; or as Jonah prayed out of the belly of hell for deliverance. He addresses not with faint but fainting desires for mercy; “ Give me pardon, or I die.” Jonah 2. The insensible sinner that is secure in the shadow of death, may offer some verbal requests for pardon, but his prayer is defective in the principle: for he never feels the want of a pardon; he prays so coldly as if unconcerned whether be be accepted or no. And with what a rapture of admiration, and joy, and thankful affections, doth the pardoned peniten magnify the divine mercy? The christian Niobe that was melted into repenting tears “ loved much, because much was forgiven
This establishment that repentance qualifies a sinner for pardon, is most beneficial to man, and consequently most illustrates pardoning mercy. We must observe, that sin does not only affect us with guilt, but leaves an inherent corruption that defiles and debases the sinner, and strongly inclines him to relapse into rebellion. Now repentance gives the true representation of sin in its penal consequences, the anger of the Almighty, the terrors of conscience, and makes it evident and odious to the soul. David had a piercing conviction what a foul sin adultery was, when his “bones were broken.” Repenting sorrow strikes at the root of sin, the love of pleasure. This makes us fearful to offend God, and to fly all the alluring temptations that will betray us to sin. This makes us obedient. The melted metal is receptive of any form. Contrition is joined with resignation : “ Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Was the voice of repenting Saul.
It may be objected, that we read, “ God justifies the ungodly,” but the answer is clear. The apostle does not intend by the ungodly, an impenitent sinner, but makes the opposition between the ungodly and one that perfectly obeys the law, and is consequently justified by works: and in this sense the most excellent saints here are ungodly. Besides, the apostle does not assert that God absolutely pardons the ungodly, but qualifies the persons : “ To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Now justifying faith and repentance are like Tamar's twins : repentance is first felt, and then faith exerts itself in applying the merits of Christ's death for our pardon.
It is replied by some, that all grace is communicated from Christ, as our head, and supposes our union with him, of which faith is the vital band, and consequently the first grace, by which all other graces are derived to us.
To this I answer, there are two means of our union with Christ : the principal is the quickening spirit descending from Christ as the fountain of the supernatural life, and a lively faith wrought in us by his pure and powerful operation, that ascends from us and closes with him. It is said, the second Adam was made “a quickening spirit:” and he that is joined “to the Lord is one spirit.” As the parts of the natural body are united by the vital influence of the same soul that is present in the whole; so we are united to Christ by the holy spirit that was given to him without measure, and from his fulness is derived to
It is clear therefore beyond all contradiction, that faith is not antecedently requisite, as the means of conveying all graces to us from Christ.
There are two acts of faith: the first respects the general offer of pardon in the gospel to all repenting believing sinners: the second is the application of the promise of pardon to the soul. The first is antecedent to evangelical repentance: the second is clearly consequent in the order of nature, for the promise assures pardon only to “the weary and heavy laden that come to Christ for rest.”
In short, there is a perfect agreement and sympathy between reason and divine revelation in this doctrine, that God pardons only the repenting sinner. The contrary assertion is an impeachment of the rectitude of his nature, and directly contrary to the design and tenor of the gospel. If a man be justified as ungodly, the evangelical command of repentance for the remission of sins is useless and unprofitable. What a pernicious influence upon practice this doctrine may have, is obvious to any that consider it. I shall only add, if God pardons men as ungodly, “How shall he judge the world?” It was prophesied by Enoch, “Behold the Lord comes with ten thousand saints to judge all that are ungodly for their ungodly deeds, which they have ungodlily committed.” Now as St. James argues against the perverseness of men, “when from the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing; doth a fountain send forth sweet water and bitter?” Jam. 3. 10. This instance is incomparably more strong with respect to God than to men. It is more consistent and conceivable that a fountain should send forth fresh water and salt, than that the holy and righteous God, in whose nature there is not the least discord, should justify some as ungodly, and condemn others as ungodly for ever.
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the evangelical condition of our obtaining pardon. This will appear by considering the nature of faith. Saving faith is an unfeigned persuasion of the power, and desire of Christ to save sinners, that induces the soul to receive him, and rely on him, as he is offered in the gospel. We are assured of his all-sufficiency, and of his compassionate willingness to save us; “He is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by him.” Our Saviour declares, “Whoever comes to him, he will in no wise cast out." Faith is seated in the whole soul, and according to the truth and transcendent goodness of the object, produces the most precious and sacred esteem of it in the mind, and the most joyful consent and choice of it in the will. Accordingly a sincere believer embraces entire Christ as "a Prince and a Saviour," and is as willing to be governed by his sceptre, as to depend upon his sacrifice. Acceptance and reliance are the essential ingredients of justifying faith. This is the doctrine of the everlasting gospel. The angel declared this to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for to you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2. 10. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ is come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” I Tim. 1. 15. Faith is indispensably necessary to our obtaining forgiveness. Faith is the channel wherein the precious issues of his blood and sufferings are conveyed to us. To make more evident how necessary and gracious a condition faith in the Redeemer is, for our pardon, I will briefly consider the foundation of the covenant of life in the gospel. After man had plunged himself into damnation, God having decreed, that without satisfaction there should be no remission of his sin; and the sinner being utterly incapable of enduring such a punishment in degrees, as might be truly satisfactory, it necessarily followed, he must suffer a punishment equivalent in duration. To prevent this, there was no possible way but by admitting a surety, who should represent the sinner, and in his stead suffer the punishment due for sin. A threefold consent was requisite in this transaction.
(1.) The consent of the sovereign, whose law was violated, and majesty despised: for as there is a natural distinction between persons, and between the actions of persons, so there must be between the recompences of those actions : consequently the sinner is obliged to suffer the punishment in his own person. From hence it is clear, that the punishment cannot be transferred to another without the allowance of the sovereign, who is the patron of the rights of justice.
(2.) The consent of the surety is requisite : for punishment being an emanation of justice cannot be inflicted on an innocent person, without his voluntary interposing to save the guilty. A surety is legally one person with the debtor : otherwise the creditor cannot exact, by the rule of right, the payment from him, which is fixed by the law upon the person of the debtor. .
(3.) It is as clear, that the consent of the guilty is requisite, who obtains impunity by the vicarious sufferings of another. For if he resolves to bear his own guilt, and wilfully refuses to be freed by the interposing of another between him and the punishment, neither the judge nor the surety can constrain him to it, Now all these concur in this great transaction. As the creation of man was a work of solemn counsel, “Let us make man,” so his redemption was the product of the divine counsel. I may allude to what is represented to us in the vision of the divine glory to the prophet Isaiah: “I heard the Lord saying, whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, here I am, send me.” Isa. 6.8. Thus the rise of our salvation was from the Father. He makes the inquiry, who shall go for us, to recover fallen man? The Son interposes, " Here I am, send me." The Father from his sovereignty and mercy appointed and accepted the Mediator and surety for us. It was no part of the law given in paradise, that if man sinned, he should die, or his surety; but it was an act of God's free power as superior to the law, to appoint his Son to be our surety, and to die in our stead. And the aspect of the law upon a sinner being without passion, it admits of satisfaction by the sufferings of another. It is said in the gospel, “ God so loved the world,” so above all comparison and comprehension, “ that he gave and sent his only begotten Son into the world, that the world through him might be saved." The Son of God, with the freest choice, did interpose between the righteous God and guilty man for that end. He willingly left his sovereign seat in heaven, eclipsed his glory under a dark cloud of flesh, degraded himself into the form of a servant, and submitted to an ignominious and cruel death for our redemption. When he came into the world, he declared his full consent, with a note of eminency: “Sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not, but a body hast thou prepared me: then said I, lo