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NATURE OF REPENTANCE.
Acts iii, 19. REPENT YE, THEREFORE, AND BE CONVERTED, THAT YOUR SINS MAY BE BLOTTED OUT.
[Some thoughts due to Bishop Jeremy Taylor.]
I TAKE it for granted, that we all need repentance. I assume the fact. We all feel it; deeply feel it. And if we do not, the whole Bible states, and proves it. If it did not, it would not, on almost every page, in both the Old and in the New Testaments equally; from Genesis to Malachi, and from Matthew to Revelation; be exhorting, and entreating, and commanding us, and every soul that is born to die, and go to judgment, To repent, and be converted, that our sins may be blotted out.
Repentance and Faith make up the sum of Christian duty. Repentance is one half; faith is the other half. Repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, they go together, and grow together. They cannot exist apart. If one precede the other, yet they are twin-born; and twins they will live, and twins they will die. But postponing now the discussion of the Nature and Triumphs of Faith; it will be my aim, to explain and enforce the Nature and Duties of Repentance.
I now proceed to explain, under several distinct heads, the Nature and Effects of that true Repentance, which is enjoined by the zealous Saint Peter.
1. Repentance implies a deep sorrow. Not a little moisture of the outward eye, not a little heaving of the outward breast, to be seen and heard of men. Not a
mere crying, Lord, Lord, with the outward lips. Not the mere chattering like a swallow, but the moaning like a dove. Not a sorrow for the present or coming retribution of sin only, for then is hell crowded with true penitents. We must be sorrowful, not like Cain, when his punishment was greater than he could bear; not like Saul, when he heard the lowing of the oxen; not like Judas, when he went out and hanged himself: but with the wailing of a mourning Jeremiah; with the heartbreakings of a guilty David; with the scalding tears of a fallen Peter. We must be filled with a bitterness of soul, with a weeping day and night; this is the first cry of that repentance, which needeth not to be repented of. It must be a sorrow, that will make us uneasy and contrite, because we have broken our duty, and offended our God. Because we have cast a forgetfulness toward our Saviour. It must be a sorrow, that will lead us to condemn ourselves, and make us feel worthy of stripes; that will make us hate sin, and be willing to mortify ourselves; that will clothe our souls in sackcloth, and make us cry, God be merciful to me a sinner. It must be a sorrow, that will work upon the spirit, and bring down our affections to our duty. A sorrow, that will throw cold water upon the fire of our lusts; level the hills of our pride; and hand us the scrip and staff, for the bags of our covetousness. A sorrow,
that will lead us to bear patiently the rod of God. That will make us feel, that we are not worthy to lift up so much as our eyes to heaven. That will lead us to crucify every passion, that warreth against the soul. That will rend our heart, and not our garments. That will search and try our ways. That will make us be afflicted, and mourn, and weep. That will let the whole head be sick, and the whole heart faint. That will put our mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope. It must be a sorrow, that will cause one to say to himself, Thou art the man; and to cry to God, Against thee, thee only, have I sinned. We should be sorry, that we cannot be more sorry. And we should beg of God, to continue this sorrow, until it works its salutary end.
But, after all, simple sorrow is not repentance of sin. It is but the natural, and promising harbinger to it. For
godly sorrow worketh repentance.
Sorrow is the parent, repentance is the child; and the child too in its veriest infancy; and it has much to do, before it can increase, and grow into favour both with God and man.
2. Sorrow, we said, is but the first part of Repentance. This alone will not do. There must follow a total relinquishment of sin. This sorrow must produce conversion; that turning about of the heart, as the word implies, which will cause a turning about of our lives from sin, and the dark lanes of sin. Else it is not a godly sorrow. Conviction of sin is nothing, without a conversion from sin. It is not a casting out of some great sins less inviting, for an indulgence of others more easily besetting. It is not a commuting of one sin for another sin. It is not the emptying of one basket of the fruits of unrighteousness, to fill another with the like from the same tree. It is a formal, peremptory, and absolute reprobation, and abandonment of all sin; of every sin, whether of head or heart; of thought, speech, or action; overt or covert. We must make clean our raiment, and hate even the garment spotted by the flesh, We must not taste, nor reach after, nor look towards, nor ever long after, the apples of Sodom. We must bring every sin to the altar, and slay it before God, and before the people. To win the graces, we must slay the vices. We must not only slay every sin, but must cover it with the pall of mourning, and shed over it the tears of contrition; not that it is dead, but that it ever lived; and then bury it out of our sight, in the lowest deep of humility, that it may no more rise in judgment against us. What say the Scriptures? Wash you, and make you clean. Make you a new heart, and a new spirit. Come out from among them, and be ye separate. Amend your ways, and your doings. Break off thy sins by righteousness. Touch not the unclean thing. Touch not, taste not, handle not. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. We may weep, and we may fast, and we may pray, and we may condemn ourselves;
but unless we at the same time endeavour to fight against, and to crush, and, as it were, to annihilate our sins, and our sinful propensities; it will avail nothing. It will be but as a deceptive hypocrisy ; an awful mockery of God, and his Gospel. But to a timely, a godly sorrow, God will ever add the grace of a holy resolution.
But this relinquishment of sin must not be only temporary, but permanent. Let your sin be ever before you. Else, each sin, after such a sorrow and resolution, will but be a heavier weight to sink the soul into a deeper judgment. We do not really repent, unless we from the very inmost soul wish, that we had never done the sin; and not merely not intend to do it again. It will not do, only to decline sin, until our appetite for sin returns. not enjoy the pleasures of sin, even for a season. when sin beckons, that we are to put to the test our good resolutions. We must abide, and persevere, in these resolutions continually. We must stand aloof, and watch against surprises, and temptations. We must fear, and love, and trust, and pray to God for his strengthening mercy, to enable us to withstand-and withstand-and withstand, all the insidious arts, and fiery darts, and deadly machinations, of the adversary; and having done all, to standstand firmly, immoveably, with our feet planted on the chief corner stone of our Faith and our Hope, for a defence and protection. For, without the divine arm, we are as a kid against the tiger, as a feather against the wind. Our ferocious and opposing passions will conquer us. We must, therefore, ever vigilantly watch aud pray, lest our feet slide on the slippery places.
3. But abandonment of sin alone will never do. This is but one half of Repentance. We must also be active in duty. We must not only repent, and turn to God, but must do works meet for repentance. We must awake to righteousness. We must not only cease to do evil, but must learn to do well; not only be callous against the influence of evil, but be quickened into the performance of good. We must not only escape from the dominion of lust, but be up and doing in the train of virtue. We must go forth to plant and to water, in the vineyard of the Lord; and run and toil to gather in his harvests. We must be on the 4*
lookout, lest we go astray from his fold. We must not only do good, but must encourage good in others. Suppose, by a long course of circumspection, and mortification, we have conquered our evil habits; yet all this, I repeat, will be but one half of repentance. That resolve only is the evidence of a holy penitence, which ripens into action, and whose actions are fruitful in a reformed life. We must add to our faith all the Christian virtues, and the Christian graces. These things must not only be in us, but must abound. In fine, true repentance will produce conversion; and conversion will require, and incline us, to make an outward and visible profession, and covenant, with God, and before men.
But this activity in duty, like the relinquishment of sin, must also be permanent. We must prosecute unto the end. Victory is awarded, not to him that putteth on, but to him that putteth off, the harness. We must run with patience the race that is set before us. We must go forth from conquering to conquer. Blessed is he that endureth unto the death. Motives must ripen into habits. We must let the time past of our lives suffice, and more than suffice, in which to have wrought the will of the flesh. Activity in duty for a while will not do. Being redeemed from our vain conversation, we should serve God, in holiness and righteousness, all our days. We must not be discouraged, knowing that, in due time, we shall reap, if
we faint not.
The work of
4. Is it asked, When we should repent and be converted? I answer, Now. The present time is the only time, which we can call our own. Our yesterdays are gone, and our tomorrows may never come. repentance is a great work, and it therefore requires a great room to work it in. Will a man, who has a mighty task to perform during the day, put off the beginning of it until the evening? Ought not a man, who has a long journey to travel, to start early in the morning? Must not a child, who has a desire to excel in useful learning, begin betimes, if he hopes ever to accomplish his aim? And can a person subdue his old passions, eradicate his old justs, and correct his old wicked habits, and ungodly inclinations, in a day, or a year? And even, if his life be