« AnteriorContinuar »
so much deadness, formality, and hypocrisy, in his duties; so much carnality, worldly-mindedness, and unbelief, in his heart; so much prevalence of his sinful affections, appetites, and passions; and so many foils by the sin that easily besets him; that he cannot but groan, being burdened, while he is in this tabernacle. Repentance, therefore, is the daily continued exercise of the christian indeed, until he puts off mortality. He will not leave off repenting, till he leaves off sinning; which is not attainable on this side heaven. “Have I hope," says the penitent soul, "that God has pardoned my sins? What an instance of pardoning mercy is this! How adorable is that wonderful grace which has plucked such a brand out of the fire! And am I still daily offending against such mercy and love? And am I still so formal, lifeless, and hypocritical? Am I yet doing so little for Him who has done so much for me? Ah, vile, sinful heart! Ah, base ingratitude to such amazing goodness! Oh for more victory over my corruptions, for more thankfulness for such mercies, for more spirituality and heavenly-mindedness! How often have I been mourning my infirmities! And must I yet have cause to mourn over the same defects? How often pursuing and designing a closer walk with God! But what a poor progress do I yet make, save in desires and endeavours! How would the iniquities of my best duties separate between God and my soul for ever, had I not the Redeemer's merit to plead ! What need have I, every day, to have this polluted soul washed in the blood of Christ, and to repair to the glorious Advocate with the Father, for the benefit of his intercession! Not a step can I take in my spiritual progress, without fresh supplies from the fountain of grace and strength; and yet how often am I
provoking him to withdraw his influences, in whom is all my hope and confidence! O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Thus the true penitent goes with his face Zion-ward, mourning as he goes; and thus, in his highest attainments of comfort and joy, will he find cause to be deeply humbled before God, and to wrestle with him for renewed pardon, and new supplies of strengthening and quickening grace.
The difference between these two sorts of penitents is very apparent. There is the same difference as between the running of water in the paths after a shower, and the streams flowing from a living fountain of water: a legal repentance lasting no longer than the terrors which occasion it, but an evangelical repentance being a continued war with sin, till death sounds the retreat. Once more:
6. A legal repentance does at most produce only a partial and external reformation; but an evangelical repentance is a total change of heart and life, and universal turning from sin to God. As some particular more gross iniquities most commonly lead the way to that distress and terror which is the life of a legal and insincere repentance; so a reformation of those sins too frequently wears off the impression, and gives peace and rest to the troubled conscience, without any further change: or, at best, there will be some darling lusts retained, some right hand or right eye spared, some sweet morsel rolled under the tongue. If the legal penitent be afraid of the sins of commission, he may still live in the omission, or the careless performance of known duty; or, if he be more forward in the duties of God's immediate worship, he may still live in acts of injustice and uncharitableness towards men. If he shows some zeal and activity in the service
of God, he will yet, perhaps, have his heart and affec tions inordinately glued to the world, and pursue it as the object of his chief desire and delight. If he makes conscience of all open actual sins, he yet little regards the sins of his heart; but lives in envy, malice, pride, carnal-mindedness, unbelief, or some other such heartdefiling sin. To finish his character, whatever seeming progress he may make in religion, his "heart is not right with God; but is still going after his idols, still estranged from vital christianity and the power of godliness.
If we proceed to view the character of the sincere penitent, it is directly contrary to this. He finds indeed, as has been observed, continual occasion to lament the great imperfections of his heart and life; and accordingly seeks renewed pardon and cleansing in the blood of Christ. But though he has not already attained, nor is already perfect, he is yet pressing towards perfection. He is yet watching, striving against all his corruptions; yet aiming at, and endeavouring after further conformity to God, in all holy conversation and godliness. He is never satisfied with a partial reformation, with external duty, or with any thing short of a life of vital piety. He does not renounce one lust and retain another; content himself with firsttable duties, in the neglect of the second; nor quiet himself in a life of mere formal godliness: nor can he rest, till he rejoices in the testimony of his conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, he has his conversation in the world. All the actings of his mind, as well as his external conduct, fall under his strictest cognizance and inspection; and he is always careful to approve himself to Him, who knows his thoughts afar off. His reformation extends not only to the
devotions in the house of God, but of his family and closet; not only to his conversation, but to his thoughts and affections; not only to the worship of God, but to the duties of every relation he sustains among men; and, in a word, his repentance produces heavenlymindedness, humility, meekness, charity, patience, forgiving of injuries, self-denial; and is accompanied with all other fruits and graces of the blessed Spirit. is the desire of my soul," says the sincere penitent, to keep the way of the Lord, and not wickedly to depart from my God. I would refrain my feet from every evil way, and walk within house with a perfect heart. I know I have to do with a God who trieth the heart, and hath pleasure in uprightness; I would therefore set the Lord always before me, and serve him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind. I know that my heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; I know that mine iniquities are ascended over mine head, for which I am bowed down greatly, and go mourning all the day long: but yet my desire is before the Lord, and my groaning is not hid from him. I can truly say, that I hate vain thoughts, but God's law do I love. Oh that God would give me understanding, that I may keep his law, and observe it with my whole heart! I would be for God without any reserve; for I esteem his precepts concerning all things to be right, and I have inclined my heart to keep his statutes always, even unto the end."
To conclude: Herein lies the great difference between a legal and an evangelical repentance: the one is an external reformation only, destitute of all the graces of the blessed Spirit; the other is an internal change, a change of the heart, of the will and affections, as well as of the outward conversation; a change which is accompanied with all the fruits and graces of
the Spirit of God. The one aims at just so much religion as will keep the mind easy, and calm the ruffles of an awakened conscience: the other aims at a holy, humble, watchful, and spiritual walk with God, and rests in no degree of attainments whatsoever.
Thus, sir, I have given you a general view of the difference between a legal and evangelical repentance. You have not demanded this of me out of mere curiosity, or as a matter of speculation only, but in order to the exercise and practice of a repentance unto life, not to be repented of.
You should therefore remember who is exalted at God's right hand, to give repentance, as well as forgiveness of sins. Remember that you must depend only upon the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; and must accordingly lie at his footstool, to have this great important change wrought in your heart: and, therefore, since you depend upon the mere sovereign grace of God in Christ for the renewing influences of his Holy Spirit, you should be the more importunate in your cries to him, in the language of Ephraim, Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God.
You should endeavour to review your past sins, and, as particularly as you can, acknowledge them before God with all their heinous circumstances and peculiar aggravations; and you should, with peculiar ardour of soul, wrestle with him in earnest prayer for pardon and cleansing in the blood of Christ.
You should endeavour to see and be affected with the sin of your nature, as well as of your practice; of your heart, as well as of your life; and with constant fervency cry to God for a new heart and a right spirit, for victory over your corruptions, and for grace to approve yourself to God in a life of new