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that he hates his sin, and all its concomitants? How often, while he is repenting of one sin, is he committing another! Now, if we are never perfectly exempt from sin, we can never claim any thing on the score of innocence; if we cannot abolish our guilt by repentance, we can claim nothing on the score of penitence. So that, supposing a man to be entitled to Divine favour, on the plea of either innocence or repentance, no person living could demand it of right; for no man is perfectly innocent, or can repent, so as to claim a restoration of Divine favour, as a debt. Under the Gospel, indeed, we have an assurance, that God will pardon the penitent; but we are now speaking of our condition by nature; and it appears, that no man can repent, so as to have a right to pardon, still less to favour, and least of all to immortality. Pardon implies only impunity.
3. I assert, that though he could repent, so as to be restored to a state of innocence, he would still be destitute of any claim to reward, except through the mercy of God, declared to the fathers of old by his prophets; and now, to the whole world, by our Lord Jesus Christ.
The most strenuous and persevering discharge of duty, can give us no claim against God. Neither our good actions, nor our repentance for bad ones; neither uniform perseverance, nor re-. covery from sin, can make God our debtor. "We
What have we
are still unprofitable servants."
Now, if the best obedience we can pay, leaves us in the state of unprofitable servants, that is, of servants who have only done their duty, and who have no surplus of merit; and if every thing that we receive, is wholly gratuitous on the part of our Maker, it follows, of course, and with much more force, that sinners, how penitent soever they may be, have still less to demand, than those who never sinned; that is, have less than nothing to demand. Let us look into our own hearts, and ask them, what do we think of ourselves. Do we conceive, that we are purer, and more innocent, after we have repented, than before we sinned?-Surely not. If, then, we had no claim of justice before we sinned, how can we have any afterwards? Is God more partial to us, than we are to ourselves?
But grant, that the mind of the sinner may be restored to its primitive purity, how is he to compensate for the wide wasting influence of a vicious and irreligious life; for the ruin, temporal and eternal, which he may have occasioned; for the
poverty and. misery he may have entailed upon families; for the seduction of confiding innocence, and the corruption of virtuous youth? How is the perdition of these to be repaired? What salutary effect will his tears, and his prayers, and his penitence, have upon them? Are they to sink into endless misery, while he claims forgiveness as his right? Can the profoundest depth of his contrition, the most agonizing paroxysm of his remorse, ever of themselves restore his innocence, or place him on the same level as if he had never offended? How desperate, then, is the infatuation of those, who plunge into an abyss of sin, trusting to the efficacy of a late or death-bed repentance; to opportunities of amendment that may never arrive; or to the delusion of momentary excitements, and fanatical transports!
Again, if present obedience or penitence be no more than our duty, how can it obliterate what is past? If there can be no surplusage of merit at any time, what stock can we have to redeem our former sins? We reckon it a gross absurdity to suppose, that the most holy saints can perform works of supererogation, which may be imputed and placed to the credit of less meritorious Christians; nor is it less unscriptural to maintain, that a sinner can accumulate such a stock of merit, as to redeem his own sins, as a matter of right; since God is entitled to the whole of his exertions at all times. It would be fully
as reasonable to expect, that former obedience may atone for subsequent transgressions, as that present obedience or repentance may compensate for former sins. If this were the case, a man might lay up such a fund of merit in his youth, as would allow him to sin with impunity for the remainder of his life. If then, on the whole, uniform obedience can give us no claim of right against God, still less can repentance. If repentance can confer no right to pardon, much less to reward. If not to reward or favour here, much less to everlasting life. Immortality, therefore, is the free gift of God, through Jesus Christ; but it will assuredly be bestowed on all those, who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for honour, glory, and immortality." It is a gratuitous grant. It is neither earned by the most holy saint, nor due to the most penitent sinner; but conferred by the spontaneous grace and mercy of God, through the mediation, death and intercession, of his well-beloved. Through him it is graciously promised to all sincere penitents; and, under this promise, they have as fair a prospect of eternal life, as their less sinful brethren.
say, only less sinful, for all have sinned, and fallen short of their duty to God, and we are all, at best, only repentant sinners: and I say as fair a prospect of Eternal Life, but not of equal glory and felicity; for "we shall all be judged according to our works:" and "as one star excelleth
another in splendour, so shall it be in the resurrection of the dead."
This efficacy of repentance, if it existed under the light of nature, could never have been known or relied on, without the light of the Gospel : and the revelation of it is, therefore, a principal part of the glad tidings announced at the birth of Christ. The preaching of repentance was accordingly the peculiar office of John the Baptist, the fore-runner and harbinger of our Lord; and the same gracious doctrine is thenceforth inculcated throughout the sacred volume.
The efficacy of repentance is also perfectly consistent with the divine immutability. The change is not in God, but man. God invariably beholds the good with favour, and the bad with displeasure. He regards not the person, but the character. If, therefore, the sinner repents and reforms, he becomes an object of favour: otherwise, God would condemn the righteous. If he beheld the same person in the same manner, when he was upright, and when a sinner, this indeed would be inconsistent with the immutability of his nature, which consists in always doing what is right. These observations apply equally to prayer. If it change the mind of the supplicant, it renders him a fit subject for divine favour.
But the most plausible objection against intercession is, that God will do what is right, and