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PAITH AND REPENTANCE NECESSARY TO RESTORE US TO OBE
ACTS XI. 20, 21.-And how I kept back nothing, that was profitable unto you ; but
have „shewed you, and have taught you publicly and from house to house ; testifying, both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and failh toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the preceding discourse, I examined the Inability of Mankind to obey the Divine Law. It is evident, that, if we are ever to be restored to Divine Favour, we must first be restored to a spirit of obedience. The Manner, in which we may obtain this restoration, becomes therefore the next subject of our inquiry.
St. Paul, in the Context, declares to the Elders of the Church of Ephesus, and appeals to them for the truth of the declaration, that he had not shunned to declare the whole Counsel of God concerning their salvation. This, he further asserts, he did, by teaching them both publicly, and from house to house, at all seasons, and amid many temptations and sorrows. While he served the Lord with all humility of mind, and many tears; he confidently avers, that he kept back nothing, which was profitable unto them; or, in other words, taught them every thing, which was profitable. Of course, he taught every thing which was profitable to mankind at large, as creatures of God, and candidates for immortality. All this, however, he sums up in the second verse of the Text in these two phrases: Repentance toward God, and Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are not, indeed, to suppose that, in the literal sense, St. Paul taught nothing but Faith and Repentance to the Ephesian Christians. There can be no reasonable doubt, that he taught the Ephesians, generally, what he taught the Christian world at large; and, particularly, the things contained in the Epistle, which he wrote to the Church at Ephesus. The meaning of the declara.
. tion in the Text is, I apprehend, merely that he had taught the doctrines concerning Faith and Repentance, as pre-eminently the means of salvation. That this view of the subject is just, is suffi. ciently evident from the context. Here, the Apostle teaches the Elders, to whom his speech was addressed, many things beside these doctrines; and declares, that he had heretofore instructed them in the great duty of communicating good to others, as the amount of all that, which they owed to their fellow-men. The Religion of the Gospel is the religion of sinners: as the Religion of
the Law is that of virtuous beings. The Gospel is a scheme of restoration to beings, who have rebelled against their Maker, and are condemned by the Law, which they have broken, to suffer the punishment due to their sins; but who yet, in consistency with the Character and Government of God, may be forgiven. It is a scheme, by which these beings may be restored to their allegiance, to a virtuous character, and to the Divine favour. If such beings are ever lo be restored to the Favour of God; if they are ever to obtain the privileges of good subjects of the Divine Government; it is evident that they must, in some manner or other, be restored to the character of good subjects. In other words, if they are ever to possess the rewards of obedience, they must be previously possessed of the spirit of obedience. Whatever accomplishes for thein, or becomes the means of accomplishing, this mighty change in their circumstances, must, to them, be of inestimable importance. As the Gospel contains the Religion of sinners in the situation above mentioned; this importance must belong to the gospel. In a particular manner, must it be attributable to such doctrines, or duties, in the Gospel, as are peculiarly necessary, and absolutely indispensable. From the place, which Faith and Repentance held in the Preaching of St. Paul, it is plain, that they are the important things in question ; the immediate and indispensable means of our restoration to obedience, and to the consequent enjoyment of the divine favour.
This truth is abundantly exhibited in many forms throughout the different parts of the New Testament. In Mark i. 14, 15, is
i contained the following declaration : Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled; and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent ye, and believe the Gospel : or, as in the Greek, believe in the Gospel. In this passage we have evidently the substance of our Saviour's preaching: and this is Repentance and Faith in the good tidings of the Divine Kingdom, or the Glorious Dispensation of Mercy to sinners through the Redeemer.
In Acts ii. 37, 38, we are informed, that the Jews, being pricked in their heart by the Preaching of St. Peter, particularly by his pungent exhibition of their guilt in crucifying Christ, inquired of him and John with extreme solicitude, what they should do, to obtain forgiveness and salvation. St. Peter answered them, Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins. To be baptized in the name of Christ is, as every one, who reads the Gospel, knows, a public and most solemn profession of Faith in Him, as the Redeemer of Mankind. St. Peler, therefore, in this answer, makes, in substance, the same declaration with that of St. Paul in the Text.
When the jailer inquired of Paul and Silas, Acts xvi. 30, 31, What he should do to be saved; they answered, Believe on the
Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, with thine house. Without Faith, St. Paul declares, Hebrews xi. 6. it is impossible to please God. He that believeth on the Son, saith John the Baptist, John iji. 36, hath everlasting life. He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life : but the wrath of God abideth on him. He that believeth on him, saith Christ to Nicodemus, John iii. 18, is not condemned; but he that believeth not, is condemned already.
Christ, in Matthew ix. 13, declares the end of his coming to be to call, not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. When, therefore, sinners repent; the end of Christ's coming is fulfilled. In Acts v. 31, He is said by St. Peter to be exalted as a Prince, and a Saviour, to give Repentance unto Israel, and remission of sins. Remission of sins is, of course, consequent upon Repentance. In Acts xi. 18, it is said, Then hath God granted to the Gentiles Repentance unto life. In 2 Cor. vii. 10, St. Paul declares, that Godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation. Except ye repent, says Christ to his disciples, Luke xiii. 3, ye shall all likewise perish; and again, There is joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, that need no repent
Luke xv. 7. In these passages, and indeed in many others, Remission, Life, and Salvation, are indubitably, and inseparably, connected with Faith and Repentance. Sometimes they are connected with both conjointly; and sometimes with one. The account, given of the snbject, is, however, in all instances, the same: because he, who possesses one of these Christian graces, is of course, and always, possessed of the others. On the contrary, without these, life, remission, and salvation, are plainly declared to be unattainable. It is evident, therefore, that Faith and Repentance are the attributes, supremely required by the Gospel; the immediate fulfilment of its two great precepts; in the possession of which, mankind are assured of eternal life, and without which, they are exposed to eternal death. To produce, and perpetuate, them in the soul, is visibly the great object, so far as man is concerned, which Christ came into the world to accomplish. In other words, they are that essential obedience to the Gospel, to which salvation is promised, and given, as a reward; not of debl, but of the free and sovereign
Having, if I mistake not, placed this truth beyond every reasonable doubt, and thus shown the way, in which mankind, although sinners, condemned by the Divine Law, and incapable of Justification by their own works, may yet be gratuitously justified, return to their obedience, and be reinstated in the Divine favour; I shall now endeavour to explain the nature of this subject; and to exhibit the manner, in which the doctrine is true.
The foundation of all Religion is the Existence, Character, Law, and Government, of God. "This Glorious and Perfect Being, as the Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor, of the Universe, is, of the
grace of God.
most absolute right, the Ruler of the Work which He has made, and the Lawgiver of all his moral creatures. The Law, which He has prescribed to them, demands all their duty, and regulates all their moral conduct. Man, who is of the number of these moral creatures, is placed under this Law; and justly required by his Maker to love him with all the heart, and to love his neighbour as himself. In the progress of these discourses it has, unless I am deceived, been clearly shown, that Man has utterly failed of performing this duty; that he is, therefore, condemned by the Law, to the sufferance of its penalty ; that the Law knows no condition of pardon, escape, or return; that Man cannot expiate his sins; and that, if left to himself, he must therefore perish.
In this situation, as has been heretofore explained, Christ interposed on the behalf of our ruined race; and made an atonement for our sins, with which the Father is well pleased. This atonement, the Scriptures have assured us, God has accepted; and, having thus provided a method, in which he can be just, and yet justify those who were sinners, is ready to extend the blessings of pardon and salvation to this apostate world.
Accordingly, Christ has announced himself to sinful men as their Saviour; and proffered to them deliverance, both from their sin, and their condemnation. The conditions, on which this proffer has been made, are Repentance towards God, and Faith towards Himself, as the Lord and Saviour of Mankind. In order to understand, so far as we are able, the propriety, and necessity, of these conditions of our restoration, it will be useful to attend to the following considerations.
1. Sincere, exalted, and endearing happiness cannot be enjoyed by any beings, except those who are virtuous.
This great and fundamental truth in that Philosophy, which explains the nature and interests of moral beings, has, it is believed, been completely evinced in this series of discourses. It has been shown, that a sinful mind is at war with itself, its fellow-creatures, and its God; that it must, of course, be subject to reproaches of conscience, to perpetual disquiet, to consciousness of the Divine anger, and to the soathing and contempt of all good beings. It has been shown that such a mind must be a prey to tumultuous passions, vehement desires, which are not and cannot be gratified, and endless disappointments in the pursuit of a selfish interest, which can never be promoted without sacrificing the glory of the Creator, and the happiness of his creatures.
It has been proved, that its chosen enjoyments are in their nature vain, transient, delusive, little, base, and contemptible ; inconsistent with real excellence, dignity, and self-approbation; and incompatible with the well-being of others; whose interests are singly of equal importance, and, united, are immeasurably deserving of higher regard.
From these considerations it is unanswerably evident, that a sinful mind cannot be happy : for with such affections, and their consequences, happiness is plainly inconsistent. The mind, which is not at ease within, cannot derive happiness from without. A wounded spirit who can bear; especially when wounded by the arrows of an angry conscience ? If, then, God is pleased to communicate happiness to him, who is a sinner; it is indispensably necessary, that he should first remove the sinful disposition, whence all these evils immutably flow.
2. The only possible method of removing sin from a moral being, is to make him the subject of Evangelical Repentance.
So long as the soul loves sin, it must be the subject of that vile and guilty character, which we denominate Moral Turpitude, Depravity, and Corruption ; together with all its consequences. For the love of sin is pre-eminently this character. While this love continues, he, in whom it exists, will perpetrate, of course, all those, which we customarily call sins, or sinful actions. He will also love sin, continually, more and more; and perpetrate it with more and more eagerness, and hostility to God. From all the knowledge, which we possess of moral character, it seems plainly to be its nature, whether virtuous or vicious, to become more and more fixed in its habits, and intense in its desires. So long, therefore, as the love of sin prevails in the mind, the situation of the sinner must be hopeless, with regard to his assumption of a spirit of obedience, and his attainment of consequent happiness.
The Repentance of the Gospel is formed of the hatred of sin, sorrow for it, a disposition to confess it to God, and resolutions to renounce it. From this definition it is manifest, that Evangelical Repentance is the direct removal of sin from the soul of the sinner. By the hatred of sin, which it includes as a first principle, the soul is withdrawn from the practice of it. By the sorrow, it is warned of the danger, and evil, of returning to it again. By the confession of it to God, the soul is brought into near, full, and most endearing views of the glorious goodness of its Heavenly Father in forgiving its iniquities; and most happily prepared to watch, and strive, and
offend Him no more. by its resolutions to forsake it, the penitent is fortified against future indulgences, and prepared to assume a life of filial obedience. In all these things we cannot, I think, avoid perceiving, that Evangelical Repentance is the direct, and the only, means of removing sin originally from the heart, and consequentially from the life, of a moral being; and that thus it is absolutely necessary to prepare men for obedience to the law of God, and a general conformity to his character and pleasure. To such beings, as we are, it is therefore indispensable, if we are ever to become the subjects of real and enduring happiness.
3. For this great end it is also necessary, that we should be united to God.
pray, that it