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ON REPENTANCE UNTO LIFE,
ACTS XI. 18.
Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted re
pentance unto life.
I HAVB taken this text, my brethren, in consequence of a letter which I received from an unknown correspondent, written in a very serious manner, and desiring a public answer to several interesting questions on the subject of repentance; a subject undoubtedly of great importance, in which we are all most deeply concerned.
The apostles and Christians in Judea, having heard that Peter had associated with Cornelius and other uncircumcised persons, expressed much surprise at his conduct : but, when he had related all the circumstances that attended it, “They held “their peace and glorified God, saying, Then “ hath God also to the gentiles granted repentance
unto life :" yet it is remarkable that there is nothing expressly about repentance in the account which Peter had given.
On another occasion, when Paul and Silas returned from Asia to Antioch, “They gathered “ the church together, and rehearsed all that God “ had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” Mark now these two expressions, used by the apostles on similar occasions. “God hath granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life:”
“ God hath opened the “ door of faith unto the Gentiles.” Much instruction may be derived from comparing them together. When“ God grants repentance unto life,” he opens
the door of faith.” When“ he opens the “ door of faith,” he“ grants repentance unto life.”
Repent ye and believe the gospel.” Certainly one way of salvation was spoken of in both places, and not two different ways.
I design at present
I. To shew that repentance is a principal part of the Lord's plan of mercy and grace to sinners in the gospel. And,
II. To inquire into the nature and effects of repentance unto life.
I. Repentance is a principal part of the Lord's plan of mercy and grace to sinners in the gospel.
I express myself thus, because many suppose that repentance does not properly belong to the gospel ; and that, when we insist on “ repentance, and “ works meet for repentance,” we do not preach evangelically: for they seem to think that salvation by grace is salvation for sinners continuing impenitent; and they charge us with returning to the law and bringing them into bondage, when we maintain the contrary. But indeed, if we distinguish, as no doubt we ought, between the law and the gospel, repentance has nothing to do with the law, except as a man repents that he has broken it. The law
“ Do this and live:" " the soul that “ sinneth, it shall die." “ Cursed is every one “ that continueth not in all things written in the
on the sure word of God, and sealed by his sanctifying Spirit, is capable of triumphing over all our expectations of temporal advantages, distinctions, and gratifications ; and of animating the soul to
patient continuance in well-doing.” Love to our God and Saviour, likewise, unites its powerful influences : and, while we cleave to him with fervent desires, rejoice in him, with admiring gratitude, and are fervently zealous for the honour of his name, we shall feel constrained by this supreme affection “ to live no longer to ourselves, but to “ him who died for us and rose again.” Thus we shall be prepared to venture, suffer, and labour, in seeking to glorify his name and recommend his precious salvation.
The encouragements of the gospel also are very efficacious. The sinner who attempts to amend his life, according to the word of God, is very liable to grow weary in his attempts. The law seems to say to him, “ Pay me that thou owest ;' and he appears to himself further and further removed from the righteousness which he went about to establish, and from that victory over his passions which he expected speedily to accomplish. On the other hand, if he make the principles of morality, or some mitigated law, his standard, he is at a loss to determine how much obedience will entitle him to acceptance; and uncertainty tends to discouragement. For the diligent and conscientious are in this case always harassed with doubts ; and none but the heedless and self-confident think themselves good enough to be the objects of the divine favour.
But Christ invites all that are athirst to come
to him, and he will give them of the fountain “ of the water of life freely;". and assures the trembling sinner, that “ he will in no wise cast “out any one that comes to him." It runs in this gracious tenour, " Ask, and it shall be given you ; “ seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be “ opened unto you : for every one that asketh re“ ceiveth.” As therefore every blessing is freely given, for Christ's sake, to the poor supplicant, however unworthy; nothing but pride, unbelief, contempt of heavenly things, aversion to God and religion, or idolatrous love of the world, can exclude any sinner from this “great salvation.
” Every part of the plan is free from ambiguity: our wants are distinctly stated; promises are given exactly answering to them ; means are appointed, in which we may apply for the performance of these promises ; and God pledges the honour of his faithfulness, that every one, who seeks the blessing in the appointed way, shall certainly obtain it. Delays and difficulties may intervene to prove our sincerity ; but sooner shall heaven and earth pass away than any word of God shall fail of its accomplishment.
The assistance likewise, proposed by the gospel, tends to produce a peculiar conduct and conversation in the true believer. Evil habits, corrupt propensities, bad connexions, and strong temptations are not easily broken off and mastered ; and our resolution is found by experience to be unequal to the conflict : but the promised assistance of the Holy Spirit enables the Christian to surmount every obstacle, and to resist and overcome all his
enemies. He feels that he can do nothing of himself; but he finds “ that he can do all things
through Christ who strengtheneth him.”—Thus by “waiting on the Lord he renews his strength,” and rises superior to those difficulties which all other men find in the event to be insurmountable.
The assurances made of an abundant present and future recompense, to those who renounce temporal things for the sake of Christ and the gospel ; the supports afforded in seasons of trial and affliction; the authoritative and perfect example set before us; the obligations conferred upon us ; and the glorious prospects that open to our view; are all of them exceedingly influential on the believer's spirit and conduct. But we must proceed,
III. To mention some leading particulars in which“ a conversation becoming the gospel of “ Christ,” more especially consists.
Every doctrine of the gospel requires, and is suited to produce, humility in all its variety of exercises. The whole seems arranged on purpose to lay us low in self-abasement, to exclude all boasting and glorying in ourselves, to produce deep repentance, to render us poor in spirit and contrite in heart, and to form our dispositions teachable, lowly, unambitious, and unassuming. When therefore we speak and act in this manner, our conversation is consistent with our principles, and “becomes” our profession: but self-confidence, self-importance, vain-glorious vaunting, desire of praise or pre-eminence, and an unteachable, dogmatizing, or overbearing deportment,