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faith is the faith of the penitent, and not of the impenitent: it" works by love," and it brings forth holy fruit.
While the poor criminal, who fled for refuge to the altar, laid hold of the horns with his hand alone; his heart would beat, his blood circulate, and his other limbs and senses perform their proper functions. Thus the sinner, by faith alone lays hold of Christ; yet his soul is alive to God, and all the graces of the Spirit of life are at the same time exercised according to their proper nature and function. "Now abideth faith, hope,
charity, these three: but the greatest of these is "charity."
The text suggests yet one more remark; "God grants repentance unto life." This means, more than that he has opened a way for the penitent sinner to come to him and live; or that he calls on sinners to repent. It implies that repentance is the gift of God. "If peradventure God may "Christ is exalted to
give them repentance." "be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance "and forgiveness of sins." "The Spirit con"vinces men of sin, of righteousness, and of judg"ment:" and, when the Lord "pours out the Spirit of grace and supplication," men "look on "him whom they have pierced and mourn."
How often in our excellent liturgy do we unite in prayer, that God would give us repentance and his Holy Spirit! The language we have been lately using, is very emphatical. Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our
'wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness, through 'Jesus Christ.'1
While we preach repentance, we would pray to God that he may bestow on you the invaluable gift of repentance unto life: and you should pray in behalf of yourselves and each other, for the same blessings. For both true repentance and living faith spring up in that heart, and that alone, which is quickened from the death of sin unto 'the life of righteousness."
II. We consider the nature and effects of repentance unto life.
Many distinctions on this subject have been made by divines, which have often tended to perplex, rather than to satisfy, anxious inquirers. Doubtless, some exercises of the mind have the semblance of repentance, which are not genuine. When, for instance, a man has made a bargain, and it turns out worse than he expected, he is sorry that he made it; but he is not humbled under a sense of criminality. And, when a sinner finds that his sinful pursuits are likely to cost him much dearer than he imagined; having discovered that the divine law is very strict, and its sentence very dreadful; he may be greatly alarmed and distressed about the consequences, and secretly quarrel with the command and the sanction; and yet have no genuine repentance: nay, he may be in a state of heart diametrically opposite to it. Repentance, according to the scripture, may be
1 Collect for Ash Wednesday.
stated to begin, or to be introduced, by consideration. "Thus saith the Lord, consider your ways." "Because he considereth, and turneth away from "all his transgressions; he shall surely live and "not die."1
Look into the world around you, my brethren; survey the lives of mankind in general. What total inconsideration must we observe, and how little do men think of the wrath of God, of the day of judgment, or of the rule prescribed for their conduct! How little do they reflect on their relations and obligations to the great Creator and Judge of the world! How little do they attend even to their own thoughts, words, and actions! How very little to the motives from which they act! The greater number live in a perpetual hurry either of business or of pleasure, or of both in succession. Among the superior classes especially there is a regular system of banishing consideration. All dissipation, whether of a more public or retired nature, not only tends, but is intended, to deliver men from the uneasiness of solitude and serious reflection; and the desire of this deliverance is the source whence vast multitudes derive abundant gains! In devising amusement, with tolerable ingenuity, they cannot fail of obtaining an ample compensation.
Thus the prodigal son is represented as devoid of consideration, when "wasting his substance in "riotous living." But at length" he came to "himself:" he began to reflect on the past, on
Ezek. xviii. 28.
the present, and on his future prospects. "Awake "thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and "Christ shall give thee light."
When the careless sinner thus "comes to him
self," he considers what he has been doing; where he now is; whither he is going; and what is likely to befal him. He now examines his thoughts, his words, and his actions; he studies the rule which God hath prescribed; and compares his past and present conduct with it, both in respect of what he has done, and what he has neglected to do: estimating also his advantages, and the uses which he has made of them. And, as he does this with the great day of account and righteous retribution before his eyes, he also begs of God to search and prove him, that he may now judge himself, and not at last be finally condemned to have his doom with the impenitent and unbelieving.
Consideration will soon make way for conviction, increasing conviction both of criminality in conduct, and depravity of heart; and this even in respect of those persons who have been more decent and amiable than many others. "I was," says the apostle," alive without the law once." While he had estimated his own character, according to the notions and traditions of the Pharisees, who only regarded the outward conduct; he thought his life good, his heart good, his state good. But, during his three days solitary fasting and praying at Damascus, he had abundant opportunity for consideration: and "the commandment," "the "holy, just, and good law," came with power and conviction to his conscience; and then "sin re-,
"vived and he died." He became deeply sensible, by viewing himself in this glass, that his life, his heart, his state were deplorably bad: and this prepared the way for his understanding and believing the gospel.
The convinced sinner hears" the wrath of God "revealed from heaven against all ungodliness "and unrighteousness of men ;" and, instead of his previous favourable opinion of himself, he is ready to adopt the Psalmist's words, "Who can "understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from
66 my secret faults." My sins are more in num"ber than the hairs of my head; my heart faileth "me." When one, who was before careless and inconsiderate, is thus led to make this awful review, with the law of God open before him, and the judgment-seat in full prospect, he then not only judges himself concerning gross crimes and immoralities; but he discovers in his whole conduct, base ingratitude to God and contemptuous forgetfulness of him; idolatrous love of worldly objects; talents entrusted and abused; time and life wasted, and worse than wasted; mischief, irretrievable mischief, done in various ways by his example and influence. Whether he looks back upon his life past, or towards the future reckoning; whether he looks into his heart, or to his God, he is amazed to think of his sins, and all the aggravations of them: he continually discovers evil where he before suspected none, nay, even in the virtues on which he prided himself: he daily weighs himself in the balance, and is always found wanting his best actions are defective; his motives are corrupt, at least, in part; and, the more