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ON REPENTANCE, CONVERSION, AND PARDON.
ACTS III. 19.
Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
WE have in these words, the sum and
substance of all the divine calls and counsels given to sinners, in the Old Testament and the New ; and one of the principal motives to a compliance with such merciful counsels and calls. They are the words of the apostle Peter to those Jews who had been concerned in the crucifixion of our Saviour. The occasion of this exhortation to them, of which my text is a part, was the astonishment excited by the miraculous cure of one who had been a cripple from his birth. See the preceding context from verse first.
"Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. And a certain man, lame from his mother's womb, was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple, who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked an alms.
And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him, with John,
In discoursing upon this text, it is proposed to explain;
I. What it is to repent:
II. What it is to be converted :
III. How the sins of men may and will be blotted out, in consequence of their repenting and being converted: and,
IV. What is the duty of sinners, respecting their repentance and conversion.
I. I shall consider what it is to repent; or what is implied in true repentance.
This I shall endeavor to explain, by taking into consideration the object of it; the exercises of heart implied in it; and the principle from which these exercises proceed. As to the object of true repentance, or the thing repented of;
1. This is sin. Persons may repent of their conduct when it has not been sinful; or when it is not considered by them in that light. A man may repent of a generous action-an instance of kindness toward his neighbor, when it meets with an ungrateful reception, or an unsuitable return. Thus David seems to have repented of his kindness to Nabal, when he said, 66 Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness, so that nothing was missing of all that pertained to him; and he hath requited me evil for good." Or, one may repent of an undertaking or piece of labor, when it appears not likely to answer the end proposed. Thus, speaking after the manner of men, God is said to have repented that he had made man upon the earth. Men often repent of what they have been
doing, merely because it has proved unsuccessful; or because the profit has not been equal to the labor and expense. But the repentance of a sinner, spoken of in scripture as connected with salvation, always means repentance of sin.
2. It is to be observed that in true repentance, sin is repented of on account of its sinfulness. A man may repent of that which he sees and knows to be wrong; while yet he repents merely because of the imprudence of it, and not because of its iniquity. His regret and remorse may be only on account of the hurt he may have done himself, and not at all on account of the moral evil of his conduct. But in true repentance sin is repented of as sin.
3. It is necessary that the evil of sin should be seen, and that it should be repented of, particularly as it is against God. An action may be wrong, and may be seen to be so, and be repented of as such, in other respects besides this, of its being a violation of the divine law, and a disregard of the divine authority. Persons may repent of having treated their neighbors and friends injuriously, when a sense of the evil they have done extends no further; and they have no apprehension of having dishonored or offended their Creator. If the Most High should say to them, as he said to his people of old, "Ye have robbed me ;" they would readily reply, as that peo-, ple did, "Wherein have we robbed thee?" They do not imagine that they have done God any injury, or ever meant to do him any. But the great evil of all the unrighteousness, as well as ungodliness of men, consists in the disrespect shown to the supreme Governor of the world, and the reproach cast upon his great and holy name. And a conviction of this, is what principally affects the heart of a true penitent, and fills it with bitter remorse. "Against thee, thee ONLY have I sinned;" was the confession of David
in his penitential Psalm. Nor is any repentance genuine and saving, but what implies this apprehension and sense of the great evil of sin. Hence the apostle Paul describes that repentance which he testified and urged wherever he preached, as being repentance toward God.
4. It ought further to be observed, respecting the object of repentance, that it is not some one sin only, but all sin. I mean all one's own sins. Not that whenever a sinner truly repents, he repents of every sinful act, and omission, which he has ever been guilty of in the whole course of his life, particularly considered. This is impossible. Not half of these is any one able to recollect. But what I mean is, that a true penitent repents of all his sins in general; and of every instance of iniquity in particular, as far as he can remember it, and is conscious of its being such. If in any one thing a person remembers to have done wrong, and does not repent of it, this is a certain evidence that no part of his repentance is genuine. It is the doctrine of the apostle James, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all:" because the same divine authority that forbids one sin, equally forbids another also. And for the same reason it holds true, that if a man should seem to repent of all his known sins but one, while of that he hath no repentance, he doth not truly repent of any.
5. In explaining the object of repentance, it ought to be particularly observed, that original sin must be repented of, as well as actual sins.
By original sin, I do not mean the act of Adam in eating the forbidden fruit; but the sinfulness of our nature, which we brought into the world with us. A man, though he may feel humiliation and shame on account of the wicked conduct of another, who is nearly related to him, or from whom he proceeded;