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Very different from this is that repentance which is enjoined by the Gospel.
So far from being a desultory duty to be performed at intervals, it is a fixed habit of the soul, implying a constant detestation of sin, a lively regret for all we have committed, and a steady purpose of thorough and universal amendment. It requires in its possessor an enlightened and discriminating conscience; for how can we sorrow for sin, unless we understand what it is ?
The true penitent, therefore, has correct views of the infinite excellence and purity of God's character; of the indispensible obligation of all intelligent créatures, to obey his law which is holy, and just, and good; of the injury done to his authority, by the violation of this law ; of the necessity of guarding it by a severe penalty, and of the justice of that sentence which inflicts everlasting punishment on every offender. Nor are these views of sin merely speculative: they touch the heart of the true penitent with deep humility and contrition. For he reckons himself among the chief of sinners ; his iniquities overwhelmn him with shame and confusion of face ; he considers them as committed against that Being to whom he is indebted for all that renders existence desirable-against that Saviour who freely gave himself a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the world-against that Spirit whose monitory suggestions and attractive influences have so often pointed the way, and urged him to walk in the path to heaven. Meinory
spreads before him the scenes of his past life, and day after day passing in review testifies to the enormity of his ingratitude and his guilt. How many moments have been wasted in slothful and criminal supineness ! How many have been devoted to the gratification of the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life!" And how have all, even those which have witnessed in his breast some fervent aspirations after holiness, and earnest, though imperfect, attempts at obedience, been sullied by some lurking corruption ? For all this he grieves, not merely, nor principally, because such conduct has exposed him to the dreadful penalty of the law, but because he has been evil and unthankful to him whose very nature is “love." With the Psalmist, he is ready to exclaim, “ Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.”
The true penitent laments also the remaining depravity of his heart. Even in his most pure and holy moments in those which witness the flight of his affections from earth to heaven, and the ineffable communion of his spirit with the Father of spirits-even then, while he discovers how some selfish and sinful desire insinuates itself into his soul, he feels the deepest and most hearty repentance for his present guilt; for he then is best able to detect its true and odious character, by contrasting it with his clear apprehension of real purity and holiness of heart. And if such seasons, imbued with so sweet a savour of things heavenly and divine, and affording a prelibation of that blissful
state where sin can never enter,-if even such seasons demand repentance and reliance upon the merits of Christ, what deep sorrow will the true penitent feel as he observes his affections becoming more gross and more tainted with the corrupt influence of the world! How often will he exclaim, with the Apostle, “O wretched man that I am ! who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?” And sensible, from past experience, of his ignorance, and weakness, and guilt, he will tremble at the dreary prospect of a life which is always to be spotted with sin ; resolving, however, by the aid of Divine grace, to struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil, and, when he fails, ever to feel the deepest contrition and sorrow.
Such, my brethren, is the nature of genuine repentance. It is a fixed habit of the soul, under the direction of an enlightened conscience, discerning well between right and wrong, and sensible of the immense evil of sin. It implies a constant and cordial detestation of sin, a lively regret for all which we have committed, and a steady purpose of thorough and universal amendment.
II. I proceed, in the second place, to consider the necessity of this duty.--It is necessary to satisfy the demands of conscience. So powerful is this faithful monitor within our breasts, that it will be satisfied with no extenuation of our past guilt--with nothing short of sincere repentance. The sinner is on this account unhappy, for he stands self-condem
ned. He knows that he has violated the holy law of God, and that he deserves the Divine displea
He regrets that his transgressions must meet their deserved reward ; but, alas ! his sorrow is entirely selfish, and is not of a godly sort. And hence arises the evidence to his own mind, that being still impenitent, he yet retains his past sinful disposition; which is, indeed, itself the root of all his transgressions, and which, therefore, renders him still an object of the just displeasure of God. Remorse, therefore, for the past, and dreadful forebodings of the future, often fasten upon his soul. Dismal and terrible are his anticipations of that future world of woe, the anguish of which will receive its keepest poignancy from the fact that repentance will forever be a stranger to its miserable inhabitants.
Again; Repentance is necessary to ensure any prospect of future amendment. Perhaps, there is scarcely a man living, except some solitary monster of iniquity, whose vast and complicated enormities have blunted every perception of the moral sense, and produced that consummation of depravity the perpetration of crime for its own sake; who does not hope at a future period to correct some sinful propensities which he now acknowledges in his own heart. But, alas! how foolish and unwise are our judgments on all moral subjects, while sin retains its empire in the breast! Future amendment is intended while past and present guilt excites po penitential sorrow. As well may the intemperate
man promise himself a future deliverance from the miserable thraldom of his appetite, while continuing to enjoy his cups. He, who sincerely hopes ever to hate sin, must now hate it: he who anticipates future reformation, must now exercise upfeigned repentance.
Again ; Repentance is necessary to procure the pardon of our past sins, and the protection and favour of God. I do not mean by this, my brethren, that repentance, however hearty and unfeigned, can make atonement for guilt, or recompense the injury done to the Divine government by our violation of its just laws.
It may, indeed, render its possessor a proper object of the Divine favour; it may prepare him for obedience hereafter ; but can never remedy the evil of his past offences for those offences have endeavoured to oppose the rightful dominion of the Sovereign of the universe, and to introduce anarchy, confusion, and woe, into his intelligent creation.
I know there are those who teach a different doctrine--who give such a virtue to repentance as to make it obliterate all past guilt, and satisfy the demands of Divine Justice. I will not stop to confute this notion, so dishonourable to the cause of the Redeemer, and so destructive of the souls of men, by placing it in the light of human reason alone, which, when investigating religious truth, affords such imperfect aid, not to say deceptive guidance.