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Acts xvii. 30.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at ; but now
commandet! all men every where to repent.
This is part of a sermon which the Apostle Paul delivered at Athens. The Athenians were the most ingenious and most illustrious people of Greece. Situated in a happy climate, and blessed with the highest degree of liberty which mankind can enjoy, they bent their genius to the cultivation of the sciences and arts. These they carried to such a pitch of perfection, as gained the palm from the contending world, and has attracted the eyes and admiration of all succeeding ages. But to show the darkness and the ignorance of the human mind when not enlightened by the wisdom which cometh from above, as soon as they turned themselves to religion, they displayed nothing but their own absurdities and follies. In place of a rational and liberal form of religion, a gross and stupid idolatry universally prevailed ; in place of the true God, they bowed the knee to a dumb idol; and instead of the worship of the heart, consecrated to his service impure and profane observances. Zealous to destroy this fabric of superstition, the Apostle Paul, riling in the midst of an assembly that was convened on the hill of Mars, reproved those masters of science, those lights of the Heathen world, zvith the boldness and the majesty of an apostle of
the Lord. “ Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in “ all things ye are too superstitious :--the times of “ this ignorance God winked at; but now command" eth all men every where to repent."
Repentance towards God is the great and leading duty enjoined both in the Old and in the New Teltament. Along with every revelation of the Divine will; along with every new commission to prophets and holy men to preach this Divine will, the duty of repentance is always inculcated in the strongest terms. The patriarch Noah preached repentance to the world before the flood. John the Baptist began his public ministry by preaching the doctrine of repent
“ Except ye repent, ye shall perish,” was the awful denunciation of our Lord. And his apoftles constantly began or ended their sermons with exhortations to this duty. This message, so often delivered to the world, I now address to you; and demand your serious attention to this most important subject. And, in further treating upon it, I shall, in the first place, explain to you the nature of repentance; and, Secondly, Lay before you the motives which ought to influence your minds to the practice of this duty.
The first thing proposed, was, To explain the nature of true repentance.
Repentance unto life, as it is well defined in that excellent summary of theology, the Shorter Catechism, is, " A saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of
a true sense of his fin, and apprehension of the
mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and ha“ tred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full
purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience."
According to this definition, repentance includes, first, A true sense of fin ; secondly, Grief and hatred of sin; thirdly, Apprehension of the mercy of God in Chrift, the forsaking of sin, and endea youring after new obedience.
First, A true sense of sin. This must be the ground... work of all the rest, because it is impossible to hate what we do not feel. It is impossible to conceive a hatred and aversion against a thing of which we are not sensible, or to flee from a danger of which we have no apprehension. Where there is no sense of fin, therefore, there can be no repentance. Accordingly the Pharisee, who trusted in himself that he was righteous, was too proud, even when he was praying to God, to confess any guilt of his own. “ God, I thank thee,” says he, “ that I am not as 66 other men are.” He was conscious, it seems, of no sin, though inwardly full of rottenness and hypocrisy. Such insensibility is a certain sign of a hardened and impenitent heart, and can proceed from nothing but a gross and conceited ignorance, a wretched inconsideration, or a long continuance in fin, that has rendered the conscience callous and past feeling. This first step of repentance fupposes the sinner, in the first place, to be feelingly
affected with a sense of his fins; to have his mind enlightened and his conscience awakened by the word of God; to be convinced from thence of the irregularity of his ways, and their contrariety to the holiness of the Divine nature; to labour under the load of his guilt; and in the consciousness of his own ill deserving, to be ready to sink under the number and the weight of his transgrellions. Such were the sentiments of Da
vid's heart, and such the confession of his tongue. “I acknowledge my transgreffion; my fin is ever “ before me; mine iniquities are gone over my head; “ as a burden they are too heavy for me.” This fense of sin is often accompanied with the emotions of fear. For when the sinner, already convicted in his own conscience, begins to reflect upon his past life, and at the same time to look up to God whom he has offended, and forwards to eternity, upon the brink of which he daily stands shivering ; what a fpectacle of terror must this be to a man who has been long spiritually blind, and whose eyes are but just opened to see this startling scene! And behold, behind him a formidable troop of fins; fins red as crimson, and numberless as the sand upon the seashore! Above, a holy and a just God, the Judge of the world, armed with the thunders of his wrath ! Before him, the infernal world disclofing all its horrors, and ready to swallow him up in perdition ! Doubtless the terrors of the Lord, when thus set in array against a self-condemned finner, will fill him with fear and dismay, especially when he confiders that God is greater than his heart, and knoweth all things.
The second step of repentance, is being affected with a grief and hatred of sin. The former was a selfish feeling ; this is a generous
passion. The former respects sin as ruinous to the finner; this regards it as offensive to God. When the penitent is already affected with a deep sense of the danger of his sin, how will it wound his mind, and pierce him to the heart, to consider that he has not only been long an enemy to himself, but also an enemy.to
God; to consider that he has trespassed so far upon infinite goodness; that he has dallied so long with infinite justice; that he has mispent the precious talents committed to him of Heaven; that he has abufed the faculties of his immortal soul; that he has been defacing the image of God his maker ; and that with his own hands he has been excluding himself from happiness, from heaven, and from the prefence of the Lord. These, and such alarming thoughts, pierce to the dividing afunder of foul and spirit; enough to constrain the forrowful penitent to lift up his eyes in the midst of his torment, and to cry out with Job in the bitterness of his soul, “I - have finned, and what shall I answer to thee, O " thou Preserver of men ? Alas! the arrows of the
Almighty are within me! the poison of them “ drinketh up my spirit. But what grieves me most
is, that I have offended thee, the Author of my “ life, and the Preserver of my being ; that I have “ finned against so much goodness and provoked such “ tender mercy. Mine iniquities deserve thy wrath " and vengeance. But thy goodness reacheth from “ heaven to earth. Thy mercy, like thyself, is infi“ nite. Let this remorse which I now feel, be the “ only punishment of my sin; and let me not be fi“nally delivered over to the tormentors. This I ree quest and pray on account of the merit of
Re“ deemer. His righteousnessis all-sufficient and mer“itorious. By it may I obtain favour and accept
ance with thee, and be translated from the king“dom of darkness into the kingdom of God.”
The third step in repentance towards God, is an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, and a