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and deceive themselves with the hope, that they are truly penitent, while they are yet unhumbled for their sins, an attempt to delineate some of the principal features of this christian virtue cannot be regarded as unseason. able or useless.
By separating from any ob. ject that, which does not really belong to it, we shall be enabled to distinguish the more accurately its real form. First then it is to be remarked, that repentance does not necessarily imply a wish that any particular event had not occurred, or that any particular act had not been performed. When a person, who is overwhelmed with the apprehension of future punishment on account of his iniqui. ty, exclaims in the bitterness of his soul, O that I had never committed that sin! O, that I had never yielded to that temptation, this expression of his sor. row is generally considered as very good proof of his repentance. Such an exclamation may proceed from a penitent heart, but it may also be most sincere ly uttered by the impenitent, and thus it does not certainly evince that broken spirit, which is necessary to salvation. What is included in the wish, that a certain sinful act had not been
committed? Is any thing ne. cessarily contained in it besides an aversion to pain? Suppose a man to have been guilty of the honorable crime of murdering some one of his acquaintance in single combat.
After the commission of the crime, he finds himself driven in disgrace from his accustomed place of abode, deprived of his usual means of subsistence, and under the ne
cessity of leaving his family in want. Under a full sense of the evils, which he has brought upon himself, he may wish that he had never given or accepted a challenge, and that he had not taken the life of a fellow being. He may mourn and weep for his folly. But with all his apparent penitence he may be completely under the dominion of selfish.
He may have no compassion for the distressed family of his antagonist; he may have no sense of his sinfulness in the sight of God; a spirit of for. giveness may not have succeed. ed to the spirit of revenge; and he may be precisely the same man, that he ever was, except · that he feels a greater intensity of suffering.
But, it may be asked, will not the Christian, who truly repents, wish that he had never committed sin? Imagine one of the Jews who crucified the Savior
the world, to have become afterwards a convert to the faith of Jesus; would he not wish, that he had never smitten or murder. ed the Son of God?
The mind of man is active and
rapid as light. In surveying any instance of past conduct, which is sinful, we transport ourselves in imagination to the very scene, and for a moment view the act as not yet done. We seem to be tempted again to its commission. Having new principles we decide differently from what we before decided. We resolve against the sin. We would not for worlds commit the offence. Soon however the dreadful reality takes the place of this delusion. perceive, that the act has been done, and that we are stained with guilt. We loath ourselves
for the crime. We form the fixed resolution, that never again will we yield to the temptation, by which we have been overcome. If these operations of the mind be all that is meant by wishing that we had not committed any sin, no objections will be made to it. But if it be supposed to include something more; if, while the act is viewed as past, it should be thought necessary to have a real desire, that the act had not been committed, then perhaps the above recited phrase expresses more, than what is required in the Scriptures.
Let the Jew perceive his sin in having crucified the Lord Je sus. He will undoubtedly feel a contrariety between his present principles, and those, which for merly governed him. It would be impossible for him to recommit the offence. His own past character overwhelms him with shame. His sin is as a dagger to his heart. But is it possible for him, while he views the act as past, and consequently as irremediable, to have the fruitless wish, that it had never been? Besides, when he considers the event as occurring under the perfect government of God, and conforming in every respect to his counsel;* especially when he dwells upon the absolute necessity of the death of Christ in order to the pardon of sin, and upon the incalculable benefits resulting to the universe from his crucifixion; how is it possible for him, even while the full enormity of his sin rises up before him and while, with his present principles, he would not recom mit the offence, to indulge the *Acts ii. 23, & iv. 28.
wish, that Jesus Christ had not died in the manner appointed? Could he entertain any doubt, that good was brought out of evil, and that even the sinful pas sions of men would be rendered subservient to the benevolent purposes of God?
In the next place, great grief and distress of mind, affords no proof of unfeigned repentance.
A variety of causes perfectly distinct from any sense of sin may interrupt the peace of the sinner. There is frequently, even in this world, a close connexion between crime, and the punish ment of crime, between guilt and misery. When intemperance is succeeded by the languors of in firmity, or the acuteness of dis ease, the sufferer may bitterly lament his subjection to his appetites. When loss of character and loss of wealth follow in the train of sinful passions, this mortification of pride may fill the soul with anguish. Distress for the effects or consequences of sin is frequently experienced, while sin itself excites no emo. tions of sorrow. But can that be repentance, which touches not the core of the offence? Can that be repentance, which loaths not the crime, but only dreads the evils, which follow it?
Even, when instructed by the sacred volume, the mind of the sinner looks forward to the future state, and trembles in the apprehension of merited punishment, this keenness of suffering in view of the retributions of the eternal world does not of itself indicate any penitence of heart. As a belief in the threatenings of the divine law, and in the strict justice of God, is implied in the fear of the future, a state of
anxiety and terror must be regarded as vastly preferable to a state of security and stupidity; but it ought not to be forgotten, that the "devils believe and tremble." The mind seems to be accessible to truths, for which there is no relish in the heart. The sinner may tremble in the apprehension of the displeasure of a Being, whose character he hates. The stings of conscience may therefore pierce the soul, which knows not the meaning of sorrow for sin. Judas is said to have "repented," (or, as the original Greek word, which is different from the one commonly used, may more correctly be rendered, sorrowed or grieved.) He was struck with such deep conviction, he was overwhelmed with such anguish and despair in the view of his conduct, that his life became a burden, and he went and hanged himself.
It may be further observed, that repentance is not certainly evinced by reformation of conduct. If the life has been immoral, whenever the sinner becomes penitent, his habits will be changed, and he will give to the world a pure example. To say that the heart may be good, while the fruits of holiness are not produced, is direct hostility to the gospel; for Jesus Christ came 66 to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." But the exterior deportment of the transgressor of the divine law may be corrected, his immoral habits may be broken, and he may seem to be a man under the influence of religious principles, while the whole change in his conduct is to be attributed to some unworthy and selfish mo
tive, or to some cause which does not imply a real renovation of heart. The fear of disgrace, the love of applause, the hopes distinction, the prospects of wealth; and many other causes may mould the external conduct into the form of virtue, while every vile passion holds dominion in the heart.
An attempt has thus been made to correct some erroneous conceptions of the nature of repentance, and to separate from it what is not infallible evidence of its existence. The genuine meaning of the term will now be sought for, and the qualities included in it be pointed out.
It is well known, that the Greek word in the New Testa ment, answering to repentance, is compounded of two words, which signify after-thought. The precise import of the term seems then to be a change of mind. Thus the word instead of being confined to the meaning of sorrow for iniquitous con. duct, expresses more generally an alteration of principles, renovation of heart, a change of character. That this is the sense in which it is used in the New Testament, will be evident from 'the following passages:
"The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some mén count slackness, but is long suffering to usward, not will. ing, that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." 2 Pet. iii. 9.
Here by repentance merely grief or sorrow for sin does not seem to be all, that is denoted, but the term expresses an actual conversion, and a sincere reception of the gospel. Paul declares, that he inculcated both
upon Jews and Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. Acts xxvi. 20. This passage seems perfectly synonymous with Ephes. iv. 1, where
he beseeches his brethren to walk worthy of the vocation, wherewith they were called; and also with Philip. i. 27; Coloss. i. 10; and 1 Thes. ii. 12, where we find the various expressions of walking worthy of God, and of the Lord, and of having conversation as it becometh the gospel of Christ. Repentance then relates to the general character, and not to one particular act of the mind.
The following passage corroborates this opinion. Then Peter said, repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, Acts ii.
These words were addressed to those, who were already pricked in their heart, in consequence of Peter's description of their wickedness in crucifying Jesus of Nazareth, and who, under a sense of their sin, were anxiously inquiring, What shall we do? It is therefore impossible, that the apostle should call upon them merely to be sorry for their sin, as the condition of salvation, for they already felt their sin; he must have intended by requiring them to repent, that they should renounce whatever was evil, that they should become true converts to the faith of Jesus.
Several other passages of the sacred volume might be adduced to support this interpretation of the word repentance, but the a
bove will probably be thought sufficient for the purpose.
If this view of the subject is correct, the question, which is frequently discussed, whether repentance precedes faith, may be considered as neither more nor less than this, whether a change of character, a conversion from sin unto holiness, precedes a particular trait of this new charac. ter, or in other words, whether the principle precedes one of the acts, which spring from it? If however faith, instead of being used in a limited sense for a dependence upon the Savior for justification, is extended in its meaning, so as to express generally the reception of the gospel, then it may express the same thing with repentance. Thus in Acts xix. 4, to believe in Christ seems merely explanatory of the command to repent. Thus Jesus himself preached, Mark i, 15, repent ye, and believe the gospel. The first term requires a change of character, and the second term relates to the particular nature of that change.
Whether all men at the present day are under the necessity of repenting in order to obtain eternal life is a question, whose solution must depend upon the decision of a previous question, namely, whether all men at the present day are naturally sinners, destitute of holiness, aliena. ted from God, subjected to selfish passions, and enemies to the doctrines of the gospel. If they are, it is very evident, that a change of character, or repentance, is an indispensable condition of salvation; and that men are now universally sinners by nature, is proved by
observation and by scripture, and is most fully confirmed by the consciousness of every humble and devout christian. Another
argument for this truth, and the consequent duty of repentance, is the very nature of the gospel, which is designed to continue even unto the end of the world, and which requires all men every where to repent.
As repentance, in its general signification, means a change of mind, so in reference to religion it expresses a conversion from sin unto holiness, a change from the supreme love of self, to the supreme love of God, a renovation of mind and a cheerful re. ception of Jesus Christ as the propitiation for sin. In vain will any claims to the possession of this christian virtue be advanced by him, who has merely felt a few transient pangs of remorse, but has not renounced his iniquities. The purity, the benevolence, and holiness of the life, the tendency of the affections towards the truths and duties of religion, the habits of self humiliation and self distrust, must attest the genuineness of repentance, or no real proof of its existence will be found.
Reader! Do you know what it is to repent of your sins? Look not back to some hour of darkness, when you were overwhelmed with terror, for you may have been struck to the ground in the agony of despair without any knowledge of the nature of repentance. But rath. er search into your heart and life, and see whether you bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.
SELF ABHORRENCE. Wherefore I abhor myself. JOB.
HUMILITY is the spirit of true religion. Every real penitent is humble. When he views his own character, he is disposed to say with Job, I abhor myself. I abhor myself,' because I have broken the divine law. This law I am sensible is holy, just, and good. It requires no more, than what I ought to perform, I feel inexcusable for my diso. bedience. I am not so much distressed in view of the evil, to which I am justly exposed, as I am with the thought, that I have violated so good a law. I must and will approve the precepts and sanctions of this law, whatever be my situation.
'I abhor myself,' because I have sinned against God. I have often been afraid, that he would pun. ish me for my sins; while it has given me no pain, that I had offended so good a Being. But now I see in some measure, how vile I am for my rebellion against the God of love. He is worthy of my supreme affection, and of infinitely more; and I have reason to blush that I have not served him to the extent of my pow
The grief of a dutiful child for having disobeyed an affectionate parent, is light, compared with the which my sorrow, unnatural rebellion against God occasions in my breast. I never can forgive myself for having treated with so much neglect and contempt that Being, who sustains so many endearing relations. Though he is my Creator, my constant Preserver,