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the last of a man's life, then no man could properly be said to have repented, till such time as he had actually finished such a course of obedience; that is, not till his death; which to assert, is a strange paradox, and contrary to the general apprehensions of men upon this subject.
2dly, The scripture, no less than the natural reason of the thing itself, places repentance before faith, Matt. xxi. 32, And ye, when ye had seen it, repented not, that ye might afterwards believe in him. Here we see repentance is made the antecedent condition of faith : but now, should repentance grasp in the whole series and course of gospel obedience, to the last period of our lives, how were it possible for faith to follow repentance, unless we should begin to believe in another world?
3dly, The scripture makes all those subsequent acts of new obedience after our first turning to God, not to be the integral constituent parts, but the effects, fruits, and consequents of repentance. Matt. iii. 8, Bring forth fruits meet for repentance. But to make the fruit part of the tree itself is certainly a thing very preposterous.
I conclude therefore, that repentance is not formally the whole course of new obedience, but that first act by which a man turns from sin to God. But then this I also add, that though it is not formally, yet it is virtually and consequentially so. That is in plain terms; repentance is not itself this course of new obedience, but it does infer and produce it, and that as its inseparable effect or consequent: so that if this new obedience does not follow in the course of a man's whole conversation, after his first turning to God, he must conclude that that
act was spurious and unsound; and that indeed it never truly and thoroughly brought him off from sin, whatsoever solemnity of sorrow, tears, and confession it might be attended with.
Let him fast, and whip himself, and run barefoot, and mumble out a thousand miserere mei's, like some ignorant formalists, who, the truth is, know not what repentance means, as being utterly strangers to the spirit of the gospel; or let him pray and weep, and hang down his head like a bulrush, go softly, and look sourly; yet if a change pass not upon his life and actions, so that instead of his accustomed wickedness, the whole tract of his conversation is drawn forth in a constant, equable practice of the contrary virtues, that man must know that he has not repented. He has perhaps deluded himself, and deceived others, stopped the cries of conscience and the clamours of men; but repented he has not ; and fearful were his case, should God snatch him out of the world in that condition.
3dly, Repentance is taken for a man's turning to God after the guilt of some particular sin. It differs from the former thus; that the former is from a state of sin; this latter only from a sinful act. No repentance precedes the former, but this supposes a true repentance to have gone before. Thus Peter is said, after his denial of Christ, to have been converted, Luke xxii. that is, to have repented; not but that Peter was a true penitent and convert before: but upon so sad and notorious a fall, he was, by a renewed exercise of repentance, to disentangle himself from the guilt of that particular sin of denying his master.
This repentance therefore builds upon the for
mer; and it is that which is here intended in the words. For the church of Pergamos was in favour with God, and consequently must needs have repented before, as is clearly collected from that elogy the Spirit gives it in Luke xxii. 13, Thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith. But by reason of this scandal permitted and connived at, it was to cleanse itself from this stain by a renewed fresh act of humiliation.
The distinction, therefore, between these two kinds of repentance is carefully to be observed. The first passes but once upon the soul, the latter is to be frequent, indeed continual. Naaman washed off the leprosy of his body but once, but the soil of his hands every day.
And thus much concerning the nature of the repentance here spoke of; which being enjoined under pain of a speedy judgment, in case of omission it follows, that the command was not indefinitely of any kind of repentance, but only of such an one as was present and immediate.
Come we therefore to the second thing proposed, which is to produce arguments to engage us in the speedy and immediate exercise of this duty.
1st, The first argument against a deferred repentance shall be taken from this consideration, that no man can be secure of the future. Neither, in-deed, will men act as if they were in things that concern this life; for no man willingly defers his pleasures.
And did men here well compute the many frailties of nature, and further add the contingencies of chance, how quickly a disease from within, or a blow from without, may tear down the strongest constitution,
certainly they would ensure eternity upon something else than a life as uncertain as the air that feeds it. Do you not think, that that young man that brought David that feigned traitorous message, did not set forth in good hearty plight in the morning? and yet before sunset the vengeance of God overtook, and slew him in his sin.
God tells the sinner, he must repent to-day; he now thinks with himself, that he can contrive the matter more wisely, and defer his repentance to some of those years into which his present health seems to give him a long prospect.
And now is it not just with God to smite such an one in the infatuation of such counsels, and to convince him, that God spoke good reason when he told him, that immediate repentance was neces
And indeed the providence of God, for the most part, orders the matter so, that such are snatched and hurried away to judgment' on a sudden, when they have power to repent of nothing but this, that they had not repented before. See how God deals with that servant, that deferred his repentance upon a supposed delay of his master's coming, Matt. xxiv. 50, 51, The lord of that servant shall come in an hour that he looked not for him, and cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with hypocrites. God's grace will not always dance attendance upon obstinate, resolved hypocrites; for this were, as if the sun of mercy should stand still over their heads, at their beck and command, while they are fighting against heaven.
Should God open the book of his decrees, and give a man a prospect into the secrets of futurity,
and shew him his death sealed and appointed at such a day and such an hour, he might then indeed, with some more reason, enjoy the present, and set apart some few days to make his peace with God, and set his soul in order before he died. But this is a privilege that God vouchsafes to none, and that upon the highest reason; for if he should, it would destroy religion.
Wherefore, since this is a secret, like God's dearest attributes incommunicable, locked up from the curious, prying inspection of all created knowledge, with what reason can any man build his life, his happiness, his eternity upon such a repentance, as hovers upon the uncertain, slippery conjectures of a supposed futurity ?
Ordinary experience observed would unbewitch men as to these delusions. Did you ever see any man arrested, but it was before he was aware ? A man would not willingly have his friend take him in a surprise, much less then his greatest enemy, death and judgment. Possibly God may strike him in the
very eagerness and perpetration of his sin. Thus he sent Corah, Dathan, and Abiram, in the heat of their schism and rebellion, quick into hell. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead with a lie in their mouths. Zimri and Cosbi, in the very act of uncleanness, were despatched into another world.
And let that man, who promises to himself a future repentance, and upon that confidence proceeds to sin, shew me any solid satisfactory reason, why God may not, in the same manner, cashier him in the very commission of that sin that he is designing. And then, whether it would not be the grimmest dispensation that ever befell him, to be thrust out of