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repent, and shews a still more desperate spirit of rebellion if he die vindicating his conduct. Yet the avenger of blood, designing no mercy, requires no submission. A command to submit and repent, if sent to a company of condemned criminals, would directly excite a beam of hope in every relenting breast. God sends his ministers and his word, commanding thee, O sinner, to repent: were no more said, thou mightest safely draw this conclusion; 'Certainly he hath thoughts of peace, 'and intends to shew mercy to all who obey the 'summons.'
II. God is always in scripture represented as peculiarly ready to receive and entertain repenting sinners. "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoan"ing himself thus. Thou hast chastised me, and "I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to "the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; "for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after "that I was turned I repented; and after that I "was instructed I smote upon my thigh. I was "ashamed, yea even confounded, because I did "bear the reproach of my youth. Is Ephraim my "dear son? Is he a pleasant child? for since I "spake against him, I do earnestly remember him "still; therefore my bowels are troubled for him, "I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the "Lord."* Here is the true penitent mourning for sin, covered with shame, and crying for mercy j and the encouraging answer of that God, "who "waiteth to be gracious." The same is most emphatically inculcated by the experience of David in the thirty-second Psalm. There mark carefully how soon the sweet sense of forgiving love followed his ingenuous confession of guilt.
* Jer. xxxi. 18—20.
But, omitting many other scriptures, for the sake of brevity, let me detain you a little in meditating on the prodigal son; a parable spoken on purpose to encourage the publicans and sinners who listened to the words of Jesus. Let us attentively consider the character of the prodigal; his disdainful and ungrateful behaviour to a wise and indulgent father; his debauched and dissolute life; and the misery to which he was reduced. Here, as in a glass, we may see ourselves; our pride and ingratitude; our contempt of God and wilful departure from him; our folly and our misery whilst we live in sin. Then let us view him at length "come to himself" conscious of his guilt, sinking under his misery, covered with shame, adopting the resolution of returning to his offended father, with penitent confessions and humble supplications. Discouraged, as well as humbled, by the recollection of his own vileness, his only hope arises from meditating on the kindness of him whom he had so basely offended; and he can just enough raise his mind above despondency to expect, that perhaps, after many repulses, and reiterated submissions and entreaties, answered by deserved upbraidings, his father may be at length prevailed on to admit him, in some mean capacity, to share that plenty which his servants enjoy. Here we have the frame of spirit, the hopes, and the fears, of the true penitent, most affectingly delineated. But, behold the tender father is looking out, with eager expectation, for the return of his lost prodigal! he "sees him afar off," and, through paternal tenderness and compassion, is regardless of his age and gravity, and "runs to meet him." Finding that he abhorred and condemned himself, without one reproach or the least delay, he welcomes him as a son; he clothes, he feasts, and rejoices over him, and commands all his servants to rejoice with him: "for" says he, " this my son "was dead, and is alive! was lost, and is found!"
Thus shall every true penitent be welcomed by a gracious God. Not only shall he meet with a kinder reception than his fears forboded; but his most sanguine expectations shall be far exceeded: his sins, however numerous, shall not be mentioned against him; his wants shall be all supplied; pardon, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, shall be conferred on him; "the robe of righteousness "and salvation" shall clothe him; angels in heaven shall rejoice more over him, than over ninety and nine Pharisees, who in their own judgment need no repentance; yea, God himself shall acknowledge him as his own child, and "rejoice "over him" to do him good. Arise then, poor dejected sinner, and imitate this prodigal!
III. We have seen that repentance and forgiveness are connected in a great many texts of scripture which have been cited, and many others might be produced. But I would more especially call your attention to those encouraging promises, which are expressly confined to such as are exercising^ repentance. It would be a needless prolixity to enumerate the whole, or the most of these promises; a few examples may suffice.— "Thus saith the high and lofty One, that inhabi"teth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in "the high and holy place, with him also that is of "a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit "of the humble, and to revive the heart of the "contrite ones." "To this man will I look, even "to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and "that trembleth at my word."* "He looketh "upon men, and if any say I have sinned, and "perverted that which was right, and it profited "me not; he will deliver his soul from going "down into the pit, and his life shall see the "light."-f- "He that covereth his sins shall not "prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh "them, shall have mercy ."J "If we say that we "have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth "is not in us: but, if we confess our sins, God is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and "to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." § Let but the broken-hearted sinner well consider these few citations, and plead them in prayer, through the intercession of Jesus, and he will find them full of consolation. Then let him search the scriptures, and he will observe, that no one character is so particularly encouraged as that of the penitent; under the titles of mourners, poor in spirit, contrite, humble, and such others as are included in the explanation which has been given of true repentance. These things abundantly prove, that none but true penitents share the blessings, or are entitled to the consolations, which flow from the salvation of the gospel; and that no degree of aggravated guilt can exclude any repenting sinner from the participation of the one, and the enjoyment of the other.
But let not any one from hence conclude, that these privileges are properly the rewards of repentance, or that it atones for our crimes. This would supersede the necessity of the expiatory sufferings of Jesus, and contradict St. Paul's express declaration, "that we are justified by faith, through "the righteousness of Christ;" and consequently would infer, "that Christ died in vain." Did we repent of ourselves, without the preventing and assisting grace of God; and were our repentance perfect in its nature and fruits; it could not avail for our justification in any degree. It is indeed observable, that even they, who speak of atoningfor our trangressions of the divine law by repentance, change their language when they have occasion to treat of the laws of human governments; you seldom hear them speak of a traitor, or murderer, making atonement for his crimes by repentance, but by his death. This sacrifice to justice the law demands; this alone expiates the offence: and, if a criminal, however penitent or disposed to future obedience, escape punishment, the law is dispensed with, justice is relaxed, and no atonement is made. But God's justice is perfect, and can admit of no relaxation : his law must "be magnified and made "honourable," and cannot be dispensed with. Not the repentance, but the eternal punishment of the offender, is the atonement indispensably insisted upon; or one equally honourable to the precept and sanction of the divine law. This the true penitent perceives or allows; he subscribes the sentence of his own condemnation, and humbly