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the punishment of his sins. The malefactor on the cross no sooner loved the suffering Saviour, than he repented of his sins, and accepted the punishment of them. Paul no sooner exercised true love to God, than he repented of his sins, and sincerely acknowledged the justice of the law, which condemned him to die. “For, says he, I was alive once without the law; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died And the commandment, which was ordained to life. I found to be unto death. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” As soon as the holy Spirit reconciles the sinner to God, he naturally loaths and condemns himself, as God loaths and condemns him, for his sins. He does not stand to inquire, whether God loves him and intends to save him, before he repents; for he feels both bound and disposed to repent, though God should cast him off forever. As it is morally impossible for the sinner to repent before he loves God, so it is morally impossible for him to refrain from repenting after he loves him. True repentance always flows from love to God, and not merely from a hope of salvation.
As repentance follows love, so faith follows both love and repentance. When the sinner loves, he will repent, and when he repents, he will exercise not merely a speculative, but a saving faith. It is morally impossible for a sinner to love Christ for condemning sin in the flesh, until he hates sin, and sincerely repents of it. It is morally impossible, that he should love the grace of the gospel, until he loves the justice of the law. It is morally impossible, that he should feel his need of a Saviour, until he sees and feels, that God would be righteous and amiable in sending him to destruction. But as soon as he loves the divine character, and the divine law, and condemns himself as the law condemns
him, he is prepared to love Christ and to depend upon him alone, for pardon and acceptance in the sight of God. He chooses to be saved through the atonement of Christ, because he sees no other way, in which Godcan be just, and yet justify and save him from deserved punishment. Having exercised love and repentance towards God, he is prepared to exercise faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ. Agreeably to this order of gracious exercises, John preached, saying, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And after John, “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Thus it appears, that love is the first exercise of the renewed sinner; repentance the second; and faith the third. This is the order, in which these gracious exercises always take place, and it is morally impossible, that they should take place in any other order. There may be a false faith, and a false repentance, before a false love; but there cannot be a true repentance before a true love, nor a true faith before a true repentance. True, disinterested love, which is the . fruit of a divine influence, is always the first exercise of the renewed sinner, and both his repentance and faith flow from such pure love. So that faith's working by love does not mean, that love flows from faith; but that faith flows from love. I shall now endeavour to show,
II. The importance of representing these first exercises of the renewed heart in the Order I have mentioned. Upon this point, there is a diversity of opinions among those, who believe the absolute necessity of a spiritual and saving change, in order to salvation. Some say, that faith, repentance, and love are all produced at once in regeneration, and that they cannot
be considered as properly distinct, because they involve each other. They suppose, that faith implies love, and love implies faith; that faith implies repentance and repentance implies faith; or rather that faith inplies all the christian graces. But this seems to be an absurd supposition. For, all holy exercises are really distinct; and though in a certain sense connected, cannot be exercised at one and the same moment. Some who allow, that faith, repentance, and love are really distinct exercises, and take place in succession; yet say it is of no importance to determine in what order they follow one another; because they have no fixt order of succession, but take place sometimes in one order, and sometimes in another. Sometimes the renewed person may exercise love in the first instance; sometimes faith in the first instance; and sometimes repentance in the first instance. The Spirit, they suppose, operates differently upon different persons. In one person, he may first produce faith; in another person, he may first produce repentance; and in another person, he may first produce love. He observes, they imagined, no certain order in his special operations, and consequently those who are the subjects of his special grace, are not conscious of the same order in their first gracious affections. One person may say, that he was first conscious of love; another, that he was first conscious of faith; another, that he was first conscious of repentance; and another, that he was conscious of no distinct order in his new affections, but only that they were new, and different from
that he ever was conscious of before. It is readily granted, that all these subjects of special grace, may speak the truth according to the best knowledge they have of their first gracious exercises; and yet it may
be equally true, that the first gracious exercises in each of
dence from scripture, sense, or reason. It is easy to see, that if faith could be before love and repentance, justification might be before sanctification, and consequently sanctification could be no evidence of justification. But this doctrine, though taught by many noted divines, is contrary to the whole current of scripture, which represents love, as before faith and repentance, and as the best evidence of pardon and justification in the sight of God. Paul says, “If children, then heirs;” and not, “If heirs, then children.” John says, “Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” The only proper evidence of justification is sanctification. “If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” If we place love before faith and repentance, we make repentance and faith holy exercises, and holy exercises the evidence of justification and a title to eternal life. The placing of the first exercises of the renewed heart in this order, is of the highest practical importance. It lays the only solid foundation for all real christians to know, that they are born again, and heirs of everlasting life. I must add,
3. It is absolutely necessary to place love before repentance and faith, in order to distinguish true religion from false. All true religion essentially consists in pure, holy, disinterested love; and all false religion essentially consists in interested, mercenary, selfish love. Now, those who place faith before love and repentance, make all religion selfish; because
supposition, all religious affections flow from a belief of their being elected and entitled to eternal life. They naintain, that men must first believe, that God through Christ is reconciled to them, and intends to save them from the wrath to come. And who that believes this, in respect to himself, will not love God, and be very
sorry that he has ever offended him, who has always been so partial in his favour. The worst man in the world would be glad to escape endless misery; and if he can make himself believe, that God intends to save him in his sins, he will love and admire him for it, So that this faith, which is before love, and altogether selfish, will produce a false love, a false joy, a false repentance, a false hope, a false submission, a false obedience, and a whole life of false religion. But if we place supreme love to God, for what he is in himself, before faith; then all the gracious exercises, which flow from it, will be holy and disinterested affections, The repentance, the faith, the joy, the hope, the submission, the obedience, and the whole religious life, which flows from such love, will be all holy and acceptable in the sight of God. And such persons as thus love God, before they know that he loves them; that repent, before they know that they shall be forgiven; and that love and believe in Christ, before they know that he died for them in particular, may have clear and satisfactory evidence, that they have experienced a saving change; that they are meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; and that they shall forever love and enjoy God, and be perfectly happy in his favour and service.
1. If the first exercises of renewed sinners always take place in the same order; then all real saints have always had precisely the same kind of religious experiences. They have always been the subjects of the special, renewing, sanctifying influences of the holy Spirit. He has converted all sinners, who have ever been converted in all ages. And though he has not always made use of the same external means in