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ments of this life; to astonish them with terror, and to overwhelm them with despair.
But there is mercy with him, therefore shall he be feared. It is reasonable that we should en. deavour to please him, because we know that every sincere endeavour will be rewarded by him; that we should use all the means in our power to enlighten our minds and regulate our lives, because our errors, if involuntary, will not be imputed to us; and our conduct, though not exactly agreeable to the divine ideas of rectitude, yet, if approved, after honest and diligent inquiries, by our own consciences, will not be condemned by that God, who judges of the heart, weighs every circumstance of our lives, and admits every real extenuation of our failings and transgressions.
Were there not mercy with him ; were he not to be reconciled after the commission of a crime ; what must be the state of those who are conscious of having once offended him? A state of gloomy melancholy, or outrageous desperation; a dismal weariness of life, and inexpressible agonies at the thought of death : for what affright or affliction can equal the horrors of that mind, which expects every moment to fall into the hands of implacable Omnipotence ?
But the mercy of God extends not only to those who have made his will, in some degree, the rule of their actions, and have only deviated from it by inadvertency, surprise, inattention, or negligence, but even to those that have polluted themselves with studied and premeditated wickedness; that have violated his commands in opposition to con
viction; and gone on from crime to crime, under a sense of the divine disapprobation.
Even these are not for ever excluded from his favour, but have in their hands means, appointed by himself, of reconciliation to him ; means, by which pardon may be obtained, and by which they may be restored to those hopes of happiness, from which they have fallen by their own fault.
The great duty, to the performance of which these benefits are promised, is repentance; a duty, which is of the utmost importance to every man to understand and practise, and which it there. fore may be necessary to explain and enforce, by showing,
First, What is the true nature of repentance.
Secondly, What are the obligations to an early repentance.
First, What is the true nature of repentance ?
The duty of repentance, like most other parts of religion, has been misrepresented by the weakness of superstition or the artifices of interest. The clearest precepts have been obscured by false interpretations, and one error added to another, till the understanding of men has been bewildered, and their morals depraved, by a false appearance of religion.
Repentance has been made by some to consist in the outward expressions of sorrow for sin, in tears and sighs, in dejection and lamentation.
It must be owned, that where the crime is public, and where othere may be in danger of corruption from the example, some public and open declarations of repentance may be proper, if made with decency and propriety, which are necessary to preserve the best actions from contempt and ri. dicule; but they are necessary only, for the sake of destroying the influence of a bad example, and are no otherwise essential to this duty. No man is obliged to accuse himself of crimes, which are known to God alone: even the fear of hurting others ought often to restrain him from it; since, to confess crimes, may be, in some measure, to teach them;
and those may imitate him in wickedness, who will not follow him in his repentance.
It seems here not impertinent to mention the practice of private confession to the priest, indispensably enjoined by the Roman church, as absolutely necessary to true repentance; but which is no where commanded in Scripture, or recommended, otherwise than as a method of disburdening the conscience, for the sake of receiving comfort or instruction; and as such is directed by our own Liturgy.
Thus much, and no more, seems to be implied in the apostle's precept, of “confessing our faults one to another,” a precept expressed with such latitude, that it appears only to be one of those which it may be often convenient to observe, but which is to be observed no further than as it may be convenient; for we are left entirely at liberty, what terms, whether general or particular, we shall use in our confessions. The precept, in a literal and rational sense, can be said to direct no more than general acts of humiliation, and acknowledgments of our own depravity.
No man ought to judge of the efficacy of his own repentance, or the sincerity of another's, by such · variable and uncertain tokens, as proceed more from the constitution of the body than the disposition of the mind, or more from sudden passions and violent emotions, than from a fixed temper or settled resolutions. Tears are often to be found where there is little sorrow, and the deepest sorrow without any tears. ' Even sorrow itself is no other than an accidental, or a secondary part of repent. ance, which may, and indeed ought to arise from the consciousness of our own guilt; but which is merely a natural and necessary effect, in which choice has very little part, and which, therefore, is no virtue. He that feels no sorrow for sin has indeed great reason to doubt of the sincerity of his own repentance, since he seems not to be truly sensible of his danger and his misery; but he that feels it in the highest degree is not to put confidence in it: he is only to expect mercy upon his reformation.
For reformation is the chief part of repentance; not be that only bewails and confesses, but - he that forsakes his sins, repents acceptably to God, that God, who “ will have mercy, and not sacrifice;" who will only accept a pure heart and real virtue, not outward forms of grief, or pompous solemnities of devotion. To conceive that any thing can be substituted in the place of reformation, is a dangerous and fatal, though, perhaps, no uncommon, error; nor.is it less erroneous, though less de. structive, to suppose, that any thing can be added to the efficacy of a good life by a conformity to any extraordinary ceremonies or particular insti tutions.
To false notions of repentance'many nations owe the custom, which prevails amongst them, of retiring in the decline of life to solitudes and cloi. sters, to atone for wickedness by penance and mortifications. It must, indeed, be confessed, that it may be prudent in a man, long accustomed to yield to particular temptations, to remove himself from them as far as he can, because every passion is more strong or violent, as its particular object is more near. Thus it would be madness in a man, long enslaved by intemperance, to frequent revels and banquets with an intent to reform; nor can it be expected that cruelty and tyranny should be corrected by continuance in high, authority.
That particular state which contributes most to excite and stimulate our inordinate passions, may be changed with very good effect; but any retirement from the world does not necessarily precede or follow repentanee, because it is not requisite to reformation. A man whose conscience accuses him of having perverted others, seems under some obligations to continue in the world, and to practise virtue in public, that those who have been seduced by his example, may, by his example, be reclaimed.
For reformation includes, not only the forbearance of those crimes of which we have been guilty, and the practice of those duties which we have hitherto neglected, but a reparation, as far as we are able to make it, of all the injuries that we have done, either to mankind in general, or to particular persons. If we have been guilty of the open propagation of error, or the promulgation of falsehood, we must make our recantation no less openly; we