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be connected with any of his acts, except so far as he is your agent, or you have authorized him to act in your place, and then the repentance is not for what he does, but for what you did in appointing him. That class of theologians who suppose that it is the duty of men to repent of the sin of Adam, advance a dogma which is against all the laws of the human mind; and they who work themselves up into a belief that they do repent for what he did thousands of years before they had any being, however amiable their tears may be, and however their sorrows may assume the semblance of piety, must be ignorant of the nature of their own mental operations. That they may regret what he did; that they may mourn over the ravages of sin introduced by his guilty act, no one can doubt;-that they should repent of what he or any other man ever did, the laws of our nature render impossible. A man can as properly take to himself credit for the virtuous deeds performed by another, and claim a reward for them, as exercise repentance for his vices and his follies.
(3.) The third thing which is implied in my statement is, that repentance is a state of mind which springs up by a law of our nature when our personal guilt is perceived. What I mean is, that when it exists at all, it is originated by this law. I will not say that repentance always in fact exists when guilt is perceived, for I know that it is possible for a man by an effort of will, or under the influence of some strong perverted purpose, to oppose the regular operations of the laws of his own mind, and to resist conclusions which the fair exercise of reason would reach if there were no perversion and no opposition. Such may be the stubbornness of his will, such the determination not to see a certain result in a process of reasoning, that he may set aside the clearest testimony; and evidence, which according to the laws of his nature ought to make a deep impression on him, may in fact make none, while evidence which may in fact have no real force, may seem to him “strong as proof of holy writ.” So, I admit, it may be in regard to repentance. It is possible that a man may perceive his guilt, and yet may hold his mind in stern resistance to the laws which would lead him to repentance. He may resolve not to feel; not to weep; not to make confession ; not to allow the usual marks of guilt to be depicted in the eye, the cheek, the frame. He may even tremble under the consciousness of guilt, and yet resolve not to abandon his course, though to persevere in it may require him to drive his purposes over all the finer feelings of his nature.
What I mean is, that where repentance does exist, it springs up in accordance with one of the regular laws of our nature. It is not the object of creative power. It is not brought about by the agency of God irrespective of the laws of the mind. It is not the operation of the Divine Mind. It is our own mind that repents; our own eyes that shed forth tears; our own hearts that feel; our own souls that resolve to do wrong 10 more. God cannot repent for us; nor can he produce repentance in us in any other way than by causing our own minds to perceive their personal guilt, and by some agency securing the proper action of the mental laws which he has ordained.
As this is a point of great importance on the question whether men are bound to exercise repentance, and whether they are able to do it, it is desirable that it should be made as clear as possible. I would observe, then, that this is a matter of plain common sense, and would be clear to all men if it had never been mystified by theologians. All men understand the nature of repentance. All understand how it springs up in the mind. All have experienced it a thousand times. You cannot find a person who at some time has not exercised repentance. You cannot find a child, who, if he should look into his own mind, would need to be told what is meant when he is required to repent for having done a wrong thing; and in the emotions of a child when he feels sorrow that he has done wrong, and resolves to make confession of it and to do so no more, you have the elements of all that God requires of man in repentance as a condition of salvation. You recollect your own feelings when a child. You broke the commands of a father. His law was plain; his will was clear. When the deed was performed, you reflected on what you had done. You saw that his command was right; that you had done wrong by breaking his law, and had incurred his displeasure. He had always treated you kindly; his precepts had never been unreasonable, and you could not justify yourself in what you had done. By a law of your nature—a law which you did not originate, though its operations you might have checked and controlled—you felt pain and distress that you
had done the wrong. That feeling of distress sprang up in the mind as a matter of course, and without any perceived foreign agency, and you resolved that you would go and confess the fault, and would be guilty of the wrong no more. This is repentance; and this is the whole of it. You have a friend. He has a thousand times, and in a thousand ways, laid you under obligation. He has helped you in pecuniary distress; shared your losses ; attended you in sickness; defended your reputation when attacked. He himself in turn suffers. Wicked men defame his character, and in an evil hour your mind is poisoned, and you join in the prevalent suspicion and error in regard to him, and give increased currency to the
wrong' ; that
slanderous reports. Subsequently you reflect that all this was you acted an ungrateful part; that you
your mind to be too easily influenced in forgetting your benefactor, and that you have done him great and lasting injury. You are pained at the heart. Then spring up in the soul, hy a law of your nature, bitter feelings of regret for what you have done; and you resolve that you will go to him and relieve your own mind, and do him justice, by making confession; that you will implore forgiveness ; that you will endeavour as far as possible to undo the evil, and . that you will never repeat the wrong again. This is repentance; and this is the whole of it. Let these simple elements be trans, ferred to God and to religion, and you have all that is included in repentance. Be as honest toward God as you have been many a time toward a parent or a friend ; suffer the laws of your nature to act as freely and with as little obstruction towards your Maker, as you have done in your treatment of your fellow-beings, and you will have no difficulty on the subject. You will see that repentance, as a leading doctrine of all religion, is neither arbitrary nor unreasonable. The difficulty is, that when you approach religion you are determined to find something unintelligible, severe, and harsh, and you at once suppose that God in his arrangement there is arbitrary and unkind.
(4.) If the views thus far exhibited are well-founded, then they will do much in explaining the nature of the Divine agency in producing repentance. It is true that there is an important sense in which he is the Author of it. It was true, as the disciples said when Peter visited Cornelius, and saw the effects of the gospel on his mind, that“ God had granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life,” Acts xi. 18. It is true that the Lord Jesus was exalted “to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins," Acts v. 31. But it is also true that the Divine Mind does not repent for us. It is true that repentance is not created by mere physical power. It is true that the nature of the Divine agency is not to produce it independently of the laws of the mind itself, and of the efforts of the soul. It is your own mind that is to repent; your own heart that is to feel; your own tongue that is to make confession; your own soul that is to resolve that you will do wrong 10 more.
The effect of the Divine agency, if I understand it, and if the views already suggested are correct, is to bring truth before the mind; to make the mental vision clear, so that it shall be perceived; to remove the obstructions to the fair operations of the mental laws, and repentance follows as a matter of course. And in like manner when he commands men to repent, it is not a command to create emotions in their souls by an
act of their own will;; to originate feeling by merely resolving to do it:-it is, to allow their minds to act according to their nature; to permit guilt, when perceived, to produce its legitimate effect on the soul; to be as honest towards him, as they expect their children to be towards themselves. He presumes that every man understands the nature of repentance; and that all that is required is, to secure the fair operation of the mental laws which he has ordained.
II. In the second place, evangelical repentance, or repentance as connected with true religion in the soul, is a state of mind which arises from the perception that all sin is committed against God. My meaning is, that when true repentance exists, the primary and main ground of the sorrow is, that the crime has been committed against him; that his law has been violated; that he has been offended. It is not that it is disgraceful in the view of the community; it is not that it will be attended with the loss of favour or popularity among men; it is not that a father, or a child, or a neighbour has been wronged ; nor is it that it will be followed by punishment in this world or the next;-but it is that God regards it as an evil thing, and that its chief evil is in the fact that it is a violation of his law. In cases when wrong has been done to a human being—to a neighbour, or relative, or stranger--the chief evil in it, as viewed by a true penitent, is not the injury that has been done to man, but the wrong that has been done to God. In true repentance, the wrong that has been done to man may be comparatively forgotten, and the attention fixed with absorbing and overpowering interest on the crime regarded as an offence against God.
As this is a point of much importance, and one which is not Very clear to most persons, I propose to show that it is 80, and why it is so.
(a) In my text, repentance is spoken of particularly in its relation to God:-" testifying repentance toward God.” In the parable of the prodigal son, the penitent is represented as saying, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee," Luke xv. 18. When he came to his father, he said, “ Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight.” The errors and follies of his life appeared to have been primarily against heaven; the sins which he had committed against his father were, in his view, secondary in the magnitude of their evil to the same offences regarded as committed against God. So David, in the fifty-first Psalın, says,
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight,” ver. 4. And so in 2 Sam. xii. 13, where he refers to the same offence, he says, “I have sinned against the Lord." We are not to suppose that the prodigal son was not sensible that he had been guilty of a great wrong towards his father; but that it was secondary in the magnitude of the evil as compared with the sin against God. We are not to suppose that David was not sensible of the wrong that he had done to Uriah, or to the laws of the land, or of the injury which his example would do to men. Of all this, he might have had, and probably did have, the deepest conviction; but all this, when compared with the magnitude of the sin as committed against God, was so comparatively trifling, that he said, " Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight." The mind was turned away from everything else, and fixed on the amazing offence regarded as committed against God. In that, the thoughts were absorbed and lost; and it was that which overwhelmed the soul of the penitent monarch.
These instances are evidently set forth in the Bible as examples of true repentance; and the design is to show that in genuine repentance sin is contemplated primarily as committed against God, and as an evil in his sight. It derives its chief aggravation from that fact, and the principal sorrow of the soul is, that he has been offended.
(b) I proposed to explain to you why this is so, and show that it is reasonable that it should be so. When we attempt to show that this is the nature of repentance, and when we urge you to regard all your sins as deriving their main aggravation from the fact that they are committed against God, there is often a feeling which arises in the mind that this is unjust. You have wronged a neighbour. You see the evil; confess it; ask his forgiveness; obtain it: and why is not that the end of it? The injury was done to him; it has been repaired : why is not that all? Why should it be carried up before God? Above all, why should your main distress of mind be not that your neighbour was wronged, but that God was offended? You violate the command of a parent. You reflect on it; regret it; confess it; are forgiven. Why is not that all? It was in the domestic circle ; it was known nowhere else; the wrong has been repaired; the breach has been healed. Why is not that an end of it? Why should you be required to make another “issue” in regard to it, and go over, with all the sorrows of repentance, and the humiliation of a confession, before another being--making a double confession necessary for a single offence, and leaving nothing done till he is pacified? What if in childhood you had a quarrel with another boy, and had “ made it up," and then another person should come in and should demand that you should make it up with him also ?