« AnteriorContinuar »
ments on his part to make pardon consistent and proper ;
and because, in view of these arrangements, he has expressed a willingness to receive the penitent again to his arms.
The conclusions to which we have been conducted by the arguments in this discourse are these :
(1.) That there is no certainty in regard to the forgiveness of sins in Deism, in Infidelity, in Heathenism. There is no evidence that any promise is made in either of them that sins may be forgiven even on the bitterest repentance ; there is no evidence that they are so pardoned. No voice from heaven announces the fact that they may be forgiven ; no voice declares that they are. The weeping and broken-hearted penitent is greeted with no assurance that his sins are blotted out; nor can he prove that the paternal arms of the Deity are extended to embrace him. All is conjecture; all is uncertainty ; all is destitute of that which we need when we feel that we have done wrongfor then our crushed and suffering hearts cry out for evidence that we may be pardoned ; for some kind, consoling word that we may be, that we are forgiven.
(2.) The hopes of Infidelity are a violation of the principles which the infidel himself is obliga I It bold. He must hold, he does hold, that repentance does not renal The evils which sin makes in the actual course of events; that it does not restore the property of the drunkard, or the gambler, or the spendthrift ; that it does not give vigour and length of days to the frame enervated by dissipation ; that it does not recall the murdered from the grave; that it does not bring back the hopes of youth wasted in folly ; that it does not necessarily secure forgiveness from an injured parent or friend. And yet, in the very face of all these things, he holds that repentance, without anything else, is all that is necessary to turn away the wrath of God, and to arrest the evils caused by the violation of his law. He holds that a sigh, a groan—though on the death-bed—is all that is needful to make it certain that the long, black catalogue will be blotted out, and that his soul will be landed safe in heaven. Why does he hold this? What promise has he ? Where does the analogy of nature sustain him ? Where—where are the facts on which he builds such a hope ?
(3.) Christianity is the only form of religion that addresses words of consolation to the broken-hearted penitent. It is the only religion that approaches man with a promise from heaven. It accords with the analogy of nature so far as to teach that man must be penitent if he would hope for pardon; and then, when nature leaves us as a guide, it takes up the matter and shows us
how and why it may be done. It comes to man with an assurance that God now will accept the confessions and tears of the contrite in heart, and that the offender may be restored to favour.
It meets us just where we want to be met; just at the point where our embarrassment is greatest. We are weeping, suppose, over our sins. We have been led to reflect on them, and to see their evil, and to desire pardon ; we are in that state of mind in which the Heathen are, and which the system of the Deist contemplates. But just here is the point of our greatest perplexity. We stand and weep. We have no doubt of the evil of our wrong-doing-of our ill-desert. We cast our eyes around to see what is the effect of repentance; to see what it does to repair evils done, or to arrest the effects of depravity. It does nothing such as we want it to do. It restores no wasted property or health ; recalls none from the grave ; heals no heart that is broken and crushed; raises up no form that has been bowed down by the ingratitude of a child ; makes no hair black and glossy that has been whitened by grief. We stand perplexed, and ask, what evidence is there that repentance will arrest the progress of evil at all, and that it will stay the woes that we fear are coming upon us for our crimes ? Just there where we want it-Christianity approaches us.
It tells us that it is true that in the ordinary course of events repentance does not immediately arrest the progress of evil, and repair the ravages which it has made; but that an arrangement has been effected by which this shall be ultimately done, and that the arrangement shall commence at once in regard to us, by the assurance of forgiveness, and by the imparting of peace to the soul--a piedge of the truth of its message. Now this is what we want. It meets us at the very point where we need it. It is a beam of light coming down where all is dark; it sheds peace on a soul where all was perplexity and trouble.
It is in accordance, then, with what he needs, when we exhort the penitent to go to God; to confess his sins; to look up to him through the Great Sacrifice made on the cross for man, for pardon. Such an exhortation meets the obvious wants of our nature, and should lead every guilty man at once up to God; and in executing my commission in addressing the guilty and the dying, I would earnestly entreat each one of you in view of what has been said, to go to the God against whom he has sinned, and confess his transgressions, and plead for mercy. “Repent, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out."
THE PHILOSOPHICAL NECESSITY OF REPENTANCE.
LUKE xii. 3, 5.--"Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
THE reference in this declaration, twice repeated by the Saviour, is to those Galileans who were put to death by Pilate while offering their sacrifices, and to those persons in Jerusalem on whom the tower of Siloam fell. They were supposed, by those who brought their case before the Saviour, to have been punished in this way for their uncommon guilt. He corrects that misapprehension, and takes occasion to state to those who had addressed him, that unless they repented, they should all likewise perish. The meaning is, not that they would perish in the same manner, but that they would as certainly perish. There was no way of avoiding that which was fairly implied in the word perish, but by repentance. The Saviour has, therefore, in this passage, strongly affirmed the necessity of repentance in order that men may be saved from destruction.
In the two previous discourses I have considered the nature of repentance, and its relation to pardon in the Christian system. I enter now on a consideration of its necessity as a condition of salvation.
In the Scriptures there are two indispensable conditions of salvation prescribed—repentance and faith. The inquiry is at once suggested to a reflecting mind, why these two things are selected as the essential conditions of salvation, or why the question of eternal life and death is made to turn on the fact that they do or do not exist in the mind. Why has God selected these two states of mind, rather than any other two, as constituting the basis on which we are permitted to hope for his favour? The inquiry has more difficulty, perhaps, in reference to faith than to repentance ; but still, no one can help asking why God has made repentance indispensable to salvation? Is the appointment arbitrary, or is it demanded by some law of our nature? Is it because he chose to specify some condition, though in a manner immaterial what like the selection of one tree out of many trees in Paradise, as a test of man's obedience; or will repentance so meet the evils that are in the soul as to make it proper to demand this as a condition of salvation ? Is it the mere appointment of will on the part of God, or is there something existing in our own hearts and lives to be affected by it, which makes it impossible that we should be saved, in any proper sense, without it?
In connexion with these questions of a philosophical character, there is another class of a somewhat more practical kind. Why, in reference to salvation, and as a condition of it, has God required us to exercise sorrow of heart, rather than insisted on a correct moral character as a condition? Would it not be more worthy of God to make eternal life depend on virtue and benevolence; on honesty and truth; on the faithful discharge of our duties in the family and in public life, than on any mere state of the feelings? And why is it that he requires the man of many years and many virtues, and the youth of great amiableness and purity, to renounce all confidence in these virtues, and all dependence on them, and to approach his throne weeping over the errors of a life? Can he require feigned sorrow? Can there be virtue in forced and affected tears ? Can there be that which will commend us to Him when a man of uprightness, a man of honour, a man of truth, shall “bow down his head like a bulrush," and weep like the vilest sinner? Why has he made the path to heaven a path of sorrow at all? Why must we go there with the head bowed down with grief? Why has he made the road a thorn-hedge, and not planted it with roses ? Are there no joyous emotions that might have been made the conditions of salvation ? Is there nothing that would make the eye bright, and the heart cheerful, and the soul glad, that might have been selected, of at least equal value with pensiveness and a heavy heart, with melancholy and tears ?
Such are some of the feelings which spring up in the minds of men when we come to urge on them the duty of repentance. My desire is, if possible, to meet those feelings, and to show that they are not well-founded. I shall aim to prove that the requisition of repentance is not arbitrary, but is based on the nature of things, and that a man MUST REPENT, or PERISH. I shall endeavour to vindicate the character of God, alike from his right as a Sovereign to make this a condition, and from the necessity which there is in the nature of things that we should exercise repentance if we would obtain his favour, or enjoy peace.
I. In the first place, God has a right to appoint terms on which he will bestow his favours on his creatures. I will endeavour to show you that he has this right.
(1.) It is a common right which all exercise when they have
favours to confer on others. A charter for a college or a bank is thus conferred. A grant of land to an institution of learning is thus bestowed. A copyright of a book, or a patent for an invention in the arts, is thus secured. A right of way; a privilege to construct a bridge or a draw; a “permit” to build a house or a factory, is thus secured. The right of citizenship, or the freedom of a city, is thus conferred. All such favours are connected with conditions expressed or implied; and no one doubts that a government has the right to specify the conditions on which the favour may be enjoyed. It is inherent in the very fact, that we have that to confer which will be regarded as a favour or boon by others. The only thing to guard this, or to prevent its being oppressive, is to be found in the character of the government or of the individual who has the power of conferring the favour; and in the fact that the corporation or individual, on whom it is proposed to confer it, is under no obligation to accept it, if it is regarded as unjust; that is, if it is considered that there would be no advantage in accepting it on these terms.
(2.) God has actually dealt thus with his creatures in the bestowment of his favours. He has never relinquished the right to prescribe to men in everything on what terms his favours may be enjoyed. He has actually appointed conditions, by compliance with which alone his favour can be hoped for-conditions as clear as were ever prescribed in a charter for a college or a bank, or a patent of nobility made out by a sovereign to a feudal baron. Life, health, reputation, success in business, are all his gifts; and he has proffered them to men only on certain conditions, and those conditions are clearly specified. Heatlh, for illustration, is in all cases his bestowment; and he has an absolute right-a right which he is constantly exercising-to state to man on what conditions of temperance, prudence, care, and cleanliness it may be enjoyed ; and if the man does not choose to comply with those terms, the blessing will be withheld. There is no way in which he can originate any other conditions on which the blessing may be secured, or by which he can induce God to depart from these terms in his case by special favour, and confer the gift by miracle. Life is his gift, and he has a right to say on what terms it may be possessed and enjoyed. Property is thus also his gift, and he has a right to say how it may be procured and retained. Heaven is his home, and he has a right to say on what terms man may be permitted to dwell there. It is his to bestow a harvest on the husbandman, and equally his to prescribe the conditions on which it may be