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No One Can Find Comfort In Christ And His Merits, Who Does Not Truly Repent.
No unclean person was permitted to eat of the passover.—Exod. 12:48.
It was the declaration of the Lord Jesus Christ, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Matt. 9:12, 13. By this declaration the Lord teaches us, that he indeed calls sinners, but that he calls them to repentance; whence it is evident, that no man can come to Christ without true repentance and conversion from sin, and without a true faith.
2. Now repentance consists in dying unto sin through true sorrow for our sins, and in obtaining the remission of sins through faith and living unto righteousness in Christ. There is no real repentance unless a genuine godly sorrow is first experienced, by which the heart is broken and the flesh crucified. Hence it is termed “repentance from dead works” (Heb. 6:1); or the renunciation of such works as issue in death. To abstain from dead works is, therefore, one of the principal parts of true repentance.
3. If we be not the subjects of this repentance, the merit of Christ profits us nothing; nor can we lay the smallest claim to the benefits which thence accrue; for Christ proffers his aid, as the physician of souls, and his blood, as the only effectual medicine for our spiritual maladies.
4. But as not even the most precious remedy can effect a cure of a disorder unless the patient refrain from things that are hurtful in their tendency, and that resist the operation of the medicine, so the blood and death of Christ will be of no avail to him who does not fully resolve to forsake his sins, and to live up to the requirements of the gospel; for St. Paul says: “They who do such things (the works of the flesh), shall not inherit the kingdom of God,” and, of course, have not any part in the Lord Jesus Christ. Gal. 5:21.
5. Again, if Christ, by his most precious blood, is to become our medicine, it cannot be doubted that we must be in a diseased state, and that we must, for ourselves, feel that we are so. The whole need not a physician, but the sick only (Matt. 9:12); and none is spiritually sick (at least so as to be conscious of it) who does not experience unfeigned contrition for the sins which he has committed, and who has not a sense of the indignation of God which is excited against them. He is no proper patient for the physician of souls who avoids not worldly lusts and vanities, honors and riches; but goes on in a state of spiritual unconcern, without any regard to his past life or his final salvation. Upon a man of this character, no cure can possibly be wrought. He does not see his distemper, and therefore needs no physician. In short, Christ profits him nothing, and his merits leave no saving effect upon his soul.
6. Remember, therefore, O man! that Christ is come to call sinners to repentance; and that it is only such as 23 are broken in heart and contrite in spirit; only such as fervently desire and thirst after this righteousness that are in a condition to receive the saving influence of the blood, death, and merits of the Lord Jesus.
7. Happy is he who feels in his heart, and still more happy he who proves obedient to this holy calling, that is, the “godly sorrow for sin, which worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of,” and which is the work of the Holy Spirit himself. It arises, first, from the law, and from serious meditation on the passion of Christ, which abounds with loud invitations to unfeigned repentance. It exhibits, as in a mirror, both the wrath of God against sin, and also his infinite grace in saving the sinner. To make an atonement for our sins, Jesus shed his blood; and love induced him to die for us while we were yet sinners. Rom. 5:8. Here the divine justice and clemency combine for the salvation of souls.
8. How is it possible that a man who believes in Christ, should continue in sins which the Lord expiated at no less a price than his own most precious blood? When, therefore, O man! thou art tempted to pride and ambition, reflect upon the contempt and humiliation to which Jesus submitted in order to atone for thy pride and thy ambition. When thou art covetous after this world, think of the poverty which he underwent that he might make satisfaction for thy cupidity; and, surely, this will extinguish in thee the love of money and of worldly estates. What anguish and agony did Christ suffer on account of thy lusts and sinful pleasures; and art thou yet in pursuit of these pleasures that will leave behind them a mortal sting? Alas! how great must be the corruption of our nature when we can delight in things for which our Redeemer and Lord was sorrowful even unto death! Christ died to expiate thy wrath, hatred, and enmity; to atone for thy bitterness and rancor, for thy love of revenge, and the implacableness of thy spirit. This he effected by his extreme mildness and patience, mercy and long-suffering. And wilt thou be angry on every trifling occasion, and esteem revenge to be sweet, when, to atone for it, thy Redeemer drank to the very dregs the cup of bitterness and affliction?
9. Truly as many as assume to themselves the name of Christians, and yet do not forsake the pleasures of sin, “crucify Christ to themselves afresh, and put him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:6); and it is, therefore, utterly impossible that they should partake of that merit which they tread under foot. They pollute the blood of the everlasting covenant, and do not believe that their sins are expiated by it. They do “despite unto the Spirit of grace;” they despise and resist him; and, by their ungodly lives, scorn and condemn the grace of God offered in Christ Jesus. Heb. 10:29. Hence, the blood of the Saviour, which was shed for their sakes, cries aloud for vengeance against them; and this it does by the righteous judgment of God, which they thus draw down upon themselves,—a consideration that ought to strike a terror into every one that names the name of Christ. Indeed, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31); for he is a living God, and not a lifeless idol, incapable of punishing so scornful a contempt of his grace and mercy.
10. With this divine wrath and vengeance, even their own consciences 24 threaten them, as inevitably following those who (though they know that it was to atone for sin that the Son of God died so ignominious a death) are yet not careful to put away their sins.
11. It was for this reason that, soon after the death of Christ, repentance was preached over all the world; namely, both because he died “for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2); and because in all places of the world men should repent. Acts 17:30. Thus it is said, “God now commandeth all men every where to repent,” and to receive with a contrite, penitent, and believing heart the sovereign medicine purchased by the death of Christ, in order that the grace of God be not frustrated, but answer the end designed.
12. Remission of sins immediately follows true repentance; but how shall a man have his sins remitted when he does not repent of them, nay, when he still rejoices in them? Nothing surely could be more preposterous than to expect that sins should be pardoned which a man has no design to renounce; and nothing can be more absurd than to seek consolation in the sufferings of Christ, and yet continue in the mire of sin which caused Christ's death.
13. But certain and obvious as these truths are in themselves, there are many that call themselves Christians who never repented, and who yet will presume to lay claim to a share in the merits of Christ, and in the remission of sins which he has purchased. They have not ceased to indulge their accustomed wrath, covetousness, pride, malice, envy, hypocrisy, and unrighteousness, but have rather become more and more enslaved by them; and yet, alas! they expect forgiveness of sin, and presumptuously apply to themselves the merits of Christ as a defence against the impending judgment of Almighty God. And though this is one of the grossest and most palpable of errors, yet they do not hesitate to bestow upon it the specious name of faith, by which they hope for salvation. These are they that flatter themselves to their own destruction; fondly supposing that they are true Christians because they have a speculative knowledge of the Gospel, and because they believe that Jesus died for their sins. This, alas! is not faith, but fancy; and thou art an unhappy, and most awfully infatuated false Christian, if thou canst suffer thyself to be deluded in this manner! Never did the Word of God teach such a doctrine; but the unvarying language of the inspired writers is: “If thou earnestly desirest the pardon of thy sins, repent of them, and firmly resolve to give up the practice of them; and thus, grieving from thy heart that thou hast so greatly offended God, and determining to lead a new life, believe on Jesus Christ, the great propitiation for the sins of the whole world.”
14. But how should that man feel sorrow for his sins, who will not be induced to quit them? and how should he quit them, while he remains unconcerned about committing them? Christ, and all his apostles and prophets, unite in teaching thee, O man! that thou must die to the world and to thy sins; die to thy pride, thy covetousness, thy lust, and thy wrath; and that thou must return to the Lord with all thy heart, and implore his gracious pardon. And this being sincerely done, thou art absolved, and thy sins are forgiven. Then, the heavenly physician looks upon thee graciously; for he is come to revive those 25 that are of a contrite spirit, and to bind up the broken in heart. Ps. 147:3. But if thou seekest for some other way to be saved, than that which is here pointed out, then Christ will profit thee nothing, and the boasting of thy faith is altogether vain. For true faith renews him who possesses it; it mortifies sin, and raises the soul, with Christ, into a new life; for such a man lives, by faith in Christ, in his love, his humility, his meekness, and his patience. It is thus, O man! that Jesus becomes unto thee the way of life, and thus thou becomest in him a “new creature.” But if thou continuest to commit thy favorite sins, and remainest unwilling to die to the corrupt bent of “the old man” (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22), how wilt thou pretend to be a new creature? How is it possible for thee to belong to Christ, when thou dost not “crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts?” Gal. 5:24.
15. Even if thou shouldst listen to ten sermons in one day, shouldst confess thy sins every month, and receive the Lord's Supper, thou wouldst derive no benefit from such exercises, nor obtain the remission of sins; the reason is, that thou hast not a penitent, contrite, and believing heart, which can be reached by the healing influences of the medicine. The Word of God and the Sacraments are, indeed, salutary remedies; but they are such to those alone who unfeignedly repent and believe. What would it profit, to anoint a stone with costly ointment? What harvest shalt thou reap, if thou sowest among briers and thorns? First pull up the thorns and thistles that choke the good seed, and, then, thou mayest reasonably expect the precious fruit. Luke 8:7. And, in fine, Christ will never profit thee at all, if thou continuest to love sin rather than Him. The birth of the Saviour is of no advantage to a man whose aim it is not to be born with him; nor shall his death avail for any, who are not disposed to die to sin, and to mortify the deeds of the flesh. Rom. 6:11. So, the resurrection of Christ will benefit none who will not rise from sin, and live unto righteousness; nor will his ascension prove a blessing to any who refuse to ascend with him, and to have their conversation in heaven.
16. But when, on the contrary, a man, like the Prodigal Son, truly returns to his offended father, deploring, hating, and forsaking his sins; when he earnestly seeks forgiveness, and, with the eye of faith, beholds Christ and his bleeding wounds, as the Israelites beheld the serpent of brass, and lived (Numb. 21:9); when, at last, under a real sense of guilt, he cries out with the penitent publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13); then, then, the pardon is granted, the absolution is sealed, however great and many the sins be which he has committed against his God.
17. Such is the efficacy of the redemption which the blood of Christ has effected, and of so extensive a nature is his merit, that it is fully imputed, through faith, to every penitent soul. Thus is brought to pass the scripture, “He giveth repentance and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31); that is, he pardons the repentant sinner freely and wholly, for Christ's sake. For it is a pleasure with God to exercise mercy, and to forgive a sinner. “My bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.” Jer. 31:20; Hosea 11:8. Then it is, that the death of Christ is rendered truly effectual; and then it is, that the angels of God rejoice in 26 heaven (Luke 15:7), because the blood of Christ was not shed in vain for the poor sinner for whom He had died. 1 Cor. 8:11.
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