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Showing How Graciously God Invites Us To Repentance, And How Necessary It Is That It Should Not Be Delayed.
Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.—Luke 15:10.
God, who is of infinite mercy, in order that he might the better soften our hard and stony hearts, and turn them from the world, ourselves, and the devil, unto himself (Acts 26:18), has, in his Word, variously represented and set before our eyes man's conversion and repentance.
2. Among other ways of impressing it on our minds, the two parables of the Lost Sheep and of the Prodigal Son (Luke, chap. 15), are exceedingly affecting, and are so abundant in divine consolation, that it is scarcely possible seriously to think upon them without tears. Therein our Saviour describes three different hearts. Of these the first is, the impenitent heart of a sinner; the second, the contrite heart of a penitent; the third, the heart of God, full of mercy and paternal affection.
3. The first he describes under the similitude of a degenerate son, wastefully spending his substance and inheritance, and at last reduced to such necessity, as to wish to fill his belly with the husks which the swine did eat. By this figure all mankind in their natural state are shadowed forth; who, as so many degenerate sons, have squandered away the heavenly inheritance by continual riot and wickedness. That is, they have lost their original righteousness, holiness, innocency, and the beautiful image of God, in which they were at first created (Eph. 4:24), and are now by their own fault become the bond-slaves of sin, of the devil, and of death. And to complete their ruin, finding no relief, rest, or comfort, in any human performances and laws (which answer to the husks in the parable) they must of necessity perish with endless famine and misery, unless they speedily have recourse unto the grace of their Heavenly Father.
4. The second heart, which is that of a repenting sinner, is set forth in these words: “How many hired servants of my Father have bread enough, and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise, and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee; and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” In this account we have a very moving description of true repentance. By the Prodigal's coming to himself, is signified sorrow for sin; that is, when a man, on the one hand, reflects upon his own misery, and considers how, from being a child of God, he is become, as it were, a brute beast (2 Pet. 2:12), an unclean swine, a man void of reason, earthly and sensual; and, on the other, mindful of his divine origin, turns his thoughts entirely upon his Father, repents, acknowledges his offences, and says, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee;” and have offended both God and man. 189 This he immediately confirms by a sincere contempt of himself, expressed in these words: “and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” Moreover, faith, which is the other part of repentance, is exhibited to us in his actual arising and returning to his father's house. He assumed confidence to repair to his home, and firmly persuaded himself that his father would receive him, if not as a son, at least as one of his hired servants. “For,” says he, “I am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants.” This plainly shows the sure hope he entertained, that his father would yield to his entreaties, and receive him into his favor.
5. And now I come, thirdly, to draw the character of the paternal heart of God, set forth in the parable.
II. And was moved with compassion. Hereby is represented his mercy waiting to be gracious to us.
III. And ran and fell on his neck. Here is mercy receiving into favor.
VI. And put a ring on his hand. Hereby is signified the Holy Spirit, the pledge of sonship (Gal. 4:6; Eph. 1:5), the seal of intimate favor and union; and it also represents to us the espousing mercy of the Lord.
VII. And shoes on his feet. This denotes a new and holy walk in Christ, resulting from the Divine power, and the grace of the Holy Spirit; which are the peculiar effects of preserving mercy. 1 Peter 1:5; Ps. 84:11.
VIII. Bring hither the fatted calf. By this feast is represented the joy of angels, or rejoicing and crowning mercy, described by the holy Psalmist, and the prophet Isaiah. Ps. 63:5; 103:5; Isa. 65:13.
6. What strong and endearing arguments are here offered by the goodness of God inviting us to sincere repentance! Let us, then, seriously consider some of the main inducements to true repentance, of which seven shall be proposed at present.
I. The boundless mercy of God.
II. The kindness of Christ, and his inestimable merit.
III. The awful threatenings and punishments that are laid before us.
V. The last judgment.
VI. Hell. And
VII. Everlasting joy.
I. THE MERCY OF GOD.
7. “If thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart, and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; (for the Lord thy God is a merciful God); he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers, which he sware unto them.” Deut. 4:29-31. What tender affection, as of the heart of a father, have we here presented to us! And how just and reasonable is it, that it should move us to repentance! For how numerous and great soever our 190 sins may be, the mercy of God is still greater, according to the words of the Psalmist: “With the Lord there is mercy; and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” Ps. 130:7, 8. And again: “According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.” Ps. 51:1. Nor are our sins so filthy and abominable, but God can make them white as snow. “Though your sins,” says the prophet, “be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Isa. 1:18. And the Psalmist says: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Ps. 51:7. Neither are they so various and manifold, but that they are surpassed by the riches of divine grace, according to the apostle: “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Eph. 1:7. And what we read in Exodus teaches the same: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin.” Exod. 34:6, 7. Nor are they so strong and powerful, but God can destroy them, and throw them into the depth of the sea, as he did unto Pharaoh and all his host. “He will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:19. Nor, finally, are they so mortal and pestilential, but God can heal them, as the prophet assures us: “The wicked shall not fall by his wickedness in the day that he turneth from it.” Ezek. 33:12.
II. THE KINDNESS OF CHRIST.
8. How kindly and affectionately Christ Jesus receives sinners, he himself abundantly declares in the Gospel: “They that be whole,” says he, “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. “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10. Of this gracious bounty of Christ towards returning sinners, the prophets have left us many predictions. “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel,” saith Ezekiel, “who have not sought that which was lost: but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd. Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock, in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick.” Ezek. 34:2, 4, 12, 16. And the prophet Isaiah says, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom.” Isai. 40:11. Nor should only the gracious nature of Christ move thee to repentance; but more especially his extreme sorrow, and most innocent blood shed on thine account. For consider within thyself:
(1.) That he laid down his life, not for heaven or earth, but for thy soul. And wilt thou, by sin and impenitence, wantonly cast away so great and valuable a treasure?
(2.) Remember, that thou couldest not have been redeemed by any other or less price than the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:19). Why shouldest thou deprive thyself of a ransom so inestimable as the Redeemer has paid for thee?
(3.) Call to mind, that Christ has 191 redeemed thee from the world, from sin and the devil. And dost thou desire to continue longer in the service of so hard and cruel a master?
(4.) Be assured, that without unfeigned repentance, the merit of Christ will avail thee nothing; yea, that thou tramplest under foot his blood, and dost “despite unto the Spirit of grace.” Heb. 10:29.
(5.) Lastly, consider how sharp and cruel were the sufferings which thy Saviour underwent on thy account! How he wept and sorrowed, trembled and feared! Heb. 5:7. How grievously he was wounded for thy transgressions (Isa. 53:5), and, at last, as a worm (Ps. 22:6), and cursed (Gal. 3:13), hung upon a tree! How loudly this mournful scene calls on thee to repent!
III. THREATS OF TEMPORAL PUNISHMENT.
9. “God judgeth the righteous,” saith the Psalmist, “and God is angry with the wicked every day. If he turn not, he will whet his sword: he hath bent his bow, and made it ready: he hath also prepared for him the instruments of death: he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors.” Ps. 7:11-13.
10. This wrath and revenge, no man will ever be able to escape, as the prophet Amos affirms: “He that escapeth of them shall not be delivered. Though they climb up to heaven, thence I will bring them down: and though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them. Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth.” Amos 9:1-3, 8. “Their blood shall be poured out as dust,” saith Zephaniah, 1:17, 18, “and their flesh as the dung. Neither their silver, nor their gold, shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord's wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy.” Such terrible threatenings as these should lead us to unfeigned repentance; this being the only means by which to prevent impending desolation, and the total destruction of nations and cities; as evidently appears from the example of Nineveh. Jonah 3:5, 10. “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” Jer. 18:7, 8.
11. God has concealed the time of our death from us, that thereby we may be kept in the daily and uninterrupted practice of true repentance, as not knowing which hour may be our last. “The whole life of a man is given him for repentance,” saith St. Bernard. And this repentance is a Christian's daily cross and tribulation. Thus it is said in the Psalms: “I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me.” Ps. 38:17; 73:14. God has promised grace to the penitent, but he has not promised to sinners another day in which to repent. “It is appointed unto men once to die; but after this the judgment.” Heb. 9:27. Such as God shall find thee, as such will he judge thee: wherefore, live in such a manner as thou wouldest wish to have done, when thou art dying. Consider seriously in thy mind, where they now are, who but a few years ago wasted 192 their lives with lust and vanity, and freely enjoyed the “good things” of this world? Luke 16:25. They are all gone to their own place, where they wait for the day of judgment. Wherefore, “come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” Rev. 18:4.
V. THE LAST JUDGMENT.
12. For after death, there is neither place nor time for repentance. It is in this world that eternal life is either lost or obtained. Those that repent betimes, shall not be condemned in judgment; but the impenitent will hear the awful sentence: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” Matt. 25:41. “Behold, therefore, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2), which will be followed by the day of judgment in the other world. “To-day, therefore, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation; lest I swear in my wrath, that ye shall not enter into my rest.” Ps. 95:7, 8, 11; Heb. 3:7, 8, 11. “For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, whether it be good or bad.” 2 Cor. 5:10. Those, therefore, who here repent, “shall have their sins covered” (Ps. 32:1), and “they shall no more be mentioned unto them,” as the prophet declares. Ezek. 33:16. Lay hold, therefore, on the offer of mercy betimes, know and confess thy sins, O man, that they may be remitted and forgotten.
VI. ETERNAL PAINS OF HELL.
13. With this present life, the season of the mercy of God closes. It will then be said: “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things.” Luke 16:25. Thy life is now over. Thou art now dead! Dead to God forever, to whom thou didst refuse to live in time! There is no redemption from hell. Ps. 49:14-20. How can the damned enjoy the goodness of God, to which they were dead whilst they were alive, and to which they will now continue dead to all eternity! Remember, therefore, that now is the only time for mercy, and the hour of visitation to repent; whereas, there the damned so die, as, notwithstanding, always to live; and so live, as yet to die eternally. All the senses will there suffer torment. The sight shall be punished with eternal darkness; the ears shall be filled with weeping and gnashing of teeth; the smell with stench of fire and brimstone; the taste with the bitterness of eternal death; and the feeling with a sense of endless tortures and miseries.
VII. THE JOY OF ETERNAL LIFE.
14. Is it not a very high degree of folly, to prefer a short perishing pleasure to an eternal joy; and a worthless trifle, to the glorious presence of God? Now none shall enter into this, but he who has thoroughly washed himself, and “made white his robes in the blood of the Lamb.” Rev. 3:14. “For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” Rev. 22:15. None of those, who, having been here invited to the feast of Christ, yet refused to come, “shall taste of his supper.” Luke 14:24. The highest joy of eternal life, will consist in “seeing God as he is.” 1 John 3:2. To see God, is all in all, and an eternal reward. “Ye shall see me,” says our Lord, “and 193 your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man taketh from you.” John 16:19, 22. This sight of the face of God is the joy of the angels; it is their life, and the invisible food by which they are sustained. Now as this vision of God creates the most exalted joy, so to be banished from it, is to suffer the greatest, the most terrible, and the most severe torment, and eternal misery.
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