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THE NATURE AND NECESSITY OF HOLY RESOLUTION.
Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more: that which I see not, teach thou me; if I have done iniquity, I will do no more.—Job xxxiv. 31, 32.
THESE words are the description of the temper and behaviour of a true penitent, and do contain in them the two essential parts of a true repentance.
First, A humble acknowledgment and confession of sin.
Secondly, A firm purpose and resolution of amendment, and forsaking our sins for the future.
And this latter is so necessary a part of repentance, that herein the very essence and formal nature of repentance does consist. In handling of this argument, I proposed to consider,
I. What resolution in general is.
II. What is the special object or matter of this kind of resolution.
III. What is implied in a sincere resolution of leaving our sins, and returning to God and our duty.
IV. To shew that, in this resolution of amendment, the very essence and formal nature of repentance doth consist.
V. To offer some considerations to convince men of the necessity and fitness of this resolution, and of keeping steadfast to it.415
VI. To add some directions concerning the managing and maintaining this holy resolution. The three first I have spoken to; I now proceed to the
IV. Fourth, To shew that in this resolution the very essence and formal nature of repentance doth consist. A man may do many reasonable actions without an explicit resolution. In things that are more easy and natural to us, judgment and resolution are all one; it is all one to judge a thing fit to be done, and to resolve to do it. But in matters of difficulty, when a man is to strive against the stream, and to oppose strong habits that have taken deep root, there is nothing to be done without an explicit resolution. No man makes any remarkable change in his life, so as to cross his inclinations and custom, without an express resolution. For though a man’s judgment be never so much convinced of the reasonableness and necessity of such a change; yet, unless a man’s spirit be fortified and fixed by resolution, the power of custom, and the violence of his own inclinations, will carry him against his judgment. Now there is no change of a man’s life can be imagined, wherein a man offers greater violence to inveterate habits, and to the strong propensions of his present temper, than in this of repentance. So that among all the actions of a man’s life, there is none that doth more necessarily require an express purpose than repentance does.
And that herein repentance doth chiefly consist, I shall endeavour to make evident from Scripture, and from the common apprehensions of mankind concerning repentance.
The Scripture, besides the several descriptions of repentance, useth two words to express it to us, μεταμέλεια and μετάνοια. The former properly signifies 416the inward trouble and displeasure which men conceive against themselves for having done amiss; which if it be κατὰ Θεὸν λύπη, “a godly sorrow,” it worketh in us μετάνοιαν ἀμεταμέλητον, as St. Paul calls it, “a repentance not to be repented of;” that is, such a change of our minds, which as we shall have no cause to be troubled at, so no reason to alter afterwards. And what is this but a firm, steadfast, and unalterable resolution?
The Scripture likewise useth several phrases of the like importance to describe repentance by; as, forsaking and turning from sin, and conversion and turning to God. Forsaking and turning from sin: hence it is called, “Repentance from dead works,” (Heb. vi. 1.) and turning to God, (Acts xxvi. 20.) “I have shewed to the gentiles that they shall repent and turn to God;” that is, from the worship of idols to the true God. And we have both these together in the description which the prophet gives of repentance: (Isa. lv. 7.) “Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord.” Now this change begins in the sinner’s resolution of doing this; and the unrighteous man’s forsaking his thoughts, is no thing else but changing the purpose of his mind, and resolving upon a better course. And thus Lactantius describes it: Agere autem pœnitentiam nihil aliud est, quam affirmare et profiteri se non amplius peccaturum: “To repent, is nothing else but for a man to declare and profess that he will sin no more.” This is repentance before men. And repentance before God is a resolution answerable to this profession. And elsewhere, saith the same author, “The Greeks do most fully express repentance by the word μετάνοια, because he that repents 417recovers his mind from his former folly, and is troubled at it:” et confirmat animam suam ad rectius vivendum, “and confirms his mind for a better course.” And how is this done but by a resolution? And that this is the natural and true notion of repentance, appears, in that the heathens did consent and agree in it. Gellius gives this description of it: Pœnitere tum dicere solemus, cum quæ ipsi fecimus, ea nobis post incipiunt displicere, sententiamque in iis nostram demutamus: “We are said then to repent, when those things which we have done be gin afterwards to displease us, and we change our resolution about them.” And so, likewise, one of the philosophers describes it: “Repentance is the beginning of philosophy, a flying from foolish words and actions, καὶ τῆς ἀμεταμελήτου ζωῆς ἡ πρώτη παρασκευὴ, and the first preparation of a life not to be repented of.”
It is true, indeed, repentance supposeth the entire change of our lives and actions, and a continued state, as the proper consequence of it: but repentance is but the beginning of this change, which takes its rise from the purpose and resolution of our minds; and if it be sincere and firm, it will certainly have this effect, to change our lives; and if it be not so, it is not repentance. For though in the nature of the thing it be possible that a man may sincerely resolve upon a thing, and yet let fall his resolution afterwards, before it come into act; yet, in the phrase of Scripture, nothing is called repentance but such a resolution as takes effect, so soon as there is opportunity for it. If we change our resolution, and repent of our repentance, this is not that which St. Paul calls “Repentance unto salvation.” So that no man that reads and considers 418the Bible, can impose upon himself so grossly, as to conceit himself a true penitent, and, consequently, to be in a state of salvation, who hath been troubled for his sins, and hath taken up a resolution to leave them, if he do not pursue this resolution, and act according to it.
V. I shall, in the next place, propound some arguments and considerations to persuade men to this holy resolution, and then to keep them firm and steadfast to it, so as never to change it after they have once taken it up.
First, I shall propound some arguments to persuade men to take up this resolution; and they are these:
1. Consider that this resolution of repentance is nothing but what, under the influence of God’s grace and Holy Spirit, which are never wanting to the sincere endeavours of men, is in your power. And it is necessary to premise this; for unless this be cleared, all the other arguments that I can use will signify nothing. For nothing in the world could be more vain, than to take a great deal of pains to persuade men to do a thing which they cannot do, to entreat them to attempt an impossibility, and to urge and solicit them with all earnestness and importunity to do that which is absolutely and altogether out of their power. All the commands of God, and the exhortations of his word, and all the promises and threatenings whereby these commands and exhortations are enforced, do plainly suppose, either that it is in our power to do the thing which God commands or exhorts us to; or else, if it be not (which I grant it is not), that God is ready by his grace and strength, if we be not wanting to ourselves, to assist and enable us to 419those ends and purposes. For the gospel supposeth a power going along with it, and that the Holy Spirit of God works upon the minds of men, to quicken, and excite, and assist them to their duty. And if it were not so, the exhortations of preachers would be nothing else but a cruel and bitter mocking of sinners, and an ironical insulting over the misery and weakness of poor creatures; and for ministers to preach, or people to hear sermons, upon other terms, would be the vainest expense of time, and the idlest thing we do all the week; and all our dissuasives from sin, and exhortations to holiness and a good life, and vehement persuasions of men to strive to get to heaven, and to escape hell, would be just as if one should urge a blind man, by many reasons and arguments, taken from the advantages of sight, and the comfort of that sense, and the beauty of external objects, by all means to open his eyes, and to behold the delights of nature, to see his way, and to look to his steps, and should upbraid him, and be very angry with him, for not doing so. Why, if resolution be absolutely impossible to us, and a thing wholly out of our power, it is just the same case. But then we ought to deal plainly and openly with men, and to tell them, that what we so earnestly persuade them to is that which we certainly know they cannot do. So that it is necessary, if I intend that the following considerations should do any good, to assure men that it is not impossible for them to make a resolution of leaving their sins and returning to God.
It is a power which every man is naturally invested withal, to consider, and judge, and choose. To consider, that is, to weigh and compare things together; to judge, that is, to determine which is 420best; and to choose, that is, to resolve to do it or not: and there is nothing more evident and more universally acknowledged in temporal cases, and in the affairs and concernments of this life. In these matters resolution is a thing ordinary and of frequent practice; it is the principle of all great and considerable actions. Men resolve to be great in this world, and by virtue of this resolution, when they have once taken it up, what industry will they not use! what hazards will they not run in the pursuit of their ambitious designs! Difficulties and dangers do rather whet their courage, and set an edge upon their spirits. Men resolve to be rich; the apostle speaks of some that will be rich: (1 Tim. vi.) “They that will be rich:” and though this be but a low and mean design, yet these persons, by virtue of this resolution, will toil and take prodigious pains in it.
And as to spiritual things, every man hath the same power radically; that is, he hath the faculties of understanding and will, but these are obstructed and hindered in their exercise, and strongly biassed a contrary way by the power of evil inclinations and habits; so that, as to the exercise of this power, and the effect of it in spiritual things, men are in a sort as much disabled as if they were destitute of it. For it is, in effect, all one, to have no understanding at all to consider things that are spiritual, as to have the understanding blinded by an invincible prejudice; to have no liberty as to spiritual things, as to have the will strongly biassed against them. For a man that hath this prejudice upon his under standing, and this bias upon his will is, to all intents and purposes, as if he were destitute of these faculties. But then we are not to understand this 421impotency to be absolutely natural, but accidental; not to be in the first frame and constitution of our souls, but to have happened upon the depravation of nature. It is not a want of natural faculties, but the binding of them up and hindering their operations to certain purposes. This impotency proceeds from the power of evil habits. And thus the Scripture expresseth it, and compares an impotency arising from bad habits and customs to a natural impossibility; nothing coming nearer to nature, than a powerful custom. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also, that are accustomed to do evil, learn to do well.”
But now God by the gospel hath designed the recovery of mankind from the slavery of sin, and the power of their lusts; and therefore, as, by the death of Christ, he hath provided a way to remove the guilt of sin, so, by the Spirit of Christ, he furnisheth us with sufficient power to destroy the dominion of sin. I say sufficient, if we be not wanting to ourselves, but be “workers together with God,” and be as diligent “to work out our own salvation,” as he is ready “to work in us both to will and to do.”
So that, when we persuade men to repent and change their lives, and to resolve upon a better course, we do not exhort them to any thing that is absolutely out of their power, but to what they may do; though not of themselves, yet by the grace of God, which is always ready to assist them, unless, by their former gross neglects and long obstinacy in an evil course, they have provoked God to withdraw his grace from them. So that though, considering our own strength abstractedly, and separately from 422the grace of God, these things be not in our power; yet the grace of God puts them into our power.
And this is so far from derogating from the grace of God, that it is highly to the praise of it. For if the grace of God makes us able to repent and resolve upon a new life, he that asserts this does not attribute his repentance to himself, but to the grace of God: nay, he that says that God’s grace excites and is ready to assist men to do what God commands, represents God immensely more good and gracious, than he that says that God commands men to do that which by their natural power they cannot do, and will condemn them for not doing it, and yet denies them that grace which is necessary to the doing of it.
Let this then be established as a necessary consideration to prevent discouragement, that to resolve upon the change of our lives, is that which, by the grace of God, we are enabled to do, if we will. Resolution is no strange and extraordinary thing; it is one of the most common acts that belongs to us as we are men; but we do not ordinarily apply it to the best purposes. It is not so ordinary for men to resolve to be good, as to be rich and great; not so common for men to resolve against sin, as to resolve against poverty and suffering. It is not so usual for men to resolve to keep a good conscience, as to keep a good place. Indeed, our corrupt nature is much more opposite to this holy kind of resolution. But then to balance and answer this, God hath promised greater and more immediate assistance to us in this case than in any other. There is a general blessing and common assistance promised to resolution and diligence about temporal things; and God’s providence doth often advance such persons to 423riches and honour. “The diligent hand, with God’s blessing, makes rich;” as Solomon tells us, (Prov. x. 4.) and, (xxii. 29.) “Seest thou (says he) a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men!” Now diligence is the effect of a great and vigorous resolution. But there is a special and extraordinary blessing and assistance that attends the resolution and endeavour of a holy life. God hath not promised to strengthen men with all might in the way to riches and honours, and to assist the ambitious and covetous designers of this world with “a mighty and glorious power, such as raised up Jesus from the dead:” but this he hath promised to those, who with a firm purpose and resolution do engage in the ways of religion. Let us then shake off our sloth and listlessness, and in that strength and assistance which God offers, let us resolve to leave our sins, and to amend our lives.
2. Consider what it is that you are to resolve upon; to leave your sins and to return to God and goodness. So that the things I am persuading you to resolve upon, are the strongest reasons that can be for such a resolution. Sin is such a thing, that there can be no better argument to make men resolve against it than to consider what it is, and to think seriously of the nature and consequence of it. And God and goodness are so amiable and desirable, that the very proposal of these objects, hath invitations and allurements enough to inflame our desires after them, and to make us rush into the embraces of them. If we would but enter into the serious consideration of them, we should soon be resolved in our minds about them.
Do but consider a little what sin is. It is the 424shame and blemish of thy nature, the reproach and disgrace of thy understanding and reason, the great deformity and disease of thy soul, and the eternal enemy of thy rest and peace. It is thy shackles and thy fetters, the tyrant that oppresses thee and restrains thee of thy liberty, and condemns thee to the basest slavery and the vilest drudgery. It is the unnatural and violent state of thy soul, the worm that perpetually gnaws thy conscience, the cause of all thy fears and troubles, and of all the evils and miseries, all the mischief and disorders that are in the world; it is the foundation and fuel of hell; it is that which puts thee out of the possession and enjoyment of thyself, which doth alienate and separate thee from God, the fountain of bliss and happiness, which provokes him to be thine enemy, and lays thee open every moment to the fierce revenge of his justice; and if thou dost persist and continue in it, will finally sink and oppress thee under the insupportable weight of his wrath, and make thee so weary of thyself, that thou shall wish a thousand times that thou hadst never been; and will render thee so perfectly miserable, that thou wouldest esteem it a great happiness to change thy condition with the most wretched and forlorn person that ever lived upon earth, to be perpetually upon a rack, and to lie down for ever under the rage of all the most violent diseases and pains that ever afflicted mankind. Sin is all this which I have described, and will certainly bring upon thee all those evils and mischiefs which I have mentioned, and make thee far more miserable than I am able to express, or thou to conceive. And art thou not yet resolved to leave it? Shall I need to use any other arguments to set thee against it, and take thee off from the love and practice of it, 425than this representation which I have now made of the horrible nature and consequences of it?
And then consider, on the other hand, what it is that I am persuading thee to turn to; to thy God and duty. And would not this be a blessed change indeed! to leave the greatest evil, and to turn to the chief good! For this resolution of returning to God, is nothing else but a resolution to be wise and happy, and to put thyself into the possession of that which is a greater good, if it is possible, than sin is an evil, and will render thee more happy than sin can make thee miserable. Didst thou but think what God is, and what he will be to thee if thou wilt return to him, how kindly he will receive thee after all thy wanderings from him “days with out number,” thou wouldest soon take up the resolution of the prodigal, and say, “I will arise, and go to my father!”
And consider, likewise, what it is to return to thy duty. It is nothing else but to do what becomes thee, and what is suitable to the original fame of thy nature, and to the truest dictates of thy reason and conscience, and what is not more thy duty, than it is thy interest and thy happiness. For that which God requires of us is, to be righteous and holy, and good; that is, to be like God himself, who is the pattern of all perfection and happiness. It is to have our lives conformed to his will, which is al ways perfect holiness and goodness, a state of peace and tranquillity, and the very temper and disposition of happiness. It is that which is a principal and most essential ingredient into the felicity of the Divine nature, and without which God would not be what he is, but a deformed, and imperfect, and miserable being.426
And if this be a true representation which I have made to you, of sin and vice on the one hand, and of God and goodness on the other, what can be more powerful than the serious consideration of it, to engage us to a speedy resolution of leaving our sins, and of turning and “cleaving to the Lord with full purpose of heart?” After this we cannot but conclude with the penitent in the text; “Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I will not offend any more: that which I see not, teach thou me;” and “if I have done iniquity. I will do no more.”
3. Consider how unreasonable it is to be unresolved in a case of so great moment and concernment. There is no greater argument of a man’s weakness, than irresolution in matters of mighty consequence, when both the importance of the thing, and exigency of present circumstances, require a speedy resolution. We should account it a strange folly, for a man to be unresolved in the clearest and plainest matters that concern his temporal welfare and safety. If a man could not determine himself whether he should eat or starve; if he were dangerously sick, and could not determine whether he should take physic or die; or if one that were in prison, could not resolve himself whether he should accept of liberty, and be content to be released; or if a fair estate were offered to him, he should desire seven years time to consider whether he should take it or not: this would be so absurd in the common affairs of life, that a man would be thought infatuated, that should be doubtful and unresolved in cases so plain, and of such pressing concernment. If a man were under the sentence and condemnation of the law, and liable to be executed upon the least intimation of the prince’s pleasure, 427and a pardon were graciously offered to him, with this intimation, that this would probably be the last offer of mercy that ever would be made to him; one would think that in this case a man should soon be determined what to do, or rather that he should not need to deliberate at all about it; because there is no danger of rashness in making haste to save his life.
And yet the case of a sinner is of far greater importance, and much more depends upon it, infinitely more than any temporal concernment whatsoever can amount to, even our happiness or misery to all eternity. And can there be any difficulty for a man to be resolved what is to be done in such a case? No case surely in the world can be plainer than this; whether a man should leave his sins, and return to God and his duty, or not; that is, whether a man should choose to be happy or miserable, unspeakably and everlastingly happy, or extremely and eternally miserable.
And the circumstances and exigencies of our case do call for a speedy and peremptory resolution in this matter. The sentence of the law is already passed, and God may execute it upon thee every moment; and it is great mercy and forbearance not to do it. Thy life is uncertain, and thou art liable every minute to be snatched away and hurried out of this world. However, at the best, thou hast but a little time to resolve in; death, and judgment, and eternity cannot be far off, and, for aught thou knowest, they may be even at the door. Thou art upon the matter just ready to be seized upon by death, to be summoned to judgment, and to be swallowed up of eternity: and is it not yet time thinkest thou to resolve? Wouldest thou have yet a little longer 428time to deliberate, whether thou shouldest repent and forsake thy sins, or not? If there were difficulty in the case, or if there were no danger in the delay; if thou couldest gain time, or any thing else, by suspending thy resolution, there were then some reason why thou shouldest not make a sudden determination. But thou canst pretend none of these. It is evident, at first sight, what is best to be done, and nothing can make it plainer. It is not a matter so clear and out of the controversy, that riches are better than poverty, and ease better than pain, and life more desirable than death, as it is, that it is better to break off our sins, than to continue in the practice of them; to be reconciled to God, than to go on to provoke him; to be holy and virtuous, than to be wicked and vicious; to be “heirs of eternal glory,” than to be “vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.”
And there is infinite danger in these delays. For if thy soul be any thing to thee, thou venturest that; if thou hast any tenderness and regard for thy eternal interest, thou runnest the hazard of that; if heaven and hell be any thing to thee, thou incurrest the danger of losing one, and falling into the other.
And thou gainest nothing by continuing unresolved. If death and judgment would tarry thy leisure, and wait till thou hadst brought thy thoughts to some issue, and were resolved what to do, it were something: but thy irresolution in this matter will be so far from keeping back death and judgment, that it will both hasten and aggravate them, both make them to come the sooner, and to be the heavier when they come; because thou abusest the goodness of God, and despisest his patience and long-suffering, which should lead thee, 429and draw thee on to repentance, and not keep thee back. Hereby thou encouragest thyself in thy lewd and riotous courses; and, because thy Lord delayeth his coming, art the more negligent and extravagant. Hear what doom our Lord pronounceth upon such slothful and wicked servant: (Luke xii. 46.) “The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.” None so like to be surprised, and to be severely handled by the justice of God, as those that trifle with his patience.
4. Consider how much resolution would tend to the settling of our minds, and making our lives comfortable. There is nothing that perplexeth and disquieteth a man more, than to be unresolved in the great and important concernments of his life. What anxiety and confusion is there in our spirits, whilst we are doubtful and undetermined about such matters? How are we divided and distracted, when our reason and judgment direct us one way, and our lusts and affections bias us to the contrary? When we are convinced and satisfied what is best for us, and yet are disaffected to our own interest. Such a man is all the while self-condemned, and acts with the perpetual regret of his reason and conscience; and whenever he reflects upon himself, he is of fended and angry with himself, his life and all his actions are uneasy and displeasing to him; and there is no way for this man to be at peace, but to put an end to this conflict one way or other, either by conquering his reason or his will. The former is very difficult, nothing being harder than for a sinner to lay his conscience asleep, after it is 430once thoroughly awakened; he may charm it for a while, but every little occasion will rouse it again, and renew his trouble; so that though a man may have some truce with his conscience, yet he can never come to a firm and settled peace this way; but if by a vigorous resolution a man would but conquer his will, his mind would be at rest, and there would be a present calm in his spirit. And why should we be such enemies to our own peace, and to the comfort and contentment of our lives, as not to take this course, and thereby rid ourselves at once of that which really, and at the bottom, is the ground of all the trouble and disquiet of our lives?431
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