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SERMON CLXVI.

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 words of Elihu, one of Job’s friends, and the only one who is not reproved for his discourse with Job, and who was, probably, the author of this ancient and most eloquent history of the sufferings and patience of Job, and of the end which the Lord made with him; and they contain in them a description of the temper and behaviour of a true penitent. “Surely it is meet,” &c.

In which words we have the two essential parts of a true repentance.

First, A humble acknowledgment and confession of our sins to God; “Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement.”

Secondly, A firm purpose and resolution of amendment and forsaking of sin for the future; “I will not offend any more: if I have done iniquity, I will do no more.”

First, A humble acknowledgment and confession of our sins to God: “Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement;” that is, have sinned and been justly punished for it, and am now convinced of the evil of sin, and resolved to 399leave it; “I have borne chastisement, I will offend no more.”

Of this first part of repentance, viz. a humble confession of our sins to God, with great shame and sorrow for them, and a thorough conviction of the evil and danger of a sinful course, I have already treated at large. In these repentance must begin, but it must not end in them: for a penitent confession of our sins to God, and a conviction of the evil of them, signifies nothing, unless it brings us to a resolution of amendment; that is, of leaving our sins, and betaking ourselves to a better course. And this I intend, by God’s assistance, to speak to now, as being the

Second part of a true repentance here described in the text; viz. a firm purpose and resolution of amendment, and forsaking of sin for the future; and to express it the more strongly and emphatically, and to shew the firmness of the resolution, it is repeated again, “I will not offend any more;” and then in the next verse, “If I have done iniquity, I will do no more.” And this is so necessary a part of repentance, that herein the very essence and formal nature of repentance does consist; viz. in the firm and sincere purpose and resolution of a better course.

In the handling of this argument, I shall do these six things:

I. I shall shew what resolution is in general.

II. What is the special object of this kind of resolution.

III. What is implied in a sincere resolution of leaving our sins, and returning to God.

IV. I shall shew that in this resolution of amendment, the very essence and formal nature of repentance does consist.

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V. I shall offer some considerations to convince men both of the necessity and fitness of this resolution, and of keeping steadfastly to it. “Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I will not offend any more.”

VI. I shall add some brief directions concerning the managing and maintaining of this holy and necessary resolution.

I. What resolution in general is. It is a fixed determination of the will about any thing, either to do it, or not to do it, as upon due deliberation we have judged and concluded it to be necessary or convenient to be done, or not to be done by us: and this supposeth three things.

1. Resolution supposeth a precedent deliberation of the mind about the thing to be resolved upon. For no prudent man does determine or resolve upon any thing till he hath considered the thing, and weighed it well with himself, and hath fully debated the necessity and expedience of it; what advantage he shall have by the doing of it, and what danger and inconvenience will certainly, or very probably, redound to him by the neglect and omission of it. For peremptorily to determine and resolve upon any thing before a man hath done this, is not properly resolution, but precipitancy and rashness.

2. Resolution supposeth some judgment passed upon the thing, after a man hath thus deliberated about it: that he is satisfied in his mind one way or other concerning it, that his understanding is convinced either that it is necessary and convenient for him to do it, or that it is not; and this is sometimes called resolution, but is not that resolution which immediately determines a man to action. This judgment of the necessity and fitness of the thing, is not 401the resolution of the will, but of the understanding: for it does not signify that a man hath fully deter mined to do the thing, but that he hath determined with himself that it is reasonable to be done, and that he is no longer in doubt and suspense whether it be best for him to do it or not, but is in his mind resolved and satisfied one way or other. And these are two very different things; to be resolved in one’s judgment, that is, to be convinced that a thing is fit and necessary to be done, and to be resolved to set upon the doing of it; for many men are thus convinced of the fitness and necessity of the thing, who yet have not the heart, cannot bring themselves to a firm and fixed resolution to set upon the doing of it. So that an act of the judgment must go before the resolution of the will: for as he is rash that resolves to do a thing before he hath deliberated about it; so he is blind and wilful that resolves to do a thing before his judgment be satisfied, whether it be best for him to do it or not.

3. If the matter be of considerable moment and consequence, resolution supposeth some motion of the affections; which is a kind of bias upon the will, a certain propension and inclination that a man feels in himself, either urging him to do a thing, or withdrawing him from it. Deliberation and judgment, they direct a man what to do, or leave undone; the affections excite and quicken a man to take some resolution in the matter; that is, to do suitably to the judgment his mind hath passed upon the thing. For instance; a great sinner reflects upon his life, and considers what he hath done, what the course is that he lives in, and what the issue and consequence of it will probably or certainly be, whether it will make him happy or miserable in the 402conclusion; and debating the matter calmly and soberly with himself, he is satisfied and convinced of the evil and danger of a wicked life, and consequently that it is best for him to resolve upon a better course; that is, to repent. Now these thoughts must needs awaken in him fearful apprehensions of the wrath of Almighty God, which is due to him for his sins, and hangs over him, and which he is every moment in danger of, if he goes on in his evil course. These thoughts are apt, likewise, to fill him with shame and confusion, at the remembrance of his horrible ingratitude to God his maker, his best friend and greatest benefactor, and of his desperate folly in provoking omnipotent justice against himself; whereupon he is heartily grieved and troubled for what he hath done; and these affections of fear, and shame, and sorrow, being once up, they come with great violence upon the will, and urge the man to a speedy resolution of changing his course, and leaving the way he is in, which he is fully convinced is so evil and dangerous; and of betaking himself to another course, which he is fully satisfied will be much more for his safety and advantage.

So that resolution, in general, is a fixed determination of the will; that is, such a determination as is not only for the present free from all wavering and doubting, but such as cannot prudently be altered, so long as reason remains. For the man who, upon full deliberation and conviction of his mind, resolves upon any thing, cannot without the imputation of fickleness and inconstancy quit that resolution, so long as he hath the same reason which he had when he took it up, and is still satisfied that the reason is good. For instance; the man who hath taken up a resolution to be sober, because of the ugliness 403and unreasonableness of drunkenness, and the temporal inconveniencies, and eternal damnation, which that sin exposeth a man to; if these reasons be true and good, can never prudently alter the resolution which he hath taken, and return to that sin again.

II. Let us consider what is the special object or matter of this resolution, wherein the formal nature of repentance does consist, what it is that a man when he repents resolves upon; and that I told you is to leave his sin, and to return to God and his duty; and this is the resolution which the penitent here described in the text takes up, “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.” He resolves against all known sin, “I will not offend any more;” and if through ignorance he had sinned, and done contrary to his duty, he desires to be better instructed, that he may not offend again in the like kind. “That which I see not, teach thou me; and if I have done iniquity, I will do no more.”

So that the true penitent resolves upon these two things:

1. To forsake his sin. And,

2. To return to God and his duty.

1. To forsake his sin: and this implies the quit ting of his sinful course whatever it had been; and that not only by abstaining from the outward act and practice of every sin, but by endeavouring to crucify and subdue the inward affection and inclination to it.

And it implies farther, the utter forsaking of sin; for repentance is not only a resolution to abstain from sin for the present, but never to return to it again. Thus Ephraim, when he repented of his 404idolatry, he utterly renounced it, saying, “What have I to do any more with idols?” (Hos. xiv. 8.) He that truly repents, is resolved to break off his sinful course, and to abandon those lusts and vices which he was formerly addicted to, and lived in.

2. The true penitent resolves likewise to return to God and his duty; he does not stay in the negative part of religion, he does not only resolve not to commit any sin, but not to neglect or omit any thing that he knows to be his duty; and if he has been ignorant of any part of his duty, he is willing to know it, that he may do it; he is not only deter mined to forsake his sin, which will make him miserable, but to return to God, who alone can make him happy: he is now resolved to love God, and to serve him as much as he hated and dishonoured him before; and will now be as diligent to perform and practise all the duties and parts of religion, as he was negligent of them before, and as ready to do all the good he can to all men in any kind, as he was careless of these things before: these, in general, are the things which a true penitent resolves upon. I proceed to the

III. Third thing I proposed to consider; namely, what is implied in a sincere resolution of leaving our sins, and returning to God and our duty. And this holy resolution, if it be thorough and sincere, does imply in it these three things:

1. That it be universal.

2. That it be a resolution of the means as well as of the end.

3. That it presently comes to effect, and be speedily and without delay put in execution.

1. A sincere resolution of amendment must be universal: a resolution to forsake all sin, and to return 405to our whole duty, and every part of it; such a resolution as that of holy David, “to hate every false way, and to have respect to all God’s commandments.”

This resolution must be universal, in respect of the whole man; and with regard to all our actions. In respect of the whole man; for we must resolve not only to abstain from the outward action of sin, but this resolution must have its effect upon our inward man, and reach our very hearts and thoughts; it must restrain our inclinations, and “mortify our lusts and corrupt affections,” and “renew us in the very spirit of our minds,” as the apostle expresses it.

And it must be universal, in respect of all our actions. For this is not the resolution of a sincere penitent, to abstain only from gross and notorious, from scandalous and open sins; but, likewise, to refrain from the commission of those sins which are small in the esteem of men, and not branded with a mark of public infamy and reproach; to forbear sin in secret, and when no eye of man sees us and takes notice of us. This is not a sincere resolution, to resolve to practise the duties and virtues of religion in public, and to neglect them in private; to resolve to perform the duties of the first table, and to pass by those of the second; to resolve to serve God, and to take a liberty to defraud and cozen men; to honour our Father which is in heaven, and to injure and hate our brethren upon earth; “to love our neighbour, and to hate our enemy,” as the Jews did of old time; to resolve against swearing, and to al low ourselves the liberty to speak falsely, and to break our word; to free from superstition, and to run into faction; “to abhor idols, and to commit sacrilege;” to resolve to be devout at church, and 406deceitful in our shops; to he very scrupulous about lesser matters, and to be very zealous about indifferent things; “to tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and to omit the weightier matters of the law, mercy, and fidelity, and justice;” to be very rigid in matters of faith and opinion, but loose in life and practice.

No; the resolution of a sincere penitent must be universal and uniform; it must extend alike to the forbearing of all sin, and the exercise of every grace and virtue, and to the due practice and performance of every part of our duty. The true penitent must resolve for the future to abstain from all sin, “to be holy in all manner of conversation, and to abound in all the fruits of righteousness, which, by Jesus Christ, are to the praise and glory of God.” For, if a man do truly repent of his wicked life, there is the very same reason why he should resolve against all sin, as why he should resolve against any; why he should observe all the commandments of God, as why he should keep any one of them. For, as St. James reasons concerning him that wilfully breaks any one commandment of God, that “he is guilty of all, and breaks the whole law;” because the authority of God is equally stamped upon all his laws, and is violated and contemned by the wilful transgression of any one of them; “For he that hath said, Thou shalt not kill, hath likewise said, Thou shalt not commit adultery, and, Thou shalt not steal:” so he that resolves against any one sin, or upon performance of any one part of his duty, ought for the very same reason to make his resolution universal; because one sin is evil and provoking to God, as well as another, and the performance of one part of our duty good and pleasing 407to him, as well as another, and there is no difference. So that he that resolves against any sin, upon wise and reasonable grounds, because of the evil of it, and the danger of the wrath of God to which it exposeth us, ought for the same reason to resolve against all sin; because it is damnable to commit adultery, and to steal, as well as to kill; and that resolution against sin, which is not universal, it is a plain case that it is not true and sincere, and that it was not taken up out of the sense of the intrinsical evil of sin, and the danger of it in respect of God and the judgment of another world (for this reason holds against every sin, and remains always the same), but that it was taken up upon some inferior consideration, either because of the shame and infamy of it among men, or because of some other temporal inconvenience, which if the man could be secured against, he would presently break his resolution, and return to the commission of that sin with as much freedom as any other.

2. A sincere resolution implies a resolution of the means as well as of the end. He that is truly and honestly resolved against any sin, is likewise resolved to avoid, as much as is possible, the occasions and temptations which may lead or draw him to that sin; or if they happen to present themselves to him, he is resolved to stand upon his guard, and to resist them. In like manner, he that sincerely resolves upon doing his duty in any kind, must resolve upon the means that are requisite and necessary to the due discharge and performance of that duty. As he that resolves against that needless and useless sin of swearing in common conversation, must resolve also “to set a guard before the door 408of his lips,” seeing it is certain that it requires great care and attention, at least for some competent time, to get rid of a habit.

When David resolved not to offend with his tongue, he resolved at the same time to be very watchful over himself; (Psal. xxxix. 1.) “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth as with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.” For a man to resolve against any sin or vice, and yet to involve himself continually in the occasions, and to run himself into the company and temptations which do naturally, and will almost necessarily, lead and betray him into those sins, is a plain evidence of insincerity. This I take for a certain rule; that whatever can reasonably move a man to resolve upon any end, will, if his resolution be sincere and honest, determine him every whit as strongly to use all those means which are necessary in order to that end. But of this I have spoken elsewhere.

3. A sincere resolution of leaving our sins, and returning to God and our duty, does imply the present time, and that we are to resolve speedily and without delay to put this resolution in practice; that we are peremptorily determined not to go one step farther in the ways of sin, not to neglect any duty that God requires of us not for one moment; but immediately and forthwith to set upon the practice of it, so soon as occasion and opportunity is offered to us. And the reason of this is evident; because the very same considerations that prevail upon any man to take up this resolution of amendment, and changing the course of his life, are every whit as prevalent to engage him to put this resolution presently in practice and execution.

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I deny not, but a man may resolve upon a thing for the future, and when the time comes may execute his resolution, and this resolution may for all that be very sincere and real, though it was delayed to a certain time, because he did not see reason to resolve to do the thing sooner: but it can not be so in this case of repentance; because there can no good reason be imagined, why a man should resolve seven years hence to change his course, and break off his sinful life, but the very same reason will hold as strongly, why he should do it presently and without delay; and over and besides this, there are a great many and powerful reasons and considerations why he should rather put this good resolution in present execution, than put it off and defer it to any farther time what soever.

What is it that puts thee upon this resolution of leaving thy sins, and urgeth thee to do it at all? Art thou resolved to leave sin because it is so great an evil? Why, it is so for the present; the evil of it is intrinsical to it, and cleaves to the very nature of it, and is never to be separated from it; so that this is a present reason, and as strong against it now, as ever it will be hereafter: nay, it is stronger at present; because, if it be so great an evil, the sooner we leave it the better.

Or dost thou resolve to forsake sin, because thou art apprehensive of the danger and mischief of it, that it will expose thee to the wrath of God, and to the endless and intolerable misery of another world? Why this reason likewise makes much more for the present leaving of it; because the longer thou continuest in a sinful and impenitent state, the greater is thy danger, and the greater penalty thou wilt 410most certainly incur; by delaying to put this good resolution in practice, thou dost increase and multi ply the causes of thy fear. For hereby thou provokest God more, and every day dost incense his wrath more and more against thee; thou preparest more and more fuel for everlasting burnings, and treasurest up for thyself more wrath, “against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Nay, thou dost not only in crease and aggravate, but thou dost hereby hasten thine own misery and ruin, and takest the most effectual course that is possible, to bring thine own fears and the vengeance of Almighty God so much the sooner upon thee. For nothing provokes God to take a speedier course with sinners, and does more quicken the pace of his judgments, than wilful continuance in sin.

And yet farther: if thy resolution be valuable and considerable to thee, thou takest the most effectual course in the world to frustrate and defeat it. Thou art fully resolved to leave thy sins hereafter, and thou thinkest thou hast reason for it: but by continuing in them for the present, thou provokest the justice of Almighty God to cut thee off before thy resolution has taken effect.

Again: dost thou resolve to leave thy sins one time or other, because thereby thou hopest to put thyself into a capacity of pardon and mercy, and of eternal life and happiness? Why this reason should move thee to do the thing as soon as is possible, because the sooner thou forsakest thy sins, thou hast the greater hope of finding mercy and forgiveness with God; and the sooner thou beginnest a holy course, and the longer thou continuest therein, thou hast reason to expect a greater and more ample reward. 411Thou canst not, by holding off, hope to bring down pardon and mercy to lower rates, and to obtain these hereafter upon easier terms. No: the terms and conditions of God’s mercy are already fixed and established, so as never to be altered.

So that whatever reason thou canst possibly allege for taking up this resolution, it is every whit as forcible and powerful to persuade thee to put it speedily in execution.

And then there is this reason besides, and that a very considerable one, why thou shouldest immediately put this resolution in practice, and not delay it for a moment. Thou mayest at present do it much more certainly, and much more easily. Much more certainly, because thou art surer of the present time than thou canst be of the future. The present is in thy power, but not one moment more. And thou mayest at present do it more easily; for the longer thou continuest in sin, thy resolution against it will still grow weaker, and the habit of sin continually stronger. Thou wilt every day be more enslaved by the power of thy lusts, and thy heart will every day be more hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. All the change that time makes will still be for the worse, and more to thy disadvantage. Sin will be as pleasant to thee hereafter, and thou more loath to leave it, than at present. Sin was never mortified by age. It will every day have more strength to bind thee and hold thee fast, and thou wilt have every day less to break loose from it. For by every sin thou dost commit, thou addest a new degree to the strength and force of it; and so much strength as thou addest to it, so much thou takest from thyself, and so much thou losest of thine own power and liberty. For a man and his lusts are like 412nature and a disease; so much strength as the disease gains, nature loseth, and the man is hereby doubly weakened, for he doth not only lose so much of his own strength, but the enemy gets it.

Nay, thou dost hereby likewise forfeit that auxiliary strength and assistance which the grace of God is ready to afford to men, his restraining and his preventing grace. For as a man goes on in sin, and advanceth in an evil course, the grace of God draws off by degrees, and his Holy Spirit doth in sensibly leave him; and when a sinner is come to this, his best resolutions will “vanish like the morning cloud, and the early dew which passeth away.”

So that it cannot be a true and sincere resolution of leaving our sins, if it do not take place, and have not its effect, presently. For there is no man that takes up a resolution, upon weighty and consider able reasons, of doing any thing, but, if the reasons upon which he takes it up urge him to do the thing at present, he will presently set about it; and that man is not resolved to do a thing, whatever he may pretend, who hath most reason to it at present, and may best do it now, and yet delays it.

And thus I have opened to you the nature of this holy resolution of leaving our sins, and returning to God and our duty, and have shewn what is necessarily implied in such a resolution, if it be sincere and in good earnest; that it be universal; and that it be a resolution of the means as well as of the end; and that it presently take place and be put in execution. And these are three of the best signs and marks that I know of, whereby a man may try and examine the truth and sincerity of that resolution of amendment which we call repentance. If it be against all sin, 413and have an equal regard to every part of our duty; if, when we resolve upon the end, that is, to avoid sin, and to perform our duty, we are equally resolved upon the means that are necessary to those ends; if the resolution we have taken up commence presently, and from that day forward be duly executed and put in practice; then is our repentance and resolution of amendment sincere: but if there be a defect in any of these, our resolution is not as it ought to be.

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