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combination of a strong sense of want, of guilt and of danger, must pierce, pain, and oppress the heart, now truly described as “broken and contrite.” The gauge and measure of this feeling is no where stated in that volume, which has revealed “repentance towards God” as the first indispensable term of salvation--that may vary in different persons, as it is connected with different temperaments, or the “divers workings of the self-same Spirit;" but he who takes his views of repentance from the Scriptures, can never confine it to a mere change of opinion, or resolve it wholly into a conviction of the judg
In every view in which it is presented to us, it is assumed to affect the heart, and that deeply. It is “poverty of spirit;” it is "mourning;" it is “godly sorrow;" it is the alarm which impels man to “fly from the wrath to come;" it is a being “pricked in the heart;" it is abasement before the Divine Majesty, manifested in the glory of its holiness6 Woe is me for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell among a people of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts;" it confesses desert of extreme punishment, and it renounces every plea but that which rests upon pure mercy.
66 God be merciful to me a sinner, was the expression of an emotion so deep and powerful, that he who felt it was at once so aware of danger that he “smote upon
his breast,” and so conscious of the absence of all merit that she stood afar off.”
The parable, or history just alluded to, conveys important instruction to us in another respect. It teaches us also, that the same feeling, in all its depth and force, is as necessary in the repentance of the seemingly virtuous, as in that of the openly wicked. The Pharisee who was rejected, just needed the humility, the penitence, the sorrow of the publican who was accepted; and it was because he neither saw nor felt his sin and danger, nor sorrowfully confessed God's justice in connecting punishment with sin, nor pleaded an unmerited mercy, that he was sent empty away. All might be true which he affirmed of his external virtues ; but the virtues of unregenerate men are not virtues towards God; and the hidden sins of the heart are as much in proof of its utter corruption, are as much violations of the holiness of the law of God, and are as strongly linked with the penalty of transgression, death, eternal death, as the visible sins of the life. Society is more injured by one class of offences; but as to the dishonour done to God, and the significance of these rebellious actings of the creature, they are equal. So withers, under the reproving breath of the word of God, the most goodly show of merely human virtue !
It is most necessary for us also to know, that the repentance which is the first step in our return to God, is not mere emotion; that it does not and cannot terminate in sorrows, sighs, and tears. It is itself a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, wrought with reference to an end beyond itself; to which end it tends with a force proportionate to its own influence. It is therefore an aspiration after safety, which cannot rest till safety is attained; a struggle for liberty, which impels the spirit, conscious of its own inability to break its chain, to that almighty Deliverer which the gospel exhibits and proclaims; it pleads for pardon, and refuses every comfort which arises not
from that attested and assured attainment; and it restlessly seeks that peace, which a revelation of the personal interest which the soul has in Christ's atonement can only give.
Such are the strong and ceaseless tendencies of an evangelical repentance, on which first effort towards salvation so many persons unhappily fall into errors soothing to a false peace, and therefore fatal. But still there is nothing in mere repentance to effect actual reconciliation with God, and to place the alienated and disinherited child within the paternal arms and welcome roof of our heavenly Father. Nothing can be more obvious, than that under a righteous administration, such as that to which we are all subject, repentance, however deep, can be no reason of forgiveness; since, were that the universal rule, it would amount to the abolition of all law by the forgiveness of offenders upon their sorrow for sin, a feeling which must be produced in all as soon as the danger of punishment is made manifest; and thus the righteous character of the Governor of the world could have no manifestation. The notion, too, of the meritorious efficacy of penitential emotions and exercises, indulged by too many, renders the atonement for sin made by Christ superfluous. It is this, however, according to the constant doctrine of the New Testament, which alone harmonizes the exercise of mercy with an administration which never departs from a strict rule of righteousness, and thus lays a solid foundation for our hope. It is this which“ declares the righteousness of God for the remission of sins that are past, that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” Our repentance, if real, not
only confesses the fact of innumerable offences, but bows to the justice of the very sentence it dreads; it acknowledges that its sighs and tears, and the feelings from which they issue, can have no merit, because death is still felt to be deserved ; and if no merit, that is, if there is nothing in this whole process of contrition, humiliation, and efforts at reformation, which could uphold the claims of justice, and the authority of the divine law; if, in respect of it, its sentence were relaxed; then do the sterner attributes of God, and the righteous character which is stamped upon his administration, stand eternally opposed to the remission of sin, merely on account of the repentance of the guilty. It ought therefore ever to be felt, that the efficacy of repentance consists, simply, in the revelations which it makes of our lost condition, the alarms which it excites as to our danger, and the manner in which it urges us, at the call and invitation of the divine mercy in the gospel, to fly to “ the propitiation which God has set forth through faith in the blood” of Christ. From this propitiation all our hope arises; but that which instrumentally connects us personally with its available merit, so that its efficacy passes over to us, is the personal trust of a heart cut off from all other dependence, and cordially and fully accepting the free and unmerited grace, which, in God's method of justifying the ungodly, is exhibited to us. Then, and not till then, we regain the favour and image of God, by that joint act by which our sins are remitted, and our natures created anew; then we find “ access" to God through Christ " the way to the Father;" and, “ being justified by faith, we have peace with God,
Such is the way
through our Lord Jesus Christ.” to God opened to us by the immeasurable mercies of our Redeemer, and by which the most alienated spirit, however dark, corrupt, and guilty, obtains re-admission to the family of God; and now, placed again in relations of friendship to God, finds that interior intercourse and communion opened with Him as God 'ALL-SUFFICIENT, from the loss of which its moral degradation and all its consequent miseries have resulted.
If it be asked in what the great effect of that restored intercourse consists, it cannot be more powerfully or more scripturally described than by the subject of the following excellent Treatise-it is the communication of LIFE, ---- The life of God in the soul of man. The whole process of awakening, and repentance, the fervour of prayer, and the actings of faith, are the results of the strong, yet still incipient operations of this principle; but when man is “ justified by faith,” that vital union is effected towards which all previous exercises have only tended, and the true believer is then, in the full sense, Christ," and his internal habit is to “ live by him.”
That this “ life" is a new and distinct principle infused into the soul, and there maintained and nurtured by the Holy Spirit, is indeed as manifest as experience and observation both can make it. have animal life, on which feeling, motion, and other functions of the body depend; we have intellectual life, of which reason, memory, imagination, and various affections are the results; but we still want a principle from which shall result all the moral phenomena which sum up in the word holiness.