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do indeed think that we are viewing a discrepancy which will be adjusted at the final account of our race; but we also think that we behold the present actings of a retributive government, and that God is exhibiting in the righteous what he will hereafter exhibit in the unrighteous, so thorough a hatred of sin tnat he cannot let it go unpunished.
But we, for a moment, turn to that view of our text on which we have most desired to fix your attention; and again, in conclusion, entreat the young to remember their Creator, and not to forget that what may be done hereafter can never be so well done as now. If you continue the life of indifference to God, and attachment to the world, you will be unable, you perceive, to free yourselves from iniquities. Even if brought to repentance, those iniquities will cleave to you till you die, a burden, a grief, an impediment to piety, a drawback from final glory. We again tell you, that, even if secured against the fearful probability, that what is desired will never be performed, that to procrastinate leads to throwing away the soul, you would prove yourselves blind to your own interests, by deferring for a single day to renounce the world, and take part with the children of God. Every moment you still heap up remorse for the season of repentance, if that ever arrive; just as it does for the sinner a fiercer vengeance if the man dies unpardoned. When brought to consider your ways, you will be forced to live over again the days of your recklessness, and your voluptuousness, and your apathy: you must live them over again, inasmuch as you must possess the iniquities of your youth. But how deficient the life-how painful the possession of recalling seasons past amidst the blandishments of pleasure, the revels of mirth, the flatteries of the world, the hopes of ambition! So that on every calculation, you act as infatuated and irrational beings by putting off the obtaining the one thing needful. The probability is that what is deferred will never be done for the funerals in our streets, how often are they the funerals of those who have perished in their prime! The certainty is, that if you repent, your religious course will be darkened by the memory of your irreligious. The days you give to God will be embittered by the recollection of those you gave to the world, and joys which are now within your reach be unattainable by your most earnest striving.
O that you would be wise, that you would consider this! We do not plead with you as desirous to make you exchange the cheerful for the melancholy and the sad, and the animating for the gloomy and the oppressive. Such may be your view of becoming religious; but there cannot be a more erroneous one. We ask you to exchange the unsatisfying for that which will satisfy the unsubstantial for the solid-the transient for the enduring-pleasures which, alluring in the anticipation, disappoint in the enjoyment, for delights whose possession far out-does the promise-treasures which the rust corrupts, and the thief can steal, for an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that cannot fade away. Yes, it is for baubles which they despise when acquired, wealth which they account nothing when gained, gratifications which they can loathe as soon as possessed-that men sell their souls. And all we now entreat of the young is, that they will not in the spring-time of life strike this foul bargain. In the name of Him who made you, we beseech you at once to break away from the world, and give yourselves to prayer for the aids of the Holy Spirit, lest through eternity this be your fearful lament-" O God, thou writest bitter things against me, thou makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth."
BEN-HADAD'S REPENTANCE A TYPE OF GODLY SORROW.
REV. H. F. FELL, A.M.
TRINITY CHURCH, CLOUDESLEY SQUARE, ISLINGTON, FEB. 28, 1836
"And his servants said unto him, behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: peradventure he will save thy life ". 1 KINGS, XX. 31.
THESE words contain one of the finest pictures of repentance in all the word of God, both as touching the nature and accompaniments of it, and the success of it with God.
The history from which our text is taken is this. Ben-hadad, king of Syria, without any provocation, from the mere pride of power, from the basest and most oppressive ambition, had begun unjustly and causelessly to wage war against the king of Israel. His army was so numerous that all Israel was but "The children of Israel pitched a mere handful of men compared with them. before them like two little flocks of kids; while the Syrians filled the country." But, notwithstanding this, the divine communication to the king of Israel, by the prophet, was, "Hast thou seen all this great multitude? behold I will deliver it into thine hand this day; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord." The immediate and sure consequence was that Ben-hadad and his army were routed with an immense slaughter, and the remnant of those that escaped fled to Aphek, a city, for refuge, and there a wall fell down upon them, perhaps, miraculously and they perished under the ruins. Ben-hadad himself, forced to fly for his life, was reduced to the greatest extremity of distress and humiliation. He fled, and came into the city of Aphek, here he was not secure, and he hid himself in the inner chamber of a house; and yet here he was not secure.
How desolate and critical was the situation Ben-hadad was in! Far from his own land, cut off from those who could afford him succour; in the heart of an enemy's country, an enemy irritated by his wanton and injurious conduct, from whom he could expect no mercy, nothing but condign punishment on his being discovered. Great rewards, no doubt, had been offered for his apprehension; the most diligent and scrutinizing search would be made; and ere long he must be betrayed and perish. At this fearful juncture, his servants-the "Behold now, courtiers and attendants that were about him-said unto him, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: peradventure he will save thy life. So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Ben-hadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. And he said, Is he yet alive? he is my brother. Now the men did diligently observe whether anything would come from him, and did hastily catch it and
they said, Thy brother Ben-hadad. Then he said, Go ye, bring him Then Ben-hadad came forth to him: and he caused him to come up into the chariot. And Ben-hadad said unto him, The cities which my father took from thy father, I will restore; and thou shalt make streets for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. Then said Ahab, I will send thee away with this covenant. So he made a covenant with him, and sent him away."
Now, my beloved brethren, what do we learn from this history? We ought to copy Ben-hadad's conduct; we are all, by our own confession, grievous sinners, miserable offenders against God; and we are worse by far than we suspect ourselves to be. We have rebelled against the hand that made us; we have carried it insolently against the King of heaven, despising his laws, trampling on his just authority, following the devices and desires of our own evil hearts. We have no plea wherewith to palliate the enmity of our hearts or the transgression of our lives. Ours is a wanton rebellion against our God, even as the assault of Ben-hadad upon the monarch of Israel was an unprovoked assault. Our rebellion, also, has reduced us to imminent difficulty and danger; the eternal welfare of our bodies and souls is at stake in consequence of our sins for whoever fought against the Lord and prospered? We may fly to the inner chamber to conceal ourselves, and drown our convictions of our danger amongst the vanities and false companionships of this world: but the searching eye of Omniscience will ere long discover us in our retreat; his power drag us forth, and his inexorable justice consign us to our "Be sure doom. proper your sins will find you out.",
What then shall we do? Is there no hope for us? Is God clean gone for ever? Has he forgotten to be gracious? Is there no method whereby to avert the wrath of a justly incensed God? Blessed be God, there is, and one of his own appointment. Here again, we are to look to Ben-hadad as our model. We are to go, with sackcloth upon our loins, and ropes upon our heads, to the king of Israel: that is, we are to cast ourselves before the Lord with unfeigned contrition, with self-loathing, with brokenness of heart, and implore with all the earnestness of prisoners, that, not for own sakes, but for his own covenant mercy's sake, he will pardon us, spare our souls, receive us back again to his favour, and enter into covenant and friendship with us, through his dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ. And if we do this, in sincerity, and with full purpose of heart, we shall succeed as certainly as Ben-hadad did. Hear what Almighty God publishes in his word, touching the returning and repenting sinners: " Repent ye, and be converted, and your sins shall be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." "When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive." O if we go to God, if we approach the mercy-seat, earnestly desirous of that favour, that saving grace, which up to this moment we disregarded, with the idea impressed upon our minds, "Peradventure he will save our lives," the Almighty will lend his ear to our supplication, and not send us away unblessed or unheard.
Again observe here, brethren, what it was that induced Ben-hadad to humble himself. What was the great constraining principle that actuated him to go and seek the king of Israel, that he might live? His servants said to him,
Bohold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings He believed the current report that had reached their ears, and he
acted upon it. So when any soul can humble itself before God, so as to loathe its sins, and itself on account of them, and readily to resolve to make war against them, it must ordinarily be by the merciful interposition of God through Christ. This, my dear brethren, is absolutely essential to saving repentance. A man may think about God, and a man may study divine subjects, through fear of God's power and judgments: but in order to repent heartily and effectually the soul must have a glimpse of the goodness of God. Nothing will bend the proud heart of man, so as to humble it in the dust before God, but the perceiving that he is gracious and merciful: nothing will melt the stony heart of man, but the believing that the King of heaven is a merciful King. Yes, the goodness of God must in some measure pass before us; he must be loudly proclaimed in all the avenues of conscience, as "The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands; forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sins." So long, dear brethren, as we conceive of our Maker through a misapprehension of his revealed word, as morose, vindictive, severe, arbitrary, because he is infinitely holy and infinitely just-so long as we behold him with apprehensions, horror, and prejudice, and dislike, there is no room for repentance in the soul: tremble before him we may, but sorrow before him, with deep, godly, and genuine repentance, we cannot. O, brethren, contemplate often the mercy of God. Let not your taking any view of him, however scriptural, obscure that benign attribute of goodness from your eyes. Mercy shines all around you. Observe the divine forbearance towards you, that you have been so long spared, and in having vouchsafed to you a period of mercy and grace. O, my fellow sinners, while you live in sin, you contend not only against the greatest and most powerful of beings, but against the best and most gracious.
Again, my brethren, observe another feature of the history. These people went to the king of Israel in the name of Ben-hadad, not only believing that he was a merciful king, but expressing their contrition, acknowledging, in fact, their most just condemnation, if it was his pleasure to be severe against them. They had not a shadow of an excuse to offer: Ben-hadad's conduct stood forth to view, in all its flagrancy and enormity; it admitted not of extenuation. Here again another property of godly repentance is represented to the very life. If you, my brethren, are saved, you must be enabled to act and feel precisely in this way towards God. Some men who have what they call repentance, dream (I can call it nothing else) that they do the Most High some service, and that he is in duty bound to save them for a few prayers, and a few little outward services They are angry if their prayers are not attended to; they conceive imperfectly of their religious duties. They fancy they confer some favour, and that they outweigh all their defects in the grace of repentance. My brethren, Jehovah himself cannot (I speak in all humility)—Jehovah cannot accept our repentance, however sincere and unaffected our sorrow for sin, except through the person of Jesus Christ: how much less can he accept it, when it is repentance only in name, when it is not characterized by remorse, by selfloathing, and self-condemnation! The people before us, the nobles of the court of Syria, went with sackcloth on their loins and ropes on their heads, into the presence of the king of Israel, to shew that they viewed themselves in the light of criminals, justly condemned criminals by all laws, human and divine, going forth to execution. And if the king of Israel could not hearken in boir prayers, and favour their request, they do not tax him with injustice; they nad
not any apology against the stern mandate of the judge. There they were, dressed in the habit of condemned felons, ready to be executed. Now, though their demeanour was fitted to their circumstances, yet who will say that there was any obligation, any consideration imperatively binding on the part of Ahab, to spare Ben-hadad? True enough Ben-hadad's humiliation appeared genuine, and the tokens of it appeared very sincere and affecting. Yet Benhadad's former conduct was so outrageous, so audacious, and insolent, that Ahab would have been on all hands justified in putting it out of his power to do him or his kingdom any further injury. For what was his abasement? It made no reparation for the precious lives that had been lost in the conflict, or the desolation that had been spread through the territory of Israel. Exactly in the same manner there is no obligation on the part of Almighty God to the true penitent to save him. We can challenge nothing at God's hands, for we deserve nothing. What though we abase ourselves in the very dust, we can make no adequate recompense for the impiety with which we have insulted the most high God; for the time, the talents, and the faculties we have dissipated and lost; for the moral desolation which we have wrought in the world by our evil example. The least we can do is to be sorry, very sorry; but our sorrow does by no means bind the blessed God to save us.
Again, the moment these trembling petitioners came into the presence of the king of Israel, and mentioned the name of Ben-hadad as a suppliant, mark what followed. "What! is Ben-hadad yet alive ?" said the king," he is my brother." Can any language be more endearing, or any reception be more unexpected and gracious than this? But this is precisely the conduct of Almighty God to every returning sinner. What though you seem vile and loathsome in your own sight, will the great God reject you? Look at Ahab; shall man's goodness-and especially the goodness of such a man as that— eclipse God's goodness? Shall the king of Israel surpass the King of heaven? Shall he surpass him in mercy, in condescension, in goodness? Impossible! To you who have imbibed the spirit of Ben-hadad, the Almighty addresses these endearing words: "Come, now, let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow, and though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool." Did the king of Israel call his penitent, humbled enemy his "brother?" So when we return to God through Christ, he not only pardons us our sins, but he binds us to him in the closest ties of affection and consanguinity. Yes, he adopts us into his family; he makes us "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ:" and hence the Holy Spirit teaches the children of God to cry, " Abba, Father;" hence it is said, he is not ashamed to be called our " brother."
Again; observe another feature in this history. Ben-hadad did not re-unite himself to the king of Israel, until he was assured of his friendly disposition towards him, and the king had sent and fetched him into his presence. So neither, brethren, can you come to a true repentance, to a just sense of your guilt and condemnation, until the Holy Spirit first work upon your heart. He must be the messenger, so to speak, between God and you, bearing witness to you of heavenly things, drawing, or inviting, you to God. It is his work; all the glory of it, from first to last, belongs to God. You cannot save yourselves; neither can you repent and become meet for salvation, without his agency upon you. O, it is very, very hard for flesh and blood, for the pride of corrupted nature to feel, that when it has humbled itself to the very uttermost before