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ing therefore some way to be at peace with him, because they are afraid the controversy will issue in their destruction. Upon this account they resolve on new obedience, from the same motives that slaves obey their severe tyrannical masters, though the rule of their obedience is directly contrary to the inclinations of their minds. Were the penalty of the law taken away, their aversion to it would quickly appear. They would soon again embrace their beloved lusts with the same pleasure and delight as formerly. Is not the truth of this assertion frequently, alas! exemplified in those who wear off their convictions and reformations together; and, notwithstanding their appearances of religion, discover the alienation of their hearts from God and his law, and shew themselves, as the apostle expresses it, “ enemies in their minds by their wicked works?”
The true penitent, on the contrary, sees an admirable beauty and excellency in a life of holiness, and therefore strives for higher attainments in it. He is sensible how much he has transgressed the law of God, and how very far he has departed from the purity and holiness of the divine nature; this is the burden of his soul; hence it is that he walks in heaviness. He mourns, not because the law is so strict, or the penalty so severe, for he esteems the law to be holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good: but he mourns, that though the law is spiritual he is carnal, sold under sin; he mourns, that his nature is so contrary to God, that his practice has been so opposite to his will, and that he makes no better progress in mortifying the deeds of the flesh, and in regulating his affections by the word of God. The true penitent is breathing with the same earnestness after sanctification, as after deliverance from the wrath revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness: he does not want to have the law bend to his corruptions, but to have his heart and life fully subjected to the law of God: there is nothing he so much desires, after an interest in Christ and the favour of God, as a freedom from sin, a proficiency in faith and holiness, a life of communion and fellowship with God.
6. What a corrupted evil heart (he says) have I: so estranged from the holy nature of God and his righteous law! what a most guilty wretch have I been, who have walked so contrary to the glorious God, who have trampled upon his excellent perfections and have made so near an approach to the practice and spirit of a devil! Create a clean heart, O God! and renew a right spirit within me; purify this sink of pollution, and sanctify these depraved affections of my soul. O that my ways were made so direct, that I might keep thy statutes! 0 let me not wander from thy commandments; but deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live and keep thy word.”
Such as these are the desires of every true penitent; and from hence you may plainly discover the great difference between him and a false penitent. The one looks upon God with dread, terror, and aversion; the other mourns his distance from him, and earnestly desires to be transformed into his likeness. The one still loves his sins in his heart, though he mourns there is a law to punish them; the other hates all his sins without reserve, and is weary under the burden of them, because they are contrary to God and his holy law. The obedience of the one is by mere constraint; the imperfections of the other are matter of continual humiliation, so as to make him aspire after greater degrees of grace and holiness. The one can find no inward and abiding complacency in the service of God; the other accounts it his happiness, and thinks no joy equal to that of pure obedience.*
THE NATURE OF TRUE REPENTANCE FURTHER EXPLAINED.
True repentance being the foundation of all Christian piety, it is a matter of great importance that we should be thoroughly instructed in its nature. We have endeavoured therefore to make you fully acquainted with it by contrasting it with that false repentance which is principally liable to be confounded with it. False repentance, we have observed, is excited only by terror; true is the effect of a just sense of the evil of sin, and a love to the blessed God. False repentance is full of unbelief: true is animated with confidence by a Saviour's promises, and inspired with gratitude to him. False repentance is consistent with an aversion to God and his law, while the true sees an infinite beauty in holiness, and loves the commandments of God. Thus in their origin and nature they differ essentially from each other, nor shall we perceive a difference less striking if we attend to the progress and effects of each.
* See Prayer the 8th.
1. False repentance wears off with the alarming convictions which gave occasion to it; but true repentance is permanent. We have many sad instances of persons, who appear for a season under the greatest remorse for their síns; yet all these impressions are soon effaced, and they return to the same course of impiety or sensuality, which, they confess, produced so much distress and terror. They declare to the world, that their good resolutions were but as a morning cloud, or as an early dew. Besides these, there are many of another character, who quiet their consciences and speak peace to their souls, from their having been in distress and terror for their sins, from their reformation of some grosser immoralities, and from a formal course of duty. They have repented, they think, and therefore conclude themselves at peace with God, and seem to have no great care and concern either about their former impieties or their daily transgressions. They conclude themselves in a converted state, and are therefore lukewarm and secure. Many of these may think, and perhaps speak loudly, of their experiences, and be even elated with joyful apprehensions of their safe state; whilst, alas! they have no impressions of their sins, no mourning after pardon, no humiliation under remaining and manifold corruptions, imperfect duties, and renewed provocations against God. There are many also, it might still further be added, who, while under the stings of an awakened conscience, are driven to maintain a diligent watch over their hearts and lives, to be afraid of every sin, to be careful to attend to every known duty, and to be serious and earnest in the performance of it; but by their supposed progress in religion they gradually escape from the terrors of the law, and then their watchfulness and tenderness of conscience are forgotten. They perform their duties in a careless manner, with a trifling remiss frame of soul; whilst 'the all-important realities of an eternal world are but little in their minds, and all their religion is reduced to a mere cold formality. They still maintain the form, but are unconcerned about the power of godliness. In some such manner false repentance leaves the soul destitute of that entire change and renovation, without which no man shall see the Lord.
On the other hand, true repentance is a lasting principle of humble self-abasing mourning for sin, and abhorrence of all remaining corruption. A true penitent does not forget his past sins, and grow unconcerned about them as soon as he obtains peace in his conscience and a comfortable hope that he is reconciled to God; on the contrary, the clearer the evidence he obtains of the divine favour, the more does he loathe, abhor, and condemn himself for his sins; the more aggravated and enormous do they appear to him. He not only continues to abhor himself on account of his past guilt and defilement, but he finds daily cause to renew his repentance before God: he observes so much deadness, formality, and hypocrisy, mixing themselves with his holy duties; such frequent workings of a carnal, worldly, unbelieving spirit; so much difficulty in obtaining a perfect mastery over the sin which easily besets him, that he cannot but “ groan being burdened." Repentance therefore is a daily continued exercise, till mortality is swallowed up of life; he will not cease to repent till he ceases to carry about with him so many imperfections and failures, and that will not be till he departs from this fallen world.
“ Have I hope (says he) that God has pardoned my sins ? What an instance of mercy is this! How adorable is that marvellous grace which has plucked such a brand out of the fire! And am I still so cold, so formal and lifeless, doing so little for him who has done so much for me! Ah, vile, sinful heart! Ah, base ingratitude to such amazing goodness! O that I could obtain more victory over my corruptions, more thankfulness for such mercies as I have received, a frame of mind more spiritual and heavenly: How long have I been mourning over my infirmities, and must I yet have cause to mourn over the same defects ! How often designing and pursuing a closer communion
with God; but what a poor progress do I yet make, save in desires and endeavours! How would the iniquities of my best duties separate betwixt God and my soul for ever, had I not the Redeemer's merits to plead! What need have I every day to have this polluted soul washed in the blood of Christ, and to repair to the glorious Advocate with the Father, for the benefit of his intercession! Not a step can I take in my spiritual progress, without fresh supplies from the Fountain of grace and strength; and yet how often am 1 provoking him to withdraw his influence, in whom is all my hope and confidence! O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!”
Thus, the true penitent, in his highest attainments of holiness, comfort, and joy, will find cause to be deeply humbled before God, and to make earnest application for fresh pardon and new supplies of strengthening and quickening grace. The difference therefore betwixt these two sorts of penitents is very apparent: it is as great as that between the running of water in the paths after a violent shower, and the streams which flow from a living fountain. A false repentance has grief of mind and humiliation only for great and glaring offences, or till it supposes pardon for them obtained. True repentance is a continued war against all the defilements of sin, till death sounds the retreat.
2. Again, false repentance does at most produce only a partial reformation; but true repentance is a total change of heart, and universal turning from sin to God. As some particular or more gross iniquity generally excites that distress and terror which is the life of false repentance, so a reformation with respect to those sins, too frequently wears off the impression, and gives rest to the troubled conscience without any further change. Or at best there will be some darling lust retained, some right hand or right eye spared. If the false penitent is afraid of sins of commission, he will still live in the omission or careless performance of known duty, and feel no guilt. Or if he be very zealous for the duties respecting the immediate worship of God, he will live in strife, injustice, and uncharitableness towards men. If he shew some activity in contending earnestly for the truth of the gos