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THE MEANS OF REPENTANCE.
In entering on this part of our subject, a formidable objection may be started, and even grounded on what has already been discoursed, against treating upon the means of repentance at all. It has been observed that repentance is the gift of God to us, the purchase of Christ for us, and the work of the Holy Spirit in us: How then,' it will be objected, can we do any thing towards it? If ' it please God to bestow it upon us, we shall re'pent, without difficulty or labour: if not our la'bour will be altogether to no purpose.'-It is indeed a certain truth, that repentance is the gift of God, as it has been proved from plain scriptural testimonies but it is equally true, and capable of the same proof, that we must diligently labour for it. Nor is there any inconsistency in these distinct views of the subject: they only appear inconsistent to our dark and narrow apprehensions. Upon a similar occasion, the Truth, the Word, and the Wisdom of God saith, "LABOUR not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat, which endureth un"to everlasting life, which the Son of man shall "GIVE you."* Christ will give it most freely, but you must labour for it most diligently. Thus the harvest is the gift of God, who giveth seed to the sower; who "giveth rain from heaven and fruit
* John vi. 27.
"ful seasons," and causeth the earth to yield her increase yet must the husbandman labour. In both temporal and spiritual concerns, God gives, not to the slothful, but to the diligent; and his bounty does not supersede, but encourage, our activity.
He "works in us," that we may "work out our own salvation;" he has appointed means, and commanded us to use them. Obedience is our
duty. We ought to use the means, and trust in the Lord to render them effectual; but not to depend on them, or rest in them. They, who seriously desire to repent and turn to God, will manifest their sincerity by thus using every proper means with diligence and perseverance: nor shall their labour be in vain; "for every one that asketh re
ceiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him "that knocketh it shall be opened." But negligence will detect hypocrites, and justify God in their condemnation. Something then must be done in order to our being made partakers of repentance: not under the notion of merit, as if we made the purchase; for it is the gift of God: not under the notion of efficacious operation; for it is the work of divine grace: but in order to evidence our integrity in purposing repentance; and that we may be found waiting upon God in the way of his appointment. And though the means will not effect the end without efficacious grace, yet they are quite as much calculated to produce the effect, as medicines are to remove sickness, or agriculture to procure the crop; both of which are rendered effectual only by the divine blessing.
I. Then, "Consider your ways," as David did:
"I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies."* Are you now desirous truly to repent? Retire frequently into your chamber, shun the hurry and dissipation of a crowd, and court solitude, that you may recollect yourselves, and seriously "commune with your own heart." There minutely review your whole past life: with exactness survey your thoughts, words, and actions, ever since the dawn of reason, or from the beginning of recollection. Ask yourselves seriously such questions as these: What have you been scheming, intending, pursuing, all your days? What has been the standard of your judgment, and rule of your conduct? the opinion of men, or the word of God? the fashions of the world or the example of Christ? What have your affections been fixed on? Have you given God, or the world, your heart: I mean your warmest desires, and most devoted attachment? Have you intentionally been pleasing God, or yourselves? Have you been seeking his glory in every thing; or your own ease, interest, gratification and honour? In what have your time and money been most cheerfully expended? In works of piety and charity: or in gratifying your sensuality, pride and ambition? Have you been laying up, or aiming to lay up, treasures in heaven, or on earth? Have you improved health, prosperity, abilities and influence, in promoting the glory of God, the interests of piety, and the good of men? Or have Or have you done no good, but mischief, with them? Hath God been the delightful subject of your meditations and conversa
*Psalm exix. 59.
tion; or have you willingly and habitually forgotten him, and regarded religious thoughts and converse, as insipid and irksome? Hath the sweet work of prayer and praise, the worship of God, and hearing and reading his word, been your pleasure or your task? Have you been out of your element when thus employed, and found more charms, and experienced more satisfaction, in licentious company or dissipated mirth? Have you habitually reverenced the sacred name of God, hallowed his sabbaths, and frequented his sanctuary with reverence and devotion? Or have you taken his name in vain,* despised his ordinances, polluted
By taking the name of God in vain, I do not mean, nor does the Bible mean, merely blasphemy, perjury and profane swearing; but every jest or expression which implies want of reverence to the name of God, his word, and sacred things. Almost in all companies, the conversation, even though trifling and polluting, is incessantly interlarded with the words GoD, LORD, CHRIST, and such like; which are formed into hackneyed phrases, and used as mere expletives to adorn a period; or as notes of admiration, approbation or indignation. Nothing can more fully discover the degree in which sinful man despises the glorious God, than this general and almost universal practice. Without pleasure, profit, or apparent temptation, in violation of an express command, and in defiance of an awful threatening; that tremendous name, which impresses angels with holy awe, and at which devils tremble, is made man's mere by-word! But when the affronted JEHOVAH shall at last address the sinner, "Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord?" and he finds, that God will "not hold him guiltless;" his profane trifling will be at an end; and he will be constrained to tremble at the name which he would not reverence. The inefficacy of much apparent religion, and the worthlessness of much evangelical profession, are demonstrated, by their failing to repress this awful profaneness. All true Christians, who "worship GoD in spi
his sabbaths, or mocked him with a hypocritical worship? What have your imaginations been ? pure and heavenly, or lewd, ambitious, envious, covetous, revengeful, and abominable? What has your discourse been? edifying, serious and candid; or profane, polluted, trifling, slanderous and dissembling? What have your tempers been ? meek, peaceable and kind; or turbulent, contentious, and overbearing? Have you behaved as the word of God directs in relative life, as parents, children, husbands, wives, masters, servants? Have equity, disinterestedness and kindness; or selfishness, covetousness and fraud, directed your worldly business? Have you in sobriety, chastity and temperance, governed your appetites and passions?
But I have already exceeded due bounds in this specimen of queries, which you ought with all impartiality to propose to yourselves; allowing conscience, after mature recollection, to return a faithful answer.
In short, set the law of God, and the example of Christ, before your eyes; make diligent search into your secret practices, intentions, and inclinations; steadily view your own likeness, and estimate your character in this manner, until you know what manner of persons you are. Shrink not back from that view of self-deformity which will thus be presented to you: but look, and look again, till you" abhor yourselves, and repent in "dust and ashes."
"rit and in truth," are by that profound veneration which they bear to the Lord, cured effectually of this practice, and they ought to unite in bearing testimony against it boldly, in all companies.