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ly with such as respect himself, and that therefore his law is violated in the one case in the same manner as in the other.
That these views are false and groundless can hardly need proof. The divine law is that which is broken in all sin, and God is the being who is supremely offended. In this fact consists the heinousness of sin, wherever it exists. It is true that in the crimes which immediately respect men, we sin against them also, and equally true, that even then our principal guilt lies in sinning against God.
In this manner all good men have regarded their own transgressions. In this manner David regarded his crime against Uriah, whom yet he had injured in a most shameful and abominable manner. In the 51st Psalm, referring to this transaction, he says, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and "done this evil in thy sight." With the same views, Joseph, when solicited by Potiphar's wife, replied, "How can I do "this great wickedness, and sin against God?" The crime, if it had been perpetrated, would have been committed immediately against his master; yet Joseph dreaded it supremely as an offence against his Maker. Such, everywhere are the views of penitence and piety.
Hence it is evident, that he who refers his sins principally to men, even those which are committed immediately against them; who feels regret when they are offended, and is at ease when they forgive; whose conscience looks not beyond the immediate objects of his crimes, and is unsolicitous about the evil which he has done against God; is destitute of the repentance of the Gospel.
V. A real penitent is of course humble.
Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
" and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
one of thy hired servants.”
Sin is the most disgraceful character in the universe; the most odious, debasing, and unworthy. In better language, it is the only debasement, and the only disgrace. When the sinner comes to himself, and begins to see things as they are, he perceives this truth, among many others, in a clear and
convincing light. Then there is no character too humble for him to assume; no station too lowly for him to take. “I have "heard of thee," said Job to his Maker, "by the hearing of "the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor "myself, and repent in dust and ashes." "But we are all," says the church in Isaiah lxiv. " as an unclean thing; and all our righteousness as filthy rags; and we all do fade, as a "leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." "This is a faithful saying," said St. Paul to Timothy, “That "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I "am the chief." And again, "I am the least of the Apos❝tles, and am not worthy to be called an Apostle.” “I am a worm," said David, "and no man; a reproach of man, "and despised of the people. Mine iniquities are gone over
my head, as an heavy burden: they are too heavy for me." In this manner have all the sacred writers felt and spoken, whenever the subject has been brought up to view; and in this manner has every penitent felt and spoken from the beginning of time. Every penitent knows that he has been an apostate; and that therefore he is odious, debased, and polluted in the sight of his Maker; that he has nothing of his own; and that he can claim nothing at the hand of God. If he is forgiven, if he is sanctified, if he is adopted, if he escapes perdition, if he has a single hope, a virtuous affection, or a good thought; all these are mere gifts from the free sovereign love of God. When, therefore, he considers either what he was, or what he is, the instinctive language of his heart will be, "Not unto me, not unto me, but unto thy name be the
VI. A real penitent brings nothing to God, but his want, shame, and sorrow.
The prodigal brought nothing to his father but his rags and his wretchedness. He came as a beggar, possessing nothing, pretending to nothing; soliciting alms, and asking for a very humble and menial employment in his father's family.
A sinner, when he returns to God, has in the same manner nothing which he can offer to his heavenly Father besides his
wants and woes, his broken heart and his contrite spirit. He has no works of righteousness to recount, no merit to present, and no claims to allege for acceptance. His hope, therefore, instead of being placed on himself, rests wholly on his father's sovereign and undeserved goodness. "By grace are ye saved "through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of "God." This humiliating truth he not only acknowledges, but acknowledges cheerfully, with ardent gratitude, with high exultation.
His sense of total want and extreme guilt is the very cause which prompts him to return; and his only address to his Maker is, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before “thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son !" A broken heart is the sacrifice which God accepts through the Redeemer ; but he will accept no other sacrifice. To this man will he look, even to him who is of a humble and contrite spirit; but he will look to no other. The hope of obtaining forgiveness by means of our own righteousness is a direct contradiction to the repentance of the Gospel, and is entirely opposed to the scriptural scheme of coming to God. The prodigal thought it a very great favour to be made as one of his father's hired servants; a favour to which he makes not the least claim, but humbly hopes that he may derive it from the bounty of his parent.
VII. A true penitent executes his resolutions of obedience. "And he arose, and came to his father."
The prodigal not only resolved that he would go, and confess his sins, but he actually arose, and went, and confessed.
Sinners who enjoy the light of the Gospel usually, perhaps universally, with more or less strength, and more or less frequently, resolve that they will amend their ways and their doings, and obey the voice of the Lord their God. In most cases, however, their resolutions die as an untimely birth.
Look back at the past state of your own lives. When solemn occasions have occurred; when you have heard discourses from the desk of a tenor peculiarly affecting; when you have been brought by disease near to the grave; when your compan
ions have fallen suddenly around you, have not you yourselves been alarmed on account of your sins, trembled under a sense of your danger, and formed serious resolutions to repent and turn to God? But what has been the effect of these resolutions? Have they not been mere blossoms, which, though fair indeed to the eye, and promising good fruit, have fallen prematurely, and perished for ever?
Such is not the conduct of a penitent. He resolves as you have done, but never rests till the object of his resolutions is accomplished. The purpose of returning to God is the favourite concern of his heart, and becomes therefore the prime business of his life. Without it he considers himself as undone. His present condition is full of alarm and distress, and his destiny is absolute ruin. Whatever, therefore, can consist with his continuance in sin he regards as vain, useless, dangerous, and dreadful; and however soothing, quieting, and comforting, as an opiate which will bring on the sleep of death.
At the same time he considers a reconciliation to God, the forgiveness of his sins, his justification, adoption, and sanctification as the best of all blessings, as the sources of all real worth, and the basis of all well-founded hope. Without them he can neither be approved by himself nor loved by God; neither comfortable here, nor happy hereafter. With these views it cannot be wondered at, that he should never rest, until he has renounced his sins, confessed them to his Maker, and commenced a life of new and faithful obedience.
VIII. God is entirely disposed to receive the sincere penitent.
"But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, " and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kiss"ed him."
Never was a spirit of tenderness and reconciliation exhibited with equal force and beauty. The moment he saw him, his compassion was kindled. Instead of waiting to permit the ungrateful wretch to come and propose terms of reconciliation, he ran immediately to him. Instead of reproaching, or even reproving him for his filial impiety; instead of upbraiding him
for his profligacy; instead of reminding him of his folly and of its miserable consequences; instead of delaying, to hear his excuses for the transgressions of his past life, or his promises of amendment for the future, he fell upon his neck and kissed him. Nor was even this all. He interrupted the very confession which his miserable son had begun to make. And how did he interrupt it? Not with reproofs, not even with a welcome. The deplorable condition, the famished frame, the meagre countenance, the haggard eyes, the quivering voice of the perishing suppliant would not admit, in the mind of such a parent, of a protracting thought, which might prevent the necessary relief from being immediate. He, therefore, ordered his servants to furnish in an instant, the means of comfort, which he felt to be so affectingly demanded; and these were such, as to place his father's willingness to receive him beyond the doubts even of scepticism itself.
All these, it is to be remembered, are the language of Christ himself, who certainly knew the real disposition of God towards returning sinners; and surely he who laid down his life that sinners might return, cannot be supposed to have deceived them, of design. God is, therefore, just as kindly disposed as in this parable he is represented to be. The calls, invitations, 'and promises which he has given us in the Gospel, mean the utmost of what they express; and God is as earnestly desirous that sinners should return to him, and as much pleased when they actually return, as the strongest language of the Gospel declares. "He is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that 66 any should perish, but that they should come to repentance." "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die," saith the Lord God," and not that he should return from his ways "and live ?" "Therefore, O Son of Man, speak unto the House "of Israel. Thus ye speak, If our transgressions and our sins “be upon us, and we pine away in them, how shall we then "live?" Say unto them, "As I live, saith the Lord God, I "have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the "wicked turn from his way and live. Turn ye, turn ye, from "your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?"