Vital Godliness: A Treatise on
Experimental and Practical Piety

By William S. Plumer


"For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, which brings no regret. But the sorrow of the world works death." (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Repentance belongs exclusively to the religion of sinners. It has no place in the exercises of unfallen creatures. He who has never done a sinful act, nor had a sinful nature—needs neither forgiveness, conversion, nor repentance. Holy angels never repent. They have nothing to repent of. This is so clear that it is needless to argue the matter. But sinners need all these blessings. To them they are indispensable. The wickedness of the human heart makes it necessary. Under all dispensations, since our first parents were expelled the garden of Eden, God has insisted on repentance. Among the patriarchs, Job said, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Under the law David wrote the thirty-second and fifty-first psalms. John the Baptist cried, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Christ's account of himself is that he "came to call sinners to repentance." Just before his ascension, Christ commanded "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name, among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." And the apostles taught the same doctrine, "testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ." So that any system of religion among men which should not include repentance, would upon its very face be false.

Matthew Henry says, "If the heart of man had continued upright and unstained, divine consolations might have been received, without this painful operation preceding; but being sinful, it must first be pained before it can be laid at ease; must labor before it can be at rest. The sore must be searched, or it cannot be cured." "The doctrine of repentance is right gospel doctrine. Not only the austere Baptist, who was looked upon as a melancholy, morose man; but the sweet and gracious Jesus, whose lips dropped as a honey-comb, preached repentance; for it is an unspeakable privilege that room is left for repentance." This doctrine will not be amiss while this evil world stands.

Though repentance is an obvious and often commanded duty, yet it cannot be truly and acceptably performed except by the grace of God. Repentance is a gift from heaven. Paul directs Timothy in meekness to instruct those who oppose him—"if God perhaps will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth." Christ is exalted a Prince and a Savior "to give repentance." So when the heathen were brought in, the church glorified God, saying, "Then has God also granted to the Gentiles, repentance unto life." All this is according to the tenor of the Old Testament promises. There God says he will do this work for us and in us. Listen to his gracious words: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my commandments, and do them."

True repentance is a special mercy from God. He gives it. It comes from none other. It is impossible for poor fallen nature so far to recover herself by her own strength, as truly to repent. The human heart is wedded to its own evil ways, and justifies its own sinful courses with incurable obstinacy—until divine grace makes the change. No merely human motives to repent, are strong enough to overcome depravity in the natural heart of man. If ever we attain this grace of repentance, it must be through the great love of God to perishing men.

Yet repentance is most REASONABLE. No man acts wisely until he repents. When the prodigal came to himself, he went immediately to his father. It is so obviously proper that he who has done wrong should be heartily sorry for it, and never do so any more, that some infidels have asserted that repentance was sufficiently taught by natural religion—without the Bible. But this is a mistake. The true doctrine of repentance is understood nowhere but in Christian countries, and not even there by infidels. Besides, that which is required of us may be very reasonable, and yet be very repugnant to men's hearts. When called to duties which we are reluctant to perform, we are easily persuaded that they are unreasonably exacted of us. It is therefore always helpful to us to have a command of God binding our consciences in any case. It is truly benevolent in God to speak to us so authoritatively in this matter. "God now commands all men everywhere to repent." The ground of the command is that all men everywhere are sinners. Our blessed Savior was without sin, and of course he could not repent. With that solitary exception, since the fall there has not been found one single righteous person who needed no repentance. And none are more to be pitied than those poor deluded men who see in their hearts and lives nothing to repent of.

But what is true repentance? This is a question of the highest importance. It deserves our closest attention. The following is probably as good a definition as has yet been given. "Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, whereby a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God, and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent—so grieves for and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with him in all the ways of his commandments." That this definition is sound and scriptural will appear more and more clearly the more thoroughly it is examined.

True repentance is sorrow for sin—ending in the reformation of heart, thought and life. 'Mere regret' is not repentance, neither is mere outward reformation. It is not an imitation of virtue, it is virtue itself. Hooker says, "It is clear, that as an inordinate delight did first begin sin, so repentance must begin with a godly sorrow, a sorrow of heart, and such a sorrow as rends the heart. Neither is true repentance, a pretended or a slight sorrow. Not pretend, lest it increase sin; nor slight, lest the pleasures of sin overmatch it." He who truly repents, is chiefly sorry for his sins. He whose repentance is spurious, is chiefly concerned for the consequences of his sins. The former chiefly regrets that he has done evil; the latter that he has incurred punishment. One sorely laments that he deserves punishment; the other that he must suffer punishment. One approves of the law which condemns him; the other thinks he is harshly treated, and that the law is rigorous.

To the sincere penitent, sin appears exceeding sinful. To him who sorrows after a worldly sort, sin, in some form, appears pleasant—he regrets that sin is forbidden. The sincere penitent says it is an evil and bitter thing to sin against God, even if no punishment followed. The insincere penitent sees little evil in transgression—if there were no painful consequences sure to follow. If there were no hell, the sincere penitent would still wish to be delivered from sin. If there were no retribution, the insincere penitent would sin with increased greediness. The true penitent is chiefly averse to sin as it is an offence against God. This embraces all sins of every description.

But it has often been observed that two classes of sins seem to rest with great weight on the conscience of those whose repentance is of a godly sort. These are secret sins, and sins of omission. On the other hand, in a spurious repentance the mind is much inclined to dwell on open sins, and on sins of commission. The true penitent knows the plague of an evil heart and a fruitless life. The spurious penitent is not much troubled about the real state of heart, but grieves that his sins have been made know to others.

David says, "Against you, you only have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight." Whether we interpret these words to mean that he had sinned secretly as to men, but in plain view of God; or as expressing that God had been chiefly dishonored by his sins—will not in the end make any practical difference. Both are true. The majority of good writers seem to favor the latter interpretation. Hall says, "It is your prohibition, O God, that can make a sin. I have sinned against men, but it is your law that I have violated; in that is my offence." Patrick's paraphrase is, "Not because I stand in fear of punishment from men, who have no power over me, but because I am so obnoxious to you, whose judgments I ought to dread the more—the less I am liable to give an account of my actions unto others." Scott says, "David's crimes had deeply injured Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, and the other accessaries to his murder. Yet the chief malignity of his conduct consisted in this—that it was a complication of most daring rebellions against the great and glorious Governor of the world; contempt of his majesty, excellency, and righteous law. This view seems to have possessed and overwhelmed his mind to such a degree as to make every other consideration appear comparatively as nothing." Matthew Henry adopts both views: "To God the affront is given, and he is the party wronged. It is his truth that by willful sin we deny, his law that we despise, his command that we disobey, his promise that we distrust, his name that we dishonor, and it is with him that we deal deceitfully and disingenuously." But he adds, "That it was committed in God's sight. This not only proves it upon me, but renders it exceeding sinful."

The greater the being sinned against, the greater is the sin. That in a very special and strong sense all sin is directed against God the Lawgiver, is clear from the nature of things, and from other parts of Scripture. Thus when murder is committed in a state, it is not chiefly the man who was killed, nor his family—but the commonwealth, whose peace and dignity were infracted. Thus also the bloody persecutions against God's people are expressly said to have been against God. "He that touches you, touches the apple of his eye." "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute you ME?"

It is indeed true that oftentimes some one sin is very prominent in the thoughts of the genuine penitent. Peter wept bitterly for having denied his Lord. David says of the matter of Uriah, "My sin is ever before me." On these words Luther says, "That is, my sin plagues me, gives me no rest, no peace; whether I eat or drink, sleep or wake, I am always in terror of God's wrath and judgment." And how often and penitently does Paul refer to the great sin of his life, the murder of the saints. Biddulph says, "He singled it out as the grand evidence of the natural malignity of his heart. Though pardoned, accepted, renewed, and joyful in the salvation of his Lord and Savior, he carried to the block of martyrdom, the remembrance of this sin."

But though one sin may be first or most deeply impressed on the mind, yet in true repentance the mind does not rest there. The Samaritan woman was first convicted of living with a man who was not her husband. But soon she says that Christ had told her all things that ever she did. On the day of Pentecost, Peter labored to convict his hearers of the guilt of Christ's death. He was successful to a great extent. The result was their repentance for all sin, and their conversion unto God. "He who repents of sin as sin, does implicitly repent of all sin." So soon and so clearly as he discovers the sinful nature of anything, he abhors it. A wicked thought, no less than a vile word or evil deed—is loathed by the true penitent. The promise runs, "They will loathe themselves because of the evil things they did—their abominations of every kind." (Ezekiel 6:9)

So that if there were no beings in the universe but God and the true penitent—he would have very much the same emotions of sorrow and humiliation that he has now. And if instead of countless offences he was conscious of comparatively few, the nature of his mental exercises would be the same as now. It is therefore true that he who sincerely repents of sin, repents of all sin. To change one sin for another, even though it be less gross or more secret, is but disowning one enemy of God to form an alliance with another. Nor is a true penitent afraid of humbling himself too much. He does not measure the degrees of his self-abasement before God. He would take the lowest place. He says, "Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer you?" "O God, you know my foolishness, and my sins are not hidden from you." "All my righteousnesses are as filthy rags." "If you, Lord, should mark iniquity, O Lord, who shall stand?" "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; according unto the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions."

It is not of the nature of genuine lowliness of heart before God, to be careful not to get too prostrate in the dust. The great fear of the Christian is, that he will after all, be proud and self-sufficient. The question is sometimes asked, whether every true penitent regards himself as the chief of sinners.

If the question were of crimes against person or property, most penitents could easily find, in history or in the world, some who had excelled them in flagrant enormities. Nor is it possible for any but God absolutely and infallibly to say who is the greatest sinner that ever lived. But it is true, that every sinner who has truly repented, has seen more evil in his own heart and life than he ever saw in another. Comparing himself with the law, in its extent, holiness, and spirituality—taking a candid view of all that enters into a just estimate of his case—how can he but put his hand upon his mouth, and his mouth in the dust? Indeed, nothing but great self-ignorance enables any man to have a good opinion of himself. It is with good cause that God says, "Know every man the plague of his own heart." "Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still." As soon as David properly thought on his ways, he turned his feet unto God's testimonies. O come, you proud ones, and cast yourselves at the footstool of God's mercy. "To be humble before God, is the safest and loveliest posture for sinful creatures." True repentance has in it, much profound humility. True repentance has in it also much shame.

This relates not only to open and disreputable crimes, but also to secret sins, to vain thoughts and evil imaginations. "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens!" (Ezra 9:6). "Show the house of Israel that they may be ashamed for their iniquities." He who does not blush for his sins, has never been truly ashamed of them; has never really and heartily forsaken them.

"The blush equally as the tear, befits every sinner. To look back on the past with shame, no less than with sorrow, becomes him. If he has no cause to be ashamed before men, yet he has great cause to be ashamed before God. If we need not blush for our treatment of our fellow creatures, yet ought we not to blush for our treatment of our God and Savior? All true penitents blush as well as weep. They are ashamed as well as grieved, for the things they have done."

Nor does this shame cease with the hope of pardon, but is rather thereby increased. So God says, "I will establish unto you an everlasting covenant. Then you shall remember your ways, and be ashamed. And I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall know that I am the Lord; that you may remember, and be confounded, and never open your mouth any more because of your shame, when I am pacified towards you for all that you have done, says the Lord God." On this point, universal Christian experience fully accords with God's word. Paul never forgave himself for his cruel persecutions. Peter never ceased to be ashamed of his cowardly denial of his Lord. David never ceased to be ashamed of his base conduct. This sorrow, humility, and shame are not merely for a wicked life—but for a sinful nature; not only for actual sin—but also for original sin.

This point seems to be clearly settled in the case of David, who, having confessed his guiltiness for personal misconduct, traces all up to the fountain of native depravity. Listen to his words of anguish: "Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Not a spot is placed by inspired history on the character of David's father. He himself records more than once, the excellency of his mother. He cannot therefore here intend to allege anything against their moral character, except as all who are descended from our first parents are corrupt. Horne says, "No more can be intended here, than that a creature begotten by a sinner, and formed in the womb of a sinner, cannot be without that taint which is hereditary to every son and daughter of Adam and Eve." In fact, David in this psalm is occupied with his own case, and only as he saw truth suited to make him sorry, humble, and ashamed, had he any occasion even to allude to others.

President Davies, treating of the nature of repentance, says, "David's repentance reached his heart. Hence, in his penitential psalm—he not only confesses his being guilty of the blood of Uriah, but that he was shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin, and earnestly prays—Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." Luther well says, "It is a great part of wisdom for one to know that there is nothing good in us—it is vain sin. It is wise that we do not think and speak so triflingly of sin as those who say that it is nothing else than the thoughts, words, and deeds which are contrary to the law of God. But if you will rightly point out, according to this psalm, what sin is, you must say that—all is sin which is born of father and mother, even before the time that man is of age to know what to do, speak, or think." Calvin also says, "Now David does not confess himself guilty merely of some one or more sins, but he rises higher—that from his mother's womb he has brought forth nothing but sin, and by nature is wholly corrupt, and as it were immersed in sin. And certainly we have no solid convictions of sin, unless we are led to accuse our whole nature of corruption. Nay, each single transgression ought to lead us to this general knowledge, that nothing but corruption reigns in all parts of our soul."

If these views are correct, then it is vain for men to pretend to genuine repentance who renounce the doctrine of native depravity, or original sin. This doctrine holds an important place in all true pious experience. David Dickson therefore well says, "As original sin is common to all men by natural propagation, so is it not abolished out of the most holy in this life; and as it is found to show itself in the children of God by actual transgressions, so must the evil thereof be acknowledged by them; and that not to extenuate, but to aggravate their sin, as David shows here."

A true penitent also reforms. A holy life is the invariable fruit of genuine repentance."If I have done iniquity, I will do it no more." Job 34:32. Augustine says, "He truly repents of the sins he has committed—who does not commit the sins he has repented of." When Ephraim sincerely repented, he utterly renounced idolatry, saying, "What have I to do any more with idols?" He does not really confess sin—who does not forsake it. He who hates sin—turns from it. It was not the habit of David's life to commit murder and adultery, though he once did both; nor of Peter to deny his Lord, and curse and swear, though he was once guilty of both these. A true penitent is not willing to be always sinning and repenting. We often read of "fruits fit for repentance," or "fruits worthy of repentance." Paul, having said that "godly sorrow works repentance not to be repented of; but the sorrow of the world works death," gives a very lively account of the effects of true repentance: "For behold this self-same thing, that you sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yes, what clearing of yourselves, yes, what indignation, yes, what fear, yes, what vehement desire, yes, what zeal, yes, what revenge."

Richard Baxter says, "True repentance is the very conversion of the soul from sin to God, and leaves no man under the power of sin. It is not for a man, when he has had all the pleasure that sin will yield him, to wish then that he had not committed it, which he may do then at an easy rate, and yet to keep the rest that are still pleasant and profitable to his flesh. This is like a man who casts away the bottle which he has drunk empty—but keeps that which is full. If you have true repentance, it has so far turned your heart from sin, that you would not commit it again, though you had all the same temptations; and it has so far turned your heart to God and holiness, that you would live a holy life if it were all to do again, though you had the same temptations as before."

Mason says, "Repentance begins in the humiliation of the heart—and ends in the reformation of the life." All repentance is to be repented of—until it leads to holiness. "Repentance is the heart's sorrow—and a clear life ensuing."

Genuine repentance draws its chief motives from the milder aspects of the divine character and the sweet influences of the cross. It is not the severity, so much as the mercy of God—which melts the heart. "The goodness of God leads you to repentance." Rom. 2:14. It melts the heart when it sees God's kindness—and its own baseness. None but a soul not touched by the finger of God, can agree to be bad because God is good; or consent to a life of folly because the Lord is merciful. Repentance unto life invariably looks not merely at the goodness of God in creation and providence—but has a special regard to the work of redemption. "They shall look on Him whom they have pierced, and mourn and be in bitterness." This is specially stated to have been the ground of the repentance of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost. It is so still. Nothing breaks the heart like a sight of Christ crucified!

This is obtained by FAITH only. There can be no evangelical repentance without saving faith. Indeed, "the true tears of repentance flow from the eye of faith." To "repent and believe the gospel" are not separate, though they are distinct duties. He who sincerely does one, never omits the other. He who lacks one of these graces, never attains the other.

True repentance is always also connected with LOVE. "Godly sorrow is the sorrow of love, the melting of the heart; love is the pain and pleasure of a melting heart." Right views of Christ and real love to Him will make every man determine on the death of all his sins, and bring him in deep sorrow of heart to the feet of the Savior. Such motives are of the right kind. They appeal to the higher principles of our renewed nature. If they are not effectual, nothing will melt us. Terror and wrath are in vain, if love to Christ does not move us. It is all a delusion which supposes that strange and startling events are better suited to affect the human mind than the things of love. Yet this delusion in many is strong. It follows some to a death-bed, and even into hell. The rich man said, "If one goes to them from the dead, they will repent."

The kind of repentance above described is a saving grace. He who exercises it shall not perish. It produces joy, as in the case of the prodigal, and of the converts in Jerusalem and Samaria. "The same Jesus who turned the water into wine; turns the waters of repentance into the wine of consolation." So that it is most true of godly sorrow, that "sorrow is better than laughter." "Blessed are those who mourn; for they shall be comforted." Thus says the Lord, "I dwell with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit; to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."

The Scriptures speak of two kinds of repentance. Indeed, there are two very different words in the Greek Testament which are translated repentance. One means a thorough and entire change of mind—a turning away of the soul from sin and vanity—to God and holiness. It is called "repentance to salvation." Elsewhere it is called "repentance unto life." This is the word used by John the Baptist, Matt. 3:2, and by Christ, Matt. 4:17, when they preached saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." They would have us make thorough work of it. This is the kind of repentance which is said to awaken joy in heaven. This is that repentance which Christ is exalted at the right hand of God to grant unto Israel. Indeed, generally where repentance in the New Testament is spoken of, either as a duty or as a saving grace, the word in the original is that the sense of which is given above.

The other word translated repentance means simply regret, or change of purpose. In this sense Herod repented, when he found that his rash and wicked oath would end in the beheading of John. He was sorry, but not after a godly sort. Yes, he was "very sorry," but his sorrow worked death both to John and himself: temporal death to the former, spiritual death to the latter.

This word is found in some of its forms five times in the New Testament. One of them is where Paul says, "Though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent;" that is, I do not regret it, though I did regret it. In Hebrews we read, "The Lord swore, and will not repent"—He will not change his purpose. It is said of the first son in the parable, that "afterwards he repented," changed his purpose, "and went."

"Then Judas, who had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying—I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood. And they said—What is that to us? You see to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hung himself." Here it is stated that Judas regretted his conduct, and had the sorrow which works death; but this was all. As this case of Judas is very instructive in the nature of a spurious repentance, let us dwell on it a little. His regret was sincere. Higher proof of his being really sorry that he had betrayed Christ he could not give. Mere sincerity is not all that is required in religion generally, or in repentance in particular. There must be a change of heart as well as of purpose—a turning to God, as well as sorrow. Nor is the strength of our emotions any test of their genuineness. It is no proof that your sorrow for sins is of a godly sort, that it is strong, and fills your soul with anguish. It is not probable that any man was ever more distressed than Judas. Quality rather than amount of feeling is to be sought.

Nor is conviction of guilt, proof that our repentance is genuine. Not only Judas, but Saul and many others have had as deep and distressing convictions as perhaps ever wrung the human heart; yet they still loved sin, and turned not to the Lord. Nor is a full, frank, and public statement of our wickedness in a particular affair any proof that we repent unto salvation. Judas went before the very men who had hired him to treason, and without any inducement from men, told them the whole matter and its wickedness. As to his confessing his offence before God, we have no information. The presumption is that he did not attempt it. There are deeds which drive the soul far from the mercy-seat, and destroy all heart for prayer. Yet Judas did all he could to prove to man that he condemned his act of treachery. To that deed two strong passions are commonly supposed to have contributed: first, covetousness. His conscience so far gained the victory over this vice, that he not only offered to pay back the money, but when it was refused, he threw it down in the temple and left it there. The second passion supposed by many to have led to Christ's betrayal by Judas was revenge—settled malice for what he felt to be a painful exposure of his character. Those who thus interpret his conduct found their opinion upon John 13:26-30. But Judas so far gave up his malice as publicly to declare that it had no justification. "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood."

And to show how earnest he was in all this, how terrible his awareness of guilt was, and how fearfully he dreaded the longer contemplation of his sin—he actually took his own life, and rushed unbidden into the presence of God. Men may give their bodies to be burned, yet all will not avail without love to God, faith in Christ, and godly sorrow for sin.

That Judas' repentance was not genuine is certain; for Christ said, "It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." The great defects of his repentance were these:

1. It seems to have been confined to thoughts about one or two sins, and did not extend to the sins of his life and heart, especially the wickedness of his nature.

2. Like Saul and others he said, "I have sinned;" but not like David, "I have sinned against the Lord." He seems to have had no great thoughts of God.

3. All the sorrow which he felt was upon principles of human nature common to all wicked men, and liable to be brought into operation at any time. He had not the Spirit. There was no spiritual discernment in all his exercises.

4. His repentance was without hope. It had in it the sullenness of despair. The more he repented, the more wicked he was, until to his other offences he added the guilt of the worst kind of murder, even suicide.

5. So that his sorrow did not lead him towards God. He had no confidence in atoning blood, no reliance upon the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, none of that faith which led the dying thief to look to Christ and live.

6. It had no genuine humility in it. Judas died as proud as he had lived.

7. Like all cases of spurious repentance, this did not end in a reformation. It produced no fruits fit for repentance. It made the guilty man worse and worse at every step, until he "went to his own place." Were this case of Judas duly considered, wicked men would not with so much security and quiet of mind, live on in their sins. There is something very fearful in the thought, that much which among men is highly esteemed, is abomination in the sight of God, and that a repentance which goes no further than that of Judas—only prepares a man for the prison of the damned.

Having spoken of confession of sin before men, it may be proper to preclude the possibility of mistake, by observing that those sins which are known to men, and thus injure the cause of God because they do a public harm, are to be publicly repented of and renounced.. But of those sins which are private, Chrysostom lays down the true rule: "I wish you not to divulge yourself publicly, nor accuse yourself before others. I wish you to obey the prophet who says, Disclose your way unto the Lord; confess your sins before him; tell your sins to him, that he may blot them out. If you are abashed to tell unto any other wherein you have offended, rehearse them every day between you and your soul. I wish you not to confess them to your fellow-servant, who may upbraid you with them; tell them to God, who will cure them; there is no need for you in the presence of witnesses to acknowledge them; let God alone see you at your confession. I pray and beseech you, that you would more often than you do, confess to God eternal, and reckoning up your trespasses, desire his pardon. I carry you not into a theater or open court of many of your fellow-servants; I seek not to detect your crimes before men. Disclose your conscience before God, unfold yourselves to him; lay open your wounds before him, the very best Physician, and seek from him, salve for them."

Whether in those sins which injure men, and so admit of reparation, we are bound to make restitution, there seems to be no doubt. Lev. 6:2-5; Luke 19:1-10. The same is clear from Paul's epistle to Philemon. Therefore be warned in time as to the following things:

1. See that your repentance is not that of the hypocrite or worldling. See that it goes beyond the repentance of fallen angels. Many repent of all their good resolutions and reformations so soon as the temptation offers. He that stole, and repented after his way, steals again. He that lied, and was caught in untruth, and so was ashamed, repeats the offence, but more cautiously than before. Let not your repentance be of this kind. It is a very important truth, that every spurious kind of repentance is soon known by the lack of fruits produced in the life. It is also true, that there is much sorrow for sin that is not sincere and hearty. Many look upon repentance as an evil, necessary indeed, but still an evil. Such repentance as they have is probably of that kind. It does them no good. It works death.

Beware especially of superficial views and experiences. Some seem to think themselves well occupied in trying to prove that sin is not a very great evil, that the heart of man is not very far wrong. If such should succeed, they will but lay a foundation for the most serious mistakes in personal experience. "Those who are whole need not a physician, but those who are sick." Avoid all men and books that make the impression that there is no need of a thorough change of principles and affections, or that it is easy for him who is accustomed to do evil, to learn to do well. Never rely on a repentance that is partial—for some, but not for all sins. Never rely on a repentance that is temporary, and produces no permanent change of heart or life. Never rely on a repentance that refuses to confess or repair a wrong done to man. Never rely on a repentance that regards God's law as too strict, or seems reluctant to take a low place before God. Never rely on a repentance that is offended with the exact rules of Scripture, or with proper distinctions and discriminations in judging of piety. Rest assured that such a state of mind will be of no avail.

It is peculiarly strange that men will hold fast the price of iniquity, and yet hope that they have gracious affections. Ahab humbled himself mightily, he covered himself with sackcloth, but he was careful not to restore; indeed he seems never to have thought of restoring Naboth's vineyard; while Zaccheus seems never to have thought of anything less than full restitution from the time that he first turned to the Lord. The greatest defect, however, in the religious experience of many, is the lack of proper tenderness of heart and of conscience based upon clear evangelical views. Repentance without any regard to the cross of Christ, is as worthless as a faith that knows not the Savior. If you would have a vital warmth in your repentance, it must be obtained from Christ crucified. In every sense he is our life. See to it, as you value the favor of God, that you often visit Gethsemane and Calvary, the cross and, the sepulcher of Jesus.

2. Be careful not to deny the grace of God shown you in softening your heart, and cherish all those sentiments which either belong to true repentance or may lead to it. Especially labor to acquire clear views of the number and aggravations of your sins against God. Be not deterred from comparing your heart with the divine law. It is a great mercy when God grants us so much repentance as to lead us to acknowledge that we are sinners and need his mercy. The prodigal had really made some progress towards recovery when he was heartily willing to say, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants." A small degree of genuine repentance may lead to more, and so to eternal life. Remember of whom it was said, "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench." If the Savior seems to be passing by the way near you, be encouraged to cry to him to undertake your case. Readily give up all for his favor. It is better than life. Forsake all that you have, and be his disciple. "Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able." "If your right hand offends you, cut it off; for it is profitable for you to enter into life maimed or halt, rather than with all your members to be cast into hell-fire."

Rest assured that God will favorably regard even the beginnings of genuine godly sorrow. "He who covers his sins shall not prosper; but he that confesses and forsakes his sins shall find mercy." Oh that all would turn to the Lord Jesus, and with many tears give all to him. He came to bind up the broken-hearted, to comfort all who mourn, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. One genuine tear of penitence avails more in salvation, than all the costly gifts that ever were made. Take heed that you fall not under any delusion of the wicked one, whereby you would be rendered dull and sluggish in this work. Labor for the food which endures unto life eternal. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Often and solemnly review your life. Compare your ways with the rules by which you will be judged in the last day. Get a clear insight into the nature of sin, into the multitude of your own offences, and into the blessed scheme of mercy by which the vilest may be saved. If there be a spark of good within you, it is a token of more good. Be careful not to extinguish it. Rather raise it into a flame. Neglect no means of deepening your serious impressions.

Judge not yourself unworthy of everlasting life by slighting the calls of mercy. Think of your own guilt and misery; think of God's love and mercy, especially in the gift of his dear Son, and lift up your voice and cry mightily to the Lord, until he comes near and bids the waters of true repentance to flow in abundance. Of one thing we may be assured, and that is—our repentance can never be too deep. We cannot hate sin too much. We cannot turn from it too determinately, or too speedily.

3. There is no substitute for repentance. It is the best offering a sinner can make. "Rend your hearts, and not your garments." "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Nothing will do but this, and this will do well. The only alternative to repentance is perdition. "Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish." "Repent and turn from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin." "Next to innocence, repentance is the greatest honor." Although repentance is no satisfaction for sin, yet it is so necessary that we look in vain for salvation without it. "Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out."

"As there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent." Listen to God's voice addressed to men far, very far gone in sin: "Wash and be clean: put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well: seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." More gracious words were never uttered. Nothing can be kinder than God's urgent calls to repent. The Lord has very graciously spared you to this hour. This shows his readiness to save. Peter says that we greatly err when we ascribe God's patience and forbearance to any slackness in his character, any feebleness in his purposes. But he is "long-suffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."

According to God's word, an impenitent heart is a sign of all that is evil. Yes, wicked man, "because of your hardness and impenitent heart, you treasure up wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." Indeed, the great complaint of God against men is that they remain unaffected: "Not one of you has been sorry for your wickedness; not one of you has asked, 'What have I done wrong?' Each of you keep on going your own way, like a horse rushing into battle. Even storks know when it is time to return; doves, swallows, and thrushes know when it is time to migrate. But, my people, you do not know the laws by which I rule you." Jer. 8:6, 7. And whenever a sinner truly repents, how surely and how speedily is he forgiven. "I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin." There is no lack of mercy with our God. His arms are wide open, and his heart is full of tenderness to all who will return unto him. Every offer of mercy, every call of the gospel, every affliction of life, every reproof of conscience, every sermon, and every sacrament are so many loud and earnest calls to repentance.

God may not require of you to be a preacher, but upon pain of damnation he demands that you be a penitent. Nothing is more presumptuous or vain than a hope of salvation, while remaining in impenitency. God has given solemn warning, "Make sure that there is no one here today who hears these solemn demands and yet convinces himself that all will be well with him, even if he stubbornly goes his own way. That would destroy all of you, good and evil alike. The Lord will not forgive such a man. Instead, the Lord's burning anger will flame up against him, and all the disasters written in this book will fall on him until the Lord has destroyed him completely." (Deuteronomy 29:19-20)

4. But when shall I repent? After all, here is the point where failure is most common. Multitudes would be greatly offended if told that they will perish without repentance—and yet they persist in neglecting it. As to the time of repentance, no wise man will dare to say a word different from the truths of the Bible. There God says, "Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your heart." "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." Genuine repentance cannot be too soon. "God has made promises to late repentance; but where has he made a promise of late repentance?" Saving repentance is always well-timed; it is not put off until the fixedness of an eternal destiny has made sorrow hopeless. True repentance commonly begins its work early in life—and always in time. Eternity is for retribution, not for turning to God. None but the presumptuous defer this work until the last. "The repentance of a dying man often dies with him," says Augustine. "If we put off our repentance to another day, we have a day more to repent of, and a day less to repent in."

Ambrose, speaking of a death-bed repentance, says, "I will counsel no man to trust to it, because I am loath to deceive any man, seeing I know not what to think of it. Shall I judge such a one a castaway? Neither will I declare him safe. All I am able to say is, let his state be left to the will and pleasure of Almighty God. Will you therefore be delivered of all doubt? Repent while yet you are healthy and strong. If you defer it until time give no longer possibility of sinning, you cannot be thought to have left sin, but sin has rather left you." Oh that men were wise! Oh that they would consider! Oh that they would lay to heart the things which belong to their peace, before they are forever hid from their eyes!

"You cannot repent too soon. There is no day like today. Yesterday is gone; tomorrow is God's, not yours. Oh think how sad it will be to have your evidences to seek when your cause is to be tried; to have your oil to buy, when you should need it to burn." If ever there was a wise rule, it is this: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might." Perhaps you think that repentance is in your own power, and that without God's help, you can turn to the Lord at any time. But do not deceive yourself. It was Christ who said, "Without me you can do nothing." Repentance is the gift of God; and are you taking the right course to secure his gift when you are willfully abusing his mercies and his grace? It is a solemn thought too, that we have the best reason for believing that of all those called to repentance, but few at any time obey and turn to God.

Besides, none but a madman would willingly pursue a course which he knows must end in temporal or eternal misery! To expect that the pains or 'terrors of death' will beget true repentance in your case, is superlative folly. They never have had that effect in any case. The sorrows of the damned are still more terrible, but even they are neither purifying nor atoning. Many in every age are much troubled with fears and terrors, especially in sickness; but do you not see how, upon recovery, they return like the dog to his vomit, or the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire? If you cannot be won by kindness, the terrors of the Lord will never make a godly man of you.

One of the most afflicting thoughts respecting a death-bed repentance, is that it is impossible for any man to prove that it was genuine, and the soul enters eternity, to say the least, with an untried preparation. Beware lest by trifling with your soul's affairs, you at last die in utter despair! I have read of a sick man who was exhorted to repent. He said he would not yet; for, if he should recover, his companions would make merry at his expense. But growing worse, his friends again urged him to repent. His reply was, "It is too late, for now I am judged and condemned." Oh turn to the Lord. "Will you not be made clean?" "As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways—for why will you die, O house of Israel?