VII. The TRIAL of Our Repentance, and COMFORT for the Penitent
A. A TRIAL.
If any shall say they have repented, let me desire them
to try themselves seriously by those seven fruits or effects
of repentance which the apostle lays down in 2 Corinthians 7:11, "See what
this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what
eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing,
what concern, what readiness to see justice done."
1. Earnestness. The Greek word signifies a
solicitous diligence or careful shunning all temptations to sin. The true
penitent flies from sin, as Moses did from the serpent.
2. Eagerness to clear yourselves. The Greek
word is "apology". The sense is this: though we have much care—yet through
strength of temptation we may slip into sin. Now in this case, the repenting
soul will not let sin lie festering in his conscience but judges himself for
his sin. He pours out tears before the Lord. He begs mercy in the name of
Christ and never leaves until he has gotten his pardon. Here he is cleared
of guilt in his conscience, and is able to make an apology for himself
3. Indignation. He who repents of sin, his
spirit rises against it, as one's blood rises at the sight of him whom he
mortally hates. Indignation is a being fretted at the heart with sin. The
penitent is vexed with himself. David calls himself a fool and a beast
(Psalm 73:22). God is never better pleased with us, than when we fall out
with ourselves, for sin.
4. Alarm. A tender heart is ever a trembling
heart. The penitent has felt sin's bitterness. This hornet has stung him and
now, having hopes that God is reconciled, he is afraid to come near sin any
more. The repenting soul is full of fear. He is afraid to lose God's favor
which is better than life. He is afraid he should, for lack of diligence,
come short of salvation. He is afraid lest, after his heart has been soft,
the waters of repentance should freeze and he should harden in sin again.
"Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord" (Proverbs 28:14). A sinner is
like the leviathan who is made without fear (Job 41:33). A repenting
person fears and sins not; a graceless person sins and fears not.
5. Longing. As sauce sharpens the appetite, so
the bitter herbs of repentance sharpen desire. But what does the penitent
desire? He desires more power against sin and to be released from it. It is
true, he has got loose from Satan—but he goes as a prisoner that has broken
out of prison—with a fetter on his leg. He cannot walk with that freedom and
swiftness in the ways of God. He desires therefore to have the fetters of
sin taken off. He would be freed from corruption. He cries out with Paul:
"who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24). In short,
he desires to be with Christ—as everything desires to be in its center.
6. Zeal. Desire and zeal are fitly put
together to show that true desire puts forth itself in zealous endeavor. How
does the penitent bestir himself in the business of salvation! How does he
take the kingdom of heaven by force! (Matt. 11:12) Zeal quickens the pursuit
after glory. Zeal, encountering difficulty—is emboldened by opposition and
tramples upon danger. Zeal makes a repenting soul persist in godly sorrow
against all discouragements and oppositions whatever. Zeal carries a man
above himself for God's glory. Paul before conversion, violently opposed the
saints (Acts 26:11), and after conversion, he was judged mad for Christ's
sake: "Paul, you are beside yourself" (Acts 26:24). But it was zeal, not
frenzy. Zeal animates spirit and duty. It causes fervency in
religion, which is as fire to the sacrifice (Romans 12:11). As fear is a
bridle to sin—so zeal is a spur to duty.
7. Readiness to see justice done. A true
penitent pursues his sins with a holy malice. He seeks the death of them as
Samson was avenged on the Philistines for his two eyes. He uses his sins as
the Jews used Christ—he gives them gall and vinegar to drink. He crucifies
his lusts (Gal. 5:24). A true child of God seeks to be revenged most of
those sins which have dishonored God most. Cranmer, who had with his right
hand subscribed the popish articles, was revenged on himself; he put his
right hand first into the fire. David defiled his bed by sin; afterwards by
repentance he watered his bed with tears. Israel had sinned by idolatry, and
afterwards they defiled their idols: "You will defile your silver-plated
idols and your gold-plated images. You will throw them away like menstrual
cloths, and call them filth!" (Isaiah 30:22).
Mary Magdalene had sinned in her eye by adulterous
glances, and now she will be revenged on her eyes. She washes Christ's feet
with her tears. She had sinned in her hair. It had entangled her lovers. Now
she will be revenged on her hair; she wipes the Lord's feet with it. The
Israelite women who had been dressing themselves by the hour and had abused
their looking-glasses unto pride, afterwards by way of revenge as well as
zeal, offered their looking-glasses to the use and service of God's
tabernacle (Exod. 38:8). So those conjurers who used magic arts, when once
they repented, brought their books and, by way of revenge, burned them (Acts
These are the blessed fruits and effects of
repentance, and if we can find these in our souls we have arrived at that
repentance which is never to be repented of (2 Cor. 7:10).
A Necessary Caution
Such as have solemnly repented of their sins, let me
speak to them by way of caution. Though repentance is so necessary and
excellent, as you have heard—yet take heed that you do not ascribe too
much to repentance. The papists are guilty of a double error:
(1) They make repentance a sacrament. Christ never made
it so. And who may institute sacraments, but he who can give virtue to them?
(2) The papists make repentance meritorious. They
say it merits pardon. This is a gross error. Indeed repentance fits us for
mercy. As the plough, when it breaks up the ground, fits it for the seed, so
when the heart is broken up by repentance, it is fitted for
forgiveness of sin—but it does not merit it. God will not save us
without repentance, nor yet for it. I grant, that repenting tears
are precious. They are, as Gregory said, "the fat of the sacrifice;" as
Basil said, "the medicine of the soul;" and as Bernard said, "the wine of
angels." But yet, tears do not merit pardon for sin. Christ's blood alone
can merit pardon. We please God by repentance—but we do not merit pardon by
it. To trust to our repentance is to make it a savior. Though
repentance helps to purge out the filth of sin—yet it is Christ's blood
which washes away the guilt of sin. Therefore do not idolize repentance. Do
not rest upon this—that your heart has been wounded for sin—but
rather that your Savior has been wounded for sin. When you have wept,
say, "Lord Jesus, wash my tears in your blood."
B. Comfort for the Repenting Sinner.
Let me in the next place speak by way of comfort.
Christian, has God given you a repenting heart? Know these three things for
your everlasting comfort:
1. Your sins are pardoned.
Pardon of sin brings blessedness within it. (Psalm
32:1). Whom God pardons—he crowns. "Who forgives all your
iniquities, who crowns you with loving-kindness" (Psalm 103:34). A repenting
condition is a pardoned condition. Christ said to that weeping woman, "Your
sins, which are many—are forgiven" (Luke 7:47). Pardons are sealed upon
soft hearts. O you whose head has been a fountain to weep for
sin—Christ's side will be a fountain to wash away sin! (Zech. 13:1).
Have you repented? God looks upon you as if you had not offended. He
becomes a friend, a father. He will now bring forth the best robe and put it
on you. God is pacified towards you and will, with the father of the
prodigal, fall upon your neck and kiss you. Sin in scripture is compared to
a cloud (Is. 44:22). No sooner is this cloud scattered by repentance, than
pardoning love shines forth. Paul, after his repentance, obtained mercy, (1
Tim. 1:16). When a spring of repentance is open in the heart—a spring of
mercy is open in heaven!
2. God will pass an act of oblivion.
He so forgives sin as he forgets. "I will
remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:34). Have you been penitentially
humbled? The Lord will never upbraid you with your former sins. After Peter
wept we never read that Christ upbraided him, with his denial of him. God
has cast your sins into the depths of the sea (Mic. 7:19). How? Not as
cork—but as lead. The Lord will never in a judicial way account for them.
When he pardons, God is as a creditor that blots the debt out of his book
(Isaiah 43:25). Some ask the question, whether the sins of the godly shall
be mentioned at the last day. The Lord said he will not remember them, and
he is blotting them out, so if their sins are mentioned, it shall not be to
their harm, for the debt-book is crossed out.
3. Conscience will now speak peace.
O the music of a clean conscience! Conscience is turned
into a paradise, and there a Christian sweetly solaces himself and plucks
the flowers of joy (2 Cor. 1:12). The repenting sinner can go to God with
boldness in prayer, and look upon him not as a judge—but as a father. He is
"born of God" and is heir to a kingdom (Luke 6:20). He is encircled with
promises. He no sooner shakes the tree of the promise, but some fruit falls.
To conclude, the true penitent may look on death with
comfort. His life has been a life of tears—and now at death all tears shall
be wiped away! Death shall not be a destruction—but a deliverance
from jail. Thus you see what great comfort remains for repenting
sinners. Luther said that before his conversion he could not endure that
bitter word "repentance"—but afterwards he found much sweetness in it.
VIII. The Removing of 10 IMPEDIMENTS to Repentance
Before I lay down the expedients and means conducive to
repentance, I shall first remove the impediments. In this great city,
when you lack water, you search the cause, whether the pipes are broken or
stopped, that the current of water is hindered. Likewise when no water of
repentance comes (though we have the conduit pipes of ordinances), see what
the cause is. What is the obstruction which hinders these penitential waters
from running? There are ten impediments to repentance:
1. Men do not understand that they need repentance.
They thank God that all is well with them, and they know
nothing they should repent of: "you say, I am rich, and have need of
nothing" (Rev. 3.I7). He who does not think that there is any illness in his
body, will not take the physic prescribed. This is the mischief sin has
done; it has not only made us sick—but senseless. When the
Lord bade the people return to him, they answered stubbornly, "Why shall we
return?" (Mal. 3:7). So when God bids men repent, they say, "Why should we
repent?" They know nothing they have done amiss. There is surely no disease
worse, than that which is not felt.
2 . People think that it is an easy thing to repent.
They think that it is but saying a few prayers: a sigh,
or a "Lord have mercy", and the work is done. This mistake of the
easiness of repentance is a great hindrance to it. That which makes a
person bold and adventurous in sin, must needs obstruct repentance. This
opinion makes a person bold in sin. The angler can let out his line as far
as he will—and then pull it in again. Likewise when a man thinks he can lash
out in sin as far as he will—and then pull in by repentance when he
pleases—this must needs embolden him in wickedness. But to take away this
false conceit of the easiness of repentance, consider:
(1) A wicked man has a mountain of guilt upon him, and is
it easy to rise up under such a weight? Is salvation obtained
with a leap? Can a man jump out of sin—into heaven? Can he leap out of the
devil's arms—into Abraham's bosom?
(2) If all the power in a sinner is employed against
repentance, then repentance is not easy. All the faculties of a
natural man join forces with sin: "I have loved strangers, and after them
will I go" (Jer. 2:25). A sinner will rather lose Christ and heaven—than
his lusts! Death, which parts man and wife, will not part a wicked man
and his sins; and is it so easy to repent? The angel rolled away the stone
from the sepulcher—but no angel, only God himself, can roll away the stone
from the heart!
3. Another impediment of repentance, is presuming
thoughts of God's mercy.
Many suck poison from this sweet flower. Christ who came
into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) is coincidentally the occasion
of many a man's perishing. Though to the elect he is the "bread of life"—yet
to the wicked he is "a stone of stumbling" (1 Pet. 2:8). To some his blood
is sweet wine—to others the water of Marah. Some are softened by this Sun
of righteousness (Mal. 4:2), others are hardened. "Oh," says one,
"Christ has died; he has done all for me; therefore I may sit still and do
nothing." Thus they suck death from the tree of life; and perish by the
So I may say of God's mercy. It is coincidentally the
cause of many a one's ruin. Because of God's mercy, men presume and think
they may go on in sin. Should a king's clemency, make his subjects rebel?
The psalmist says, "there is mercy with God, that he may be feared"
(Psalm 130:4)—but not that we may live in sin. Can men expect God's mercy—by
provoking his justice? God will hardly show those mercy who sin, because
mercy abounds. "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no
means!" (Romans 6:1-2)
4. The next impediment of repentance, is a slothful
Repentance is looked upon as a toilsome thing, and such
as requires much industry; and men are settled upon their lees and care not
to stir. They had rather go sleeping to hell—than weeping to heaven! "A
slothful man hides his hand in his bosom" (Proverbs 19:24); he will not be
at the labor of smiting on his breast. Many will rather lose heaven, than
ply the oar and row there upon the waters of repentance. We cannot have the
world without labor and diligence—and would we have that which is
more excellent? Sloth is the cancer of the soul: "slothfulness casts into a
deep sleep" (Proverbs 19:15).
It was a witty fiction of the poets, that when Mercury
had cast Argus into a sleep and with an enchanted wand closed his eyes, he
then killed him. When Satan has by his witcheries lulled men asleep in
sloth, then he destroys them. Some report that while the crocodile sleeps
with its mouth open, the Indian rat gets into its belly and eats up its
entrails. So while men sleep in security they are devoured.
5. The next impediment of repentance, is the bewitching
pleasure of sin.
"Who had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess. 2:12) Sin
is a sugared draught, mixed with poison. The sinner thinks there is danger
in sin—but there is also delight, and the danger does not terrify him as
much as the delight bewitches him. Plato calls love of sin, a great devil.
Delighting in sin hardens the heart. In true repentance there must be a
grieving for sin—but how can one grieve for that which he loves? He who
delights in sin, can hardly pray against it. His heart is so bewitched with
sin that he is afraid of leaving it too soon. Samson doted on Delilah's
beauty—and her lap proved his grave. When a man rolls iniquity as a sugared
lump under his tongue, it infatuates him and is his death at last. Delight
in sin is a silken halter. Will it not be bitterness in the latter end (2
6. An opinion that repentance will take away our joy.
But that is a mistake. It does not kill our joy—but
refines our joy, and removes the foul lees of sin. What is all earthly joy?
It is but a pleasant insanity. Worldly mirth is but like a pretended laugh.
It has sorrow following at the heels. Like the magician's rod, it is
instantly turned into a serpent; but divine repentance, like Samson's lion,
has a honeycomb in it.
God's kingdom consists as well in joy—as in
righteousness (Romans 14:17). None are so truly cheerful as penitent
ones. The oil of joy is poured chiefly into a broken heart! "He will
give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning" (Isaiah 61:3). In the fields
near Palermo grow a great many reeds in which there is a sweet juice from
which sugar is made. Likewise in a penitent heart, which is the bruised
reed, grow the sugared joys of God's Spirit. God turns the water of
tears into the juice of the grape—which exhilarates and makes
glad the heart. Who should rejoice if not the repenting soul? He is heir to
all the promises—and is not that matter for joy? God dwells in a contrite
heart—and must there not needs be joy there? "I live with those whose
spirits are contrite and humble" (Isaiah 57:15). Repentance does not take
away a Christian's music—but raises it a note higher and makes it sweeter.
7. Another obstacle to repentance, is despondency of
"It is a vain thing for me," says the sinner, "to set
upon repentance; my sins are of that magnitude that there is no hope for
me." "Return now everyone from his evil way . . . And they said, There is no
hope" (Jer. 18:11,12). Our sins are mountains—and how shall these
ever be cast into the sea? Where unbelief represents sin in its bloody
colors, and God in his judge's robes—the soul would sooner fly from
him than to him. This is dangerous. Our sins need mercy—but despair
rejects mercy. It throws the cordial of Christ's blood on the ground. Judas
was not damned only for his treason and murder—but it was his distrust of
God's mercy that destroyed him. Why should we entertain such hard thoughts
of God? He has affections of love to repenting sinners (Joel 2:13). Mercy
rejoices over justice. God's anger is not so hot—but mercy can cool it; nor
so sharp—but mercy can sweeten it. God counts his mercy—his glory (Exod.
We have some drops of mercy ourselves—but God is "the
Father of mercies" (2 Cor. 1:3), who begets all the mercies that are in us.
He is the God of tenderness and compassion. No sooner do we mourn—than God's
heart melts. No sooner do our tears fall—than God's relentings kindle (Hos.
11:8). Do not say then, that there is no hope. Disband the army of your
sins, and God will sound a retreat to his judgments. Remember, great sins
have been swallowed up in the sea of God's infinite compassions. Manasseh
made the streets run with blood—yet when his head was a fountain of tears,
God grew merciful.
8. The next impediment of repentance, is hope of
sinning with impunity.
Men flatter themselves in sin, and think that God, having
spared them all this while, never intends to punish them. Because the
judgment is put off, they think therefore, "surely there will be no
judgment". "The wicked say to themselves, God has forgotten; He hides His
face and will never see." (Psalm 10:11). The Lord indeed is
longsuffering towards sinners and would by his patience allure them to
repentance—but here is their wretchedness; because he forbears to
punish—they forbear to repent. Know, that the lease of patience will soon
run out. There is a time when God will say, "My Spirit shall not always
strive with man" (Gen. 6:3). A creditor may forbear his debtor—but
forbearance does not excuse the payment. God takes notice how long the
hour-glass of his patience has been running: I gave her time to repent, but
she would not turn away from her immorality" (Rev. 2:21). Jezebel added
impenitence to her immorality, and what followed? "So I will cast her on a
bed of suffering" (Rev. 2:22), not a bed of pleasure—but a bed of
languishing where she will consume away in her iniquity. The longer God's
arrow is drawing, the deeper it will wound! Sins against God's patience
will make a man's hell so much the hotter.
9. The next impediment of repentance, is fear of
"If I repent—I will expose myself to men's scorns." The
heathen could say, "when you apply yourself to the study of wisdom, prepare
for sarcasms and reproaches." But consider well—who they are, who reproach
you. They are such as are ignorant of God and spiritually insane. And are
you troubled to have them reproach you, who are insane? Who minds a madman
laughing at him? What do the wicked reproach you for? Is it because you
repent? You are doing your duty. Bind their reproaches as a crown about your
head. It is better that men should reproach you for repenting—than that
God should damn you for not repenting! If you cannot bear a reproach for
true religion, never call yourself a Christian. Luther said, "a Christian is
a crucified one." Suffering is a saint's badge. And alas, what are
reproaches? They are but chips off the cross, which are rather to be
despised than laid to heart!
10. The last impediment of repentance, is immoderate love
of the world.
No wonder Ezekiel's hearer's were hardened into
rebellion—when their hearts went after covetousness (Ezek. 33:31). The world
so engrosses men's time and bewitches their affections that they cannot
repent. They had rather put gold in their bag—than tears in God's bottle!
Many scarcely ever give heed to repentance; they are more for the plough
and breaking of clods—than breaking up the fallow ground of their hearts.
The thorns choke the Word. We read of those who were invited to
Christ's supper who put him off with worldly excuses. "But they all began
making excuses. One said he had just bought a field and wanted to inspect
it, so he asked to be excused. Another said he had just bought five pair of
oxen and wanted to try them out. Another had just been married, so he said
he couldn't come." (Luke 14:18-20).
The farm and the shop so take up people's time, that they
have no leisure for their souls. Their golden weights hinder their
silver tears. There is an herb in the country of Sardinia, like balm,
which if they eat much of, will make them die laughing. Such an herb (or
rather, weed) is the world, if men eat too immoderately of it—instead of
dying repenting, they will die laughing.
These are the obstructions to repentance which must be
removed so that the current may be clearer. In the last place I shall
prescribe some rules or means conducive to repentance.
IX. MEANS for Repentance
I. The first means to repentance, is SERIOUS
The first means conducive to repentance, is serious
consideration: "I thought on my ways—and turned my feet unto your
testimonies" (Psalm 119:59). The prodigal, when he came to himself,
seriously considered his riotous luxuries, and then he repented. Peter, when
he thought of Christ's words, wept. There are certain things which, if they
were well considered, would be a means to make us break off a course of
A. Firstly, consider seriously what SIN is,
and sure enough there is enough evil in it to make us repent. There are in
sin these twenty evils:
(1) Sin is a parting from God. (Jer. 2:5). God
is the supreme good, and our blessedness lies in union with him. But sin,
like a strong bias, draws away the heart from God. The sinner parts
from God. He bids farewell to Christ and mercy. Every step forward in sin,
is a step backward from God: "they have forsaken the Lord, they have gone
away backward" (Isaiah 1:4). The further one goes from the sun, the nearer
he approaches to darkness. The further the soul goes from God, the nearer it
approaches to misery.
(2) Sin is a walking contrary to God. (Lev.
26:27). The same word in the Hebrew signifies both to commit sin and
to rebel. Sin is God's opposite. If God is of one mind, sin will be
of another. Sin strikes at God's very being. If sin could help it, God would
no longer be God, "Rid us of the Holy One of Israel!" (Isaiah 30:11). What a
horrible thing is this, for a piece of proud dust to rise up in
defiance against its Maker!
(3) Sin is an injury to God. It violates his
laws. Here is grievous high treason! What greater injury can be offered to a
prince—than to trample upon his royal edicts? A sinner offers contempt to
the statute laws of heaven: "they cast your law behind their backs" (Neh.
9:26), as if they scorned to look upon it. Sin robs God of his due. You
injure a man when you do not give him his due. The soul belongs to God. He
lays a double claim to it: it is his by creation and by purchase.
Now sin steals the soul from God and gives the devil that which rightly
belongs to God.
(4) Sin is profound ignorance. Some say that
all sin is founded in ignorance. If men knew God in his purity and
justice—they would not dare go on in a course of sinning: "they proceed
from evil to evil, and they know not me, says the Lord" (Jer. 9:3).
Therefore ignorance and lust are joined together "As obedient children, do
not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in
ignorance" (1 Pet. 1:14). Ignorance is the womb of lust. Vapors arise
most in the night. The black vapors of sin arise most in a dark ignorant
soul. Satan casts a mist before a sinner—so that he does not see the flaming
sword of God's wrath. The eagle first rolls himself in the sand and
then flies at the stag, and by fluttering its wings, so bedusts the stag's
eyes that it cannot see—and then it strikes it with its talons! So Satan,
that eagle or prince of the air, first blinds men with ignorance and then
wounds them with his darts of temptation. Is sin ignorance? There is great
cause to repent of ignorance.
(5) Sin is hazardous. In every transgression a
man runs an apparent hazard of his soul. He treads upon the brink of the
bottomless pit! Foolish sinner, you never commit a sin, but you do that
which may undo your soul forever. He who drinks poison, it is a
wonder if it does not cost him his life. One taste of the forbidden tree
lost Adam paradise. One sin of the angels lost them heaven. One sin of Saul
lost him his kingdom. The next sin you commit—God may clap you up prisoner
among the damned! You who gallop on in sin—it is a question whether God will
spare your life a day longer or give you a heart to repent.
(6) Sin besmears with filth. In James 1:21 it
is called "filthiness". The Greek word signifies the putrid exudate of
ulcers. Sin is called an abomination (Deut. 7:25), indeed, in the plural,
abominations (Dent. 20:18). This filthiness in sin is inward. A spot on the
face may easily be wiped off—but to have the liver and lungs cancered, is
far worse. Such a pollution is sin, it has gotten into mind and conscience
(Titus 1:15). It is compared to a menstruous cloth (Isaiah 30:22), the most
unclean thing under the law. A sinner's heart is like a field spread with
dung. Some think sin is an ornament; it is rather an excrement. Sin so
besmears a person with filth—that God cannot abide the sight of him: "My
soul loathed them!" (Zech. 11:8).
(7) In sin there is odious ingratitude. God
has fed you, O sinner, with angels' food. He has crowned you with a variety
of mercies—yet do you go on in sin? As David said of Nabal: "in vain have I
kept this man's sheep" (1 Sam. 25:21). Likewise in vain has God done so much
for the sinner. All God's mercies may upbraid, yes, accuse, the ungrateful
person. God may say, I gave you wit, health, riches, and you have employed
all these against me: "I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine
and oil, and lavished on her the silver and gold—which they used for Baal" (Hos.
2:8). I sent in provisions and they served their idols with them. The snake
in the fable which was frozen, stung him who brought it to the fire and gave
it warmth. Likewise, a sinner goes about to sting God with his own mercies.
"Is this your kindness to your friend?" (2 Sam. 16:17). Did God give you
life—to sin? Did he give you wages—to serve the devil?
(8) Sin is a debasing thing. It degrades a
person of his honor: "I will make your grave; for you are vile" (Nah. 1:14).
This was spoken of a king. He was not vile by birth—but by sin. Sin blots
our name, and taints our blood. Nothing so changes a man's glory into
shame—as sin. It is said of Naaman, "He was a great man and honorable—but he
was a leper" (2 Kings 5:1). Let a man be ever so great with worldly pomp—yet
if he is wicked, he is a leper in God's eye. To boast of sin is to boast of
that which is our infamy; as if a prisoner should boast of his fetters—or be
proud of his halter.
(9) Sin is infinite loss. Never did any thrive
by grazing in sin's pasture. What does one lose? He loses God; he loses his
peace; he loses his soul. The soul is a divine spark lighted from heaven; it
is the glory of creation. And what can countervail this loss (Matt. 16:26)?
If the soul is gone, the treasure is gone; therefore in sin there is
infinite loss. Sin is such a trade, that whoever follows it—is sure to be
(10) Sin is a burden. "My iniquities have gone
over my head—as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me" (Psalm 38:4). The
sinner goes with his weights and fetters on him. The burden of sin is always
worst—when it is least felt. Sin is a burden wherever it comes. Sin burdens
God: "I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves"
(Amos 2:13). Sin burdens the soul. What a weight did the apostate Spira
feel! How was the conscience of Judas burdened, so much so that he hanged
himself to quiet his conscience! Those who know what sin is, will repent
that they carry such a burden.
(11) Sin is a debt. It is compared to a debt
of millions (Matt. 18:24). Of all the debts we owe, our sins are the worst.
With other debts a sinner may flee to foreign countries—but with sin he
cannot. "Where shall I flee from your presence?" (Psalm 139:7). God knows
where to find out all his debtors. Death frees a man from other debts—but it
will not free him from his debt of sin. It is not the death of the
debtor, but of the creditor—which discharges this debt.
(12) There is deceitfulness in sin. "The
deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:13). "The wicked works a deceitful work"
(Proverbs 11:18). Sin is a mere cheat. While it pretends to please us, it
beguiles us! Sin does as Jael did. First she brought the milk and butter to
Sisera, then she pounded the tent peg through his head, so that he died (Judg.
5:26). Sin first courts, and then kills. It is first a fox,
and then a lion. Whoever sin betrays—it kills. Those
locusts in Revelation are perfect emblems of sin: "They had gold crowns
on their heads . . . They had tails that stung like scorpions,
with power to torture people" (Rev. 9:7-10). Sin is like the usurer who
feeds a man with money and then makes him mortgage his land. Sin feeds the
sinner with delightful objects and then makes him mortgage his soul. Judas
pleased himself with the thirty pieces of silver—but they proved deceitful
riches. Ask him now, how he likes his bargain.
(13) Sin is a spiritual sickness. One man is
sick with pride, another with lust, another with malice. It is with a sinner
as it is with a sick patient: his palate is distempered, and the sweetest
things taste bitter to him. So the Word of God, which is sweeter than the
honeycomb, tastes bitter to a sinner: "They put sweet for bitter" (Isaiah
5:20). And if sin be a disease it is not to be nourished—but rather cured by
(14) Sin is a bondage. It binds a man to the
devil as his slave. Of all conditions, servitude is the worst. Every man is
held with the cords of his own sin. "I was held before conversion," said
Augustine, "not with an iron chain—but with the obstinacy of my will." Sin
is imperious and tyrannical. It is called a law (Romans 8:2) because
it has such a binding power over a man. The sinner must do as sin will have
him. He does not so much enjoy his lusts—as serve them, and he
will have work enough to do to gratify them all. "I have seen princes going
on foot" (Eccles. 10:7); the soul, that princely thing, which once was
crowned with knowledge and holiness—is now made a lackey to sin and runs the
(15) Sin has a spreading malignity in it. It
does hurt not only to a man's self—but to others. One man's sin may occasion
many to sin. One man may help to defile many. A person who has the plague,
going into company, does not know how many will be infected with the plague
by him. You who are guilty of open sins, know not how many have been
infected by you. There may be many, for anything you know, now in hell,
crying out that they would never have come there—if it had not been for your
(16) Sin is a vexatious thing. It brings
trouble with it. The curse which God laid upon the woman is most truly
laid upon every sinner: "in sorrow you shall bring forth" (Gen. 3:16). A man
vexes his thoughts with plotting sin, and when sin has conceived, in sorrow
he brings forth. Like one who takes a great deal of pain to open a
floodgate, when he has opened it, the flood comes in upon him and drowns
him! So a man beats his brains to contrive sin, and then it vexes his
conscience, brings trouble to his estate, rots the wall and timber of his
house (Zech. 5:4).
(17) Sin is a foolish thing. What greater
foolishness is there, than to gratify an enemy! Sin gratifies Satan. When
lust or anger burn in the soul—Satan warms himself at the fire! Men's sins
feast the devil. Samson was called out to amuse the Philistines (Judg.
16:25). Likewise the sinner amuses the devil! Nothing more satisfies
him—than to see men sin. How he laughs to see them hazarding their souls for
the world, as if one would trade diamonds for straws; or would fish for
gudgeons with golden hooks! Every wicked man shall be indicted as a fool, at
the day of judgment. "But God said to him—You fool! This very night your
soul will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for
yourself?" Luke 12:20
(18) There is cruelty in every sin. With every
sin you commit—you give a stab to your soul. While you are kind to sin—you
are cruel to yourself, like the lunatic man in the Gospel who would cry out
and cut himself with stones (Mark 5:5). The sinner is like the jailer—who
drew a sword to kill himself (Acts 16:27). The soul may cry out, "I am being
murdered!" Naturalists say the hawk chooses to drink blood, rather
than water. So sin drinks the blood of souls.
(19) Sin is a spiritual death. "Dead in
trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). The life of sin—is the death of the soul. A
dead man has no sense. So an unregenerate person has no sense of God.
"Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality
so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more."
(Eph. 4:19). Try to persuade him to mind his salvation. To what purpose do
you make orations to a dead man? Go to reprove him for vice? To what purpose
do you strike a dead man?
He who is dead has no taste. Set a banquet before him,
and he does not relish it. Likewise a sinner tastes no sweetness in Christ,
or in precious Scripture promises. They are but as cordials in a dead man's
The dead putrefy; and if Martha said of Lazarus, "by now
the smell will be terrible because he has been dead for four days" (John
11:39). How much more may we say of a wicked man, who has been dead in sin
for thirty or forty years, "by now the smell will be terrible!"
(20) Sin without repentance, will bring to final
damnation. As the rose perishes by the canker which breed in
itself—so do men perish by the corruptions which breed in their souls. What
was once said to the Grecians of the Trojan horse, "This engine is made to
be the destruction of your city!" the same may be said to every impenitent
person, "This engine of sin will be the destruction of your soul!" Sin's
last scene is always tragic. Diagoras Florentinus would drink poison in a
frolic—but it cost him his life. Men drink the poison of sin in a
merriment—but it costs them their souls! "The wages of sin is death" (Romans
6:23 ). What Solomon said of wine may also be said of sin: at first "it
sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a
poisonous serpent; it stings like a viper!" (Proverbs 23:31-32). Christ tell
us of the worm and the fire (Mark 9:48).
Sin is like oil, and God's wrath is like fire.
As long as the damned continue sinning, so the fire will continue scorching!
"Who of us can dwell with everlasting burnings?" (Isaiah 33:14). "They
cursed the God of heaven for their pains and sores. But they refused to
repent of all their evil deeds!" (Revelation 16:11)
But men question the truth of this and are like impious
Devonax who, being threatened with hell for his villainies, mocked at it and
said, "I will believe there is a hell when I come there, and not before!" We
cannot make hell enter into men—until they enter into hell.
Thus we have seen the deadly evil in sin which, seriously
considered, may make us repent and turn to God. If, for all this, men will
persist in sin and are resolved upon a voyage to hell—who can hinder
their damnation? They have been told what a soul-damning rock sin is—but if
they will voluntarily run upon it and damn themselves—their blood is upon
their own head!
B. The second serious consideration to work repentance,
is to consider the MERCIES of God. A stone is soonest broken upon
a soft pillow, and a heart of stone is soonest broken upon the soft pillow
of God's mercies. "The goodness of God leads you to repentance" (Romans
2:4). The clemency of a prince sooner causes relenting in a malefactor.
While God has been storming others by his judgments—he has been
wooing you by his mercies.
(1) What preventative mercies have we had?
What troubles have been prevented, what fears blown
over? When our foot has been slipping, God's mercy has held us up! (Psalm
94:18). His mercy has always been a screen between us and danger. When
enemies like lions have risen up against us to devour us—free grace has
snatched us out of the mouth of these lions! In the deepest waves the arm of
mercy has upheld us—and has kept our head above water. And will not all of
God's preventative mercies lead us to repentance?
(2) What positive mercies have we had!
Firstly, in supplying mercy. God has been a
bountiful benefactor, "the God who fed me all my life long unto this day"
(Gen. 48:15). What man will spread a table for his enemy? We have
been enemies—yet God has fed us! He has given us the horn of oil. He has
made the honeycomb of mercy drop on us. God has been as kind to us—as
if we had been his best servants. And will not this supplying mercy lead us
Secondly, in delivering mercy. When we have been
at the gates of the grave, God has miraculously preserved our lives. He has
turned the shadow of death into morning, and has put a song of deliverance
into our mouth. And will not delivering mercy lead us to repentance?
The Lord has labored to break our hearts with his
mercies. In Judges, chapter 2, we read that when the angel had preached a
sermon of mercy, "the people wept loudly." If anything will move tears, it
should be the mercy of God. He is an obstinate sinner indeed—whom these
great cable-ropes of God's mercy will not draw to repentance!
C. The third serious consideration to work repentance, is
to consider God's AFFLICTIVE providences. God has sent us in
recent years to the school of affliction. He has twisted his
judgments together. He has made good upon us, those two threatenings, "I
will be to Ephraim as a moth" (Hos. 5:12). Has not God been so to
England in the decay of trading? And "I will be unto Ephraim as a
lion" (Hos. 5:14) has he not been so to England in the devouring
plague? All this while God waited for our repentance. But we went on in
sin: "I hearkened and heard—but no man repented of his wickedness, saying,
What have I done?" (Jer. 8:6).
And of late, God has been whipping us with a fiery rod in
those tremendous flames of the great fire of London—which is
emblematic of the great conflagration at the last day when "the elements
shall melt with fervent heat" (2 Pet. 3:10). When Joab's grain was on
fire—then he went running to Absalom (2 Sam. 14:31). God has set our houses
on fire—that we may run to him in repentance. "The Lord's voice cries unto
the city: "Hear the rod—and him who has appointed it!" (Mic. 6:9). This is
the language of the rod—that we should humble ourselves under God's mighty
hand and "break off our sins by righteousness" (Dan. 4:27). Manasseh's
affliction ushered in repentance (2 Chron. 33:12).
God uses affliction, as the proper medicine for carnal
security. "Their mother has played the harlot" (Hos. 2:5), by idolatry. What
course now will God take with her? "Therefore I will hedge up your way with
thorns" (Hos. 2:6). This is God's method, to set a thorn-hedge of
affliction in the way. Thus to a proud man—contempt is a thorn. To a
lustful man—sickness is a thorn, both to stop him in his sin and to
goad him forward in repentance. The Lord teaches his people as Gideon did
the men of Succoth: "Gideon taught them a lesson, punishing them with
thorns and briers from the wilderness" (Judg. 8:16). Here was
a sharp lesson. Likewise God has of late been teaching us humiliation,
by thorny providences. He has torn our golden fleece from us; he has
brought our houses low—that he might bring our hearts low. When shall we
dissolve into tears—if not now?
God's judgments are so proper a means to work repentance
that the Lord wonders at it, and makes it his complaint that his severity
did not break men off from their sins: "I kept the rain from falling when
you needed it the most, ruining all your crops." (Amos 4:7). "I struck your
farms and vineyards with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured all your fig
and olive trees." (Amos 4:9). "I sent plagues against you like the plagues I
sent against Egypt long ago. I killed your young men in war and slaughtered
all your horses. The stench of death filled the air!" (Amos 4:10). But still
this is the theme of God's complaint, "Yet you have not returned to me!"
The Lord proceeds gradually in his judgments.
First he sends a lesser trial—and if that will not do, then a greater one.
He sends upon one a gentle illness to begin with—and afterwards a burning
fever. He sends upon another a loss at sea—then the loss of a child—then a
loss of a husband. Thus by degrees he tries to bring men to repentance.
Sometimes God makes his judgments go in circuit—from
family to family. The cup of affliction has gone round the nation; all have
tasted it. And if we repent not now, we stand in contempt of God, and by
implication we bid God do his worst! Such an epitome of wickedness,
will hardly be pardoned. "The Lord, the Lord Almighty, called you to weep
and mourn. He told you to shave your heads in sorrow for your sins and to
wear clothes of sackcloth to show your remorse. But instead, you dance and
play; you feast on meat, and drink wine. 'Let's eat, drink, and be merry,'
you say. The Lord Almighty has revealed to me that this sin will never be
forgiven you until the day you die! That is the judgment of the Lord, the
Lord Almighty!" (Isaiah 22:12-14). That is, this sin shall not be expiated
If the Romans severely punished a young man who in a time
of public calamity was seen sporting—of how much sorer punishment
shall they be thought worthy, who strengthen themselves in wickedness and
laugh in the very face of God's judgments! The heathen mariners in a storm
repented (Jon 1:14). Not to repent now and throw our sins overboard is to be
worse than heathens.
D. The fourth serious consideration to work repentance,
is to consider how much we shall have to answer for at last—if we do not
repent. How many prayers, counsels, and admonitions will be put
upon the account book. Every sermon will come in as an indictment. As for
such as have truly repented, Christ will answer for them. His blood will
wash away their sins. The mantle of free grace will cover them. "In those
days, search will be made for Israel's guilt—but there will be none; and for
the sins of Judah—but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I
spare" (Jer. 50:20). Those who have judged themselves in the lower court
of conscience shall be acquitted in the High Court of heaven. But
if we do not repent—our sins must be all accounted for at the last day, and
we must answer for them in our own persons, with no counsel allowed to plead
O impenitent sinner, think with yourself now, how you
will be able to look your infallible Judge in the face! You have a damned
cause to plead and will be sure to be damned on the day of judgment! "What
could I do when God stands up to judge? How should I answer Him when He
calls me to account?" (Job 31:14). Therefore, either repent now, or else
provide your answers and see what defense you can make for yourselves when
you come before God's dread tribunal. When he calls you to account—how will
you answer him!
II. The second means to repentance, is a PRUDENT
Compare penitent and impenitent conditions together—and
see the difference. Spread them before your eyes and by the light of the
Word—see the impenitent condition as most deplorable—and the penitent as
most comfortable. How sad was it with the prodigal before he returned
to his father! He had spent all; he had sinned himself into beggary, and had
nothing left but a few husks! He was fellow inhabitant with the swine! But
when he came home to his father, nothing was thought too good for him. The
robe was brought forth to cover him, the ring to adorn him,
and the fatted calf to feast him. If the sinner continues in his
impenitency, then farewell Christ and mercy and heaven! But if he repents,
then presently he has a heaven within him. Then Christ is his, then all is
peace. He may sing a song to his soul and say, "soul, you have enough stored
away for years to come. Eat, drink, and be merry!" (Luke 12:19).
Upon our turning to God, we have more restored to
us in Christ—than ever was lost in Adam. God says to the repenting
soul, "I will clothe you with the robe of righteousness; I will enrich you
with the jewels and graces of my Spirit. I will bestow my love upon you! I
will give you a kingdom! Son, all I have is yours!"
O my friends, do but compare your estate before
repentance and after repentance together. Before your repenting, there were
nothing but clouds and storms to be seen—clouds in God's face and storms in
conscience. But after repenting how is the weather altered! What sunshine
above! What serene calmness within! A Christian's soul is like the hill
Olympus—all light and clear, and no winds blowing!
III. A third means conducive to repentance, is a SETTLED
DETERMINATION to leave sin. Not a faint wish—but a resolved vow.
"I have sworn that I will keep your righteous judgments" (Psalm 119:106).
"All the delights and artifices of sin, shall not make me break my vow!"
There must be no hesitation, no consulting with flesh and blood, "Had I best
leave my sin—or not?" But as Ephraim, "What have I to do any more with
idols!" (Hos:14:8). I will be deceived no more by my sins! I will no longer
be fooled by Satan! This day I will put a bill of divorce into the hands of
my lusts! Until we come to this settled resolution, sin will gain ground of
us—and we shall never be able to shake off this viper! It is no wonder that
he who is not resolved to be an enemy of sin—is conquered by it.
This resolution must be built upon the strength of Christ
more than our own. It must be a humble resolution. As David, when he
went against Goliath put off his presumptuous self-confidence, as
well as his armor, "I come to you in the name of the Lord" (1 Sam. 17:45) so
we must go out against our Goliath lusts—in the strength of Christ!
Being conscious of our own inability to leave sin, let us get Christ to be
bound with us, and engage his strength for the mortifying of corruption!
IV. The fourth means conducive to repentance, is earnest
PRAYER. The heathens laid one of their hands on the plough—and
the other they lifted up to Ceres, the goddess of corn. So when we
have used the means, let us look up to God for a blessing. Pray to him for a
repenting heart: "You, Lord, who bid me repent—give me grace to repent".
Pray that our hearts may be holy stills, dropping tears. Beg of
Christ to give to us such a look of love as he did to Peter, which made him
go out and weep bitterly. Implore the help of God's Spirit. It is the
Spirit's smiting on the rock of our hearts—which makes the waters gush out!
"He causes his wind to blow—and the waters to flow" (Psalm
147:18). When the wind of God's Spirit blows—then the water of tears will
There is good reason we should go to God for repentance:
(1) Because repentance is God's gift: "God has granted
even the Gentiles, repentance unto life." (Acts 11:18). The Arminians
hold that it is in our power to repent. True—we can harden our
hearts—but we cannot soften them. This crown of freewill has fallen
from our head! Nay, there is in us not only impotency—but
obstinacy! (Acts 7:51). Therefore beg of God a repentant spirit. He
alone can make the stony to heart bleed! His is a word of creative
(2) We must have recourse to God for blessing because he
has promised to bestow it. "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will
be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your
idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I
will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."
(Ezekiel 36:25-26). I will soften your adamant hearts—in my Son's blood!
Show God his hand and seal.
Here is another gracious promise: "They shall
return unto me with their whole heart" (Jer. 24:7). Turn this promise into a
prayer: "Lord, give me grace to return unto you with my whole heart!"
V. The fifth means conducive to repentance, is endeavor
after clearer discoveries of GOD. "I had heard about you
before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes! Therefore I abhor
myself, and repent in dust and ashes!" (Job 42:5 6). Job, having surveyed
God's glory and purity—as a humble penitent, he abhorred himself. By looking
into the clear looking-glass of God's holiness—we see our own
blemishes and so learn to bewail them.
VI. Lastly, we should labor for FAITH. But
what is faith to repentance? Faith breeds union with Christ, and there can
be no separation from sin, until there is union with Christ. The eye of
faith looks on God's mercy—and that thaws the frozen heart! Faith carries us
to Christ's blood, and that blood mollifies the hard heart! Faith persuades
of the love of God, and that love sets us a-weeping!
Thus I have laid down the means or helps to
repentance. What remains now—but that we set upon the work. And let us be in
earnest—not as actors, but as warriors. I will conclude all, with the words
of the psalmist: "He who goes out weeping—will return with songs of
joy!" (Psalm 126:6).