A Cabinet of Choice Jewels, or,
A Box of Precious Ointment
By Thomas Brooks, 1669
Now, in this chapter I shall treat of sound, saving repentance, of repentance unto life; yes, of that evangelical repentance that has the precious promises of remission of sin and salvation running out unto it. My purpose at this time is not to handle the doctrine of repentance at large—but only to speak so far of it as may speak it out to be evidential of the goodness and happiness of a Christian's spiritual and eternal condition.
Now, before I come to open myself more particularly, give me permission to premise this in the general, namely, that there is a repentance that does accompany salvation: 2 Cor. 7:10, "For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world works death." Jer. 4:14, "O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved." Acts 11:18, "When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." Mat. 18:3, "And Jesus said, Truly I say unto you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Acts 3:19, "Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord."
Having premised thus much in the general, give me now permission to say, That there are three parts of true, sound, saving repentance, unto all which forgiveness of sin is promised. And the
1. First, is contrition or grief of heart for sins committed.Now this is called sometimes godly sorrow, 2 Cor. 7:10; and sometimes a contrite spirit, Isaiah 66:2; and sometimes a broken and contrite heart, Psalm 51:17; and sometimes the afflicting of our souls, Lev. 16:29; and sometimes the humbling of the heart, 2 Chron. 7:14, Lam. 3:20; and sometimes a mourning, Zech. 12:10; and sometimes a weeping, Mark 14:72. All repenting sinners are mourning sinners. David repents—and waters his couch with his tears, Psalm 6:6. Hezekiah repents—and humbles himself for the pride of his heart, 2 Chron. 32:26. Ephraim repents—and Ephraim bemoans himself and smites upon his thigh, and is even confounded, Jer. 31:18-19. Mary Magdalene repents—and weeps, and washes Christ's feet with her tears, Luke 7:38. The Corinthians repented—and they were made sorrowful after a godly manner, 2 Cor. 7:9. Repentance in the Hebrew is called an irking of the soul; and in Greek, after-grief; and in the Latin, poenitentia; all which do import, that contrition or sorrow for sin is one part of true repentance. Oh the sighs, the groans, the sobs, the tears, which are to be found among repenting sinners, etc. Luther hit the mark when he said, "What are all the palaces of the world to a contrite heart; yes, heaven and earth, seeing penitential heart is the seat of divine majesty?"
2. Secondly, It is very observable, that all mourning people for their sins, are within the compass of the promise of forgiveness of sins:Zech. 12:11, "In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddo." Zech. 13:1, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness." Jer. 31:18, "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning of himself," etc. Verse 20, "I will surely have mercy on him;" or, as the Hebrew has it, I will, having mercy, have mercy on him. As soon as Ephraim's heart is troubled for his sins, God's affections are troubled for Ephraim; as soon as Ephraim, like a penitent child, falls a-weeping at God's foot, God, like a tender indulgent father, falls a-bemoaning of Ephraim. Ephraim could not refrain from tears, and God could not refrain from opening his affections of mercy towards him. Just so in Isaiah 57:15. And how can the contrite heart be indeed revived and cheered without forgiveness of sins, without a pardon in the bosom?
Melancthon makes mention of a godly woman, who having upon her deathbed been in much conflict, and afterwards much comforted, broke out into these words: Now, and not until now, did I understand the meaning of these words, "Your sins are forgiven." There is no comfort to that which arises from the sense of forgiveness: Isaiah 40:1-2, "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God; speak comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her iniquities are pardoned." And why is the mourning soul pronounced the blessed soul: Mat. 5:4, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted:" but because the mourning soul is the pardoned soul?
Question.But what is that sorrow or mourning for sin, which is a part of true repentance? The resolution of this question is very necessary for the preventing of all soul-deceits and mistakes, and for the quieting, settling, and satisfying of souls truly penitent, and therefore I shall give these eight following answers to it.
[1.] First, It is a sorrow or grief that is SPIRITUAL, that is, SUPERNATURAL.No man is born with godly sorrow in his heart, as he is born with a tongue in his mouth. Godly sorrow is a plant of God's own planting; it is a seed of his own sowing; it is a flower of his own setting; it is of a heavenly offspring; it is from God, and God alone. The spirit of mourning is from above; it is from a supernatural power and principle. There is nothing that can turn a heart of stone into flesh—but the Spirit of God, Ezek. 36:25-26. Godly sorrow is a gift from God: Job 23:16, "God makes my heart soft." No hand but a divine hand can make the heart soft and tender under the sight and sense of sin. Nature may easily work a man to mourn, and melt, and weep, under worldly losses, crosses, and miseries, as it did David's men, 1 Sam. 30:4; but it must be grace, it must be a supernatural principle, that must work the heart to mourn for sin.
[2.] Secondly, Godly sorrow is a sorrow FOR SIN AS SIN. Godly sorrow is a mourning rather for sin—than for the trouble which sin brings;it is not so much for loss of goods, lands, wife, child, credit, name, etc.—but for that a holy God is offended, a righteous law violated, Christ dishonored, the Spirit grieved, and the gospel blemished, etc. Peter's sorrow was godly—but Judas' sorrow was worldly; Peter mourns over the evil of sin—but Judas mourns over the evil of punishment.
David mourns over his sin, "Against you, you only have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight," Psalm 51:4. And so 2 Sam. 24:10, "And David's heart smote him after he had numbered the people; and David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done, and now I beseech you, O Lord! take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done foolishly." David does not cry cut, Take away the threatened famine, but, Take away the iniquity of your servant. He does not cry out, Take away the enemies of your servant, but, Take away the iniquity of your servant. Nor he does not say, Take away the pestilence from the land—but, Take away the iniquity of your servant.
But now when Pharaoh was under judgments, he never cries to the Lord to take away his sins, his pride, his hardness, his obdurateness, his envy, his malice, his hatred, etc.—but he cries out, Take away the judgment, take away the punishment, take away the frogs, take away the lice, take away the caterpillars, etc. But under all these dreadful and amazing judgments that he was under, such a word as this never fell from his lips, Take away my sin, O Lord! take away my sins; your judgments do terrify me—but my sins will damn me, and therefore whatever becomes of my life, kingdom, and crown, take away my sins and save my soul.
David saw sin to be a greater evil than fleeing before his enemies, or than famine or pestilence was; and therefore he desires rather to be rid of his sins, than to be rid of the punishment which was due to his sin. But Pharaoh saw no such evil in sin, and therefore he cries out, Take away the plague, take away the plague.
And Job upon the ash-heap cries out, "I have sinned, what shall I do unto you, O preserver of men!" Job 7:20. Job does not cry out, Oh, I have lost all my substance, I am bereaved of all my children, I am set as naked upon the ash-heap! My friends reproach me, my wife tempts me to curse my God, which is ten thousand times worse than to curse myself; Satan persecutes me, and God has not only forsaken me—but has also become a severe enemy to me, etc. Job cries out of his sin, and not of his sufferings. A deep sense of his sins swallows up as it were all sense of his sufferings.
And so that great apostle Paul does not cry out, O wretched man that I am! that bonds attend me in every place, and that I have neither house nor home to go to, and that I am despised, scorned, reproached, and persecuted, and that I am accounted factious, seditious, rebellious, erroneous, and that I am looked upon as the offscouring of the world, etc. Oh no! but he cries out of his sin: "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?" Romans 7:23, 24.
Likewise, the prophet Micah, "I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned," Micah 7:9. Though of all burdens the indignation of the Lord be the greatest burden—yet divine indignation is but a light burden in comparison of sin. A gracious soul can better stand under the burden of God's indignation for sin, than it can stand under the burden of sin itself, which has kindled that indignation, etc.
[3.] Thirdly, Godly sorrow is a GREAT sorrow, it is a SUPERLATIVE sorrow, it is a sad and SERIOUS sorrow.A sincere mourning is a deep mourning, it springs from serious and deep apprehensions of the great anger and deep displeasure of God, and of the woeful nature, demerit, burden, bitterness, vileness, and filthiness of sin, etc. The blessed Scripture seems to make godly sorrow a superlative sorrow, calling it a great mourning, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddo, and a bitterness, as one is in for his first-born, Zech. 12:10-11. And so the church, "My affections are troubled within me, my heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled," Lament. 1:20. And David watered his couch with his tears, Psalm 6:6. And Mary Magdalene wept much, as well as she loved much, Luke 7. And Peter went out and wept bitterly, Mat. 26:15. Clement observes, that all the time that Peter lived after this great fall, he would every night, when he heard the rooster crow, fall upon his knees and weep bitterly.
Look! as shallow brooks make the greatest noise, so hypocrites and formalists may howl, and roar, and cry, and make more noise than the true penitent; but yet the sorrow of a true penitent is more inward, secret, solid, still, and deep, Hosea 7:14. As, you know, the deepest rivers run most silently, and make least noise—so the deepest sorrow makes least noise. The mourning of repenting souls, under the apprehensions of their sins, is like the mourning of doves; but the mourning of wicked men under the apprehension of their sins, is like the bellowing of bulls and roaring of bears, Ezek. 7:16; Isaiah 51:20, 59:11.
[4.] Fourthly, A sincere mourning is an EXTENSIVE mourning, it is an UNIVERSAL mourning.Godly sorrow and grief extends itself, not only to some sins—but to all sins, great and small. Look! as a holy heart hates all sin, so a holy heart mourns over all sin that it sees and knows to be sin. God hates one sin as well as another, and he has forbidden one sin as well as another, and he has revealed his wrath from heaven against one sin as well as another, and he is provoked by one sin as well as another; and Christ is crucified by one sin as well as another; and the Spirit is grieved as well by one sin as by another, and the gospel is reproached by one sin as well as another, and the conscience is wounded by one sin as well as another, and Satan is gratified by one sin as well as another, and wicked men's mouths are opened by one sin as well as another, and inquirers of religion are stumbled, grieved, and offended by one sin as well as another, and the soul is endangered by one sin as well as another.
An unsound heart may mourn for great sins—which make great wounds in his conscience and credit, and which leave a great blot upon his name, or that waste or rot his body, or destroy his estate, or which expose him to public scorn and shame, etc. But for sins of omission, for wandering thoughts, idle words, deadness, coldness, slightness in pious duties and services, unbelief, secret pride, self-confidence, and a thousand more—such gnats as these he can swallow without any remorse, Proverbs 5:8-14.
But now godly sorrow is of a general extent, it mourns as well for small sins as for great. David's heart smote him, as well for cutting off the lap of Saul's garment, as it did for killing of Uriah with the sword. A gracious soul weeps over many sins which none can charge upon him but God and his own conscience: Psalm 19:12, "Oh cleanse me from secret faults."
Yes, let me say that godly sorrow and grief extends not only to a man's own sins—but also to the sins of others as well as his own, Ezek. 9:4-5. And this you may see also in David, Psalm 119:53, 136, 158; and in Jeremiah, Jer. 9:1-3; and in Paul, Philip. 3:18; and in Lot, 2 Peter 2:7-8.
[5.] Fifthly, Godly sorrow is a LASTING sorrow, it is a durable sorrow. As long as a Christian continues sinning, he cannot but continue mourning.David's sins were always before him, Psalm 51:3, though his Absalom nor his Bathsheba were not ever before him. Godly sorrow will every day follow sin hard at heels. Look! as a wicked man, in respect of his desire and will to sin—would sin forever, if he should live forever; so I may say, if a godly man should live forever—he would sorrow forever. After Paul had been converted many years, some think fourteen, you shall find him a-mourning and lamenting over his sins, Romans 7. An sincere child will never cease mourning, until he ceases from offending an indulgent father. Though sin and godly sorrow were never born together—yet while a believer lives in this world, they must live together. And indeed holy joy and godly sorrow are in no way inconsistent, Psalm 2:11; yes, a godly man's eyes are always fullest of tears, when his heart is fullest of holy joy, etc. A man may go joying and mourning to his grave, yes, to heaven, at the same time.
But now the sorrow, the grief of wicked men for sin, it is like a morning cloud, or the early dew, or the crackling of thorns under a pot, or a runner who quickly passes by, or a dream which soon vanishes, or like a tale which is told, etc., their sorrowful hearts and mournful eyes soon dry up together, as you may see in Esau, Ahab, Pharaoh, and Judas. But the streams of godly sorrow will last and run as long as sin hangs upon us, and dwells in us: 1 Cor. 15:9, "I am the least of the apostles, that am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." Psalm 25:7, "Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions." David prays to the Lord, not only to forgive—but also to forget, both the sins of his youth and the sins of his age. David remembered all his faults, both of former and of later times. David was well in years when he defiled himself with Bathsheba; and this he remembers and mourns over, Psalm 51.
And it is very observable, that God charged his people to remember old sins: Deut. 9:7, "Remember, and forget not, how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness." Repentance is a grace, and must have its daily operation as well as other graces. witness the very covenant of grace itself: Ezek. 16:62-63, "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." Certainly a true penitent can no more satisfy himself with one act of repentance, than he can satisfy himself with one act of faith, or with one act of hope, or with one act of love, or with one act of humility, or with one act of patience, or with one act of self-denial. Godly sorrow is a gospel grace which will live and last as well and as long as other graces; it is a spring which in this life can never be drawn dry.
[6.] Sixthly, Godly sorrow is a DIVORCING sorrow; it divorces the heart from sin, it breaks that ancient league which has been between the heart and sin.There is a strong firm league between every sinner and his sin, Isaiah 28:15, 18; but when godly sorrow enters, it dissolves that league, it separates between a sinner and his sin, it sets the soul at an everlasting distance from sin. It is an excellent saying of Austin, He does truly bewail the sins he has committed, who never commits the sins he has bewailed. The union between the root and the branches, the foundation and the building, the head and the members, the father and the child, the husband and the wife, the body and the soul, are all near, very near unions; yet, that between a sinner and his sin seems to be a nearer union.
Observable is the story of Phaltiel. You know when David had married Michal, Saul injuriously gave her to another; but when David came to the crown, and sent forth his royal command that his wife should be brought to him. Her husband, Phaltiel, dares not but obey, brings her on her journey, and then not without great reluctancy of spirit takes his leave of her, 2 Sam. 3:14-16. But what—was Phaltiel weary of his wife, that he now forsakes her? Oh no, he was forced, and though she was gone—yet he had many a sad thought about parting with her, and he never leaves looking until he sees her as far as Bahurim, weeping and bemoaning her absence. Just thus stands the heart of every unregenerate man towards his sins—as Phaltiel's heart stood towards his wife.
But when the springs of godly sorrow rise in the soul, the league, the friendship, the union which was between the sinner and his sins, comes to be dissolved and broken in pieces, Hosea 14:8. All godly sorrow sets the heart against sin. He who divinely mourns over sin, cannot live in a course of sin. When of all bitters, God makes sin to be the greatest bitter to the soul, then the soul bids an everlasting farewell to sin; now the soul in good earnest bids adieu to sin forever. O sirs! this is a most certain maxim, to live and die with—that either a man's sins will make an end of his mourning, or else his mourning will make an end of his sin; for he who holds on sinning, will certainly leave off mourning. No man can make a trade of sin, and yet keep his heart in a mourning frame. But he who holds on mourning for sin, will certainly leave off the trade of sin. Holy grief for sin will sooner or later break off all leagues and friendships with sin. As sin makes a separation between God and a man's soul—so godly sorrow makes a separation between a man's soul and his sin, Isaiah 59:1-2. All holy mournings over sin will by degrees issue in the wasting and weakening of the strength and power of sin; nothing below the death and destruction of sin will satisfy that soul who truly mourns over sin.
But now, though you may find an unsound heart sometimes a-lamenting over his sins—yet you shall never find him a-leaving of his sins. Pharaoh lamented over his sin, crying out, "I have sinned, the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked." And again, "Then Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron in haste, and he said, I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you," Exod. 9:27, 10:16. But though you find him here lamenting and complaining over his sin—yet you never find him leaving or forsaking of his sin. Just so, Saul could cry out that he had sinned—but yet he still continued in his sin; he acknowledged that he did evil in persecuting of David, and yet he still held on persecuting of him. An unsound heart mourns over sin—and yet he holds on in a course of sin; he sins and mourns—and mourns and sins, and commonly all his mourning for sin does but the more embolden him in a way of sin.
But the gracious soul says with Job, "If I have done iniquity, I will do it no more," Job 34:32. He laments over sin and leaves it; he confesses it, and forsakes it, and he is as willing to forego it as he is willing that God should forgive it.
[7.] Seventhly, All godly sorrow is the fruit and effect of evangelical faith.It flows from faith as the stream from the fountain, the branch from the root, and the effect from the cause: Zech. 12:10, "They shall look upon Him whom they have pierced—and shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born." Look! as all legal sorrow flows from a legal faith, as you may see in Ahab's and the Ninevites; so all evangelical sorrow flows from an evangelical faith: "they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced—and shall mourn." All gracious mourning flows from looking, from believing. Nothing breaks the heart of a sinner like a look of faith. All tears of godly sorrow drop from the eye of faith. Godly sorrow rises and falls, as faith rises and falls. Faith and godly sorrow are like the fountain and the flood, which rise and fall together. The more a man is able by faith to look upon a pierced Christ, the more his heart will mourn over all the dishonors which he has done to Christ. The more deep and wide the wounds are which faith shows me in the heart and sides of Christ, the more my heart will be wounded for sinning against Christ.
Again, godly sorrow is not an enemy—but a friend to holy joy. I have read of a holy man, who lying upon his sick-bed, and being asked which were his joyfullest days which ever he had, cried out, "Oh give me my mourning days, give me my mourning days again, for they were the joyfullest days which ever I had." The higher the springs of godly sorrow rise, the higher the tides of holy joy rise. His graces will flourish most—who evangelically mourns most. Grace always thrives best in that garden, that heart, which is watered most with the tears of godly sorrow. He who grieves most for sin, will rejoice most in God. And he who rejoices most in God, will grieve most for sin.
Again, the more a man apprehends of the love of God, and of the love of Christ; and the more a man tastes and is assured of the love of the Father, and of the love of the Son—the more that person will grieve and mourn that he has offended, provoked, and grieved such a Father, and such a Son. Remember this, as a man's assurance of peace and reconciliation with God rises—so his grief for sin rises. The more clear and certain evidences a man has of the love and favor of God to his soul, the more that man will grieve and mourn for sinning against such a God. There is nothing which thaws and melts the heart, which softens and breaks the heart, like the warm beams of divine love; as you may see in the case of Mary Magdalene, Luke 7; she loved much, and she wept much, for much was forgiven her. A sight of the free grace and love of Christ towards her, in an act of forgiveness, broke her heart all in pieces. "Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them." Luke 7:38.
A man cannot stand under the shinings of divine love with a frozen heart, nor yet with dry eyes. The more a man sees of the love of Christ, and the more a man tastes and enjoys of the love of Christ, the more that man will grieve and mourn for all the dishonors that he has done to Christ. The more a sincere child sees, and tastes, and enjoys of his father's love, the more he grieves and mourns that ever he should offend such a father, or provoke such a father, who has been so loving and indulgent towards him. Injuries done to a friend cut deep, and the more near, and dear, and beloved a man's friend is to him, the more a man is afflicted and troubled for any wrongs or injuries which are done to him; and just so it is between God and a gracious soul.
The free love and favor of God, and his unspeakable goodness and mercy manifested in Jesus Christ to poor sinners, is the very spring and fountain of all evangelical sorrow. Nothing breaks the heart of a poor sinner like the sight of God's free love in a redeemer. A man cannot seriously look upon the firstness, the freeness, the greatness, the unchangeableness, the everlastingness, and the matchlessness of God's free favor and love in Christ—with a hard heart, or with dry eyes! Ezek. 36:31, compared with verses 25-26.
Oh! who is there that has but one spark of sincerity, who can read over that heart-breaking scripture with dry eyes? "Yet you have not called upon me, O Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, O Israel. You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with grain offerings nor wearied you with demands for incense. You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me, or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses. I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." Isaiah 43:22-25
"I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger—yet he kept on in his willful ways. I have seen his ways—but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near,' says the Lord. 'And I will heal them." Isaiah 57:17-19. Now a man would think, after all this horrid abuse put upon God, this would certainly follow: therefore I will plague and punish you; therefore my wrath shall smoke against you; therefore my soul shall abhor you; therefore I will shut up my loving-kindness in displeasure against you; therefore I will show no more mercy towards you; therefore I will hide my face forever from you; therefore I will take vengeance on you; therefore I will rain hell out of heaven upon you, etc. Oh! but read and wonder, read and admire, read and stand amazed and astonished, read and refrain from tears if you can: verse 25, "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and will not remember your sins."
The prophet's expression in that Zech. 12:10 is very observable, "They shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one that mourns for his only son." Now it is observable in a father's mourning for an only son, there is nothing but pure love, sincere love, hearty love. But in a son's mourning for his father, there may be, and often is a great deal of self-love, self-respect, because the child may run and read in his father's death, his own loss, his own ruin, his own undoing. But in the father's mourning for an only son, a man may run and read the integrity, purity, and sincerity of the father's love. And it is only such a love as this, which sets the soul a-mourning and a-lamenting over a crucified Christ. The thoughts and fears of wrath, of hell, and of condemnation—works unsound hearts to mourn. But it is the sight of a bleeding, dying Savior—which sets sincere, gracious souls a-mourning.
[8.] Eighthly, and lastly, Godly sorrow, grief, or mourning, may be known by the inseparable attendants or companions which attend it and wait on it,2 Cor. 7:11; and they are these seven:
First, "What carefulness" or study; the word notes the serious intension of the mind, and the diligence and dexterity of the soul in shunning and avoiding sin, and arming of the soul against all occasions and temptations thereunto. The great care and concern of the repenting soul is to leave all sin, to shake off all sin, to avoid all sin, and to weaken and subdue, and bring under all sin. Oh! the care, the caution, the circumspection, the vigilancy, the strivings and the strugglings of the repenting soul against temptations and corruptions.
Secondly, Yes, "what clearing of yourselves," apology or defense; which is not done either by denying of sin, or by excusing of sin committed—but by confession of sin, and disliking of sin, and bewailing of sin, and by walking quite cross and contrary to the sin confessed, disliked, and bewailed; as Zaccheus did, Luke 19:8; and as the jailor did, Acts 16:13. The true penitent has no ways to clear himself—but by arraigning, judging, and condemning of himself: 1 Cor. 11:31, "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." When men judge themselves, and condemn themselves, God is justified, and the devil defeated—as having nothing to say against them, but what they have said before. When men acknowledge their sins, and aggravate their sins, and pass the sentence of condemnation upon themselves for their sins—they shall find their acquittance from them clearly drawn in the blood of Christ. Repentance for sin takes off the guilt of sin; and sin bewailed is as if it had never been committed; and this becomes the soul's apology, Ezek. 18:21-22. [As the child makes his defense and apology to his father, not by denying or defending his faults—but by confessing and disclaiming of them; so does the penitent soul carry it towards God.]
Thirdly, "Yes, what indignation," or stomach, or wrath unto grief. It notes the very rising of the stomach with rage, and a being angry unto fretting, fuming, and sickness. Again, it notes the very height of anger and rage. The true penitent is not so exceeding angry with himself for anything—as he is angry with himself for his sins. Indignation here imports the turning of all the passions of the soul wholly against sin. There are no men in the world so hot and angry against themselves for their sins, as penitents are. "Then you will defile your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them—Away with you!" Isaiah 30:22. Witness David, Psalm 73:22; witness Ephraim, Hosea 14:8; and witness Paul, Romans 7:22-23.
There are none who fret, and fume, and chafe at themselves for sin, as penitent souls do. There are none who loathe themselves, who abhor themselves, and who are weary of themselves, upon the account of their sins—like penitent souls. It is not this thing nor that, nor this enemy nor that, nor this party nor that, nor this design nor that—but sin, which is the main—the grand object of a penitent's hatred, scorn, wrath, rage, reproach, disgrace, and contempt, etc. He who would be angry and sin not, must be angry at nothing but sin. If some men would but spend more of their anger and indignation against their sins, they would not be so angry as they are with their brethren, that in disputable things differ from them.
Fourthly, "Yes, what fear" of God's displeasure, and of doing anything wickedly before the Lord. Penitent souls are of all souls the most trembling souls, the most timorous souls: Proverbs 28:14, "Blessed is the man who fears always." The penitent Christian has still a jealous eye upon his own heart, words, and ways. He is very apt to suspect a snake under every flower, and to fear a snare in every creature-comfort. The burnt child dreads the fire. He who has been once stung hates a snake; he who has been in danger of drowning, trembles at the thoughts of going by water; and he who has once broken his leg, rides and walks with a fear of diligence and vigilancy all his life after.
I have read of the dove, that she is afraid of every feather that has grown upon a hawk; the very sight of any of the hawk's feathers brings as much terror upon her as if she had seen the hawk herself. Such a native dread is, it seems, implanted in her, that it detests and abhors the very sight of any such feather. In every penitent, God implants such a holy fear, such a filial fear, such a reverential fear, such a fear leading to diligence and vigilancy, that the penitent Christian's heart rises, detests and abhors, not only gross sins—but the least motions, inclinations, and temptations to sin. Those who have paid dear for past guilt—have known what an aching heart, a wounded conscience, and a bleeding soul means. Those who have experienced what the frowns of God, the threatenings of God, and the wrath of God means—will certainly beware of sin, watch and war against it, and fear to fall into it.
Fifthly, "Yes, what vehement desire." It signifies such a desire of fervency that can admit of no delay; it notes such a desire as produces diligence, activity, and industry. The true penitent is full of fervent and vehement desires to be rid of his sins. Rachel was never more vehement and fervent in her desires after children, nor David after the water of the well Bethlehem, nor the hunted deer after the water-brooks, nor the betrothed virgin for her marriage-day, nor the slave for his freedom, nor the captive for his ransom, nor the soldier for the conquest, nor the sick man for his cure, nor the condemned man for his pardon—than the true penitent is vehement and fervent in his desires to have his lusts subdued, mortified, and destroyed, Romans 7:22-24.
Many a day have I sought death with tears, said blessed Cowper, not out of distrust, impatience, or perturbation—but because I am weary of sin, and fearful of falling into it. If you ask the penitent, Why do you hear, pray, read, and apply yourself so seriously, so frequently, so unweariedly, and so constantly to all sin-subduing ministrations? he will tell you that it is out of a vehement and fervent desire that he has to be rid of his sins. If you ask him again, why he is so much in complaining against sin, in mourning over sin, and in warring against sin? etc., he will tell you that it is out of a vehement and earnest desire that he has to be fully and finally delivered from sin.
Sixthly, "Yes, what zeal." Zeal is an extreme heat of all the affections set against sin, and working strongly towards God. David's zeal did eat up his sin as well as himself. And Paul was as zealous in propagating the gospel, as he had been furious in persecuting of it. Many men's zeal is hot and burning, when scorns and reproaches are cast upon them; but the penitent man's zeal is most hot and burning, when religion is scorned, saints persecuted, truth endangered, and the great and dreadful name of God blasphemed, etc. The zeal of a true penitent will carry him on in a course of godliness, and in a course of mortification, in spite of all the diversions and oppositions that the world, the flesh, and the devil can make. Holy zeal is a fire that will make its way through all things that stand between God and the soul. The true penitent is unchangeably resolved to be rid of his sins, whatever it cost him. Whatever escapes, whatever lives—he is fully determined his lusts shall die for it. Only remember this, though zeal should eat up our sins—yet it must not eat up our wisdom, no more than public policy should eat up our zeal.
Seventhly, "Yes, what revenge." The true penitent revenges himself upon himself for his sins, not by whips and scourges, as the papists do—but by buffeting the flesh, and bringing it into subjection by fasting and prayer, and by crossing of his lusts, and loading of them with chains, and by drawing the sword of mortification against them, and by withholding from them that fuel that might feed them, and by the use of all other holy exercises, whereby the old man, the body of sin and death, may be subdued to the obedience and discipline of the Spirit of God. [1 Cor. 9:27. A penitent sinner loathes the very scars of his sins after they are healed.—Gregory Nazianzen.]
Holy revenge will show itself by contradicting of corrupt self, and by a severe chastising and punishing of all these instruments that have been servants to the flesh; as you may see by the daughters of Israel in dedicating their looking-glasses, by which they had sinned, to the service of the sanctuary, Exod. 38:8; and as you may see by the Ephesians' burning of their costly and blasphemous books before all men, Acts 19:19; and by Mary Magdalene's wiping of Christ's feet with her hair, wherewith formerly her fond and foolish lovers were enticed and entangled, Luke 7. And the same spirit you may see working in Zaccheus, Luke 19:8-9; and in the jailor, Acts 16:23-34. And so blessed Cranmer thrust his right hand first into the fire, that being the hand by which he subscribed the popish articles, revengefully crying out, "This unworthy right hand, this unworthy right hand," as long as he could speak.
The common language of holy revenge is this: "Lord, pour out all your wrath, and all your fierce anger, and all your fiery indignation, upon this lust and that lust. Lord, bend your bow, and shoot all the arrows of your displeasure, into the very heart of my strong corruptions; Lord, when will you rain hell out of heaven upon this proud heart, this unbelieving heart, this unclean heart, this worldly heart, this froward heart, this treacherous heart of mine, etc."
I have read of Hannibal, that when he saw a pit full of the blood of his enemies, he cried out with much contentment and delight, "Oh beautiful sight!" Just so, when a penitent Christian sees his spiritual enemies, his strong corruptions, all in a gore-blood, oh how delightfully and rejoicingly does he cry out, "Oh beautiful sight! Oh blessed sight, that ever I have seen!" When the children of Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the seashore, then they sang a song of praise, Exod. 15. The application is easy.
O sirs! let no man deceive his own immortal soul; for it is most certain, that repentance to life has all these lively companions attending of it. Sound repentance, and the companions of it, are born together, and will live and continue together until the penitent soul changes earth for heaven, grace for glory. And let this much suffice for the first part of true repentance, etc.
2. The second part of true repentance lies in CONFESSION of sin, which flows out of a contrite heart.I mean, not a bare, formal, empty confession, such as is common among the worst of sinners, as that "we are all sinners, and stand in need of a Savior. God help us! God be merciful unto us!" etc.; but of such a confession of sin as arises from a true sight and full sense of sin, and from the due apprehensions of a righteous law that is transgressed, and a holy God who is provoked, etc. When tongue and heart goes together; when the tongue speaks out of the abundance of the heart; when the tongue is the faithful interpreter of the heart, freely, sincerely and humbly acknowledging iniquity, transgression, and sin; and the penitent judging himself worthy of death, of wrath, of hell, and unworthy of the least mercy and favor from God, etc.
New such a confession as this is you shall find in repenting sinners; and if you look again, you shall find those people so confessing, to be under the capacity of the promise of the forgiveness of their sins, etc.
[1.] First, You shall find repenting sinners confessing their sins.Ezra 9:6, "O my God, I am ashamed, and blush to lift up my face unto you, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our sin is grown up unto the heavens." Verse 10, "And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken your commandments," etc. Psalm 51:3, "I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me." Verse 4, "Against you, you only have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight." Dan. 9:4-5, "I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and awesome God, etc.; we have sinned and committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from your precepts, and from your judgments," etc. Verse 8, "O Lord, righteousness belongs unto you—but unto us confusion of face, as at this day." Luke 15:18, "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;" verse 19, "And I am no more worthy to be called your son," etc. 1 Cor. 15:9, "For I am the least of all the apostles, that am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." 1 Tim. 1:13, "I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious," etc. Isaiah 53:6, "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." I might easily produce a hundred other scriptures to prove that repenting sinners are confessing sinners—but let these suffice, etc.
[2.] Secondly,If you please to cast your eyes upon other scriptures, you shall find these penitent confessing sinners to be expressly under the promises of the forgiveness of sins. [Confessing penitents are under the promises of forgiveness, etc. Turn to Job 33:27, 28, and ponder upon it. Proverbs 28:13, "He who covers his sins shall not prosper; but he who confesses and forsakes shall have mercy," etc.] 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." Psalm 32:5, "I acknowledged my sin unto you, and my iniquity have I not hid. 1 said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and you forgave the iniquity of my sin." Lev. 26:40-42, "'But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers--their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies--then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land." Jer. 3:12-13, "Return, O backsliding Israel, says the Lord, and I will not cause my anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, says the Lord. Only acknowledge your iniquity." And observable is that prayer of Solomon, 1 Kings 8:47-50, "If they shall bethink themselves, and repent, and make supplication to you, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; then hear their prayer, and forgive your people that have sinned against you."
Question.But what are the properties or qualifications of true penitential confession of sin?
Answer. They are these eight that follow.
(1.) First, It is free, it is VOLUNTARY, not forced, not extorted.Nehemiah, Ezra, Job, David, Daniel, Paul, etc., were free and voluntary in the confession of their sins, as all know that have but read the Scripture. [Acts 26:10-11; Ezra 9:9; Neh. 9; Dan. 9; Psalm 5; Job 40:4-5] The true penitent confesses his sins with much candor, sincerity, and freedom of spirit. He is as free in his confession of sin, as he has been free in the commission of sin. His confessions are like water which runs out of a spring with a voluntary freeness—but the confessions of wicked men are like water that is forced out of a still with fire. Their confessions are forced and extracted merely from sense of pain, or from fear of punishments, etc. Pharaoh never confessed his sin until God brought him to the rack, nor Saul until he was in danger of losing his crown and kingdom, nor Balaam until he sees the angel stand with his drawn sword ready to slay him, nor Judas until horror of conscience and the pangs of hell had surprised him, and taken fast hold on him. [Exod. 10:16; 1 Sam. 15:24; Num. 22:23-35; Mat. 27:3-5.]
Wicked men cast out their sins by confession, as mariners do their wares in a storm, wishing for them again in a calm. The confessions of wicked men are commonly extorted or squeezed out, either by some outward trouble, or by some inward distress. But penitential confession is free and sincere, arising from an inward detestation of sin, and from the contrariety of the heart to sin; and, therefore, were there no rod, no rack, no wrath, no hell—the true penitent would very freely and readily confess his sins. When God is most free in bestowing of mercies, then are they most free in confessing their iniquities, Hosea 14:1-4. Look! as that is the best wine that flows from the grape with least pressing, and as that is the best honey which drops from the honeycomb without crushing—so those are the best confessions that flow, that drop freely, voluntarily from the soul, etc.
(2.) Secondly, True penitential confession is FULL as well as free.That confession is not sincere that is not full, Lam. 1:18-19. God loves neither halting nor mincing confessions. These undid the pharisee, Luke 18:11. As penitential confessions are not extorted, so they are not straitened. Sin must be confessed in its particular species and parts; all known sins must be confessed fully, plainly, particularly, as you may see by turning to these scriptures, Lev. 26:40-42, and 19:21; Judges 10:10; Psalm 51; 1 Sam. 12:19; 1 Tim. 1:13; Acts 26:10, 11; Dan. 9:5-17; Lev. 16:21-22, etc. Some there are who deny their sins, with the harlot: Proverbs 30:20, "Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eats and wipes her mouth, and says, I have done no wickedness." And others there are who blame their sins on others, as Adam did, Gen. 3:12; and as Eve did, verse 13; and as Aaron did, Exod. 32:22; and as Saul did, 1 Sam. 15:22. And many there are who hide their wickedness, that conceal their wickedness, as that proud pharisee did, Luke 18:11-12. That expression of the prophet Hosea, chapter 10:13, "You have ploughed wickedness," is rendered by the Septuagint, "You have concealed wickedness;" and, indeed, there is nothing more common to a wicked heart, than to keep close his sin, than to cover and hide his transgressions. And, certainly, this is that sore disease that our first parents were sick to death of, almost six thousand years ago; and, therefore, it is no wonder if we are all infected with it.
Man by nature is a vain-glorious creature, apt to boast and brag of the sins that he is free of—but unwilling to confess the sins that he is guilty of. There are no men so prone to conceal their own wickedness, as those who are most forward to proclaim their own goodness. There are many who are not ashamed to commit sin, who yet are ashamed to confess sin; but certainly of all shame, that is the most shameful shame, which leads a man to hide his sins.
But now the true penitent, he makes conscience of confessing small sins as well as great sins, secret sins as well as open sins, Psalm 90:8, 19:12. David confesses not only his great sins of murder and adultery—but he confesses also his self-revenge intended against Nabal, and of his knife being so near Saul's throat, when he cut off the tip of Saul's garment. [Job 31:33. We are but flesh and blood, says one; it is my nature, says a second; I cannot help it, says a third; I am not the first, says a fourth; it was bad company drew me, says a fifth; if it be a sin, I am sorry for it, says a sixth; if it is bad, I cry God's mercy, says a seventh. And thus wicked men are as hypocritical in their confessions as they are in their professions, etc.]
A true penitent is much in confessing and lamenting over that secret pride, that secret fleshliness, that secret worldliness, that secret hypocrisy, that secret vain glory, etc., which is only obvious to God and his own soul. But it is quite otherwise with wicked men; for they confess their grosser sins—but never observe their lesser sins; they confess their open sins—but never lay open their secret sins. Cain confesses the murdering of his brother—but never confesses his secret enmity, which put him upon washing his hands in his brother's blood. Pharaoh confesses his oppression of the children of Israel—but he does not confess the pride of his heart, nor the hardness of his heart. Judas confesses his betraying of innocent blood—but he never confesses his covetousness, which put him upon betraying of the Lord of glory. And others have confessed their apostasy, who have never confessed their hypocrisy that has led them to apostasy, etc. Well, this is certain, that those little sins, those secret sins, that never break a sinner's sleep—do often break a believer's heart.
(3.) Thirdly, As true penitential confession is full, so it is SINCERE and heartfelt. It is not a feigned, nor a formal, nor a mere verbal confession—but an affectionate confession. It is a confession that has the mind, the heart, the soul, as well as the lip in it. [Psalm 51:31; Jer. 18:19, 20; Isaiah 26:8-9; Ezra 9:6; Pi. 38:4; Job 42:6; Luke 18:13.] The penitent man's confession springs from inward impressions of grace upon his soul, he feels what he confesses, and his affections go along with his confessions. The poor publican smote upon his bosom and confessed.
Look! as the sick man opens his disease to his physician, feelingly, sincerely; and as the client opens his case to his lawyer, feelingly, sincerely—so the penitent opens his case, his heart to God, feelingly, sincerely. Cold, careless, verbal, formal, customary confessions are great abominations in the eye of God, Jer. 12:2. Such men's confessions will be their condemnation at last—their tongues will one day cut their throats. Though confession to men is a work of the voice—yet confession to God must be the voice of the heart. Sometimes the heart alone is sufficient without the voice, as you may see in Hannah, 1 Sam. 1:13-15; but the voice is never sufficient without the heart, as you may see in that Isaiah 29:13. Such who make confession of sin to be only a lip labor—such, instead of offering the calves of their lips as the prophet requires, Hosea 14:2, do but offer the lips of calves!
Heart-confessions, without words, shall be effectual with God, and carry the day in heaven, when all formal, verbal confessions, though they are ever so eloquent or excellent, shall be cast as dung in sinners' faces, Isaiah 1:12-16. Mary Magdalene weeps, and sighs, and sobs—but speaks never a word, Luke 7:38; and yet by her heart-confessions are accepted by Christ—as is evident by his answer to her: Luke 7:48, "He said unto her, Your sins are forgiven." Penitent souls confess sins feelingly—but wicked men's confessions make no impression upon them; their confessions run through them as water runs through a pipe, without leaving any impression at all upon the pipe. Wicked men do no more taste nor relish the evil of sin, the poison of sin, the bitterness of sin in any of their confessions, than the pipe does taste or relish the water that runs through it. Such who confess sin formally, or rhetorically, and yet love sin dearly, heartily—shall never get good by their confessions. Certainly such confessions will never reach the heart of God—which do not reach our own hearts; nor will such confessions ever affect the heart of God—which do not first affect our own hearts. Such as speak very ill of sin with their tongues, and yet secretly wish well to sin in their hearts—will be found at last of all men the most miserablest. But,
(4.) Fourthly, As penitential confession is sincere and heartfelt, so it is DISTINCT and not confused.The true penitent has his particular and special bills of indictment, he knows his sins of omission, and his sins of commission; he remembers the sins that he has most rejoiced and delighted in; he cannot forget the sins that have had most of his eye, his ear, his head, his hand, his heart; the by-paths in which he has most walked, and the transgressions by which God has been most dishonored, his conscience most wounded, and his corrupt nature most pleased and gratified, are always before him, Ezra 10:3. A general confession is almost as bad as a general faith; wicked men commonly confess their sins by wholesale, We are all sinners. But the true penitent confesses his sins by retail, Psalm 51:3. Though it cannot be denied but that in some cases a general confession may be penitent, as you see in the publican, "God me merciful to me a sinner," Luke 18:13; yet it must be granted that a true penitent cannot content nor satisfy himself with a general confession. And therefore David confesses his particular sins of adultery and blood-guiltiness, and Paul particularizes his sins of blasphemy, and persecution, and injuriousness against the saints, 1 Tim. 1:13.
And more you have of this in that Acts 26:10-11, "And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them." Likewise, Judges 10:10, "And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, saying, We have sinned against you, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Balaam." "We have sinned," there is their general confession; "we have forsaken our God, and also served Balaam," there is their distinct and particular confession, both of their apostasy and idolatry. And so 1 Sam. 12:19, "The people all said to Samuel—Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king." They were discontented with that government that the Lord had set over them, and they would need be governed by a king, after the mode of other nations; and this sin they confess distinctly and particularly before the Lord and Samuel.
And so David, in that 1 Chron. 21:17, "And David said to God—I am the one who called for the census! I am the one who has sinned and done wrong! But these people are innocent—what have they done? O Lord my God, let your anger fall against me and my family, but do not destroy your people." Thus that princely prophet confesses that particular sin that he then lay under the guilt of. And so Zaccheus makes a particular confession; he does as it were point with his finger at that wrong and injustice that he had been guilty of: "Behold, Lord, half my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold."
Thus you see that true penitents make a particular confession of their right-eye sins, and of their right-hand sins. Indeed, what is confession of sin but a setting our sins in order before the Lord? And how can this be done but by a distinct and particular enumeration of them? But to prevent mistakes, this must be taken with a grain of salt, this must be understood with this limitation; we are to confess our sins distinctly, particularly—so far as we know them, so far as we are acquainted with them. There are many thousand sins which we commit that we know not to be sins, and there are many thousand sins committed by us that cannot be remembered by us. Now certainly it is impossible for us to recount or confess those sins that we knew not, that we remember not; so that our particular confessions can only reach to known sins, so far as we can call them to mind; for indeed our particular acts of sin are innumerable; they are "more in number than the hairs of our head;" and indeed we are as well able to count the stars of heaven, and to number the sands of the sea, and to recount all the sparing mercies, the pitying mercies, the preventing mercies, the supporting mercies, the sustaining mercies, and the delivering mercies of God—as we are able to count, to number, to recount, the individual particular acts of sin that we are guilty of; yet so far as the knowledge and memory of a penitent Christian reaches, so far his confession reaches. But now wicked men confess sin in the general, in the lump; as Pharaoh, "I have sinned;" and their confessions are commonly confused, and at random. When and where do you find wicked men confessing their sins distinctly or particularly before God or man? This is none of the least of their miseries—that they have not a clear, distinct, particular view of their own corruptions and abominations. But,
(5.) Fifthly, The true penitent does not only distinctly and particularly confess his sins—but he does very highly AGGRAVATE his sins, by confessing not only the kinds and acts, so far as he knows and remembers them—but the circumstances of them also, Psalm 32:5, Lev. 16:21. There are sometimes some circumstances that may somewhat lessen a penitent man's sins. Now these he readily and easily passes over. But then there are other circumstances which do exceedingly heighten and aggravate his sins, and that makes them more heinous and dangerous; and these he carefully and faithfully acknowledges. The penitential confessions recorded in the Old and New Testament are full of exaggerating expressions, as is evident in these instances: Ezra at once heightens and aggravates their sins by this circumstance, that they had been committed against manifold experiences that they had—both of the severity and also the mercy of the Lord, Ezra 9. And so does Nehemiah also, Neh. 9.
The like instance you have in Daniel, chapter 9:5-6, "We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from your precepts, and from your judgments; neither have we hearkened unto your servants the prophets, which spoke in your name, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land." In these words you have seven circumstances that Daniel uses in confessing of his and the people's sins, and all to heighten and to aggravate them.
First, "We have sinned;"
secondly, "We have committed iniquity;"
thirdly, "We have done wickedly;"
fourthly, "We have rebelled against you;"
fifthly "We have departed from your precepts;"
sixthly, "We have not hearkened unto your servants;"
seventhly, "Nor our princes, nor all the people of the land."
These seven aggravations which Daniel reckons up in his confession, are worthy of our most serious consideration.
The same spirit you may find working in Peter: Mark 14:72, "When he thought thereon he wept;" or nearer the original, "When he cast all these things one upon another, he wept." Ah wretch! that ever I was born, that ever I should deny the Lord who bought me; that ever I should deny him who has not only externally—but also internally, called me; that ever I should deny him who made me an apostle, that fed me at his table, that beautified me with his grace, and that in the mount showed me some glimpses of his glory; that ever I should deny him who has brought me out of a state of death and wrath, into a state of life and love; that ever I should deny him who has been the best, the wisest, the holiest, the tenderest, the faithfullest, and the noblest master that ever man served. Ah wretch that I am! he forewarned me of this sin beforehand, that I might be not only cautioned but armed against it—and yet I denied him! I promised him beforehand, that I would never deny him, that I would never forsake him, that I would never turn my back upon him, and yet like a base coward, I have denied the Captain of my salvation! Yes, this very night—did I say again and again, that I would not deny him, and yet now, even now, I have most shamefully denied him! Yes, I told him, that though all others should deny him—yet would not I deny him, and yet in all the world there is not such another to be found, that has so sadly, so desperately denied him, as I have denied him, and that before a silly maid! Nay, more—beast that I am! to my denying of him, I have added a most incredible lie, saying, I know not the man, when there was not a man in all the world that I was so well acquainted with as I was with Christ, feeding constantly at his table, and drinking constantly of his cup, and living constantly upon his purse, and waiting constantly upon his person, and being a constant eye-witness of all the famous miracles that were wrought by him! Nay, yet more— monster that I am, I did not only lie—but I also bound that lie with a hideous oath; I did not only say that I knew not the man—but I also swore that I knew not the man! Nay—yet more than all this, I did not only basely deny him, I did not only tell an incredible lie against my own light and conscience. I did not only bind a fearful lie with a hideous oath—but I also fell a-cursing and damning of myself (for so much the Greek word imports) I wished that the curse, the wrath, or vengeance of God might fall upon me if I knew the man, I wished myself separated from the presence and glory of God if I knew the man! And woe and alas to me! all this I did when my Lord and Master was near me, yes, when he was upon his trial; yes, and yet more, when all the world had forsaken him; yes, and yet more, when I had the greatest and loudest call that ever I had to have stood by him, and to have given my testimony for him! And thus Peter, casting up all these circumstances and aggravations together, and meditating seriously on them, "he went out and wept bitterly."
Another famous instance of this you have in Paul, "Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many of the believers in Jerusalem to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. Many times I had them whipped in the synagogues to try to get them to curse Christ. I was so violently opposed to them that I even hounded them in distant cities of foreign lands." Acts 26:10-11. In these two verses the apostle lays down no less than eight aggravations of his sins, and all to greaten and heighten them, that his soul might be the more ashamed and humbled in him, etc.
First, That they were not the worst men—but the best of men, namely, saints; that they were not sinners but saints; that they were not drunkards, swearers, adulterers, murderers, oppressors—but saints; saints by calling, saints by their high and holy calling, saints by profession, saints by a gospel-living. "The saints have I cast into prison."
Secondly, To cast a man into prison for theft, for murder, for perjury, is no iniquity. Ay—but says he, many have I cast into prison for "professing the name of Jesus of Nazareth." Oh! it is dreadful to persecute men merely for professing of Christ! and yet this I did. Though their profession and practice went together; though they lived as they professed; though I had nothing against them—but in the matters of their God—yet upon that very single account I did persecute them.
Thirdly, If it had been but one, or two, or three, or five, or ten saints that I had persecuted, the matter had not been much. Oh! but they were a great number; "many of the saints did I cast into prison." I have been a cruel ravening wolf, who has sucked the blood, not of a few—but of many of the precious lambs of Christ; I have neither spared nor pitied any gender—but have broken into every house, hauling and dragging both men and women to prison. Acts 8:3, "Saul was going everywhere to devastate the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into jail."
Fourthly, Though he had cast them into prison—yet if he had given them but some liberty in a prison, as Joseph had, and as others have had, and as he himself once had when he begot Onesimus in his bonds, Philem. 10, and when Onesiphorus oft refreshed him, and was not ashamed of his chains, 2 Tim. 1:16, etc., or as the primitive Christians had—the matter had not been so great. Oh! but I kept them close prisoners; "Many of the saints did I shut up in prison." I shut them up from friends, from relations, and from all comfortable accommodations; and thus he further aggravates his sin, Acts 9:1-2.
Fifthly, If he had rested there, if he had proceeded no further, the matter had not been so bad; Oh! "but I gave my voice against them to put them to death." My heart and my hand was not only against them—but my tongue also. If I could not kill them with my hand, I was ready and willing to kill them with my tongue; if the casting voice fell upon me, I would be sure to give it against them; I never lacked a word to do them mischief. If they needed a word, instead of a knife, to cut their throats—I would be sure to lend them one.
Sixthly, He rises yet higher, for he does not only severely punish their bodies—but he does what he can to damn their souls; I compelled them to blaspheme—like that Italian, who first made his enemy deny God, and then stabbed him, and so at once murdered both body and soul. As there is no love compared to soul love, so there is no cruelty compared to soul cruelty; and as there is no mischief compared to soul mischief, so there is no murder compared to soul murder; and yet in this murder had Paul a hand. It is sad to compel a man to bear a burden beyond his strength, to lie in chains, to forsake his own country, etc.—but it is infinitely more sad to compel a man to sin, to the least sin; but saddest of all to compel a man to blaspheme, "And yet this I did," says Paul, etc.
Seventhly, He yet further aggravates his sin by his madness, by his exceeding madness against the saints, in those words: "and I was exceeding mad against them." He was mad with rage and wrath, he was exceedingly mad with passion and fury against the dear saints of God. Madmen think madly, and madmen speak madly, and madmen act madly against those they are mad with; and so did he against the saints. The Alcoran says, that God created the angels of light, and the devils of flame. Certainly, as God's children are children of the light, so Satan's children are furious children, wrathful children, children of the flame, children of madness; and such a one was Paul, etc.
Eighthly, and lastly, "I did persecute them to strange cities;" them I did not kill I did scatter; I forced them to leave both house and home; them whom God had joined together I put asunder: I made the husband run one way, and the wife and children another way, and all of them glad to hide their heads in a corner.
And thus you see, that true penitents, in the confession of their sins, so clothe their sins with the highest aggravations imaginable. A penitent in his confession of sin cries out, Oh the sparing mercies, the preventing mercies, the supporting mercies, the sustaining mercies, the renewing mercies, the delivering mercies—which I have with a high hand sinned against! Oh that clear light! oh that free love! oh that gospel grace! oh those affections of mercy—which I have sinned against! Oh the fatherly corrections, the dreadful warnings, the high resolutions, the serious protestations, the frequent vows and promises—which I have desperately sinned against! Oh the checks of conscience, the rebukes of conscience, the lashes of conscience, the wounds of conscience, and the frequent motions of the Spirit, and strivings of the Spirit—which I have sinned against! etc.
But now wicked men confess their sins slightly, carelessly, triflingly. They are careful and skillful to hide their sins, to cloak their sins, and to extenuate and lessen their sins; and with the unjust steward, for an hundred to set down fifty, Luke 16:6. All wicked men do commonly flatter themselves, that either their sins are not sins—when indeed they are; or that they are not great and grievous sins—when indeed they are; or that they are not so great and grievous as other men's sins are—when indeed they are more grievous and heinous than other men's sins are—so far are they from aggravating of their sins. The truth is, wicked men are so far from aggravating of their sins, that they are still extenuating of them, and that by blaming of them, sometimes upon their constitutions, sometimes upon bad company, sometimes upon their callings, sometimes upon Satan, and sometimes upon chance, as they call it, etc. But no more of this; enough is as good as a feast.
(6.) Sixthly, The true penitent confesses his sins HUMBLY, SORROWFULLY.In his confessions he appears before the Lord with ropes about his neck, as Benhadad's servants—and with tears in his eyes. His confessions savor of contrition of heart, and not of ostentation of spirit. Contrition of heart, and confusion of face, is the common result of a penitential confession, Lev. 23:27-28. David waters his couch with his tears, Psalm 6:6; and he mingles his food with his tears, Psalm 42:3; and Ezra and Daniel confess their sins with wet eyes and blushing cheeks, Ezra 9, Daniel 9.
Confession without contrition neither pleases God—nor profits man. Confession is the language of the tongue, contrition is the language of the heart, and God looks for both. The publican does not only confess his sins—but he smites also upon his bosom, as a man full of grief and sorrow, Luke 18:13. Lying in the dust, and rending of garments, and putting on sackcloth and ashes, were of old required of those who confessed their iniquities. The spirit of repentance is a spirit of mourning.
Penitential confessions are commonly attended with grief in the heart, and with shame in the face. Psalm 38:18, "For I will declare my iniquity, I will be sorry for my sin. [Compare these scriptures together: Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 61:1, and 57:15; Job 16:20; Psalm 119:1, 36; Jer. 9:1, 31:18-19.] He tells you not only that he will declare his iniquity—but he tells you also, that he will be sorry for his sin. The same spirit you may find working in Jacob, Hosea 12:4; yes, he had "power over the angel and prevailed, he wept and made supplication unto him." The people of God, in the day of their confession, do not only say, We have sinned—but they also draw water and pour it out before the Lord in token of contrition, 1 Sam. 7:6. Every sin is as a sword in a penitent man's bosom, and therefore while confessions are in his mouth—you shall mostly find either tears in his eyes or sorrow in his heart. And indeed, true confession of sin is many times rather a voice of mourning than a voice of words.
Sometimes a penitent man's eyes will in some way tell what his tongue can in no way utter. Many times the penitent is better at weeping than he is at speaking: Psalm 39:12, "Hold not your peace at my tears." Tears have a voice as well as blood has—and are very prevalent orators with God: Psalm 6:8, "The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping." Penitent tears are undeniable ambassadors, and they never return from the throne of grace without an answer of grace. Tears area kind of silent prayers, which though they say nothing—yet they obtain pardon; they prevail for mercy, and they carry the day with God, as you may see in that great and clear instance of Peter. He said nothing, he confessed nothing that we read of—but "went out and wept bitterly," and obtained mercy.
That prescription that God gave to the leper in the law is worthy of your most serious consideration. Lev. 13:45, "And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be torn, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean!" In these words the leper stands charged with four things:
(1.) to go in torn garments, to note that there must be brokenness and sorrow of heart joined with confession of sin;
(2.) to go bareheaded, and that partly that men might not mistake him—but mainly to show his humility under his present misery;
(3.) to put a covering upon his upper lip, some read it, upon his moustache. The Jews in their mournings used this ceremony among the rest—of covering their chin, mouth, mouchaches, all under the nose. Now, the use of this ceremony in lepers, was partly to preserve others from being infected by his loathsome breath, and partly to show that God takes no pleasure nor delight in the breathings, the prayers of spiritual lepers, of wicked men,—God loves not to hear good words drop from an evil mouth—and partly to note that shame that must be mingled with his sorrow.
(4.) Twice to proclaim his own uncleanness, "Unclean, unclean!" And thus you see that there was to be a close connection between the leper's confession and his contrition; and thus it is with the true penitent; he does not only cry out, Unclean, unclean!—but he also rents and tears his garments, that is, he joins contrition to his confession.
But to prevent mistakes, and that I may not shoot an arrow, instead of giving a cordial, to the weak and weary soul; let me only give you this short hint, namely—that when the true penitent cannot pour out his soul in heart-melting confessions before the Lord—yet then he can mourn over his own hardness of heart. When he is at worst—he can grieve that he cannot grieve, and mourn that he cannot mourn, and melt that he cannot melt, and break that he cannot break; and he can bless God for every rod, and every stroke, and every word, and every work, and every ordinance, and every frown, and every reproof, and every cross, and every comfort—which has the least tendency to the melting and mollifying of his soul.
The true penitent always sets a very high price and value upon a broken heart—though he has not the happiness always to have his heart broken. I know that sometimes the penitent soul is so shut up, that if he might have all the world he cannot mourn; he can only sit down and sigh, and groan; nay, if all the joys and delights of heaven were to be bought for one single tear, he cannot shed it. And yet all this time he can grieve that he cannot grieve for sin, and he can be sorry that he cannot be sorry for sin; and without all question, this is in a measure true godly gospel sorrow for sin, etc.
But now wicked men confess their sins—but they never grieve for their sins. They confess their sins—but they are not ashamed of their sins; they confess their sins—but they cannot blush for their sins. [Compare these scriptures together, Jer. 6:15, 8:12; Zeph. 3:5; Isaiah 3:9, 42:23; Heb. 6:6. Caligula used to say of himself, that he loved nothing better in himself, "than that he could not be ashamed, etc.] Though men of good names, and of good natures, would be ashamed to be found doing base things, things which are below them, which are not worthy of them—yet the generality of sinners are so bold and base, so ignorant, arrogant, and impudent, so without shame, and graceless, etc., that they are no ways ashamed, no, not of those very sins that has put Christ to an open shame, yes, that has put the sun and moon to a blush.
Most sinners in these days have brows of brass, and whores' foreheads—which cannot blush. They are so far from being ashamed of their sins, that they think it a shame and disgrace not to sin, not to swear, and whore, and curse, and be drunk, and despise ordinances; yes, there are many who are so far from being ashamed of their abominations, that they even glory in them, like those in that Philip. 3:19. They show their sins as Sodom, they make both a sport of sinning, and a jest of confessing their sins. "Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush!" Jeremiah 6:15
Thus Austin confesses that it was sometimes with himself before the Lord wrought upon him—I was stricken with such blindness, as that I thought it a shame unto me to be less vile and wicked than my companions whom I heard boast of their lewdness, and glory so much the more, by how much they were the more filthy! Therefore, lest I should be of no account, I was the more wicked; and when I could not otherwise match others, I would feign that I had done those things which I never did, that I should seem so much the more vile. [Augustine, Confess. lib. 2:cap. 3.] But for a close remember this, the true penitent knows, that the more God has been displeased with the blackness of sin, the better he will be pleased with the blushing of the sinner; and therefore he cannot but blush when either he looks upon sin within him, or God above him. But,
(7.) Seventhly, Penitential confession, it is BELIEVING and authentic; it is mixed with some faith, though not always with a strong faith, Hosea 14:2. It is not like the confession of a malefactor to the judge—but like the confession of a child to his father, or like the confession of a sick man to his physician. As a penitent man has one eye of sorrow upon his sin, so he has another eye of hope upon pardoning grace. Thus David, though he had sinned greatly—yet he hangs upon free mercy, and begs his pardon believingly, Psalm 51. Thus Daniel, "To the Lord our God belongs mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him," Dan. 9:9. Thus Shechaniah, Ezra 10:2, "And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra—We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing." If it were not for hope, the heart would break. There was hope among them that Israel would repent, and there was hope among them that God would have mercy upon their repentance.
And the same spirit was working in the prodigal: "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you," Luke 18:18. Though he was a prodigal—yet he would go to God as to a father—who knew how to pity and forgive the mourning and repenting child. When confessions of sin are mingled with hopes of mercy, and the soul draws near to God as a father—then the heart breaks most and melts and mourns most. That confession of sin which is not mixed with some hope of pardon, and with some faith in the mercy of God, is not penitential—but desperate. Cain in some sort confesses—but then he flies into the land of Nod, and there he falls a-building and planting, partly in contempt of the dreadful doom God had passed upon him, and partly to drown the noise of his conscience, and despairing of ever obtaining pardon in this world, or enjoying a house not made with hands in another world, Gen. 4:16, 2 Cor. 5:1-2. Judas likewise confesses his most heinous sins, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood," Mat. 27:3-4; but having no hope of pardon, no faith in that innocent blood he had shed, he goes out and hangs himself. Judas had no faith to mingle with his confession; he confesses despairingly, not believingly, and so goes forth and strangles himself.
Since Adam fell in paradise, there has not been one wicked man in the world, continuing in that state, who has ever mixed faith with his sorrows, believing with his confessing. It is only the penitent man who confesses sin believingly, and that is pardoned graciously. The confessing penitent reasons thus with God: Lord, though I am a sinful creature—yet you are a merciful God; though I am unworthy of mercy—yet you forgive sins freely; though my sins reach as high as heaven—yet your mercies reach above the heavens; I am here ready and willing to accuse and condemn myself; and therefore you are as ready and as willing to absolve me, and forgive me. O Lord! though my sins are very many—yet your mercies are exceeding more; though I have multiplied my sins—yet you can multiply your pardons; though I am a sinner, a very great sinner—yet there is mercy with you, that you may be feared and loved, served and trusted; and therefore in the face of all my sins, provocations, and unworthiness, I will look up for mercy, and wait for mercy. But,
(8.) Eighthly, and lastly, True penitential confession is joined with reformation.That confession of sin which carries forgiveness of sin with it—is attended with serious desires, and earnest endeavors to reformation, Psalm 51:10; therefore forsaking of sin is annexed to confession of sin. Proverbs 28:13, "He who covers his sins shall not prosper; but whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy." Confession of sin must be joined with confusion for sin—or all is lost. God will never cross the book—he will never draw the red lines of Christ's blood over the black lines of our transgressions—unless confessing and forsaking go hand in hand. He who does not forsake his sin, as well as confess it, forsakes the benefit of his confession. And indeed, there is no real confession of sin, where there is no real forsaking of sin. It is not enough for us to confess the sins we have committed—but we must unmistakably resolve against the committing again the sins we have confessed. We must desire as freely to forego our sins, as we do desire God to forgive us our sins.
Confession of sin is a spiritual vomit. Now you know, a man who is sickened in his stomach, is heartily willing to be rid of that load on his stomach which is sickening him. And so a man who is real in his confession of sin, is as heartily willing to be rid of his sin, which lies as a sickening load upon his conscience, as any sick man can be heartily willing to be rid of that sickening load which lies upon his stomach. The penitential confessor does as heartily desire to be delivered from the power of his sins, as he does desire to be delivered from the sting and punishment of his sins. This is observable in the confession of good Shechaniah: Ezra 10:2-3, "We confess that we have been unfaithful to our God, for we have married these pagan women of the land. But there is hope for Israel in spite of this. Let us now make a covenant with our God to divorce our pagan wives and to send them away with their children. We will follow the advice given by you and by the others who respect the commands of our God. We will obey the law of God." And this was the former practice of the children of Israel, who joined reformation with their confession, as you may see in that Judges 10:15, "We have sinned;" verse 16, "So they got rid of the foreign gods among them and worshiped the Lord."
That Job 34:31-32, is observable, "I am guilty but will offend no more. Teach me what I cannot see; if I have done wrong, I will not do so again." And the same spirit you may find working in those who were once given up to sorcery and witchcraft: Acts 19:18, "Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. A number of them who had been practicing magic brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars."
Penitential confession leaves a holy awe and dread on the soul, to take heed of committing sins confessed. Though a godly man may, in an hour of temptation, or in a day of desertion, or in a season of God's withholding the gracious influences of heaven from falling upon his soul—commit a sin which he has seriously confessed and sadly bewailed—yet he retains in his course and practice such a holy fear and awe upon his heart, as in some measure proves armor of proof against future commissions of sin.
But now wicked men are very ready, bold, and venturous to commit the same sins they have confessed, as you may see in Saul; one time you shall have him confessing his sinful injuries against David with tears; and soon after you shall find him pursuing of him in the wilderness of Ziph with three thousand chosen men at his heels. The same evil spirit was predominant in Pharaoh; one day you shall have him confessing his sin, and promising to let Israel go, and the next day you shall find his heart hardened, and he urgently resolved that Israel shall not go. [Compare 1 Sam. 24:16, 17, with chap 26:2-4; Exod. 9:27-34.] And so the harlot made the confession of her sin to be but a provocation to more sin, Proverbs 7:14.
The wicked sometimes confess their sins—but they never forsake their sins; after confession they commonly return with the dog to the vomit, as Fulgentius has worthily observed. "Many," says he, "being pricked in conscience, confess that they have done ill, and yet put no end to their ill deeds; they humbly accuse themselves in God's sight of the sins which oppresses them, and yet with a perverse heart rebelliously heap up those sins whereof they accuse themselves. The very pardon which they beg with mournful sighs, they impede with their wicked actions; they ask help of the physician, and still increase matter to the disease, thus in vain endeavoring to appease him with penitent words, whom they go on to provoke by an impenitent course."
Well, remember this—real confession of sin is always attended with real endeavors of turning from sin. Look! as the patient lays open his diseases to the physician for this very purpose that he may be cured and healed, so the penitent soul confesses his sins to the physician of souls on purpose to be cured and healed. The daily language of the penitent soul is this, "Lord, when will you heal the maladies of my soul? When will you heal my unbelief, and heal my pride, and heal my vain-glory, and heal my hypocrisy, and heal my impurity, and heal my hard-heartedness, and heal my carnalness, and heal my worldliness, and heal my selfishness? etc. Lord! I do as earnestly beg grace to heal my soul, as I do mercy to pardon my soul." And let thus much suffice for the second part of true evangelical repentance.
3. The third part of true repentance lies in turning from all sin to God.That great and precious promise of forgiveness of sin is made over to those who are repenting and turning from sin. All who truly repent of their sins, and turn from their sins, shall receive the forgiveness of their sins. Pardon of sin is for that man, and that man is for pardon of sin—who truly repents and returns from his sin. Four things speak out this, etc.
[1.] First, Scripture exhortations to repent, that so our sins may be forgiven:Ezek. 18:30, "Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin." Acts 2:38, "Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins." Verse 19, "Repent, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out," etc.
[2.] Secondly, Express promises that our sins shall be forgiven upon our repentance:2 Chron. 7:14, "If my people shall turn from their evil way, then will I forgive their sin." Proverbs 28:13, "Whoever confesses and forsakes his sin shall find mercy." Ezek. 18:21, "If the wicked will turn from all his sins which he has committed, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die;" verse 22, "All his transgressions which he has committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him."
[3.] Thirdly, A most certain assurance of the forgiveness of sins, upon repentance, though they have been ever so great and heinous:Isaiah 1:16-18, "Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause. Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool."
[4.] Fourthly, Express records and instances of forgiveness unto such as have repented and turned from their sins:2 Sam. 12:13, "And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord; and Nathan said to David, The Lord has also put away your sin." Jer. 31:18-20, "I have surely heard Ephraim's moaning: 'You disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been disciplined. Restore me, and I will return, because you are the Lord my God. After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.' Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him, declares the Lord."
Luke 7:38, "And she stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head; and kissed his feet, and anointed them with ointment." Verse 47, "Therefore, I say, her sins, which were many, are forgiven." Chapter 15:18-20, "I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and am no more worthy to be called your son. And he arose, and came to his father; but when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran and fell upon his neck, and kissed him."
Question.But what are the properties or qualifications of that right turning from sin, which brings poor sinners within the compass of the promise of forgiveness of sins? Now, to this great question I shall give these four following answers:
Answer 1. First, That turning from sin which brings a man within the compass of the promise of forgiveness of sin, is a HEART turning from sin:Joel 2:12, "Turn, even to me, with all your heart." 2 Chron. 6:38-39, "If they return to you with all their heart, and with all their soul—then hear you from the heavens their prayer and their supplication, and forgive their sins." Deut. 30:10, "If you turn unto the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul," etc. Jer. 3:10, "In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense." Chapter 24:7, "And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God; for they shall return unto me with their whole heart."
Wicked men are serious and hearty in their sinning, and they must be as serious and cordial in their returning—or they are lost and undone forever. The true penitent turns from sin with his heart, with all his heart, and with all his soul. He is truly turned from his sins—whose heart is turned from his sins. If the heart turns not—all is bad, all is stark bad. He who turns from sin—but not with his heart, turns but in pretense, partially, hypocritically, deceitfully. God is a jealous God, and he will never endure co-rivals or co-partners in the throne—the heart of man. A holy God will never share with an unholy devil. The true God is a righteous God, and he will never share his glory with another. The true God must be served truly, heartily; he loves neither halting nor halving. Such as divide the rooms of their souls between God and sin, God and Satan, God and the world; who swear by God and Molech; who sometimes pray devoutly, and at other times curse most hideously; who halt between God and Baal—are mere hypocrites in religion, and such whom God abhors. When a man's heart gives a bill of divorce to his sins, when his heart breaks the league with sin, when his heart casts it off, and casts it out as an abominable thing—then the heart is turned from sin really, effectually, etc. If, notwithstanding all the professions that a man makes against his sins, his heart still loves them, and delights in them, and he will still retain them, and welcome them, and cleave to them, and make provision for them, etc.—his repentance is but pretense—and not real, etc. But,
Answer 2. A true penitential turning is an UNIVERSAL turning, a turning not from some sins—but from all sins:Ezek. 18:30, "Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions." Verse 31, Cast away from you all your transgressions." 2 Cor. 7:1, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit." Psalm 119:101, "I have refrained my feet from every evil way." Verse 128, "I hate every false way." Ezek. 14:14, "Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God, Repent, and turn from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations." Chapter 18:28, "Because he considers, and turns away from all his transgressions that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die."
True repentance is a turning from all sin, without any reservation or exception. He never truly repented of any sin, whose heart is not turned against every sin. The true penitent casts off all the rags of old Adam; he throws down every stone of the old building; he will not leave a horn nor a hoof behind. That which Nehemiah speaks of himself in that Neh. 13:7-8, is very observable to our purpose. "And I came to Jerusalem, and I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God. I was greatly displeased," (but he rests not there; but goes further); "therefore I threw all of Tobiah's belongings out of the room." Thus the true penitent, when he considers all the evil that sin has done, how it has taken up not only one chamber—but every chamber in the soul, and how it has for many years quite shut out God, and Christ, and the Spirit, and everything that is good; he is greatly displeased, and so falls upon the purging out of every lust; being highly resolved that neither Satan nor any of his retinue shall ever find the least entertainment in his soul any more.
Such as are resolved against turning from any sin, are horribly profane; such as turn from some sins—but cherish others, are hideous hypocrites. Such as turn from one sin to another, or change their sins as men do their fashions—are most sadly blinded, and desperately deluded by Satan. But such as turn not from some sins—but from every sin, are sincerely penitent.
And certainly there are very great reasons why the true penitent does turn, and must turn from sin universally.As,
[1.] First, It is to no purpose for a man to turn from some sins, if he does not turn from all his sins:James 1:26, "If any man seems to be religious, and bridles not his tongue—but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is in vain." This at first sight may seem to be a hard saying, that for one fault, for one fault in the tongue, all a man's religion should be counted vain; and yet this you see the Holy Spirit does insistently conclude. [One stab at the heart kills; one act of treason makes a traitor; one spark of fire sets the house on fire; one flaw in a diamond spoils the price of it; one puddle, if we wallow in it, will defile us; one head of garlic will poison a leopard, say the naturalists.] Let a man make ever so glorious a profession of religion—yet if he gives himself liberty to live in the practice of any known lust, yes, though it be but a sin of the tongue—his religion is in vain, and that one lust will separate him from God forever.
If a wife is ever so kind to her husband in many things, and though she gives him contentment in several ways—yet if she entertains any other lover into his bed besides himself, it will alienate his affections from her, and forever separate him from her. The application is easy. To turn from one sin to another, is but to be tossed from one hand of the devil to another; it is but, with Benhadad, to recover from one disease and die of another, it is but to take pains to go to hell. If a ship spring three leaks, and only two be stopped, the third will sink the ship; or if a man has two grievous wounds in his body, and take care only to cure one, that wound which is neglected will certainly kill him. It is so here; if a man who has divers lusts fighting against the life of his precious soul, shall only mortify and slay some of them, the rest will certainly destroy him, and all his pains in subduing some of them will be lost.
I have read of a devout man, who had among many other virtues the gift of healing, unto whom divers made resort for cure; among the rest, one Chromatius being sick, sent for him. Being come, he told him of his sickness, and desired that he might have the benefit of cure, as others had before him. I cannot do it, said the devout person, until you have beaten all the idols and images in your house to pieces. Oh that shall be done, said Chromatius; here take my keys, and where you find any images let them be destroyed, which was done accordingly. To prayer went the holy man—but no cure was wrought. Oh, says Chromatius, I am as sick as ever! Oh I am very weak and sick! It cannot be otherwise, replied the holy man, nor can I help it; for certainly there is one more idol in your house undiscovered, and that must be destroyed too. True, says Chromatius, there is so indeed; there is one all of beaten gold, and very costly, I would like to have saved it; but here take my keys again, you shall find it locked up fast in my chest, take it and break it in pieces; which done, the holy man prayed, and Chromatius was healed.
The moral of this story is this: we are all spiritually sick, full of wounds and putrefied sores; Christ our spiritual physician tells us, that if we will be cured, we must break off our sins by repentance. Now this we are willing to do in part—but not in whole; we would like to keep one Delilah, one darling beloved sin—but it must not be; there must not be one sin unrepented of; we must repent as well for our Achans as our Absaloms, our Rimmons as our Mammons, our Davids as our Goliaths, our covert as well as our open sins, our beloved as well as our loathed lusts, our heart abominations as well as our gross transgressions, our babe iniquities as well as our giant-like provocations. Our repentance must be universal, or it will be to no purpose.
Herod turned from many evils—but would not turn from his Herodias, and that was his ruin, Mat. 6:18-20. Judas' life was as fair and as free from spots and blots as the lives of any of the apostles; no scandalous sin was to be found upon him; only that golden devil 'covetousness' was his sin, and his everlasting ruin. His apostleship, preaching, working of miracles, hearing of Christ, and conversing with him, etc., was to no purpose, because of that serpent he kept in his bosom, which at last stung him to death.
If a man lives in the practice of any known sin, the union between sin and his soul is not dissolved; and if that union be not dissolved, Christ and his soul were never united, and therefore such a person can never be saved. Saul spared Agag and the witch of Endor, whom he should have destroyed—and so lost his crown, his kingdom, and his soul, which was saddest of all. Gideon had seventy sons, and but one bastard son, and yet that one bastard destroyed all the rest, Judges 8:13. The Jewish Rabbis report, that the same night that Israel departed out of Egypt towards Canaan, all the idols and idolatrous temples in Egypt, by lightning and earthquakes, were broken down; so, when a man truly repents, all the idols that were set up in his soul are cast down. But,
[2.] Secondly, God has so joined the duties of his law one to another, that if there be not a conscientious care to walk according to all that the law requires, a man becomes a transgressor of the whole law,according to that of James, chapter 2:10, "Whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all." [He who prevaricates with God as to any one particular commandment of his, his heart is bad, stark bad—and he is guilty of all. He has no real regard to any of the commandments of God—who has not a regard to all the commandments of God, etc.] The bond of all is broken, the authority of all is slighted, and that evil disposition, that sinful frame of heart—which works a man to venture upon the breach of one command, would make him venture upon the breach of any command, were it not for some infirmity of nature, or because his purse will not hold out to maintain it; or for shame, or loss, or because of the eye of friends, or the sword of the magistrate, or for some sinister respects; and might the breach of any other of the commands of God serve his turn, and advance his ends, he stands as strongly pressed in spirit to transgress them all, as to transgress any one of them.
He who gives himself liberty to live in the breach of any one command of God, has a disposition of heart to break them all. Every single sin contains virtually all sin in it. He who allows himself a liberty to live in the breach of any one particular law of God, he casts contempt and scorn upon the authority of God, who made the whole law—and upon this account breaks it all. And the apostle gives the reason of it in verse 11, "For he who said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now, if you commit no adultery—yet if you kill, you have become a transgressor of the law." Not that he is guilty of all individually—but collectively; for the law is connected; there is a chain of duties, and these are all so linked one to another, that you cannot break one link of the chain—but you break the whole chain. All the precepts of the law are, as it were, a string of pearls strung by the authority of God. Now break this string in any place, and all the pearls fall to the ground. No man can live in the breach of any known command of God—but he wrongs every command of God. This at last he shall find to his cost—without sound repentance on his side, and pardoning grace on God's. But,
[3.] Thirdly, One sin never goes alone.Cain's anger is seconded with murder. Ahab's covetousness is attended with bloody cruelty. Jeroboam's rebellion is attended with idolatry. Judas' thievery is attended with treason. I might give instances of this in Adam and Eve, and in Lot, Abraham, Noah, Jacob, Joseph, Job, David, Solomon, and Peter, etc.—but a touch on this string is enough. One sin commonly disposes the heart to another sin. A small sin many times draws the heart to a greater, and one great sin draws the heart to another great sin, and that to a greater—until at last the soul comes to be drowned in all excess.
Augustine relates the story of Manicheus, who being tormented with flies, was of opinion that the devil made them and not God. "Why then," said one who stood by, "if the devil made flies, then the devil made worms, and not God, for they are living creatures as well as flies." "True," said he, "the devil did make worms." "But," said the other, "if the devil made worms, then he made birds, beasts, and man." He granted all. And thus, says that old man, by denying God in the fly, he came to deny God in man, and so consequently the whole creation. And thus yielding to lesser sins, draws the soul to the commission of greater, yes, often to the greatest of all.
I have both heard and read a story of a young man, who being often tempted by the devil and his own wicked heart, to commit three sins, namely, to kill his father, to lie with his mother, and to be drunk; the two former sins, his heart would not yield to, as being things abhorrent to the light and law of nature, and therefore to free himself from the temptation, he yielded to the last and least; but when he was drunk, he killed his father, and ravished his mother. Thus these two abominable sins, murder and incest, were ushered in by one that was not of so deep a dye.
There is something in sin, like the growing principle which is in the seed of herbs and plants. The seed is but a small inconsiderable thing in itself—yet let it be but cast into the ground, and there rests quietly a time, and it will take root, and grow up to a great stock, and bring forth many flourishing branches. Like the grain of mustard-seed, Mat. 13:31-32, which though it be the least of seeds—yet being cast into the ground, grows up to be the greatest among herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. Satan will be sure to nest himself, to lodge himself in the least sins, as birds nest and lodge themselves in the smallest branches of a tree, and there he will hatch all manner of wickedness.
A sinful thought, if it is not rejected, will procure consent; and consent will break forth into an act; and one act will procure another act, until the multiplying of acts have begotten a habit, and that habit has choked and stifled conscience; and when once conscience is stifled and benumbed, it will be ready upon all occasions to lay the soul open, and to prostrate it to the basest and worst of sins.
Oh there is a prodigious evil in the least of sins; it will quickly multiply itself into all manner of evils. Unless sin be cut off in the first motion, it will proceed to action, and from action to delight, and from delight to custom, and from custom to a habit; and so the soul will be in eminent danger of being undone forever. A little thief put in at the window, may open the doors for stronger and greater to come in—who may take away both life and treasure at once. A little wedge makes way for a greater, and so do little sins make way for greater.
Satan and our own hearts will be modest at first, and therefore they are often in a combination, first to draw us to lesser sins and then to greater, and so from sins less obnoxious to sins more scandalous, until we come to be abominable to God, hateful to others, and a terror to ourselves. Such as live in one sin, God will in justice give over to other sins. The Gentiles gave up themselves to idolatry, Romans 1:23; "And God gave them up to uncleanness," verse 24. It is impossible for any man to take one sin into his bosom, and to shut all others out. He who lives but in the allowance of himself in one sin, will find that sin at last to shut the door of heaven against him, and therefore the true penitent turns from sin universally.
[4.] Fourthly, The reasons of turning from sin, are universally binding to a penitent soul.[As in a harp, to make the music good and harmonious, it is not enough that all the strings be right tuned except one; one string that jars will spoil the sweetest music. The application is easy, etc.] There are the same reasons and grounds for a penitent man's turning from every sin, as there is for his turning from any one sin. Do you turn from this or that sin, because the Lord has forbidden it? Why, upon the same ground you must turn from every sin, for God has forbidden every sin—as well as this or that particular sin. There is the same authority forbidding or commanding in all; and if the authority of God awes a man from one sin, it will awe him from all. There is one and the same Lawgiver who gives all of the commandments. He who gave one commandment gave also another; therefore, he who observes one commandment in obedience unto God, whose commandment it is, will observe all, because all are his commandments.
And he who slights one commandment is guilty of all, because he despises the authority and will of him who gave them all. Even in those commands which he does observe, he has no respect to the will and authority of him who gave them. Therefore, there is no obedience towards God, where there is not a uniform endeavor to please God, as well in one thing as in another. The same God who has prohibited one sinful act, has prohibited every sinful act; and, therefore, he who out of conscience and respect to God's will, and word, and authority, turns from any one sin, or abhors any one sin—he will out of conscience of the same will, and word, and authority, turn from every sin, and abhor every sin—because the same God in his word has alike forbidden all sins.
O sirs! A man who truly repents of this or that sin, because it is contrary to the law, will, and authority of God—he will surely repent of whatever he knows to be contrary to the law, will, and authority of God. He who turns from any one sin because it is a transgression of the holy and righteous law of God—he will turn from every sin upon the same account. He who turns from any one sin, because it is a dishonor to God, a reproach to Christ, a grief to the Spirit, a wound to religion, etc.—he will upon the same grounds turn from every sin. He who turns from any one sin, because of the curse, the threatenings, the judgments, the wrath, the hell which hangs, as it were, over the head of that sin—he will turn from every sin, because the curse, the threatenings, the judgments, the wrath, the hell, which hangs over the head of that one sin, hangs over the head of every sin.
By these hints it is most evident, that the reasons of turning from sin, are universally binding to a penitent soul; and therefore he turns not only from some sins—but from every sin. He says not to one idol—but to all his idols, "Get you hence, for what have I any more to do with you!"
[5.] Fifthly, One sin allowed, wallowed and tumbled in—is sufficient to deprive a man forever of the glorious presence of God.Moses came within the sight of Canaan; but for one sin, namely, not sanctifying God's name at the water of Meribah, he was shut out, Exod. 22; for him to be so near the holy land, and yet so far off from entering into it, was doubtless of all strokes the hardest that ever he felt. In the law, the leper who had the spot of leprosy in any one part of his body was accounted a leper, although all the rest of his body was sound and whole, and accordingly he was to be shut up, and shut out from the society and company of the people of God, Lev. 13. Just so—one sin, one leprous spot, allowed and beloved—will forever shut a man out from the glorious presence of God, Christ, the Spirit, angels, and the "spirits of just men made perfect."
One sin wallowed in, will as certainly deprive a man of the blessed vision of God, and of all the treasures, pleasures, and delights which are at God's right hand—as a thousand sins. It was a sore vexation to king Lysimachus, that he should lose his earthly kingdom for one draught of water. O sirs! it will be an everlasting vexation to such, who for one lust shall at last lose not an earthly kingdom—but a heavenly kingdom!
One sin stripped the fallen angels of all their glory! One sin stripped our first parents of all their dignity and excellency, Gen. 3:4-5. Satan, by one loud lie to Adam and Eve, made fruitless all that God had preached to them immediately before. To turn from some sins—but not from all, is gross hypocrisy, Job 20:13. One cherished sin will keep Christ out of his throne. It speaks sin to be rampant, and Satan to be victorious; and what can be the outcome of these things but ruin and damnation? Romans 6:16. One fly in the box of precious ointment spoils the whole box. One thief may rob a man of all his treasure. One disease may deprive a man of all his health. One strong wind may blow down and blow away all a man's comforts. Just so—one sin delighted and wallowed in, will make a man miserable forever! Though this or that particular sin be very pleasant to the flesh, and delightful to the fancy—yet he is the wisest man, and he is the best man, and the only blessed man in all the world, that keeps furthest from it; and therefore the true penitent turns not merely from this or that sin—but from every sin.
[6.] Sixthly, The principle of regeneration, and seed of grace, which God lays into the soul of every penitent person at first conversion, is a universal principle, a principle which spreads itself over all the faculties of the soul, and over all the members of the body,1 Thes. 5:23: Psalm 45:13, "The king's daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold." In regeneration there is infused the habits or principles of all grace, which like a divine leaven spreads itself over the whole man, Mat. 13:33. Look! as Absalom's beauty was spread all over him, even from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, 2 Sam. 24:25; so grace spreads itself over every faculty of the soul, and over every member of the body. Look! as Solomon's temple was all glorious both within and without—so that grace which a man receives at first conversion, makes him all glorious both within and without. Look! as Adam's sin spread itself over the whole man—so that grace which we receive from the second Adam spreads itself over the whole man, John 1:16. And as that grace which was in Christ, did diffuse and spread itself over all of Christ—so that grace which is in the true penitent does diffuse and spread itself all over the penitent. Now look, as heaven is contrary to all of hell, and as light is contrary to all darkness, and heat to all cold—so that divine, that noble, that universal principle of grace, which God at first conversion infuses into the penitent's soul, is contrary to all sin; and therefore the penitent turns from all sin. But,
[7.] Seventhly, The true penitent would have God to forgive him, not only some of his sins—but all his sins; and therefore it is but just and equal that he should turn from all his sins."If God is so faithful and just to forgive us all our sins—we must be so faithful and just as to turn from all our sins." The plaster must be as broad as the sore, and the surgeon's knife as long and as deep as the wound. It argues horrid hypocrisy, damnable folly, and astonishing impudency—for a man to beg the pardon for those very sins that he is resolved never to forsake!
Look! as he who has any one sin forgiven has all sins forgiven—so he who has sincerely turned from any one sin, he has turned from every sin. And he who has not repented of all known sin, he has not yet sincerely repented of any known sin, nor as yet experienced the sweetness of forgiveness of sin. He who will not renounce those sins that he would have God to remit, shall be sure to have a hell of guilt in his conscience. Of all fools there is none compared to him who is very importunate with God to forgive those sins which he is resolved beforehand to commit; for what prince, in his wits, will pardon the treasons of a person, who is resolved to continue a traitor? or what judge will forgive thievery of a person, who is decidedly determined to continue as a thief? Or what husband will pardon his wife—who is resolved to defile his bed with other lovers? Such as continue in the practice of those very sins, which they beg a pardon of, shall certainly go without their pardon!
Pardon of sin is for that man, and that man is for pardon of sin—who is as truly willing to forsake his sins as he is to receive the pardon of his sins. Who would not look upon that man as a madman, who would earnestly beg his pardon, and yet before his pardon is sealed would afresh steal purses, and murder people before the eyes of the judge? The pardoned soul is the repenting soul, and the repenting soul is the pardoned soul! Psalm 32:2, "Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputes not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit." He who begs pardon of sin, and is resolved not to turn from sin, shall find no more sweetness in that grand promise of pardon, Proverbs 28:13, than devils or damned spirits do. Look! as one sin unforgiven will as certainly undo a man as a thousand, so one sin unforsaken will us certainly undo and damn a man as a thousand. The true penitent is as willing to turn from all his sins, as he is willing that God should pardon all his sins. But,
[8.] Eighthly and lastly, There is in every penitent a sincere hatred of sin, a universal hatred of sin:Psalm 97:18, "You who love the Lord, hate evil." Proverbs 8:13, "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." Amos 5:15, "Hate the evil and love the good." Psalm 119:104, "Through your precepts I get understanding, therefore I hate every false way." Verse 128, "Therefore I esteem all your precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way." Verse 113, "I hate vain thoughts—but your law do I love." Verse 163, "I hate and abhor lying—but your law do I love." True hatred is universal—it is to the whole kind. He who hates a toad because it is a toad, hates every toad; he who hates a serpent because it is a serpent, hates every serpent; he who hates a wolf because it is a wolf, hates every wolf; he who hates a man because he is holy, hates every man who is holy; and so he who hates sin because it is sin, hates every sin, and therefore he cannot but turn from it, and labor to be the death and ruin of it. Holy hatred is an implacable and an irreconcilable affection. You shall as soon reconcile God and Satan together, Christ and antichrist together, heaven and hell together—as you shall be able to reconcile a penitent soul and his sin together. A true penitent looks upon every sin as contrary to the law of God, the nature of God, the being of God, the glory of God, and accordingly his heart rises against it. He looks upon every sin as poison, as the vomit of a dog, as the mire of the street, as the menstruous cloth, which of all things in the law was most unclean, defiling and polluting—and this turns his heart against every sin.
He looks upon every sin as having a hand in apprehending, betraying, binding, scourging, condemning and murdering his Lord and Master Jesus Christ; and this works him not only to refrain from sin—but to forsake it, and not only to forsake it—but also to abhor it, and to loathe it more than hell itself! The penitent soul will do all he can to be the death of every sin that has a hand in the death of his Lord and Master. He looks upon the sins of his body to be the tormentors of Christ's body; and the sins of his soul to be the tormentors of Christ's soul, to be those which made his soul heavy to the death, and which caused the withdrawings of his Father's love from him, and which forced him in the anguish of his soul to cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Mat. 27:46. And this raises up in him a universal hatred of sin; and a universal hatred of sin always issues in a universal turning from sin.
Now these eight arguments do sufficiently prove, that a true penitential turning is a universal turning; a turning not from some sins—but from all sins.
Objection. But some may be ready to object, and say, Sir, this is a hard saying—who can hear it, who can bear it, who shall then be saved? For if a man repents not unless he turns from every sin, then there is not a man to be found in all the world who repents; for there is not a man in all the world who turns from every sin, who forsakes every sin, etc.: 1 Kings 8:46, "For there is no man who sins not." Proverbs 20:9, "Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" It is a question that implies a strong denial. Who can say, and say it truly, that he is pure from his sin? Surely none. [Job 9:30-31; Psalm 130:3; 2 Chron. 6:36; Job 14:4; Psalm 51:5; ponder upon these scriptures, etc.] He who shall say that he has made his heart clean, and that he is pure from his sin, sins in so saying; and commonly there are none more unclean than those who say they have made their hearts clean, nor none more impure than those who say they are pure from their sin.
Eccles. 7:20, "For there is not a just man upon the earth, that does good and sins not." These words, in their absolute sense, are a full testimony of the imperfection of our inherent righteousness in this life, and that even justified people come very short of that exact and perfect obedience which the law requires.
James 3:2, "We all stumble in many ways." It is a metaphor taken from travelers walking on stony or slippery ground, who are very apt to stumble or slide. This apostle was worthily called James the Just, and yet he numbers himself among the rest of the sanctified ones, that in many things offend all. The apostle does not say, in many things they all stumble—but in many things we all stumble. We who have more gifts than others, we who have more grace than others, we who have more assurance than others, we who have more experiences than others, we who have more preservatives to keep us from sin than others—even we in many things all stumble. Nor the apostle does not say, in some things we all stumble—but in many things we all stumble; the apostle speaking not of the singular individual acts of sin—but of the divers sorts of sin. Nor the apostle does not say, in many things we may all stumble—but in many things we do all stumble.
1 John 1:8, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." The apostle does not say, If you say you have no sin, you deceive yourself, as if he spoke to some particular person only; but if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. Nor the apostle does not say, If you say you have no sin, you deceive yourselves, as if he intended weak or ordinary Christians alone—but if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves; we apostles, we that in all grace, and in all holiness, and in all spiritual enjoyments exceed and excel all others—even we sin as well as others. He who is so ignorant and so impudent, so saucy and so silly, as to say he has no sin—sins in saying so, and has no sincerity, no integrity, nor any ingenuity in him: Verse 10, "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." As much as in us lies we make God a liar—if we say we have not sinned. He who says he has no sin—he does by consequence charge God with falsehood, who has frequently told us in that word of grace, which cannot deceive us, that all men are sinners, and that they have all gone astray, and that they all need pardoning and purging grace, and that upon these very accounts he sent his beloved Son to lay down his dearest life, and to make himself an offering for sin, Isaiah 53:3, Romans 10:23 and 5:12, etc.
Now, from these scriptures these two things are most evident: first, that sinful qualities do remain in the most sanctified people; secondly, that these sinful qualities are sometimes very prevalent over the most sanctified people, and therefore I shall answer the objection thus, namely—thata true penitential turning from all sin consists in these six things:
(1.) First, In the alienation and inward averseness and drawing off of the soul from the LOVE and liking of all sin, and from all free and voluntary subjection unto sin—the heart being filled with a loathing and detestation of all sin, Psalm 119:104, 128, as that which is most contrary to all goodness and happiness.
(2.) Secondly, In the WILL'S detestation and hatred of all sin. When the very bent and inclination of the will is set against all sin, and opposes and crosses all sin, and is set upon the ruin and destruction of all sin, then the penitent is turned from all sin, Romans 7:15, 19, 21, 23; Isaiah 30:20, "Then you will defile your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them—Away with you!" Hosea 14:8, "Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?" When the will stands upon such terms of defiance with all sin as that it will never enter into a league of friendship with any sin—then is the soul turned away from every sin. When the will is set upon avenging itself upon all sin, and upon daily endeavors to mortify and crucify all sin—then is the penitent turned from all his sins. When those sins which were once to the will as Delilah to Samson, are now to the will as Tamar to Amnon—then is the soul turned from sin with a witness.
(3.) Thirdly, In the JUDGMENT'S turning away from all sin, by disapproving, disallowing, and condemning of it: Romans 7:15, "I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate." Oh, says the judgment of a Christian, sin is the greatest evil in all the world. Sin is the only thing—which God abhors, which has brought Jesus Christ to the cross, which damns souls, which shuts heaven, and which has laid the foundations of hell. Oh, sin is the pricking thorn in my eye, the deadly arrow in my side, the two-edged sword that has wounded my conscience, and slain my comforts, and separated between God and my soul. Oh, it is that which has hindered my prayers, and embittered my mercies, and put a sting into all my crosses; and therefore I cannot but disapprove of it, and disallow of it, and condemn it to death, yes, to hell, from whence it came.
"I thus preach and thus think," says Chrysostom, "that it is more bitter to sin against Christ, than to suffer the torments of hell." Plutarch reports of Marcus Cato, that he never declared his opinion in any matter in the senate but he would close it with this passage, "Methinks still, Carthage should be destroyed." Just so, whenever a penitent looks upon his sins in his judgment, he is still saying, "Methinks these sins should be destroyed; methinks this pride, this unbelief, this earthly-mindedness, this hypocrisy, this vainglory, etc., should be destroyed."
(4.) Fourthly, In the PURPOSE and RESOLUTION of the soul, the soul sincerely purposing and resolving never willingly, willfully, or wickedly to transgress any more. Psalm 17:3, "I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress." The general purpose and resolution of my heart is not to transgress. Though particular failings may attend me—yet my resolutions and purposes are firmly fixed against evil. Psalm 39:1, "I said I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked are before me." [The true penitent holds up his purposes and resolutions to keep off from sin, ad to keep close with God, though he be not able in everything, and at all times, to make good his purposes and resolutions, etc.]
David highly resolves so to bridle and muzzle up his mouth, that he would not break out into any impatient or unfitting speeches, that might give the wicked any advantage to reproach religion, or to blaspheme the Holy One of Israel, etc. Anselm was a man of a holy resolution: "I had rather," says he, "go to hell pure from sin, than to heaven polluted with that filth." And says another, "I will rather leap into a bonfire, than willfully to sin against God." When Valens the emperor threatened Basil with imprisonment, banishment, death: "I am resolved neither punishments nor flatteries shall silence me, or draw me to betray a good cause, or a good conscience," etc.
(5.) Fifthly, In the earnest and unfeigned DESIRES, and careful ENDEAVORS of the soul to abandon all sin, to forsake all sin, to be rid of all sin, Romans 7:22-23. Now where God sees this frame of spirit, there he will certainly pardon the failings, and pass by the imperfections of his people; and he "will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him," Mal. 3:17. Now you know, when a prudent, tender, indulgent father sees his child to fail and come short in that which he enjoins him to do—yet knowing that his desires and endeavors is to please him and serve him, he will not be harsh, rigid, sour, or severe towards him—but will spare him, and exercise much tenderness and indulgence towards him. And will God, will God whose mercies reach above the heavens, and whose compassions are infinite, and whose love is like himself, behave worse towards his children than men behave towards theirs? Surely not! God's fatherly indulgence accepts of the will for the work, Heb. 13:18, 2 Cor. 8:12, as a father will accept in his child the desire for the deed; and if there be a blemish in his child's performance, he will pity it, and cast a mantle of love over it.
A sick man is not more desirous to be rid of all his diseases, nor a prisoner to be freed from all his bolts and chains, than the true penitent is desirous to be rid of all his sins, etc.
(6.) Sixthly and lastly, In the ordinary declining, shunning, and AVOIDING of all known occasions, temptations, provocations, inducements, and enticements to sin, etc. That royal law, 1 Thess. 5:22, "Abstain from all appearance of evil," is a law that is very precious in a penitent man's eye, and commonly lies warm upon a penitent man's heart; so that take him in his ordinary course, and you shall find him very ready to shun and be shy of the very appearances of sin, of the very shows and shadows of sin. [See Judges 23; Exod. 23:7; Proverbs 22:3, and 27:12; Proverbs 5:8.]
Job made a covenant with his eyes, Job 31:1; and Joseph would not hearken to his bold tempting mistress, to lie with her, or to be with her, Gen. 39:10; and David, when himself, would not sit with vain people, Psalm 26:3-5; and at another time he refused to take the threshing-floor, oxen, and threshing instruments of Araunah as a gift—but would buy them, because he would avoid the very show of covetousness, as some conceive, 2 Sam. 24:20, seq. Austin being often ensnared in uncleanness in his younger days before his conversion, he was exceeding careful to avoid all occasions of it afterwards.
Now a true penitential turning from all sin lies in these six things, and therefore you had need look about you; for if there be any one way of wickedness wherein you walk, and which you are resolved you will not forsake, you are not true penitents, and you will certainly lose your souls—and all the great and glorious things of another world.
Answer 3.A true penitential turning is a CONSTANT and CONTINUED turning from sin, 2 Chron. 7:14. As it is total in respect of the act, so it is final in respect of the time. True repentance takes an everlasting farewell, an everlasting adieu of sin. It says with the spouse, Cant. 5:3, "I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on?" I have found the pain of sin, I have put off the garments of the old man, the rags of old Adam, and how shall I put them on again? The burnt child will dread the fire. Though you urge him to it ever so frequently, ever so strongly, ever so rhetorically—yet he will tell you he has smarted for it, he has paid dear for it, and therefore you must excuse him; he has peremptorily resolved, nay, he has seriously vowed against it; and though he be never so much entreated, and by variety of arguments importuned—yet still he remains inexorable.
A Christian that has truly repented, is so sensible of the freeness and sweetness of the grace of God on the one hand, and of the weight of sin and wrath of God on the other hand—that he is highly resolved never to have any more to do with idols, never to meddle more with those burning coals, Psalm 40:12, Hos. 14:8. True repentance is a continued act, "a repentance never to be repented of." The true penitent is every day a-turning further and further from sin, and nearer and nearer to God. There is nothing that fetches so many tears from a penitent man's eyes, nor so many sighs and groans from a penitent man's heart, as this—that he can get no further off from sin, and that he can get no nearer nor no closer to God.
Repentance for sin—and a willing continuance in sin—cannot consist in the same person. A sincere penitent makes as much conscience of repenting daily, as he does of believing daily; and he can as easily content himself with one act of faith, or love, or fear, or hope, or joy, or obedience, as he can content himself with one act of repentance. "My sins are ever before me," Psalm 51:3. This is the voice of every true penitent: "Oh that I might sin no more! Oh that I might never more dishonor God! Oh that I might never more walk contrary to Jesus Christ! Oh that I might never more grieve the Spirit of grace!" To sin is common to man, yes, to the best man in all the world; but to continue in a course of sin, is only proper to a wicked man. [1 John 1:8, 10, 5:19; Isaiah 28:15, 18; Psalm 139:24; Romans 7:22-23.]
To err and sin—that is human; but to maintain a league or friendship with sin—that is diabolical. Though a true penitent dares not continue in a trade, a path of sin, while he lives in this world—yet sin will continue in him while he continues in this world. Though sin and grace were not born together, and though sin and grace shall never die together—yet while a penitent man lives in this world they must live together. It is one thing for sin to continue in us—and it is another thing for us to continue in sin.
The apostle having closed the fifth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, in the triumph of gospel grace, that "As sin has reigned unto death, so grace might reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord," begins the next with a prevention of the abuse of this grace "What should we say then? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" Romans 6:1-2. To live in sin, in the face of gospel grace, is most unreasonable; and to a gracious and sincere nature, impossible. The very question implies a kind of impossibility. Such as were once dead in sin, and now by gospel grace are dead to sin—such can no longer continue in sin.
Look! as it is not the mere falling into the water which drowns a man—but his lying and continuing in it; so it is not a mere falling into sin that damns a man, that drowns a man, that everlastingly undoes a man—but his living in it, his continuing in it. It is bad to sin—but it is infinitely worse to continue in sin. The first best is not to sin, the next best is not to continue in sin, no not for an hour, as Paul speaks in another case, Gal. 2:5, "To whom we gave place by subjection, no not for an hour." Certainly to argue from gospel mercy to sinful liberty, is the devil's logic. The more a man lives in the sight of gospel grace, the more sin will be discountenanced, resisted, hated, and totally displaced. A man may as truly assert that water burns, or that fire cools, or that the sun darkens the air, as he may assert that the sight, sense, or sweet of gospel grace will breed security or carnality, looseness or wickedness, in a gracious heart.
The true penitent never ceases repenting, until he ceases living. He goes to heaven with the joyful tears of repentance in his eyes. He knows that his whole life is but a day of sowing tears, that he may at last reap everlasting joys. True repentance makes a final and everlasting separation between sin and the soul. It makes such an absolute and complete divorce between sin and the soul, and casts them so far asunder, that no power nor policy can ever bring them to meet as lovers together. The true penitent looks upon sin as an enemy, and deals with it as Amnon dealt with Tamar: 2 Sam. 13:15, "Amnon's love turned to hate, and he hated her even more than he had loved her. 'Get out of here!' he snarled at her." And just thus does the penitent soul behave towards sin. He who truly repents, so turns from his sins, that he never returns to the bondage and service of his sins any more, Isaiah 30:22, "Then you will defile your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them—Away with you!" Isaiah 1:16, Psalm 85:8.
But now the repentance of hypocrites is not constant—but inconstant; it is not steadfast—but unstedfast; it is not permanent—but transient; it is quickly on, as quickly off. "Come," say they, in that Hosea 6:1, "and let us return unto the Lord." But verse 4, "O Ephraim! what shall I do unto you? O Judah, what shall I do unto you? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goes away." The hypocrite's repentance is like Jonah's gourd, which came up in a night—and perished in a night, Jonah 4:10. A hypocrite's repentance springs from mutable grounds, causes, considerations and circumstances; and therefore it is compared to a deceitful bow, Hosea 7:16; it is as variable as the wind. A hypocrite is only constant in inconstancy, Psalm 78:8, "whose spirit was not steadfast with God." Verse 37, "Neither were they steadfast in his covenant," etc. A hypocrite puts off his sins in the day of adversity, as he does his garments when he goes to bed, with an intent to put them on again in the morning of prosperity. Verse 34-36, When God killed some of them, the rest finally sought him. They repented and turned to God. Then they remembered that God was their rock, that their redeemer was the Most High. But they followed him only with their words; they lied to him with their tongues. Their hearts were not loyal to him. They did not keep his covenant."
In the language of the blessed Scripture, he is a dog that returns to his vomit again—and such a dog was Judas; and he is a swine that returns to the wallowing in the mire again—and such a swine was Demas; and such dogs and swine are all hypocrites, 2 Peter 2:20-22. It is an extraordinary vanity in some men to lay aside their sins for a time—but with a purpose to return to them again; as they fable it of the serpent that lays aside his poison when he goes to drink, and when he has drunk he returns to it again. It is a sad and sore evil, when men say to their lusts, as Abraham said to his servants, "Abide here, and I will go and worship—and return again unto you," Gen. 22:5. Doubtless such souls are as far off from sound repentance as light is from darkness, or as hell is from heaven, etc.
Question.But in what respects is a true penitential turning from sin such a turning from sin as never to return to sin any more? in what respects is the penitent's turning from sin a continued and steadfast turning from sin? etc.
Answer. This is a very sober, serious, weighty question, and bespeaks a very sober, serious, and satisfactory answer, and therefore I would answer the question, (1.) negatively; (2.) Positively, etc.
[1.] Negatively,It is not such a turning from sin—as never more to sin. 1 Kings 8:46, "For there is no man who sins not." Proverbs 20:9, "Who can say, I have made my heart clean? I am pure from my sin?" Proverbs 24:16, "A just man falls seven times, and rises again." Eccles. 7:20, "For there is not a just man upon the earth who does good, and sins not." Luke 17:4, "If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again unto you, saying, I repent, you shall forgive him." Mat. 18:21-22. "Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him; until seven times? Jesus says unto him, I say not unto you, until seven times—but until seventy times seven." James 3:2, "For in many things we all stumble." 1 John 1:8, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Verse 10, "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." And what did the continual burnt-offering which was to be daily made import—but a daily sinning, and expiating of it? etc., Num. 28:3.
Such is the universal corruption of human nature, that the souls of the best, of the purest, and of the holiest men in the world, do from day to day, yes, from moment to moment, contract some filth and uncleanness. The choicest saints can never acquit themselves from sins of infirmity, such as do inevitably and inseparably cleave unto the best of men, especially considering the state and condition wherein they are, carrying still about them corrupt flesh and blood.
Methodius compares the inbred corruptions of man's heart to a wild fig-tree, growing upon the wall of some goodly temple or stately palace, whereof although the main trunk of the stem is broken off, and stump of the root be plucked up—yet the fibrous strings of it piercing into the joints of the stone-work, will not be utterly extracted—but will be ever and anon shooting and sprouting out, until the whole frame of the building be dissolved, and the stone work thereof be disjointed and pulled in pieces.
[2.] It is not such a turning from sin, as that the true penitent shall never relapse into the same kind of sin any more; for a true penitent may fall into the same sin again and again.
It was a sin for the disciples to sleep when Christ had commanded them to watch and pray—and yet they slept again and again, Mat. 26:40-45.
The prophet Jonah was a holy man, and yet he relapsed into anger and discontent with God again and again; he was discontent with the work God set him about; therefore he flies to Tarshish, Jonah 1:2-3; and sorrows for it, and confesses that those who "trust upon lying vanities forsake their own mercies," chapter 2:8; and yet when God had showed mercy to Nineveh, he was exceedingly discontented with God again: Jonah 4:1, "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry." And when the Lord, who might have sent him to his grave, or affrowned him to hell, reasons lovingly, sweetly, and mildly with him, to take him off from his angry passion, chapter 4:3-4, and provides for him in his extremity; yet upon a very small occasion, namely, the taking away of a gourd or shrub, which God did to convince him of his folly and waspishness of spirit—he breaks out again into the same passion, or worse, as if he had never seen the evil of it, or been humbled for it: Jonah 4:8-9, "I do well to be angry, even unto death."
And that is very considerable that Job speaks concerning his friends: Job 19:3, "These ten times have you reproached me—yet are you not ashamed." It is a sin to reproach any man; it is a greater to reproach a godly man; but yet greater to reproach a godly man under sad and sore afflictions; but yet greatest of all to reproach a godly man under his sufferings, often, frequently; yet, says Job, "These ten times have you reproached me;" and yet Job's friends were not only godly—but eminently godly. By this sad instance it is evident, that gracious men, yes, that men eminently gracious, may fall into the same sin again and again, yes, ten times, that is, often.
Though Christ told his disciples that his kingdom was not of this world—yet at three several times their pride and sinful ambition put them upon striving for pre-eminence and worldly greatness. [John 18:36; Mat. 18:1-4; Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46, and 22:24, 26.]
King Jehoshaphat, though he was a godly man—yet he joins affinity with that wicked Ahab, for which he was sharply reproved by the prophet: 2 Chron. 19:2, "And Jehu went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Should you help the ungodly, and love those who hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon you from the Lord." Now, though this gracious prince was thus reproved and saved, even by a miracle of mercy—2 Chron. 18:1-3, 30-31 compared;—yet soon after he falls into the same sin again, and joins himself with Ahaziah, king of Israel, who did very wickedly, 2 Chron. 20:35-36, and for which he is severely reproved in verse 37. "Then Eliezer prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, Because you have joined yourself with Ahaziah, the Lord has broken your works. And the ships were broken, that they were not able to go to Tarshish."
Lot was twice overcome with wine.
Abraham, though the father of the faithful—yet falls once and again into the same sin: Gen. 12:11-13, compared with chapter 20:1-4, 13. Peter falls once and again into the same sin.
John twice worshiped the angel.
Samson, who is by the Spirit of the Lord numbered among those worthies of whom this world was not worthy, Heb. 11:32-33, 38, fell again and again into the same gross sin, as is evident in the 14th, 15th, and 16th chapters of the book of Judges.
And the church confesses, that their backslidings are many, Jer. 14:7.
By all which it is most evident, that godly men may fall again and again into the same sin; and no wonder, for though their repentance be ever so sincere and sound—yet their graces are but weak, and their mortification but imperfect in this life, and therefore it is possible for a gracious soul to fall again and again into the same sin. If the fire be not wholly put out, who will think it impossible that it should catch, and burn again and again?
I readily grant that the Lord has graciously promised to heal the backslidings of his people; Hosea 14:4, and so Jer. 3:22, "Return, O backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." See Jer 3:1, 4-8, 12, 14. But I can nowhere find in all the Scriptures, that God has engaged himself by any particular promise or promises, that Christians truly converted, truly penitent, shall never fall again and again into the same sins after their conversion. I cannot find in all the book of God, where God has engaged himself to give such strength or power against this sin or that, as that a Christian shall be forever, in this life, put out of all possibility of falling again and again into the same sins. No person on earth can show such a promise, that when a Christian has been thus or thus troubled, grieved, humbled, or melted for his sins, that then God will assuredly preserve him from ever falling into the same sins again. The sight of such a promise under God's own hand, would be as life from the dead to all real Christians, who fear nothing more than the sin of backsliding.
Certainly, there is no such power or infinite virtue in the greatest horrors or terrors, troubles or sorrows, which the soul can be under for sin; nor in the fullest, sweetest, or choicest discoveries of God's rich grace and free love to the soul, as forever to fence and secure the soul from relapsing into the same sin again and again. Though grace is a glorious creature—yet it is but a creature. Grace is but a created habit, that may be prevailed against by Satan's temptations, and by the strong, secret, and subtle workings of sin in our hearts. But this must be carefully minded and remembered, that though the saints may and do sometimes relapse—yet they do not relapse in such a manner as wicked men do relapse. For,
(1.) First, They do not relapse voluntarily—but involuntarily. Involuntary relapses are when the resolution and full bent of the heart is against sin, when the soul strives with all its might against sin, by sighs and groans, by prayers and tears—and yet by some invincible weakness is forced to fall back into sin again, because there is not spiritual strength enough to overcome.
(2.) Secondly, They do not relapse out of choice, as wicked men do, Isaiah 66:3.
(3.) Thirdly, They do not relapse out of any delight that they take in relapsing. Witness their sad complaints, their great lamentations, and their bitter mournings over their relapses. Relapses into diseases, and relapses into sins, are more troublesome and dangerous—than they are any ways delightful, to all who are truly saved.
(4.) Fourthly, They do not relapse out of any settled purpose or resolution of heart to relapse, as wicked men do, Jer. 2:25. All the relapses of a saint are against the settled bent, bias, and resolution of his soul.
(5.) Fifthly, They do not relapse out of any love or longing to relapse, as wicked men do, who long and love to return to the flesh-pots of Egypt.
(6.) Sixthly, They do not relapse into enormities, as wicked men do, for it is not usual with God to leave his people frequently to relapse into enormities; for by his Spirit and grace, by his smiles and frowns, by his word and rod—he does commonly preserve his people from a common, a frequent relapsing into enormities, into gross wickednesses. The common and ordinary relapses of the people of God are relapses into infirmities, as idle words, anger, hastiness, rashness, vain thoughts, etc., and these God pardons in course. But the common and ordinary relapses of wicked men are relapses into enormities, into gross impieties.
(7.) Seventhly, They do not relapse habitually, constantly, as wicked men do. Their relapses are transient, not permanent; they are not the habitual course of life. A sheep may fall into the mire—but a swine wallows in the mire, etc.
[2.] But, secondly, I answer affirmatively, That notwithstanding all this—yet a true penitential turning from sin is a continued and steadfast turning from sin, and that in these five respects—
(1.) First, In respect of his habitual PURPOSE and RESOLUTION not to sin. Psalm 39:1, "I said I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue; I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me." David resolves to lay a law of restraint upon his tongue, and to clap a muzzle upon his mouth, while he was in the presence of the wicked, who were waiting for the opportunity to lure, ensnare and entrap him. Come health, come sickness, come honor, come reproach, come poverty, come plenty, come liberty, come restraint, come life, come death—the true penitent is fixed in his purpose and resolution not to sin. Jerome writes of a brave woman, that being upon the rack, told her persecutors that they might do their worst, for she was firmly resolved rather to die than lie.
(2.) Secondly, In respect of his habitual DESIRES, which are, that he may not sin. Psalm 119:133, "Order my steps in your word, and let not any iniquity have dominion over me." David's great desire is that he may walk as in a frame, that he may walk by line and rule, exactly, accurately; and that though sin did dwell in him, that yet it might not reign in him; and though it did rebel in him, that yet it might not have dominion over him. He would have his sins to be like those beasts in Daniel, whose dominion was taken away, though their lives were prolonged for a season, chapter 7:12; Psalm 119:10, "O! let me not wander from your commandments." Verse 36, "Incline my heart unto your testimonies, and not to covetousness." Under the name of covetousness all manner of viciousness is to be understood, that being the root of all evil, 1 Tim. 6:10.
(3.) Thirdly, In respect of his habitual ENDEAVORS, which still are not to sin. The ordinary and habitual endeavors of a true penitent are still set against sin. He ordinarily rows against the stream of sin, though sometimes the stream proves too strong for him: Psalm 119:11, "Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against you." He hides the word in his heart as a treasure—that he might not lose it; and as a rule—that he might not transgress against it. The law of God kept close in the heart is the best armor against evil lusts. David locks up the law of God in his heart, as in a chest or cabinet, to secure him against Satan's ambushes and assaults on the one hand, and to preserve him from sin on the other hand. Likewise, Psalm 18:23, "I have kept myself from my iniquity."
(4.) Fourthly, In respect of his habitual HATRED of sin. Although the true penitent does sometimes sin—yet he always hates the evil he does. There is a firm and fixed hatred in his soul against sin: Psalm 119:104, "Therefore I hate every false way." Verse 113, "I hate vain thoughts." Verse 163, "I hate and abhor lying." Likewise, Romans 7:15, "The evil that I hate—that I do." A penitent heart usually rises and swells against the toad in the bosom. Some say, that there is such a native dread and terror of the hawk implanted in the dove, that she is afraid of every feather, and that she detests and abhors the very sight of any feather that has grown upon a hawk. Just so, there is such a detestation and abhorrency of sin divinely implanted in every penitent man's heart, that he cannot but hate everything that looks like it, or that belongs to it, or that comes from it.
(5.) Fifthly, In respect of his constant PATH, or continued way, or course of life, which is quite opposite and contrary to sin. Gal. 5:17, Isaiah 26:7, "The way of the just is uprightness." Proverbs 16:17, "The highway of the upright is to depart from evil." It is as common and ordinary for upright people to depart from evil, as it is for passengers to keep the king's highways. Though an upright man, through mistake or weakness of grace, or violence of temptation, may step out of a way of holiness—yet walking in a way of wickedness cannot be charged upon him: Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life."
You know the path and practice of penitent Zaccheus, of penitent Paul, and of the penitent jailor—was quite contrary to those ways of wickedness that they had formerly walked in.
Answer 4. But fourthly and lastly, As a true penitential turning from sin is a constant and continued turning from sin—so it is also a returning to God. Sin is an aversion from God, and repentance is a conversion to God, Acts 26:18. Sound repentance is not only a ceasing from doing evil—but also a learning to do well, Isaiah 1:16-17. Repentance and turning to God are joined together, as being one and the same thing, Acts 26:20. The prodigal's repenting was his returning to his father: Luke 15:17, "When he came to himself, he said, I will arise and go to my father, and say, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you." etc. The Hebrew word for repentance signifies to return, implying a going back from what a man had done. It notes a returning or converting from one thing to another—as from sin to God, from evil to good, from hell to heaven.
The common call of sinners to repentance is to turn from sin, and to return to God: Isaiah 55:7, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord," etc. Jer. 4:1, "If you will return, O Israel, return to me—if you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray." And so chapter 18:11, "Return you now everyone from his evil way, and make your way and your doings good." 1 Peter 2:25, "For you were as sheep going astray—but are now returned unto the shepherd and bishop of your souls." [Consult these scriptures: Isaiah 44:22, 19:22, 59:20; Hosea 3:5, 6:1, 14:1.]
It is not enough for a sinner to forsake his sins—but he must also return to the Lord. The true penitent subjects his heart to the power of divine grace—and his life to the blessed will and word of God. Look! as negative goodness can never satisfy a penitent soul, so negative goodness can never save an impenitent soul. It is not enough, O man, that you are not thus and thus bad; but you must be thus and thus good—or you will be miserable forever: Ezek. 18:21, "But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right—he shall surely live, he shall not die." Negative righteousness and holiness is no righteousness, and no holiness in the account of God. It was not the Pharisee's negative righteousness, nor his comparative goodness, that could prevent his being rejected of God, or his being shut out of heaven, or his being turned into hell, Luke 18:5, Mat. 20:13-14.
It is not enough that the tree bears no bad fruit—but it must bring forth good fruit, else it must be cut down and cast into the fire. That tree which is not for fruit—is for the fire: "Every tree which does not bring forth good fruit," says Christ, "is hewn down, and cast into the fire," Mat. 7:19. Heaven at last will be found too holy, and too hot—to hold such as please themselves, as satisfy themselves with a negative righteousness. All that negative righteousness and holiness can do, is only to help a man to one of the coolest chambers and easiest beds in hell.
True repentance brings the heart and life, not only off from sin—but on to God also. It takes a man not only off from the ways of death—but it engages him to walk in the paths of life: Psalm 119:3, "They do no iniquity, they walk in his ways." Proverbs 13:14, "The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death." Proverbs 15:24, "The way of life is above to the wise—that he may depart from hell beneath." Psalm 34:144, "Depart from evil—and do good."
We read in Scripture of God's returning to us, as well as of our returning to God; in both there is repentance. When God returns to us—he turns from that punishment which he has threatened to unbelievers. When we return to God, we repent of the evil of sin which we have committed against him. [Gregory Nazianzen, speaking of true repentance, very aptly compares the soul to a pair of writing tables, out of which must be washed whatever was written with sin; and instead thereof the writing of grace must be written upon the soul; both being necessary to true repentance.]
The true penitent does not only sadly smite upon his thigh, and say, "What have I done?" but he also speedily faces about and cries out, "I will do so no more," Jer. 31:19. When God calls for true repentance, it is with an "Return unto me," Jer. 4:1. And when the people of God do provoke and encourage one another to repentance, it is with a "Come let us return unto the Lord," Hosea 6:1. Repentance unto life is not a turning from one sin to another sin; nor it is not a turning from profaneness to civility; nor it is not a turning from civility to formality; but it is a turning from darkness to light, it is a turning from the ways of iniquity into the ways of piety, it is a turning from sin to God, Acts 26:18.
In this respect Israel's repentance was very defective. Witness that sad complaint of the prophet: Hosea 7:16, "They return," that is, they make a show of repentance, "but not to the most High." Just so, those in Joel 2:12 have the half-turn—but returned not to the Lord with all their hearts. Just so, Jehu went far, and gave many a half-turn—but never turned to the Most High; and that was his ruin at last. Such a repentance as never brings the soul the nearer to God—is sham repentance. But that repentance which brings the soul nearer to God—is a repentance never to be repented of.
And let thus much suffice to have spoken concerning that evangelical repentance, which has the precious promises of remission of sin and salvation running out unto it, etc.