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IN TWO SERMONS.
PREACHED AT CLAPHAM AND AT MARGARET'S NEW FISH
STREET. A.D. 1645-6.
Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matt. 111. 2.
Or thus, · Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven hath approached.” These words are the words of John the Baptist, when he first began to preach the gospel of Christ ; and if you look into the next chapter, Matt. iv. 17, ye shall find that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ himself does preach the same doctrine in the same words, “ Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Our Saviour Christ, the better preacher, is not ashamed to tread in John's steps and words: John honoured Christ, and Christ honoured John. Ministers should strengthen the hands one of another. And if ye look into Matt. x., ye shall find, that when our Saviour sent out his disciples for to preach the gospel, he commands them to preach the same doctrine too, in the same words, ver. 7, “Go ye, preach, saying, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” But, here is no Repent? Yes, that was in their commission too, as ye may read in Mark vi. 12; they would not preach a word beyond their commission : “And they went out, and preached that men should repent." So that their commission also was to preach thus, “ Repent, for the kingdom of heaven hath approached," or hath drawn near unto you. Surely there is somewhat more than ordinary in these words, that John and our Saviour Christ and all the disciples, should begin thus, for to preach in these words, “ Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” They were all ministers of the gospel, and the ministers of the gospel are not barely to preach repentance, but they are to preach repentance upon gospel motives : * the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
In the words ye have an exhortation, “ Repent ye;" a motive unto the work of repentance," for the kingdom of heaven hath approached."
“ Repent ye;" that is, be not only sorrowful for sin committed, but mend your lives. Repentance is sometimes taken in a large sense for amendment of life. Sometimes repentance is taken only for godly sorrow, in a more strict and a
Sometimes it is taken largely, for the amendment of our life; not only for godly sorrow, but all obedience and reformation. And so it may be taken here, as ye may perceive by ver. 3, where this word Repent, is explained : “ Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand : for this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Preparing the way of the Lord, and making straight paths, all one with repentance. There is a legal repentance, and there is an evangelical repentance. Some think it is a legal repentance that is here required : and thereupon they urge a necessity of legal preparation before a man does come to Christ : as there is John Baptist before Christ, so, say they, there must be a legal work of necessity before a poor soul can have any admittance to Jesus Christ.
But I pray consider the words, and you will find, that 'not a legal repentance, but evangelical, is here required. Did our Saviour Christ himself preach legal repentance? They are the words of our Saviour Christ, he uses them too.
The repentance is, as the consideration is, that this work is to be founded on, as the motive is. What is the motive? The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent; let your repentance be upon this ground, because the kingdom of heaven hath approached, because the kingdom of heaven hath drawn near. He does not say, Repent, because the kingdom of hell is near; but, because the kingdom of heaven is near: the motive being evangelical, the repentance is so; it is not a legal, but an evangelical repentance that is here required. Besides, these words, “ Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” are not spoken only to the ungodly, but unto the godly also of those times, who were to prepare the way
of the Lord, and to make straight their paths. And, therefore, not to be understood of a repentance only preparatory to that in the heart.
But what then are we to understand here by the kingdom of heaven ; and the approaching of the kingdom of heaven? For the kingdom of heaven hath approached or drawn near
The kingdom of heaven sometimes, in the language of the New Testament, notes, the glorious condition of the other world that we are going to. Sometimes it notes the state of the church; it is used for the church of Christ; and sometimes for the gospel of Christ. I take it here for the whole state of the Messiah: the kingdom of grace, Christ, and all his benefits, grace, mercy and free remission published in the gospel, in the several dispensations and administrations thereof. This is called the kingdom of heaven; for this motive, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, is set and used here in opposition unto the motives that were used among the Jews. When the Jews were excited and put upon any duty, they were stirred up thereunto upon such motives as these : for the kingdom of Canaan is at hand; if you do so and so, God will bring you into the land of Canaan, and give you that land. Now under the gospel here are other motives, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Not like those Jewish motives: the kingdom of Canaan is at hand, or the kingdom of the Jebusites is at hand. Christians are not only or especially to be stirred up by such motives as these, but by higher and greater motives, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; and may carry an Hebraism with it; the kingdom of heaven, that is, a heavenly kingdom; as the law is called, the law of fire, in the Hebrew, a fiery law. The Jews expected the Messiah, and dreamed of an outward, glorious, and pompous kingdom: now, says John the Baptist, the Messiah is come, his kingdom is come; but it is not an outward, glorious, and pompous kingdom, but it is an heavenly kingdom, and therefore, repent, and prepare yourselves for the receiving of it, make your way plain, for the kingdom of heaven, an heavenly kingdom, is now at hand.
“ Is at hand,” we read it; but according to the original rather thus, “ The kingdom of heaven hath approached;" appropinquavit. As if he should say thus: Do you turn to God, because God hath turned to you; do you draw near to God, because the kingdom of grace and free remission hath drawn near to you.
There are two notes that lie here before us, that I shall commend unto your consideration.