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OF REPENTANCE UNTO LIFE.
Acts xi. 18.Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted
repentance unto life.
EPENTANCE is an inseparable companion of faith, so
endowed with repentance towards God.
This is a conclusion drawn by the believing Jews from the account Peter had given them of what passed with respect to his receiving the Gentiles into Christian fellowship, with which they rest satisfied, namely, That God had given repentance to the Gentiles. Where consider,
1. A blessing granted; repentance unto life ; so called, to distinguish it from legal repentance, and the sorrow that is unto death. This true repentance iş unto life ; for, by God's appointment, it must go before eternal life; and whoso have it shall be sure of that.
2. The parties to whom it was granted; the Gentiles, those who were once without hope and without God in the world.
3. The author of it, God. It is his gift, as well as faith is. He works it in the heart.
The doctrine of the text is,
Doct. • To those whom God designs for life, he gives re
pentance unto life. They come all through this strait gate who enter into life.' Or, “Repentance unto life iş a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience.
Here I shall shew,
İŮ. The springs of it.
1. I am to shew, what are the kinds of repentance. They are two.
1. Legal repentance, such as was in Judas, and may be in other reprobates, and so is not saving, Matth. xxvii. 3. being produced by law terrors, without gospel-grace changing the heart.
2. Evangelical repentance, peculiar to the elect, which is that in the text, and is the only true and saving repentance, of which we speak. The general difference betwixt them kes here, that in this last, one repents of his sin as it is sin, or offensive to God, as David did, Psal. li. 4. saying, ' A. gainst thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight;' in the other, only as it brings wrath on him, Gen. iv. 13.
H. I proceed to shew, the general nature of repentance unto life. It is a saving grace, 2 Tim. iii. 25. disposing the soul unto all the acts of turning from sin unto God.
1. It is not a transient action, a sigh for sin, a pang of sorrow for it, which goes away again, but it is an abiding grace, a new frame and disposition, fixed in the heart, disposing one to turn from sin to God on all occasions, Zech. xii. 10. I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications, and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.'
2. Nor yet a passing work of the first days of one's religion ; but a grace in the heart, setting one to an answerable working all their days. The heart being smitten with repentance at conversion, the wound is never bound up to bleed no more, till the band of glory be put about it.
3. It is not a common grace, as legal repentance is, but a saving one; distinguishing one from a hypocrite, and having a necessary connection with eternal life.
HI. I shall shew, who is the author of this repentance. 1. Not men themselves; it is not owing to one's natural
powers, Jer. xxii. 23.
• Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil.' The stony heart is beyond man's power to remove.
2. It is God's free gift, and wrought by the power of his Spirit in the heart, Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judginents, and do them,” Jer, xxxi. 18, 19.
I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus, Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; turn thou me, and I shall be turned ; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh ; I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. Some times notorious sinners become penitents, as Manasseh, Paul, &c. Where he is the matter, the knottiest timber is as easy for the Spirit to work as any other, Zech. xii. 10. forecited.
The means the Spirit makes use of is the word; hence we read of preaching repentance. And (1.) The law serves to break the hard heart, Jer. xxiii. 29. Is not my word like a fire? saith the Lord, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?' It is like the Baptist preparing the way for the Messiah's coming. Hence it is called the Spirit of bondage, Rom. viii. 15. (2.) The gospel serves to melt the hard heart, like a fire, Jer xxiii. 29. forecited; and so to bow and bend it from sin unto God. The soul is driven by the law, but drawn by the gospel. The Lord comes in the still small voice.
IV. I proceed to shew, the springs of this repentance. There are two opened in the heart by the Holy Spirit.
1. A true sense of sin. And in this there are two things. (1.) A sight of it, Psal. li. 3. My sin is ever before me.' The man's eyes are opened, and he sees his sinfulness of nature, heart, lip, and life; the evil of his sin, in the misery and danger of it to himself, and the dishonour it does to God,
(1.) A painful feeling of it, Acts ii. 37. The sin which sat light on them before, becomes a burden which they are not able to bear; for now they are roused out of their lethargy and feels their sores: it is a burden on their spirits, backs, and heads. They are filled with terror, anguish, and remorse, at the sight, as was the Philippian jailor, Acts xvi. 30. This is necessary for repentance, because otherwise the sinner will never part with his sin, nor prize Christ and his grace, Rev. iii. 17. He will reign as king without Christ, till he feel his lost estate, as did the prodigal, Luke xv.
2. An apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, Joel ii. 12, 13. ? Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning. And rent your heart and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.? The eye of faith is opened to see and believe, thaç there is forgiveness and mercy with him to a poor sinner, that though the sinner has destroyed himself, yet in God is his help; there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. This can only be ap: prehended aright through Jesus Christ, Zech. xii. 16. fore. çited, '. Not mercy for mercy's sake, but Christ's sake :
God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, &c. This is necessary. For without it, one will either, (1.) Go on in secret despair, casting off the thoughts of his case, and making the best of it he can, Jer. ii. 25. - Thou saidst There is no hope. No: for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go. Or, (2.) Lie down in tormenting despair, like Judas. Both which will fix sin in the heart, and bar out repentance. And since God is a consuming fire to the work. ers of iniquity, and without satisfaction there can be no remission, there is no apprehending of mercy but through Christ.
V. I proceed to shew, the parts of repentance. These are two, humiliation and conversion, Joel ii. 12, 13. above quoted.
1. Humiliation. The sinner goes from God by the highway of pride and self-conceit; but always comes back the low way of humiliation. Grace pulls him down from the seat of the scorner, and lays him at the Lord's feet, i Pet. v. 6. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time. It makes him like Benhadad's servants, who came to the king of Israel girded with
sackcloth, and ropes on their heads, in the most humiliating posture. In it there is,
(1.) Sorrow for sin, a kindly sorrow for the offence and dishonour done to a holy gracious God, Zech. xii
. 10. formerly cited, defacing his image, transgressing his law, grieving his Spirit, and furnishing spear and nails to pierce a Saviour.
(2.) Shame, a holy shame for sin, Rom. vi. 21. «What fruit had ye in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?' They see now their spiritual nakedness, pollution, disappointed expectations from sin, and reproach discovered, which fill the soul with blushing.
(3.) Self-ioathing, Ezek. xxxvi. 31. Then shall ye re. member your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loath yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities, and for your abominations. They see a fulness of sin in them, and the complicated aggravations of their sin, which make them to smite on their breast, as the publican did, Luke xviii. 13. as deserving to be pierced through the heart it bred in ; to smite on the thigh, as Ephraim did, Jer, xxxi. 19. as if he desired to break the legs that carried him out of God's way.
(4.) Pemitent confession, Jer. iii. 13. accusing and condemning themselves.
2. Conversion, or returning. Of which there are two parts.
1st. Turning away from sin, 2 Tim. ii. 19. To repent of sin, and continue in the habitual practice of it, is a contra. diction. They turn from it,
(1.) In heart, by a hearty and sincere hatred of it. Psal. cxix. 104. •I hate every false way. They hate it as an evil, the worst of evils, worse than sufferings. They hate it sincerely as sin, universally and irreconcileably. They look on it as God does, as that abominable thing which he hates,
(3.) In their life and conversation ; they get clean hands.
[1.] They turn from the gross pollutions of the outward man, in the habitual practice of these, Psal. xxiv. 3,
Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? and who shall stand in his holy place ? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lift up his soul únto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.' A profane life is the mark of an impe. nitent state, Gal. v. 21. They which do such things shall