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and if he leave off gambling, it is not because he is convinced that it is a pursuit which wastes that precious time, which Heaven has given us for rational or useful purposes ; or because it cherishes a spirit of covetousness, and an unjust desire to obtain our neighbour's property, without giving him an equivalent. If the man's mind were changed, so as to view gambling in this light, he would then repent and leave it off, whether he lost or won.
The same reasoning is applicable to any vice, which injures, either gradually or suddenly, our property, or our health, or our good name in the world ; such as the excessive use of intoxicating liquors, or the irregular, extravagant, or unnatural indulgence of the sensual appetite. When a man has squandered away his money, or brought upon himself some loathsome disease, or made himself shunned and despised for his intemperance and debauchery, he
may then change his opinion of these vices, because of their bad consequences, and only for that reason; and if he leave them off, it is not because he desires to obey the will of God; and therefore, in this case, he still loves these vices, and almost hates Divine Providence, for having made the consequence of vice to be misery. In such a state of mind as this, a man who is even sick and dying by the consequence of his own vice, however sorry, and fretted, and ashamed he may be, has not undergone that change of opinion and liking which constitutes true repentance. This man's anger, and vexation, and grief, is what the Apostle calls the sorrow of the world, which worketh death; a sort of atheistical sorrow, which still allows a man's heart to remain far off from God. This is the lowest form and degree of that which appears like repentance, for it has regard only to the natural evils which are the consequence of vicious conduct, and does not at all regard vice as a sin against God. Perhaps such a state of mind should not be called repentance, but remorse.
But suppose a man's mind so far changed, as to consider all violations of, or deviations from, the divine law, as subjecting him to the punishment that is to be inflicted after death; and, at the same time, this man's mind not
so far changed and enlightened, as to perceive the excellence, and goodness, and amiableness of the divine character; and the justice, and reasonableness, and happy tendency, of what Heaven's law requires; although that man may be afraid of the consequences likely to follow his wicked life, or his impious thoughts, still his heart does not hate evil, but only dreads the consequences, and feels aversion to God who has threatened these consequences. And when such a man is sorry, and seems to repent, his repentance has not yet assumed the form and degree that constitutes true and saving repentance. I am afraid you will say that I am refining too much, and as long as a man is sorry for his sins, it is no matter what the exact reason of it may be. However, if you consider that the first and great commandment is to love God, it will appear plain to you, that the mind which thinks the Divine Being has given too strict laws, and annexed too severe punishments, must rather feel aversion or hatred to God, than love to him. And, therefore, a greater change of mind is requisite to bring a man near to God, which is the effect of true repentance.
The Divine Being is a holy and righteous Sovereign. He made the universe, and he made man ; therefore his controul over man is most just. The Almighty is infinitely wise and good, therefore the laws which he prescribes, whether they regard our own persons, our behaviour to our fellow creatures, or the affections we ought to cherish towards our Maker, must be infinitely good, and conducive to our happiness ; but since God's laws are just and good, our obedience should be cheerful and willing; not with feelings such as a slave must have towards a tyrannical master, but such as a dutiful child should cherish towards a virtuous and kind parent. Not to be obedient to the divine law, is the most wicked rebellion against just authority, and a most presumptuous pretence that we know better what is good for us, than He who made us.
Now, when a man's mind is so changed, that he does not consider the laws of religion and virtue as restraints upon his pleasure or his profit, nor hindrances of his happiness, but,
contrarywise, he thinks “God's service perfect freedom;" he then thinks his past disobedience the result of inexcusable ignorance, presumption, wilfulness, and ingratitude. Further, when such a man thinks, not only of the Divine Perfections --God's infinite excellence, wisdom, and goodness, but also of the wonders of redeeming mercy, manifested in our Saviour; he feels still more ashamed, and humble, and sorry for his past folly and wickedness, and for his daily sins and transgressions. There is such a change passed on his mind, that he does not wish to sin any
It is not only the consequences of vice and irreligion that he dreads-he hates every false and every wicked way. He desires to confess, with "shame and confusion of face,” his manifold presumptuous sins, and to use means henceforward to yield obedience, from a sense of duty and gratitude ; to return as a rebel pardoned by his king; as a prodigal son received by a kind father. And look at the case of the prodigal, as stated by our Saviour.
The prodigal began his career in a spirit of ungrateful pride and self-sufficiency; abandoned his father's house, and sought for happiness in jovial and riotous living, far off from his real friends and his home; in the same manner as guilty, foolish, proud man does, who labours, as in the very fire, to attain happiness, sometimes from the accumulation of money, or from sensual pleasures, or the distinctions and honours of this life, and ever disappointed, still pursues the fleeting shadow.
The prodigal's wants and misery happily humbled his proud heart, and brought him to himself, to a right understanding of his father's kindness, and the happiness of home; then he repented; his mind was changed; and he came to this happy resolution_“I will arise and go
my Father, and will say unto him, Father! I have sinned againgt heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants.” Here there was
no design to excuse, much less to justify himself. No apology on account of his youth, no pretence about having a good heart, notwithstanding his former pride, and ingratitude, and wilfulness. No ! this
example of a sincere penitent represents him as resting his plea entirely on the goodness and mercy of his Father. He still retains the language of the filial relation, although he acknowledges that he has no claim to it.
" Father (said he) I am unworthy to be called thy son; but, О give me in my Father's house, a servant's place.” Here is a spirit of the deepest humility and self-abasement, and an acknowledgement of his Father's goodness. Here sorrow, shame, affection, hope, all work together in this man's breast, and bring him back again to his duty. He did not stay in a distant country, and send apologies to his Father. No, he arose and came himself. And how was he received? With a frown? No! was he upbraided for the past, and put in a course of trial to see how he would behave for the future ? No! When he was yet a great way off, his Father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and brought him to the home he had deserted, and took away his filthy ragged garments, and gave him good clothes, and shoes, and a ring; and having found alive a lost son, whom he lamented as dead, he made a feast, and filled his whole house with joy.
And does this at all represent a lost sinner's case ? Yes ! Our blessed Saviour says, “Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth."
How different are the sentiments entertained in heaven and on earth. Alas! who is there amongst men who much cares whether a fellow sinner repents or not; and how many are there ever ready to despise and mock the man who seems at all concerned about his sins. This world, and wicked men and women, are like the people of the far country, where the prodigal wasted his substance with riotous living; and when he began to be in want, none cared for him ; the brute beasts were more regarded than he was. He fain would have filled his belly with the husks which the swine did eat, and no man gave unto him. But heaven is like the prodigal's home; in that place there is still a kind concern about him. Oh, what compassion ! The Spirit of God strives with sinning man; the Spirit is grieved by man's wickedness; the Son of God died for
man; and all heaven rejoices, (there is joy in the presence of the angels of God,) when sinful man repents, i. e. when man, at first, out of his mind, and wandering far off from his heavenly Father's home; feeding on ashes, or trying to
11 his stomach with husks; trying to find happiness in drunkenness, in debauchery, or in riches, or in worldly distinctions, and such like low and grovelling, or vain and unsatisfying pursuits :—When he comes to himself, is restored to his right mind, and right judgment, and arises, and goes to his heavenly Father, and confesses his follies and his sins, and forsakes them; then there is joy in heaven on his account.
There are some self-righteous, self-conceited people, such as the Pharisees were, in our Saviour's days, who, like the returning prodigal's elder brother, think there is far too much ado made about a sinner's repenting; they do not care whether he repents or not; and they censure those who are a little anxious to induce him to repent; and they are angry because there is such a fuss made about a worthless wretch, (perhaps some poor drunken sailor,) who does actually repent, and come to his heavenly Father, penitent, sober, and in his right mind.
That such self-righteous, cold-hearted people, are very wrong is very evident, unless it be pretended that they are wiser, and better, and more rational, than the all-wise God and his holy angels; but this is too shocking and blasphemous even to be imagined.
And, further, it is a very plain inference from this subject, that a man's repenting, or not repenting, is a matter of great, of vast importance ; for in heaven trifling or small matters cannot cause joy or grief. And observe, it is not the repentance of a whole family, or of a whole nation, that is said to give joy, but even the repentance of one sinner causes this joy. Oh, yes ! it must be true, that real repentance is connected with the saving of a soul, an immortal spirit, from eternal misery, and the preparing it for eternal happiness. And is not this enough to make angels glad ? is not this sufficient to cause joy in heaven? for heaven is the land of benevolence and compassion.