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" But now commandeth all men, every where to repent.”
Acts xvii, 30.
It is not my design, at this time, to inquire into the nature of repentance, and to exhibit, in detail, that series of moral feeling, that constitutes the essence of godly sorrow. I would only remark, that the emotion of mind, which we denominate sorrow, is the same in its nature, when produced by a conviction of sin, as when produced by any
It is the sorrow of the world, and worketh death, when produced by worldly causes. It is godly sorrow,
and has its issue in everlasting life, when produced by a conviction of having basely, and causelessly offended our Maker. I forbear, therefore, making any remarks, specifically, on the nature of repentance, whilst I endeavour to press the duty, and the ability, and present obligation of sinners to perform it.
I. IT IS THE DUTY OF ALL MEN TO REPENT.
This duty is solemnly enjoined by the authority of God in the text :-“But now commandeth all men, every where to repent.” The Scriptures, elsewhere, abundantly enfo Jesus
Christ preached that men should repent, and he has made it, peculiarly, the duty of his ministering servants, in this particular, to imitate his example. He urged the necessity of repentance upon the Jews, in a most solemn manner, when he applied the tragical end of those Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices, to their case, and declared to them, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” The disciples “went and preached that men should repent.” “And thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; "and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations."
The duty of repentance cannot, from its very nature, be restricted to any definite and select number. All men are sinners. All are to blame for being sinners. Their being sinners lays the foundation for the necessity of repentance.If, therefore, the duty of repentance is obligatory on one, it is so on all. If they had always loved God supremely, there would have been no ground for repentance; but, having been voluntary in their hatred towards him, it is impossible they should love him, so long as they do not grieve for their ungrateful, and wicked conduct. This is impossible, because a state of impenitency, is a state of hatred and rebellion, and these are incompatible with a spirit of submission and love. Hence, men can comply with the obligation, which all lie under, to love God supremely, only, as they exercise a deep, and ingenuous sorrow of heart, on account of sin. Whilst the whole heart is opposed to God, it is impossible, that the whole, or any part of the heart should be in love with him. Thence it is, that what is termed the disability of sinners to embrace Christ, and love him, is called a moral disability, because it lies exclusively in the inclination ; it being impossible, that the inclination should be equally strong towards objects of a directly opposite nature. Man cannot love, what he hates ; not because he has not a capacity to love, but because he hates ; and it is a palpable absurdity to suppose, that he can, at the same time, love with all his heart, what he hates with all his heart. As all men are bound to have right feelings towards God; and as they can then only have right feelings, when they are brought to exercise an ingenuous grief for their sins, so, the obligation to repentance, running parallel with their offences, lies upon all men.
If all sinners are bound to repent, then the obligation rests upon those who hear me. The command of the Almighty, to all men, every where to repent, is addressed as directly to you, as it ever was to any of his creatures. It is a duty, to which you are solemnly called, by motives of the most tender and impressive character. It is your Maker who calls you back to your allegiance, and to happiness; and you are urged to submit, by every argument that can address the kind and . ingenuous principles of your nature. It is a duty which you are able to perform, and for neglecting which, yòu are rendering yourselves daily, more and more guilty, in the eye of Heaven. This brings me to the
II. Article to which, in pursuance of our plan, I would invite your attention. REPENTANCE IS A DUTY WHICH SIN
NERS ARE ABLE TO PERFORM,
The ability of sinners, as well as their obligation to repent, appears from the fact, that God has commanded them to repent. The command presupposes an ability, that constitutes the basis of obligation ; for it is a dictate of common sense, that no one can be to blame for not doing, what he is in no sense able to do. Now if man is unable to repent, and thus, in
every sense, unable to comply with what God requires, when he commands him to repent, he cannot be to blame if he does not repent. But this is not all : If he can be held to perform, only, what he is able to perform, then it is most palpable, that to require of him, what lies strictly beyond the reach of those powers that constitute him a responsible moral ageri, must be inconsistent and unjust. We must conclude, therefore, since God has commanded men to repent, and has threatened them with his sore displeasure if they do not repent, either, that they are able to repent, and thence, are both formally, and actually guilty for not repenting ; or, we must adopt the only alternative, and implicate the rectitude of the Divine Being, in requiring of his creatures, under the most tremendous sanctions, the doing of impossibilities.
But, as the command to repent is in accordance with our consciousness of obligation ; as it is a duty reasonable in its own nature, arising from the perfections of God, and his relations to his creatures, it is most evidently safe, as well as rational and scriptural, how repugnant soever the conclusion may be to our corruptions, to take the side of our Maker against ourselves, and under a conviction that we are to blame for being sinners, to humble ourselves before him, and to