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strength: then he followed Jesus “ afar off:”s then he mixed himself needlessly with ungodly company: then he yielded to the fear of man: and then he denied his Lord with oaths and curses. And have not we also found that we have proceeded from one sin to another; and that, when once we have given advantage to the enemy, he has prevailed against us in a far greater degree than we ever could have imagined? Let us then enquire, whether there have not been some warnings given us, of which we are unmindful; some resolutions, which, having been made in our own strength, we have violated in the hour of temptation? Let us enquire, whether we be not at this moment walking at too great a distance from our Lord? whether we be not influenced by the fear of man? whether we be not associating too much with the enemies of our Lord? or whether there be not some other sin, which we allowedly indulge? Let us remember, that to descend is easy: and that, when we enter on the downward road, none but God can tell, where we shall stop.]
3. How unbounded is the compassion of our blessed Lord!
[Well might our Lord have exposed Peter to those whom he feared: or rather, well might the insulted Jesus have looked him dead upon the spot, even as Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead with a lie in their mouths. But that compassionate Saviour cast only on his apostate servant a look of love and pity; yea, and that too, in the very midst of his sin.
And may we not suppose, that he is at this very moment looking in the same manner on some amongst us, who have dishonoured their profession, and grieved him by their unworthy conduct? Let us endeavour to realize this thought. Let us examine whether there be not a cause, which our blinded consciences have been too backward to condemn? And, if we can find any thing that has grieved his soul, let us instantly go home, and “ weep bitterly," till he forgive us. Let us then think on our ways, and turn unto God's testimonies: let us make haste, and not delay, to keep his commandments.*]
r Ver. 54.
3 Ver. 55. Compare Ecclus, xix 1. with Prov. xxviü. 18. a Acts v. 1-10.
» Ps. cxix. 59, 60.
DLXXXIII. REPENTANCE EXEMPLIFIED IN THE
2 Cor. vii. 10, 11. Godly sorrow worketh repentance to sal
vation, not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold, this self-same thing that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves 19 be clear in this matter.
IT is sometimes urged against faithful ministers, that they distress the minds of their auditors by their preach. ing: and it must be confessed that the accusation is true, But it must not be concluded from thence, that they take a pleasure in grieving any, or that they are too harsh in their ministrations: they must declare the mind of God respecting sin and sinners; in order to bring men to repentance: and if they find any persons truly humbled for iheir sins, they account it the richest reward of their labours.
St. Paul had reproved the Corinthian church for taking part with the incestuous man, instead of casting him out from their society: and his Epistle had been the means of producing in them a godly sorrow, together with a suitable demeanor. When he found this to be the case, he wrote again to them, and told them, that it had pained him exceedingly to grieve any of them; but that he re. joiced in seeing their grief operate in so beneficial a manner; this godly sorrow had answered the very end of his admonitions; and he was now ready to pour the oil of joy into the wounds which he had inflicted."
We shall take occasion from the words before us to trace repentance I. In its cause
[If we would trace repentance to its highest source, we must refer you to God, the giver of every good gift, and to Christ, who is exalted to bestow it. But it is our intention
R 1 Cor. v.
Ver. 8, 9. d Acts v. 31.
rather to point out that which is the main spring of it in the heart.
Repentanee arises from godly sorrow, from which it differs as the effect from the cause: “godly sorrow worketh it.”
To ascertain what godly sorrow is, we must compare it with “the sorrow of the world,” with which all of us are in some measure acquainted. The sorrow of the world may either relate to that sorrow which arises from worldly troubles, or that sorrow which a worldly man may have in reference to his sins. In either view it is a sorrow which “ worketh death."
The troubles of this life often depress men, so as to indispose them for their proper business, and rob them of all their comfort, and destroy their constitution, and ultimately to bring them to the grave.e
Many also are greatly distressed in reference to their sins: they are filled with dreadful apprehensions of God's wrath; they are harassed with unbelieving fears; they are even brought into the depths of despair, conceiving that there is no mercy for them, that they are not of the number of God's elect, that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and that it would be either hypocrisy or presumption in them even to offer up a prayer to God. Now this sorrow, like that before mentioned, worketh only death. It keeps us from God instead of bringing us to him;f it leads us to cloke and extenuate, rather than to confess and aggravate, our sins; it stimulates only to self-righteous purposes and endeavours, which are invariably frustrated by the power of indwelling corruption; and sometimes it terminates even in suicide itself.: At all events it causes hard thoughts of God, and utterly unfits the soul for real humiliation and contrition; so that, whether it be more or less afflictive at present, it equally fur thers our eternal condemnation. In direct opposition to this
is that godly sorrow which produces genuine repentance. The fore-mentioned sorrow consists of unbelief, despondency, and fear of punishment; but the most essential ingredients of godly sorrow are, faith, hope, and love. The person sorrowing goes to God, believing him to be a rewarder of them that diligently seek him ---He goes to God through Christ, hoping that for Christ's sake his sins shall be forgiven him
- He goes to God with love in his heart, determining to justify God in whatever he shall do, yea, even in his own eternal condemnation
Now this sorrow worketh repentance to salvation: it disposes a man to search out all his sins, and to humble himself
e It is not uncommon to say of such persons, They died of 2 broken heart,
Jer. ii, 25.
for them in dust and ashes: it urges him to plead with earnestness the promises which God has made to returning penitents, and humbly to rely upon them: it causes him to seek after a conformity to God's image; and determines him to glorify his Saviour with all the powers that he has. Such a repentance as this no man ever yet repented of; nor would he ever repent of it, however distressing the means had been by which it had been wrought in him. Every sorrow, short of this, would only issue in everlasting sorrow: but this sorrow invariably works repentance to life.]
Thus we have traced repentance to its source, and seen it in its cause.
Let us proceed to trace it II. In its effects
[The apostle enumerates a great variety of effects produced in the minds of the Christians at Corinth: and his words have certainly a primary reference to that particular people on that particular occasion: but they admirably express also the emotions which are universally produced by true repentance, in whomsoever it obtains. We may therefore be permitted to consider them in that view, or, at least, to accommodate them to that subject.
For the sake of an easy distribution of the subject we shall transpose the first word, and consider it last: we shall then see the effects of genuine repentance in reference to our past, present, and future conduct.
The Corinthians, humbled by St. Paul's reproofs, were studious to “ clear themselves" to the world, to the Church, to their monitor, and to God himself; and to shew that they sincerely repented of what they had done amiss. They felt an “indignation” against the sin they had committed, and against themselves for having committed it; nor could they forgive themselves, till they knew that God had forgiven them. Thus will every true penitent endeavour to clear himself," and render it conspicuous both to God and man, that he is indeed a new creature He is “indignant,” nor can he endure himself, when he reflects on his past life: when he calls to mind his rebellion against God, and his contempt of Christ's redeeming love, he is covered with shame and confusion of face
The Corinthians, penetrated with a sense of their misconduct, felt a holy “fear,” lest they should ever relapse into the sin of which they were repenting, or be drawn aside again to any similar enormity. They " vehemently desired" pardon of God for their past transgression, and grace, that they might be enabled to act with more consistency in future. They were animated in this with a “ Zeal” which nothing could damp, and with a "revenge" which determined them neither to spare the public offender, nor the evil dispositions of their own
hearts. And do we not see in them the character of every true penitent? In all who truly repent, there will be an humble “ fear” of falling again under the power of those lusts which formerly led them captive---a“ vehement desire” to serve, to enjoy, to glorify their God---a“ zeal,” which enables them to set their faces as a flint against the whole world---and a "revenge” that determines them to sacrifice their bosom lusts, though dear as a right eye, or useful as a right hand
The apostle further notices the “ carefulness" with which the Corinthians exerted themselves to avoid every thing in future which might turn them aside from the path of duty. What word can more fitly characterize the disposition of a penitent in reference to his future conduct? Once he could walk at large, without taking any lieed to his ways; but now he enquires whether the action be pleasing to God or not: he watches over the motives and principles by which he is actuated: he considers what may be the consequences of his actions both to himself and others: he is solicitous to avoid not only what is in itself evil, but whatever may be the means and occasion of evil. Hence he will not readily expose himself to temptation: he keeps at a distance from those amusements, and those companions that have formerly ensnared him: and he begs of God to guide his every step, and to
preserve him blameless unto his heavenly kingdom.”]
We CONCLUDE with enquirirg whether the commendation bestowed on the Corir.thians in the text, can with propriety be applied to us?
[“ Have we in all things approved ourselves to be clear in this matier?” We ask not, whether we have had any repentance at all, or not: (though perhaps there are many amongst us that have had no concern for their past sins, and that feel no anxiety about their eternal salvation) but we ask, viether we have had any other sorrow for sin, than such as will spring from worldiy principles, and consist with a worldly mind!
Let us enquire whether our sorrow be of an unbelieving, desponding, nature, that is little else tiran slavish fear; or whether it be of an ingenuous kind, that leads us to rely on Christ in the exercise of an humble hope, and fervent love?--
Let us examine thoroughly the effects of our sorrow, and see whether they accord with those which were produced in the church at Corinth?
Can we appeal to God, that we have “ approved ourselves to be clear in this matter," so that there is no room to doubt whether our repentance be genuine or not? If God were now 10 call us to his judgment-seat, could we appeal to him, as the searcher of our hearts, that it has been, and yet is, our daily endeavour to exercise such repentance as this? Vol. V.