"And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved 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, beginning at Jerusalem." (Luke 24:46,47)
Those of you who were present this morning know that these are the same words I then read to you, and spoke from, as my text; but not having time to go through the whole of them, I purpose, by the Lord's assistance, to take up the words again this afternoon.
In the introduction to our subject this morning, I spake of the resurrection of Christ from the dead; and of his showing himself, first, to the women that came to the sepulchre; then, to the two disciples who were going to Emmaus, and afterward to the eleven. I also spake of the spirit and power of unbelief, as displayed by the disciples at that time in a very great degree. Then, in speaking on the text, I first pointed out some of the many "things written in the law of Moses, in the prophets, and in the Psalms," that refer to Christ; and endeavored to show the clear views which they had of the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of Christ. I then treated on some of the many things which he suffered; and showed, that every one of his disciples have to drink of the same cup that he drank of, in a greater or less degree. I then spake on his rising from the dead on the third day; and by so doing, destroying the last enemy, death. I also endeavored to show on what ground "it behoved him" to suffer, and to rise from the dead. And concluded in the morning with a promise, that if we were spared to meet in the afternoon, and my mind should be led to the same subject, I would take it up again, and give some account of "repentance and remission of sins," both of which were to be preached in the name of Christ, beginning at Jerusalem.
The first thing, then, we have to notice this afternoon is "repentance." And, in treating on this part of our text, I will, first, speak of it in a doctrinal point of light, for the Apostles were to preach it; and will then show you why and wherefore they were to preach this doctrine. And, secondly, I will endeavor to describe that repentance in the heart of a sinner which is unto life; show from whence the blessing comes; what will produce it; and what are the gracious effects of it.
First. I have to treat on "repentance" as a doctrine. We find that John, the forerunner of Christ, prefaced as it were his ministry with it; for we are told that he preached in the wilderness of Judea, saying, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of God is at hand;" (Matt. 3:2) and he said to those who came to him to be baptized, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance," and demanded of them "fruits meet for repentance," or fruits to prove their repentance to be genuine. Christ himself preached the same doctrine, saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is nigh at hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel." (Mark 1:15) And when Christ sent forth the twelve two by two to preach the gospel, we are told, that "they went out and preached that men should repent." (Mark 6:12) We find Peter acting upon the authority and commission given in this text when preaching to the people on the day of Pentecost, "when they were pricked in their hearts, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost," (Acts 2:36,37) Paul's ministry savored of the same doctrine; for he preached "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:21) This he testified among both Jews and Greeks. And the Lord himself saith, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous therefore and repent." (Rev. 3:19)
It is evident, therefore, that repentance was preached by John the Baptist; by Christ himself; by both Peter and Paul; "and in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word is established." It was preached by Mr. Hart (a man of good report in all the Churches). In one of his hymns he says,
"Repent, ye sons of men, repent,
Hear the good tidings God has sent
Of sinners saved, and sins forgiv'n
And beggars rais'd to reign in heav'n."
Although the doctrine of repentance was, and still is to be, preached, it does not follow that repentance is within the grasp of fallen man; or, that man can by his natural free will and power repent with that repentance which is unto life eternal. By no means; the whole tenor of Scripture, as well as the experience of every sensible sinner, contradicts such an idea. It may be asked, then, to what end is repentance to be preached? I answer, To show the necessity of it; for, without repentance, no soul can enter heaven. It is one of the things which are indispensably necessary to salvation. This our Lord showed when he said, "Suppose ye that those Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices, were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." It is as much as if he had said, "I tell you, that repentance is so necessary to salvation, that if you die without it you must everlastingly perish. Yes; even ye Pharisees, who outwardly appear righteous; who are clean and pure in your own eyes, saying to others, 'Stand by thyself, come not nigh unto me, for I am holier than thou;' ye, who thank God that ye are not as other men are; but that, like the elder son in the parable, have never transgressed at any time, and therefore see no need for repentance; I tell you, that unless you repent of the pride, covetousness, hypocrisy, deceit, and enmity of your hearts, you cannot be saved." If there are any of you here this afternoon, therefore, who are wrapped up in your own righteousness; advocates for free will and human merit; exalting the creature at the expense of the glory of the Saviour; and, in your own conceit, very near the threshold of sinless perfection; lovers of all the world excepting the elect of God; advocates of universal redemption; and, with all the sophistry of the devil, sapping every fundamental doctrine in the Bible--if there are any of this cast and character here, I tell you, that unless you repent of this spiritual wickedness, you will as surely perish as God is true. On the other hand, if there are any here who are walking according to the course of this world, fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and of the mind; in league with the devil; in union with the world, and in love with sin; neither fearing God, nor regarding man; but are led captive by Satan at his will into every besetting sin, I tell you plainly, that except you repent, you will certainly perish. Repentance, therefore, is to be preached to show the necessity of it, for without repentance no soul can enter the kingdom of heaven. But to tell sinners, dead in sin, that they have power to repent and turn to God; and to exhort them to be up and doing, is not doing the work of an evangelist, nor speaking as the oracles of God. For the Lord saith, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye do good who are accustomed to do evil." (Jer. 13:23) But not till then. And "to repent in dust and ashes," is doing good, or well doing. Those who preach, therefore, either directly or indirectly, that fallen man hath power to repent, know not what they say, nor whereof they affirm; they err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God; and I may add, nor their own weakness. I have been charged with not preaching to sinners, but only to the elect. If, by preaching to sinners, they mean what they term "offering the gospel to them, and inviting them to accept it," then I acknowledge the charge to be just; and I would have my accusers know that I am forbidden to do so; for a steward is not to waste his master's goods, or to take the children's bread and cast it to dogs. A steward is to feed the household of faith, giving them their portion of meat in due season. But "without are dogs;" and he has no commission to feed them: and, in fact, if he were to attempt to do so, he would find they have no relish for it, and were much more likely to bark at, if not bite him, than to accept his kind invitation and offer. Hence the caution, "Cast not your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet; and turn and rend you." (Matt. 7:6) But, if by preaching to sinners they mean, that I do not warn them of the error of their way; and point out to them what their state before God is, and what will be the awful consequence if they die in the state they are in by nature and practice, then I leave those who are in the habit of hearing me, to determine whether or not I am guilty of the charge. But to return.
Secondly. The next thing we have to notice is, that repentance in the heart of a sinner which is unto life, by showing from whence the blessing comes; what will produce it; and what are its effects. But before we do this, let us for a moment or two look at the different kinds of repentance which are mentioned in the Scriptures.
1. We read, that Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah. He cried and said, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." (Jonah 3:4) When these heavy tidings reached the ears of the king, he proclaimed a fast, laid his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes, and commanded all in the city to do the same, and to cry mightily unto God; for he said, "Who can tell, if God will turn, and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?" And we are informed, that when "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not." (Jonah 3:10) But their repentance was not unto life eternal; it was natural repentance, and it received its reward; for the Lord spared the city. But, it is one thing for the Lord to turn from the fierceness of his anger, and spare the lives of men; and it is another thing to save their precious and immortal souls from going down into the pit of hell.
2. Again. There is also "the sorrow of the world, that worketh death;" and this, in some instances, amounts to desperate sorrow. Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage; but when he reflected on what he had done, he was grieved at heart, and cried with an exceeding bitter cry, and sought a place of repentance, and that carefully with tears; but he found none. He had despised his birthright, which his selling of it proved; and he found to his sorrow that God is of one mind, and none can turn him; and that what he had done in despising and selling his birthright, was not to be undone; despair entered his soul, and desperate was the effect of it. How many, like Ahab, through temptations being laid in their way, have sold themselves, body, soul, and spirit, to work wickedness, and commit iniquity with greediness? But when the judgments of the Lord are abroad in the earth, and conscience is aroused out of its slumber, or death stares them in the face, then they reflect upon their evil ways, and feel grief and sorrow; not on account of their sins, but on account of the punishment of it, saying with Cain, "My punishment is greater than I can bear." (Gen. 4:13) But when the storm is blown over, and there is a little cessation from this inward remorse, then, like the sow that was washed, they return to their wallowing in the mire; they cast off all fear of God; and their hearts, being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and their consciences seared with a hot iron, they sin against God with a high hand, being given up of him to a reprobate mind. But when God brings them into judgment, and arraigns them at the bar of their own consciences; when the terrors of God set themselves in array against their guilty souls, and the flood-gates of God's wrath are let loose upon them--they sink into awful and black despair, and desperate sorrow is the effect. And some in this perilous path have "cursed both their God and the king, and looked upward."
Job was tempted to harden himself in sorrow; and said, if God would let him have his request, and grant him the thing that he longed for, he should yet have comfort, and harden himself in sorrow. And I have no doubt, that many a child of God has been tempted to do the same thing when under heavy surges of soul; like the prophet, when he said, "I am the man that hath seen affliction, by the rod of his wrath: he hath led me and brought me into darkness, but not into light. Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day." (Lam. 3:1,3) He calls upon God in his distress, but obtains no answer; he waits for the Lord, but he does not come to his help; he is watching to see the Lord make crooked things straight, and darkness light before him; instead of which the crooked things get more in number, and more crooked in nature, and the darkness gets darker still; and he begs of the Lord to interpret the dark dispensation unto him, and show him the end to be answered in it. But, notwithstanding, it remains to him buried in profound mystery. The Lord keeps the rod upon him, and keeps back the face of his throne from him, until self-pity, which is the parent of rebellion and desperation, works in him to a fearful extent, and he chooses strangling and death rather than life, and says with Job, "I will harden myself in sorrow, let what will come upon me." Ah! He may say so, and he may determine to do so; but he will never be able to carry his intention into execution: and the reason why he cannot is, the counsel of God is against it; and though there are many devices in the heart of man, "The counsel of God that shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure." (Isa. 46:10) Bless the Lord for it, O my soul! What I have suffered at times on this ground my tongue can never describe. When my soul has been overwhelmed with this desperation, I have looked as it were into the gulf of hardened sorrow, and my poor soul has shrunk back from that horrible pit; I have trembled from head to foot, yea, to the very center of my soul, and my cry to God day and night has been, "O, keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me." This is doing business in great waters; and such have opportunity of seeing the Lord's works and his wonders in the deep, and are capable of pointing out the rock on which thousands of professors have made shipwreck in soul matters.
The sorrow in Judas was desperate sorrow; for when he had done the foul deed, his conscience was aroused; the vials of God's wrath were emptied out upon his guilty soul, and hell from beneath was moved to meet him at his coming. When he saw and felt these things, he repented, went and confessed his crime; cast down the price of blood at the feet of the chief priests and elders, and went out and hanged himself, and went to his own place.
But all this is very different from a godly sorrow, or sorrowing after a godly manner, which I will now endeavor to describe, by showing from whence the blessing comes, what will produce it, and what are its effects. Is it from heaven or earth? From God or man? We are told, "Him hath God the Father exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." (Acts 5:31) The Apostle Paul tells us, that "God hath granted unto the Gentiles repentance unto life:" (Acts 11:18) they are, therefore, included in those "good and perfect gifts that come down from the Father of lights." (James 1:17) If this grant is denied, and this gift be withholden from man, he will find, that repentance unto life is far enough out of his reach, and beyond his power. This sensible sinner knows by heart-felt experience: and, as it is the grant of heaven, and the gift of the Saviour, so it is wrought in the soul by the Holy Ghost; for it is his office to receive of the things that are Christ's, and reveal them to the sinner, and work in him both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:13) And, as it is the determined will of Jehovah that none shall enter the kingdom without repentance, the Holy Ghost takes possession of the sinner's heart, and works it in him; and this is called, "working in them the good pleasure of his goodness." This confirms what the Apostle Paul saith, namely, that "it is the goodness of God that leadeth thee to repentance." (Rom. 2:4)
I believe that repentance, like every other grace that constitutes the new man, has its different stages, and is to be seen in different degrees. We are not born in the full stature of man, either in nature or grace; it is true, there is no addition of members after birth, but the child grows in wisdom and in stature; and we read of "growing in grace, and in the knowledge of Christ." (2 Pet. 3:18) Paul speaks of "going on to perfection;" and then explains his meaning in these words, "Till we all come in the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." This is manhood in Christ. And, I think, if we consult the Scriptures, we shall find repentance in its infancy, and repentance also in its manhood. There is, doubtless, the very essence of a godly sorrow in the heart of every one called by grace; although it may, and indeed oftentimes is, so mixed up and buried in the leaven of legal sorrow, that it is not so clearly discovered as in after stages of their pilgrimage. But in this we must not limit the Holy One of Israel. We read, that Christ "came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance;" (Mark 2:17) and we know his calls are effectual, therefore they repent. This, I think, our Lord shows clearly in the parable of the lost sheep, where we have an account of his leaving the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and going in search after the one that was gone astray. The ninety and nine were the Pharisees to whom he was speaking, just persons in their own eyes; and needing no repentance. The one gone astray is the church of Christ, spoken of in the singular number, as in the Songs of Solomon, "My beloved is but one; the choice one of her mother; and the only one of her that bare her." (Songs 6:9) In search after this one sheep, the chief Shepherd goes; and when he has found it, he brings it back rejoicing. In this is manifest both his kindness and power; his kindness in seeking it out from whence it had been scattered in the cloudy and dark day; (Ezek. 34:12) his power in bringing it back to God, from whom it had gone astray, even from its mother's womb. Christ, in explaining that parable said, "I tell you, there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance." (Luke 15:7)
It is evident, therefore, that there is repentance in the heart of the returning sinner, but not in its maturity. There was a measure of godly sorrow in Mary's heart when she wept at the feet of Christ, although a great portion of her sorrow might arise from the fear of death, and the dread of hell and destruction. It is so in the case of every sinner who is truly convinced of sin; he fears God with a fear that hath torment; he dreads death and everlasting destruction; and reflecting on his sins as the procuring cause, he feels sorrow of heart on this account. But, if he examines things minutely, he will find a principle in his heart that hates sin on account of its sinfulness; that sin is a heavy burden upon his soul, as well as the fear of punishment due to him for his sins; he will be sorry for his sins on this account also. But when the Lord shows himself propitious to his soul in raising himself to a comfortable hope in his mercy, and encourages and comforts his heart; when a little of the favor of God distills upon his spirit; then a godly sorrow will flow forth from his heart in a more clear and conspicuous manner. This kind act of the Lord leads him to repentance. But still repentance is not yet come to maturity.
But when the poor sinner is favored with a faith's view of Christ in his suffering circumstances, suffering for sins, "the Just for the unjust," to bring sinners nigh unto God, then he views sin in its true colors; he clearly sees how hateful sin is to God, and the wrath of God due to sin; and in the sorrows and agony of his dying Saviour, he clearly sees the sorrow and agony of a soul under the guilt of sin and the wrath of God; and, looking on Him whom he has pierced, he mourns, and is in bitterness for Him as one who is in bitterness for his firstborn. And, as Mr. Hart observes,
"Love and grief compound an unction,
Both to cleanse our wounds and heal."
Love to the Saviour on account of his unparalleled love to him; and grief on account of his sins, which have pierced his dear Lord and Saviour, and caused him that grief, agony, and sorrow. This is another stage of godly sorrow; repentance is now seen in a greater degree of maturity.
But after all these things that he has seen and experienced, if he be left, as Peter was, to deny his Lord and Master; or like Solomon, to sin against light and knowledge, in serving divers lusts, and setting up idols as rivals to God; or, like Ephraim, going on frowardly in the way of his own heart, in the face of God's rebukes and reproofs, which were not only against him in the written and preached word, but were sticking fast in his own conscience--then, for the Lord to say, "Turn, ye backsliding children, for I am married unto you, and I will cause mine anger towards you to cease;" or, as in Ephraim's case, when the Lord saith, "Is he not a dear son? Is he not a pleasant child? Though I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still; I have seen his ways, and I will heal him" (Jer. 31:20) this unparalleled and unexpected kindness draws forth repentance in its perfection. And what will be the effect? Why, self-revenge, and shamedness of face. Hence, we hear Ephraim saying, "After I was turned, I repented; after I was instructed, I smote on my thigh; I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the sins of my youth." (Jer. 31:19) His own ways, and the Lord's ways, are so confounding to his wisdom, that he is lost in amazement and wonder. Again: self-loathing, and self-abhorrence will be another effect of it; hence saith Job, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5,6) And again, "That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I am pacified towards thee, saith the Lord God." (Ezek. 16:63) Thus, his mouth is stopped; boasting is excluded; he knows himself to be a vile sinner, saved wholly by rich, free, and sovereign grace, from first to last; and to the grace of the Triune God he ascribes the praise, saying, "Not unto us, not unto us; but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy and for thy truth's sake." (Ps. 115:1)
Thirdly. The next thing we have to notice in the text is the pardon of sins, which the Apostles were to preach in the name of Christ.
In speaking on this head, I will, first, treat of sins being pardoned on God's account; secondly, on a personal knowledge of sins being pardoned; and thirdly, what will be the effect of such a blessed knowledge. It is one thing for my sins to be pardoned for Christ's sake, and it is another thing for me to know personally for myself that they are pardoned.
1. Now, if you are acquainted with your Bibles, you will find, that the pardon of sin is spoken of in several portions of Scripture as an act that is past; in others, as a thing that is present; and in others, as a thing yet to come. Hence the prophet Isaiah was commissioned to tell the people of God, that "their warfare was accomplished, and their iniquities were pardoned." (Isa. 40:2) Here we have it in the past tense. Christ said to the man sick with the palsy, "Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee," in the present tense. And Peter saith, "Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3:19) Here we have the blotting out of sin spoken of in the future tense. If my sins are forgiven, they were pardoned when Christ died on the accursed tree. For he not only bare our sins in his own body on the tree, but he put them away by the sacrifice of himself. Hence saith Paul, "We have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." (Eph. 1:7) This Daniel saw, and saith, "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish transgression and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness." (Dan. 9:24) And the Lord told Zechariah that he should remove the iniquity of the land in one day; (Zech. 3:9) which declaration he verified the day he died on the cross. It is remarkable what striking figures the Holy Ghost has used in Scripture to show that sin is for ever put away. For instance: sin being cast behind the Lord's back--to show that they are in this sense out of sight; of their being drowned in the depth of the sea--to show that they are irrecoverably gone; of the Lord blotting them out as a thick cloud; not merely crossing the book, and giving a receipt in full of all demands, but so blotting them out that there is not the least trace of the debt left. This being the case, no marvel that we hear the Lord saying, "In that day the sins of Israel and of Judah shall be sought for, but they shall not be found." (Jer. 50:20) And even Balaam was enlightened enough to see this; for he said, "The Lord hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel." (Num. 23:21) No; for the scapegoat hath borne them away unto a land not inhabited. Thus, it appears evident, that the sins of all God's children were fully pardoned when Christ died for sin, "the Just for the unjust."
This doctrine the Apostles were to proclaim even upon the housetop, and they were to begin at Jerusalem. We find that Paul made this doctrine the alpha of his ministry; for he says, "I delivered unto you, first of all, that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor. 15:3,4) Paul confirmed what he preached by the Scriptures. And when a man brings a "Thus saith the Lord" for what he preaches, who dare condemn either the man or his preachment? And again, Paul saith, "Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that by this one man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:38,39) The Apostle John also preached the same doctrine to the little children to whom he wrote; and the same was preached in the prophetic age. Hence Isaiah is commissioned by the Lord to tell his people that "their iniquities were pardoned." And the ministers of Christ are to continue preaching this news and glad tidings, telling the children of God that their sins are forgiven them. But perhaps some may ask, Is it not dangerous to preach this? Is there not danger of leading people into licentiousness? I might ask, Do you think that a person doing you the greatest possible kindness would influence you to turn round and abuse that person? The one is as likely as the other.
2. But, although it is true, that all the sins of God's elect are already pardoned for Christ's sake, yet this, good news as it is, will not satisfy a poor perishing sinner. No; it is not his knowing that the sins of the elect are pardoned; he wants to know personally that his sins are pardoned; and nothing short of this will satisfy him. Some people talk about ministers setting people down, short of the mark. But it is not with ministers to set the people down, or to set them up; that is the Lord's work. That some men do set up evidences of a work of grace that will not bear the scrutiny of truth is, I think, a melancholy fact. In this way the wounds of the people are slightly healed; peace, peace being spoken, where there is no ground for peace. (Jer. 8:11) And there are some, on the other hand, who discard every branch of experience excepting that which amounts to a full assurance of faith. Such men make the righteous sad whom the Lord would not have made sad; and instead of feeding the lambs, they push them both side and shoulder, and act the cruel part of Amalek, who smote the hindermost of Israel when they were weak and faint, and for which cruel act the Lord declared he would blot out his name for ever. But notwithstanding, I defy any minister to set a poor, lost, ruined, needy sinner down satisfied with anything short of a knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins, and that for himself. He may have many tokens for good, many sweet lifts by the way, many intimations of the Saviour's love, which afford him a little revival in his bondage. This begets hope in his soul of seeing better days; and he is ready to conclude at these seasons that he shall not die, but live. He sometimes gets a crumb under the ministry which does his soul good like medicine. At other times, he hangs on the promise like a child at the breast; and is enabled to extract a little of the milk and honey contained in it; and he then knows the meaning of the wise man, when he saith, "Eat thou honey, for it is good; and honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste." (Prov. 24:13) And there are times when he finds sensible nearness to the Lord at a throne of grace, and is helped there to unbosom his soul without the least reserve, and to show the Lord all his trouble. He esteems these things great privileges and blessings, and they are greatly prized because greatly needed. But notwithstanding, he is not fully satisfied; his soul is not at rest; there is still an aching void, a something wanting. And what is it? Why, "Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation." (Ps. 35:3) "Tell me, dearest Lord, that my sins which are many are all forgiven; and enable me to believe it. This is what I want; this will satisfy my soul."
But, perhaps, some will say, is it possible for a person to know while he is in this world that his sins are pardoned? Yes, it is. Job, David, Paul, and others have known it; and, in fact, the Lord has promised it to all his people, saying, "They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them; for I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." (Heb. 8:11,12) God's promise is the best authority and the best ground to encourage a perishing sinner to pray for it. Those of you, therefore, who are thirsting after this great blessing, open your mouth wide; covet earnestly this best gift; wrestle with the Lord; plead his promises; and you will find, to the joy of your heart, that his promises will never fail. Are any of you saying, "Oh that I knew that my sins were forgiven! Oh that I had solid ground to hope for so great a blessing!" In order to show you whether you have any solid ground from the Scripture to hope for so great a blessing, I will endeavor to point out a few things that are experienced in the soul, and which are harbingers and forerunners of this sacred gift. If you have the pledge, you will assuredly have the kid; if you have the earnest penny, you will assuredly have the inheritance. And in bringing these things forward, I will come down as low as the Scriptures warrant.
1. The Scripture saith, "He that hideth his sin shall not prosper, but he that confesseth and forsaketh his sin shall have mercy." (Prov. 28:13) In the New Testament, it reads thus, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) But surely something more than mouth confession is here intended. Most people are ready to confess they are sinners; and indeed, not to do so bespeaks hardness of heart to the last degree. I know there are to be found advocates for sinless perfection; and there are some among them who tell us, they are as holy in themselves as the Lord is in himself. But such are hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, with a witness; they hold a lie in their right hand; and, if grace prevent not, they will go down to hell with it in their hand and in their heart too. Such are deceived by Satan; and we are warranted from Scripture to tell them, that they deceive themselves, and the truth is not in them. Pharaoh confessed that the Lord was righteous, and that he and his people were sinners. Saul confessed that he had sinned. But neither of them received mercy; for though they confessed their sin, they were not grieved at it, nor were their hearts pained on account of sin; they neither forsook it, nor were they cleansed from unrighteousness. Right confession of sin springs from spiritual conviction, and is attended with pain of heart, brokenness of spirit, a measure of godly sorrow, and earnest crying to God for mercy from a feeling sense of need. David saith, "My heart is sore pained within me, and the terrors of death are fallen upon me; fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me." (Ps. 55:4,5) Here is spiritual conviction. Then comes his confession, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned." (Ps. 51:4) And again, "I said I will confess my iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin." (Ps. 38:18) And pardon followed; for he saith, "And thou forgavest my sin." "I have sinned against the Lord;" here is the confession. "The Lord hath put away thy sin, thou shalt not die;" here is the pardon. The prophet Isaiah said, "Woe is me! I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;" (Isa. 6:5) here is both conviction and confession, and the former gave rise to the latter. The prodigal son said, "I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants." (Luke 15:18,19) Thus he returned confessing his sin; and, as he had lost all idea of worth or worthiness in himself, he confesseth that he is not worthy to be called a son, yet he earnestly craves a place in his father's house, and would now rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. Thus he both confesseth and forsaketh his sin, and he also found mercy. The publican said, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Here is both his confession and his plea; and we are told, that "he went down to his house justified," that is, with the sentence of acquittal in his own conscience.
In each of these cases, and many more of the same import, confession might be noticed as a harbinger and forerunner of mercy. But the next passage that I shall notice is this, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." (Isa. 55:7)
3. I have already shown you that right confession is the effect of spiritual conviction, and that both are followed by the forsaking of sinful ways. It is not whether he will or will not do so; he is called with a holy calling, and brought out with the outstretched arm of the Lord. The Lord is stronger than he, and prevails. The Lord also works powerfully upon his will, and makes him willing in the day of his power. (Ps. 110:3) So that now the language of his heart is, "The time past of my life suffices that I have already too much wrought the will of the Gentiles. (1 Pet. 4:3) He is dead to sin, and cannot live any longer therein. But this man is beset, and his mind at times chained down to discouraging and unbelieving thoughts. The concern of his soul is to him the one thing needful; and at times his thoughts dwell all the day long on this subject. He is carried back in thought, it may be, to the days of his youth; he surveys the sinful way that he has been led in; and a melancholy picture is presented to his view. He also thinks on the Lord; but that, so far from affording him any encouragement, fills him with fear, dread, and terror. He cannot, he dare not, harbor a hope that there is mercy in reserve for him; no, his sins are too many, of too dark a hue, and too aggravating in their nature to be pardoned; he is the least, and the last, and the vilest of all. These unbelieving thoughts keep him from the Lord. But for the encouragement of such a poor sinner, the Lord hath said, in the passage before cited, "Let him forsake his way, and his thoughts;" and he shall find, that "there is forgiveness with the Lord that he may be feared." Now, under all these discouraging and unbelieving thoughts, "the Spirit helpeth his infirmities, and maketh intercession for him with groanings which cannot be uttered;" (Rom. 8:26) and at times sets before the eyes of his mind encouraging portions of Scripture, and seals home upon his poor sorrowful soul, in some measure, the precious invitations of the Bible. He thus finds his soul encouraged; and hope springs up in his heart. The Lord has invited him to come; he says, "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord; say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render to thee the calves of our lips." (Hos. 14:2) This portion is so exactly suitable to his case that he ponders it over in his heart; and the Holy Ghost attending it with power, enables him to do so; so that he pleads with the Lord even with the words which he puts into his mouth; and then, quietly to hope and patiently to wait for its accomplishment, is the labor and toil of his soul.
The next passage I shall notice is this: "The Lord is good, and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy to all that call upon him." (Ps. 86:5) "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:21) "Not every one that saith, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom." (Matt. 7:21) The Lord saith, "This people draweth near to me with their mouth, but their heart is far from me." (Matt. 15:8) This is mocking the Most High; and God is not to be mocked. Real prayer is the going forth of the heart to God from a sense of need, under the operation of the Spirit, who maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Christ ever liveth in heaven to make intercession for us there; and the Holy Ghost maketh intercession in the sinner's heart with groanings that cannot be uttered. This kind of prayer is another forerunner of pardon; Christ encourages us to pray for the forgiveness of sins; for he says, "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto the sons of men."
Again. The Lord told Paul that "He had appeared unto him for the purpose of delivering him from the people of the Jews, and of the Gentiles; to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God; that they might receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among all them that are sanctified by faith in Christ." (Acts 26:18) Has the Lord opened your blind eyes to see your ruined state by nature and practice, and to behold fearful and wondrous things in his law? To see the Lord seated on the throne of judgment, where Isaiah saw him, and which has made you exclaim with him, "Woe is me! For I am undone?" Have your eyes been opened to see Christ, the King in his beauty? And to behold the land that is very far off? As Moses did. Has Christ displayed his power in your soul, in putting down the devil from the throne of your affections, and ascending it himself the rightful owner; so that you are no longer a vassal and slave to the devil: and, although you have to contend daily with the world, the flesh, and the devil, they do not have dominion over you? The reason is, "Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world." (1 John 4:4) This is another forerunner of pardon.
Again. The Lord saith, "I will put my laws in their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and I will forgive their iniquities, and remember their sins no more." (Heb. 10:16,17) There are two principal laws--the law of works, and the law of faith; the law of Mount Sinai, and the law of Mount Zion; the law of Moses, and the law of Christ. The one is the law of sin and death; the other, the law of righteousness unto life eternal. One is the letter, which killeth the sinner; and the other is the spirit, that promises and brings him eternal life. The one genders to bondage; the other promises and brings liberty to the captives. The one is the law of the bond-child; the other of the free. The one is a grievous and heavy yoke; the other an easy one. All that are under the former are under its curse; and all who are under the latter are blessed with life for evermore. These laws are kept distinct and separate in Scripture; and so they will ever be in the ministry of every person who speaks as he is moved by the Holy Ghost. Both these laws respect two different classes of people; and if a man handle each lawfully, he will give to each class their portion. But to jumble both laws together, is not preaching either law or gospel. God has declared that he will write his law in the heart. By the "heart" the conscience sometimes is intended. "By the law," also, we are told, "is the knowledge of sin." And when the Spirit convinces the sinner of sin, the law of Moses is written in his conscience as with a pen of iron and the point of a diamond; and none but the Lord can blot out this handwriting. At other times, by the term "heart," the affections are intended. And when the Lord opens the sinner's heart to receive the truth, as he did Lydia's, and the gospel, which is "the power of God to salvation," (Rom. 1:16) comes with power, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance, answering all his objections, and silencing all his accusers, he receives the love of the truth, and the truth in the love of it; and he loves the God of truth, and the ministers of truth for the truth's sake, and the ways of truth; yea, and all those who are sound in the truth. The law of his God is in his heart, and none of his steps shall slide. This is another forerunner of pardon.
Again. Christ breathed on his disciples, and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained: (John 20:22,23) and whatsoever things thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven." (Matt. 18:18) But were the disciples of Christ invested with power to bind men's sins upon them and loose them at their pleasure? (Which power the Pope of Rome arrogates to himself, and some of the blind guides in the Church of England do the same, saying to the sick, "I absolve thee from thy sins.") Certainly not. But their ministry, being attended with the power of the Spirit, has this effect. You will find at times under the word preached, particularly if it is a searching ministry, that sin is charged home and bound upon your conscience, and you are holden in the cords of your sins; your feet are fast in the stocks, your soul laid in irons, and yourself shut up in the prison-house, with full expectation of being brought forth to execution; and you feel certain that heaven ratifies and confirms the sentence; for the heavens have revealed your iniquities,, and the earth rises up against you; and your conscience bears witness against you to your very face. And against these witnesses who can stand in judgment? On the other hand, the gospel, which is a proclamation of pardon, not only sounds in his ears from the pulpit, but echoes in his soul. The power of the Lord is present to heal; he sends his word and heals him, and delivers him from destruction; the jubilee trumpet is sounded, not only in his ears, but in his heart; the Saviour proclaims liberty to his captive soul, looses him from his bonds and fetters, and brings him out of his prison house, and sets his captive soul at liberty. When this is the case, the year of his release is come, and he is satisfied that this is ratified and confirmed in heaven as well as in his own soul. For he has not broken the prison, and got out by stealth, as thousands of professors do; but the King himself has sent and loosed him, and the rulers of the people let him go free, he is now a Napthali, "a hind let loose." The truth has made him free, and he is free indeed; he is the Lord's free man. He was made free, from the curse of the law by Christ, who "was made a curse for him," he is now liberated from the bondage of the law by the spirit of liberty in his own soul. He is now delivered from the mount that might not be touched, and from darkness and blackness and tempest (which made even Moses himself exceedingly to tremble and quake,) and he is brought to Mount Zion, and is in very deed one of her free citizens and freeborn sons. The Lord hath given him a goodly name of the host of nations, a name better than of sons and daughters, even an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
And now, it may be asked, what will be the effect of these things? I answer,
1. Joy and gladness. We are told, that "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, they were like them that dreamed; then was their mouth filled with laughter, and their tongue with singing; then said they among the heathen, the Lord hath done great things for them." Yea; they reply, "the Lord hath done great thing for us, whereof we are glad." Joy and gladness, therefore, is the blessed effect of the pardon of sins; as saith the apostle, "We joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement." (Rom. 5:11)
2. Peace is another thing that flows from the pardon of sin. For "being justified by faith we have peace with God." (Rom. 5:1) Peace procured by Christ, and proclaimed in the gospel, is now brought into the conscience by faith, and the believer walks with God in peace and equity.
3. Praise is another thing. "And in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me." (Isa. 12:1) "For peace I had great bitterness; but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption; for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. For the grace cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee; they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day; the father to the children shall make known thy truth." (Isa. 38:17-19) He will, with the Psalmist, heap a thousand blessings on the head of the Saviour who hath done such great things for him, and say, "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies." (Ps. 103:1-4) His soul is experimentally brought up out of the horrible pit and miry clay, and fixed upon the Rock of Ages, and a new song put into his mouth. He now praises God with joyful lips: he sings of the Lord's power as displayed in his own soul: he sings of his mercy from an unctuous experience of it in his own conscience: he sings of the Lord's righteousness, being clothed in that wedding-garment: he sings both of judgment and mercy, and that from experience. In a word, he sings salvation to God and the Lamb; and crowns Christ Lord of all.
4. Confidence in the Lord is another effect of pardon: "I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord is my strength and song: he also is become my salvation. (Isa. 12:2)
5. Love to God, his truth, his people, and his ways, is another effect of pardon. He does not need the galling yoke of the law to keep him from going astray, nor does he need either whip or spur to keep him walking in the path of obedience to God. No, no; so far from it, he finds Wisdom's ways to be ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace. He runs in the ways of the Lord's commandments with an enlarged heart; they are not grievous but joyous unto him; and he can say with his dear Lord and Master, "I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart." He can appeal with solemnity to God, and say, "Lord, thou knowest that I love thee, thy truth, and thy ways; and that I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. Thou knowest also, that thy saints are in my esteem the excellent of the earth, in whom my soul delights." Thus, he serves the Lord not from slavish fear, but from love, and that with a willing mind.
6. Shouting victory through the blood of the Lamb is another effect of pardon. "Let the inhabitants of the Rock sing: let them shout from the top of the mountains." (Isa. 42:11) "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 6:23) "The sting of death is sin: and the strength of sin is the law: but thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 15:56,57)
7. Humility of soul, and debasing views of self, is another effect of the pardon of sin. "I am not worthy of the least of thy mercies," saith Jacob. I, who am but dust and ashes," saith Abraham. "I am more brutish than any man," saith the prophet. "So foolish and ignorant was I," saith Asaph, "I was as a beast before thee." "Whose shoes' latchet I am not worthy to unloose," saith John the Baptist.
8. Wonder and astonishment at the Lord's unparalleled kindness is another thing. Why me! Lord? Why me! "What am I, or what is my father's house?" "Why have I found favor in thine eyes that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?" (Ruth 2:10) "And this seemeth but a small thing in thine eyes; for thou hast pardoned all my sins." "Sing, O heavens, and be astonished, O earth: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy on his afflicted." (Isa. 49:13)
But to conclude. He that has these things, possesses the pledge of everlasting happiness; he has the earnest penny, and he is looking forward to the time when he will be put into possession of the inheritance; he has the first-fruits, and he is waiting for the harvest, to be gathered home to his God as a shock of corn coming in its season. And, having this hope in him, he is enabled to endure the cross, and to despise the shame. He has counted the cost; and it amounts to this, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Phil. 1:21) "By faith he seeth Him who is invisible." His hope has taken anchorage in the things within the veil; his treasure is in heaven, and so is his heart; and at times he looks forward, and anticipates with pleasing delight and soul-satisfaction, the time when the words of the poet shall be sung in the highest key, and in the loftiest strain,
"The year of Jubilee is come,
Return, ye ransomed sinners, home.
Thus I have endeavored to point out to you a few of the many things that accompany salvation when it is brought into the heart of a poor, lost, perishing, and helpless sinner; and may the Lord grant that we may know these things by happy and heartfelt experience. Thus I leave the subject; and may the Lord add his blessing. Amen.