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namely, that which relates to the decrees and agency of God. Under this Article it was shown, that the only wise God has a most perfect plan, comprehending all existences and all events, which, without the least failure, he will carry into execution. “ How, then," it may be said, “ can I be sorry for anything which has taken place, without its implying a dissatisfaction with the plan and providence of God? How can i believe God's plan to be absolutely perfect, and yet be sorry that a particular part of it ever went into operation ? And does it not imply a disapprobation of God's plan, for me to be sorry that I have sin. ned?"
This seeming want of harmony between the exercise of repentance, and the doctrine of a perfect divine plan, comprehending all events, even those sinful acts which we deplore, is owing to some mistaken views concerning what is implied in repenting and sorrowing for sin. Is it necessary to suppose, that sorrow for sin, even that which is of a godly sort, implies a wish that the sin sorrowed for had never existed ? It is evident, that such a wish as this made no part of the repentance, which Joseph inculcated on his brethren ; who being moved by envy had sold him into Egypt? “Now therefore," said he, “ be not griov. ed nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.” Gen. xlv. 5. What could this mean? It certainly could not mean that he would not have them rc. pent, and that deeply; for with a view to bring them to such a state of mind, he had with much difficulty concealed from them those strong emotions of fraternal affection which were impatient of restraint. It could mean nothing less than this; that while he would have them abhor themselves, he would at the same time lead them to view the good hand of God, which had been engaged in bringing to pass that grand event, of which their wickedness had been the instrumental cause. He would have them see a divine counsel and agency con. cerned in this whole affair, that they might entertain exalted conceptions of God's wisdom, directing their folly; and of God's righteous. ness, making a holy use of their wickedness.
Sin renders the being who commits it vile and ill-deserving. There is nothing in it to love and approve; but every thing to hate and de. test. The tendency of sin is as evil as its nature. It tends to dishonor the Creator, and destroy the order, peace, and happiness of the created system. But though its natural tendency is evil, and only evil, still it is overruled to further the designs of infinite benevolence. 6 But I would ye should understand, brethren,” said Paul the prisoner, “ that the things which have happenéd unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.” Phil. i. 12. It is through the marvel. lous interposition of the all-sufficient God, that good should ever be promoted by a thing which is so vile and mischievous as sin.
The penitent man may have a full belief, that all the sin which has been committed, and his own arnong the rest, will be overruled for the promotion of greater good; and yet be filled with godly sorrow for it. Godly sorrow does not require that we should be dissatisfied with any. thing God has done, or that we should wish a single event which has transpired, were stricken from the list of events. All it requires of us is, that we feel the same disapprobation of sin which Gąd does. It is
the abominable thing which he hates, and which we ought to hate. God says to every transgressor of his law, Thou art vile.
The peni. tent answers, “ Behold I am vile." God
says, I abhor thee. To this he answers, “I abhor myself.” God tells him that he deserves no good at his hands. He readily responds, “ I am no more worthy to be called thy son.' God proceeds to tell him that he deserves the damnation of hell. He replies, “ I accept the punishment of my sins. -Thou art clear when thou judgest.”
" And if my soul were sent to hell,
Thy rightoous law approves it well." Now is not this the repentance which needeth not to be repented of? And yet it does not necessarily suppose the least dissatisfaction with those divine decrees which embrace the whole system of events. In the exercise of the deepest repentance he may say, “I believe that all my sinful deeds were what God's hand and counsel determined before to be done; I acquiesce in His determination, while I abhor myselfGod appears holy, while I'am vile I meant it for evil, while He meant it for good."
Some may still think that the view which has now been given of repentance, takes from it what is essential to its holy nature. But let me ask such, Do you not entirely disapprove of all the sin of Joseph's brethren in selling him into Egypt? Still you do not intend to say that you wish this thing had never taken place; for such a wish would be rebellion against God, who sent him there to save much people alive. You profess to abhor the wickedness of the Jews in putting to death the Savior: but do you wish he had never been crucified ? Where then would have been the glory which was to follow? Where; in such a case, would that great multitude of redeemed men, which no man can number, have spent their eternity ? Perhaps you will say, that you do not wish these events were struck out of existence, but only the sins which produced them. But you ought to remember, that the events could not have come into being without their causes. God de termined that Joseph should be sold into Egypt by means of the envy of his brethren ; and that Christ should be crucified by wicked hands. The sins which gave existence to these wicked actions are themselves to be considered as events, and were as much included in the wise plan of God as any other events.
If you can abhor the conduct of Joseph's brethren, and of the cruci. fiers of the Savior, without wishing that Joseph had not been sold, and that Christ had not been crucified, why can you not condemn and ab. hor your own sins, without wishing that those sins had never existed ? It is just as certain that your sins were included in God's decrees, as that such was the case with theirs. And it is no less certain that God will overrule your sins for the promotion of his glory, than that he has overruled their sins to promote this object: for saith the scripture,
Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee : the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” Ps. lxxvi. 10.
Does the repentance which God exercises, imply a wish that he had laid his plan differently? When it is said, “It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart," can it design to tell us that the all-wise Creator now wished that he
had made no such creature as man? His repentance in this case must have implied a change of feelings towards man, in view of his having become a depraved, unlovely creature; but it could not imply a wish that he had not given him existence; nor a wish that he had given such a different arrangement to things as should have prevented his defection; since this defection was that which made way for the in. troduction of the glorious scheme of redemption, the chief of all the works of God. Let our Creator be our pattern; and from Him let us learn the nature of repentance.
As He abhors all the wrath of man, and the wrath of devils, which he makes use of to promote his glory, without wishing his plan had been altered in a single particular; so let us abhor all the sin in the universe; and let us not only abhor, but feel guilty and ashamed of our own; and yet be perfectly reconciled to that scheme of providence which includes it all. Let us rest satis. fied, that in the hands of a Being, whose attributes are all infinite, this evil and bitter thing will be made to further that holy cause which it seeks to destroy.
Before I drop this subject, I would seriously ask, whether there can be any satisfactory evidence of disinterested repentance, where there is no submission to the will of God in relation to the existence of those very evils of which we repent ? Could Christ's crucifiers have had evidence that their sorrow for this sin was of a godly sort, while they felt entirely unreconciled to the determinate and holy counsel of God concerning his crucifixion ? Is not this one of those things which constitute the essential difference, which is found to exist between that repentance which is the fruit of the Spirit, and that which is of a self. ish character ? May we not suppose that this was one thing which made a difference between the repentance of Peter and of Judas ? While Peter abhorred the evil of his conduct in denying his Master, ought we not to suppose that he was reconciled to the holy will of God in determining to make use of this very thing, is the means of illustrating his great grace in recovering him from his dreadful fall, and making use of it to render him more humble through all his sub. sequent life ; and probably through his whole existence? But how was it with the repentance of Judas ? While he had no abhorrence of the sinfulness of his conduct, he, no doubt, wished the deed which he had perpetrated could have been struck out of existence. And wherefore ? Merely because it had proved ruinous to himself. And will not all the reprobates in hell forever possess the same kind of re. pentance? Will they not always, without hating sin, wish they had not sinned? On the other hand, will not all the redeemed in glory forever hate sin, without wishing they had not sinned? While they perfectly disapprove of their own conduct in sinning against God, will they not as perfectly approve of His conduct in suffering them to do so?
1. With this Article of the experimental system before us, we dig. cover one trait which makes an essential difference in the characters of men.
The difference is not made by this; that one part of man.
kind have invariably yielded obedience to the law, while the other part have transgressed it. The law has been transgressed by the whole race: “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Nor is this the difference; that sonie have now become sinless, while oth. ers remain sinful. “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from
sin?” “ In many things we all offend.” “ There is not a just man upon the earth, that doth good and sinneth not." But the great thing which distinguishes the just from the unjust, is the feeling they have towards the unlovely traits of their own character. They know there is much in them that is hateful, and they actually hate it. In view of their own sins they lothe themselves, and pray for complete deliverance; and still a body of death hangs upon them. While this conflict is going on in the breasts of God's children, their fellow men sin on and repent not. They justify or excuse their transgressions. Or if, at any time, their consciences take the side of the law, still they exercise no true repentance. To such an affection as godly sorrow they are strangers.
Surely the difference between the characters of men, which is made by penitence and impenitence, is not of small consideration.
It is great enough to lay a foundation for that discrimination, which God makes between men in this and the future world. With penitent sin. ners God now holds communion; but with the impenitent, however moral they may be, he has none. As the penitent sorrow after a godly sort, exercising the same holy abhorrence which God himself does, he embraces them in his arms, lifts on them the light of his countenance, and hears their prayers. But since the impenitent have no such con. trite feelings in view of their transgressions, he can have no fellowship with them. He knows them afar off. In the judgment of the great day, when he will divide one part of mankind from the other, the line of separation will not be drawn between great and small offenders; but between those who repented and those who repented not. Some of the chief of sinners will be on the right hand of the Judge, and some of the least on the left : but on the right hand there will be no impenitent sinner; nor will one that repented be found on the left.
2. This part of Christian experience sheds light on the doctrinal system ; particularly as it relates to the inexcusableness of our impen. itent state, and our indebtedness to special divine grace for our deliv. erance from it. Every man who truly repents, is brought to see and feel that his whole impenitent life was sinful. He sincerely condemns himself, not for his overt acts of transgression alone, but also for the evils of his heart. He blames himself that he was not repenting at the very time he was holding fast deceit and refusing to return. Now if it be right for him to blame himself for his impenitence, (and were it not right, repentance itself would be wrong,) his impenitence was wicked and inexcusable while it remained, even at the very time when he was shielding himself with excuses. If his being born in sin, and thereby rendered morally incapable of exercising repentance, without the aid of the Spirit, had furnished any real excuse for his impenitency while it remained, then he could feel no guilt on account of it after its removal. A man who is recovered from an involuntary disease, does not feel guilty that he did not work, when he had not
power to rise from his bed. If the sinner were not actually guilty“ for his impenitent heart, as well as life, the Holy Ghost, who is the Spirit of truth, would not cause him to feel that self.condemnation which he now does. As the humble and contrite man is perfectly satisfied, that the self-condemnation he now feels is a frame of heart which accords with truth, he entertains no doubt concerning the inexcusableness of his impenitent state. His feelings are so distinct and decided, as to settle his mind, and prepare him to withstand the sophistry of those who had rather argue against their obligation to exercise repentance, than actually to repent.
Some may think, that the penitent's conviction of his former crimi. nality arises from the discovery he has made, that he did not need the special aid of the divine Spirit to produce contrition; and that he was, in every sense of the word, able to do it of himself. But this is far from being the true reason : for never before did he have so clear a discovery of his dependence on God for a penitent heart. Now he feels the force of those words which he finds in the prophet : “ Surely after I was turned, I repented.” At the same time that he confesses his great guilt for not repenting long before he did, he is deeply con. vinced he should not have repented so soon, nor at all, had it not been for the interposition of divine grace. He now sees that this grace needed, not to confer a new faculty, or anything else like an increase of corporeal or intellectual strength, but to counteract sin, and make him willing to comply with a most reasonable requisition.
FAITH, ESPECIALLY THAT WHICH HAS CHRIST FOR ITS OBJECT, FORMS A PROMINENT FEATURE IN THE EXPERIENCE OF A CHRISTIAX.
Faith is sometimes put for the thing believed. In this sense is the word used by the apostle Jude, when he exhorts those to whom he wrote, to contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. When thus used, it does not belong to the experimental system. It is only as an exercise of the heart that it comes under this head.
Infidels deny any obligation to the exercise of faith. They think the command which enjoins it is altogether unreasonable ; as much so as if they were required to erect a superstructure where there was no foundation on which it could rest. They ought, however, to know,
, that when the scriptures oppose faith to reason, it is not reason itself to which they oppose it, but that which is falsely so called. Reason, unswayed by a wicked heart, would never declare against the being