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THE NECESSITY OF REPENTANCE.
Several Sermons preached, at Ettrick, in the year 1717.
LUKE xiii. 5.
I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
WHEN we consider the abounding sin and hardness of heart prevailing under a preached gospel, it must needs let us see, that the doctrine of repentance is both necessary and seasonable, to pluck the brands out of the burning; or if that will not do, to leave men without excuse. Sinners stave off repentance, as if they were resolved to persist in sin come what will, or at least as halting betwixt two opinions : But here is a peremptory decision of the case in this text, “I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
In these words we have two things.
1. .An abuse of a dispensation of providence corrected: “I tell yon, Nay.” Some had told our Lord the news of Pilate the Roman governor's falling on some Galileans, with his soldiers, and killing them, while they were sacrificing. It seems the tellers of this news, or others in the company, were apt to think, that these were sinners beyond others, because an unordinary judgment had fallen on them. Our Lord tells them, that it would not bear such a conclusion, He puts them in mind of another remarkable providence, viz. the tower of Siloam in Jerusalem its falling on and killing eighteen persons : but here he shews that this did not befal them, because they were greater sinners than all the rest in Jerusalem; nay there were as great sinners as those, which missed that stroke, and others like it too.
2. The right use of the dispensation instructed: “But except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” The right use is to learn repentance from the ruin of others; if others give us an example at their own cost, that we take heed to it and improve it to our repentance and reformation. This is the import of the particle but. These words are a peremptory certification given to sinners by our Lord. And the proposition in its own nature includes a twofold certification.
1st, a certification of ruin upon impenitence. Sinners go on in their course, yet hope that all may be well. No, says our
Lord, deceive not yourselves; for if ye do not repent, there is no hope of saving you. There is here,
(1.) The matter on which the certification is given, “ Except ye repent;" i. e. If ye do not repent, if ye be not duly humbled for your sins, and sincerely turn from them. If ye harden your hearts under your guilt, keep still your sinful courses, and refuse to let them go, they will rain you.
(2.) The thing certified, which is perishing likewise; not perishing in that very manner, but ye shall perish as surely as they did. The judgments of God shall pursue you, and ye shall perish for ever.
(3.) The extent of the certification, “ All-perish.” This clears the perishing to be meant of everlasting death. Q. d. Though signal temporal judgments do pursue all that are impenitent, yet eternal punishment will; do impenitent sinner shall escape that, however they may escape temporal strokes of signal vengeance.
(4.) The peremptoriness of it. This appears in two things. 1. That solemn assertion, “I tell you,” supposed to be repeated in the last clause. Take it out of the mouth of the Lord himself, that ye shall perish except ye repent. Q. d. This has been told you by many, but ye would not believe : but now I tell it you out of my own mouth. And to hear this out of the mouth of the Saviour, may strike a sinner with concern, and let him see, that Christ's blood will never be laid out on a person continuing impenitent, to save him from death. 2. In the relation intimate to be between the punishment of those so signally smitten by the hand of God, and the future punishment of all impenitent sinners; the fornier is a pledge of the latter. This is intimated by the particle likewise.
2dly, A certification of life and repentance. This is implied here as Gen. ii. 17. God has made as sure connection betwixt repentanco and life, as betwixt impenitence and death. Be your sins never so great, if you repent of them, and turn from them, they shall never be your ruin.
Before I come to the main point I design, I shall lay before you some observations from the words.
Obs. 1. That those who meet with more signal strokes than others, are not therefore, nor are to be accounted greater sinners than others. The Lord spares some as great sinners, as he signally punisheth, I tell you, nay.
Reasons of this dispensation of Providence.
1. Because of God's sovereign power and absolute dominion, which he will have the world to understand : Matth. xx. 15. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?" Thus our Lord
accounts for the dispensation of the man's being born blind, John is. 3. All men have that in them and about them, which may make them liable to the heaviest strokes that any of the children of men meet with; And therefore whatever any suffer, the Lord does them no wrong, since he punishes them less than their iniquity deserves : but amongst many whom justice inay strike, sovereignity picks out some, and causes them to smart.
And who may say,
“ what dost thou?"
2. Because we are now under the mixed dispensation of providence; not the unmixed, reserved to another world, when all men shall be put into their unalterable state. Now, hereunto this is very agreeable that God signally punish some of a society, while others as guilty do escape, that the whole may, with David, Psal. ci. 1, "sing of mercy and judgment too.” And thus the dispensation of divers colours is held up in the world, as a display of the mani. fold wisdom of God.
3. Because the mercy of God to some is magnified by his severity on others. As black set by white makes the white appear the better; so God's severity agaiust some, may be a looking-glass to others, wherein they may see how much they stand obliged to free grace and mercy, Rom. xi. xxii. Men are never fairer to prize health in themselves, than when they see others tossed on sick beds; nor to prize the exercise of sense and reason, and other mercies, than when they see what miserable and pitiful sights they are that are deprived of these. And this should make folk patient and thankful under the strokes of the Lord's hand, because if he take away a mercy, health for instance, or perhaps a member or limb of their body, being taken away, it may be more serviceable for him, than when they had it, in so far as it shall serve to magnify the mercy of God to others, that see and notice the hand of the Lord. See Matth. xxi. 3.
4. Because in very signal strokes very signal mercies may be wrapped up. So it was in Joseph's case; there was a very singular blessing on the head of him that was separated from his brethren. Job's troubles were but a dark hour before a very glorious day. The halt Jacob got in his thigh, was more excellent, as a badge of his wrestling with the angel, than Esau's retinue of four hundred
5. Lastly, Because this dispensation is in some sort necessary to confirm us in the belief of the judgment of the great day. God punishes some remarkably, that the world may see that there is a God that judgeth on the earth; he does not so punish all, that men
If none were may be assured that there is a judgment to come. VOL. VI.
punished here, the world would improve that for Atheism ; if all were punished, it would be improved to Sadducism.
Use 1. Then learn that unordinary strokes may befall those that are not unordinary sinners; and therefore be not rash in your judgment concerning the strokes that others meet with. It true, whatever we or others meet with, it is deserved at the Lord's hand; and when God follows an unordinary seen sin with an unordinary judgment, as in the case of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, it is no breach of charity to judge that that stroke comes for that sin. But when people, in whose conversation ye see no signal sin, meet with signal strokes, beware of harsh judging. For in the way the Lord's dispensation, some will meet with a signal stroke for some sin, such as the world would think little or nothing of, if they knew it.
2. Then adore the mercy of God to you, and wonder at his sparing you, when ye see others smart under the hand of God, which ye do not feel. Acknowledge, that whatever others meet with, the same might have been your lot, if the Lord had dealt with you as ye deserve; as the church did, Lam. iii. 22, “It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not."
Obs. 2. That the strokes which any meet with, are pledges of ruin to impenitent sinners. But “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
Reasons of this are,
1. Because they show how hateful to God sin is, in whomsoever it is : Is. xlii. 24, “ Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers ? did not the Lord, he against whom we have sinped ? for they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law.” God has no delight in the misery of his own creatures, Ezek. xviii. 23. He must therefore have a mighty hatred against sin, in that he is so heavy oftentimes on the work of his own hands for it. Not only his enemies smart for sin, but his dear friends ; yea, his dear Son smarted for it, when it lay on him but by imputation. And therefore how can impenitent sinners think to escape ? Luke xxiii. 31, “For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry ?”
2. Because they shew how just God is. He is the Judge of all the earth, and cannot but do right, Gen. xviii. 25. Now, though justice may delay the punishment of one longer than another, yet it will not allow to punish some, and for ever to spare others, in the same state. For that would be manifest partiality, which God hateth, Ezek. xviii. 20. And therefore the apostle tells us, 2 Thess. i. 6. that “it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble" the saints.
3. Because whatever any weet with in the way of sin, is really designed for warning to others, as is clear from the text. See 1 Cor. x. 11, 12. And they that will not be taught by the example of others, may expect to be made examples to teach others, as Lot's wife was. But the wise will have their eyes in their head, while impenitent sinners pass on and perish, as those that will not take warning. Hence it comes to pass, that the stroke afar off not prevailing, is oftentimes brought nearer home.
4. Lastly, Because all those strokes which sinners meet with in this life, are the spittings of the shower of wrath that abides the impenitent world, after which the full shower may certainly be looked for. As the joys in believing are the pledges of eternal joy, flowing from one fountain with it; the first-fruits of Canaan's land, which will be followed with the full harvest : so all the outlettings of God's wrath on sinners here, are the pledges of eternal wrath, and first-fruits of hell, which will be followed with the harvest of misery, being the same in kind, Rev. xx. 14.
USE 1. Be not unconcerned spectators of all the effects of God's anger for sin going abroad in the world; for your part and mine is deep in them. There is none of them bat says to us, as in the same condemnation, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” 0 how unconcernedly do many look on the miseries of others, how far are they from taking a lesson to themselves therefrom! But a hard heart and seared conscience, which cannot be awakened by the dispensations of providence far off from them, do but invite the heavy stroke to fall on themselves.
2. Consider, O impenitent sinners, how can ye escape, when your ruin is insured by so many pledges thereof from the Lord's hand, while ye go on in sin? When a sinner goes out of God's way, he leaves his soul in pawn for his return by repentance; but the impenitent sinner never returns to loose his pawn, and so loses it. When God lets out any of his wrath in any measure on the children of men, that is God's pawn for his bringing eternal wrath on the impenitent; and we may be sure, that however careless we be of our pawns, God will not lose his. Therefore consider your ways,
Obs. 3. The strokes that others meet with, are loud calls to to us to repent. That is the language of all the afflicting providences which we see going on in the world. To confirm this, consider,
1. God does not strike one for sin with a visible stroke, but with an eye to all. The reason which God gives in his law for punishing