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Hezekiah likewise, because his heart was lifted up, and he rendered not again according to the benefits done him, was sorely visited and terribly threatened, though he had long been eminently pious.
And the apostle Paul, when reproving the Corinthians for their scandalous attendance on the Lord's supper, says to them; For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world."
True penitents and believers are not under the curse of the law, but under a covenant of grace : a covenant according to which they are out of danger of the condemnation of the wicked, and their final salvation is secured. Nevertheless, they are not so forgiven as that their transgressions may not be yet visited with the rod, in this world, and their iniquity with stripes.
But in our text it is said, Repent and be converted that your sins may be blotted out, wben the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” What are we to understand by those times ?
Some understand by them, the times of the more full pouring out of the Divine Spirit under the gospel dispensation : and some, the times of wrath and destruction which would soon come upon Jerusalem, and upon the persecuting Jews in general ; which would be times of a short relief and rofreshing the persecuted christians.
But, though these might, with some propriety, be spoken of as refreshing times to the suffering disciples of Christ, it appears from what follows, that the apostle had an ultimate reference to a more distant cay ; even the day of final retribution. " When the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, who
before was preached unto you, whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution,” (or fulfilment) “of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his prophets, since the world began.”
At the day of judgment, the sins of those who shall then appear to have truly repented, and been converted to the obedience of the gospel, will be blotted out, more fully than they ever are in this world. All such will then be openly acquitted from the whole curse of the law; and will have an everlasting deliverance from all the penal and unhappy consequences of original and actual sin.
It was proposed, in the last place, to consider, what is the duty of sinners, relative to their repentance and conversion ; since these are made matters of exhortation and command to them. And here,
1. We are to understand, undoubtedly, that it is the duty of all to whom the overtures of salvation are made, immediately to repent of their sins, and turn from them to God, in the way that he offers pardoning mercy:
Many are ready to argue that since repentance and faith are the gifts of God, and not in the power of sinners so long as they are in a state of unregeneracy ; the only duty at pesent incumbent on them respecting these matters, is to be in the use of those outward means, whereby saving grace is ordinarily communi. cated to the souls of men.
That such exercises of heart as imply real holiness, cannot reasonably be required of them while unrenewed. But, that the inspired preachers of christianity thought otherwise, is very obvious. Their first exhortation to sinners was, “ Repent, and believe the gospel.”
“ Repent, and be converted.” And if any at all delayed repenting sincerely, and becoming true christians, those preachers evidently considered them as being alto
gether criminal and without excuse. Our Saviour himself severely upbraided those who had heard his doctrines and seen his miracles, because they repented not : plainly telling them that it would be more tolerable in the day of judgment, for Tyre and Sidon, and even for Sodom and Gomorrah, than for them.
As to the common objection, that to command or exhort men to repent with godly sorrow, and believe to the saving of the soul, while they are unregene. rate, is unreasonable ; and that to condemn them for not doing so is unjust, because a compliance with such requisitions is not in their power : to this the answer is, that all the reason they cannot do these things, is their not being so disposed; or their not having an honest and good heart : and that what men could do if they wouli, or if it were not for the wickedness of their hearts, they may reasonably be required to do, and may justly be condemned for not doing. This was the way which our Saviour took, to stop the mouths of such objectors. He said to the unbelieving Jews, “ Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” And to the city of Jerusalem, when abandoned to destruction; “ How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” And again ; “ He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
But it may be said, To call upon sinners to repent and believe, or to be converted, when it is impossible they should do these things, let this impossibility be owing to what it will, is in vain, and can do no good. Is it not better to tell the unconverted of things which they can do; and to give them directions and exhortations with which they may possibly be persuaded to comply ?
To this it is answered: Though no preaching will be of any avail for the conversion of sinners, without the special grace of God; yet, under that preaching which has a tendency to convince them of their duty and their sin, we have more reason to expect this divine grace, than under that which rather tends to strengthen their self-deception, and to shut out more entirely the light of genuine conviction. To urge on the unregenerate only the externals of religion, is the direct way to make them think that all their duty consists in the performance of these : and, consequently, to build them up upon the rotten foundation of self-righteousness and dead works. On the contrary, the method taken by our Saviour and his apostles, of urging sincere repentance and saving faith, as the immediate duty of unbelieving and impenitent sinners; and insisting upon their utter inexcusableness in the neglect of these, has a natural tendency to cast down self-righteous imaginations, and to make men sensible of the necessity of renewing grace, and of an interest in the righteousness of Christ. Yet,
2. It is nevertheless the duty of the unconverted to be in the diligent use of the outward and ordinary means of conversion ; and to this they should be exhorted.
As, on the one hand, some imagine that nothing more than external duties can reasonably be urged upon the unregenerate; so, on the contrary, others seem to suppose that no directions are to be given them, except to be perfect, or to repent and believe the gospel. But this last opinion, as well as the first, appears to me unfounded, either in reason or scripture. If it be the duty of sinners to repent, it is their duty to endeavor to know what they have to repent of. If it be their duty to believe the gospel, it must be their duty to be in the use of proper means to understand the import of the gospel, and the evidences of its truth. Accordingly, in the Old Testament, impenitent sinners are exhorted to consider their ways : and in the New, unbelievers are directed to search the scriptures.
We will now conclude with some application of our subject.
1. From the explanation now given of repentance and conversion, false converts may be undeceived ; and all should be cautioned not to lay hold on a hope, upon slender and insufficient evidence.
There are many ways in which persons may vainly Aatter themselves that they have experienced a sav. ing change. Some may rest in a mere external reformation. They have forsaken former gross ways of sin, and are become constant in those religious duties which they once carelessly neglected; and this they may take to be conversion. Others have been under fearful apprehensions of devouring fire and everlasting burnings; but, in the midst of their greatest terrors, perhaps some comfortable text of scripture came suddenly into their mind, such as, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee;" or, “ Fear not,-it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom ;” or by some other means a confident persuasion was given them of God's electing love and pardoning mercy, which filled them with joy and comfort; and, of course, with repentance, and purposes of new obedience; but all from the old native principle of self-love. In such ways, thousands and ten thousands have probably been deceived, and have gone down to the
grave lie in their right hand.
Think not that you have experienced repentance unto salvation, unless you have had that sorrow for sin and hatred of it, which did not begin with loving God because of an apprehension of his being pacified toward you ; or of your being chosen of him as a