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In those days came John the Baptist, preach
ing in the wilderness of Judea, and
In treating of the duty of repentance we must particularise those signs which are to be considered as characteristic of a repentance efficacious to Salvation; and I think we may say, that such repentance should be sincere, timely, continuous, and just.
First. The greatest of all follies is a mockery of God by insincere repentance,
by that fluctuation between sin, and sorrow, resolution, and infringement,—by that endless circle of penitence, and crime, which they tread, who know virtue only by its labors, and extract nothing from guilt but remorse.
The first stage of repentance is in every man's power, and almost in every man's practice. If sighs and tears could purchase the kingdom of Heaven, and a sad face expiate a wicked life, hardness of heart would indeed be weakness of understanding: but, though God is merciful, he is not fallible, nor will he take the odour of sacrifices, or the incense of words, in the lieu of a solid, laborious virtue. In the Christian religion there is no composition, no arrangement, no shifting, no fluctuation, no dalliance with duties, no deference to darling vices: if the eye offends us we must pluck it out; if the hand is sinful, we must cut it off.--Better to merit Heaven by every suffering, than eternal punishment by every gratification.
may see, by this striking passage, the absolute necessity of abandoning the vice, before repentance can be effectual to salvation. Our blessed Saviour departs from his
usual mildness of speech; he does not say, ifthine
is evil anoint it; if thine hand is diseased heal it; but pluckitout, cut it off, tear itfrom thee; he requires thata man should rise above himself; that the thought of Heaven should breathe into him a moral fortitude ; that he should be great in purpose, rapid in action, unshaken in constancy; that he should tear out his ambition, his revenge, his avarice, and all the harlot passions he has wooed, and trainple them beneath his that he should feel that noble
persuasion which the great apostle felt,—that neither death, nor life, nor principalities, nor powers, should separate him from the love of God.
Not that our blessed Saviour intends to say, by the expressions I have quoted, that the only mode of effecting a change is by such sudden, and vigorous resolutions; but that, where sudden and vigorous resolutions are necessary, any violence doneto habit, any pain endured by depriving ourselves of enjoyments to which we have been accustomed, is not for an instant to be weighed against the danger of retaining the sin,
the advantage of abjuring it. A: certain portion of time, indeed, and a certain gradation in improvement; must be allowed to the infirmities of our nature; and that repentance is not unacceptable to God where there is progress in righteousness. Whichever of us all can look back at the time past with the pleasing certainty that he has acquired a greater power over any one bad passion; that his virtuous resolutions are more constantly observed; that the habit of doing good, and saying good, and thinking good, are growing stronger and stronger in his heart;--the repentance of that man is a repentance which leads to salvation, and he is becoming more fit for the kingdom of Heaven, as he approaches nearer to it.
Sincere repentance consists not only in abstaining, but in justice, in making restitution, or compensation for the injuries we have committed against our fellow creatures. These are duties from which no lapse of time, and hardly any alteration of circumstances, can ever exempt us. It is never too late to do justice ; if we die without doing it, the gates of God's mercy are shut against us, and we can have no benefit from the cross of Christ. If seas, and mountains, separate us from the being we have injured, we should pass over mountains, and seas, to find him ; to beg his prayers to God, and to restore to him wine, and oil, and vineyards, and olive yards, ten-fold for all we have taken. If the grave hides him from us, we should visit his children's children with blessings, and be thankful that one vestige of his race existed upon the earth. No man can know rest, or peace, while there remains in his heart the remembrance of a crime for which he has made no atonement. If you have taken ought of any man, give it back ; and, when it is gone, your soul will be at ease. If you have done secret wrong to his name, come out to the light of day, and restore innocence to the dignity it has lost. Shame is bad, and infamy is bad, and blushes are bad; but the wrath of God is worse than all these ; it is more bitter than the curses of nation, and fiercer than an army with banners.