POWERFUL MOTIVES TO REPENTANCE
That the exhortation to repentance may be more quickened, I shall lay down some powerful motives to excite repentance.
A piece of lead, while it is in the lump, can be put to no use, but melt it, and you may then cast it into any mould, and it is made useful. So a heart that is hardened into a lump of sin is good for nothing, but when it is dissolved by repentance, it is useful. A melting heart is fit to pray. When Paul's heart was humbled and melted, then 'behold, he prayeth' (Acts 9.11). It is fit to hear the word. Now the word works kindly. When Josiah's heart was tender, he humbled himself and rent his clothes at the hearing of the words of the law (2 Chron. 34.19). His heart, like melting wax, was ready to take any seal of the word. A melting heart is fit to obey. When the heart is like metal in the furnace, it is facile and malleable to anything: 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?' (Acts 9.6). A repenting soul subscribes to God's will and answers to his call, as the echo to the voice.
2. Repentance is highly acceptable
When a spiritual river runs to water this garden, then our hearts are a garden of Eden, delightful to God. I have read that doves delight to be about the waters. And surely God's Spirit, who descended in the likeness of a dove, takes great delight in the waters of repentance.
The Lord esteems no heart sound but the broken heart: 'The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit' (Ps. 51.17). Mary stood at Jesus' feet weeping (Luke 7.38). She brought two things to Christ, said Augustine, unguentum and lachrymas (ointment and tears). Her tears were better than her ointment. Tears are powerful orators for mercy. They are silent, yet they have a voice: 'the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping' (Ps. 6.8).
3. Repentance commends all our services to God
That which is seasoned with the bitter herbs of godly sorrow is God's savoury meat. Hearing of the word is then good, when we are pricked at the heart (Acts 2.37). Prayer is delightful to God when it ascends from the altar of a broken heart. The publican smote upon his breast saying, 'God be merciful to me a sinner'. This prayer pierced heaven: 'he went away justified rather than the other' (Luke 18.14). No prayer touches God's ear but what comes from a heart touched with the sense of sin.
4. Without repentance nothing will avail us
Some bless themselves that they have a stock of knowledge, but what is knowledge good for without repentance? It is better to mortify one sin than to understand all mysteries. Impure speculatists do but resemble Satan transformed into an angel of light. Learning and a bad heart is like a fair face with a cancer in the breast. Knowledge without repentance will be but a torch to light men to hell.
5. Repenting tears are delicious
They may be compared to myrrh, which though it is bitter in taste has a sweet smell and refreshes the spirits. So repentance, though it is bitter in itself, yet it is sweet in the effects. It bring inward peace. The soul is never more enlarged and inwardly delighted than when it can kindly melt. Alexander, upon the safe return of his admiral Nearchus from a long voyage, wept for joy. How oft do the saints fall aweeping for joy! The Hebrew word for 'repent' signifies 'to take comfort'. None so joyful as the penitent! Tears, as the philosopher notes, have four qualities: they are moist, salt, hot, and bitter. It is true of repenting tears. They are hot, to warm a frozen conscience; moist, to soften a hard heart; salt, to season a soul putrifying in sin; bitter, to wean us from the love of the world. And I will add a fifth. They are sweet, in that they make the heart inwardly rejoice: 'and sorrow shall be turned into joy' (Job 41.22). Let a man, said Augustine, grieve for his sin and rejoice for his grief. Tears are the best sweetmeats. David, who was the great weeper in Israel, was the sweet singer of Israel. The sorrows of the penitent are like the sorrows of a travailing woman: 'A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world' (John 16.21). So the sorrows of humbled sinners bring forth grace, and what joy there is when this manchild is born!
6. Great sins repented of shall find mercy
Mary Magdalene, a great sinner, obtained pardon when she washed Christ's feet with her tears. For some of the Jews who had a hand in crucifying Christ, upon their repentance, the very blood they shed was a sovereign balm to heal them: 'though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow' (Isa. 1.18). Scarlet in the Greek is called 'dibasson', because it is 'twice dipped', and the art of man cannot wash out the dye again. But though our sins are of a scarlet colour, God's mercy can wash them away. This may comfort those whom the heinousness of their sin discourages, as if there were no hope for them. Yes, upon their serious turning to God, their sins shall be expunged and done away with.
Oh, but my sins are out of measure sinful! Do not make them greater by not repenting. Repentance unravels sin and makes it as if it had never been.
Oh, but I have relapsed into sin after pardon, and surely there is no mercy for me! I know the Novatians held that after a lapse there was no renewing by repentance; but doubtless that was an error. The children of God have relapsed into the same sin: Abraham did twice equivocate; Lot committed incest twice; Asa, a good king, yet sinned twice by creatureconfidence, and Peter twice by carnal fear (Matt. 26.70; Gal. 2.12). But for the comfort of such as have relapsed into sin more than once, if they solemnly repent, a white flag of mercy shall be held forth to them. Christ commands us to forgive our trespassing brother seventy times seven in one day, in case he repents (Matt. 18.22). If the Lord bids us do it, will not he be much more ready to forgive upon our repentance? What is our forgiving mercy to his? This I speak not to encourage any impenitent sinner, but to comfort a despondent sinner that thinks it is in vain for him to repent and that he is excluded from mercy.
7. Repentance is the inlet to spiritual blessings
It helps to enrich us with grace. It causes the desert to blossom as the rose. It makes the soul as the Egyptian fields after the overflowing of the Nile, flourishing and fruitful. Never do the flowers of grace grow more than after a shower of repentant tears. Repentance causes knowledge: 'When their heart shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away' (2 Cor.3.16). The veil of ignorance which was drawn over the Jews' eyes shall by repentance be taken away. Repentance inflames love. Weeping Mary Magdalene loved much (Luke 7.47). God preserves these springs of sorrow in the soul to water the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5.22).
8. Repentance ushers in temporal blessings
The prophet Joel, persuading the people to repentance, brings in the promise of secular good things: 'rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord . . . the Lord will answer and say to his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil' (Joel 2.13,19). When we put water into the pump, it fetches up only water, but when we put the water of tears into God's bottle, this fetches up wine: 'I will send you wine, and oil'. Sin blasts the fruits of the earth: 'Ye have sown much, and bring in little' (Hag. 1.6). But repentance makes the pomegranate bud and the vine flourish with full clusters. Fill God's bottle, and he will fill your basket. 'If thou return to the Almighty, thou shalt lay up gold as dust' (Job 22.2324). Repenting is a returning to God, and this brings a golden harvest.
9. Repentance staves off judgments from a land
When God is going to destroy a nation, the penitent sinner stays his hand, as the angel did Abraham's (Gen. 22.12). The Ninevites' repentance caused God to repent: 'God saw that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not' (Jon. 3.10). An outward repentance has adjourned and kept off wrath. Ahab sold himself to work wickedness; yet upon his fasting and rending his garments, God said to Elijah, 'I will not bring the evil in his days' (1 Kings 21.29). If the rending of the clothes kept off judgment from the nation, what will the rending of the heart do?
10. Repentance makes joy in heaven
The angels do, as it were, keep holy day: 'There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth' (Luke 15.10). As praise is the music of heaven, so repentance is the joy of heaven. When men neglect the offer of salvation and freeze in sin, this delights the devils, but when a soul is brought home to Christ by repentance this makes joy among the angels.
11. Consider how dear our sins cost Christ
To consider how dear our sins cost Christ may cause tears to distil from our eyes. Christ is called the Rock (1 Cor. 10.4). When his hands were pierced with nails, and the spear thrust in his side, then was this Rock smitten, and there came out water and blood. And all this Christ endured for us: 'the Messiah shall be cut off, but not for himself' (Dan. 9.26). We tasted the apple, and he the vinegar and gall. We sinned in every faculty, and he bled in every vein: Cernis ut in toto corpore sculptus amor.
Can we look upon a suffering Saviour with dry eyes? Shall we not be sorry for those sins which made Christ a man of sorrow? Shall not our enormities, which drew blood from Christ, draw tears from us? Shall we sport any more with sin and so rake in Christ's wounds? Oh that by repentance we could crucify our sins afresh! The Jews said to Pilate, 'If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend' (John 19.12). If we let our sins go and do not crucify them, we are not Christ's friends.
12. This is the end of all afflictions which God sends,
whether it be sickness in our bodies or losses in our estates, that he may awaken us out of our sins and make the waters of repentance flow. Why did God lead Israel that march in the wilderness among fiery serpents but that he might humble them (Deut.8.2)? Why did he bring Manasseh so low, changing his crown of gold into fetters of iron but that he might learn repentance? 'He humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.. . Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God' (2 Chron. 33.12,13). One of the best ways to cure a man of his lethargy is to cast him into a fever. Likewise when a person is stupified and his conscience grown lethargical, God, to cure him of this distemper, puts him to extremity and brings one burning calamity or another, that he may startle him out of his security and make him return to him by repentance.
13. The days of our mourning will soon be ended
After a few showers that fall from our eyes, we shall have perpetual sunshine. Christ will provide a handkerchief to wipe off his people's tears: 'God shall wipe away all tears' (Rev.7.17). Christians, you will shortly put on your garments of praise. You will exchange your sackcloth for white robes. Instead of sighs you will have triumphs, instead of groans, anthems, instead of the water of tears, the water of life. The mourning of the dove will be past, and the time of the singing of birds will come. Volitant super aethera cantus. This brings me to the next point.
14. The happy and glorious reward that follows upon repentance
'Being made free from sin, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life' (Rom. 6.22). The leaves and root of the figtree are bitter, but the fruit is sweet. Repentance to the fleshy part seems bitter, but behold sweet fruit: everlasting life. The Turks fancy after this life an Elysium or paradise of pleasure, where dainty dishes will be served in, and they will have gold in abundance, silken and purple apparel, and angels will bring them red wine in silver cups, and golden plates. Here is an epicure's heaven. But in the true paradise of God there are astonishing delights and rare viands served in, which 'eye hath not seen, neither have entered into the heart of man' (1 Cor. 2.9). God will lead his penitents from the house of mourning to the banqueting house. There will be no sight there but of glory, no noise but of music, no sickness unless of love. There shall be holiness unspotted and joy unspeakable. Then the saints shall forget their solitary hours and be sweetly solacing themselves in God and bathing in the rivers of divine pleasure.
O Christian, what are your duties compared with the recompense of reward? What an infinite disproportion is there between repentance enjoined and glory prepared? There was a feastday at Rome, when they used to crown their fountains. God will crown those heads which have been fountains of tears. Who would not be willing to be a while in the house of mourning who shall be possessed of such glory as put Peter and John into an ecstasy to see it even darkly, shadowed and portrayed in the transfiguration (Matt.17)? This reward which free grace gives is so transcendently great that could we have but a glimpse of glory revealed to us here, we should need patience to be content to live any longer. O blessed repentance, that has such a light side with the dark, and has so much sugar at the bottom of the bitter cup!
15. The next motive to repentance is to consider the evil of impenitence
A hard heart is the worst heart. It is called a heart of stone (Ezek. 36.26). If it were iron it might be mollified in the furnace, but a stone put in the fire will not melt; it will sooner fly in your face. Impenitence is a sin that grieves Christ: 'being grieved for the hardness of their hearts' (Mark 3.5). It is not so much the disease that offends the physician as the contempt of his physic. It is not so much the sins we have committed that so provoke and grieve Christ as that we refuse the physic of repentance which he prescribes. This aggravated Jezebel's sin: 'I gave her space to repent, and she repented not' (Rev. 2.21 ). A hard heart receives no impression. It is untuned for every duty. It was a sad speech Stephen Gardiner (Roman Catholic bishop, a chief opponent of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. He urged the re-introduction of laws for the burning of Protestants) uttered on his deathbed: 'I have denied my Master with Peter, but I cannot repent with Peter.' Oh the plague of an obdurate heart! Pharaoh's heart turned into stone was worse than his waters turned into blood. David had his choice of three judgments plague, sword, and famine but he would have chosen them all rather than a hard heart. An impenitent sinner is neither allured by entreaties nor affrighted by menaces. Such as will not weep with Peter shall weep like Judas. A hard heart is the anvil on which the hammer of God's justice will be striking to all eternity.
16. The last motive to repentance is that the day of judgment is coming
This is the apostle's own argument: 'God commands all men every where to repent;
because he bath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world' (Acts 17.3031).
There is that in the day of judgment which may make a stony heart bleed. Will a man go on
thieving when the assizes are nigh? Will the sinner go on sinning when the day of judgment
is so nigh? You can no more conceal your sin than you can defend it. And what will you do
when all your sins shall be written in God's book and engraver on your forehead? O direful
day, when Jesus Christ clothed in his judge's robe shall say to the sinner, 'Stand forth;
answer to the indictment brought against you. What can you say for all your oaths,
adulteries, and your desperate impenitence?' O how amazed and stricken with consternation
will the sinner be! And after his conviction he must hear the sad sentence, 'Depart from
me!' Then, he that would not repent of his sins shall repent of his folly. If there be
such a time coming, wherein God will judge men for their impieties, what a spur should
this be to repentance! The penitent soul shall at the last day lift up his head with
comfort and have a discharge to show under the Judge's own hand.
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