THE EPISTLE TO THE READER
The two great graces essential to a saint in this life are faith and repentance. These are the two wings by which he flies to heaven. Faith and repentance preserve the spiritual life as heat and radical moisture do the natural. The grace which I am going to discuss is repentance.
Chrysostom thought it the fittest subject for him to preach upon before the Emperor Arcadius. Augustine caused the penitential psalms to be written before him as he lay upon his bed, and he often perused them with tears. Repentance is never out of season; it is of as frequent use as the artificer's tool or the soldier's weapon. If I am not mistaken, practical points are more needful in this age than controversial and polemical.
I had thought to have smothered these meditations in my desk but, conceiving them to be of great concern at this juncture of time, I have rescinded my first resolution and have exposed them to a critical view.
Repentance is purgative; fear not the working of this pill. Smite your soul, said Chrysostom, smite it; it will escape death by that stroke. How happy it would be if we were more deeply affected with sin, and our eyes did swim in their orb. We may clearly see the Spirit of God moving in the waters of repentance, which though troubled, are yet pure. Moist tears dry up sin and quench the wrath of God. Repentance is the cherisher of piety, the procurer of mercy. The more regret and trouble of spirit we have first at our conversion, the less we shall feel afterwards.
Christians, do you have a sad resentment of other things and not of sin? Worldly tears fall to the earth, but godly tears are kept in a bottle (Ps. 56.8). Judge not holy weeping superfluous. Tertullian thought he was born for no other end but to repent. Either sin must drown or the soul burn. Let it not be said that repentance is difficult. Things that are excellent deserve labour. Will not a man dig for gold in the ore though it makes him sweat? It is better to go with difficulty to heaven than with ease to hell. What would the damned give that they might have a herald sent to them from God to proclaim mercy upon their repentance ? What vollies of sighs and groans would they send up to heaven ? What floods of tears would their eyes pour forth? But it is now too late. They may keep their tears to lament their folly sooner than to procure pity. O that we would therefore, while we are on this side of the grave, make our peace with God! Tomorrow may be our dying day; let this be our repenting day. How we should imitate the saints of old who embittered their souls and sacrificed their lusts, and put on sackcloth in the hope of white robes. Peter baptized himself with tears; and that devout lady Paula (of whom Jerome writes), like a bird of paradise, bemoaned herself and humbled herself to the dust for sin.
Besides our own personal miscarriages, the deplorable condition of the land calls for a contribution of tears. Have we not lost much of our pristine fame and renown? The time was when we sat as princess among the provinces (Lam. I.I), and God made the sheaves of other nations do obeisance to our sheaf (Gen. 37.7), but has not our glory fled away as a bird (Host 9.II) ? And what severe dispensations are yet behind we cannot tell. Our black and hideous vapours having ascended, we may fear loud thunderclaps should follow. And will not all this bring us to our senses and excite in us a spirit of humiliation ? Shall we sleep on the top of the mast when
the winds are blowing from all the quarters of heaven? O let not the apple of our eye cease (Lam. a. I 8)!
I will not launch forth any further in a prefatory discourse, but that God would add a blessing to this work and so direct this arrow, that though shot at rovers, it may hit the mark, and that some sin may be shot to death, shall be the ardent prayer of him who is
The wellwisher of your soul's happiness,
25 May 1668