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acceptably to perform.'—In this it is obvious that repentance is like all our other duties; for what duty is a fallen creature competent of hiinself to perform, either in all its extent, or in any acceptable manner? What is good in the sight of God, man of himself can in no degree perform. He has neither will nor power.
Your correspondent advances many things concerning the nature of repentance which I fully approve, though interspersed with expressions to which I should object. It must, therefore, be conducive to a clearer understanding of each other's views, or, at least, of the general subject, if I first state some particulars of what I readily concede, or, rather, decidedly maintain, on the point in contest.
1. All repentance, whether excited by the strictness and terrors of the law, or by the discoveries of mercy in the gospel, or by a delusive confidence of having already been forgiven, which springs from mere nature, from the unregenerate heart, falls very short of genuine acceptable repentance-of“ repentance unto life." This is always the effect of the special regenerating and sanctifying grace of the spirit of Christ; and all that nature adds to it, or mixes with it, is mere alloy. But the Spirit of Christ uses what portion of the sacred oracles he pleases in thus bringing the sinner to repentance, and he disdains to be limited in his operations by our rules and systems. The work is essentially the same, but there is much circumstantial variety in the methods and order in which it is begun and car
2. Genuine repentance does not in any
instance precede faith, in all the exercises or actings of faith. “ The wrath of God is revealed from hea
ven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness “ of men;" and the Holy Spirit, in “giving re
pentance,” even where the great truths of the gospel are little known, leads the soul to believe the testimonies of scripture to that effect: the sinner is “ warned to flee from the wrath to ,
come,” and led to inquire, “What must I do “ to be saved ?”—The Spirit of God, the Comforter, “ convinces of sin, and of righteousness, “and of judgment.” Various scriptural testimonies concerning the perfections, law, and government of God: concerning eternal judgment; and concerning man's relations and obligations to God, and his violation of those obligations, are always in some degree believed and acted on from the very dawn of repentance in the soul; nay, some general belief, though often vague and indistinct, of mercy and forgiveness with God, is essential to acceptable repentance.—“There is for“ giveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” Without some degree of faith in this respect, the heart of the convinced and terrified sinner would be hardened in despair, and driven from God, not drawn to him. Generally in places favoured with the clear light of the gospel, more particular views of the mercy and grace of God, in and through Jesus Christ, and a belief of the testimonies of scripture on these topics, accompany true repentance from the very first commencement of it. Yet that special act of faith, by which the soul comes to Christ, applies to him, relies on him, adheres to
him, has affiance in him, receives him, and, renouncing all other confidence, entrusts itself into his hands for free and full salvation ; that acting of faith in Christ which is, I apprehend, immediately connected with “ justification unto “ life,” cannot precede the beginnings of repentance: for how should a man thus come to Christ, and trust in him alone for pardon, righteousness, and eternal life, before he knows, and feels, and owns himself a lost and miserable sinner? And what man ever did or can thus know and feel, and humbly own his guilt and lost condition ; and, submitting to God's righteousness, cast himself wholly on his mercy in Christ Jesus, and through his 'atonement; whose heart remains altogether destitute of repentance? When, however, clearer views, and brighter prospects, and more animated hopes succeed to discouraging fears and godly sorrow; when the Comforter glorifies Christ, and “receives of the things of “ Christ, and shews them to the soul,” genuine repentance is so far from ceasing, that it is deepened, enlarged, purified, and in every way improved. It lives and flourishes even in the midst of assured hope and abounding joy, and unites its holy influence in our most fervent praises and thanksgivings, and our most zealous labours of love and obedience.1
3. Repentance, as preceding forgiveness, or justifying faith, is not at all needful or effectual in a way of merit. Far from it: for genuine repentance renounces all claims of merit for ever.
' Discourse on Repentance: Works vol. I. p. 169—176.
Nor yet is it effectual as a qualification or condition, as disposing God to forgive and justify: for he needs no such inducement, being always willing to welcome every one who comes : but it is that preparation of the heart for receiving Christ Jesus as the Saviour of the lost, without which the sinner will either disdainfully refuse the Saviour's invitations, or make some perverse and unholy use of them. Nothing can be more evident than that salvation for hell-deserving sinners, through the righteousness and atonement of Christ, “ God manifested in the flesh,” by faith in him alone; and without respect to any duties, virtues, or supposed amiable qualities in ourselves, either past, present, or future, is totally contrary to the pride of the human heart. This constitutes the grand offence of the cross. But the heart of every man, without the beginnings of true repentance, remains wholly unhumbled; and, so far from welcoming this salvation, it will always take offence at it; unless, by some delusion, a man is emboldened “to sin on, that grace may “ abound,” by presuming on mercy.—This preparation of the heart is wholly the gift of God, and the work of the preventing grace of the Spirit of Christ; and it makes way for all subsequent gifts and graces.
The work of the Spirit of God, in this respect, may be considered as distinguished into that part which prepares the soul for welcoming Christ and salvation, and that which is subsequent to our thus receiving him. All that passed in a very short time in the gaoler's mind, from the awful moment when he was on the point of murdering himself, till he received Christ Jesus, and rejoiced in hin, belonged to the preparatory work; and surely he who fell down at the feet of Paul and Silas, and brought them out of the dungeon, even before he asked, “ Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” was not wholly impenitent! All that passed, perhaps still more speedily, in the minds of the Jews whom Peter charged with murdering the Prince of life, till they “ gladly received the word and were “ baptized," belonged to the preparatory work. And surely, when,“ pricked to the heart,” they cried out, “ Men and brethren, what shall we do?” they were not wholly impenitent. That which passed in the mind of Cornelius, in a far more gradual manner, belonged, in a great measure, to this preparatory work; else'why was it said to him, “ Send for Peter, who will tell thee words by “ which thou and thy house shall be saved ?”? Believing views of mercy and forgiveness with God, as connected with increasing discoveries of guilt and depravity, are essential even to the first actings of repentance. But this differs widely from a full persuasion and assurance that the man's sins are actually pardoned, preceding even the first beginnings of genuine repentance.
One thing most certainly favours the opinion that repentance precedes forgiveness, namely, that it uniformly stands first in all those scriptures which relate to the subject.—“ If they bethink “ themselves in the land whither they were carried “captives, and repent, and return to thee with “ their whole heart, then hear and forgive thy
| Acts xi, 14.