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REPENTANCE UNDER THE LAW AND UNDER
Matt. xii. 41.
The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with
this generation, and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
We are told by our blessed Lord in the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, that "it behoved him to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day-and that in his name repentance and remission of sins should be preached among all nations."- In the fifth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter tells the Jews, " that God hath exalted Christ with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”—And in the seventeenth chapter of the same book, St. Paul assures the Athenians, that though God winked at the ignorance of former times, yet that now he “ commandeth all men every where to repent.”
From these and various other passages of like import, it would seem that the doctrine of Repentance is peculiarly a Gospel doctrine. And yet beyond a question, there is many a mention of it in the law, and many an earnest and forcible inculcation of it in the prophets. Is it then the same thing in both dispensations ?-and if not-in what respects does the repentance of the New, differ so much from the repentance of the Old Testament, as to deserve to be characterized as a doctrine peculiarly Evangelical? It may not perhaps be an unprofitable employment of our time this morning to consider this question. It may serve exalt, or quicken our sense of God's abundant mercy, in giving us the Gospel of his Son, and convince us of the awful
weight of responsibility which the knowledge of that Gospel has laid upon us.
Let me remind you in the outset, my brethren, of a truth-(for I think we may very safely assume it to be a truth) which by some is overlooked altogether, and is often very insufficiently estimated by others-namely, “ that the admission to the benefit of repentance at all is an act of pure favour, in the gratuitous goodness of God—on which account nothing less than his own word could be a warrant for the doctrine.”—There are many, I repeat, who overlook this altogether. How comes it otherwise that we hear so much of the natural efficacy of repentance? an efficacy which does not, nor ever could have belonged to it. Nature, in fact, knows not the doctrine.- Neither natural religion,—nor the systems of philosophy which are constructed with natural materials, have any thing to advance upon the subject.-Any thing certain that is to say.
It is very possible, that men who without the aid of revelation, speculate upon the nature and attributes of the Godhead,
may fashion for themselves a Deity, easy, placable, ready to forgive, and plenteous in goodness and mercy.—But, then, unless wilfully blind, they will perceive that he must be a God of Justice also, one to whom vengeance, no less than pity belongeth. And it will be impossible for them to explain, upon any just principles, how the mere penitence of an offender should avail to reconcile these conflicting attributes. They may hope that pardon will be extended to the contrite--but they cannot look for it with any degree of that certainty which alone can yield consolation to the wounded spirit.
If repentance then have no natural efficacy of its own; but only such as it may please God in his mercy to attach to it-and if the knowledge of that efficacy can only be derived from the express declaration of God,—the doctrine of repentance, it is quite clear, is exclusively a doctrine of revelation, and the statement of it likely to be governed by the same plan or method, which the Almighty may have adopted in communicating other particulars of his will to mankind. And so accordingly we find it.-In other respects the declarations of revelation have been gradual and progressive-unfolding themselves by little and little, and becoming more distinct in each particular feature, as the one grand scheme of salvation was step by step developed :-and thus it has been with the doctrine of repentance, from the first intimation of its acceptance with God, in the early Mosaic records -through the more explicit preaching of the prophets-down to the fulness and completeness of the duty as explained and required in the Gospel of Christ. Without attempting to follow exactly this gradual developement, we will now proceed to point out some of those particular features which the Gospel has added to the outline given by the law.