PRESCRIBING SOME MEANS FOR REPENTANCE: (at) COMPARE PENITENT AND IMPENITENT CONDITIONS
The second help to repentance is a prudent comparison. Compare penitent and impenitent conditions together and see the difference. Spread them before your eyes and by the light of the word see the impenitent condition as most deplorable and the penitent as most comfortable. How sad was it with the prodigal before he returned to his father! He had spent all; he had sinned himself into beggary, and had nothing left but a few husks. He was fellowcommoner with the swine, but when he came home to his father, nothing was thought too good for him. The robe was brought forth to cover him, the ring to adorn him, and the fatted calf to feast him. If the sinner continues in his impenitency, then farewell Christ and mercy. But if he repent, then presently he has a heaven within him. Then Christ is his, then all is peace. He may sing a requiem to his soul and say, 'Soul, take shine ease, thou hast much goods laid up' (Luke 12.19). Upon our turning to God we have more restored to us in Christ than ever was lost in Adam. God says to the repenting soul, I will clothe thee with the robe of righteousness; I will enrich thee with the jewels and graces of my Spirit. I will bestow my love upon thee; I will give thee a kingdom: 'Son, all I have is shine'. O my friends, do but compare your estate before repentance and after repentance together. Before your repenting, there are nothing but clouds to be seen and storms, clouds in God's face and storms in conscience. But after repenting how is the weather altered! What sunshine above! What serene calmness within! A Christian's soul being like the hill Olympus, all light and clear, and no winds blowing.
A third means conducive to repentance is a settled determination to leave sin. Not a faint velleity, but a resolved vow. 'I have sworn that I will keep thy righteous judgments' (Ps. 119.106). All the delights and artifices of sin shall not make me forsworn. There must be no hesitation, no consulting with flesh and blood, Had I best leave my sin or no? But as Ephraim, 'What have I to do any more with idols?' (Hos. 14.8). I will be gulfed no more by my sins, no longer fooled by Satan. This day I will put a bill of divorce into the hands of my lusts. Till we come to this peremptory resolution, sin will get ground of us and we shall never be able to shake off this viper. It is no wonder that he who is not resolved to be an enemy of sin is conquered by it.
But this resolution must be built upon the strength of Christ more than our own. It must be a humble resolution. As David, when he went against Goliath put off his presumptuous confidence as well as his armour'l come to thee in the name of the Lord' (1 Sam. 17.45) so we must go out against our Goliath lusts in the strength of Christ. It is usual for a person to join another in the bond with him. So, being conscious of our own inability to leave sin, let us get Christ to be bound with us and engage his strength for the mortifying of corruption.
The fourth means conducive to repentance is earnest supplication. The heathens laid one of their hands on the plough, the other they lifted up to Ceres, the goddess of
corn. So when we have used the means, let us look up to God for a blessing. Pray to him for a repenting heart: 'Thou, Lord, who bidet me repent, give me grace to repent'. Pray that our hearts may be holy limbecks dropping tears. Beg of Christ to give to us such a look of love as he did to Peter, which made him go out and weep bitterly. Implore the help of God's Spirit. It is the Spirit's smiting on the rock of our hearts that makes the waters gush out: 'He causes his wind to blow and the waters flow' (Ps. 147.18). When the wind of God's Spirit blows, then the water of tears will flow.
There is good reason we should to God for repentance:
(1) Because it is his gift: 'Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life' (Acts 11.18). The Arminians hold that it is in our power to repent. We can harden our hearts, but we cannot soften them. This crown of freewill is fallen from our head. Nay, there is in us not only impotency, but obstinacy (Acts 7.51). Therefore beg of God a repentant spirit. He can make the stony heart bleed. His is a word of creative power.
(2) We must have recourse to God for blessing because he has promised to bestow it: 'I will give you an heart of flesh' (Ezek. 36.26). I will soften your adamant hearts in my Son's blood. Show God his hand and seal. And there is another gracious promise: 'They shall return unto me with their whole heart' (Jer. 24.7). Turn this promise into a prayer: Lord, give me grace to return unto thee with my whole heart.
The fifth means conducive to repentance is endeavour after clearer discoveries of God: 'Now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes' (Job 42.56). Job, having surveyed God's glory and purity, as a humble penitent did abhor, or as it is in the Hebrew, did even reprobate, himself. By looking into the transparent glass of God's holiness, we see our own blemishes and so learn to bewail them.
Lastly, we should labour for faith. But what is that to repentance? Yes, faith breeds union with Christ, and there can be no separation from sin till there be union with Christ. The eye of faith looks on mercy and that thaws the heart. Faith carries us to Christ's blood, and that blood mollifies. Faith persuades of the love of God, and that love sets us aweeping.
Thus I have laid down the means or helps to repentance. What remains now but that we set upon the work. And let us be in earnest, not as fencers but as warriors.
I will conclude all with the words of the psalmist: 'He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him' (Ps. 126.6).