A SERIOUS EXHORTATION TO REPENTANCE
Let me in the next place persuade you to this great duty of repentance. Sorrow is good for nothing but sin. If you shed tears for outward losses, it will not advantage you. Water for the garden, if poured in the sink, does no good. Powder for the eye, if applied to the arm, is of no benefit. Sorrow is medicinable for the soul, but if you apply it to worldly things it does no good. Oh that our tears may run in the right channel and our hearts burst with sorrow for sin!
That I may the more successfully press this exhortation, I shall show you that repentance is necessary, and that it is necessary for all persons and for all sins.
1. Repentance is necessary
Repentance is necessary: 'except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish' (Luke 13.5). There is no rowing to paradise except upon the stream of repenting tears. Repentance is required as a qualification. It is not so much to endear us to Christ as to endear Christ to us. Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.
2. Repentance is necessary for all persons
Thus God commands all men: 'now God commandeth all men every where to repent' (Acts 17.30).
(1) It is necessary for great ones: 'Say unto the king and to the queen, Humble yourselves' (Jer. 13.18). The king of Nineveh and his nobles changed their robes for sackcloth ( Jon. 3.6). Great men's sins do more hurt than the sins of others. The sins of leaders are leading sins, therefore they of all others have need to repent. If such as hold the sceptre repent not, God has appointed a day to judge them and a fire to burn them (Isa. 30.33).
(2) Repentance is necessary for the flagitious sinners in the nation. England needs to put itself in mourning and be humbled by solemn repentance. Anglica gens est optima flens. What horrible impieties are chargeable upon the nation! We see persons daily listing themselves under Satan. Not only the banks of religion but those of civility are broken down. Men seem to contend, as the Jews of old, who should be most wicked: 'In their filthiness is lewdness' (Ezek. 24.13). If oaths and drunkenness, if perjury and luxury will make a people guilty, then it is to be feared England is in God's black book. Men have cancelled their vow in baptism and made a private contract with the devil! Instead of crying to mercy to save them, they cry, 'God damn them!' Never was there such riding post to hell, as if men did despair of getting there in time. Has it not been known that some have died with the guilt of fornication and blood upon them? Has it not been told that others have boasted how many they have debauched and made drunk? Thus' they declare their sin as Sodom' (Isa. 3.9). Indeed, men's sins are grown daring, as if they would hang out their flag of defiance and give heaven a broadside, like the Thracians who, when it thunders, gather together in a body and shoot their arrows against heaven. The sinners in Britain even send God a challenge: 'They strengthen themselves against the Almighty; they run upon him even on his neck, upon the thick bosses of his bucklers' (Job I5.256). The bosses in the buckler are for offence in war. God's precepts and threatenings are, as it were, the thick bosses of his buckler whereby he would deter men from wickedness. They regard not, however, but are desperate in sin and run furiously against the bosses of God's buckler. Oh to what a height is sin boiled up! Men count it a shame not to be impudent. May it not be said of us as Josephus speaks of the Jews. Such was the excessive wickedness of those times that if the Romans had not come and sacked their city, Jerusalem would have been swallowed up with some earthquake, or drowned with a flood, or fired from heaven. And is it not high time then for this nation to enter into a course of physic and take this pill of repentance, who has so many bad humours spreading in her body politic? England is an island encompassed by two oceans, an ocean of water, and an ocean of wickedness. O that it might be encompassed with a third ocean, that of repenting tears!
If the book of the law chance to fall upon the ground, the Jews have a custom presently to proclaim a fast. England has let both law and gospel fall to the ground, therefore needs to fast and mourn before the Lord. The ephah of wickedness seems to be full. There is good reason for tears to empty apace when sin fills so fast! Why then do not all faces gather paleness? Why are the wells of repentance stopped? Do not the sinners of the land know that they should repent? Have they no warning? Have not God's faithful messengers lifted up their voice as a trumpet and cried to them to repent? But many of these tools in the ministry have been spent and worn out upon rocky hearts. Has not God lighted strange comets in the heavens as so many preachers to call men to repentance, but still they are settled on their lees (Zeph. 1.12)? Do we think that God will always put up with our affronts? Will he endure thus to have his name and glory trampled upon? The Lord has usually been more swift in the process of his justice against the sins of a professing people. God may reprieve this land a while by prerogative, but if ever he save it without repentance, he must go out of his ordinary road.
I say therefore with MrBradford, 'Repent, O England!' You have belepered yourself with sin, and must needs go and wash in the spiritual Jordan. You have kindled God's anger against you. Throw away your weapons, and bring your holy engines and waterworks, that God may be appeased in the blood of Christ. Let your tears run; let God's roll of curses fly (Zech. 5.2). Either men must turn or God will overturn. Either the fallow ground of their hearts must be broken up or the land broken down. If no words will prevail with sinners, it is because God has a purpose to slay them (1 Sam. 2.25). Among the Romans, it was concluded that he who for his capital offence was forbidden the use of water was a condemned person. So they who by their prodigious sins have so far incensed the God of heaven that he denies them the water of repentance may look upon themselves as condemned persons.
(3) Repentance is necessary for the cheating crew: 'their deceit is falsehood' (Ps. 119.118); 'they are wise to do evil' ( Jer. 4.22), making use of their invention only for circumvention. Instead of living by their faith, they live by their shifts. These are they who make themselves poor so that by this artifice they may grow rich. I would not be misunderstood. I do not mean such as the providence of God has brought low, whose estates have failed but not their honesty, but rather such as feign a break, that they may cheat their creditors. There are some who get more by breaking than others can by trading. These are like beggars that discolour and blister their arms that they may move charity. As they live by their sores, so these live by their breaking. When the frost breaks, the streets are more full of water. Likewise, many tradesmen, when they break, are fuller of money. These make as if they had nothing, but out of this nothing great estates are created. Remember, the kingdom of heaven is taken by force, not by fraud. Let men know that after this golden sop, the devil enters. They squeeze a curse into their estates. They must repent quickly. Though the bread of falsehood be sweet (Prov. 20.17), yet many vomit up their sweet morsels in hell.
(4) Repentance is necessary for civil persons. These have no visible spots on them. They are free from gross sin, and one would think they had nothing to do with the business of repentance. They are so good that they scorn a psalm of mercy. Indeed these are often in the worst condition: these are they who need no repentance (Luke 15.7). Their civility undoes them. They make a Christ of it, and so on this shelf they suffer shipwreck. Morality shoots short of heaven. It is only nature refined. A moral man is but old Adam dressed in fine clothes. The king's image counterfeited and stamped upon brass will not go current. The civil person seems to have the image of God, but he is only brass metal, which will never pass for current. Civility is insufficient for salvation. Though the life be moralized, the lust may be unmortified. The heart may be full of pride and atheism. Under the fair leaves of a tree there may be a worm. I am not saying, repent that you are civil, but that you are no more than civil. Satan entered into the house that had just been swept and garnished (Luke 11.26). This is the emblem of a moral man, who is swept by civility and garnished with common gifts, but is not washed by true repentance. The unclean spirit enters into such a one. If civility were sufficient to salvation, Christ need not have died. The civilian has a fair lamp, but it lacks the oil of grace.
(5) Repentance is needful for hypocrites. I mean such as allow themselves in the sin. Hypocrisy is the counterfeiting of sanctity. The hypocrite or stageplayer has gone a step beyond the moralist and dressed himself in the garb of religion. He pretends to a form of godliness but denies the power (2 Tim. 3.5). The hypocrite is a saint in jest. He makes a magnificent show, like an ape clothed in ermine or purple. The hypocrite is like a house with a beautiful facade, but every room within is dark. He is a rotten post fairly gilded. Under his mask of profession he hides his plaguesores. The hypocrite is against painting of faces, but he paints holiness. He is seemingly good so that he may be really bad. In Samuel's mantle he plays the devil. Therefore the same word in the original signifies to use hypocrisy and to be profane. The hypocrite seems to have his eyes nailed to heaven, but his heart is full of impure lustings. He lives in secret sin against his conscience. He can be as his company is and act both the dove and the vulture. He hears the word, but is all ear. He is for templedevotion, where others may look upon him and admire him, but he neglects family and closet prayer Indeed, if prayer does not make a man leave sin, sin will make him leave prayer. The hypocrite feigns humility but it is that he may rise in the world. He is a pretender to faith, but he makes use of it rather for a cloak than a shield. He carries his Bible under his arm, but not in his heart. His whole religion is a demure lie (Hos 11.12).
But is there such a generation of men to be found? The Lord forgive them their holiness! Hypocrites are 'in the gall of bitterness' (Acts 8.23). O how they need to humble themselves in the dust! They are far gone with the rot, and if any thing can cure them, it must be feeding upon the salt marshes of repentance.
Let me speak my mind freely. None will find it more difficult to repent than hypocrites. They have so juggled in religion that their treacherous hearts know not how to repent. Hypocrisy is harder to cure than frenzy. The hypocrite's imposthume in his heart seldom breaks. If it be not too late, seek yet to God for mercy.
Such as are guilty of prevailing hypocrisy, let them fear and tremble. Their condition is sinful and sad. It is sinful because they do not embrace religion out of choice but design; they do not love it, only paint it. It is sad upon a double account. Firstly, because this art of deceit cannot hold long; he who hangs out a sign but has not the commodity of grace in his heart must needs break at last Secondly, because God's anger will fall heavier upon hypocrites. They dishonour God more and take away the gospel's good name. Therefore the Lord reserves the most deadly arrows in his quiver to shoot at them. If heathens be damned, hypocrites shall be doubledamned. Hell is called the place of hypocrites (Matt. 24.51), as if it were chiefly prepared for them and were to be settled upon them in feesimple.
(6) Repentance is necessary for God's own people, who have a real work of grace and are Israelites indeed. They must offer up a daily sacrifice of tears. The Antinomians hold that when any come to be believers, they have a writ of ease, and there remains nothing for them now to do but to rejoice. Yes, they have something else to do, and that is to repent. Repentance is a continuous act. The issue of godly sorrow must not be quite stopped till death. Jerome, writing in an epistle to Laeta, tells her that her life must be a life of repentance. Repentance is called crucifying the flesh (Gal. 5.24), which is not done on a sudden, but leisurely; it will be doing all our life.
And are there not many reasons why God's own people should go into the weeping bath? 'Are there not with you, even with you, sins against the Lord?' (2 Chron. 28.10). Have not you sins of daily incursion? Though you are diamonds, have you no flaws ? Do we not read of the 'spot of God's children' (Deut. 32.5). Search with the candle of the word into your hearts and see if you can find no matter for repentance there.
(a) Repent of your rash censuring. Instead of praying for others, you are ready to pass a verdict upon them. It is true that the saints snail judge the world (1 Cor. 6.2), but stay your time; remember the apostle's caution in 1 Corinthians 4.5: 'judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come'.
(b) Repent of your vain thoughts. These swarm in your minds as the flies did in Pharaoh's court (Exod. 8.24). What bewilderings there are in the imagination! If Satan does not possess your bodies, he does your fancies. 'How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?' (Jer. 4.14). A man may think himself into hell. O ye saints, be humbled for this lightness in your head.
(c) Repent of your vain fashions. It is strange that the garments which God has given to cover shame should discover pride. The godly are bid not to be conformed to this world (Rom. 12.2). People of the world are garish and light in their dresses. It is in fashion nowadays to go to hell. But whatever others do, yet let not Judah offend (Host 4.15). The apostle Paul has set down what upper garment Christians must wear: 'modest apparel' (1 Tim. 2.9); and what undergarment: 'be clothed with humility' (1 Pet. 5.5).
(d) Repent of your decays in grace: 'thou hast left thy first love' (Rev. 2.4). Christians, how often is it low water in your souls! How often does your cold fit come upon you! Where are those flames of affection, those sweet meltings of spirit that once you had? I fear they are melted away. Oh repent for leaving your first love!
(e) Repent of your nonimprovement of talents. Health is a talent; estate is a talent; wit and parts are talents; and these God has entrusted you with to improve for his glory. He has sent you into the world as a merchant sends his factor beyond the seas to trade for his master's advantage, but you have not done the good you might. Can you say, 'Lord, thy pound bath gained five pounds' (Luke 19.18)? 0 mourn at the burial of your talents! Let it grieve you that so much of your age has not been time lived but time lost; that you have filled up your golden hours more with froth than with spirits.
(f) Repent of your forgetfulness of sacred vows. A vow is a binding one's soul to God (Num. 30.2). Christians, have not you, since you have been bound to God, forfeited your indentures? Have you not served for common uses after you have been the Lord's by solemn dedication? Thus, by breach of vows you have made a breach in your peace. Surely this calls for a fresh laver of tears.
(g) Repent of your unanswerableness to blessings received. You have lived all your life upon free quarter. You have spent your stock of free graces. You have been bemiracled with mercy. But where are your returns of love to God? The Athenians would have ungrateful persons sued at law. Christians, may not God sue you at law for your unthankfulness? 'I will recover my wool and my flax' (Hos. 2.9); I will recover them by law
(h) Repent of your worldliness. By your profession you seem to resemble the birds of paradise that soar aloft and live upon the dew of heaven. Yet as serpents you lick the dust. Baruch, a good man, was taxed with this: 'seekest thou great things for thyself ?' ( Jer. 45.5).
(i) Repent of your divisions. These are a blot in your coatarmour and make others stand aloof from religion. Indeed, to separate from the wicked resembles Christ, who was 'separate from sinners' (Heb. 7.26), but for the godly to divide among themselves and look askew one upon another, had we as many eyes as there are stars, they were few enough to weep for this. Divisions eclipse the church's beauty and weaken her strength. God's Spirit brought in cloven tongues among the saints (Acts 2.3), but the devil has brought in cloven hearts. Surely this deserves a shower of tears:
Quis talia fando Temperet a lachrymis?
(j) Repent for the iniquity of your holy things. How often have the services of God's worship been frozen with formality and soured with pride? There have been more of the peacock's plumes than the groans of the dove. It is sad that ever duties of religion should be made a stage for vainglory to act upon. O Christians, there is such a thick Dynes upon your duties that it is to be feared there is but little meat left in them for God to feed upon.
Behold here repenting work cut out for the best. And that which may make the tide of grief swell higher is to think that the sins of God's people do more provoke God than do the sins of others (Deut. 32.19). The sins of the wicked pierce Christ's side. The sins of the godly go to his heart. Peter's sin, being against so much love, was most unkind, which made his cheeks to be furrowed with tears: 'When he thought thereon, he wept' (Mark 14.72).
3. Repentance is necessary for all sins
Let us be deeply humbled and mourn before the Lord for original sin. We have lost that pure quintessential frame of soul that once we had. Our nature is vitiated with corruption. Original sin has diffused itself as a poison into the whole man, like the Jerusalem artichoke which, wherever it is planted, soon overruns the ground. There are not worse natures in hell than we have. The hearts of the best are like Peter's sheet, on which there were a number of unclean creeping things (Acts 10.12). This primitive corruption is bitterly to be bewailed because we are never free from it. It is like a spring underground, which though it is not seen, yet it still runs. We may as well stop the beating of the pulse as stop the motions to sin.
This inbred depravity retards and hinders us in that which is spiritual: 'the good that I would I do not' (Rom. 7.19). Original sin may be compared to that fish Pliny speaks of, a sealamprey, which cleaves to the keel of the ship and hinders it when it is under sail. Sin hangs weights upon us so that we move but slowly to heaven. O this adherence of sin! Paul shook the viper which was on his hand into the fire (Acts 28.5), but we cannot shake off original corruption in this life. Sin does not come as a lodger for a night, but as an indweller: 'sin that dwelleth in me' (Rom. 7.17). It is with us as with one who has a hectic fever upon him; though he changes the air, yet still he carries his disease with him. Original sin is inexhaustible. This ocean cannot be emptied. Though the stock of sin spends, yet it is not at all diminished. The more we sin, the fuller we are of sin. Original corruption is like the widow's oil which increased by pouring out.
Another wedge to break our hearts is that original sin mixes with the very habits of grace. Hence it is that our actings towards heaven are so dull and languid. Why does faith act no stronger but because it is clogged with sense? Why does love to God burn no purer but because it is hindered with lust? Original sin incorporates with our graces. As bad lungs cause an asthma or shortness of breath, so original sin having infected our heart, our graces breathe now very faintly. Thus we see what in original sin may draw forth our tears.
In particular, let us lament the corruption of our will and our affections. Let us mourn for the corruption of our will. The will not following the dictamen of right reason is biased to evil. The will distastes God, not as he is good, but as he is holy. It contumaciously affronts him: 'we will do whatsoever goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven' (Jer. 44.17). The greatest wound has fallen upon our will.
Let us grieve for the diversion of our affections. They are taken off from their proper object. The affections, like arrows, shoot beside the mark. At the beginning our affections were wings to fly to God; now they are weights to pull us from him.
Let us grieve for the inclination of our affections. Our love is set on sin, our joy on the creature. Our affections, like the lapwing, feed on dung. How justly may the distemper of our affections bear a part in the scene of our grief? We of ourselves are falling into hell, and our affections would thrust us thither.
Let us lay to heart actual sins. Of these I may say, 'Who can understand
his errors?' (Ps. 19.12). They are like atoms in the sun, like sparks of
a furnace. We have sinned in our eyes; they have been casements to let
in vanity. We have sinned in our tongues; they have been fired with passion.
What action proceeds from us wherein we do not betray some sin? To reckon
up these were to go to number the drops in the ocean. Let actual sins be
solemnly repented of before the Lord.