By Adam Clarke
REPENTANCE implies that a measure of
divine wisdom is communicated to the sinner, and that he thereby
becomes wise to salvation; that his mind, purposes, opinions, and
inclinations are changed; and that, in consequence, there is a total
change in his conduct. It need scarcely be remarked that, in this
state, a man feels deep anguish of soul, because he has sinned
against God, unfitted himself for heaven, and exposed his soul to
hell. Hence a true penitent has that sorrow whereby he forsakes sin,
not only because it has been ruinous to his own soul, but because it
has been offensive to God.
Though many have, no doubt, repeatedly felt smart twingings in their conscience, they have endeavoured to quiet them with a few such aspirations as these, "Lord, have mercy upon me! Lord, forgive me, and lay not this sin to my charge, for Christ's sake!" Thus of the work of repentance they know little; they have not suffered their pangs of conscience to form themselves into true repentance—a deep conviction of their lost and ruined state both by nature and practice; conviction of sin, and contrition for sin, have only had a superficial influence upon their hearts. Their repentance is not a deep and radical work; they have not suffered themselves to be led into the various chambers of the house of imagery to detect the hidden abominations that have everywhere been set up against the honour of God, and the safety of their own souls. When they have felt a little smarting from a wound of sin they have got it slightly healed; and their repentance is that of which they may repent,—it was partial and inefficient: and its end proves this. They have not, through the excess of sorrow for sin, fled to lay hold on the hope set before them; and refused to be comforted till they felt that word powerfully spoken into their hearts, "Son! daughter!—be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee." No man should consider his repentance as having answered a saving end to his soul, till he feels that "God for Christ's sake has forgiven him his sins," and the Spirit of God testifies with his spirit that he is a child of God. How few ingenuously confess their own sin! They see not their guilt. They are continually making excuses for their crimes. The strength and subtlety of the tempter, the natural weakness of their own minds, the unfavourable circumstances in which they were placed, &c., &c., are all pleaded as excuses for their sins, and thus the possibility of repentance is precluded; for till a man take his sin to himself, till he acknowledge that he alone is guilty, he cannot be humbled, and consequently cannot be saved. Reader, till thou accuse thyself, and thyself only, and feel that thou alone art responsible for all thy iniquities, there is no hope of thy salvation.
Reader, learn that true repentance is a work,—and not the work of an hour: it is not passing regret, but a deep and alarming conviction, that thou art a fallen spirit,—hast broken God's laws,—art under his curse,—and in danger of hell fire.
Deep and overwhelming sorrow does not depend merely on the degree of actual guilt, but rather on the degree of heavenly light transfused through the soul. Man is a fallen spirit; his inward parts are very wickedness; in his fall he has lost the image of God. Let God shine into such a heart; let him visit every chamber in this house of imagery; let him draw every thing to the light of his own holiness and justice,—and, put the case that there had not been one act of transgression, what must be his feelings who thus saw, in the only light that could make it manifest, the deep depravity of his heart! sin becoming indescribably sinful, the commandment ascertaining its obliquity, and illustrating all its vileness! He who sees his inward parts in God's light will not need superadded transgression to produce compunction and penitence.
Confession of sin is essential to true repentance; and till a man take the whole blame on himself he cannot feel the absolute need he has of casting his soul on the mercy of God that he may be saved. A genuine penitent will hide nothing of his state; he sees and bewails not only the acts of sin which he has committed, but the disposition that led to these acts. He deplores not only the transgression, but "the carnal mind, which is enmity against God." The light that shines into his soul shows him the very source whence transgression proceeds; he sees his fallen nature, as well as his sinful life; he asks pardon for his transgressions,—and he asks washing and cleansing for his inward defilement.
If every penitent were as ready to throw aside his self-righteousness and sinful incumbrances as the blind man was to throw aside his garment, we should have fewer delays in conversions than we now have; and all that have been convinced of sin would have been brought to the knowledge of the truth.
Every true penitent admires the moral law, longs most earnestly for a conformity to it, and feels that he can never be satisfied till he awakes up after this divine likeness; and he hates himself, because he feels that he has broken it, and that his evil passions are still in a state of hostility to it.
There is one doctrine relative to the economy of divine providence little heeded among men; I mean the doctrine of restitution. When a man has done wrong to his neighbour, though on his repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, God forgives him his sin, yet he requires him to make restitution to the person injured, if it lie in the compass of his power. If he do not, God will take care to exact it in the course of his providence. Such respect has he for the dictates of infinite justice that nothing of this kind shall pass unnoticed. Several instances of this have already occurred in this history, and we shall see several more. No man should expect mercy at the hand of God who, having wronged his neighbour, refuses, when he has it in his power, to make restitution. Were he to weep tears of blood, both the justice and mercy of God would shut out his prayer, if he made not his neighbour amends for the injury he may have done him. The mercy of God, through the blood of the cross, can alone pardon his guilt: but no dishonest man can expect this; and he is a dishonest man who illegally holds the property of another in his hand.
To man should defer his salvation to any future time. If God speaks to- day, it is to-day that he should be heard and obeyed. To defer reconciliation to God to any future period is the most reprehensible and destructive presumption. It supposes that God will indulge us in our sensual propensities, and cause his mercy to tarry for us till we have consummated our iniquitous purposes. It shows that we prefer, at least for the present, the devil to Christ, sin to holiness, and earth to heaven. And can we suppose that God will be thus mocked? Can we suppose that it can at all consist with his mercy to extend forgiveness to such abominable provocation? What a man sows that shall he reap. If he sows to the flesh, he shall of the flesh reap corruption. Reader, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
As all had sinned against God, so all should humble themselves before Him against whom they have sinned. But humiliation is no atonement for sin; therefore repentance is insufficient, unless faith in our Lord Jesus Christ accompany it. Repentance disposes and prepares the soul for pardoning mercy, but can never be considered as making compensation for past acts of transgression. This repentance and faith were necessary to the salvation both of Jews and Gentiles; for all had sinned and come short of God's glory. The Jews must repent who had sinned so much, and so long, against light and knowledge. The Gentiles must repent, whose scandalous lives were a reproach to man. Faith in Jesus Christ was also indispensably necessary; for a Jew might repent, be sorry for his sin, and suppose that, by a proper discharge of his religious duty, and bringing proper sacrifices, he could conciliate the favour of God. No, this will not do; nothing but faith in Jesus Christ, as the end of the law, and the great and only vicarious sacrifice, will do; hence he testified to them the necessity of faith in this Messiah. The Gentiles might repent of their profligate lives, turn to the true God, and renounce all idolatry; this is well, but it is not sufficient: they also have sinned, and their present amendment and faith can make no atonement for what is past; therefore they also must believe on the Lord Jesus, who died for their sins, and rose again for their justification.
Penitent sinner! thou hast sinned against God, and against thy own life! The avenger of blood is at thy heels. Jesus hath shed his blood for thee; he is thy Intercessor before the throne; flee to him! Lay hold on the hope of eternal life which is offered to thee in the gospel! Delay not one moment! Thou art never safe till thou hast redemption in his blood! God invites thee! Jesus spreads his hands to receive thee! God hath sworn that he willeth not the death of a sinner; then he cannot will thy death; take God's oath, take his promise, credit what he hath spoken and sworn! Take encouragement! Believe on the Son of God, and thou shalt not perish, but have everlasting life!
If sin have produced suffering, is it possible that suffering can destroy sin? It is essential, in the nature of all effects, to depend on their own causes; they have neither being nor operation but what they derive from these causes; and in respect to their causes, they are absolutely passive. The cause may exist without the effect; but the effect cannot subsist without the cause. To act against its cause is impossible, because it has no independent being nor operation; by it, therefore, the being or state of the cause can never be affected. Just so sufferings, whether voluntary or involuntary, cannot affect the being or nature of sin, from which they proceed. And could we for a moment entertain the absurdity, that they could atone for, correct, or destroy the cause that gave them being, then we must conceive an effect wholly dependent on its cause for its being, to rise up against that cause, destroy it, and yet still continue to be an effect when its cause is no more! The sun, at a particular angle, by shining against a pyramid, projects a shadow according to that angle, and the height of the pyramid. The shadow, therefore, is the effect of the interception of the sun's rays by the mass of the pyramid. Can any man suppose that this shadow would continue well defined and discernible though the pyramid were annihilated, and the sun extinct? No. For the effect would necessarily perish with its cause. So sin and suffering; the latter springs from the former: sin cannot destroy suffering, which is its necessary effect; and suffering cannot destroy sin, which is its producing cause.
Ergo, salvation by suffering is absurd, contradictory, and impossible. "Wherefore then serveth the law?" Of what real use can it be in the economy of salvation? I answer, it serves the most important purposes:
1. Its purity and strictness show us its origin:—it came from God. All religious institutions, merely human, though pretended from heaven, show their origin by extravagant demands in some cases, and by sinful concessions in others. In the law of God nothing of this appears, and therefore we see it a transcript of the divine nature. 2. It shows us the perfection of the original state of man; for as that law was suited to his state, and the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good, so was his nature: it is, therefore, a comment on those words, "God made man in his own image, and in his own likeness." 3. It serves to show the nature of sin: the real obliquity of a crooked line can only be ascertained by laying a straight one to it. Thus, the fall of man, and the depth of that fall, are ascertained by the law. 4. It serves to convict man of sin, righteousness, and judgment: it shows him the deplorable state into which he is fallen, and the great danger to which he is exposed. 5. It serves as a schoolmaster, (or leader of children to school,) to convince us of the absolute necessity and value of the gospel; for that pure and moral law must be written upon the hearts of believers; and its precepts, both in letter and spirit, become the rule of their lives.
By the law is the knowledge of sin; for how can the finer deviations from a straight line be ascertained without the application of a known straight edge? Without this rule of right, sin can only be known in a sort of general way; the innumerable deviations from positive rectitude can only be known by the application of the righteous statutes of which the law is composed. And it was necessary that this law should be given, that the true nature of sin might be seen, and that men might be the better prepared to receive the gospel; finding that this law worketh only wrath, that is, denounces punishment, forasmuch as all have sinned. Now, it is wisely ordered of God, that wherever the gospel goes, there the law goes also; entering everywhere, that sin may be seen to abound, and that men may be led to despair of salvation in any other way, or on any other terms, than those proposed in the gospel of Christ. Thus the sinner becomes a true penitent, and is glad, seeing the curse of the law hanging over his soul, to flee for refuge to the hope set before him in the gospel.
Law is only the means of disclosing this sinful propensity, not of producing it; as a bright beam of the sun introduced into a room shows millions of motes which appear to be dancing in it in all directions. But these were not introduced by the light, they were there before, only there was not light enough to make them manifest; so the evil propensity was there before, but there was not light sufficient to discover it.
It was one design of the law to show the abominable and destructive nature of sin, as well as to be a rule of life. It would be almost impossible for a man to have that just notion of the demerit of sin, so as to produce repentance, or to see the nature and necessity of the death of Christ, if the law were not applied to his conscience by the light of the Holy Spirit; it is then alone that he sees himself to be carnal and sold under sin; and that the law and the commandment are holy, just, and good. And let it be observed that the law did not answer this end merely among the Jews in the days of the apostle; it is just as necessary to the Gentiles to the present hour. Nor do we find that true repentance takes place where the moral law is not preached and enforced. Those who preach only the gospel to sinners, at best, only heal the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly. The law, therefore, is the grand instrument in the hands of a faithful minister to alarm and awaken sinners; and he may safely show that every sinner is under the law, and consequently under the curse, who has not fled for refuge to the hope held out by the gospel: for in this sense also "Jesus Christ is the end of the law for justification to them that believe."