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ACTS, XI. 18.
Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted
repentance unto life.
I Have taken this text, my brethren, in consequence of a letter which I received from an unknown correspondent, written in a very serious manner, and desiring a publick answer to several interesting questions on the subject of repentance; a subject undoubtedly of great importance, in which we are all most deeply concerned.
The apostles and Christians in Judea, having heard that Peter had associated with Cornelius and other uncircumcised persons, expressed much surprise at his conduct : but when he had related all the circumstances that attended it, “They held “ their peace and glorified God, saying, Then “ hath God also to the Gentiles granted repent“ ance unto life:” yet it is remarkable, that there is nothing expressly about repentance, in the account which Peter had given.
On another occasion, when Paul and Silas returned from Asia to Antioch, “ They gathered “ the church together, and rehearsed all that God “ had done with them, and how he had opened the “ door of faith to the Gentiles.” Mark now these two expressions, used by the apostles on similar occasions. “God hath granted the Gentiles re" pentance unto life.” “God hath opened the “ door of faith unto the Gentiles.” Much instruction may be derived from comparing them together.—When “ God grants repentance unto " life,” he “opens the door of faith.” When “he “ opens the door of faith,” he “grants repent“ ance unto life.”—“ Repent ye and believe the “ gospel.” Certainly one way of salvation, and not two different ways, was spoken of in both places.
I design at present to shew,
· I. That repentance is a principal part of the Lord's plan of mercy and grace to sinners in the gospel. And,
II. To enquire into the nature and effects of repentance unto life.
I. Repentance is a principal part of the LORD's plan of mercy and grace to sinners in the gospel,
I express myself thus, because many suppose that repentance does not properly belong to the gospel; and that when we insist on “repentance, " and works meet for repentance,” we do not preach evangelically : for they seem to think that salvation by grace is salvation for sinners continuing impenitent; and they charge us with returning to the law, and bringing them into bondage, when we maintain the contrary. But indeed, if we distinguish, as no doubt we ought, between the law and the gospel ; repentance has nothing to do with the law, except as a man repents that he has broken it. The law says, “ Do this and live;" 6. the soul that sinneth, it shall die;" • Cursed is “ every one who, continueth not in all things “ written in the book of the law to do them.” It does not so much as command repentance, by any immediare injunction. It condemns the transgressor, and leaves him under condemnation.
Would it not be thought a strange thing in an act of Parliament, if after death had been decreed as the punishment of the crime specified, a clause should be added, commanding the criminal to repent, and promising pardon to the penitent? The king indeed may extend mercy to the transgressor, if he judge it expedient. But this is grace, and not law, which does not require repentance; indeed pardons always tend to weaken the authority of the law.
When God delivered the ten commandments
froin mount Sinai, the people “could not endure " the things which were spoken;" but no mention was made of repentance. It was from mount Zion and mount Calvary, that the command to repent was given to mankind. “ Grace and truth came " by Jesus CHRIST:” and the mercy, revealed through his redemption and mediation, has made way for “ repentance and remission of sins to be " preached in his name unto all nations, begin"ning at Jerusalem.” Every motive or encouragement to repentance is taken from the gospel ; by the grace of which alone is any sinner enabled truly to repent. In every view, and in all respects, repentance belongs entirely to the gospel, and forms an essential part of its glorious and gracious plan.
For what is that plan my brethren? Is it not the design of God to bring sinners into a state of reconciliation and friendship with himself, by a method calculated to display the glory of his own name, and the dreadful nature and effects of sin : and thus to teach them to love him, and glorify him, and find their felicity in his favour. And, if this be the plan of the gospel, can its ends be answered, unless the sinner is brought to repentance?
Look through the whole new Testament. Consider how the gospel was first introduced, and afterwards propagated. John, the forerunner of Christ, came preaching “Repent ye, for the “ kingdom of heaven is at hand.” “ Bring forth " therefore fruits meet for repentance, and think “ not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham " to our Father. For now is the axe laid to the “ root of the trees; every tree therefore that “ bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down " and cast into the fire.”
Our Lord himself has told us expressly what he came for; “ I came not to call the righteous, “ but sinners to repentance :” and his decision surely ought to be final. He has declared that “ there is joy in the presence of the angels of “ God over one sinner that repenteth.” He multiplied parables to illustrate the nature of repentance, to encourage the penitent, and to warn and rebuke the impenitent. And he sent his apostles to " preach repentance and reinission of sins in “ his name to all nations.” Accordingly, they preached repentance wherever they went :-Hear St. Peter, “ Repent and be converted, that your “ sins may be blotted out.”—Hear St. Paul, at Athens, “The times of this ignorance God “ winked at; but now commandeth be all men “ every where to repent: And before Agrippa, “ I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision; “ but shewed first unto them at Damascus, and at “ Jerusalem, and throughout the coasts of Judea, " and then to the Gentiles, that they should re“ pent and turn to God, and do works meet for
repentance;" And before the Ephesian elders,