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or retired nature, not only tends, but is intended, to deliver men from the uneasiness of solitude and serious reflection; and the desire of this deliverance is the source whence vast multitudes derive abundant gains ! In devising amusement, with tolerable ingenuity, they cannot fail of obtaining an ample compensation.
Thus the prodigal son is represented as devoid of consideration, “ when wasting his substance in “riotous living.” But at length, “He came to “ himself." He began to reflect on the past, on the present, and on his future prospects. “Awake “ thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and “ CHRisT shall give thee light.”
When the careless sinner thus “comes to him“self,” he considers what he has been doing; where he now is; whither he is going; and what is likely to befal him. He now examines his thoughts, his words, and his actions; he studies the rule which God hath prescribed; and compares his past and present conduct with it, both in respect of what he has done, and what he has neglected to do; estimating also his advantages, and the uses which he has made of them. And, as he does this, with the great day of account and righteous retribution before his eyes; he also begs of God to search and prove him, that he may now judge himself, and not at last be finally condemned, to have his doom with the impenitent and unbelieving:
Consideration will soon make way for conviction, increasing conviction, both of criminality in conduct, and depravity of heart; and this, even in respect of those persons who have been more decent and amiable than many others. “ I was,” says the apostle, “ alive without the law once." While he had estimated his own character, according to the notions and traditions of the Pharisees, who only regarded the outward conduct; he thought his life good, his heart good, his state good. But during his three days solitary fasting and praying at Damascus, he had abundant opportunity for consideration : and “the commandment,” “the holy, just, and good law,” came with power and conviction to his conscience; and then,“ sin revived and he died.” He became deeply sensible, by viewing himself in this glass, that his life, his heart, his state were deplorably bad: and this prepared the way for his understanding and believing the gospel.
The convinced sinner hears “ the wrath of God “ revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and “ unrighteousness of men;" and, instead of his previous favourable opinion of himself, he is ready to adopt the Psalmist's words, “Who can under“ stand his errors? Cleanse thou me from my “ secret sins.” “My sins are more in number " than the hairs of my head ; my heart faileth me.” When one, who was before careless and inconsiderate, is thus led to make this awful review, with the law of God open before him, and the judgment-seat in full prospect, he then judges himself, not only concerning gross crimes and immoralities; but he discovers in his whole conduct, base ingratitude to God and contemptuous forgetfulness of him; idolatrous love of worldly objects; talents entrusted and abused; time and life wasted, and worse than wasted; mischief, irretrievable mischief, done in various ways by his example and influence. Whether he looks back upon his life past, or towards the future reckoning; whether he looks into his heart, or unto his God, he is amazed to think of his sins, and all the aggravations of them; he continually discovers evil where he before suspected none, nay, even in the virtues on which he prided himself; he daily weighs himself in the balance, and is always found wanting : his best actions are defective; his motives are corrupt, at least, in part; and the more he studies the rule, the fuller is his conviction, that if judged according to it he must be condemned. — He now feels the propriety of the apostle's words “ I through the law am dead to the law:" " for by the law is the knowledge of “sin.” And whatever was his former character among men, he adopts from his heart the publican's prayer, “God be merciful to me, a sin“ ner!"
These convictions cannot be separated from fear, sorrow, and remorse: but if genuine, and produced
by the influence of the Holy Spirit, they will always be accompanied by a measure of hope in the mercy of God. .
We may therefore state the next step in true repentance to be submission. “Submit yourselves “ to God.”—We should not think that a disobedient child was really penitent, unless he submitted. The stubborn heart of man stands out against God, and perseveres both in excusing sin, and in repeating the offence. The stout-hearted will neither own his guilt, nor acknowledge the justice of the sentence denounced against him : he is averse to be either taught or ruled by the Lord. Self-will, self-wisdom, and self-righteous pride, unite in opposition to unreserved submission; and these principles of proud rebellion often maintain much influence even under deep and distressing terrors and convictions.
But he, who is brought to real repentance, unreservedly submits to God, and is willing both to be taught and ruled by him. “ Other lords," says he, “have had dominion over me; but by “thee only will I make mention of thy name.” He especially becomes willing to be saved in any way, which the word of God prescribes. “LORD,” says he, “what wouldst thou have me to do?" He submits to the righteousness of God; he owns that he is a sinner, deserving condemnation, and unable to save himself; and thus, a preparation is Vol. II.
made, by a penitent state of heart, for his understanding the gospel, and most cordially embracing it. For, he now seeks mercy as mercy; he comes in the way which God has opened, as far as he understands it; and when it is explained to him more fully, it exactly answers all the desires of his heart. This indeed forms the connexion between true repentance and living faith. Every one who repents, pleads guilty, prays to be taught the way of salvation, welcomes the gospel, and thus learns to live by faith in the Son of God," to love the Saviour, and to devote himself to his service.
Humiliation before God, is indeed implied under the term submission. It may, however, be advantageously considered as a distinct exercise of the penitent heart. How different were the views, in this respect, which St. Paul had of his own character, when he considered himself as “ the chief of sinners;” as “ less than the least of .“ all saints,” and not “meet to be called an “ apostle,” to those which he had entertained when he was a self-sufficient and self-wise Pharisee! Holy Job, when brought to a right state of heart, “ abhorred himself, and repented in dust and “ashes.” Few, I apprehend, will expressly say, that they are far better characters than Job was : yet how few can sincerely use his language!--: