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LUKE XV. 7.
Joy shall be in heaven, over one sinner that repenteth,
more than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no repentance.
REPENTANCE is one of those graces, without which there can be no salvation. It is an essential prerequisite to spiritual peace on earth; and absolutely necessary, as a preparative for the eternal happiness of heaven. The reason is evident: viz, because every man is a fallen being. We must, therefore, by the effectual working of God's good Spirit, be made sensible of our fall; or we shall never feel our need of redemption and restoration from it, through the alone covenant grace of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Not that either repentance, or faith, or any of their practical fruits, are in the least respect casual, or conditional, or meritorious, of pardon, happiness, and eternal life. Every grace, and every good work, are the free gifts of God. From him only, “ All holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works, do proceed (a).” He it is who “grants us true repentance and his holy Spirit (6).” Consequently, we cannot possibly, in the very nature of things, merit (i. e. earn) or entitle ourselves to his favour, by any grace we exercise, or by any duty we perform. His gifts lay us under infinite obligations to him, instead of empowering us to merit any thing
(a) Second Collect at Evening Prayer. Absolution.
(6) Daily Form of
from him. They do not render him a debtor to us, but render us unspeakable and everlasting debtors to him.
Therefore, when we say, that no man can be ultimately saved, without such and such qualifications; we do not mean, that those qualifications have any influence in obtaining our salvation (for inherent grace and eternal glory are already obtained, and infallibly secured to all God's elect, by the obedience and blood of Christ): but that those qualifications (as faith, repentance, and holiness of heart and life) are essential branches and indispensible evidences of this absolutely free salvation.
The argument may be illustrated thus. No person can attain to full maturity of manhood, until he has passed through the intermediate stages of in. fancy, childhood, and youth. And yet it would be very absurd, were we to say, that a state of manhood is merited by the previous states of youth, childhood, and infancy -So, in order to the consummation of our recovery unto God, it is antecedently necessary, that we believe, repent, and resemble Christ in holiness. Yet faith, penitence, and sanctification, do not merit the kingdom of heaven, though we cannot reach that kingdom without them. According to the established order of grace, we must be endued with those spiritual gifts, before we can receive the gift of glorification to crown the whole. Just as, according to the established course of nature, we must be children, before we can be full-grown men.
In this only sense, then, it is, that the several graces of the blessed Spirit are so many pre-requisites to final salvation. All the links of the gospel chain are inseparable ; but each ranks in its own order, and the concatenation is strictly regular. Inherent grace is the dawning of eternal glory; and eternal glory is the perfection of inherent grace. They are parts of one magnificent and undivided whole. Grace is the earnest of glory: glory is the full possession of grace. Grace is the first fruits : glory, the unbounded harvest. And he that has the former, shall as certainly have the latter.
All religions except that of Christ Jesus, concur to place self-righteousness, as the ground or condition of obtaining the divine favour. Paganism, Popery, corrupted Judaism, Mahometism, Arminianism, differ they ever so much in some respects, most cordially agree in representing man as an helper, if not as a principal, in his own salvation. It is the gospel alone, whose proclamation runs, by grace [not by grace, considered as a sanctifying principle communicated to us; but by grace, considered as it is in God; viz. by his own unmerited, unconditioned, sovereign goodness] are ye saved, through faith ; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast (a).
It is this that recommends, as well as distinguishes, the religion of our Lord; which had been no gospel, to the lost and to the fallen, but for the unmingled freeness, or absolute gratuitousness, with which all its blessings are bestowed. As Dr. Arrowsmith somewhere remarks, the mediatorial riches of Christ would have been so many dead commodities, “if it were not for needy, undone sinners, who take them off his hands."
I remember a just observation of good Mr. Hervey's: that, in the days of our Saviour's residence on earth, “ the levee of that prince of peace consisted almost entirely, of the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.” Hence it was asked, by his enemies, with an air of insult and contempt, have any of the rulers, or of the pharisees, believed on him? But this people [o oxios 8705, this mob, this riff-raff, who follow him, and] who know not the law, are accursed (6).
(a) Eph. ii. 8, 9.
(6) John vii. 48, 49.
Very few rulers, or people of eminent rank and station ; few scribes, or men of distinguished parts and erudition ; few pharisees, or seemingly rigid moralists; attended the ministrations, and were attached to the person of him who came to seek and to save them that are lost. No consideration can be more mortifying to human pride, than this infallibly certain truth; that harlots, and publicans, and sinners, i. e. many of those who were the meanest in rank, and whose antecedent lives had been of the most profligate stamp, were the very people who thirsted for his redemption, and composed his visible retinue. These were made partakers of his great salvation: and not one that trusted in his name, though vile as vileness itself, was ever sent empty away. So true is his own gracious declaration : All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me; and him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise, nor on any account cast out (a).
Consult the first verse of the chapter from whence I have read you the text, and you will perceive what kind of persons they chiefly were, who frequented the ministry of God manifested in the flesh : Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners, to hear him. We never go to Christ, until his Spirit has beat us off from every other confidence, and driven us out of every other refuge. Under our first serious impressions, we usually try a variety of self-righteous expedients for our own relief. We have recourse to moral reformation, good resolutions, vows, long prayers, frequent church-goings, monthly sacraments; accompanied, perhaps, by a train of abstinences, austérities, and rigorous mortifications. While we do these things with a view to spin from them a justifying righteousness for ourselves, we are as absolute enemies to the gospel of Christ, and as far from the kingdom of God, as the
(a) John vi. 37.
devil and his angels. We must come, not as pharisees, but as publicans; not as scribes, but simply as sinners ; if we would come, so as to be graciously received.
And be it carefully noticed, that they who were savingly led to Christ, experienced his renewing power, together with his forgiving grace. Though none were rejected for their past immoralities (how numerous, enormous, and aggravated soever); yet the reigning dominion of vice was from that hour, cancelled in them that believed. Thus for instance, the extortioner of Jericho was no sooner converted, than his rapacity and oppressiveness were exchanged for benevolence, justice, and liberality. The language of his heart, of his lips, and of his subsequent practice was, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and, if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him four-fold (a). Look also, at the harlot of Magdala. Though a slave to the impulse of no fewer than seven devils, during her unregenerate state; effectual
grace no sooner causes her to believe in Jesus for salvation, than a sanctifying change ensues. She goes in peace, and sins as a prostitute no more (6).
And the scribes and pharisees murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. Pharisees always did, and always will, murmur at the gospel, and at them that preach it. They murmured at Christ himself; and no wonder, if their successors murmur against us. They can no more abstain from carping at the Christian scheme of grace, than some dogs can help barking when they hear the sound of a trumpet. This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them, said the Arminians of Judea : “ This Messiah, as he calls himself, is a downright Antinomian. You may know him, by the company he keeps. He associates with the vilest of