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way still stands open to him. He endeavours to capitulate with the law, and to come off with it on amicable terms. He resolves to keep it as well as he is able, and seeks to live according to its requirements, as far as it lies in his power; and thus he hopes it will cease to curse him so dreadfully, and allow him to comfort himself with the mercy of God as to all wherein he may
still be deficient. But, however reasonable such a proposal may seem, it proves unsuccessful. The law will not be satisfied with any partial fulfilment. . It demands a perfect obedience ; and however much the sinner may do, as he thinks, to the utmost of his ability, the law does not at all lower its tone of malediction, but still disquiets the conscience. Hence the poor helpless man finds no resource left, but to plead guilty at once before the tribunal of heaven, confessing that the law is just in its demands and threatenings ; declaring his own moral bankruptcy, and crying with the apostle, “ O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?” Nature, indeed, strives mightily against this condemnation, recoils from pronouncing sentence against herself, and trembles at the death she has deserved. But the light shines victoriously into her dark
The convinced soul sinks, as a man slain in battle, before the foot of the throne of grace, and with dread, distress, and amazement, exclaims, “ Woe is me, for I am undone !”
Now, when a sinner has thus, with heartfelt seriousness, pronounced sentence against himself before the throne of God, he has begun to die to the law. For here is an end of his supposed self-righteousness, and of his own supposed ability. But that true repentance, which the Scripture calls a godly sorrow, and repentance which needeth not to be repented of, does not as yet necessarily exist. This is but, as it were, dying before the Divine holiness; as we see was the case of St. Paul, in Rom. vii. " When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.”
Now thus dying under the law, and by the law, does not amount to dying to the law. The sinner, thus alarmed and humbled, is dead to the supposition of his moral excellences ; but the marriage between him and the law is not yet dissolved. On the contrary, this severe husband and schoolmaster still rebukes and chastens him; for the sinner has yet an enmity against the law, as well as against Him who gave it.
His whole nature murmurs at it; he is vexed and irritated that the law exists; he does not love it, he would rather see it destroyed, because it robs him of his peace, and puts a restraint upon his sinful flesh. Hence, his repentance is not of the right kind; he is not renewed
in the spirit of his mind; and that DYING to the law, of which the apostle speaks, is still to come.
Now, this glorious and happy death comes by " the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” Rom. viii. 2. And this law is no other than the gospel; whereby alone it is that true, divine, and saving repentance is called forth. Let us, then, consider once more the case of the awakened and alarmed sinner, trembling almost on the verge of despair. His natural disposition is still opposed to the law, and the distress of his conscience forbids him to lift up his eyes to the Lord. But, lo! the light of the New Testament begins to irradiate the darkness of his mind; the cross appears amidst the clouds of his distresses ; the glad tidings of the gospel sound in his ears, and reach his understanding and his heart. And now observe what a wonderful change immediately takes place in his whole being. He hears that there is help and redemption for him ; hears that the Father, in order to save him, has sent his only begotten Son into the world; hears that this Holy One has taken our sins upon himself; hears that he has paid the debt, suffered the deserved punishment, endured the wrath of God, in the sinner's stead, and has thereby obtained eternal redemption for him. The sinner hears it, is amazed, scarcely believes for joy, looks at his Surety, beholds his sufferings, his head crowned with thorns, his countenance beaming with infinite love, and his heart, once pierced for sinners, full of compassion and mercy on their behalf. What feelings of gratitude spring up within him under such manifestations of the kindness and love of God his Saviour! He bows himself under the sceptre of his Divine Deliverer ! Filial reverence and godly sorrow take the place of servile fear, and peaceful adoring humility supersedes the terrors of the broken law. His enmity against the law is departed; for how should he hate a law which no longer condemns him? His hatred to it is changed into love; for it is the expression of the Divine will of that same gracious God, to whose mercy he owes all his salvation. Hence, he now delights in the law, and flees from sin as from a serpent. He flees from it ; not because of terror and outward constraint ; not from fear of punishment; but from love to the Saviour, whom he would now gladly obey in every respect, and to whose glory he heartily desires to dedicate his whole life. This is true and godly repentance unto life; a repentance springing from faith and love. À wonderful death has now taken place. The marriage between the law and the sinner is dissolved, and that lawfullv. The law now leaves him in peace; for the believer in Christ is made “ the righteousness of God in him;" and what the law
commands, is now the very fruit which the good tree produces of itself
, from the new principle of faith in the Son of God. But the repentance of Ahab was not of this kind. mity against the law was not abolished and slain by faith and love. It was the punishment, and not the sinfulness of sin, that made him tremble. Had no curse followed, his transgressions would have pained him but little. Nay, because this punishment was delayed, he turned back into the path of destruction, and by so doing, furnished the clearest evidence that his sorrow proceeded only from selfishness, and that the dominion and love of sin still prevailed within him.
III. But though Ahab's repentance was far from genuine, it was nevertheless regarded by the Almighty with some favour. He therefore sent his word to Elijah the Tishbite, and said to him, “ Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me ? Because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son's days will I bring the evil upon
his house.” Here was a delay of execution; but no revocation of the sentence. The curse still rested upon Ahab and his house. Yet even this respect shown to a repentance which had so little intrinsic worth, this exemption of Ahab from personally experiencing those storms which impended over his house, was an instance of great condescension and favour. But why, it may be asked, if Ahab's humiliation was so little worth, was any Divine regard shown towards it? This, we answer, was to show by a living example that self-condemnation and abasement before God is the way to escape his anger, and obtain his favour. Just as a novice in any art or trade may be cheered by words of encouragement at the first favourable attempt which he makes, however imperfect it
may be; so the exemption which the Lord made in Ahab's favour on his repenting, was calculated to encourage him to aim at something better. Self-condemnation, self-abasement, and giving God the glory, are the first steps from spiritual death to spiritual life. We are not, therefore, to regard it as any decisive mark of our state of grace, that we at any time experience the forbearance of God upon humbling ourselves before him ; or that he at any time vouchsafes a signal answer to our cry of distress, and disperses some of the heavy clouds which impend
For, all this may be only as an encouragement to true and sincere repentance; it by no means proves that we are really restored to true friendship with God. All history shows, that whenever any prince or people have given glory to God and his word, though only by an outward confession, it has been attended
with signal blessings of Providence. But to infer from this, that such nations and princes were in special favour with God, would be found unsupported by Scripture. We often see persons, whom we dare not regard as truly converted to God, who nevertheless agree to all the statements and confessions of Scripture truth; they are evidently controlled by a certain dread of God's displeasure ; but they do not live in obedience to the commandments of Christ : on the contrary, they love the world, and the things of the world; and yet God temporally blesses them and their household, and they enjoy the respect and regard of persons far more piously disposed' than themselves ; but these external blessings must never be accounted an evidence of their own state of grace ; for, if they be so regarded, men may find themselves one day miserably undeceived. God often gives many temporal blessings to such persons, that his goodness may lead them to true repentance. But these temporal favours are no seals of Divine adoption. Let no one, therefore, deceive himself; for,“ except ye be born again, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. The best that can be said of all others, is what was here said of Ahab : “ Seest thou how they humble themselves before me ? because they humble themselves before me, I will not bring evil upon them in their lifetime; but at length that day shall come upon them as a thief, and they shall hear it said unto them, I know you not; depart from me!” As many
of you, my brethren, as are still “ without,” are in a situation similar to that of Ahab in the field of Naboth. Dreadful curses are pronounced upon you; awful judgments hang over your guilty heads ; snares, fire and briinstone, storm and tempest, all which will one day discharge themselves upon you, O unhappy people ! Only one outlet stands open to you ; and this consists in true self-condemnation and self-abasement. Not that these things have any merit belonging to them but they imply a hunger and a thirst after righteousness, and that righteousness is to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ. The moment you stretch out the hand of faith to lay hold on this righteousness, the curse is removed, and you are made accepted in the Beloved.
Let Ahab's example ever be a warning to ourselves, lest, notwithstanding the most remarkable visitations of the Almighty, the strongest allurements, the most lively emotions—yea, notwithstanding much penitential conflict, and many answers received to our prayers—still we should fall short at last. Take heed that your repentance exceed the repentance of Ahab, lest it should have to be repented of when it is too late. Yes, when
the hour is at hand, in which it is appointed you to die ; when you are left alone with the remembrance of your sins, and the gates of eternity are opening before you, you may indeed perform a repentance, which may not be unto life, except you repent
At such an hour there may be no word of comfort for you that will reach your heart, or heal your wounded spirit. For the repentance of a death-bed is very uncertain ; it may contain no true repentance towards God, nor any true faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. For how often do we see such a repentance unaccompanied by any heartfelt lamentation over the man's spiritual corruption, by any hungering or thirsting after righteousness, by any longing after fellowship with God, or by any desire of love to God! It is notning more than the mere shudder of nature; it is only that awful dread of the Most High which the evil spirits felt, when they besought Jesus not to command them
away into the deep ! But, may God be gracious to us, my brethren, and fill us now with that “godly sorrow, which worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of !” Let our repentance be that of affectionate children, who can have no rest till the kind but justly offended parent again looks complacently upon them ; let faith and love be the life and soul of our repentance; let it prove its genuineness by an unfeigned surrender of ourselves into the Lord's hands. Then shall there be joy in heaven over us among the angels of God; then shall we have an indubitable pledge and seal of our adoption into the family of God; and hereafter all tears shall be wiped away from our eyes.