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MATTHEW iii. 8.
Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were sects of eminent distinction among the Jews. They occupied the highest civil and religious offices, and were venerated by the common people for the supposed sanctity of their lives. By a strict observance of all the outward forms and ceremonies of religion; by a zealous defence of some idle traditions ; by a perpetual warfare about speculative and erroneous doctrines, they would fain appear to be of all men the most holy. But very many of them, we have reason to think, were mere hypocrites. Nor will this judgment appear to be rash or uncharitable, if we only call to mind the severe rebukes which they so often received from our Saviour. He saw through their false disguises, and charged them, notwithstanding their ostentatious display of the most exalted virtue, with being full of all manner of wickedness. The Forerunner of Christ, too, treated them with no more lenity. When he came preaching in the wilderness
of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, there went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.” But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, “ O generation of vipers ! who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come ? Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance." As if he had said, “ So vile and corrupt do I know most of your sects to be ; so inflated with pride and self-righteousness ; so dependant upon your own superior holiness for acceptance with God, that I am filled with astonishment to see you come to my baptism. For I preach the doctrine of repentance, and they who become my disciples are not backward to confess their sins with the deepest sorrow and contrition of heart. What voice has roused you from the slumber of death, and filled you with anxiety to escape the just vengeance of God ? But if your penitence is indeed sincere, let it be marked as such by its inseparable attendant, a thorough and permanent reformation.” “Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance.”
Our text, my brethren, thus explained, enforces upon our most serious attention this important truth, that no repentance can be genuine without a radical reformation of heart and life.
In endeavouring to unfold the meaning of this doctrine, let us consider, first, the reasons on which
it is founded; and, secondly, the nature of that reformation which it inculcates.
1. We are to consider the reasons on which the doctrine is founded, that no repentance can be genuine, without a radical reformation of heart and life. These reasons will be very evident, if we attend but a little to those causes which, under the influence of the Spirit of God, produce repentance in the heart of the sinner.
1. Repentance is in part founded on a deep conviction of the justice of the law of God, and of the awful nature of its penalty.--It was said by the venerable Dr. Watts, than whom scarcely any servant of Christ has been favoured with a more deep insight into the Christian character, that, with the exception of one or two instances, all the cases of genuine repentance which had happened within the sphere of his ministry were to be traced to the fear of future punishment. And, without doubt, this is more generally the fact than is apt to be ima; gined. The Gospel is a system of motives adapted to our hopes and our fears : and“ what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Our Supreme Lawgiver has seen fit to discle to us the tremendous penalty of his violated law; and he urges us by all the horrors of its awful execution to flee from the wrath to come. The terrors of the Lord persuade men. The sinner is alarmed at his danger. He sees that the law which he has broken is holy, and just, and good. He trembles with fearful despor
dency at the view of his past transgressions. He acknowledges, that if judgment should be laid to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, he could not stand before the offended Majesty of Heaven. He sorrows for his past guilt in view of the dreadful doom to which it has exposed him. And thus bis repentance is in part founded on a deep conviction of the justice of the law of God, and of the awful nature of its penalty. But this law never abates its requirements. What it has exacted it still exacts-perfect obedience. The Gospel hath not made it void. Having brought the sinner to contrition, it still continues to be the rule of his conduct. And if so, he can feel no genuine repentance for having violated the law of God, unless he acknowledge and obey its authority with regard to his future life ; unless he commence and prosecute the work of a thorough and permanent reformation.
2. Repentance is in part founded upon a deep .conviction of the purity of the law of God. The purity of this law is to be distinguished from its justice. The latter threatens a penalty which addresses itself to our fears: the former holds forth the rule of right conduct, and claims the assent of our consc' nce. The one makes us tremble for our future safety : the other distresses us with a view of our present guilt. Hence it is, that the awakened sinner, before he can be truly penitent, must always be found abhorring himself for his past transgressions ; not simply because they have exposed him to future punishment, but because they have been
committed in violation of a law which forms a most holy rule of conduct; prescribing nothing base, nothing degrading, but all that is honest and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report. How does he grieve for the past debasement of his moral character! How is he filled with deep and penetential sorrow, when he reflects, that, instead of rising to the noble dignity of a virtuous being, he has wallowed in the grossness of sensuality, or been devoted to the sordid pursuit of uncertain riches, or been fascinated with the empty applauses of an erring and deceitful world! An obedience to the pure law of God would have saved him from this moral degradation, and from the present sharp rebuke of his wounded conscience. But this same law is still his only rule of conduct. A conformity to its precepts is still necessary to form his moral character, and to satisfy the demands of his conscience. And if so, he can surely feel no genuine repentance for having violated this law of God, unless he acknowledge and obey its authority with regard to his future life; unless he commence and prosecute the work of a thorough and permanent reformation.
3. Repentance is in part founded upon a deep conviction of the unhappy consequences of sin.do not here refer to the effect of sin upon the sinner's individual happiness; that has been already considered; but to its effect upon the happiness of others. He who is truly penitent, at the recollection of his past transgressions, will soon cease to think only of the injury which they have done to