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THE PRIVILEGE OF REPENTANCE.
BY THE REV. A. K. H. BOYD, D.D., FIRST MINISTER OF ST. ANDREWS.
“ From that time Jesus began to preach ; and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Sr. MATT. iv. 17.
VERY preacher of any experience knows | debasing Confession in the ear of man of
the advantage, specially when preach- what ought only to be known between the ing to a congregation to which he is a soul and God; with the irrational and unstranger, of having a text which is a suggestive Christian Satisfaction by one's own doing or or (what some people call) a striking one. suffering ; which lose the simplicity of New It will commonly fix the attention of the Testament Repentance in the Sacramental congregation to at least the first sentences Penance of the unreformed Church. Yet, of the sermon which follows. It need not apart from this, apart from all factitious be an eccentric or extraordinary text : such addition of disagreeables, there remains as a will rather repel intelligent hearers; and such | fact in human nature, that it goes against the are generally prefixed to discourses whose text grain with man to frankly say he has done is the only remarkable thing about them. wrong : not wrong vaguely and generally, And every preacher knows too the damp- but wrong in this or that. I have known ing of anything like interested attention many people who would tell any number of which follows the announcement of what the most apparent lies, rather than frankly may be called the regulation text, which admit that they had done wrong. Their commonly precedes that kind of sermon rule plainly was, Never admit that. And so which might be preached over every Sunday the excuse was always ready, though it could without any one recognising it ;-the kind of mislead nobody. To people of more prinsermon which reaches nobody, which gives ciple, and more sense, the candid confession no offence, which does no harm, and which of having behaved foolishly or wickedly most assuredly does no good.
remains a sad and humbling necessity, too. Now I know quite well that my text at And so it is, that we have all been told a this time is not the sort of text which many great deal about the Duty of Repentance, people hear read out with much anticipation and the Necessity of Repentance, and about of interest. I am well aware that in these how Gospel Repentance goes against the days there is in many congregations a distaste proud heart of the Flesh, and how God's for theological terms, such as Repentance, as purpose is that we all be brought down into Faith, as Justification and Sanctification ; the very dust of humiliation before He will and a shrinking from the discussion of theo- let us get off the painful consequences or logical doctrines, as something unreal, and even escape the enslaving power of our sins. uninteresting, and (in any case) as something There is confusion, too, in many minds as that you are quite tired of being preached to what Repentance actually is. Forgetting to about. So when I say that my subject is the manly and downright and common-sense Repentance, I know that I am placed at account of it given in the Shorter Catechism, some disadvantage. I hope to get over there are those who would make it a matter that : I trust that God's grace may make of the nervous system, who would carry each soul here present to feel that a more the penitent into the realm of hysteria,real and practical thing cannot be. And and associate Repentance unto Life essenthere is something besides. It is common tially with unmanly tears which are merely to speak of Repentance as a humiliating manifestation of exceptive physical temperathing, a sore thing, a thing our passing ment, and with extravagant self-abasement through which will always be looked back which I do not believe that God can be upon with something like shame, and a sense pleased to see in any immortal creature of of personal degradation. An eminent Roman His hand. I have known men call themCatholic writer, the late Cardinal Wiseman, selves, in their confessions of sin, what they says that Repentance is “the one door of would have been very angry had any other the sheep, the one entrance to the Church person called them. Hence a general imof Christ, narrow and low perhaps, and caus- pression of unreality: and so it comes that
ing flesh and blood to stoop as it passes it.” | as to forgive as a Christian sometimes means is But then Cardinal Wiseman was speaking of not to forgive at all; in like manner to say
Repentance, not as Christ preached it, but in a prayer that one is sinful,—to call one's as the Roman Church has made it; with the self sinful in a theological sense,-often
implies no real and deep sense that one has plain : it does not seem as if Christ thought done grievously wrong. Now this is bad. it needful to give much explanation of what There is no great harm in telling a man that He meant to the plain folk He preached to. you are his obedient servant without meaning A very little child, who has done something much: but never go and tell God that you wrong, is able thoroughly to grasp the idea are a miserable sinner unless you mean what of what is meant by repenting of it. And you say. It cannot please God that any so with older folk. You see that wrongman should call himself worse than he feels doing (or call it sin) is very bad, which you himself to be. Nor does inordinate self had thought not so bad: you see it leads to debasement go to make New-Testament infinite trouble and shame, when you had Repentance ; any more than exceptional thought you would get pleasure out of it and emotion, which it is not in some natures to escape the trouble : you are sorry for it, you yield. I desire to preach to you of the are ashamed of it, you feel degraded by it: Privilege of Repentance. I desire to speak you turn over a new leaf, and begin again of it, not as a painful and humbling necessity, afresh, upon a clean page. By God's mercy but as a great and blessed privilege. I wish you will cease to do evil and learn to do I may be helped to show you that we can well: you will sever the connection with the never thank God enough that we are allowed miserable past: you will start anew, get to repent. For, indeed, Repentance, rightly into the right way and stick to it. That is understood, is as grand a gift as Christ ever Repentance: that is what Christ bade us all won for us.
do : and He added for encouragement, that We might well take for granted that our a new and milder dispensation was here: Saviour would not have preached oftentimes “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The on Repentance, and indeed have made that religion Christ taught was the first which the characteristic staple of His preaching offered forgiveness without suffering, on the when He began His ministry, had not the part of the penitent, or inflicted by the penisubject been one of vital moment. And it tent. False faiths had told of expiatory is plain, too, that the subject is of just as penances : starve yourself, torture yourself, much concern now as ever. You remember, deny every desire of your nature, measure a likewise, that on this matter the Saviour's thousand miles by lengths of your body, find Fore-runner S. John the Baptist had uttered out by trial how miserable a poor wretch the self-same words: the same counsel, or may be, and then you will be forgiven: God command (if you will), Repent: the same will never be hard on a tortured creature reason why,- for the kingdom of heaven is at that has been so awfully hard upon himhand. To repent is the thing to be done : self. And how natural the fancy, though so the thing everybody needs to do. Now wrong! And in the dawning light of the there are two different words used in the Jewish law, if the sinner himself was not New Testament, both of which are trans- required to suffer, then some helpless thing lated into the English word Repentance : must that had never sinned : the harmless one of them conveys specially the notion of lamb, the innocent dove, must die: "withbeing sorry for having done wrong; the other out shedding of blood there was no reconveys specially the notion of changing mission :” the eternal truth of the inevitable one's mind as to things,-seeing things in a link between sin and suffering must be held different light, and then shaping one's con- forth before all. Nor ought we to forget duct accordingly,—trying to mend one's life. that when the better “ kingdom of heaven It is this second word which Christ used : did come at last, that fundamental truth was which you can see is the fuller and larger still recognised and affirmed in the suffering word, including substantially the meaning of and death of our Blessed Redeemer, upon the first word too : taking in the being sorry whose head, as the one self-sufficing sacrifor the wrong-doing and ashamed of it, fice of all sacrifices that ever were offered, coming to right views, beginning afresh and were made to meet the iniquities of us all. trying to do better. This is Gospel Repent. But now, when we would repent, when we ance : in which, as the Catechism has it, would find pardon, though we ever plead
a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin that Great Sacrifice, there is no suffering and apprehension of the mercy of God in needed any more. All the suffering was Christ, doth with grief and hatred of his sin, borne, long ago, and once for all, that turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, brought our salvation. And now “if we and endeavour after, new obedience.” It is confess our sins,"—that is all,—“ if we connot difficult to understand : it is indeed very fess our sins, God is faithful and just to
forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from feels he has made a mess of his life if you all unrighteousness.” No wonder that it get him to take in that it may all be mended was said, as strongest encouragement to re- yet! Then that was exactly what our blessed pent, that “the kingdom of heaven is at Saviour said—said to every mortal—when hand!”. For the coming of that kingdom he preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of has made repentance efficacious, and made heaven is at hand.” Many a poor soul, it simple, as it never was before.
bogged, shamed, crushed, broken-hearted, has Now here is the sum of Christ's preaching. cried in agony, “Oh, if I could only get The command, the exhortation, let us call it, beginning again !” Well, says Christ, begin is to Repent. That preaching starts from a again! There is nothing to hinder you. fact: the fact that there is something wrong: Sad as is the past, it may all, so far as conthe fact, ordinary preachers would say, that cerns the worst about it, be as if it had never men are sinners. And this is fact, not doc- been. God never ties any mortal to sin trine: or if you will call it doctrine, it is fact who honestly longs to be delivered from stated dogmatically. For it is fact, that it. Come now, and let us reason together, there is something wrong; wrong in our saith the Lord: though your sins be as lives, wrong in our natures. Our natures scarlet they shall be as white as snow: are all twisted, and amiss : wherever the though they be red like crimson they shall wrench came from that left us so. If we be be as wool." not the chief of fools we all know that. I do not say that the truest and heartiest Look back on your life : and oh the follies, repentance will avail to deliver a human the failures, the dark transgressions ! The re- being from all the painful consequences of membrance bows you down. Now Repent-transgression. It can never be in this ance is just the right and healthy feeling of world that the grievous sinner should be as the awakened soul that sees its own sin. though he had not sinned. The future Once a man is made to see he is a sinner, punishment of sin, and the present power of see he has done wrong times beyond count it, from these things the penitent is delivered ing, then if his mind be in any way healthy through God's mercy in Christ, and by the and true, the state of feeling which arises in grace of the Holy Spirit; but the needful it is what we call Repentance. And it in- course of things here often denies the wrongcludes all that has been said. Sorrow and doer the mercy here which all of us pray he shame for having done wrong: an earnest may receive from God. The temporal conwish to get out of wrong and to be right : sequences of sin and folly, lesser and turning with true purpose and intention into greater sin and folly, cannot, in the nature the right way, and holding on in that. of things, be quite taken away here, though
My friends, if this be truth, and it is truth, true penitence will show the way to bear is it not strange that repentance should be so them better. It is an unhappy thing about commonly thought a painful duty? It is a this life, and it often seems a very hard grand and inexpressible privilege. There is thing, that human beings, when very young nothing degrading in it; the degradation is all and inexperienced, can spoil it all. And in the state it takes us out of. It is degrading this not merely by some grievous wrongto stay in sin, not to get out of it. And there doing, whose stain can never be effaced in is no humiliation, beyond the fact that it is this world, but by lack of judgment, of tact, a humble thing to be a human being, in con- of energy, of decision, when the whole thing fessing that we have been wrong. It is too was misfortune and not fault. A man takes common for that. It is just the condition of the wrong turning at some critical time, and being a human being. We take that for never gets over it. A man makes a wrong granted. “To go wrong is human;" every choice of a profession, and all his life feels body everywhere has always known that. himself misplaced, and does his work ill, And that Christ's Gospel invites us to repent. does it heartlessly and inefficiently, and ance just means that man is not tied to go taking no pleasure in it, perhaps downrightly on in his wrong and misery. It means that hating it, while there is some other vocation he has not got into that miserable lane in in which he would have been in his right which there is no turning. It means that, place, and useful—perhaps eminently useful, save in our despairing imaginations, there is and happy in feeling himself so. I have no such thing on God's earth. You are not known very middling preachers who were such a fool as to fancy you never go wrong? first-rate lawyers spoiled. But it was too late. Well, repentance is getting right. What an It could not be helped. And there are other unspeakable and blessed relief to one who choices which have blighted the whole life
of man or woman. Most of us have grieved young creatures have thought to themselves over cases in which we have seen it so. But times without number, “O, I am all wrong! there was no place of repentance. There I never can get right again; I dare not tell was nothing for it but to make the best of a my father and mother what an awful scrape ruinous bargain. Blessed be God, it is never I have got into.” Little things five or six so as to the worst consequences of the worst years old have known the feeling the sin! As for sin, as for its doom, as for its curious feeling, common to humanity, that blasting influence on the character, that is all they have done something so bad that it can remediable ; and when Christ said these never be mended, when they have done words of my text, He told all men so. He some childish misdeed only to be smiled at ; said to the worst, You may get out of the and wicked and cruel beyond words is that slough ; you need not stop in the prison of mortal who would instil into any heart, Giant Despair; you cannot have made such young or old, the natural but false belief that a ravelled misery of your life, but I can help any error or sin is irremediable by repentyou,
and I will. You need not perish; you ance. Let us cast out that false belief that need not abide in your sore misery and has done so much mischief, and be done degradation ; everything may be set right with it for evermore. The Gospel knows it yet. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven,” not; the Gospel knows no sin of which it the reign of Gospel mercy and grace, is here. does not call men to repent. Christ never
Would that all sinful creatures could take looked upon the sinner to whom he needed that in and be sure of it! Would that all to say, "You must just go on in your sin, sinful creatures could realise the meaning of however sorry you are for it; there is no that inspired declaration, that God “is not repentance for you: my blood cannot take willing that any should perish, but that all away your sin !” Dear friends, it is blaspheshould come to repentance !” The worst mous to admit that wretched illusion! People things that human beings ever have done have talked rubbish about this or that ecclethey did because they thought there was no siastical arrangement being what they called room for repentance left to them. They “Christ-dishonouring;” but in very deed it thought they were so bad that they never is Christ-dishonouring to doubt His willingcould be better; so bad that they could not ness or power to save.
He came “ to save be worse; and so they grew reckless. It sinners;" "He is able to save to the uttermost" is in that desperate, miserable mood that the all who will be saved. If sincere, repentworst has been done that ever has been done. ance is never too late : it is never, on this But the traitor Judas might have done better side the grave, too late to mend. You know than go and hang himself. The devil might that no worthy man even would cast in do better than hold on in that despairing the offender's face a misdeed frankly acwarfare against good and against God. knowledged, heartily apologised for, and all
O that great gospel privilege of repent- possible amends made for it. Far less, inance: that we, always going wrong, are not finitely less, would the all-merciful Saviour to be tied to our wrong-doing and what take pleasure in pinning any poor mortal to comes of it; but are mercifully suffered to his repented sin, and in seeing him drink to cut the link that would naturally bind us to the dregs the cup of humiliation. What our sin and misery, and escape from that would be contemptible, what would be bondage into the liberty of the sons of God. devilish, in man, will never, never be found We never can reach the full depth and in God. And the intuitive sense in us, that meaning of the old familiar story that Christ if the oftender confess his wrong-doing and takes away sin. For only through His lise testify deep sorrow for it, and do his very and death it is, that so complete deliverance best to make up for it, you cannot say more, waits the repenting sinner. Forasmuch as you cannot keep raking it up against him; we daily sin, we will repent daily ; get out of that sense, which is in every good man, is the entanglement, the sorrow, the degrada- the reflection of a fact in the Divine nature. tion; break away from it, and leave it all It is in you because it was first in your behind; for now the kingdom of heaven has Maker. David, king and psalmist, knew that come, and God waits to receive. It is His long ago, and said, “The Lord is merciful
nature and property ever to have mercy and and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in forgive:” “forgiving iniquity, transgression, mercy : He will not always chide, neither and sin," and Christ's precious blood avails will He keep His anger for ever. He hath to take it all away. Now this is one of the not dealt with us after our sins; nor relast things we really take in. I know how warded us according to our iniquities. As
far as the east is from the west, so far hath ended with Repentance and Faith. They He removed our transgressions from us." could not possibly have ended better. It We thank God for that: but the light seems as if Christ's preaching, when He is far clearer and fuller now. “ Behold the began to preach, were begun, continued, and Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of ended, with Repentance: Duty, Privilege, the world.” “God so loved the world, that and Grand Encouragement. For all needed He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoso- it then: all need it yet: need it anew each ever believeth in Him should not perish, but day. The Worship of the Christian Church, have everlasting life. For God sent not His where worthily rendered, has begun, every Son into the world to condemn the world, time it was rendered, with an act of Repentbut that the world through Him might be ance : has begun with the penitent confession saved.” And if any one but Christ Himself of sin, and the prayer for pardoning mercy had told the story of the Prodigal Son, we and sanctifying grace. And there is more sinful creatures should have thought it far too cheer now than when Christ began to preach. good to be true!
Then, the encouragement was, “The kingMy subject has been the grand Gospel dom of heaven is at hand.” But now, The gift and privilege of Repentance : the blessed kingdom of heaven is here. truth that poor Human Nature cannot “We will arise and go to our Father, and be so bad but that it may yet be lifted up will say unto Him, Father, we have sinned towards God : that the worst of us, who against heaven and before Thee, and are no are all evil enough, may begin anew to-day, more worthy to be called Thy sons." But and cast off all our connection with the as we go, we know the gracious welcome that blotted past : “ forgetting those things which waits us. And we know, too, that the blest are behind, and reaching forth unto those ones above do not grudge us our repentance: things which are before.”
they do not wish to keep all their purity and
peace to themselves : and to keep us tied to It is a pleasant and hopeful subject; not a our evil and miserable choice. Their happisad one. It is a good and hopeful message; ness grows greater, as it is shared. “There not a humbling one. The humiliation, deep is joy in the presence of the angels of God and dark, is here already, in the fact that we over one sinner that repenteth!” are poor sinners: the invitation is to get out For the black has been made white: the of it. A good man of a past generation said wretched has been made happy: the vile has that he would wish to preach Repentance been made beautiful: the WRONG has been every Sunday. It was said of a great made RIGHT. And if we know anything cerpreacher, dead now for five-and-forty years, tainly, we know that that is the thing which that however his sermons began, they all must please God.
WE sing the everlasting truth
me."--St. John vi. 57.
“Amen, Allelujah!" E
Hail, Bread of God that men may take !Of words that Jesus said :
His Spirit teaches how. There is a holy human life
The dying soul that eateth Thee Upon the earth we tread.
Shall even live as Thou. It was poured out our faith to win,
“ Come, eat,” the faithful Witness saith It has prevailed against our sin,
To sinners breathing mortal breath, It brings eternal glory in,
And live for ever after death; E'en here among the dead.
Yea, live for ever now.”
O Lord of all the angel host
And of the church above,
By Thy descending Dove.
Of joy, and praise, and love.
This being, with its ransomed powers,
Olet Thy body feed,
An endless life indeed.
Its whole immortal need.