But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
~ Acts 3:18, 1 John 4:10
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.
~ John 6:47
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
~ Romans 5:1, Romans 5:9
Faith, by Thomas Watson. This is an excerpt from his work called, ‘The Ten Commandments”.
What does God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for our sin?
Faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means, whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.
I begin with the first—faith in Jesus Christ. “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” Rom 3:25. The great privilege in the text is, to have Christ for an atoning sacrifice; which is not only to free us from God’s wrath—but to ingratiate us into his love and favour. The means of having Christ to be our propitiation is, “Faith in his blood.”
There is a twofold faith:
1. “The faith which is believed”—which is “the doctrine of faith.” 2. “The faith by which we believe”—which is “the grace of faith.”
The act of justifying faith lies in recumbency—we rest on Christ alone for salvation. As a man who is ready to drown, catches hold on the bough of a tree, so a poor trembling sinner, seeing himself ready to perish, catches hold by faith on Christ the tree of life, and is saved. The work of faith is by the Holy Spirit; therefore faith is called the “fruit of the Spirit.” Gal 5:22. Faith does not grow in fallen human nature; it is an exotic plant, a fruit of the Spirit. This grace of faith is the most hallowed possession of the human heart—the most precious rich faith, and most holy faith, and faith of God’s elect.
Hence it is called “precious faith.” 2 Pet 1:1. As gold is most precious among metals—so is faith is most precious among the graces. Faith is the queen of the graces. Faith is the condition of the gospel. “Your faith has saved you,” not your tears. Luke 7:50. Faith is the “vital artery of the soul” which animates it. “The just shall live by his faith.” Hab 2:4. Though unbelievers breathe, they lack life. “Faith,” as Clement calls it, “is a mother grace.” Faith excites and invigorates all the graces; not a grace stirs—until faith sets it to work. Faith sets repentance to work; it is like fire to the still. Faith sets hope to work. First we believe the promise, then we hope for it. If faith did not feed the lamp of hope with oil—it would soon die. Faith sets love to work. “Faith which works by love.” Gal 5:6. Who can believe in the infinite merits of Christ, and his heart not ascend in a fiery chariot of love? It is a catholicon, or universal remedy against all troubles. Faith is the anchor cast into the sea of God’s mercy, which keeps us from sinking in despair. Other graces have done worthily; you, O faith, excel them all.
In heaven, love will be the chief grace; but while we are here on earth, love must give place to faith. Love takes possession of glory— but faith gives a title to it. Love is the crowning grace in heaven—but faith is the conquering grace upon earth. “This is the victory which overcomes the world, even our faith.” 1 John 5:4. Faith carries away the garland from all the other graces. Other graces help to sanctify us—but faith only has the honor to justify us. “Being justified by faith.” Rom 5:1.
How does faith come to be so precious?
Not that it is a more holy quality, or has more worthiness than other graces—but with respect to its object—as it lays hold on Christ the blessed object, and fetches in his fullness. John 9:36. Faith in itself considered, is but “the beggar’s hand.” But as this hand receives the rich alms of Christ’s merits—it is precious, and challenges a superiority over the rest of the graces.
Use one. Of all sins, beware of the rock of unbelief! “Take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief” Heb 3:12. Men think, as long as they are not drunkards or swearers, it is no great matter to be unbelievers. This is the gospel sin—it dyes your other sins in grain.
(1) Unbelief is a Christ-reproaching sin. It disparages Christ’s infinite merit—as if it could not save; it makes the wound of sin to be broader than the plaster of Christ’s blood. This is a high contempt offered to Christ, and is a deeper spear than that which the Jews thrust into his side!
(2) Unbelief is an ungrateful sin. “The ungrateful man is to be avoided like a fearful crime; the world herself produces nothing more shameful.” Ingratitude is a prodigy of wickedness! Unbelief is being ungrateful for the richest mercy! Suppose a king, to redeem a captive, should part with his crown of gold, and when he had done this, should say to the redeemed man, “All I desire of you in lieu of my kindness—is to believe that I love you.” If he should say “No, I do not believe any such thing, or that you care at all for me!” I appeal to you, whether this would not be odious ingratitude? So is the case here. God has sent his Son to shed his blood; he requires us only to believe in him, that he is able and willing to save us. “No!” says unbelief, “His blood was not shed for me, I cannot persuade myself that Christ has any purpose of love to me!” Is not this horrid ingratitude? This enhances a sin, and makes it of a crimson colour!
(3) Unbelief is a leading sin. It is the breeder of sin. “A life of wickedness, has unbelief as its point of origin.” Unbelief is a root sin, and the devil labours to water this root, that the branches may be fruitful. It breeds hardness of heart; therefore they are put together. Mark 16:14. Christ upbraids them with their unbelief and hardness of heart. Unbelief breeds the stone in the heart. He who believes not in Christ—is not affected with his sufferings, he melts not in tears of love. Unbelief freezes the heart; first it defiles and then hardens. Unbelief breeds profaneness. An unbeliever will stick at no sin, neither at false weights, nor false oaths. He will swallow down treason. Judas was first an unbeliever, and then a traitor. John 6:64. He who has no faith in his heart—will have no fear of God before his eyes.
(4) Unbelief is a wrath-procuring sin. It is “an enemy of salvation.” Bernard. John 3:18, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already”—dying so, he is as sure to be condemned as if he were so already. “He who believes not on the Son of God—the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:36. He who believes not in the blood of the Lamb—must feel the wrath of the Lamb. The Gentiles that believe not in Christ, will be damned—as well as the Jews who blaspheme him. And if unbelief is so fearful and damnable a sin, shall we not be afraid to live in it?
Use two. Above all graces, set faith to work on Christ. “That whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. “Above all, taking the shield of faith.” Eph 6:16. Say as queen Esther, “I will go in unto the king—and if I perish, I perish.” She had nothing to encourage her; she ventured against law—yet the golden sceptre was held forth to her. We have promises to encourage our faith. “Whoever comes to me—I will never drive away.” John 6:37. Let us then advance faith by a holy recumbency on Christ’s merits. Christ’s blood will not justify without believing; they are both put together in the text, “Faith in his blood.” The blood of God, without faith in Christ, will not save. Christ’s sufferings are the plaster to heal a sin-sick soul—but this plaster must be applied by faith. It is not money in a rich man’s hand, though offered to us—which will enrich us—unless we receive it. So Christ’s virtues or benefits will do us no good—unless we receive them by the hand of faith. Above all graces, set faith on work. It is a faith most acceptable to God upon many accounts.
(1) Because faith is a God-exalting grace. It glorifies God. Abraham “was strong in faith, giving glory to God.” Rom 4:20. To believe that there is more mercy in God, and merit in Christ—than sin in us; and that Christ has answered all the demands of the law, and that his blood has fully satisfied the wrath of God for us— honors God in a high degree. Faith in the Mediator brings more glory to God—than martyrdom, or the most heroic act of obedience.
(2) Faith in Christ is acceptable to God because it is a self- denying grace; it makes a man go outside of himself, renounce all self-righteousness, and wholly rely on Christ for justification. It is very humble, it confesses its own indigence, and lives wholly upon Christ. As the bee sucks sweetness from the flower—so faith sucks all its strength and comfort from Christ.
(3) Faith is a grace acceptable to God, because by faith we present a righteousness to him which best pleases him; we bring the righteousness of Christ into court, which is called the righteousness of God. 2 Cor 5:21. To bring Christ’s righteousness, is to bring Benjamin with us. A believer may say, “Lord, it is not the righteousness of Adam, or of the angels—but of Christ who is God- Man, which I bring before you.” The Lord cannot but smell a sweet savour in Christ’s righteousness.
Use three. Let us try our faith. There is something that looks like faith, and is not. Pliny says there is a Cyprian stone which highly resembles a diamond—but it is not. Just so, there is a spurious faith in the world. Some plants have the same leaf with others—but the herbalist can distinguish them by the root and taste; so something may look like true faith—but it may be distinguished several ways:
(1) True faith is grounded upon knowledge. Knowledge carries the torch before faith. There is a knowledge of Christ’s orient excellencies. Phil 3:8. He is made up of all love and beauty. True faith is a judicious intelligent grace, it knows whom it believes, and why it believes. Faith is seated as well in the understanding, as in the will. It has an eye to see Christ, as well as a wing to fly to him. Such therefore as are veiled in ignorance, or have only an implicit faith to believe as the church believes—have no true and genuine faith.
(2) Faith lives in a broken heart. “The father cried out with tears, Lord, I believe.” Mark 9:24. True faith is always in a heart bruised for sin. They, therefore, whose hearts were never touched for sin, have no faith. If a physician should tell us there was a herb that would help us against all infections—but it always grows in a watery place; if we should see a herb like it in colour, leaf, smell, blossom—but growing upon a rock, we should conclude that it was the wrong herb. So saving faith always grows in a heart humbled for sin, in a weeping eye and a tearful conscience. If, therefore, there be a show of faith—but it grows upon the rock of a hard impenitent heart—it is not the true faith.
(3) True faith is at first, nothing but an embryo; it is minute and small; it is full of doubts, temptations, fears; it begins in weakness. It is like the smoking flax. Matt 12:20. It smokes with desires—but does not flame with comfort; it is at first so small, that it is scarcely discernible. Those who, at the first dash, have a strong persuasion that Christ is theirs, who leap out of sin into assurance, have a false and spurious faith, The faith which comes to its full stature on its birth-day is a monster. The seed that sprung up suddenly, withered. Matt 13:5, 6.
(4) Faith is a refining grace, it consecrates and purifies.
Moral virtue may wash the outside—but faith washes the inside. “Purifying their hearts by faith.” Acts 15:9. Faith makes the heart a temple with this inscription, “Holiness to the Lord.” Those whose hearts have legions of lust in them, were never acquainted with the true faith. For one to say he has faith, and yet live in sin, is, as if one should say he was in health when his vitals are cancered. Faith is a virgin grace, it is joined with sanctity. “Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” 1 Tim 3:9. The jewel of faith, is always put in the cabinet of a pure conscience. The woman who touched Christ by faith, fetched a healing and cleansing virtue from him.
(5) True faith is obediential. “The obedience of faith.” Rom 16:26. Faith melts our will into the will of God. If God commands duty, though cross to flesh and blood—faith obeys. “By faith Abraham obeyed.” Heb 11:8. It not only believes the promise—but obeys the command. It is not having a speculative knowledge that will evidence you to be believers. The devil has knowledge; but that which makes him a devil—is that he has no obedience.
(6) True faith is increasing. “From faith to faith,” that is, from one degree of faith to another. Rom 1:17. Faith does not lie in the heart, as a stone in the earth—but as seed which grows. Joseph of Arimathaea was a disciple of Christ—but was afraid to confess him; afterwards he went boldly to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. John 19:38. A Christian’s increase in faith is known two ways—
By steadfastness. He is a pillar in the temple of God, “Rooted and built up in him; and established in the faith.” Col 2:7. Unbelievers are sceptics in religion; they are unsettled; they question every truth; but when faith is on the increasing hand, it strengthens the spirit—it fortifies a Christian. He is able to prove his principles; he holds no more than he will die for; as that martyr woman said, “I cannot dispute for Christ—but I can burn for him.” An increasing faith is not like a ship in the midst of the sea, which fluctuates, and is tossed upon the waves; but like a ship at anchor, which is firm and steadfast.
A Christian’s increase in faith is known by his strength. He can do that now which he could not do before. When one is man-grown, he can do that which he was not able to do when he was a child; he can carry a heavier burden; so a growing Christian can bear crosses with more patience.
But I fear I have no faith—it is so weak!
If you have faith, though but in its infancy, be not discouraged. For,
(1) A little faith is faith, as a spark of fire is fire.
(2) A weak faith may lay hold on a strong Christ; as a weak hand can tie the knot in marriage as well as a strong one. She, in the gospel, who but touched Christ, fetched virtue from him.
(3) The promises are not made to strong faith—but to true faith. The promise does not say, he who has a giant faith, who can believe God’s love through a frown, who can rejoice in affliction, who can work wonders, move mountains, stop the mouth of lions—shall be saved—but whoever believes, be his faith ever so small. A reed is but weak, especially when it is bruised; yet a promise is made to it. “A bruised reed, he shall not break.” Matt 12:20.
(4) A weak faith may be fruitful. Weakest things multiply most. The vine is a weak plant—but it is fruitful. The thief on the cross, who was newly converted, was but weak in grace; but how many precious clusters grew upon that tender plant! He chided his fellow-thief. “Do you not fear God?” Luke 23:40. He judged himself, “We indeed suffer justly.” He believed in Christ, when he said, “Lord.” He made a heavenly prayer, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Weak Christians may have strong affections. How strong is the first love, which is after the first planting of faith!
(5) The weakest believer is a member of Christ as well as the strongest; and the weakest member of the mystic body, shall not perish. Christ will cut off rotten members—but not weak members. Therefore, Christian, be not discouraged. God, who would have us receive those who are weak in faith—will not himself refuse them. Rom 14:1.
“God has granted even the Gentiles, repentance unto life.” Acts 11:18.
Repentance seems to be a bitter pill to take—but it is to purge out the bad humour of sin. By some Antinomian spirits it is cried down as a legal doctrine; but Christ himself preached it. “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent,” etc. Matt 4:17. In his last farewell, when he was ascending to heaven, he commanded that “Repentance should be preached in his name.” Luke 24:47.
Repentance is a pure gospel grace. The covenant of works would not admit of repentance; it cursed all who could not perform perfect and personal obedience. Gal 3:10. Repentance comes in by the gospel. It is the fruit of Christ’s purchase—that repenting sinners shall be saved. It is wrought by the ministry of the gospel, while it sets before our eyes Christ crucified. Repentance is not arbitrary—but necessary; there is no being saved without it. “Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.” Luke 13:3. We may be thankful to God that he has left us this plank, after shipwreck.
I. I shall show first the counterfeits of repentance.
(1) Natural softness and tenderness of spirit. Some have a tender affection, arising from their constitution, whereby they are apt to weep and relent when they see any object of pity. These are not repenting tears: for many weep to see another’s misery, who cannot weep at their own sin.
(2) Legal terrors. A man who has lived in a course of sin, at last is made sensible; he sees hell ready to devour him, and is filled with anguish and horror; but after a while the tempest of conscience is blown over, and he is quiet. He then concludes he is a true penitent, because he has felt some bitterness in sin—but this is not repentance. Judas had some trouble of mind. If anguish and trouble were sufficient for repentance, then the damned would be most penitent, for they are most in anguish of mind. There may be trouble of mind, where there is no grieving for the offence against God.
(3) A slight superficial sorrow. When God’s hand lies heavy upon a man, as when he is sick or lame, he may vent a sigh or tear, and say, “Lord, have mercy;” yet this is not true repentance. Ahab did more than all this. “He rent his clothes, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly.” 1 Kings 21:27. His clothes were rent— but not his heart. The eye may be watery, and the heart flinty. An apricot may be soft outside—but it has a hard stone within.
(4) God motions rising in the heart. Every good motion is not repentance. Some think, that if they have motions in their hearts to break off their sins, and become religious, that this is repentance. As the devil may stir up bad motions in the godly, so the Spirit of God may stir up good motions in the wicked. Herod had many good thoughts and inclinations stirred up in him by John Baptist’s preaching—yet he did not truly repent, for he still lived in incest.
(5) Vows and resolutions. What vows and solemn protestations do some make in their sickness, that if God should recover them— they will be new men—but afterwards they are as bad as ever! “You said, I will not transgress;” here was a resolution; “but for all this, she ran after her idols. “Under every green tree you wandered, playing the harlot.” Jer 2:20.
(6) Leaving off some gross sin.
(1) A man may leave off some sins, and keep others. Herod reformed many things which were amiss—but kept his Herodias.
(2) An old sin may be left—to entertain a new one. A man may leave off riot and prodigality, and turn covetous; which is merely to exchange one sin for another.
These are the counterfeits of repentance. Now, if you find that yours is a counterfeit repentance, and you have not repented aright, mend what you have done amiss. As in the body, if a bone is set wrong, the surgeon has no way but to break it again, and set it aright; so you must do by repentance; if you have not repented aright, you must have your heart broken again in a godly manner, and be more deeply afflicted for sin than ever.
II. This brings me to show wherein repentance consists. It consists in two things: humiliation and transformation.
(1) Humiliation. “If their uncircumcised hearts be humbled.” Lev 26:41. There is, as some say, a twofold humiliation, or breaking of
(1) Attrition; as when a rock is broken in pieces. This is done by the law, which is a hammer to break the heart.
(2) Contrition; as when ice is melted into water. This is done by the gospel, which is as a fire to “melt the heart.” Jer 23:9. The sense of abused kindness causes contrition.
(2) Transformation, or change. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Rom 12:2. Repentance works a change in the whole man. As when wine is put into a glass of water, it runs into every part of the water, and changes its colour and taste; so true repentance does not rest in one part—but diffuses and spreads itself into every part.
(1) Repentance causes a change in the mind. Before conversion, a man loves sin, and said in defence of it, as Jonah, “I do well to be angry;” chap 4:9; or I did well to swear, and break the Sabbath. When he becomes penitent, his judgment is changed, he looks upon sin as the greatest evil. The Greek word for repentance signifies after-wisdom; when, having seen how deformed and damnable a thing sin is, we change our mind. Paul, before conversion, truly thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus (Acts 26:9); but, when he became a penitent, he was of another mind. “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.” Phil 3:8. Repentance causes a change of judgment.
(2) Repentance causes a change in the affections, which move under the will as the commander-in-chief. It metamorphoses the affections. It turns rejoicing in sin into sorrowing for sin; it turns boldness in sin—into holy shame; it turns the love of sin—into hatred of sin. As Ammon hated Tamar more than ever he loved her (2 Sam 13:15), so the true penitent hates sin more than ever he loved it. “I hate every false way.” Psalm 119:104.
(3) Repentance works a change in the life. Though repentance begins at the heart, it does rest there—but goes into the life. It begins at the heart. “O Jerusalem, wash your heart.” Jer 4:14. If the spring is corrupt—no pure stream can run from it. But though repentance begins at the heart, it does not rest there—but changes the life. What a change did repentance make in Paul! It changed a persecutor into a preacher. What a change did it make in the jailer! Acts 16:33. He took Paul and Silas, and washed their stripes, and set food before them. What a change did it make in Mary Magdalene! She who before kissed her lovers with wanton embraces, now kisses Christ’s feet; she who used to curl her hair, and dress it with costly jewels, now makes it a towel to wipe Christ’s feet; her eyes that used to sparkle with lust, and with impure glances to entice her lovers, now become fountains of tears to wash her Savior’s feet; her tongue that used to speak vainly and loosely, now is an instrument set in tune to praise God. This change of life has two things in it:
(1) A breaking off sin. “Break off your sins by righteousness.” Dan 4:27. This breaking off sin must have three qualifications.
(1) The breaking off sin must be universal—a breaking off all sin. One disease may kill as well as more. One sin lived in, may damn as well as more. The real penitent breaks off secret, gainful, habitual sins; he takes the sacrificing knife of mortification, and runs it through the heart of his dearest lusts!
(2) The breaking off sin must be sincere; it must not be out of fear—but upon spiritual grounds; as from antipathy and disgust, and a principle of love to God. If sin had not such evil effects, a true penitent would forsake it out of love to God. The best way to separate things that are frozen, is by fire. When sin and the heart are frozen together, the best way to separate them is by the fire of love. Shall I sin against a gracious Father, and abuse that love which pardons me?
(3) The breaking off sin must be perpetual, so as never to have to do with sin any more. “What have I to do any more with idols?” Hos 14:8. Repentance is a spiritual divorce, which must be until death.
(2) Change of life has in it a returning unto the Lord. It is called “Repentance towards God.” Acts 20:21. It is not enough, when we repent, to leave old sins; but we must engage in God’s service; as when the wind leaves the west, it turns into a contrary corner. The repenting prodigal not only left his harlots—but arose and went to his father. Luke 15:18. In true repentance the heart points directly to God, as the needle to the north pole.
Use. Let us all set upon this great work of repentance; let us repent sincerely and speedily: let us repent of all our sins, our pride, rash anger, and unbelief. “Without repentance, no remission.” It is not consistent with the holiness of God’s nature to pardon a sinner while he is in the act of rebellion. O meet God, not with weapons— but tears in your eyes. To stir you up to a melting penitent frame:
(1) Consider what there is in sin, that you should continue in the practice of it. It is the “accursed thing.” Josh 7:11. It is the spirit of evil, distilled. It defiles the soul’s glory; it is like a stain to beauty. It is compared to a plague-sore. 1 Kings 8:38. Nothing so changes one’s glory into shame as sin. Without repentance sin tends to final damnation. “The moment of sin passes, the guilt remains.” Sin at first shows its colour in the glass—but afterwards it bites like a serpent. Those locusts in Rev 9:7, are an emblem of sin: “On their heads were crowns like gold, and they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions, and there were stings in their tails.” Sin unrepented of ends in tragedy. It has the devil for its father, shame for its companion, and death and damnation for its wages. Rom 6:23. What is there in sin then, that men should continue in it? Do no say that it is sweet. Who would desire the pleasure which kills?
(2) Repentance is very pleasing to God. There is no sacrifice, like a broken heart. “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17. Augustine caused this sentence to be written over his bed when he was sick. When the widow brought empty vessels to Elisha, the oil was poured into them. 2 Kings 4:6. Bring God the broken vessel of a contrite heart, and he will pour in the oil of mercy. Repenting tears are the joy of God and of angels. Luke 15:7. Doves delight to be about the waters; and surely God’s Spirit, who once descended in the likeness of a dove, takes great delight in the waters of repentance. Mary stood at Jesus’ feet weeping. Luke 7:38. She brought two things to Christ, tears and ointment; but her tears were more precious to Christ than her ointment.
(3) Repentance ushers in pardon. Therefore they are joined together. “Repentance and remission of sin.” Luke 24:47. Pardon of sin is the richest blessing; it is enough to make a sick man well. “The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people who dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.” Isa 33:24. Pardon settles upon us the richer charter of the promises. Pardoning mercy is the sauce which makes all other mercies relish the sweeter; it sweetens our health, riches, and honour. David had a crown of pure gold set upon his head. Psalm 21:3. That which David most blessed God for, was not that God had set a crown of gold upon his head—but that he had set a crown of mercy upon his head. “Who crowns you with mercies!” Psalm 103:4. What was this crown of mercy? You may see in ver 3: “Who forgives all your iniquities.” David more rejoiced that he was crowned with forgiveness, than that he wore a crown of pure gold. Now, what is it that makes way for pardon of sin—but repentance? When David’s soul was humbled and broken, the prophet Nathan brought him good news. “The Lord has put away your sin.” 2 Sam 12:13.
But my sins are so great, that if I should repent, God would not pardon them! God will not go from his promise. “Return, O backsliding Israel, says the Lord—and I will not cause my anger to fall upon you, for I am merciful.” Jer 3:12. If your sins are as rocks—yet upon your repentance, the sea of God’s mercy can drown them! “Wash yourselves and be clean!” Isa 1:16. Wash in the laver of repentance. “Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are as scarlet—they shall be as white as snow;” ver 18. Manasseh was a crimson sinner; but when he humbled himself greatly, the golden sceptre of mercy was held forth. When his head was a fountain to weep for sin—Christ’s side was a fountain to wash away sin. It is not the greatness of sin—but impenitence, which destroys. The Jews, who had a hand in crucifying Christ, upon their repentance found the blood they had shed, was a sovereign balm to heal them. When the prodigal came home to his father, he had the robe and the ring put upon him, and his “father kissed him.” Luke 15:20, 22. If you break off your sins, God will become a friend to you; all that is in God shall be yours; his power shall be yours, to help you; his wisdom shall be yours, to counsel you; his Spirit shall be yours, to sanctify you; his promises shall be yours, to comfort you; his angels shall be yours, to guard you; his mercy shall be yours, to save you.
(4) There is much sweetness in repenting tears. The soul is never more enlarged and inwardly delighted—than when it can melt kindly for sin. Weeping days are festival days. The Hebrew word to repent, signifies “to take comfort.” “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” John 16:20. Christ turns the water of tears into wine. David, who was the great mourner in Israel, was the sweet singer. And the joy which a true penitent finds, is a foretaste of the joy of paradise. The wicked man’s joy turns to sadness; the penitent’s sadness turns to joy. Though repentance seems at first to be thorny and bitter—yet from this thorn a Christian gathers grapes. All which considerations may open a vein of godly sorrow in our souls, that we may both weep for sin, and turn from it. If ever God restores comfort, it is to his mourners. Isa 57:18.
When we have wept, let us look up to Christ’s blood for pardon. Say, as that holy man, “Lord, wash my tears in your blood!” We drop sin with our tears, and need Christ’s blood to wash them.
This repentance must be not for a few days only, like the mourning for a friend, which is soon over—but it must be the work of our lives; godly sorrow must not be stopped until death. After sin is pardoned, we must repent. We run afresh upon the sore, “we sin daily, therefore must repent daily.” Some shed a few tears for sin; and when, like the widow’s oil, they have run awhile, they cease. Many, if the plaster of repentance begin to smart a little, pluck it off; whereas the plaster of repentance must still lie on, and not be plucked off until death, when, as all other tears, so these of godly sorrow shall be wiped away.
What shall we do to obtain a penitential frame of heart?
Seek to God for it. It is his promise to give a “heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26); and to pour on us a spirit of mourning. Zech 12:10. Beg God’s “Holy Spirit.” “He causes his wind to blow, and the waters flow.” Psalm 147:18. When the wind of God’s Spirit blows upon us, then the waters of repentant tears will flow from us.
The Word of God
The third way to escape the wrath and curse of God, and obtain the benefit of redemption by Christ, is the diligent use of ordinances, in particular, “the Word, sacraments, and prayer.”
I begin with the best of these ordinances.
The “Word . . . which effectually works in you who believe.” 1 Thess 2:13.
What is meant by the word’s working effectually?
The Word of God is said to work effectually when it has the good effect upon us, for which it was appointed by God; when it works powerful illumination and thorough reformation. “To open their eyes, and turn them from the power of Satan unto God.” Acts 26:18. The opening of their eyes denotes illumination; and turning them from Satan to God denotes reformation.
How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation.
This question consists of two branches.
How may the Word be read effectually?
That we may so read the Word that it may conduce effectually to our salvation,
(1) Let us have a reverend esteem of every part of Scripture.
“More to be desired are they than gold.” Psalm 19:10. Value the book of God above all other books. It is a golden epistle, written by the Holy Spirit, and sent to us from heaven. More particularly to raise our esteem, the Scripture is a spiritual looking-glass, to dress our souls by. It shows us more than we can see by the light of natural conscience. This may discover gross sins; but the glass of the Word shows us heart-sins, vain thoughts, unbelief, etc. It not only shows us our spots—but washes them away. The Scripture is an armoury, out of which we may fetch spiritual artillery to fight against Satan. When our Saviour was tempted by the devil, he fetched armour and weapons from Scripture; “it is written!” Matt 4:4, 7. The holy Scripture is a panacea, or universal medicine for the soul; it gives a recipe to cure deadness of heart, Psalm 119:50; pride, 1 Pet 5:5; and infidelity, John 3:36. It is a garden of remedies, where we may gather a herb or antidote to expel the poison of sin. The leaves of Scripture, like the leaves of the tree of life, are for the “healing of the nations.” Rev 22:2. Should not this cause a reverential esteem of the Word?
(2) If we would have the written Word effectual to our souls, let us peruse it with “intenseness of mind.” “Search the Scriptures.” John 5:39. The Greek word signifies to search as for a “vein of silver.” The Bereans “searched the Scriptures daily.” Acts 17:11. The word signifies to make a meticulous and critical search. Apollo was mighty in the Scriptures. Acts 18:24. Some gallop over a chapter in haste—and get no good by it. If we would have the Word effectual and saving, we must mind and observe every passage of Scripture. That we may be diligent in the perusal of Scripture, consider that the Scripture is “the only standard of conduct”—the rule and platform by which we are to square our lives. It contains in it all things needful to salvation; what duties we are to do, and what sins we are to avoid. Psalm 19:7. God gave Moses a pattern how he would have the tabernacle made; and he was to go exactly according to the pattern. Exodus 25:9. The Word is the pattern God has given us in writing, for modelling our lives. How careful, therefore, should we be in pursuing and looking over this pattern!
As the written Word is our pattern, so it will be our judge. “The Word that I have spoken—the same shall judge him at the last day.” John 12:48. We read of the opening of the books. Rev 20:12. One book which God will open is the book of the Scripture, and will judge men out of it. He will say, “Have you lived according to the rule of this Word?” The Word has a double work—to teach, and to judge.
(3) If we would have the written Word effectual, we must bring faith to the reading of it; believe it to be the Word of the eternal Jehovah. It comes with authority, and shows its commission from heaven. “Thus says the Lord!” It is of divine inspiration. 2 Tim 3:16. The oracles of Scripture must be surer to us than a voice from heaven. 2 Pet 1:18, 19. Unbelief enervates the virtue of Scripture, and renders it ineffectual. First men question the truth of the Scripture, and then fall away from it.
(4) If we would have the written Word effectual to salvation, we must delight in it as our spiritual cordial. “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight.” Jer 15:16. All true solid comfort is fetched out of the Word. The Word, as Chrysostom says, is a spiritual garden, and the promises are the fragrant flowers or spices in this garden. How should we delight to walk among these beds of spices! Is it not a comfort, in all dubious perplexed cases, to have a Counsellor to advise us? “Your testimonies are my counsellors.” Psalm 119:24, is it not a comfort to find our evidences for heaven? And where should we find them but in the Word? 1 Thess 1:4, 5. The Scripture is a sovereign elixir, or comfort, in an hour of distress. “Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles.” Psalm 119:50. It can turn all our “water into wine.” How should we take a great delight in the Word! They alone who come to the Word with delight, go from it with success.
(5) If we would have the Scripture effectual and saving, we must be sure, when we have read the Word, to hide it in our hearts. “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11. The Word, locked up in the heart, is a preservative against sin. Why did David hide the Word in his heart? “That I might not sin against you.” As one would carry an antidote with him when he comes near an infected place, so David carried the Word in his heart as a sacred antidote to preserve him from the infection of sin. When the sap is hid in the root, it makes the branches fruitful; when the seed is hid in the ground, the corn springs up; so, when the Word is hid in the heart, it brings forth good fruit.
(6) If we would have the written Word effectual, let us labour not only to have the light of it in our heads—but its power in our hearts! Let us endeavour to have it copied out, and written a second time in our hearts. “The law of his God is in his heart.” Psalm 37:31. The Word says, “Be clothed with humility.” 1 Pet 5:5. Let us be low and humble in our own eyes. The Word calls for sanctity. Let us labour to partake of the divine nature, and to have something conceived in us which is of the Holy Spirit. 2 Pet 1:4. When the Word is thus copied out into our hearts, and we are changed into its similitude, it is made effectual to us, and becomes a savour of life.
(7) When we read the holy Scriptures—let us look up to God for a blessing. Let us beg the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that we may see the “deep things of God.” Eph 1:17, 1 Cor 2:10. Ask God, that the same Spirit that wrote the Scripture would enable us to understand it. Pray that God would give us the “savour of his knowledge,” that we may relish a sweetness in the Word we read. 2 Cor 2:14. David tasted it as “sweeter than the honeycomb.” Psalm 19:10. Let us pray that God would not only give us his Word as a rule of holiness—but his grace as a principle of holiness!
How may we hear the Word that it may be effectual and saving to our souls?
(1) Give great attention to the Word preached. Let nothing pass, without taking special notice of it. “All the people were very attentive to hear him.” Luke 19:48. They hung upon his lips. “Lydia was listening. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul.” Acts 16:14. Give attention to the Word, as to a matter of life and death. For this purpose have a care to banish vain impertinent thoughts, which will distract yell, and take you off from the work in hand. These fowls will be coming to the sacrifice, therefore we must drive them away. Gen 15:2. An archer may take a right aim; but if one stands at his elbow, and jogs him when he is going to shoot, he will not hit the mark. Christians may have good aims in hearing; but take heed of impertinent thoughts which will jog and hinder you in God’s service!
Banish dullness. The devil gives many hearers a sleepy drug—so that they cannot keep their eyes open at a sermon. They eat so much on the Lord’s-day that they are more fit for the pillow and couch—than the temple! Frequent and customary sleeping at a sermon shows high contempt and irreverence of the ordinance. It gives a bad example to others; it makes your sincerity to be called in question; it is the devil’s seedtime. “While men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares.” Matt 13:25 O shake off drowsiness, as Paul shook off the viper! Be serious and attentive in hearing the Word. “For it is not a vain thing for you, it is your life.” Deut 32:47. When people do not mind what God speaks to them in his Word—God as little minds what they say to him in prayer!
(2) If you would have the Word preached effectual, come with a holy appetite to the Word. 1 Pet 2:2. The thirsting soul is the thriving soul. In nature one may have an appetite and no digestion; but it is not so in religion. Where there is a great appetite for the Word, there is for the most part good digestion. Come with hungering of soul after the Word, and desire it, that it may not only please you but profit you. Look not at the garnishing of the dish— more than at the food. Look not at eloquence and rhetoric—more than solid matter. It argues both a wanton palate—to feed on sweets and dainties rather than on wholesome food.
(3) If you would have the preaching of the Word effectual, come to it with tenderness upon your heart. “Because your heart was tender.” 1 Chron 22:5. If we preach to hard hearts, it is like shooting an arrow against a bronze wall—the Word does not enter. It is like setting a gold seal upon marble, which takes no impression. O come to the Word preached with a melting frame of heart! It is the melting wax, which receives the stamp of the seal; so, when the heart is in a melting frame, it will better receive the stamp of the preached Word. When Paul’s heart was melted and broken for sin, he cried, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” Acts 9:6. Do not come with hard hearts. Who can expect a crop when the seed is sown upon stony ground?
(4) If you would have the Word effectual, receive it with meekness. “Receive with meekness the ingrafted Word.” James 1:21. Meekness is a submissive frame of heart to the Word—a willingness to hear the counsels and reproofs of the Word. Contrary to this meekness, is fierceness of spirit, whereby men are ready to rise up in rage against the Word. Proud men, and guilty men, cannot endure to hear of their faults. Proud Herod put John in prison. Mark 6:17. The guilty Jews, being told of their crucifying Christ— stoned Stephen! Acts 7:59. To tell men of sin, is to hold a mirror to one that is deformed, who cannot endure to see his own face! Contrary to meekness—is stubbornness of heart, whereby men are resolved to hold fast their sins, let the Word say what it will. “We will burn incense unto the queen of heaven!” Jer 44:17. O take heed of this! If you would have the Word preached effectually, lay aside fierceness and stubbornness, and receive the Word with meekness. By meekness, the Word preached, comes to be ingrafted. As a good scion that is grafted in a bad stock changes the nature of the fruit and makes it taste sweet, so, when the Word is ingrafted into the soul, it sanctifies it, and makes it bring forth the sweet fruit of righteousness.