Project Canterbury

Sermons by the Late Rev. Cornelius R. Duffie, A.M.
Rector of St. Thomas' Church, New-York.
To which is Prefixed, A Memoir of the Author.

New York: T. and J. Swords, 1829.

Volume One

Sermon XI. On Repentance.

[A Sermon for Lent.]

St. Mark. i. 15. Repent ye, and believe the Gospel.

IN a recent discourse on the subject of repentance, the nature of that duty, and the reasonableness of its requisitions, were fully pointed out. It was then shown that repentance, originating in a change of the judgment, the will, and the affections, implies a careful review of our past transgressions, an humble confession of them, a deep sense of their guilt, and a true sorrow for them, as offences committed against God; that it is accompanied by a sincere determination to reform; and is perfected in the actual amendment of the life. This is as well our interest as our duty; and its result is peace of mind, desire of reconciliation to God, and a hope of his favour and blessing.

[146] To believe the Gospel is a duty which accompanies that of repentance, and by those who truly repent, the Gospel, which tells of pardon through an Almighty Saviour, will be gladly and heartily embraced. The sense of their own sinfulness, and the dangers they have escaped, their fear of offending, and their own inability to stand upright; all these considerations will turn their views of justification from themselves. They will be solicitous for some surer support than their own imperfect works. They will desire a better righteousness than their own merit, their own good resolutions, or even their own repentance. And if sincere, they will gladly flee for refuge, to lay hold upon the hope set before them in the Gospel. And this is the ground and the beginning of a Christian faith. As to both repentance and faith, however, it is constantly to be recollected that they are not merely speculative acts of the mind. It is scarcely to be believed how great a degree of practical irreligion may consist with a great degree of speculative regret, and of speculative belief. Of the devils, it is said, they believe and tremble. The Jews believed the miracles of our Saviour, and they took away his life; and Felix continued in his sins, although he found his understanding entirely convinced by the reasoning of St. Paul. Indeed the world is full of instances of persons who are sorry for their sins, but who do not reform; and of those who [146/147] are convinced of their danger, but who are not persuaded to be Christians. Admit such into the number of those who are spiritually safe, and we include alike the most worldly and the most criminal of our race. Admit such to the hope of salvation, and we contradict the words of Scripture, that men must be converted, that they must be renewed in the spirit of their minds; we falsify our Saviour's declaration, "Strait is the gate, and narrow the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it;" for by such admissions we would open the gate to all. No! repentance, to avail, must show forth its reality by the fruits of reformation; and faith, to avail, must work by love, purify the heart, and control the life.

The Gospel requires of all who truly embrace and would effectually profit by it, that turning from their transgressions, they return to God; that offering unto him all their heart, and all their soul, and all their strength, they reserve nothing for the world, for their passions, nor for their sins; that denying themselves, they take up their cross daily, and follow their Saviour; and when they have done all, disclaiming all righteousness of their own, that as unprofitable servants, they present before God only the merits and intercession of his Son, in whom he is well pleased. Such is the repentance, and such the faith, which will prepare us for the kingdom of God. Neither [147/148] are they arbitrary requirements, which we may dispense with and be safe. Many to whom repentance is irksome, and who know nothing of that faith which worketh by love, dare to rest upon a vague hope of God's mercy. They think that God is too good to cast them off for ever; and although they know that his word requires both repentance and faith from all who would enter into his kingdom, yet they presume to believe that he will not be strict; that he will dispense with his own terms, as easily as they have dispensed with them; and that without their possessing either of the qualifications which he has prescribed, he will, in mere mercy, save their souls.

To those, my brethren, who are relying upon such a dependence, it might be enough to refer to the plain assertion of Scripture, that "God is not a man that he should lie, nor the Son of man that he should repent." Hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? But exclusive of the truth of God's declaration and threatening, without repentance and faith, men cannot enter into the kingdom of God; because without them they have not that moral fitness which he requires. God is infinitely holy, and nothing impure can come into his presence. "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." And shall a sinner, he who will pot hate his evil ways so as to repent of them, [148/149] nor be sorry so as to renounce them; shall he, trampling upon the requisitions of God, hope to be pitied for iniquities which he loves, and pardoned for impurity which he cherishes? And when God has opened a fountain for sin and for uncleanness, shall he who refuses to be made clean, and counts the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, shall he be permitted to mar the happiness, to sully the holiness of heaven, by bringing thither his sinful dispositions, with which he would not part, rather than be permitted to suffer the punishment of which he was explicitly forewarned?

Grant that this were possible in the abounding grace of God; even yet there would be an obstacle to the admission of the impenitent into heaven; for if admitted, they would not be happy there. Does the profligate and abandoned man seek his pleasure in the company of the good? Does the corrupt, unsanctified, and polluted man enjoy the society of the righteous, whose very presence is odious to him, and whose virtue is his reproach and his shame? No, my brethren, it cannot be. It is, therefore, essential, in the very nature of things, that sin be avoided, renounced, and overcome, before we can be admitted into heaven, where all is light, and purity, and perfection. Repentance, then, is a part of salvation; and he who sees his own character, and the character of God, as they really exist, the [149/150] one tarnished and polluted, the other infinitely pure and exalted, will not rest satisfied until he find that his nature is becoming conformed to the image of all perfection; that he is transformed by the renewing of his mind, and is daily growing meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light. To effect this purpose, the Holy Spirit is promised to abide with the Church of God for ever, and its special and purifying influences are granted to the prayer of every Christian. By his operations upon our heart we grow in grace; we are constantly nourished and strengthened in holiness; we go on to perfection; we attain to the full stature of men in Christ. Still, because we cannot renounce our nature, nor destroy its inherent sinfulness and corruption, because our best works are imperfect, and full of error, and because even if perfect they are but our bounden duty, and can never take away sin; faith comes in to carry up our hopes of acceptance, of pardon, and of eternal life, to that great High Priest, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.

Such, my brethren, are the obligations to repentance and faith; such the scheme of justification, on which is founded that hope of life and immortality which the Gospel brings to light. This Gospel is offered to all men. And all men, if they will, may find it the power of God unto [150/151] salvation. Who, then, can reject the Gospel, and be either wise or safe 1 Look at the lofty animating rewards which belong to those who believe and obey it. In every situation they possess the favour of him who has all power committed to him in heaven and on earth. In their afflictions they have his consolation and support; in their fears his faithfulness and his love; in their wants his providence; in their sickness his soothing care. Amidst all the changes and chances of this mortal life, they are defended by his most gracious and ready help. In their weakness they are upheld by his strength. In their inability to serve him aright, they have the aids of his gracious Spirit; in all their wanderings his reclaiming hand; in the sense of their sinfulness and corruption, his Sacrifice, his merits, and his intercession. In death they have the support of his presence; in the grave, his watchfulness over their sleeping dust; in the resurrection, the assurance of a glorious and an incorruptible body; in the day of judgment, the sentence of his approbation and reward; and through all eternity, being made like God, they are privileged to see him as he is. What prevents all men from realizing these benefits of the Gospel, since it is commanded to be preached to every creature? What prevents any individual from entering into the kingdom of heaven, when Jesus Christ has tasted death for every man, and given himself a ransom for all? [151/152] Nothing can be a hinderance but sin, of which we are required to repent, and which it is equally our interest and our duty to avoid and to subdue. What hinders us from subduing it, but the love of it? And whether this will be received as an excuse by a righteous Judge, whether it will not of itself exclude us from the pure bliss of heaven, we have already questioned; and every one for himself may readily make answer to his reason and to his conscience. As yet the day of grace is extended, and men are allowed space to repent and believe the Gospel. As yet the doors of heaven are spread open, and all men are invited to enter in. The terrors of the Lord sleep in forbearance, that men may be persuaded and allured to righteousness. Jesus Christ has banished from the throne of the eternal, the angry lightnings which would terrify the sinner in his approach. He has silenced the roaring of those thunders which would appal the guilty soul; and mingling the gentle beams of mercy with the splendors of omnipotence, he yet invites the penitent to safety, to protection, and to peace. But though God in mercy suffers the sinner to live, he approves not, nor sanctions his crimes. Though he waits to be gracious, he is angry with the wicked every day. And if a man will not turn, he will whet his sword, he hath bent his bow and made it ready; he hath prepared for him the instruments of death.

[153] Plain though narrow is the path which leadeth unto life. Repentance is the strait gate by which we enter upon it. There is forgiveness with God for the chief of sinners, when they acknowledge and forsake their sins; but he pardons no sin that is not repented of and abandoned. There is grace sufficient for all our need, and strength equal to our day, to enable us to overcome all temptations, and lead a pious life; and both repentance and grace are freely granted on the faithful use of the appointed means.

My brethren, is it not well, at this season of deep religious self-examination, to inquire, Have we repented of our sins, or do we still retain them? God himself, as we have seen, will not save those who refuse to repent. He offers the benefits of redemption to all; but on condition of repentance. With yourselves, then, lies your destiny. True, the Scriptures tell us that repentance is the gift of Christ, for "God hath exalted him to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins." But he gives both freely, "without money and without price." He waiteth to be gracious. Only "let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." He is merciful, and with him is plenteous redemption; and his invitation is, "Ask and ye shall receive; seek, [153/154] and ye shall find." And he has given his promise, "That whosoever cometh unto him, he will in no wise cast out."

I repeat it; the path, though narrow, is plain. The offer of pardon is not less intelligible than free. It requires no deep read learning, no profound philosophy, no nice discrimination, to settle its meaning. An honest mind, and sincere heart, will be at no loss to understand the message. Repent, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out. Yield to the influences of God's Spirit, and do his will. Banish your sins, lest you perish in them. Abandon them, or abide their consequences. Our salvation is thus reduced to this single point. Will we, by God's grace offered, forsake our evil habits and desires, and cast ourselves upon his mercy in Jesus Christ? Or will we resist his Spirit, cling to our sins, defy his power, and hazard his wrath? If the latter be our decision, then his holiness, his justice, his truth, all forbid us to indulge any expectation of being saved; for all these attributes must be changed; in other words, God must cease to be God, before he can "look upon sin with allowance," or by any means clear the guilty." To the impenitent and unbelieving, "God is a consuming fire;" and they will find, too late, that they have but deceived themselves, who thought to be saved while they continued in sin. Nor is it necessary to this melancholy result that a formal [154/155] decision to disobey God should be made, or expressed. The continuance in a wicked course of life, whether it proceeds from neglect of the great salvation, from a postponement of reformation to a more convenient season, or from habitual forgetfulness of God, involves the same danger, and if persisted in, must experience the same bitter retribution of "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish."

Now, before the heart be hardened, before the day of salvation be past, before death suddenly take hold upon us, now is the accepted time, the day of salvation, the proffered opportunity to escape. There is not one before me for whom the Saviour did not shed his blood. There is not one whom he would not gladly receive to the arms of his mercy. There is not one over whose repentance the angels of heaven would not rejoice. And of all those who by their own neglect or hardihood will finally be lost, there is not one, but who, at his dying hour, or at the day of judgment, will blame only his own folly, blindness, and guilt. And when our day of salvation is gone, what will console us under the bitter recollection that we might have been saved, if we had forsaken our sins? And what will support us at that hour, when earthly joys, which we now pursue, being no longer in our power, the grave only is before us, in which are silence, and darkness, and the shadow of death? And when we [155/156] reflect how uncertain the hour of death is to all, how near it may be to some, is it not wise now to abandon the fleeting and imperfect pleasures of sin, in order to secure true pleasures for evermore? Does he who promises everlasting felicity at his own right hand, demand an unreasonable service in requiring us to live soberly, righteously, and godly now, in the expectation of that glorious hope? And will not their shame and folly be equal to their misery and guilt, who will not come to Jesus Christ that they might have life? But if, my brethren, you now perceive your folly and your danger, reform your lives by a true repentance. If now you feel even the incipient wish to amend, encourage the good desire; cherish its first beginnings; cultivate the influences of God's Spirit; look out for the coming of his mercy, as the watcher for the dawning of the day; nourish the feeble spark of piety, as that which is to light you to the courts of heaven. Remember, if it expire, you die. Watch it, therefore, and fan it, as you value your immortal happiness. Call upon God in faith, and pray that he will kindle it into a purifying flame. "He will not quench the smoking flax." Your prayer, your diligence, will avail. Your heart will be converted. Your election will be made sure. Your soul will be saved.

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