“Repent ye, and believe the gospel.”—Mark i. 15.
Divine dispensations to the church, whether of mercy or of judgment, should excite her members to the exercise of godliness. As this should be the fruit of all those private and personal providences, by which we receive good or evil at the hand of the Lord; so his public providences to the church, of either kind, should produce on us the same effect. As the saints are called to live by faith, the sure prospect of the church’s trials and deliverances, on the warrant of the word of God, ought to lead them to religious exercises. Without this, Christians will be unprepared for those sad or joyful events when they occur; but, in this frame of mind, they will be enabled, under the former, to be patient in tribulation, and under the latter, to praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men. In our text, the Lord Jesus informed men of that change which he would effect, by his coming into the world. He would put an end to that season of imperfection, darkness, and spiritual bondage; and would introduce among men a time of light, liberty, and reformation. The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. That the generation might be prepared for that important alteration, he calls them to such religious duties as would be a mean of making them ready for those Divine providences, by which this change should be accomplished. Repent ye, and believe the gospel. As our circumstances are very similar to those of the Jews, when Christ began his public ministry among them; the exhortation which he addressed to them, must be peculiarly suited to us. At all times, and in every condition, Christ’s exhortation is adapted to the situation of his followers; but when the church is approaching to that crisis, when Antichrist’s reign shall be fulfilled, and when the millennial kingdom of God is at hand, the Christians of this generation should apply to themselves, the Redeemer’s warning call, Repent ye, and believe the gospel. The duties which are comprehended in this command are very many; but their number does not exceed their necessity and importance. It is usual in the Scriptures to exhibit many profitable duties in a few particulars, and sometimes in those which are mentioned in the text. In a most solemn and farewell address to the Elders of Ephesus, Paul declares the grand substance of the gospel he had preached; “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” Acts XX. 21. The great Teacher, who came from God, exemplified this in our text. Repent ye, and believe the gospel. Let us now proceed to the
V. General branch of our subject. To state the Christian’s duty at the present time, by shewing what is included in Christ’s command, Repent ye, and believe the gospel.
1. This command requires of us a proper knowledge of the objects, about which faith and repentance are versant. Repentance has a relation to sin, and faith has a respect to the gospel. A knowledge of sin is necessary to our exercising repentance, and an understanding of the gospel is requisite to our believing it. Repentance, therefore, has a relation to our transgressions. None of God’s rational creatures can be the subjects of repentance, but those who have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. A superficial knowledge of sin cannot be a sufficient foundation for genuine repentance. It is that understanding of it, which is conveyed into the soul, by the light of God’s word, and the operation of the Divine Spirit. The precepts and threatenings of the holy law are, by Divine agency, powerfully applied to the sinner’s conscience, when the person obtains that knowledge of sin, that is followed by true repentance. They know it in its evil nature, as it is an act of rebellion against the authority and law of the King eternal, as it is hateful in his sight, and as it is infinitely dishonouring to him. They see it in its guilt and demerit as it exposes them to Divine wrath, to the curse of the law, and to everlasting punishment. They discern its pollution as it defiles all the faculties of their souls, the members of their bodies, and all their religious duties. They experience that power which it exercises over them, and from which they cannot deliver themselves. They are convinced of the sin of their nature, of their thoughts, words, and actions. They obtain such discoveries of their sin, as constrain them to say, “Innumerable evils have compassed me about; mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head ; therefore my heart faileth me.”—Faith has for its object the glorious gospel, the knowledge of which is necessary to our believing it. True Christians know the gospel, by the light of the Divine word shining into their hearts, by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ. They know it as a revelation of Divine grace and mercy to sinners through the Lord Jesus. The substance of it is declared in the angelic message, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke ii. 10. They perceive it to be a display of Divine love to men, in the gift of his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. They know the gospel as a revelation and offer to them of our Lord Jesus Christ, in his person, as he is God and man; in his office as he is the Mediator between God and man; in his righteousness, which he brought in by his obedience, sufferings and death ; in his fulness of Spirit and grace for supplying all his people’s wants; and in his everlasting salvation, which he will bestow on those who trust in him. They know the gospel as a revelation of the holy Spirit who quickens, enlightens, sanctifies, and comforts believers in the ways of godliness. Without this knowledge of the gospel, none can believe it to the saving of their souls.
2. The duty which Christ enjoins includes a knowledge of the nature of saving faith, and evangelic repentance. Those who have obtained the precious faith of God’s elect, have a scriptural knowledge of it; and those who are blessed with repentance unto life, are enabled to understand it. They know the grace of faith in its nature and actings. In its nature they see it to be a supernatural principle implanted in their heart, and in its actings they find it is a compliance with the whole revelation of Divine grace in Christ, for the salvation of their souls. Christ, and the grace of God in him are the great substance of the gospel. Those who are enabled, with all their hearts, to exercise an holy complacency, in the grace of God reigning through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord, do believe the gospel. Faith in its actings is a receiving Christ, an embracing him in all his offices, a coming to him by a motion of the soul, a looking to him by the eye of the mind, a resting on him, and a trusting in him with the whole heart, for enjoying all the blessings that are contained in the promises of God. This faith ultimately receives and rests on God the Father for the enjoyment of all salvation, through the mediation of his dear Son, By him do the saints believe in God who raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that their faith and hope might be in God.—They have also a scriptural knowledge of true repentance. They find that the actings of that grace in them, are as various, necessary and important, as are the actings of their faith. Having obtained a sight of the evil nature of their sin, having searched into their transgressions in heart and life, and having seen themselves to be guilty, miserable and lost sinners; they accuse and condemn themselves, they mourn over their sin, they afflict their souls before the Lord on account of their iniquity, they confess it to God in all its aggravation, they acknowledge their desert of everlasting punishment, they hate sin with a perfect hatred, more for what it is in itself than for its consequences to them, they justify the Divine law, both in its precept and penalty, they look to the mercy of God through Christ’s atonement for pardon, and they endeavour to fear God and avoid evil. In these spiritual exercises of the heart, believers are assured, that the grace of repentance does consist.
3. The Saviour’s command includes an understanding of the way, in which a sinner is enabled to repent, and to believe the gospel. By the grace of God in Christ, provision is made for causing sinners obtain faith and repentance. Christians, who truly repent of their sin, and believe the gospel, are assured that they have not, by their own power, produced in themselves those precious exercises. Convinced that they are by nature children of wrath, and dead in trespasses and sins, they will cheerfully confess, that they have received them from above. Repentance is the gift of God. “And when they heard these things they held their peace, and glorified God, saying. Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” Acts xi. 18, To all who enjoy this precious grace it is the gift of the Divine Saviour. “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Acts v. 31. Faith is also the gift of God. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Eph. ii. 8. It is likewise the gift and purchase of Christ: “For to you it is given in the behalf of Christ, to believe on him.” Phil. i. 29. The efficient cause of faith and repentance, and of their exercise in the soul, is stated in that great and precious promise, Zech. xii. 10. “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplications; and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one is in bitterness for his first-born.” Faith and repentance are bestowed on sinners as the free gift of God’s grace, through the merit and satisfaction of Christ, and by the power of the holy Spirit operating on them, through the instrumentality of the word. Their renewed exercise in the saints is produced in the same way. Faith and repentance are planted in the hearts of men at the same time, when they are blessed with the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. The renovated soul exercises faith in Christ first in the order of nature, and evangelic repentance necessarily follows. When the Spirit of grace is poured on the soul, the person first looks, by an act of faith, on Jesus whom he has pierced by his sins, and then he mourns and is in bitterness for the transgressions which he has committed against him. The exercise of faith on Christ, by receiving and resting on him according to the gospel offer and call, is necessary to interest us in him; and a saving interest in Jesus is necessary to our evangelic repentance. Of whatever nature the repentance of men may be, there is a faith of the same kind which must so before it. A legal repentance cannot exist in any person without a legal faith, or a belief of the law, both in its precept and threatening, with an application of it to the person’s own conscience, Nor can there be an evangelic repentance in the hearts of men, till they exercise faith in the gospel, and in him whom it reveals to them, as a Saviour from guilt and punishment.
4. The Saviour’s injunction requires of us an earnest concern and endeavour to be possessed of faith and repentance. When we are convinced of the excellency of those spiritual principles, a desire to enjoy them will fill our minds. This desire will excite in us a concern to obtain them; and this concern will constrain us to use every appointed mean, that we may receive power from on high to repent, and to believe the gospel. Sensible of our need of those saving graces, convinced of our inability to produce them in ourselves, and encouraged by the promise of God in Christ Jesus to bestow them on us, will bow our knees before God’s throne, and cry to him, that he may fulfil in us the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power. Fixing our attention on the Divine promise to pour on us the Spirit of grace and supplication, that we may look on him, and mourn for sin, we will plead for its accomplishment to us, through the mediation of his dear Son. Reading and meditation on the Divine word belong to those exertions which we should make, that we may obtain faith and repentance. Since the word of God is the mean by which the Spirit implants them in our hearts, searching the Scriptures, and thinking on them, must be adapted to our condition. Hearing the gospel preached to us is another mean for attaining the same end. God has often bestowed on sinners faith and repentance, and has revived the exercise of them in the saints, by this holy ordinance. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. In Peter’s sermon to the multitude on the day of Pentecost, this was exemplified: “Now, when they heard this, they were pricked in their hearts, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the Apostles, Men and Brethren, what shall we do?” Acts ii. 37. Attending on the ordinance of a preached gospel, they were both filled with conviction of sin, and excited to ask for the way of salvation. Peter directs them to repentance, and to faith in Jesus Christ; the former is expressly mentioned, and the latter is included in their being baptised in his name, for the remission of sin. He also presents to them the gospel encouragement; “For the promise is to you, and to »your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Those who comply with ‘Christ’s command, are not indifferent to those important concerns; but they endeavour to use every mean, that they may obtain from God saving faith, and repentance unto Spiritual and eternal life. Having been stirred up to this diligence in the use of the means, they will endeavour to believe, and to repent, to stretch out the withered hand, to come to Christ, to mourn for their sin, and to express before God their willingness and desire to be debtors to his grace in Christ, for salvation. While under this concern, and while using those endeavours, the Spirit comes to the soul, and takes up his abode there, and produces in the heart saving faith, and true repentance. The person is then enabled to believe in the Lord Jesus for eternal life, and to pour out his soul in godly sorrow for sin, which worketh repentance unto salvation, not to be repented of.
5. This command requires of us an habitual desire and endeavour, to live in the exercise of faith and repentance. Divine grace in the heart, being a living and active principle, must have its daily exercise. In its principle, it is in the soul a well of water; and in its exercise, by the Spirit’s influence, it springeth up into everlasting life. The command, repent ye, and believe the gospel, expresses, the, habitual frame of the Redeemer’s children. At no time are Christians exempted from. the obligation of this command, to exercise faith and repentance; and at no time should they neglect those exercises. With the being of grace in his soul, no believer will be satisfied; but he will desire also the exercise of grace. The glory of God, the honour of Christ, and the comfort of his own soul are connected with the exercise of the believer’s grace. This exercise consists in that believing and penitent frame, which the saints should habitually endeavour to maintain. To be thus spiritually minded is life and peace. The life that Paul lived in the flesh, was by the faith of the Son of God, who loved him, and gave himself for him. It was Hezekiah’s resolution to go softly all his years, in the bitterness of his soul. The whole time of the Believer’s sojourning in this world, should be passed in the fear of God. Since sin still dwells in believers, and in thought, word, and action, they are daily transgressing the law of the God of their salvation; repentance, humility, godly sorrow and confession of sin should constitute a part of their habitual exercise. Since the object of faith is still presented to them in the word, and the call to believe is recorded there; a believing improvement of that object should be their daily study. In all religious duties, a believing and penitent frame of Spirit should be exercised. Without this, we will worship God with our mouth, and honour him with our lips, while our hearts, by the want of the exercise of grace in them, will be far removed from him. When the saints are enabled to perform duties in the exercise of grace, they worship God, who is a Spirit, in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him. It is the will of the Lord Jesus, that his people persevere continually in a penitent and believing frame, and they do not fulfil his will, nor obey his command, when this is not their earnest study.
6. Christ’s command extends to that concern which Christians should have, that the evidence of their faith and repentance may be ever clear to their minds. The grace of God, in the souls of his people, has not its exercise only, but it has its evidence also. By this the believer knows that he is possessed of saving faith, and that to him God has granted repentance unto life. This must be a very comfortable attainment. A delight in the word of God, an attachment to religious ordinances, hatred of sin, the study of true holiness, an earnest concern for the dissemination of the knowledge of God among men, a love to the saints, an inclination to think and converse about religion, and a desire that God may be glorified by themselves and others are some of the evidences of the truth of our faith, and of the sincerity of our repentance. Those who have attained to these things and exercise themselves in them with their whole heart’s desire, exhibit satisfactory evidences that they, by Divine grace, have become penitent and believing saints. To have the word of Christ dwelling in us richly, to know in our experience, that it is good for us to draw near to God in the ordinances of Divine worship, to cleanse ourselves from the filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God are distinguishing: characters of penitent believers. To desire that the knowledge of God may fill the earth, to account the saints to be the excellent ones of the earth in whom is all our delight, to take pleasure in thinking and in talking of his doings, and to rejoice when God is glorified among men, will also prove that those, who are the subjects of these exercises, are the children of the living God. To endeavour to cultivate those dispositions, and to apply them as evidences of the truth of our faith and repentance, must be our indispensable duty. By the former we lay up stores of evidences of the truth of our grace, and by the other we bring them forth as proofs of the reality of our personal religion. If we become negligent in the one, we will soon find that we are empoverished as to the other. We must, therefore, exercise ourselves unto godliness, that the evidences of the reality of our faith and repentance may abound in us. It is by self examination that those evidences are brought forth and applied, for ratifying this important matter. For this duty we have a Divine warrant: “Examine yourselves whither ye be in the faith; prove your ownselves; know ye not your ownselves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates,” or disapproved of God, 2 Cor, xiii. 5. When Christians engage in this duty, and enjoy the Spirit’s witnessing with their spirits, that they are the children of God, they will be enabled to discern in themselves those religious exercises, which demonstrate that they are believing penitents. Christ’s command, repent ye, and believe the gospel, reaches even unto this; that Christians should diligently study all the parts of religious exercises, and that they apply every one of them, in self-examination, as evidences for confirming and comforting their hearts, in the knowledge of the truth of their faith and repentance.
7. This command also requires, that believers endeavour to reap the fruits, and to enjoy the blessings, which flow from the persevering and spiritual exercise of their faith and repentance. Those gracious principles have not their evidences only; but fruits and blessings accompany them, to the Divine glory and to the saint’s benefit. This call, repent and believe the gospel, must certainly require the saint’s endeavour to enjoy the effects of the principle, and of the exercise of grace, in his own heart. An increase of true holiness in the Christian, is one of those effects. The actings of faith and repentance are special parts of inward holiness. As their exercise in the soul has an influence on love to God, on hope in him, on reverence and Godly fear, and on humility, patience and resignation, all the parts of inward holiness are, in some degree, the fruits of their exercise. The believer’s outward holiness, which consists in holy words and actions, flowing from the inward exercises of the soul, are, on this account, the effects of the operation of faith and repentance.—Spiritual joy and comfort belong to those fruits which flow from a believing and penitent frame of soul. “Whom having not seen ye love, in whom though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Strong consolation is enjoyed by those, who, in a penitential and believing frame, have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them. We are also assured, that those who sow in the tears of believing penitence, shall reap in joy. Jesus also has said, “Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.”—Spiritual establishment in the ways of God is a part of that fruity which the exercise of faith and repentance is instrumental in producing. By the exercise of those graces, believers become more confirmed in their holy principles, practices, and profession. They are rooted and grounded in the faith, and settled, and have their fruit unto holiness, and their end everlasting life. By a believing and penitent frame, believers are more delivered from doubts and fears, from uncertainty and wavering, from unbelief and hardness of heart. By these exercises, also they become more confirmed in the faith and hope of the gospel.—Victory over Satan and the world is also a fruit of their exercise. “Above all, taking, the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” With this exhortation of Paul, that of Peter harmoniously agrees; “Whom resist stedfast in the faith.” As the believer, by this frame, is enabled to vanquish Satan; so he is made to triumph over the world by the same exercise. This is contained in those words of John; “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God.” While those believers who are negligent in the exercise of their faith and repentance, will be overcome by their spiritual enemies; those who live in the daily exercise of them, will be enabled to tread on the lion and adder, the young lion and the dragon shall they trample under their feet.—Spiritual and heavenly mindedness must also be a part of those fruits, which proceed from a believing and repenting frame of soul. The exercise of those graces, under the influence of the Spirit, brings spiritual and heavenly objects into the mind, fixes the heart on them, causes the Christian seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God, and enables him to set his affections on things above» and not on the things of the earth.—Of those exercises holy confidence In God through Christ, when the believer is under trouble, and in the prospect of death, will be the happy fruit. When the believer’s faith and repentance are in exercise, he will be joyful in hope, and patient in tribulation. Privileged with the influences of the Spirit, and affected with God’s word, the Christian, exercised in a penitent and believing frame, will be enabled to say, “O death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory?” Christ’s command, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel,” lays an obligation on his people, to persevere in those exercises, till they have gathered up all those blessed fruits which are instrumentally produced by that faith which is of the operation of God, and by that repentance which is unto everlasting life.
8. Christ’s command requires that his people exercise their faith and repentance, concerning that change, which he is accomplishing on the earth. This exhortation is connected with that information which is contained in the preceding part of the text. Christ had assured them that the time was fulfilled, and that the kingdom of God was at hand; and, in consequence of this he exhorts them, to repent, and to believe the gospel, The Information has a connexion with the advice, both as a motive to excite them to faith and repentance, and as a rule to guide them in those exercises. He called them to repent and to believe the gospel, because the time was fulfilled, and the kingdom of God was at hand; and they were to exercise those dispositions relative to the operations which they saw, and to the change that they expected. “Repent ye;” Be convinced of your own sins, mourn for them, pray for pardon, confess and forsake them; Be convinced of the imperfection even of those Divine ordinances, under which your fathers have lived, and of the sinfulness of those vain traditions which they have added to those ordinances, and which you have foolishly observed. Be affected with the sin, the idolatry, the darkness, and the misery of those nations who know not God, and call not on his name. “Believe the gospel;” Be ye persuaded that the times of ignorance and imperfection are now come to an end; and that the New Testament kingdom, which shall be extended to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews, will immediately appear. Believe the gospel which I preach to you, and which my servants shall proclaim among men; and embrace the revelation of mercy to miserable sinners through my death, in which I will give my life a ransom for many. In like manner, we are called to exercise faith and repentance, with respect to the things that are promised, and are coming to pass in our own days, improving them both as a motive to animate, and as a rule to direct us in those exercises. God is now calling us to believe that the day is approaching, when the dark and dreary times of popery and wickedness are coming to an end, and that his millennial kingdom will soon be established. The predicted events which relate both to the fall of the Redeemer’s enemies, and to the advancement of his church must be the objects of our faith and hope. The things that are foretold concerning the illumination and conversion of the nations, and the recovery and salvation of Israel, will also be most assuredly believed, by all those who possess this precious faith. As those predictions exhibit objects of faith and hope, so the moral condition of those to whom they relate, furnish us with abundant causes of godly sorrow and repentance. Our own personal transgressions, the sins of God’s church, the wickedness of Christ’s enemies, the iniquities of the darkened parts of the earth, and the provocations of God’s ancient people, as they are dishonouring to God and ruinous to immortal souls, will humble the pious Christian to the dust, will cause will pour out his soul in confession before God, will draw the tear of godly sorrow from his eyes, and will excite him to pray for mercy in Christ to himself, to other’s, and to the church of God. Since God, in his holy word, has revealed such things as these, without the belief of which the gospel itself cannot be believed, let the consideration both of the joyful and of the awful things that are approaching, animate us to study a penitent and believing exercise of soul, under a conviction that Christ is now saying to us, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”
With some inferences, taken from this part of the method in itself, and in its connexion with the other heads of the doctrine, I shall conclude this subject.
1. From it we may learn the knowledge of those things, in which the exercise of true and undefiled religion does consist. It does not consist in an outward profession of the gospel, in an external observation of Divine ordinances, in visible circumspection of moral conduct, or in great pretensions to Christian knowledge and piety, by the words of the mouth. Commendable as these things are, they may be found in those who are destitute of true religion, who have the form of godliness, and who know nothing of its power. True religion consists in the exercise of saving faith, and evangelical repentance. Without these, there cannot be any real religion, in fallen man. Christ’s own words prove the necessity of those gracious dispositions and exercises, “He that believeth not shall be damned. Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Salvation is impossible, to an unbelieving and impenitent person. Those who shall be saved, are possessed of true faith, and sincere repentance; and they endeavour to live in the exercise of repentance, toward God, and of faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the life and exercise of the saints. They have got such discoveries of sin, as constrain then to repent; and such views of the gospel, as induce them to believe it. They have got such a view of the nature and actings of faith and repentance, as makes them desire to possess them, and endeavour to exercise them continually. They are blessed with a scriptural knowledge of him, who is both the bountiful giver, and the glorious object of their faith. They know the means of obtaining and exercising these graces in their hearts, they know their evidences and their fruits, by all which they are filled with an earnest desire, that, by the exercise of faith and repentance, they may live godly in Christ Jesus. By repenting of sin, they have frequent thoughts of the law, both in its precepts and threatenings; and by believing in Christ, their attention is often directed to the gospel, in its doctrines and promises. In the one they see their ruin by sin, and mourn, and turn from it; and in the other they see their recovery by Christ Jesus, and joyfully trust in him for everlasting life. By the Spirit’s influence, and by the exercise of grace in them, they are led to the law that wounds them, and to the gospel that heals them; to sin that is the cause of their misery, and to Christ who of God is made unto them wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. By all those things do believers live, “and in every one of them is the life of their spirits. Seek earnestly a saving acquaintance with faith and repentance, endeavour to exercise them daily, and carefully preserve your minds from a doubting and hardened frame. Frequently meditate on the law, and the gospel; on your sin, and on the Saviour from sin. Inquire daily into the frame of your hearts about those objects. Employ yourselves in mourning and in repenting of sin, and in believing m Christ, in receiving him and walking in him.
2. From what was said we may see the evil and the aggravations of impenitence and unbelief. Christ having said to the people. Repent ye, and believe the gospel, they were laid under special obligations to obey this command. As it was promulgated in his own name, and in the name of him who sent him, the disobedience of any of his hearers was rebellion against Divine and Mediatorial authority. Since the Divine record of this, and of similar precepts, has come down to us, they bind us to perform the same duties, equally with those who heard them pronounced; our unbelief and impenitence, therefore, must be rebellion against the same authority. By the sin of unbelief, we reject the counsel of God against ourselves, we disgrace the glorious Saviour, we vex and grieve the Holy Spirit, we neglect the great salvation, we plunge ourselves into everlasting wo. By the sin of impenitence, we refuse to turn to the way of life, we deliberately choose the path of death, we continue to walk in the broad way that leadeth to destruction, we surrender ourselves the voluntary slaves of sin and Satan, and we rush on the thick bosses of Jehovah’s bucklers. O what evil is contained in those sins, and with what aggravations must they be accompanied! Oh, that we were wise, that we understood those things, and that we would consider what shall befall us at our latter end! Let us, therefore, turn from the delusive paths of iniquity, and fly to him who hath said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” When Christ came to finish the times, and to erect on earth his spiritual kingdom, “he preached the gospel of the kingdom of God,” saying, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” When his kingdom was rising up among the nations, his servant the Apostle Paul, proclaimed, in one of the principal cities of Greece, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at, but now commandeth all men every where to repent,” Acts xvii. 30. To a less civilized people, he taught the same doctrine. “We preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein; who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways,” Acts xiv. 15, 16. Such a season is again visiting the nations. The God of the whole earth, by most wonderful dispensations of his providence, is now sending to them the words of eternal life, the preaching of the everlasting gospel, and other means of salvation. The times of that ignorance which he winked at, the times in which he suffered all nations to walk in their own ways are now coming to an end, and the merciful call is now addressed to them, that all men every where should repent, and turn from those vanities unto the living God. Blessed shall all those be who comply with this call; but more dreadfully aggravated shall their condemnation be, who utterly reject it. Let Christians, therefore, be earnest at the throne of grace, praying that the nations, who are thus privileged, may receive from God saving faith in Jesus, and repentance unto life; and that he may speedily visit the other nations, with the same gospel privileges, and special grace. In such a time as this, the unbelief and impenitence of those, who have long enjoyed the gospel, must receive extraordinary aggravation. Since the Lord is sending his word and gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth, since he is calling many, who have not formerly enjoyed that call, to repent and believe the gospel, since some of them appear to comply with that call of Divine love and grace, since we profess to take an interest in it, and since many of us have contributed to carry on this great work, will it not greatly aggravate the iniquity of our unbelief and impenitence, if we ourselves have not truly repented and believed the gospel? Let it be our great concern, to repent of all our sins, and to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may escape the destruction of the wicked when it cometh, and may obtain the everlasting salvation of our souls.
3. A concern about the public prosperity of Christ’s kingdom, is not inconsistent with the exercise of true godliness in the heart. The Saviour directs men’s attention to those objects, which are of a public nature, the tune is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; and yet he requires the inward exercise of religion, Repent ye, and believe the gospel. The exercise of faith and repentance is, therefore, consistent with our attention to the fulfilling of the times of darkness, and with a zealous concern for the coming of Christ’s kingdom. It is the same gracious principle which inclines believers to take an interest in the outward prosperity of religion, that influences them to the inward exercises of piety; the same Divine Spirit guides them to both, and the same holy word requires and regulates their duty about each of them. To suppose that those who profess a great concern about personal religion, and are careless about the advancement of Christ’s kingdom are rightly performing their duty, is a .great mistake; and to imagine that these who discover a zeal for the latter, are indifferent to the former, is very uncharitable. Feeble exertions in either of these are a great defect in Christian conduct; but eminence in both is the very perfection of the Christian character. They have a mutual influence on one another. Strong desires and earnest endeavours that God’s way may be known on the earth, and his saving health among all nations, will lead Christians to spiritual exercises, both about the means that are used to accomplish that end, and concerning their success. When the means are employed. Christians will pray for the blessing of God to make them successful; and when any success is granted, they will praise the Lord who giveth the increase. These are exercises by which their personal religion will be enlarged. The exercise of true godliness in the soul, will lead Christians to a concern for the glorifying of God, and for the salvation of men, and to do every thing in their power to promote those glorious objects. Where is the believer, enjoying Divine consolations, and the blessings of salvation, who does not a feel a desire, that others may possess the same privileges? This desire is inseparable from the exercises and enjoyments of true religion; and, therefore, it must determine the subjects of it to exert themselves in promoting the salvation of mankind. We must beware of substituting a zealous concern for promoting the Redeemer’s kingdom in the world, in the room of personal religion ; and also of satisfying ourselves with what we account practical piety, while we neglect every endeavour to advance the kingdom of grace in the world. Happy shall we be if we practise both, and if we experience the influence of one of them animating us to the diligent study of the other.
4. Our lot seems to have fallen in the most perilous and in the most encouraging time, that has ever passed over the church of Christ. There may have been some times more perilous, and others more encouraging; but few, or none of them, have possessed both those qualities in a degree superior to the present time. The day of the church’s low condition, and of antichristian darkness and persecution, has been more perilous, but not so encouraging. The apostolic period, when the church was guided by immediate inspiration, was filled with the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, was privileged with miracles, was blessed with seasons of extraordinary conversion, and was favoured with times of singular refreshing from the presence of the Lord, was more encouraging, but not so perilous as ours. The time that is now passing over the church is in a high degree, both perilous and encouraging. The abounding of sin against God, and the pouring of Divine judgments on men render our time perilous. By them the world is filled with snares, and believers are exposed to temptation and danger. Existing under the third wo, and living in the world while the judgment is sitting, and the vials are pouring out, our time must be perilous indeed. Times are encouraging, when extraordinary exertions are made to disseminate the knowledge of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ among men, by sending to them the word of God, and the preaching of the gospel. Times are encouraging, when most comfortable success is attending those blessed endeavours. Times are encouraging, when Christians understand by the books of inspired prophecy, that Satan’s kingdom in the world is about to fall, and that Christ’s kingdom, in its prosperous state, will be speedily introduced. Such are the characters of the times, in which we live; and, therefore, though they be perilous, they are also encouraging. Since our times are perilous, Christ’s exhortation must be obeyed, if we would be safe; “watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation,” Since our times are encouraging, let us comply with his call. “Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.” And since our time is both perilous and encouraging let us join trembling with our mirth, and sing of mercy and of judgment. These mixed features in our time render Christ’s exhortation peculiarly suitable to us, Repent ye, and believe the gospel.
5. Without the exercise of faith and repentance, Chris- tians will not be prepared either to bear their sufferings in the day of trial, or rightly to improve the church’s triumph- ant deliverance. Though the millennial saints will enjoy an uninterrupted calm, those who live in the ages immediately before them, must pass through a violent storm. The great city Babylon is not yet thrown down, the judgment to consume and destroy it, is still sitting, and there have not yet completely passed over us the vials, nor the earthquake, which shall so terribly shake the nations, that man’s hearts, that are not balanced with Divine grace, will fail them for fear, and for looking after the things that are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. Without saving grace, supported in its exercise by the Holy Spirit, Christians, like Peter in the storm, will begin to sink, when they shall behold on the earth distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring. Those who are strangers to faith and repentance, cannot have any solid comfort, when the Lord doeth this; and those who are not in the exercise of those graces, though they may possess them in the habit, will be deprived of sensible comfort. Christians, in this situation, though they have eyes, they will not clearly see the rock of their salvation; and though they have ears, they will not distinctly hear, with application to themselves, the voice of mercy, in the promises of support and deliverance.—Nor can they be prepared, in this frame, for the contemplation or enjoyment of the church’s enlargement and prosperity. This may be enjoyed in the prospect of faith, in the solacing foretaste, or in the actual possession. Without a believing and penitent frame, what comfortable prospect can we take of the millennial sabbath, that remaineth for the people of God? In this condition of soul, what foretaste of that blessed state can we enjoy? Were we to live till the millennial glory appear, and to continue in an unbelieving and impenitent frame, we could not properly relish the precious enjoyment. If unbelief and hardness of heart prevail in us, darkness, doubts and fears, both about our own state, and the church’s deliverance, will take such hold of our minds as will fill us with hurtful fears, instead of joyful anticipations, or the assured hope of promised good.—In this frame of mind, we will be like the heath in the desert, and will not see when good cometh. O then, let us be diligent in the use of the means of grace, that we may receive from God faith and repentance; and that, under the influence of his Spirit, they may grow and flourish in our souls.
6. By the exercise of faith and repentance, we will be prepared both for Divine judgments when they shall be poured out, and for the church’s joyful prosperity. Though all believers are freed from the curse in every trouble, have the sanctified benefit of those afflictions secured to them, and will be supported under them all; yet those believers only, who are walking by faith in a penitent frame, can apply to themselves this comfort. To a believing and penitent soul, no calamity can be truly overwhelming. When the judgment shall sit, the saints, in those exercises, will be assured, that the sentence will be pronounced, neither against them, nor the church of God. When the vials are poured out, the exercised Christian will be persuaded, that they are designed for the inhabitants of the symbolical earth, and that the symbolical heavens, in which they dwell, shall be safe. When the voices shall be heard, the thunders roar, and the lightnings flash, the believer can rejoice in the faith of the church’s preservation and deliverance. When the earthquake shall shake to pieces, and sink into destruction the Redeemer’s enemies, the believer’s hope is unshaken, and his refuge shall not be moved. He knows that the judgments which shall divide into parts the anti-christian kingdom shall unite the fearers of God; and that the convulsions which shall overturn the cities of the nations, shall establish the city of the Lord. The penitent and believing soul will be persuaded, that when the great hail, the plague of which is exceeding great, shall fall on its devoted objects, there shall no evil befall the church, neither shall any hurtful plague come near the dwellings of the saints.—In the exercise of faith and repentance, we will also be prepared for the church’s salvation. By this holy frame bur loins will be girded, and our lights burning, and we will be like to men who wait for their Lord. We will be enabled to appreciate duly this glorious deliverance, and to observe with joy the signs of its approach. Concerning every dispensation of his hand for bringing down his enemies, and every operation of his grace for advancing his church, the exercise of those principles in our hearts will enable us to say; “Lo, this is our God, we have waited for him, and he will save us; this is the Lord, we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” As the exercise of grace makes believers ready for communion with God in his ordinances, and for their latter end; so it will make them meet for the church’s promised glory, in this world. The nature of it, they will understand; its reality, they will believe; its coming, they will expect; and for the enjoyment of it, they will have some comfortable preparation.
7. It ought to be the Christian’s great concern, by the exercise of all grace, and by the performance of every duty, to obtain preparation for that season, when the times shall be fulfilled, and when the kingdom of God shall come. For illustrating this, I may direct your attention to two portions of scripture; the former of which relates to that change, to which our text did primarily refer; and the latter belongs to that promised and expected alteration, to which our text has been accommodated. The former contains a part of the Angel’s words to Zacharias, concerning his son John the Baptist. “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord,” Luke i. 17. It was the design of John’s ministry to prepare a people for the manifestation of Christ among them, for the abolition of the Mosaic system, and for the erection of the new-testament church. For this purpose, he taught the people the doctrine of repentance, and called them to believe in him, who was immediately to be revealed. The existence and exercise of the same graces in the souk of men, are necessary to prepare them for the fulfilling of the times, and for the coming of the millennial kingdom. The ministry of the gospel should now be so conducted, that it may be a mean, in the hand of the Spirit, for making ready a people prepared for the Lord. The doctrines of faith in Jesus Christ, and of repentance unto life, must now be preached, for making ready a people prepared for the millennial church. Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, must be testified to Christians and Jews, to Mahometans and Pagans, that many of them may be prepared to compose the innumerable company, to enjoy the millennial glory, and to celebrate her triumphant song. With this view should ministers preach those precious doctrines, and with this view should mankind hear, believe and obey them, that they may be made ready as a people prepared for the Lord. The other text of scripture, to which I must now direct your attention, has a reference to the church’s approaching deliverance. “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready,” Rev. xix. 7. The words I have in view are these, His wife hath made herself ready. To shew that this preparation is not of herself, it is added ver. 8, “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” The careful use of the means on our part, and the Divine blessing attending them on his part, will make the saints ready even for the marriage supper of the Lamb. In a believing and humble dependence on the God of all grace, on the Spirit of grace, and on him who is full of grace and truth, persevere, O Christians, in the use of the means, endeavouring to exercise grace, and to walk circumspectly, so shall ye be prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. There is a preparation for ordinances and for death. This preparation, both in state and frame, we all need. It is by the exercise of faith and repentance, through the blessing of Christ and the working of the Spirit, that we can obtain it. If we have this preparation, we will be made ready for every revival, which God may give to the church, while we are continued in it. Be concerned that others may be made ready. Pray that the means which God hath sent to Jew and Gentile, to the Barbarian, the Scythian, the bond and the free, may be continued, enlarged, and rendered effectual, for making multitudes ready for the millennial church, and for the marriage supper of the Lamb. As the preparation of the heart is from the Lord, pray ye to him, that by means of the word and ordinances, the love of God may be manifested, the grace of Christ may be communicated, and the Spirit may be poured out from on high, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord, that the bride, the Lamb’s wife, may make herself ready.
To conclude, you have heard of some of the times that will be fulfilled when Antichrist shall fall, and when the church shall enter into her millennial state. Endeavour to understand the nature of them. Lament over them, as they dishonour God, oppose the Mediator’s kingdom, and hurt the church’s purity and peace. Be grieved for those disorders and sufferings which their continuance produce among men. Pray for their removal. Observe every providential occurrence, which tends to bring them to an end. Wait with patience, in faith and hope, for that happy time when they shall be fulfilled, and taken out of the way.
You have also heard of some parts of the church’s blessedness, in her millennial state. Carefully consider and meditate upon them, and beware of disregarding or despising those glorious things. Endeavour to satisfy yourselves concerning the import of those Divine promises and predictions, which warrant our expectation of such an happy time. Send up supplications daily, to him who heareth prayer, that he may hasten that blessed day. Endeavour to live in the faith, to imbibe the spirit, and to enjoy the foretaste of that season of Christian felicity.
You have also heard of some of the signs, by which you may know that this blessed summer is near. Meditate on every one of them, consider their tendency, and investigate their truth. Pray for their continuance, their increase, and their perfection. Do what you can to support the means which are now employed to enlighten mankind. Consider those providential and spiritual operations, by which Christ maintains, increases, and renders effectual the means of gathering the nations to himself. Christ and Antichrist seem now to have taken the field, the former to accomplish, and the latter to prevent, the illumination of the world, the conversion of the Jews, and the revival and purification of Christian churches. Watch ye the progress of this conflict. Be ye on the Lord’s side. Wo shall be to them who are against him. A curse shall come on them who are neutral; “Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.”
You have also heard some remarks concerning the prophetic numbers, which state the time when all these things shall be fulfilled. On several things belonging to them we cannot speak with certainty. The most that can be done, relative to these, is only to give an opinion. The day will particularly declare it. The church must wait and watch, believe and hope, pray and be active, that nothing may be wanting on her part, for promoting this work of the Lord. Searching into those numbers, since God has revealed them, is certainly the Christian’s duty; but, till the predicted events are accomplished, they will not be circumstantially known; known in the specific nature or kind of some of them, in the direct way in which they will come to pass, in the precise time at which some of them shall be accomplished, in the particular places which will be the scene of their operation, in the persons who will be principally employed, and in the objects who will be the chief suffers. Since those numbers are mentioned, we may be assured that the duration of the system of darkness is limited, and that the system itself shall perish at the appointed time. From comparing those numbers with one another, and with Divine providences, there is ground to hope, that the following generation will not pass away, till all those things shall be fulfilled.
You have likewise heard of the Christian’s duty, at the present time; Repent ye, and believe the gospel. As the principles of faith and repentance in the heart, are at all times necessary to make us Christians indeed, and the exercise of them in our spiritual frame is needful to make us in every situation, holy and comforted saints; so their being and actings are peculiarly requisite to prepare us for the Lord’s coming to enlarge and establish his kingdom in the earth. Seek from God, therefore, saving faith and true repentance. To all those who have not obtained them, Jesus is saying, Repent ye, and believe the gospel. These are spiritual principles, which, by our own power, we cannot acquire, and religious exercises, which, of ourselves, we cannot attain; but they are principles which we must acquire, and exercises to which we must attain, otherwise we shall perish for ever. The Divine injunction in the command is accompanied with a revelation of grace in the promise; and it is by the accomplishment of the latter, that any sinner is enabled to comply with the former. The holy Spirit, who quickeneth those that are dead in trespasses and sins, is graciously promised; “ I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them;” ye shall repent and believe the gospel, Ezek. xxxiv. 27. O that sinners would consider these things, and cry for the Spirit to enable them to obey the gospel call! O that they would apply the precepts of the holy law to their own hearts and lives, and that the Spirit would convince them of the number, the heinous nature, and manifold aggravations of their transgressions! O that they would apply to their own consciences, the threatenings of the broken law, and that the Spirit would convince them of their misery, of their condemnation, and of that everlasting punishment to which they are exposed! O that they were constrained to cry out, what shall we do to be saved from our sins, and from the wrath to come! O that they would turn their attention to the glorious gospel which reveals what Christ has done and suffered to expiate their sins, and to purchase for them eternal life. O that they would meditate on the promises, on the covenant of grace, on Christ the Mediator of that covenant, and on the Divine warrant that they have to believe in him, that they may be saved! In this way, they shall obtain the Holy Spirit to implant in their hearts the principle of saving grace, that they may repent and believe the gospel. To all those who are true believers and real penitents, Jesus is also saying, Repent ye, and believe the gospel. By the grace of God, they enjoy this blessed principle; how hurtful then, is it to themselves, and how dishonouring to their God and Saviour, if they live without the daily exercise of faith and repentance? All the saints are possessed of that high dignity, which is contained in those words, “ For the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon, you,” 1 Pet. iv. 14. Let them, therefore, live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit, that they may abound in the exercise of faith and repentance. Seek grace from above, by which you will be enabled to live in a believing and penitent frame, all the days of your life. Be diligent in the performance of all the duties of religion, that your faith and repentance may be exercised and increased. Looking for the fulfilling of the time, and for the coming of the kingdom of God, let us all remember and obey Christ’s command, “Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”