« PreviousContinue »
Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God?
The practical improvement of these words, and of what I have found to say upon them, is founded on their connexion with what, I trust, will be the occupation of the ensuing week, my brethren. The solemn events in our Redeemer's history which it is specially appropriated to celebrate, ought to be marked with the deepest interest by his disciples. Jesus Christ, and him crucified for us, is an affecting theme to the heart of the believer, and it embraces a wide field for the range of devout and profitable meditation. But in nothing is it inore comprehensive than in its connexion with our drawing near to God. Without his interposition we can neither begin, nor continue, nor end. Wherewith shall I come before the LORD ? The answer is, No man cometh unto the Father but by me. Without me ye can do nothing. Wherewith shall I bow myself before the high God ? The answer is, Through Him we have access by one Spirit to the Father, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin. What shall we do that we might work the works of GoD ? The answer is, This is the work of God, that ye believe in him whom he hath sent. What shall we do that we may inherit eternal life? The answer is, Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
Take with you, then, my brethren, into the retirement of your religious meditations and exercises, this deep and impressive inquiry. Dwell upon it in the full extent of its connexion with your religious comfort and religious hope, and may God own his word and increase its power in your hearts, that your light may shine before men, to the glory of his name and the advancement of his kingdom. Amen.
CHRIST'S CALL TO REPENTANCE.
LUKE v. 32.
"I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
That our duties should, at the same time, be favours and, privileges, is the peculiar characteristic of the gospel, my brethren; and that even those duties which
appearance barshness and severity in their appointment and exercise, should be of this description, is a most convincing proof, when duly considered, of that wisdom, mercy, and love, which contrived and fulfilled the wondrous plan whereby the perfections of God and the imperfections of fallen man are made to barmonize, and the operations of divine grace reconciled with the free agency of accountable beings.
In no part of our religious duty is this more evident than in that which forms the subject matter of my text. Until considered, applied, and exercised, it presents a most forbidding aspect ; we associate whatever is gloomy and severe to our imaginations with the very idea of repentance, and dread the thought of even attempting to enter upon it as a duty. But this mistaken view of the subject does not arise from the duty itself, but from the preference of that of which we are called upon to repent; it is the love of sin in some of its almost innumerable deceits which is at the bottom of this reluctance, and hence it is, that whatever the enemy of our souls or our own false hearts can suggest against it is greedily listened to.
Yet, beyond any dispute it is a privilege conferred upon the sinner, and of the highest kind; to be permitted to repent is a favour which he could not even ask; far less to have his repentance accepted and his sin forgiven, to have his heart disposed by the SPIRIT OF GOD to listen to the grounds, the motives, the necessity of repentance, and his natural reluctance and even
inability to enter upon it, removed and supplied by divine grace : as it also is a privilege and advantage of no common character that what is so essential to all religious attainments, should be pressed upon the attention by the preaching of the gospel, should be set forth as the first step in the divine life, the unalterable, and, at the same time, wise and merciful appointment of God to regain his favour. I trust, therefore, it will be helpful to all present to consider, more at length, the particular purpose mentioned by our LORD in my text-I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
In discoursing on these words on the present occasion and to illustrate the text, I shall inquire,
FIRST, whom our LORD means by the word righteous.
FOURTHLY, what by calling sinners to repentance. And shall, then,
CONCLUDE with an application of the whole.
1. First, I am to inquire what description of persons our LORD here calls the righteous.
As it is the clear and express condition of the gospel, and the very foundation on which its grace and mercy rest, that, in the view of unspotted purity and holiness, none such are to be found in this fallen world, our LORD cannot be supposed to speak of persons righteous in this sense ; for it is written, There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not. There is none righteous, no not one. But though not in the strict and legal sense, yet in an evangelical sense, to which, in multiplied passages of Scripture, the phrase is adapted, there can be no question but that there were many righteous persons upon earth at that time. In every age of the world and under every dispensation of religion, God hath always had a people who feared and honoured his holy name, and served him in faithfulness and truth according to the light afforded them. Of this we have many examples both in the Old and New Testaments, such as Enoch and Noah before the flood, Job, Melchizedek, Abraham, and Lot after it, Moses, Samuel, and the prophets under the law, together with those in our Saviour's day who are expressly
mentioned as just and righteous persons, such as Zacharias and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, Joseph and Mary the mother of our Lord, with Nathaniel and many others whose names are not mentioned ; all of whom, as they feared God and wrought righteousness, he was pleased, according to the terms of the new covenant, to accept of as righteous through Christ, though not strictly so in themselves. Such persons as these, therefore, having by repentance and faith fled to the refuge of their souls in Gov's revealed method of mercy for them, needed not to be called to it agaio.
Some have supposed that our Lord on this occasion spake ironically, in derision of the Pharisees, who counted that they were righteous and despised others, and consequently would not listen to a call to repentance. But it appears to me that the grave and dignified nature of our Lord's office, with the importance of every word he spake, forbids a resort to this construction. Neither is it necessary; for we have only to advert to similar expressions to understand fully bis meaning. Thus, in the case of the Syro-Phenician woman, our Saviour says, I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; where it is evidently the meaning that he was sent to them in the first place ; that his personal ministry was to be confined to the nation of the Jews; that the gospel was first to be preached to them, while nevertheless his name was to be for salvation to the ends of the earth. So in the case before us, when reproached by the conceited and self-righteous Pharisees for associating with publicans and sinners, he justified himself and reproved them in the words of my text. As if he had said, The purpose for which I am come into the world is to reform and reclaim such as these, therefore I associate with them. As it is the sick only who have need of a physician, so it is to sinners that a call to repentance should be most earnestly addressed. The righteous stand not in such pressing or immediate need of my help, therefore I am not come so expressly to call them, but sinners, to repentance. Hence we are taught to consider repentance in two senses-one, in which the first awakenings of the sinner are stirred up to a sincere and godly sorrow for sin, and to conversion from its practice to a new life ; the other, in which the believer is continually
exercised under a sense of his many failures and short comings in his best duties, and of the mercy and love of God in CHRIST Jesus manifested towards him. These, as they are totally different in nature and degree, are to be carefully distinguished by us, that this primary and continual duty may be pressed according to its true and actual necessity upon each description of our hearers. Without this discrimination confusion of mind is too often the consequence, and, ultimately, rejection of saving truth.
II. Secondly, let us inquire whom doth our Saviour here mean by the term sinners.
It must be evident, I think, both from the reason of the thing and the opposition of the two words in the text, that our LORD here means, in the first or chief place, open, outbreaking persons who were living in commission of known sin-adulterers, fornicators, drunkards, profane swearers, thieves, liars, extortioners, and such like. These, as standing in the most open and imminent danger and in the most pressing need, engaged his most earnest sympathy and compassion for their miserable condition. Next, the more orderly and decent part of the community, who were nevertheless equally strangers to God and themselves and equally regardless of the duties and ordinances of religion, living without God in the world; and, lastly, the religious part of the community as having much to perfect and complete, even in an evangelical sense of repentance and amendment of life.
To these three classes the term sinners will apply in different senses, as will also the nature and degree of that repentance to which they are called.
Of the first class there can be no dispute. They must repent and bring forth fruits meet for repentance, or perish for ever.
Of the second there is more dispute, though the certainty is equally clear. The dispute, however, is with themselves and at their own peril, not with the appointments of God. Like the Pharisees of old, they may count that they are righteous, and look down with scorn upon the poor reprobate outcasts of society; but all the while they are just as far from God, as much unknown to any act of submission to his revealed will, as distant from the ordinances and public duties of religion as the