A brier view of Repentance, in so far as it is a condition of justification.
That repentance is a thinking after the deed; that it consists in sorrow for sin, and faith in Christ has already been shewn. See pages 68 and 69. See also Ps. 6, 2,3 — 38, 4 — 51, 17 — Matth. 11, 28.
There are sundry who add to repentance, a love to God, hating sin for the sake of its odiousness, and a reformation of life, and conduct. Such if they think it expedient, to use the word repentance in so extended a sense, as to include all the fruits thereof, I will not upon this ground contradict. It must be confessed that those blessed fruits: such as love to God, hating sin, &c. are the immediate result of repentance. But to speak accurately upon this subject, repentance, and its fruits ought carefully to be distinguished. The distinction is made by the scriptures; — ‘Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.’ Matth, 3, 8, See Acts 26, 20.
Repentance is a condition of justification. Acts 2, 28. Though the word repentance should be used in so extended a sense, as to include the fruits thereof; yet when it is applied to denote a condition of justification, it is erroneous to admit of this addition; as it then can only consist in sorrow for sin, and faith in Christ.
If repentance as a condition of justification, also consisted in hating sin for the sake of its odiousness, and a love to God, it would require a man not only to be justified, but also to be in a state of sanctification, before he could repent; because such a hatred against sin presupposes a holy principle, and a love to God, a conformity to the law. But is there such a holy principle in an unregenerated sinner? No. Hence it is not possible for such a person to hate sin for the sake of its odiousness, or to love God; because such would be contrary to his wicked element. It would be absurd, to suppose that an unregenerated sinner should hate sin in which he delights, and conform to a law, against which he is filled with enmity. But who is to repent, in order to be justified ? — is it the one that is justified, and in a state of sanctification? No. For how should the justified be justified? It is the unjustified sinner, who is to repent if he would enjoy the grace of justification, as our blessed Saviour said ‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’ Mark 2, 17. Luke 15, 1-10. Now as the unjustified sinner is to repent; yet as he is destitute of all holy principles, he cannot hate sin for the sake of its odiousness, nor love God; hence it must be concluded that neither this hatred against sin, nor love to God, nor any other good work, constitutes a part of repentance. To suppose that a sinner should possess these holy principles, before he could be in a state of repentance, presupposes him to be a saint, who as such would be justified. Such an idea contradicts itself.
It has been shewn that a man is justified without the deeds of the law. But if repentance as a condition of justification had to flow from love to God, what would it else be, but a deed of the law? for love is its principal precept. Love is no condition of justification, but repentance is; hence repentance and love must be different. It is somewhat astonishing, that many preach that a sinner is justified by grace without the deeds of the law; and yet when they describe repentance as a condition, they will have it to proceed from love to God, and to be a hatred against sin, for the sake of its odiousness. This is a palpable contradiction: for if a sinner be justified by grace without the deeds of the law, how can repentance as a condition, proceed from love to God, which is the fundamental precept of the law? Hence he that asserts, that repentance as a condition of justification, must proceed from love to God, and other holy principles; and yet that a man is justified without the deeds of the law, contradicts himself, and perplexes the minds of his audience. If sorrow foe sin, does not flow from love to God, and other upright principles, it might be asked: why is it at all necessary? It is not necessary as a suffering, to atone for our guilt; nor as a good work, to obtain the grace of justification. Whilst the sinner is insensible of his sinful depravity, he does not know that he is under the sentence of condemnation, nor the need of a Saviour; and the offer of a pardon would be no more regarded, than that which might through mockery be offered by a governor to an honest man, who could not be convicted of felony. Or, it is like the person who is not hungry, he will either not accept, or not relish the offered viands — Or, the man that is not weary, will not desire repose. Though for the sake of the atonement of Christ, heaven announces an abundance of pardon; yet whilst sinners view themselves either as innocent, or only a little defective, they will not accept it. Would they thank God for the pardon of all their sins, when they did not consider themselves guilty of all, with which they are charged? Thus we find, that in the scriptures the hungry, the thirsty, the weary, and the heavy laden, &c. are particularly invited to partake the pardon, and the other divine blessings; because by such the same are highly appreciated. Hence it may easily be understood, why no one can obtain a pardon without having contrition. See Isa. 66, 2. Matth. 5, 3,4,6.
It is necessary to know what Sin is, and its legal, and awful consequences, before one can be contrite. There indeed remains a vestige of the law, written upon the hearts of all men, sufficient to convince them that they are not perfectly pure, and holy; but as they are full of blindness, they are not able by this light to discover their real deformity; neither would it inform them of the transgression of Adam, by which they became guilty. Hence a divine revelation is necessary. The law must be revealed anew, by which is this knowledge.
By the law the Holy Spirit operates, to convince men of their sins. This is evident from what Christ says: ‘If I go not away, the comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, &c.’ John 16, 7, 8. This besides many other texts shew, that the agency of the Holy Spirit, is necessary to reveal to men their sinful depravity; hence it must be so deep, and hidden a corruption, that no human reason can possibly penetrate; otherwise the influence of this omniscient Spirit would not interpose. It is easily understood that all gross, inordinate desires, and external actions, which are contrary to the law: such as the profanation of God’s name, adultery, theft, murder, perjury, and other immoralities are criminal, without any particular reproof of the Holy Spirit. It may be understood even by the letter of the law, or the light of nature. Hence as all men may know, that such unlawful actions are criminal without any particular illumination of the Spirit; and yet, as he is sent to reprove the world of sin, it is evident that there must be such sins in men, of which they are entirely ignorant; otherwise the necessity of this supernatural illumination would be superseded. There are not only many sins of which men are ignorant, but to speak more properly, ignorance itself is criminal. He that is ignorant cannot know that ignorance is a sin, unless he be enlightened by the Spirit; because it would be absurd to suppose, that the ignorant should be intelligent. This ignorance, I mean the ignorance with respect to spiritual truths, is the cause of many a wrong choice; of the blackest crimes perpetrated under the garb of Religion. As for instance: St. Paul whilst a Pharisee, persecuted the church of Christ through ignorance.
It is astonishing to hear, how many who call themselves Christians, utterly deny that ignorance with respect to the sacred truths of Christianity, is criminal. They say many a good Christian may be innocently ignorant of sundry things, which are a part of the blessed Religion of Christ; if he only means well, and is sincere in his way of thinking, all the purposes of salvation are answered. Because there are many different denominations who differ widely in their sentiments, and as it would contradict common sense itself, to suppose that all when they are repugnant to each other should be right; yet in order to have, as it is vulgarly. and erroneously called Charity for all, the diversity of sentiments is attributed to ignorance, which they consecrate as innocent errors.
If such ignorance be no sin, or if nothing be criminal, but such as we know to be wrong, what is left for the holy Spirit to reprove? That which I know to be sin, of that I need not to be convinced. Now to suppose, that the Holy Spirit would be sent to convince a sinner of sins, with which he was already acquainted would be a burlesque open divine wisdom. Such men therefore, must either deny the operations of the Spirit, or see that their assertion, that ignorance is not a sin, is erroneous.
Whilst men are ignorant, how do they know when they mean well, or that they have a sincerity, which is unsullied? Ignorance will lead to mistakes; hence such may also be mistaken with respect to their good meaning, and sincerity. The Psalmist prayed ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting.’ Ps. 139, 23,24. This shews that the Psalmist did not confide in his good meaning, or sincerity; that he even was not certain what were the intentions of his heart; and lest some wicked way might be concealed in him, of which he had no knowledge, he gives himself up to the scrutiny of the omniscient Spirit. What a glaring difference there is between this Old Testament Saint, who was diffident with respect to his intentions, and feared that some wickedness might lurk within him; so that he implored the divine illumination; and many of the present self-idolizing professors, who put the fullest reliance upon their good intentions; and sincerity; notwithstanding they be stupified by the most shameful ignorance. How can they repent, when they deny that to be a sin, which is a sin? When they call ignorance an innocent error, they might as well call guilt, righteousness. An error is a deviation from that which is right; hence to speak of an innocent error with respect to religion, is the most vulgar nonsense. It is the same as to say an innocent crime! Whilst men deny that ignorance is a sin; and though they preach ever so much concerning repentance; yet are they the decided foes to the doctrine of repentance.
The Psalmist also prays ‘Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from my secret faults.’ Ps. 19, 12. He that cannot understand his errors, and prays to be cleansed from his secret faults, thereby indicates that there are errors in him, of which he is ignorant, and from which he conceives it necessary to be cleansed. Our Saviour prayed for his murderers: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,’ Luke 23, 34. The Jews for whom he prayed, did not know they abused so august a personage, as the apostle declares ; ‘Which none of the princes of the world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’ 1 Cor. 2,8. As they crucified Christ through ignorance, the question is, why needed they forgiveness if their ignorance was not criminal? Where there is a forgiveness, a crime is necessarily presupposed. What folly it would be, to forgive innocence! Here we see that ignorance was to he forgiven; hence as nothing but a crime can be forgiven, the conclusion is, ignorance must be a crime.
Should the Holy Spirit by the law, reveal our sins to us in their original deformity, we should see eternal damnation as just, and inevitable; and if we had not also faith in Christ, we would utterly despair. We read of such characters in the scriptures, who for the want of faith, upon being convicted of their sins, despaired. The knowledge of our sins would be no benefit, if we did not see our remedy in Christ.
Faith which is a part of repentance, is a condition, by which the righteousness of Christ is apprehended. The word faith is variously applied in the scriptures. As for instance: it is used to denote the Christian Religion, and confession of the doctrine of Christ. 1 Cor. 2, 5. Phil. 2, 16,17, 1 Tim. 1, 18,19. Acts 13, 8. ch. 14, 27. There is a faith of miracles. Matth. 17. 19,20. ch 21, 21. Luke 17, 6. 1 Cor. 12, 9 ch. 13. 2. There is also the belief of the existence of one God. James 2, 19.
But the word faith or belief, when applied in the article of justification, implies a relation to the person of Jesus Christ in his mediatorial character. Or it is the act of apprehending his righteousness. It therefore implies, not only to be convinced that such a person as Jesus Christ existed, and acted; but also that we are particularly interested in the same; hence a confidence. Or it is. when a man attributes to his own person the meritorious obedience of Christ. We read of believing on, or in Christ: — ‘Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.’ John 3, 16. ch. 14, 1. As believing in Christ, is the distinguishing characteristic of a Christian; hence to believe, is often put absolutely for believing in Christ. See Mark 16, 16. Acts 4, 43. It certainly implies considerably more to believe in, or on Christ, than simply to believe that he existed, and acted. The prepositions in, and on signify the relation that one has to the person, and merits of Christ; whereas one may simply believe that such a person existed, and acted; and yet be without a confidence. It must however, be admitted that without being previously persuaded of the truth, that such a person as Jesus Christ existed, and acted, it would be impossible for any one to apply his meritorious obedience to himself. To be convinced 0f this, is preparatory to confidence. Nevertheless, it is possible for a man to be convinced that there was such a person as Jesus of Nazareth, and that he performed all what the sacred historians relate; yet he may not go so far as to draw the conclusion, that Christ lived, suffered, died, and rose again from the dead for the purpose of saving his person. He may be convinced of all the facts, as recorded by the Evangelists; but as he may not be sensible of his guilt, and his state of condemnation; because he does not perceive the necessity of a help, he is not influenced to apply the obedience of Christ to his own person. In order to believe that those facts transpired, it is sufficient if the understanding be informed by credible testimonies; but to be personally interested in the same, the heart must agree, or confide. It therefore, is not only an act of the understanding, but also that of the heart, as we are informed by the apostle : — ‘If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart, that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believethe unto righteousness; &c.’ Rom. 10. 9,10. Thus it is not only, that the understanding is convinced of the truth; but it is also realized by the heart, which plainly implies a confidence. That the ancient Saints by faith, applied the promises to their particular persons, or that they had a confidence, may be seen from various texts. Set Gal. 2. 20, 2 Tim. 4, 8. 1 John 3, 2. 2 Cor. 5, 1.
The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews gives this definition:— ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ Ch. 11, 1. He defines it suitable to his arguments, and in the following verses produces sundry examples of the exercise of faith under the Old Testament. Faith agreeable to this, has a relation to invisible things. In so far as faith rests upon invisible things, hope corresponds with it; yet hope has a relation to future things; whereas faith must not necessarily relate to that which is future, but only to what is invisible: whether present, or future. The word which is translated substance, in the original, is υποστασις, from υφιστημι, to be placed, or stand under. — from υπο, under, and ιστημι or the passive ιστημι, to stand, or to be placed. It is used for a basis, or foundation. This plainly shews that faith, though it relates to invisible things; yet it must imply a confidence in the divine promises.
Faith is a condition of justification: hence it is erroneous to suppose that it is merely necessary as an evidence, by which we get sensible of our interest in Christ. To know that I am justified, is not the reason why I am justified. No man can know of any interest in Christ, without having such previously. There is a difference between faith itself, and the perception thereof. If faith and the perception thereof were the same, no man could be a believer, but only when he was sensible of it. The apostle says ‘Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your ownselves.’ 2 Cor. 13. 5. By a self examination a man may ascertain whether he possesses, or is destitute of faith. A self-examination presupposes, that we may either posses, or be destitute of a thing without being sensible of it. The self examination is for the purpose of making the discovery. A man who knew that he had no faith; and yet examined himself, would be like one that seeks for a thing, which he knows does not exist. Whereas he, who at all times was sensible of his faith, would be in his self examination like one that attempted to ascertain, whether he was in existence. What one is sensible of, is self-evident; and a self-evident thing needs no examination to ascertain its existence. Hence as Christians are exhorted to examine themselves whether they be in the faith, it must be concluded that a man may have faith; and yet in consequence of many temptations, and other causes may not be sensible of it. Thus faith is not merely to make us sensible of our interest in Christ, but it is a necessary condition of apprehending his righteousness, and applying it to our persons.
It is erroneous to teach, that for whomsoever Christ died, must also infallibly be saved; yea that such are already saved; and that faith is only necessary for such to become sensible of their interest in him. Hence such as believe an unconditional election, believe that Christ died for none, but for such as will be saved. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Heb. 11. 6. If we cannot please God without faith, it is evident that by faith we may please him; hence faith is not merely necessary to find out that we please him, but by it we please him. When God has chosen a sinner unto salvation, we are not to suppose that he is chosen without a foreseen faith in him. It is out of the question for God to elect a sinner unto salvation, unless he please him; and by faith only he can please him; hence without faith he cannot be chosen. If the sinner be elected from eternity, he must also have pleased God from eternity; by faith only he can please him; hence God from eternity must foresee this faith; otherwise there could be no election. To suppose that the sinner pleased God from eternity without faith; so that he could elect him unto eternal life; and yet that in time the sinner cannot please him without faith, is at once saying God’s mind is changeable: that once the sinner pleased him without faith; so that he could be chosen: and again that in time he could not be pleased with the sinner, but by his faith. Such a changeableness cannot be ascribed to a perfect supreme being.
The sacred scriptures indeed teach an election, but not such, as is without a condition. When two things are alike, neither the one, nor the other can be chosen: for where there is no difference, there can be no preference. It is not disputed, but one, or the other might be accepted through an indifferent chance; but not by a rational choice: because there can be no choice without a difference in the objects. All men are sinners alike by nature — there is no difference. Rom. 3, 22,23. Now as there is no difference between sinners, what may be the reason, that God chooses one in preference to another? There must certainly be some condition: for the very idea of an election implies that the thing, or person chosen, must either be more valuable in itself, or connected with an object which makes it so, than that which is not chosen. It has already been shewn, that all men are sinners alike by nature; hence God cannot choose one in preference to another, because of any superior moral excellence. Jesus Christ is the mediator between God, and man; infinitely valued by all the holy angels; the peculiar delight of his Father: hence the sinner who by faith is connected with him, stands in so superlative a relation, that there is a superabundant reason, why the divine wisdom chooses him as an heir of salvation. St. Paul represents believers, as being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. Eph. 1, 3,4. No man can be in Christ, so as to be saved, unless he have faith; hence to be chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, implies a foreseen faith from eternity, which is a sufficient ground of election. Now if the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional ejection were true, the sinner could not be chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world; because this doctrine supposes the sinner chosen unto faith, i.e. chosen not because of any foreseen faith, but chosen in order to be made a believer. This doctrine supposes God to choose one sinner before another, without having any regard to his relation to Christ; hence without viewing any difference as the ground of preference. This of course cannot be an election, but the grasping of a sinner out of a multitude by an indifferent chance; because it is impossible for a choice to take place, unless there be a difference between the several objects, or between their relations. We are informed by the apostle, not that God by an indifferent chance had grasped the Saints out of the multitude of mankind, but that he had chosen them in Christ; hence as they are in him by faith, faith is the condition of their justification; hence it is not merely to make us sensible of our interest in Christ.
It is contrary to the principles of justice, to impute the good, or evil deeds of another to us, unless we consent to the same, or are connected with his person. The transgression of Adam would not be imputed to us: provided we could not with propriety be viewed as being connected with him in his conduct. Neither can the righteousness of Christ with justice be imputed to us, unless we be connected with him by faith.
St. Paul contrasts Adam with Christ: he calls the former a figure of the latter. Rom. 5, 14. And v. 15, he says ‘But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.’ And v. 18, ‘Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.’ It is to be observed, that the contrast which is here made is such: that as Adam by his disobedience brought sin and condemnation upon all; even so Christ by his obedience brought the justification of life upon all men. This contrast induces many to conclude, that if the word all, as it is applied to the justification of life could not be restricted: so as to signify all the elect only, that all men would infallibly be saved, without having a regard to faith as a condition: but as they do not believe that all men will be saved, they limit the word all; so as only to mean a part: for they cannot conceive how Christ should have made an atonement for any; unless they also be justified. This conclusion arises from a wrong view of faith, and not observing the distinction between the meritorious obedience of Christ itself, and the application of the same to one’s own person. If faith be a condition of our justification, then no sinner can be saved without it, notwithstanding the perfect atonement made by Christ; whereas if by faith we only get sensible of our interest in him, then we are sufficiently safe without faith: provided we are of the number for whom Christ died. To be made sensible of our interest in Christ, adds nothing to it; because to be made sensible of it, presupposes that we have such already. If we have an interest in Christ, we are just as safe, as if we knew it. The culprit who is pardoned before he knows it, is as little in danger of being executed, as the one who sees the pardon before him: all the difference is, that the former is in a fearful suspense, whilst the tatter is filled with consolation. But as the scriptures in many texts prove, that we are justified by faith; (hence it is a condition,) it must be a most fallacious conclusion: that for whomsoever Christ died will also be infallibly saved. This would be true, if faith was not a condition, but only a perception of salvation: for then the death of Christ would profit every one, for whom it was made; and sooner, or later such would be made sensible of it. The word all, as applied to the justification of life, certainly includes the whole human family; because it is used in such a connexion that it can have no other meaning: for the text plainly shews that the same All, upon whom came judgment unto condemnation, also came the justification of life. Now not only a part were under condemnation, but all without restriction; hence the same all are redeemed by Christ. The text shews that the righteousness of Christ, came upon all men in the same sense, that condemnation came upon all by the disobedience of Adam. But how does condemnation come upon all men by the disobedience of Adam? They indeed are under the sentence of condemnation, but they are not all eternally punished. They in consequence of the fall are sinners, and under the sentence of condemnation, which would certainly be executed upon all, and they be punished, if some of them did not take their refuge in Christ. In the same manner the justification of life came upon all men through Christ: viz. if they through unbelief did not reject his righteousness, they would be saved. If they do not believe, they will as little be saved, though Christ died for them; as those will be sentenced on the day of judgment to eternal punishments, who believed in Christ, though they fell in Adam, and were under the sentence of condemnation. If the doctrine be true, that if Christ died for all, that all must necessarily be saved, it would be equally true, that because all fell in Adam, and are obnoxious to the curse, that therefore they must also be eternally punished. But who can believe that all men, because they fell in Adam, will be eternally punished? The general atonement of Christ, does not yet prove a general salvation. To prove a general salvation, it is necessary first to prove, that all men will believe, and apply it to their persons. If this can be done, then only it can be said, that there is a general restoration. A privilege offered to a thousand persons, will not benefit the individuals of this number, unless it be individually enjoyed. Neither will the general atonement of Christ benefit any individual, unless he by faith applies it to his own person.
Repentance consists in a contrition for sin, and faith in Christ. A contrition necessarily presupposes a knowledge of sin. A man is the nearest to himself; and yet frequently he is better acquainted with other objects, than he is with himself. He dreads his enemies, because he conceives they are determined on his ruin; but if he properly knew himself, he would believe himself to be in a greater danger: for none of his enemies are as near, as he is to himself.
They who only consider unlawful actions as criminal, and would repent for such, are like one that would stop the stream, and yet suffer the flow of the fountain. All unlawful actions proceed from wicked motives. I venture to affirm, that it a man could be placed in such a situation, as to be prevented from committing unlawful actions; that yet, he in the judgment of God would be worthy of punishment, in consequence of his wicked heart and desires. A man may be an adulterer, thief, murderer, &c. before he commits adultery, steals, murders, &c. because his heart conceives all such wicked desires. It is horrid to hear some men, who boast of being perfect saints affirm, that though they should have wicked thoughts, and desires; yet if they did not commit the actions, to which they are tempted, that they would be innocent! O blinded! filthy! self righteous Pharisees! how will ye escape the damnation of hell, when ye will not own your wicked lusts to be criminal! St. James says ‘every man is tempted. when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.’ ch. 1, 14.
When we get sensible of our sins, we must also confess them. Under the Levitical priesthood, when the annual sin offering was made, the sins of the people were confessed. Lev. 16, 21. The pious Psalmist was ingenuous in his confession: ‘I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.’ Ps. 32, 5. St. John says ‘If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ 1 Epist 1,9. Thus we see how a pardon in the divine tribunal, succeeds the confession of sin. How vastly different are the proceedings of an earthly tribunal! If the culprit before an earthly tribunal should confess his crime, his confession would be taken as evidence against himself; whereupon he would be sentenced to receive the merited punishment. But in the divine tribunal a confession of guilt, is a condition of justification.
When our sins are pardoned, not only some, but all without exception are pardoned; as it would be no benefit to a sinner, H only some, and not all were pardoned: for only one unpardoned crime would render him obnoxious to punishment. If we must have a pardon for all our sins, it is equally necessary that we should also confess them all, without any exception. But as it has already been shewn, that we are guilty of many sins, with which we are not acquainted, it might be asked: how is it possible to confess every sin? There is no difficulty in it, when we confess that all our thoughts, desires, actions, and imagination, ever since we are in existence, in so far as they have not been guided by divine grace, are wicked; yea that we are naturally depraved. Such a confession is replete, no sin, even such, with which we are not acquainted will be excluded; and we are in no danger of confessing a falsehood; as this is the character of all men by nature, which is attested by the scriptures. The reason why many persons are not benefitted by their confession, is because they only confess some known, and glaring sins. Such a confession is very deficient, and so superficial, that it includes the very least of a man’s wickedness. It is in vain for a man to attempt to particularize all his sins, and to describe them with words in an auricular confession; because such would be impossible. Such as deny that ignorance is a sin, require of their hearers a confession only, of their known sins: and thus they examine them at stated times with the interrogation: what known sins have you lived in since our last meeting? are you willing to repent for such, and amend your life? O blinded Pharisees! filthy dreamers! ought you not to be ashamed of your patch-work! To confess only one’s known sins, is nothing but nonsense i.e. if done with a view to be pardoned. For if the sins committed through ignorance be not also confessed, and pardoned, let no one comfort himself: for he may not expect any salvation. It is evident that if we sin against our neighbour, that we should particularly confess our faults to him; (James 5,16 ) so that he might forgive us, in so far as he may have been offended. But to pardon all our sins, is an act which belongs to God only; hence no particular confession of a few known sins will suffice; but the confession must include every sin. If our confession be replete, equally so will be the pardon.
It has been shewn that ignorance with respect to spiritual things, is criminal. St. Paul says ‘Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.’ 1 Cor. 15, 34, The prophet concludes, that such ignorant persons are beneath the standing of beasts, when he says: ‘The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s cub; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.’ Isa. 1, 3.
But there is a difference between being ignorant, and illiterate. Whereas the holy scriptures chiefly are written in a plain, familiar language, unlearned persons, when they hear them read, or doctrines inferred from them by way of preaching, may by a careful attention obtain correct views with respect to spiritual things. The bodily eye of an unlearned man, may be as sound as that of the learned, and is as capable of beholding an object; and if in case the eyes of the latter be shut, and those of the former open, he certainly has a considerable advantage. The same may be said with respect to the mental faculties. The unlearned man has the same rational faculty as the learned; hence is as capable of perceiving spiritual things. Whilst the mental faculties of the learned continue closed against the light of heaven, he with all his literary accomplishments, cannot have as correct views of spiritual things, as the unlearned, who suffered the Holy Ghost, by the sacred word, to open, and illumine the eyes of his understanding: for ‘the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.’ Ps. 19, 7. This is confirmed by our blessed Saviour: ‘I thank thee’ says he, ‘O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.’ Matth. 11, 25. Although the unlearned, or babes are not able to write, or preach the gospel to others, as this requires a peculiar genius, the knowledge of letters, and the art of eloquence; yet they may perceive the spiritual things, and each of them may (if without ostentation.) declare: ‘I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.’ Ps. 119, 99, 100. Hence the complaint of many who call themselves Christians, is most disgraceful. They say, whilst there are so many teachers, who differ in their doctrines, we cannot know who teaches the truth; hence do not know whom we are to believe, or with whom to associate. Such because they do not see all the teachers united, cannot satisfy themselves with respect to the truth. From what they say, it seems if all, or the majority of teachers agreed in doctrines, they would believe the truth without any difficulty. This plainly shews that they wish to found their faith upon the authority of men. They could then believe, because the teachers agreed in doctrine, without being at the trouble of examining for themselves. What barefaced idolaters! How they seek to put their trust in men! Let such be in a proper situation towards the means of grace, and pay as much attention to the gospel, as they do to many other things; and there is no doubt but what their intellectual eyes shall be opened, and illumined by the blessed truth; and they shall be anointed, and sealed by the Holy Ghost; so that they will be no longer in suspense. Christ says ‘My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.’ John 7, 16, 17.
It is in vain for a man to suppose, that he believes in Christ, when he never suffered himself to be convinced by the law of his deep depravity; of his state of condemnation. The law was before the gospel, and it must needs perform its office in revealing sin, and shewing the wrath of God, before the gospel can impart its comforts. When the sinner is terrified by the law, he may at first conceive God to be angry with him, which would also be the case, if there was no mediator; but under his ever blessed dispensation, God only by this law terrifies the sinner; so that he may be in a situation to receive the most superabundant consolation. Let him therefore, who got bereft of his imaginary righteousness, by the penetrating flashes of the law; so that his spirit feels wounded, naked, and full of poverty be encouraged: for the Lord declares — ‘to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.’ Isa 66, 2.
Although a hatred against sin for the sake of its odiousness, does not accurately speaking, constitute a part of repentance; yet by discovering the consequences to which it leads: the separation it has made between the creature and the creator; the eternal exclusion from all happiness; the sinner will learn to despise it; because he has sufficient motives to despise that which is the cause of his misery. Whilst men are of the opinion, that to live in sin, is a benefit to them, that it affords them some satisfaction, and pleasure, it is in vain to exhort them to hate it: for who would hate that which he believed afforded him a benefit?
Although a sinner must repent, in order to be justified; yet even the believer must also daily repent, because he is frequently drawn aside by the inbred corruptions of his nature. He that knows that a saint has yet to strive against the flesh, also knows, that he does not live without repentance.