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our blessed Lord taught was that of repentance : · From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent:' that he taught it as necessary to qualify men for the kingdom of heaven; • Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. What is to be understood by the kingdom of heaven's being at hand, may be learned from the parallel place in St. Mark, chap. i. 14. 15.
Now, after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand : repent ye, and believe the gospel.' Now whatever we understand by “the kingdom of heaven, it is plain that the reason why it was said to be at hand, was because the time was fulfilled for the publishing the gospel to all the world; and that the exhortation in St. Matthew, · Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, is the same with that recorded in St. Mark, • Repent ye, and believe the gospel.' From whence it is evident that repentance was inculcated as necessary to prepare us for receiving the gospel of Christ Jesus.
The same appears likewise from the preaching of John the Baptist, who taught the same doctrine, and in the same words with our blessed Saviour; he was that 'voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.' As it was his
proper office to prepare the world for the reception of the great Prophet who was to come after him, we may certainly conclude from his preaching, what was the necessary preparation required; and as his doctrine was confined to the single point of repentance, this was undoubtedly the necessary qualification for all who were to receive the gospel of the kingdom of God.
As our Saviour, and his forerunner the Baptist, taught repentance as the first necessary step to the gospel; so also did the Apostles. When the twelve were sent out by our blessed Lord in the 6th of St. Mark, the Evangelist tells us in the 12th verse, that they went out and preached, that men should repent:' St. Peter, in his first sermon recorded in the 2nd of the Acts, exhorts his countrymen to 'repent, and be baptised for the remission of sins :' verse 38. And in the 20th of the Acts, St. Paul tells us how he had spent his time, ' testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance towards God,
and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ :' verse 21st; which were the very topics insisted on by our Lord, when he called on men to 'repent' and to believe the gospel.' The same account he gives of his preaching to king Agrippa, Acts xxvi. 20. namely, that he had showed both to Jew and Gentile, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.' In the 11th of the Acts it is said that the Apostles and brethren in Judea heard that the Gentilés also had received the word of God.' St. Peter was called on to render an account of his conduct, in communicating the privileges of the gospel to the Gentiles: when he had vindicated himself to their satisfaction, they thus expressed themselves: · Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.' Now it is evident that what God granted to the Gentiles was the same that the Gentiles received, and therefore ' repentance unto life' was the word of God,' published to the world by our Lord and his Apostles; and for this reason the writer to the Hebrews reckons repentance from dead works, and faith towards God, to be the first principles, or main foundation of the doctrine of Christ. Heb. vi. 1.
Before I proceed to lay before you the consequences which arise from this state of the case, I beg leave to make an observation or two in order to clear the way for what is to follow. may
observe then, that repentance was the very first thing insisted on, wherever the gospel was published, before any new law or doctrine was promulged, or so much as mentioned. The proof of this I need not attempt, since the passages
already produced do plainly contain it, and indeed the nature of the thing speaks it; for the repentance taught could not respect any new law to be delivered to the world, against which -no offence having been committed, no repentance could be required.
Secondly, that the gospel was ushered in by the doctrine of repentance, not only when it was delivered to the Jew, but also when it was proclaimed to the Gentile world. The Jews lived under the divine law delivered by Moses, and were guilty of many offences committed against that law, to which they owed obedience; but the Gentiles were not under that law, nor had they been ever called to the obedience of it; and there
fore the repentance which was taught, as the introduction of the gospel, did not regard any particular institution, but that general law of nature to which every man owed obedience, in virtue of the reason and understanding with which God has endowed him.
Thirdly, that true repentance requires change of mind, and leads to a reformation of manners, and a due obedience for the future to that law of righteousness against which the offence was committed; for where the obligation of obedience to any law ceases, there can be no call to repentance for disobedience. This doctrine is so plain in Scripture, and so uniformly taught by all the ministers of our church, that I would willingly suppose no one ignorant of it. The Baptist sufficiently explained himself, exhorting such as came to his baptism, to bring forth fruits meet for repentance :' to which general instruction his particular admonitions always correspond. To the hard-hearted and uncharitable Jews, he said, “ He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. To the publicans, whose crime was extortion, he said, “Exact no more than that which is appointed you.' To the soldiers, who were noted for rapine, false information, and the like vices, he said, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages.' In like manner our blessed Saviour, when he dismissed the woman taken in adultery, he let her depart with this advice : 'Go and sin no more.' So did he instruct also the man whom he had set free from the infirmity which was the punishment of his iniquity : • Behold, thou art made whole ; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee :' teaching neither the one nor the other any new doctrine with respect to their particular cases, but referring both back to that law which they had transgressed, as the proper measure of their future obedience.
I shall now proceed to lay before you such consequences as seem to me to be the natural result of this method made use of by our blessed Lord and his Apostles, in publishing the gospel to mankind.
And the first is this : that the religion of the gospel is the true original religion of reason and nature. It is so in part; it is all that and more. Repentance was necess
essary, but it was not all.
Repentance was the first step towards Christian perfection : see Heb. vi. 1.
This appears by considering the nature of that repentance which our Lord, and those who came after him in the ministry of the gospel, preached to the world : repentance supposes a transgression, and transgression supposes a law; for as the Apostle argues, 'where there is no law, there is no transgression.' And since repentance consists in a change of mind, in rectifying what was before amiss, and in fulfilling that obedience which was before wanting ; it is evident that to repent of the violation of any law is to return to the obedience of it : and he that exhorts and calls you to repentance, calls you back to the obedience of that law against which you had offended. The question then is, against what law those offences were committed, the repentance for which was so necessary,
that without it there was no admittance into the fellowship of the gospel of Christ. The laws of the gospel, considered as such, are evidently excluded on the present view ; for repentance being the first thing every where taught, and antecedently to the publication of any of the rules and precepts of the gospel, the law not yet published could not be the rule of that repentance which related to sins already committed. At the time of the publication of the gospel, there were many forms and institutions of religion subsisting in the world; but as these were very different from one another, insomuch that if some were true, others were certainly false ; so they could not be the ground of that repentance which being generally taught to all the world, to the Gentile as well as the Jew, must respect some general law, which related alike to all, and the obligations to which were in some degree universally felt and acknowleged: and this can be no other than that which the Apostle to the Romans has described in chap. ii. 14. 15. • When the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves : which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.' However the light of reason and nature was darkened and obscured by the ignorance and superstition of the world, yet some remains of it were in all places to be
found ; and the general principles of religion were so riveted in human nature, that she could not but start at any thing that directly contradicted them : thus, for instance, in the great branch of natural religion, which relates to the worship and service of God, though mankind had universally erred and defiled themselves with many pollutions and abominations, yet atheism was as detested a crime in the heathen world as it is in the Christian; and some, we know, were thought worthy of death for being the maintainers of so unnatural an opinion. A sense of the moral duties between man and man was better preserved ; and there are not many vices condemned in the gospel, which were not infamous before in all the civilised parts of the world. This general law, as the Apostle tells us, was the ground-work of conscience, the testimony of the conscience plainly showing the work of the law to be written in the heart; and this is a farther evidence that this law of nature was the foundation of that repentance which was to usher in the gospel; for as the preaching of repentance necessarily refers himself to the consciences of men, to point out to them the guilt of their actions ; so must his doctrine necessarily relate to that law, which is the principle or origin of conscience. Since then the doctrine of repentance, with which the gospel set out in the world, had reference to the law of reason and nature, against which men bad every where offended; and since repentance infers the necessity of a future reformation, and a return to that duty and obedience from which by transgression we are fallen ; the consequence is manifestly this, that the gospel was a republication of the law of nature, and its precepts declarative of that original religion which was as old as the creation.
That this must certainly be the case, will appear by considering the nature of the thing itself. The notions of good and evil are eternally and unalterably the same; which notions are the rules and measures of all moral actions, and are consequently necessary and constituent parts of religion ; and therefore if the religion of nature, in her primitive state, was pure and uncorrupt, (which will not, I presume, be denied,) though there was sufficient reason for a republication of it, because of the great ignorance and superstition which had grown on the world, yet there could be no reason for any alteration of it; for