The Nature and Necessity of True Repentance
Based on a Sermon by Samuel Davies, May 22, 1757
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent! Act 17:30
We find Paul here in as learned an assembly as, perhaps, he ever appeared in. We find him in Athens, a city of Greece, famous all over the world for learning; a city where Socrates, Plato, and the most illustrious philosophers of antiquity, lived and taught. We find him in the famous Court of Areopagus, or Mars-Hill, where the wisest men and best philosophers of this wise and philosophical city gathered together.
And how does the apostle conduct himself in these critical circumstances? See how, instead of amusing them with a learned lecture; instead of confirming them in their idolatry, and vindicating himself by publicly professing that he worshiped the gods of the country, and sacrificed at the established altars; instead of this, the apostle boldly, though in a very wise and kind manner, exposes their superstitions, calls them off from their idols—to the worship of the one true God, the Maker and Ruler of heaven and earth! And, having asserted these fundamental articles of natural religion, he introduces the glorious peculiarities of Scripture revelation, and preached Jesus Christ to them as the Savior and Judge of the world.
In our text, he firmly teaches the great gospel duty of repentance as binding on all mankind, (philosophers and teachers, as well as the common and illiterate) in Athens, as well as in the most uncivilized countries of the earth.
"The times of ignorance God overlooked." By the times of ignorance, he means the times before the propagation of the gospel in the heathen world, who for many ages were sunk in the most gross ignorance of the true God, and in the most absurd and wicked superstition and idolatry, notwithstanding the loud protests of the light of reason, and the various lessons of the book of creation, the nature all around us which is so legible to all.
When it is said that God overlooked these times of ignorance, it may mean, as our translators seem to have understood it, that God seemed to not to take notice of this universal ignorance that had overspread the world, and so did not send his prophets to them to reform them. Taken this way, there is a strong contrast between the first and last parts of our text. The meaning in this case is that "God once seemed to overlook the idolatry and superstition of mankind, and to let them go on, without sending his messengers to call them to repentance; and in those dark times their impenitence was less inexcusable. But now the case is very different! Now he has introduced a glorious day, and he plainly and loudly calls and commands all men everywhere to repent; and therefore, if you continue impenitent now, then you are utterly inexcusable."
Or it may be understood that when it is said that God overlooked these times of ignorance: he overlooked them by way of displeasure; he would not favor such guilty times with a gracious glance of his eye: and in righteous displeasure he did not so much as give them an explicit call to repentance. And so long as he overlooked them, however much they seemed to advance in human learning, yet they remained in complete darkness with respect to God. But now, according to his own will, he puts an end to this long age of darkness and commands all men everywhere to repent; all men, Gentiles as well as Jews: everywhere in the dark heathen lands, as well as in the enlightened spot of Judea.
Repentance is indeed a duty that our natural reason can see, and that is strongly enforced by the Jewish religion; but it is the gospel that gives the strongest motives and encouragements, and the best helps and advantages for repentance. The gospel was first introduced by a loud call to repentance: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matt 3:2) was the united cry of John the Baptist, of Christ, and his disciples. And Paul sums up the substance of his preaching in these two articles, "Repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:21)
Repentance is universally acknowledged to be an essential ingredient in the religion of a sinner. Those who deny the Christian religion, and particularly the necessity of Christ's death to make atonement for sin, deny it with this reasoning, that the light of nature teaches us the need of repentance, and that repentance in itself is a sufficient atonement for one's sins. Thus, even infidels, Jews, Pagans, and Muslims, agree in insisting on the necessity of repentance. It is this grand, universal, undisputed duty, and not the little questionable peculiarity of one party, that I am now about to insist upon.
But here, I hope the question comes to your mind, "Please let us know what repentance is, before you exhort us to it. How can we know what it is to repent, and whether we have truly repented or not?"
If this is your desire, it directly coincides with the main purpose of this sermon: and I will endeavor, with the most plainness and faithfulness, to tell you what gospel repentance is, and help you to determine whether ever you have been the subjects of it.
Now it is evident, both from Scripture and common sense, that every pang of sorrow for sin, and every instance of reformation, is not that repentance which we are now considering. If horror of conscience and fears of hell could constitute true repentance, then Judas was a true penitent; for his horror and fear were so great that he could not live under it. If sudden pangs of terror and remorse, with some resolutions to amend, could constitute true repentance, then Felix, the heathen governor, was a true penitent; for we are told, that, while Paul reasoned before him, concerning self-control, righteousness, and judgment to come—that he “was alarmed,” (Acts 24:25) and seemed resolved to give him another hearing on these subjects. If a reformation in many instances were the same thing with repentance, then Herod, the murderer of John the Baptist, was a true penitent; for we are told, he heard John gladly, and “feared (him), knowing that he was a righteous and holy man.” (Mark 6:20) But these knew nothing of true repentance that leads to life; and therefore we may feel what they felt—and yet remain impenitent.
I am sure there are none here so hardened as never to have experienced any sort of repentance. It is likely there is not one in this assembly but has sometimes been scared with dreadful thoughts of death, hell, and the consequences of sin. And perhaps you have cried and wept to think of your sinful life, and trembled to think how It would all end. You have also prayed to God to forgive you, and resolved and promised that you would reform. It is even possible, the terrors of the Lord and a sense of guilt, may have almost overwhelmed and distracted you, haunted you from day to day, and disturbed your nightly sleep. On these accounts you come to the conclusion, perhaps, that you are true penitents: but, alas! after all this, you may be but impenitent sinners! True evangelical repentance has the following distinguishing characteristics; by which I entreat you to examine yourselves.
1. It extends to the heart—as well as to the practice.
Every true penitent, indeed, has a distressing sense of the many sins and guilty imperfections of his life; but then his repentance does not stop there—but he looks into the horrid collection of sin in his heart—the secrets of wickedness within. He traces up these corrupt streams—to the more corrupt fountain in his heart, from which they flow. A blind mind; a corrupt heart, a heart dissatisfied with God—which could live content for months, for years, without loving God; a heart dead to his service, a heart insensible to eternal things, a heart excessively set upon earthly trifles; a hardened conscience; a stubborn, ungovernable will—these, to the true penitent, appear the greatest crimes, while, by a thoughtless world, they are hardly noticed as slight imperfections.
Therefore when his walk in the eyes of men is un-blameworthy, and even laudable—he still finds daily occasions for repentance and humiliation before God. For his heart, or his inward character, is not such as it should be! He does not love God nor man as he knows he should! He does not delight in the service of God as he should! Every thought, every motion of his heart towards forbidden objects alarms him, like a symptom of the plague, or the stirring of an enemy in ambush; and he is immediately in arms to resist it!
But the thoughtless world in general, are very well pleased if their outward actions are good, and if they abstain from what is grossly evil. But this does not satisfy the true penitent: he narrowly inspects the principles, the motives, and the ends of his actions; and there he finds sufficient cause for shame and sorrow, even when his actions in themselves are lawful and good. In short, every true penitent is a critic of his own heart; and there he finds constant cause for repentance while in this imperfect state.
The proof of this is so evident, that I need hardly mention it. Can you suppose that it will satisfy a true lover of God and holiness, just to have a clean outside—while his heart is a mere mass of corruption? Will it content such a one, that he performs all the outward duties of religion—if there is no life or spirit in them? Will God account that man truly penitent, who thinks it is enough that he is not guilty of open acts of wickedness, though he indulges it, and loves it in his heart? No! Such repentance is a shallow, superficial thing, and is good for nothing! David's repentance reached his heart. And so, in his penitential Psalm, Psalm 51, he not only confesses his being guilty of the blood of Uriah—but that he was shaped in iniquity, and conceived in sin, and earnestly prays, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me!" And he is deeply aware of the lack of truth or integrity in the inward parts.
Now, please consider, if this is an essential ingredient in true repentance, do not some of you see, that you are destitute of it, and therefore, that you are still impenitent sinners, and ready to perish as such! A dreadful conviction! But do not shut your eyes against it, for, until you see your error—you cannot correct it.
2. In evangelical repentance, there is a deep sense of the intrinsic evil of sin, and a hearty sorrow for it as done against God Himself.
Many who think they repent of sin—have no proper sorrow on account of sin against God—but only on account of the punishment it is likely to bring on themselves. It is not sin they hate—but hell. Were it possible for them to enjoy their sins—and yet be happy forever, they would never think of repenting; and so repentance is really a hardship in their view. Need I tell you that such a servile, forced repentance—is good for nothing? If the criminal is very sorry, not because he has offended—but because he is to be executed for it—would you call him a true penitent? If your child cries and trembles, not from a sense of his offence against you—but for fear of discipline, do you think he truly repents of it? No! This is merely self-love, and not the love of duty; it is fear of punishment, and not hatred of the crime—which is the principle of this servile, insincere repentance.
And so you see that you may be very sorry for your sin, because it may earn you a bad name, because it may set you back financially, or because it may ruin you in the eternal world. In truth, you may be very sorry for sin on such selfish reasons as these—and yet know nothing of true repentance. True repentance is a more heartfelt, sincere thing; it proceeds from a deep sense of the baseness and evil of sin in itself.
Sin appears to the true penitent—as some kinds of poison to us; that is, not only hateful because it is deadly and destructive—but hateful and nauseating in itself. I don’t mean that the fear of punishment is no ingredient in true repentance: the love of God and self-love are very consistent, if self-love is kept in its proper second place with respect to the love of God; and therefore the fear of punishment has great weight even with the evangelical penitent. But I mean the fear of punishment is not the principal reason, much less the only reason and motive of true repentance. The true penitent hates sin, even when he is not thinking of heaven or hell—but only viewing it in its own nature. Though he was allowed to go to heaven in the ways of sin—he would by no means choose it. Heaven itself would be the less desirable to him, if it were the end of such a course of sin.
He is also deeply sorry for sin—as against God, or as contrary to him. He is also deeply sorry for sin—as rebellion against God's authority, as contrary to his holiness, as an opposition to his will and pleasure, as a most base, ungrateful response for all his goodness. He is also deeply sorry for sin—as the cause of all the agonies of the blessed Jesus! He hates it; he sincerely mourns over it. It was sin in this view—as against God, that most burdened David's heart. He seems to have forgotten the wrong he had done to Uriah and his wife, while all his attention was engrossed by the horror of his crime—as against God. "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight!" (Ps 51:4)
It was this view of sin that armed Joseph, in the rashness of youth—with powers to resist the temptations of his mistress. "How … can I do this great wickedness and sin against God!" (Gen 39:9) The thought of sinning against God, against so glorious, so gracious and excellent a Being, pierced him to the heart, and he could not bear it. Thus it is with every true penitent. It wounds him to the heart to think that he should treat so good and holy a God—so basely and wickedly. This thought would break his heart, even though there might be no apparent danger to himself in sin; and it does in fact grieve him, and melt down his soul into sincere sorrows, even when he has not one thought of his own danger.
More than that, evangelical repentance is of such a sincere nature, that the penitent soul never melts so freely, nor bursts out into such a flood of sincere sorrows—as when it has reason to hope that a gracious God has freely forgiven it. Then it sees the base ingratitude and deep vileness of sin—as committed against so gracious a God. God's forgiving the penitent is a reason to him—why he should never forgive himself. If God had concealed the glory of his grace, and made himself less lovely—he would be less sensible of the evil of sinning against him, and less sorry for it. But now that he should sin against a God who is so gracious as to forgive him after all! This thought cuts him to the heart! And so the evidences of pardon and the hope of salvation do not put an end to true repentance—but, on the other contrary, promote it! This blessed hope, indeed, lessens the terrors of a slave, and mixes much sweetness in the bitter cup of repentance; but it is so far from putting a stop to the flow of sincere sorrows—that it opens new springs for them, and causes them to gush out in larger streams!
How different is this from the general behaviour of the world! If they repent—it is while hell stands open before them, and the load of guilt oppresses them. But could they believe that God has forgiven their sins, and that they shall nevertheless be saved, they would be very calm about it; Indeed, they would most gladly, from this very consideration, be encouraged to sin all the more boldly!
This is more than the secret thoughts of their hearts: it is the avowed profession of multitudes. Ask them how they can go on in such and such a sin, and be content in such a path? Their answer is, "God is merciful; and they hope he will forgive and save them after all." What is this but an explicit purpose to sin against God—because he is good; and to abuse his mercy—if he will be merciful! Nothing but harsh discipline can keep such sordid, mindless souls in subjection. Their hearts are dead to gratitude and every sincere passion. If God will have them to repent, he must give them no hope of pardon and happiness; for as this hope rises, their repentance ceases, and sin appears a harmless, inoffensive thing!
But how different is this from the sincere character of the true penitent! It wounds him more to offend a sin-pardoning than a sin-punishing God! And never does his heart melt so kindly—as when under the warmth of divine love! Never does he repent so heartily—as with a pardon in his hand, and with the prospect of heaven open before him! Do not think that this an excessive refinement of repentance, for common sense may tell you, that God will never accept of that repentance which has the punishment, and not the crime for its object; and this sincere character is assigned to the true penitent in the sacred Scriptures.
After God has promised many blessings to the Jews, this is mentioned as the consequence, "Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign LORD." Ezekiel 16:63. So, after many promises of rich blessings, it is said, "that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done!" Ezekiel 36:31. You see this shame and confusion, this penitential remembrance and self-loathing, are the effects of God's being reconciled. When God is pacified, then they are ashamed, confounded, and loathe themselves!
And now, examine yourselves. Does your repentance stand this test? Examine and see; for if it does not, it is only a repentance to be repented of, a false repentance.
3. True repentance extends to all known sin, without exception.
If sin, considered in itself, or sin, as done against God—is the object of true repentance, then it follows, that whatever is sin in itself, or against God, must be the object of it. Every sin, whether it consists in neglecting what is commanded, or doing what is forbidden: whether it is immediately against God, against our neighbour, or ourselves; whether it is fashionable, constitutional, pleasing, or painful; every sin, without exception, as far as it is known—is hated and lamented by the true penitent. He should indeed regard them according to their different degrees of seriousness; but he should not except any of them, even the smallest. They are all forbidden by the same divine authority; all contrary to the holy nature of God; all opposite to the obligations of duty and gratitude we are under to him; and, therefore, they must be all repented of. This was the character of David—that he hated “every false way!" (Ps 119:128)
Now, does not this description paint some of you to be impenitent sinners? Do you not make exceptions for some sins in your repentance, and plead for an indulgence for them? If so, you may be sure that your hearts are not right with God.
4. True repentance always includes reformation.
There are many whose whole life seems to be one continued struggle between the strength of sin and conscience; and they run round in a circle of sinning and repenting; repenting and sinning—all their days. Sin is so strong that it will triumph, in spite of all the struggles of conscience; and conscience remains so vigorous, that it still continues to struggle, though without success. They commit sin—then are sorry for it; then commit it again. And in this endless circle they spend their lives. And the repentance of some is actually so far from reforming them from sin—that it rather encourages them to return to it; for now, they think, they have cleared off the old score, and they may venture upon a new one; until that also swells very high, and then they have another fit of repentance to clear off this new account.
But seriously consider, is this repentance that leads to life? What good is that sorrow for sin—which leaves the heart as much in love with it as ever! The only reason why sorrow is a necessary ingredient in repentance is, because we will not, we cannot, abandon sin—until it is made bitter to us; and, therefore, when our sorrow does not have this effect, it is altogether useless. Can that repentance save you, which is so far from being an ingredient of holiness, that it is a preparation for sin—a repentance that answers no other end but to make conscience easy after a fall, and prepare it for another round of sin?
Is this the nature of true repentance? Certainly not! It is the character of every true penitent, that sin does not have an habitual dominion over him. (Romans 6:14) Remember that maxim of the wise man, "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy." (Prov 28:13) Notice, not only confessing—but also forsaking them—is necessary to the obtaining of mercy. The same thing appears from the various expressions used in Scripture to describe repentance.
To repent, in the language of the Bible, is to depart from our evil ways; to cease to do evil, and learn to do well; to cleanse our hands, and purify our hearts. These expressions describe not only sorrow for sin—but especially reformation from it. It is vain, then, for you to pretend to repent—if you still go on in the sins you repent of! If you indulge yourselves in any one known sin, however small you may think it—then you are utter strangers to true repentance. I do not mean by this, that true penitents are perfectly free from sin in this life: alas indeed! their painful experience makes the best of them quite aware of the contrary. But I mean two things, which deserve your notice:
1. The one is, that every true penitent has a habitual dominion over sin: the principles of religion and virtue are most commonly uppermost in his soul, and habitually regulate his behaviour. As for gross, overt acts of sin—he is habitually free from them, and, indeed, generally this is no great difficulty. To him it is no such mighty exploit to abstain from drunkenness, swearing, injustice, or the like. And as to his daily infirmities, they are contrary to the habitual, prevailing bent of his soul, and are the matter of his daily lamentation.
2. And this introduces the second remark which is this: the fact that the true penitent cannot be perfect in this life—is the daily grief and burden of his soul. Many hypocrites seem well pleased that this is an imperfect state, because they think it gives them an excuse for their neglect of the service of God, and for their sinful indulgences. In short, sin is their delight, and, therefore, freedom from it would be a painful bereavement to them; and they are glad they are in such a state as will admit of their retaining it. Now such people, as I observed, do really esteem it a privilege to be imperfect, and they rejoice in it as their happiness, that they are able to continue in sin.
But it is quite the reverse with the true penitent—perfection in holiness, and an entire freedom from sin—is the object of his eager desire and most vigorous pursuit; and he can never be easy until he is free from it. If he cannot enjoy the pleasure of serving God as he would in the present state, he must, at least, enjoy the pleasure of grieving over and lamenting his guilty imperfections. If he cannot get free from sin, his old enemy, he will, at least, take a kind of pleasing revenge upon it, by hating and resisting it, and loathing it, and himself on account of it. In short, the remains of sin bring him more uneasiness, perplexity, and sorrow—than all other things in the world. And if he were but delivered from this body of death, he would be happy, however oppressed with other burdens; but while sin defiles him, all the world cannot make him easy and happy.
From the whole, you see that reformation is an essential ingredient of true repentance; and it is useless to pretend that you repent of sin—if you still indulge yourselves in it. You may try to excuse yourselves, from the frailty of your nature, the imperfection of the present state, or the strength of temptation. But in spite of all your excuses, this is an eternal truth—that unless your repentance reforms you, and turns you from the outward practice or secret indulgence of those sins you are sorry for—it is not repentance that leads to life.
5. And lastly, evangelical repentance implies a believing application to God for pardon—only through Jesus Christ.
Evangelical repentance does not consist in despairing agonies and hopeless horrors of conscience—but comes with a humble hope of forgiveness and acceptance; and this hope is founded entirely upon the merits of Jesus—and not of our repentance and reformation.
How opposite to this is the common spirit of the world! If they repent, it is to make amends for their sins, and procure the divine favor by their repentance; and so, even their repentance becomes a snare to them, and one cause of their destruction! In this sense, more souls are destroyed by their 'repentance'—than by their sin!" That is, their superficial, servile repentance has the appearance of goodness, and therefore they make a righteousness of it; and on this quicksand they build their hopes, until they sink in final ruin!
And so the great gospel duty of repentance, as distinguished from all counterfeits and delusive appearances has been described to you. I hope you have all understood this; for I have tried to make myself understood, and spoke as plainly as I could. If you have experienced such a sincere, evangelical repentance, as has been described, you may venture your souls upon it, that it is repentance that leads to life; but if you are strangers to it, I may leave it to yourselves to determine, whether you can be saved in your present condition.
Here are three final remarks to the further illustrate this subject:
1. The first is, that all the principles of degenerate human nature can never produce this sincere and thorough repentance—but that it is the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit. Self-love, and the other low and unthinking principles of human nature, may produce a servile, mercenary repentance, coming out of the fears of punishment. But only the love of God, and the noble principles of the new nature, can bring you to a genuine, sincere repentance, from noble motives. And it is the Holy Spirit alone who can pour out the love of God in your hearts, and implant these sincere principles of the new nature.
2. The second remark is, that this sincere, supernatural repentance, is not the first repentance of an awakened sinner. No; he is first alarmed with terror and dreadful visions of punishment; and all the range of human efforts are put in motion before these nobler principles are infused, and finally brought to a genuine, evangelical repentance.
3. Therefore, thirdly, the only way to attain to this supernatural repentance is to use all proper means to excite the sources of natural repentance, particularly: to reflect on your sins, on their number and seriousness, and your dreadful danger. While you are without the love of God—let self-love excite you to be sorry for your sins. While you cannot see the intrinsic evil of sin as against God, see at least the insupportable misery it will bring upon you. If you have not such sincere souls as to mourn over sin as against a sin-forgiving God, at least mourn over sin as against a sin-punishing God. And while the principles of nature are exercised in this way—who knows but that God may work in you nobler principles, and give you repentance that leads to life.
And now, by way of application, we come to a short illustration of the other parts of our text.
1. Let me then, in the first place, publish the royal edict of the King of heaven in this assembly: "God commands all people to repent!" He commands you in various ways: commands you with the motions of his Spirit striving with you; and by the voice of your own consciences, which is the voice of God; commands you by his providence, which tends to lead you to repentance; and especially by his gospel, which he has sent to you for this purpose. He now commands you by my mouth; for while I speak what his Word authorizes, it does not lose its power, nor cease to be his Word by passing through my lips.
Remember, he commands you, he lays his authority upon you—to repent. You are not given a choice in the case. Do you dare to reject the known, express command of God? Should a voice now break from heaven, directed to each of you by name, saying, "Repent! repent!" Would it not startle you? Would it not shock you, to set yourselves in opposition to so express and immediate a command of the God who made you? Well, his command to you in the gospel is as real, as authoritative and binding, as an immediate voice from heaven!
And do you dare disobey it? Dare you go home this day with this additional guilt upon you, of disobeying a known command of the supreme Lord of heaven and earth? Dare you provoke him to jealousy? Are you stronger than he is? Can you harden yourselves against him—and yet prosper? I again proclaim it aloud in your hearing. The King of kings, my Master, has issued his royal mandate, requiring you to repent—upon pain of everlasting damnation. This day it is proclaimed in your ears, therefore this day repent. If you refuse to repent, let this conviction follow you home, and perpetually haunt you—that you have this day, when you were meeting together under pretence of worshiping God, knowingly disobeyed the great gospel-command. And to the great God you must answer for your disobedience!
2. In the next place, this text tells you, that he commands all people to repent: all people, of all ranks and characters. This command, therefore, is binding on you all. The great God cries to you all, "Repent! Repent, young and old, rich and poor, white and black! Repent, you young sinners, now, while your hearts are soft and tender, and your passions easily moved, and you are not hardened by a long course of habitual sinning. Repent, you grey-headed, veteran sinners, now at last repent, when the load of sins, heaped up for so many years lies so heavy upon you, and you are walking every moment on the slippery brink of eternity! Repent, you rich men; you are not above this command! Repent, you poor; you are not beneath it! Repent, you poor slaves; your color, or low estate in life, cannot free you from this command! Repent, you masters, for your sins against your Master, who is in heaven!"
In short, God commands all men, kings and subjects, the highest and the lowest, and all the intermediate ranks, to repent!
To make the call still more pointed and universal, it is added, "He commands all people, everywhere to repent!" Everywhere, in city and country; in palaces and cottages; in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, wherever the trumpet of the gospel sounds the alarm—to repent! Repentance is a duty that extends as far as human nature, as far as the utmost boundaries of this guilty world. Wherever there are sinners under a dispensation of grace—there this command reaches. It reaches to the busy merchant in his store, to the hard working planter in the field, and to the tradesman in his shop; to the sailor tossing on the waves, and to the inhabitant of solid ground; to the man of learning in his study, and to the illiterate peasant; to the judge on the bench, as well as to the criminal in prison; to the man of sobriety, as well as to the rough drunkard; to the minister in the pulpit, and to the people in their pews; to the dissenter in the meeting-house, and to the conformist in church; to husbands and wives; to parents and children; to masters and servants; to all people, whatever they are, wherever they dwell, whatever they are doing; to all these the command to repent reaches. And do you not find yourselves included in it? If you are men, if you dwell anywhere on this guilty earth, you are included; for, let me tell you once more, "God commands all people, everywhere, to repent!"
Nor are you allowed to delay your compliance. Repentance is your present duty: God “commands all people everywhere to repent!" Now, when the times of ignorance are over, and the gospel shines divine light among you! Now, when he will no longer overlook your impenitence—but takes strict notice of it with just indignation! Now, while the day of grace lasts, and there is place left for repentance! Now, before you are hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and while his spirit is striving with you! Now, while his judgments are in the earth, and floods, earthquakes, hurricanes are sounding their warnings! Now, while you have time, which may be taken from you the next year, the next week, or, perhaps, the very next moment! Now, while you enjoy health of body, and the exercise of your reason, and your attention is not tied down by pain and agony! Now, and not tomorrow; not on a sick bed; not in a dying hour. Now is the time in which God commands you to repent; he does not allow you one hour's delay; and what right have you to allow it to yourselves?
Therefore, now, this moment, let us all repent! All, without exception. Why should there not be one assembly of true penitents on our guilty earth? And why should it not be this one? Why should not repentance be as universal as sin? And, since we are all sinners, why should we not all be humble penitents? Seriously consider this: Repent, you must—either in time—or eternity; either on earth—or in hell. You cannot possibly avoid it. The question is not, shall I repent? for that is beyond a doubt. But the question is, "Shall I repent now, when it may save me; or shall I put it off until the eternal world, when my repentance will be my punishment, and can do nothing else but torment me forever?"
And is this a hard question? Does not common sense lead you to choose the present time? Therefore, let the duty be as extensively observed as it is commanded: Let all people everywhere repent!
Blessed God! Pour out upon us a spirit of grace and supplication, that there may be a great mourning among us; that we may sincerely repent—and be eternally saved. Grant this for Jesus' sake!