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The prophet Ezekiel exhorted those who were pining away in their iniquity to change their hearts as well as their lives, as the only way to escape eternal death. “Repent and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel.”
The prophet Joel called upon sinners in a time of danger and distress, “to turn unto the Lord with all their hearts, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning; and to rend their hearts and not their garments.”
John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, and the greatest of all the prophets, urged sinners to repent immediately and believe in him, who was to come. We read, “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And when he saw many of the pharisees and sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits mect for repentance.”
Our Savior, who soon succeeded his forerunner as a preacher, exhorted sinners, as one having authorly, to repent and believe the gospel immediately. This appears from the account which Mark gives of of his public ministry. “Now after 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.” This was his usual mode of addressing sinners in his public and private discourses. As“he was walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea. And he saith unto them, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets: and he called them. . And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.” He required all whom he called to follow him, to obey his call without the least delay. When one begged time to go and bury his father, he gave him this short negative answer: “Let the dead bury their dead.” And when another desired leave to bid his friends farewell, he refused to grant his request. In his sermon on the mount, he exhorted sinners to change their hearts, and immediately become holy and benevolent as their father in heaven. And he severely condemned the scribes and pharisees, who taught a different doctrine. “Wo unto you! for ye pay tithes of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, ye make clean the outside of the cup, and of the platter, but within are full of extortion and excess. Cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.”
Such was Christ's mode of preaching, which bis first apostles uniformly followed. While Peter was preaching to the threc thousand on the day of Pentecost, "they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and unto the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter gave them the only proper direction in their solemn situation. "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the
name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." The next public discourse, which he delivered to the people who saw bim cure the lame man at the gate of the temple, he concluded with this exhortation: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out." And when he saw Simon the sorcerer in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity, he paid no regard to his moral impotence, but with great solemnity, said, “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps, or rather, so that, the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. James, another apostle, followed the example and direction of Christ, in preaching the gospel to sinners, and urged them to immediate repentance, humiliation and submission. “Submit yourselves to God. Draw nigh to him, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy ta heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up."
We have now said enough, and perhaps more than enough, to convince every candid mind, that the prophets, John the Baptist, Christ, and his first apos, tles, preached to sinners in precisely the same manner, and uniformly exhorted them to immediate repentance and reconciliation to God. The plain and natural conclusion is, that there was a perfect propriety in the apostle Paul's mode of preaching. He stands completely justified, by the voice of reason, by the best examples, and by the highest authority, in “testifying both to the Jews and also to the Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."
This subject now suggests some things of serious importance to those who preach, and to those who hear the gospel. Occa.
consistent with his calling upon all men every where to repent and believe the gospel, upon the very first offer of salvation.
He further saw, that the true doctrine concerning the total depravity of sinners, was consistent with his mode of preaching. Some suppose, that total depravity consists in the mere want of a good taste, or a good disposition, or a holy principle. And some suppose, that total depravity consists in a positive bad taste, or bad disposition, or sinsul principle. But whether it consists in a want of a good principle, or in a positive bad principle, they suppose, that while sinners are really under the dominion of total depravity, there is no propriety in calling upon them to repent and believe the gospel, because they are under a natural inability to exercise repentance and faith. Here it must be allowed, that if the total depravity of sinners does consist either in the want of a good principle, or in a positive bad principle, they are really under a natural inabil. ity to repent and believe the gospel, and so long as this natural inability remains, there is no propriety at all, in urging them to exercise repentance, or faith, or love, or any other gracious affection. But the apostle had a very different idea of the moral depravity of sinners. He supposed it consisted neither in a want of a good principle, nor in a positive bad principle; but altogether in free, voluntary exercises of self-love. Accordingly he represented them as being “overs of their own selves,” and as having “a carnal mind, which was enmity against God.” And in this view of the total depravity of sinners, he saw a perfect propriety, in calling upon them to hate sin, to love holiness, and heartily embrace the gospel.
Add to this, he saw that the true doctrine concerning regeneration, was consistent with his mode of
preaching. All men form their idea of regeneration according to their idea of total depravity. Those who
suppose, that total depravity consists either in a want of a good principle or in a positive bad principle, of consequence suppose, that regeneration consists in the implantation of a new holy principle, in which the subject is wholly passive. They consider regeneration as a physical rather than a moral change; and suppose, that when sinners are regenerated by the divine Spirit, they have a new holy principle given them, which is prior to, and the foundation of, all their future exercises of holiness. Hence they naturally conclude, that sinners are totally passive in regeneration, and that previously to their receiving a new principle of holiness, they are under the same kind of inability to exercise any holy affection, that a blind man is to see, or a deaf man to hear, or a dead man to move, And upon this ground, they deny the propriety of urging sinners to inmediate repentance and faith. But though the apostle believed the total depravity of sinners, and the special influence of the Spirit in chang. ing their hearts; yet he had no idea, that they were passive in regeneration, or that this saving change consisted in the implantation of a holy or gracious principle. He represented God as renewing sinners, * by shedding abroad his love in their hearts;” or by working in them both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” He represented the “fruit of the Spirit to be love,” not the principle of love; “to be joy,” not the principle of joy; "to be faith,” not the principle of faith. He represented sinners to be active, and not passive, while under the renewing, as well as sanctifying influence of the divine Spirit. Hence he clearly discerned the propriety of his urging sinners “to awake and arise from spiritual death, to put off the old man and put on the new, and wediately walk in newness of life."