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ROMANS ii. 4.
The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.
Jlhis sentence is short and plain; but the sentiment it contains is highly important and interesting. May we know its truth, feel its influence, and realize its advantages!
The Apostle, in the former chapter, describes the condition of the heathen world: he presents before us an affecting picture of their degeneracy and crimes. In this chapter he proceeds to shew that the Jews were little better. Notwithstanding their superior privileges, their wickedness was enormous; and there was scarcely a vice to which the Gentiles were addicted, but which was practised by the Jews.
Remarkable delicacy is observed in the transition to the state of the Jews, as the Apostle does not explicitly name them till the ninth verse: his meaning, however, is obvious, and the censure he passes is just: —" Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth, against them who commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them who do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering?"
These had been abundantly exercised toward the Jews; for though a rebellious people, they were peculiarly distinguished. "To them were committed the oracles of God; and to them pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises." To them was sent a succession of faithful prophets; and these were followed by the Saviour, the Son of God. With wicked han"ds he was crucified and slain; yet the very men who accomplished his death were first favoured with proposals of mercy through him. The Apostles were directed, as Christian Ministers, to commence their labours at Jerusalem; there to announce the astonishing news of salvation by the cross of Christ, and to urge on the Jews first, the acceptance of its invaluable blessings. These were " the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering;" but they were despised—" not knowing," that is, refusing to know, not considering and reflecting as they ought, "that the goodness of God leadeth to repentance."
Such was the unhappy state of the impenitent Jews, and their judgment was according to truth. We take the text, however, in its detached form, and consider it as an important proposition in which we ourselves are concerned.
I. We offer a few Remarks On The Words Of the text.
"Repentance" properly denotes a change of mind; an entire alteration of the judgment, inclination, and habits. Hence it is expressive of such views of our state as sinners, and such a consciousness of ill-desert on account of sin, as excite compunction, shame, and self-abhorrence; and these connected with sincere desire in future to avoid sin, to undo as much as possible the evil that has been committed, and to repair its mischief. This is repentance. It supposes offence; but it also supposes a way by which offence may be forgiven. It implies, that the Being against whom transgression is directed is disposed to pardon, and has revealed his readiness to accept. It is not conviction only, but unfeigned contrition; and this contrition always resulting in real and permanent amendment.
There is something instructive in the expression, "leadeth to repentance." It describes the method in which the Lord deals with rational creatures; and this is persuasive and attractive. There is a sort of spurious repentance, to which men are sometimes driven. Thus Ahab was driven by Divine threatenings, Pharaoh by supernatural judgments, Felix by the dread of a future reckoning, and Judas by the stings and terror of his own conscience. It is true, the mind may be first awakened to serious thought by some afflictive occurrence: but to genuine repentance a man is not driven; he is led;—allured by the discovery of hope, and drawn by the attraction of love.
An intimation is also given, that repentance is a personal concern, an individual obligation:—" leadeth thee to repentance." It matters not so much what others are: the question is, What are we? The charge alleged by the prophet is pointed: "No man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have / done?" Let each, therefore, look into his own heart, and try the disposition of his own mind. Let a man examine himself, and pursue the inquiry;—Is unfeigned repentance mine? Am I, or am I not, a broken-hearted penitent?
And observe what it is that conducts to this happy result. Not judgments, not desolation and wrath; but "the goodness of God;" or, in language still more full and impressive, " the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering." It is not meant that this is always the case in point of fact. Alas J we have many melancholy instances of the reverse. "The goodness of God," instead of leading to repentance, frequently becomes the occasion of accumulated crimes, and is abused to the practice of grosser iniquity: through the depravity of the heart, it emboldens men in transgression, and hardens them in impenitence. The text, therefore, must be considered as expressing the true design of Divine goodness, the effect whieh it qught to produce, its natural and proper tendency. "The goodness of God," when not abused, when not sinfully perverted, is most beneficial in its influence, and most happy in its result;—it " leadeth to repentance."
'II. We attempt more particularly to Illustrate The Sentiment which the text contains; in which we remark time, means, and motives.
1. The goodness of God gives time for repentance. —This is implied in the words, " forbearance and long-suffering;" and who has not reason to speak of these, and to stand astonished at their unwearied exercise? It is said of one, " I gave her space to repent, and she repented not." Here was the perversion of Diyine goodness. Of others it is affirmed, "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." Here is depravity in its most hateful form; the hardness of an impenitent heart increased by what ought to soften it, and iniquity encouraged by what ought most effectually to restrain and subdue it.
God forbid that this depravity should prevail in any of us! We are spared through a succession of months and years, amidst our daring provocations; we are continued, though " unthankful and evil," the witnesses of revolving time, and partakers of its innumerable benefits. Let us " account lhat the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation." That it affords opportunity of seeking salvation, is the proof of its existence, the dawn of its appearance, and the earnest and pledge of its actual enjoyment. Truly we may say, "The Lord is long-suffering to usward, not willing that we, should perish, but that we should come to repentance." They who perish must take the blame to themselves: they must ascribe their ruin to their own perverseness, impenitence, and love of sin. How impressive are the words of the prophet !" Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you; and therefore will he be exalted that he may have mercy upon you." Is not this giving time for repentance, and shall it not be improved? It is more than giving time,—it is exercising the kindest purpose, the tenderest compassion of his heart to dilatory man :—" blessed are all they that wait for him."—Hence,
2. The goodness of God provides means of repen