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MATTHEW III. VERSE I.
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.
IN treating of the duty of repentance we must particularise those signs which are to be considered as characteristic of a repentance efficacious to Salvation; and I think we may say, that such repentance should be sincere, timely, continuous, and just.
First. The greatest of all follies is a mockery of God by insincere repentance,
by that fluctuation between sin, and sorrow, resolution, and infringement,—by that endless circle of penitence, and crime, which they tread, who know virtue only by its labors, and extract nothing from guilt but remorse. The first stage of repentance is in every man's and almost in every power, man's practice. If sighs and tears could purchase the kingdom of Heaven, and a sad face expiate a wicked life, hardness of heart would indeed be weakness of understanding: but, though God is merciful, he is not fallible, nor will he take the odour of sacrifices, or the incense of words, in the lieu of a solid, laborious virtue. In the Christian religion there is no composition, no arrangement, no shifting, no fluctuation, no dalliance with duties, no déference to darling vices: if the eye offends us we must pluck it out; if the hand is sinful, we must cut it off.-Better to merit Heaven by every suffering, than eternal punishment by every gratification.
We may see, by this striking passage, the absolute necessity of abandoning the vice, before repentance can be effectual to salvation. Our blessed Saviour departs from his
usual mildness of speech; he does not say, if thine eye is evil anoint it; if thine hand is diseased heal it; but pluck it out, cut it off, tear it from thee; he requires that a man should rise above himself; that the thought of Heaven should breathe into him a moral fortitude; that he should be great in purpose, rapid in action, unshaken in constancy; that he should tear out his ambition, his revenge, his avarice, and all the harlot passions he has wooed, and trample them beneath his feet; that he should feel that noble persuasion which the great apostle felt,-that neither death, nor life, nor principalities, nor powers, should separate him from the love of God.
Not that our blessed Saviour intends to say, by the expressions I have quoted, that the only mode of effecting a change is by such sudden, and vigorous resolutions; but that, where sudden and vigorous resolutions are necessary, any violence done to habit, any pain endured by depriving ourselves of enjoyments to which we have been accustomed, is not for an instant to be weighed against the danger of retaining the sin, or