First, then, we will consider certain FALSE REPENTANCES. I will begin with this remark—that trembling beneath the sound of the gospel is not “repentance.” There are many men who when they hear a faithful gospel sermon, are exceedingly stirred and moved by it. By a certain power which accompanies the Word, God testifies that it is his own Word, and he causes those who hear it involuntarily to tremble. I have seen some men, while the truths of Scripture have been sounded from this pulpit, whose knees have knocked together, whose eyes have flowed with tears as if they had been fountains of water. I have witnessed the deep dejection of their spirit, when—as some of them have told me—they have been shaken until they knew not how to abide the sound of the voice, for it seemed like the terrible trumpet of Sinai thundering only their destruction. Well, my hearers, you may be very much disturbed under the preaching of the gospel, and yet you shall not have that “repentance unto life.” You may know what it is to be very seriously and very solemnly affected when you go to God’s house, and yet you may be hardened sinners. Let me confirm the remark by an instance:—Paul stood before Felix with the chains upon his hands, and as he preached of “righteousness, temperance, and of judgment to come,” it is written, “Felix trembled,” and yet procrastinating Felix is in perdition, among the rest of those who have said, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season I will call for thee.” There are many of you who cannot attend the house of God without being alarmed; you know what it is often to stand aghast at the thought that God will punish you; you may often have been moved to sincere emotion under God’s minister; but, let me tell you, you may be after all a castaway, because you have not repented of your sins, neither have you turned to God.
Further still. It is quite possible that you may not only tremble before God’s Word, but you may become a sort of amiable Agrippa, and be “almost persuaded” to turn to Jesus Christ, and yet have no “repentance;” you may go further and even desire the gospel; you may say: “Oh! this gospel is such a goodly thing I would I had it. It ensures so much happiness here, and so much joy hereafter, I wish I might call it mine.” Oh! it is good, thus to hear this voice of God! but you may sit, and, while some powerful text is being well handled, you may say, “I think it is true;” but it must enter the heart before you can repent. You may even go upon your knees in prayer and you may ask with a terrified lip that this may be blessed to your soul; and after all you may be no child of God. You may say as Agrippa said unto Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian;” yet, like Agrippa, you may never proceed beyond the “almost.” He was “almost persuaded to be a Christian,” but not “altogether.” Now, how many of you here have been; almost persuaded” and yet you are not really in the way of eternal life. How often has conviction brought you on your knees and you have “almost” repented, but you have remained there, without actually repenting. See that corpse? It is lately dead. It has scarcely acquired the ghastliness of death, the color is still life-like. Its hand is still warm; you may fancy it is alive, and it seems almost to breathe. Every thing is there—the worm hath scarcely touched it dissolution hath scarcely approached; there is no foeted smell—yet life is gone; life is not there. So it is with you: you are almost alive; you have almost every external organ of religion which the Christian has; but you have not life. You may have repentance, but not sincere repentance. O hypocrite! I warn you this morning, you may not only tremble but feel a complacency towards the Word of God, and yet after all not have “repentance unto life.” You may sink down into the pit that is bottomless, and hear it said, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Yet, again, it is possible for men to progress even further than this, and positively to humble themselves under the hand of God, and yet they may be total strangers to repentance. Their goodness is not like the morning cloud and the early dew that passeth away, but when the sermon is heard they go home and commence what they conceive to be the work of repentance, they renounce certain vices and follies, they clothe themselves in sack-cloth, their tears flow very freely on account of what they have done; they weep before God; and yet with all that, their repentance is but a temporary repentance, and they go back to their sins again. Do you deny that such a penitence can exist? Let me tell you of a case. A certain man named Ahab coveted the vineyard of his neighbor Naboth, who would not sell it for a price, nor make an exchange. He consulted with his wife Jezebel, who contrived to put Naboth to death, and thus secure the vineyard to the king. After Naboth was put to death, and Ahab had taken possession of the vineyard, the servant of the Lord met Ahab, and said to him, “Hast thou killed, and also taken possession. Thus saith the Lord, in the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall the dogs lick thy blood, even thine. Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy prosperity “We read that Ahab went awe, and humbled himself; and the Lord said, “Because Ahab humbleth himself before me I will not bring evil in his days.” He had granted him some kind of mercy; but we read in the very next chapter that Ahab rebelled, and in a battle in Ramoth-Gilead, according to the servant of the Lord, he was slain there; so that “the dogs licked his blood “in the very vineyard of Naboth. You, too, I tell you, may humble yourselves before God for a time, and yet remain the slaves of your transgressions. You are afraid of damnation, but you are not afraid of sinning: you are afraid of hell, but you are not afraid of your iniquities; you are afraid of being cast into the pit, but not afraid to harden your hearts against his commands. Is it not true, O sinner, that you are trembling at hell? It is not the soul’s state that troubles you, but hell. If hell were extinguished, your repentance would be extinguished; if the terrors awaiting you were withdrawn, you would sin with a higher hand than before, and your soul would be hardened, and would rebel against its sovereign. Be not deceived, my brethren, here; examine yourselves whether you are in the faith; ask yourselves if you have that which is “repentance unto life;” for you may humble yourselves for a time, and yet never repent before God.
Beyond this many advance, and yet fall short of grace. It is possible that you may confess your sins, and yet may not repent. You may approach God, and tell him you are a wretch indeed; you may enumerate a long list of your transgressions and of the sins that you have committed, without a sense of the heniousness of your guilt, without a spark of real hatred of your deeds. You may confess and acknowledge your transgressions, and yet have no abhorrence of sin; and if you do not in the strength of God resist sin, if you do not turn from it, this fancied repentance shall be but the guilding which displays the paint which decorates; it is not the grace which transforms into gold, which will abide the fire. You may even, I say confess your faults, and yet have not repentance.
Once more, and then I have gone to the farthest thought I have to give on this point. You may do some work meet for repentance, and yet you may be impenitent. Let me give you a proof of this in a fact authenticated by inspiration.
Judas betrayed his Master; and after having done so, an overwhelming sense of the enormous evil he had committed seized upon him. His guilt buried all hope of repentance, and in the misery of desperation, not the grief of true regret, he confessed his sin to the high priests, crying, “I have sinned, in that I have betrayed innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us, see thou to that.” Whereupon he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, to show that he could not bear to carry the price of guilt upon him; and left them there. He went out, and—was he saved? No. “He went out and hanged himself.” And even then the vengeance of God followed him: for when he had hanged himself he fell from the height where he was suspended, and was dashed to pieces; he was lost, and his soul perished. Yet see what this man did. He had sinned, he confessed his wrong, he returned the gold; still after all that, he was a castaway. Does not this make us tremble? You see how possible it is to be the ape of the Christian so nearly, that wisdom itself, if it be only mortal, may be deceived.