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A CALL TO REPENTANCE.
"I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Matt. ix. 13.
As I have observed before now, one of the principal objections of his enemies to our Saviour's ministry was his scandalous condescension, as they regarded it, in associating with men of low character and morals. We read of one occasion especially, which was as Jesus sat at meat in Matthew's house; (Luke v. 29;) where many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples: and when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners ?" (Mat. ix. 10, 11.) Which was asked, -not for the sake of information, but by way of reproach, and loud enough to be overheard by the sacred person for whom it was intended. But reproaches do not hurt where there is no room for them to take. The Master easily put this aside by a natural remark; following up
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his remark with a wholesome admonition, and a dignified defence of his mission, which we have in the text. "He said unto them, they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye, and learn what that meaneth, I WILL HAVE MERCY AND NOT SACRIFICE: for, (says he,) I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Ib. 12, 13.)
It was remarked by St. Paul in his sermon at Antioch, after adverting to the quality of this great Summoner, how "John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel:" (Acts xiii. 24:) which I have also had occasion * to notice. And in another discourse to the people at Corinth he remarks, how "John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus:" (Ib. xix. 4:) amounting to the same as we read in the gospel of our Saviour's mission, of which such characters as John Baptist, and the prophets before, were deputies and heralds; and more abundantly they who have followed since upon his exaltation into Heaven, and sending them the promised Spirit "to teach them and to lead them to all truth;" as Peter and the other apostles boldly averred before the high priest and council. at Jerusalem; saying, "Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him." (Ib. v. 31, 32.)
The truth of our Saviour's Call to Repentance, therefore, whether personally, or by his followers, or by his predecessors, seems unquestionable. It may, also, be needless to observe, how pleasant a task one finds it to proceed on this part of one's commission, as a witness to
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one's Saviour and Prince; to preach good tidings unto the meek; "to bind up the broken hearted; to proclaim. liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Isai. lxi. 1, 2.) And if one had not likewise to proclaim " the day of vengeance of our God,” (Ib.,) stopping at our Saviour's text; (Luke iv. 18;) others might like our part the better, and we, perhaps, should not be sorry, subject to the divine pleasure. For while this terrific part is bound upon us equally with the soothing part aforesaid,—as not only here, but also two or three chapters before, where God says by the same prophet, Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins;" (Isai. lviii. 1 ;) and while one might be prepared to endure any odium, or other personal inconvenience to one's self, for speaking the truth according to God's injunction, and in the strict line of duty,— still, however, in respect of one class of defaulters, the meek before mentioned, one cannot help feeling some hesitation, or at least a necessity for caution in this part; as reproof is apt to sink deepest where it is least deserved, though it may not there be altogether unseasonable. Hence the duty of learning to heal, as well as to cut, to pour the balm of sound doctrine on the wounds caused by reprehension, to apply the glad tidings of salvation by repentance to the overwhelming dread of reprobation. It is our duty to deter the comparatively innocent from running into vice by a view of its danger and deformity; but, at the same time, in such a way, if possible, that the meek might not be driven to despair, nor our motive mistaken, as if we were more for chiding than for amend
So the Psalmist requires after deprecating that moral contagion which many, and of the younger sort (of which he was perhaps at the time) more particularly are apt to rush into regardless of the consequence. He says,
let not mine heart be inclined to any evil thing; let me not be occupied in ungodly works with the men that work wickedness, lest I eat of such things as please them. Let the righteous rather smite me friendly, and reprove me. But let not their precious balms break my head: (and then, still minding what was most to be dreaded,) yea, I will pray yet against their wickedness," (Ps. cxli. 4, 5, 6,) said he, as if of the two he felt it better to be violently reproved for sin, than either falsely or carelessly abandoned to corruption. And so the young man's
monitor, or old man's either, may require of his hearers, that they should not smite him any how, whether friendly or inimically, for reproving or exposing their faults while he does it generally, and in the line of duty. "Which
say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things; speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits." (Isa. xxx. 10.) For either part, that is, either smooth or rough-doctrine or reproof-if practised alone must be deficient; if with the other, at once a confirmation and apology for the same; shewing that the doctrine is not flattery, nor our reproof moroseness. It is a diabolical pleasure that can delight only in occasion to find fault; but to make occasion for it by flattery, ten times worse; or more diabolical than common, if it may be so.
Therefore, I am not come among you as a devil, neither do I profess to be come a saint; but I profess to be come a friend of sinners,—try me, if I be not. For I flatter myself, that sinners who know themselves at least will feel me their friend, and kindly accept my endeavour to remind them of a way to escape from trouble; as our Saviour tells his disciples, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers:" (John x. 7, 8:) meaning, I presume, those who adhere to the old doctrine of legal justification, and by always preaching to the poor sinner self-righteousness only, rob him of his peace without remedy. But, as