An Homily of Repentance and of True Reconciliation Unto God Part I
There is nothing that the Holy Ghost doth so much labour in all the Scriptures to beat into men’s heads, as repentance, amendment of life, and speedy returning unto the Lord God of hosts. And no marvel why: for we do daily and hourly, by our wickedness and stubborn disobedience, horribly fall away from God, thereby purchasing unto ourselves, if he should deal with us according to his justice, eternal damnation. So that no doctrine is so necessary in the Church of God, as is the doctrine of repentance and amendment of life. And verily the true preachers of the Gospel of the kingdom of heaven, and of the glad and joyful tidings of salvation, have always in their godly sermons and preachings unto the people joined these two together, I mean repentance and forgiveness of sins; even as our Saviour Jesus Christ did appoint himself, saying, It so behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise again the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his Name among all nations. And therefore the holy Apostle doth in the Acts speak after this manner: I have witnessed both the Jews and to the Gentiles – the repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesu Christ. Did not John Baptist, Zachary’s son, begin his ministry with the doctrine of repentance, saying, Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand? The like doctrine did our Saviour Christ preach himself, and commanded his Apostles to preach the same.
I might here allege very many places out of the Prophets, in the which this most wholesome doctrine of repentance is very earnestly urged, as most needful for all degrees and orders of men; but one shall be sufficient at this present time. These are the words of Joel the Prophet: Therefore also now the Lord saith, Return unto me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning and rent your hearts and not your clothes, and return unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great compassion, and ready to pardon wickedness. Whereby it is given us to understand, that we have here a perpetual rule appointed unto us, which ought to be observed and kept at all times; and that there is none other way whereby the wrath of God may be pacified and his anger assuaged, that the fierceness of his fury, and the plagues or destruction which by his righteous judgment he had determined to bring upon us, may depart, be removed, and taken away.
Where he saith But now therefore saith the Lord, Return unto me, it is not without great importance that the Prophet speaketh so. For he had afore set forth at large unto them the horrible vengeance of God, which no man was able to abide; and therefore he doth move them to repentance, to obtain mercy: as if he should say, I will not have these things to be so taken, as though there were no hope of grace left; for, although ye do by your sins deserve to be utterly destroyed, and God by his righteous judgments hath determined to bring no small destruction upon you, yet, now that ye are in a manner on the very edge of the sword, if ye will speedily return unto him, he will most gently and most mercifully receive you into favour again. Whereby we are admonished that repentance is never too late, so that it be true and earnest. For, sith that God in the Scriptures will be called Our Father, doubtless doth follow the nature and property of gentle and merciful fathers, which seek nothing so much as the returning again and amendment of their children, as Christ doth abundantly teach in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Doth not the Lord himself say by the Prophet I will not the death of the wicked but that he turn from his wicked ways and live? And in another place: If we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins, and to make us clean from all wickedness. Which most comfortable promises are confirmed by many examples of the Scriptures. When the Jews did willingly receive and imbrace the wholesome counsel of the Prophet Esay, God by and by did reach his helping hand unto them, and by his angel did in one night slay the most worthy and valiant soldiers of Sennacherib’s camp. Whereunto may king Manasses be added, who after all manner of damnable wickedness returned unto the Lord, and therefore was heard of him, and restored again into his kingdom. The same grace and favour did the sinful woman, Magdalene, Zaccheus, the poor thief, and many other feel. All which things ought to serve for our comfort against the temptations of our consciences, whereby the devil goeth about to shake, or rather to overthrow, our faith. For every one of us ought to apply the same unto himself, and say, Yet now return unto the Lord; neither let the remembrance of thy former life discourage thee; yea, the more wicked that it hath been, the more fervent and earnest let thy repentance or returning be; and forthwith thou shalt feel the ears of the Lord wide open unto thy prayers.
But let us more narrowly look upon the commandment of the Lord touching this matter. Turn unto me, saith he by his Prophet Joel, with all your hearts, with fasting, with weeping and mourning, rent your hearts and not your garments. In which words he comprehendeth all manner of things that can be spoken of repentance, which is a turning again of the whole man unto God, from whom we be fallen away by sin. But, that the whole discourse thereof may the better be borne away, we shall first consider in order four principal points; that is, from what we must return, to whom we must return, by whom we may be able to convert, and the manner how to turn to God.
First, from whence or from what things we must return. Truly we must return from those things whereby we have been withdrawn, plucked, and led away from God. And these generally are our sins which, as the holy Prophet Esay doth testify, do separate God and us, and hide his face that he will not hear us. But under the name of sin [are reckoned] not only those gross words and deeds which by the common judgment of men are counted to be filthy and unlawful, and so consequently abominable sins, but also the filthy lusts and inward concupiscences of the flesh, which, as St. Paul testifieth, do resist the will and Spirit of God, and therefore ought earnestly to be bridled and kept under. We must repent of the false and erroneous opinions that we have had of God, and the wicked superstition that doth breed of the same, the unlawful worshipping and service of God, and other like. All these things must they forsake that will truly turn unto the Lord and repent aright. For sith that for such things the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience, no end of punishment ought to be looked for as long as we continue in such things. Therefore they be here condemned which will seem to be repentant sinners, and yet will not forsake their idolatry and superstition.
Secondly, we must see unto whom we ought to return. Reertimini usque ad me saith the Lord, that is, Return as far as unto me. We must then return unto the Lord: yea, we must return unto him alone; for he alone is the truth, and the fountain of all goodness. But we must labour that we do return as far as unto him, and that we do never cease and rest till we have apprehended and taken hold upon him. Therefore, first, they do greatly err which do not turn unto God, but unto the creatures, or unto the inventions of men, or unto their own merits; secondly, they that do begin to return unto the Lord, and do faint in the midway, afore they come to the mark that is appointed unto them.
Thirdly, because we have of our own selves nothing to present us to God, and do no less flee from him after our fall than our first parent Adam did, which, when he had sinned did seek to hide himself from the sight of God, we have need of a Mediator for to bring and reconcile us unto him, who for our sins is angry with us. The same is Jesus Christ: who, being true and natural God, equal and of one substance with the Father, did at the time appointed take upon him our frail nature in the blessed Virgin’s womb, and that of her undefiled substance; that so he might be a Mediator betwixt God and us, and pacify his wrath. Of him doth the Father himself speak from heaven, saying, This is my wellbeloved son, in whom I am pleased. And he himself in his Gospel doth cry out and say I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me. For he alone did with the sacrifice of his body and blood make satisfaction unto the justice of God for our sins. The Apostles do testify that he was exalted for to give repentance and remission of sins unto Israel: both which things he himself did command to be preached in his Name. Therefore they are greatly deceived that preach repentance without Christ, and teach the simple and ignorant that it consisteth only in the works of men. They may indeed speak many things of good works, and of amendment of life and manners; but without Christ they be all vain and unprofitable. They that think they have done much of themselves toward repentance are so much more the further from God, because that they do seek those things in their own works and merits which ought only to be sought in our Saviour Jesus Christ, and in the merits of his death, passion, and bloodshedding.
Fourthly, this holy Prophet Joel doth lively express the manner of this our returning or repentance, comprehending all the inward and outward things that may be here observed. First, he will have us to return unto God with our whole heart; whereby he doth remove and put away all hypocrisy, lest the same might justly be said unto us, This people draweth near unto me with their mouth and worshippeth me with their lips but their heart is far off from me. Secondly, he requireth a sincere and pure love of godliness and of the true worshipping and service of God; that is to say, that, forsaking all manner of things that are repugnant and contrary unto God’s will, we do give our hearts unto him, and all the whole strength of our bodies and souls, according to that which is written in the Law, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength. Here therefore nothing is left unto us that we may give unto the world and unto the lusts of the flesh. For, sith that the heart is the fountain of all our works, as many as do with their whole heart turn unto the Lord do live unto him only. Neither do they yet repent truly that, halting on both sides, do otherwiles obey God, but by and by do think, that, laying him aside, it is lawful for them to serve the world and the flesh. And, because that we are letted by the natural corruption of our own flesh and the wicked affections of the same, he doth bid us also to return with fasting; not thereby understanding a superstitious abstinence and choosing of meats, but a true discipline or taming of the flesh, whereby the nourishments of filthy lusts and of stubborn contumacy and pride may be withdrawn and plucked away from it. Whereunto he doth add weeping and mourning which do contain an outward profession of repentance; which is very needful and necessary, that so we may partly set forth the righteousness of God, when by such means we do testify that we deserved punishments at his hands, and partly stop the offence that was openly given unto the weak. This did David see, who, being not content to have bewept and bewailed his sins privately, would publicly in his Psalms declare and set forth the righteousness of God in punishing sin, and also stay them that might have have abused his example to sin the more boldly. Therefore they are furthest from true repentance that will not confess and acknowledge their sins, nor yet bewail them, but rather do most ungodly glory and rejoice in them.
Now, lest any man should think that repentance doth consist in outward weeping and mourning only, he doth rehearse that wherein the chief of the whole matter doth lie, when he saith, Rent your hearts, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God. For people of the East part of the world were wont to rent their garments, if anything had happened to them that seemed untolerable. This thing did hypocrites sometime counterfeit and follow as though the whole repentance did stand in such outward gesture. He teacheth then, that another manner of thing is required; that is, that they must be contrite in their hearts, and that they must utterly detest and abhor sins, and, being at defiance with them, return unto the Lord their God, from whom they went away before. For God hath no pleasure in the outward ceremony, but requireth a contrite and humble heart; which he will never despise as David doth testify. There is therefore none other use of these outward ceremonies but as far forth as we are stirred up by them, and do serve to the glory of God and to the edifying of other.
Now doth he add unto this doctrine or exhortation certain goodly reasons, which he doth ground upon the nature and property of God, and whereby he doth teach that true repentance can never be unprofitable or unfruitful. For, as in all other things men’s hearts do quail and faint, if they once perceive that they travail in vain, even so most specially in this matter must we take heed and beware that we suffer not ourselves to be persuaded that all that we do is but labour lost; for thereof either sudden desperation doth arise, or a licentious boldness to sin, which at length bringeth unto desperation. Lest any such thing then should happen unto them, he doth certify them of the grace and goodness of God, who is always most ready to receive them into favour again that turn speedily unto him. Which thing he doth prove with the same titles wherewith God doth describe and set forth himself unto Moses speaking on this manner: For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil, that is such a one as is sorry for your affliction. First, he calleth him gentle, and gracious, as he who of his own nature is more prompt and ready to do good than to punish. Whereunto this saying of Esay the Prophet seemeth to pertain, where he saith, Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous his own imaginations, and return unto the Lord, and he will have pity on him and to our God, for he is very ready to forgive. Secondly, he doth attribute unto him mercy, or rather, according to the Hebrew word, the bowels of mercies, whereby are signified the natural affections of parents towards their children. Which thing David doth set forth goodly, saying, As a father hath compassion on his children, so hath the Lord compassion on them that fear him: for he knoweth whereof we be made, he remembereth that we are but dust. Thirdly, he saith that he is slow to anger that is to say, longsuffering and which is not lightly provoked to wrath. Fourthly, that he is of much kindness: for he is that bottomless well of all goodness, who rejoiceth to do good unto us. Therefore did he create and make men, that he might have whom he should do good unto, and make partakers of his heavenly riches. Fifthly, he repenteth of the evil, that is to say, he doth call back again and revoke the punishment which he had threatened, when he seeth men repent, turn, and amend.
Whereupon we do not without a just cause detest and abhor the damnable opinion of them which do most wickedly go about to persuade the simple and ignorant people, that, if we chance, after we be once come to God and graffed in his Son Jesu Christ, to fall into some horrible sin, repentance shall be unprofitable unto us, there is no more hope of reconciliation, or to be received again into the favour and mercy of God. And, that they may give the better colour unto their pestilent and pernicious error, they do commonly bring in the sixth and tenth chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the second chapter of the second Epistle of Peter not considering that in those places the holy Apostles do not speak of the daily falls that we as long as we carry about this body of sin, are subject unto, but of the final falling away from Christ and his Gospel: which is a sin against the Holy Ghost, that shall never be forgiven; because that they that do utterly forsake the known truth do hate Christ and his word, they do crucify and mock him (but to their utter destruction) and therefore fall into desperation and cannot repent. And, that this is the true meaning of the Holy Spirit of God, it appeareth by many other places of the Scriptures, which promiseth unto all true repentant sinners, and to them that with their whole heart do return unto the Lord their God free pardon and remission of their sins.
For the probation hereof we read this: O Israel, saith the holy Prophet Hieremy, if thou return, return unto me, saith the Lord; and if thou put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not be moved. Again these are Esay’s words: Let the wicked forsake his own ways, and the unrighteous his own imaginations, and turn again unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he is ready to forgive. And in the Prophet Osee, the godly do exhort one another after this manner: come and let us turn to the Lord, for he hath smitten us and he will heal us; he hath wounded us and he will bind us up again. It is most evident and plain that these things ought to be understanded of them that were with the Lord afore and by their sins and wickedness were gone away from him; for we do not turn again unto him with whom we were never before, but we come unto him.
Now unto all them that will return unfeignedly unto the Lord their God the favour and mercy of God unto forgiveness of sins is liberally offered. Whereby it followeth necessarily, that, although we do after we be once come to God and grafted in his Son Jesu Christ, fall into great sins, (for there is no righteous man upon the earth that sinneth not, and if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us) yet, if we rise again by repentance, and, with a full purpose of amendment of life, do flee unto the mercy of God, taking sure hold thereupon through faith in his Son Jesu Christ, there is an assured and infallible hope of pardon and remission of the same, and that we shall be received again into the favour of our heavenly Father.
It is written of David, I have found a man according to mine own heart; or, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man according to mine own heart, who will do all things that I will. This is a godly commendation of David. It is also most certain, that he did steadfastly believe the promise that was made him touching the Messias, who should come of him touching the flesh, and that by the same faith he was justified and graffed in our Saviour Jesu Christ to come. And yet afterwards he fell horribly, committing most detestable adultery and damnable murder: and yet, as soon as he cried, Peccavi, I have sinned unto the Lord, his sin being forgiven, he was received into favour again.
Now will we come unto Peter, of whom no man can doubt Peter, but that he was grafted in our Saviour Jesu Christ long afore his denial. Which thing may easily be proved by the answer which he did, in his name and in the name of his fellow Apostles, make unto our Saviour Jesu Christ, when he said unto them, will ye also go away? Master, saith he, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life: and we believe and know that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. Whereunto may be added the like confession of Peter, where Christ doth give this most infallible testimony Thou art blessed, Simon son of Jonas; for neither flesh nor blood hath revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. These words are sufficient to prove that Peter was already justified through this his lively faith in the only begotten Son of God, whereof he made so notable and so solemn a confession. But did not he afterwards most cowardly deny his Master, although he had heard of him, Whosoever denieth me before men, I will deny him before my Father? Nevertheless, as soon as with weeping eyes and with a sobbing heart he did acknowledge his offence, and with earnest repentance did flee unto the mercy of God, taking sure hold thereupon through faith in him whom he had so shamefully denied, his sin was forgiven him, and, for a certificate and assurance thereof, the room of his Apostleship was not denied unto him. But now mark what doth follow. After the same holy Apostle had on Whitsunday with the rest of the disciples received the gift of the Holy Ghost most abundantly, he committed no small offence in Antiochia by bringing the consciences of the faithful into doubt by his example. So that Paul was fain to rebuke him to his face, because that he walked not uprightly or went not the right way, in the Gospel. Shall we now say, that after this grievous offence he was utterly excluded and shut out from the grace and mercy of God, and that this his trespass, whereby he was a stumblingblock unto many, was unpardonable? God forfend we should say so.
But, as these examples are not brought in to the end that we should thereby take a boldness to sin, presuming on the mercy and goodness of God, but to the end that, if through the frailness of our own flesh and the temptation of the devil we fall into the like sins, we should in no wise despair of the mercy and goodness of God; even so must we beware and take heed that we do in no wise think in our hearts, imagine, or believe, that we are able to repent aright or to turn effectually unto the Lord, by our own might and strength. For this must be verified in all men, Without me ye can do nothing. Again, Of ourselves we are not able to think a good thought. And in another place, It is God that worketh in us both the will and the deed. For this cause, although Hieremy had said before, If thou return, O Israel, return unto me, saith the Lord, yet afterwards he saith Turn thou me, O Lord, and I shall be turned, for thou art the Lord my God. And therefore that holy writer and ancient father Ambrose doth plainly affirm that the turning of the heart unto God is of God; as the Lord himself doth testify by his Prophet, saying, And I will give thee an heart to know me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God; for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.
These things being considered, let us earnestly pray unto the living God, our heavenly Father, that he will vouchsafe by his Holy Spirit to work a true and unfeigned repentance in us; that, after the painful labours and travails of this life, we may live eternally with his Son Jesus Christ. To whom be all praise and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
- Luke xxiv, 46‒47 ↑
- Acts xx, 31 ↑
- Matt iii, 2 ↑
- Matt iv, 17 ↑
- Matt vi, 9 ↑
- Luke xv, 11‒32 ↑
- Ezek, xviii, 23; Is I, 18 ↑
- 1 John I, 9 ↑
- Is xxxvii ↑
- Luke vii, 48; viii, 2; xix, 9; xxiii, 43 ↑
- 1 Pet iii, 12 ↑
- Is llx, 2 ↑
- Gal v, 17 ↑
- Gen iii, 8 ↑
- Matt vii, 18; xvii, 5 ↑
- John xiv, 6 ↑
- 1 Pet i ↑
- Luke xxiv, 47 ↑
- John xv, 4‒15 ↑
- Tes xxix, 13; Matt xv, 8 ↑
- Deut vi, 5 ↑
- Ps xxv; xxxii, ii, cii, cxiii ↑
- Ps iii, 1‒5 ↑
- Ps ii, 17 ↑
- Exod xxxiv, 6 ↑
- Is iv, 7 ↑
- Ps ciii, 13‒14 ↑
- Heb vi, 4‒6; x, 26‒29; 2 Pet ii, 20‒22 ↑
- Matt xii, 31; Mark iii, 29; The sin against the Holy Ghost ↑
- Jer iv, 1 ↑
- Isa iv, 7 ↑
- Eccles, vii, 20; 1 John, I, 8 ↑
- 1 Sam, xiii, 14; Ps lxxxix, 20; Acts xiii, 33 ↑
- 1 Sam xii, 13 ↑
- John vi, 6‒69 ↑
- Matt xvi, 17 ↑
- Matt xxvi, 69‒75; Matt x, 33 ↑
- Acts ii, 1‒38 ↑
- Gal ii, 11‒14 ↑
- John xv, 5 ↑
- 2 Cor iii, 5 ↑
- Phil iii, 23 ↑
- Jer iv, 1; xxxi, 18 ↑
- Jer xxiv, 7 ↑
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