1. By what means can the sinner escape the punishment due to his sins?
By conversion, a change of conduct, and repentance.
"Gather yourselves together, and search your ways, O unwilling nation! before the decree go forth, before your day pass away as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord come upon you, before the day of the Lord's anger come upon you. Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, who have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness; that ye may perhaps be hidden on the day of the Lord's anger." Zeph. ii. 1-3.
2. What do you call "Conversion?"
If the sinner separates himself from his sin and returns to the service of the Lord; this he does when he heartily abhors his previous bad conduct, and accuses himself sincerely of the wrong he has done, and resolves to be pious and good for the future. If he does this, he has well-founded hopes that the Lord will let him experience grace, mercy and forgiveness.
"Go, and proclaim these words towards the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord, and I will not cause my anger to fall upon you; for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever. Only acknowledge thy iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God." Jer. iii. 12, 13.
"Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God; but truly, that he should return from his ways and live." Ezek. xviii. 23.
3. How can we repent?
First. By sincere regret for past misconduct; that is, awakening the soul to the effects of sin.
"Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return unto the Lord and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." Isaiah lv. 6, 7.
Secondly. By prayer; that is, humbling the heart to our Maker.
"If they sin against Thee (for there is no man that sinneth not), and Thou be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captives unto the land of the enemy, far or near; yet if they shall bethink themselves in the land whither they were carried captives, and repent, and make supplication unto Thee in the land of them that carried them captive, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; and so return unto Thee with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies that led them away captive, and pray unto Thee towards their land which Thou gavest unto their fathers, the city which Thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name: then hear Thou their prayer and their supplication in heaven thy dwelling-place, and maintain their cause, and forgive thy people that have sinned against Thee, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against Thee, and give them compassion before them that carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them." I Kings viii. 46-50.
Thirdly. Through pious deeds; that is, obedience to the will of God.
"But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed shall not be remembered unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done shall he live." Ezek. xviii. 21, 22.
4. In what way is regret a part of penitence?
Because regret for misconduct is the sorrow and affliction of the soul which recognizes and acknowledges her past sins, and feels ancious to enter again into the peace of God, which her former wrongs have deprived her of. Besides this, without penitential regret for the wrong, and detestation of our sins, no amendment of the heart can take place, and this it is which is demanded of us if we wish to be forgiven.
"Be gracious unto me, O God! according to thy lovingkindness; according to the abundance of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I am sensible of my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, who art God alone! have I sinned, and done the evil in thy sight." Ps. l,i. 3-6.
5. How is such regret to be shown?
Not so much by outward tokens of sorrow, as by a contrition of the soul that feels her errors and humbles herself sincerely before the Lord. Nevertheless, external humbling, such as leaving off ornaments and outward exhibitions of wealth, fasting and acts of charity, are also very useful; as by this means we tear ourselves away from the allurements and pleasures of a perishable life, and seek protection from Him who is alone able to forgive, and whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
"Therefore also now, saith the Lord, return ye to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments, and return unto the Lord your God; for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth of the evil." Joel ii. 12, 13.
"The sacrifices of the Lord are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God! Thou wilt not despise." Ps. li. 19.
6. How does prayer form a part of repentance?
Because by prayer we are to make with our own lips an acknowledgement of the wrong we have done, and to promise a better course of life for the future. It is therefore the expression of what the heart feels, when we sincerely repent. It brings accordingly the evil of our conduct nearer to our soul; and by speaking as it were in the presence of the Lord of our wrong, and asking his forgiveness, relying at the same time upon his mercy to atone for our sins, we must become more impressed, and feel more strongly, that it is necessary for us to be more obedient for the future, if we would in the least degree deserve the favor of God.
"When I was silent concerning my sins, my bones wasted away, from my cries all the day.--Therefore did I confess my sin to Thee, and would not hide my iniquity; I said, I will confess my transgression to the Lord, and Thou didst forgive the iniquity of my sins." Ps. xxxii. 3-5.
"I beseech Thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love Him, and observe his commandments: let thy ear be now attentive, and thy eyes open, that Thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before Thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against Thee; for both I and my father's house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against Thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commanded thy servant Moses.--O Lord, I beseech Thee, let now thy ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name; and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man." Neh. i. 5-11.
7. Which is the last means of repentance?
Pious and godly acts are the last means of perfecting the reformation and repentance commenced by sincere regret, assisted by prayer and penance. For prayer and fasting, although otherwise essential, avail nothing, if they do not induce us to lead a better and truly reformed life.
"Your new-moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil." Isaiah i. 14-16.
8. What is to be the effect of repentance upon man?
First. Repentance shall effect a reformation and amendment of our course of life.
"Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Ibid. 17, 18.
Secondly. Repentance shall purify our heart from sin, and restore our soul to the purity she possessed before transgression, in order to make us fit again for the kingdom of the Lord, who is pure and holy.
"Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that deserveth to die, saith the Lord God: therefore return and live." Ezek. xviii. 31, 32.
Thirdly. Repentance shall gain for us anew the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father, which we have lost by our sins.
"Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create me a pure heart, O God, and renew the spirit of rectitude within me. Cast me not out from thy presence; nor take from me thy holy spirit. Restore me the joy of thy salvation; and support me with thy liberal spirit." Ps. li. 11-14.
9. Is there not one day in the year devoted to universal repentance in Israel?
Yes; the tenth day of the seventh month, Tishry, has been appointed by the Lord as the day of general atonement for our sins. Therefore it is called Yome Kippurim, Day of Atonement.
"And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, Also on the tenth day of this seventh month, there shall be a day of atonement, it shall be a holy convocation unto you, and ye shall fast.--And ye shall do no work on that same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the Lord your God." Lev. xxiii. 26-28.
10. What is the object of this day?
We shall abstain on this day from all carnal enjoyments, to live in spiritual communion with the Lord; that is to say, we are not to eat, drink, or do any thing by which the body can be pleased; it is to be a day of entire abstinence devoted alone to the service of the Lord; and we shall sanctify ourselves then by a sincere repentance, and resolve to sin no more as we have sinned.
"Ye shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute for ever, throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be unto you a Sabbath of rest, and ye shall fast; on the ninth day of the month at even shall ye begin; from even unto even shall you celebrate your Sabbath." Ibid. 31, 32.
11. Are all sins pardoned on that day?
No; those sins alone which we have committed against God will be forgiven on that day, if we sincerely repent.
"For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord." Ibid. xvi. 30.
12. Which are the sins for which this day is no atonement?
Those sins which have been committed against our fellow-men; as these cannot be forgiven unless we have satisfied those whom we have offended or injured.
"For sins between man and God only will the Day of Atonement avail; but for sins between a man and his neighbor the Day of Atonement will not atone, unless he have satisfied his neighbor." Yoma viii. 9.
13. But suppose that the person we have injured be dead, or beyond our reach, or unforgiving, and too much addicted to revengeful feelings to forgive us: how shall we then do in order to obtain forgiveness for our trespasses?
In all such cases we should be doubly diligent to do acts of mercy to those who suffer, and be very careful to do nothing against the law of God. If we do so, we have well-founded hopes that the Lord, seeing the sincerity of our repentance, will in his mercy forgive us, although our injured fellow-man is either unable or unwilling to grant us his pardon for the wrong we have done him.
"Is such then the fast which I choose, a day that a man should afflict his soul? when he should bow down his head like a bulrush, and spread sackcloth and ashes for his couch? shall this be called a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this rather the fast which I choose? to dissolve the bands of wickedness; to loosen the oppressive burdens; and to let the oppressed go free; and that ye should break asunder every yoke? Is it not to distribute thy bread to the hungry? and to bring the miserable afflicted poor into thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou clothe him, and that thou hide not thyself from thy own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth like the morning-dawn; and thy health shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of the Lord shall receive thee. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord will answer; thou shalt cry, and He will say, Lo, I am here." Isaiah lviii. 5-9.
14. What doctrines can you derive from all we have endeavored to lay before you?
First, God has connected the welfare of man with virtue, and there can be no real or lasting happiness unless our conduct be based upon the knowledge of God's law, and we always act as beings accountable to Him and subject to his rule.
"Who is the man that desires life, and loves many days, that he may see happiness? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it." Ps. xxxiv. 13-15.
Secondly, It depends upon ourselves whether we obtain happiness in this life and in the future state. God has given us the choice, and the power of choosing likewise; and we are therefore enabled to become happy, and consequently justly deserving sorrow, if we neglect wilfully the good which has been placed within our reach.
"I call heaven and earth to witness this day against you: I have set before you life and death, blessing and the curse; but do thou choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live." Deut. xxx. 19.
Thirdly, True fear of God and religious feelings are not to be shown through words and professions only, but should be displayed by our actions also,--God demands devotion of heart, but likewise deeds and active exertions in his service.
"And I gave them my statutes and made known to them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them." Ezek. xx. 11.
15. How does David speak concerning this doctrine?
"Lord! who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy mountain? He that walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart. He that backbites not with his tongue, does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor. In whose eyes the vile is condemned, and who honors them that fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and changes not; who puts not out his money to usury, and protects the innocent without bribe: he that does these things shall not be moved for ever." AMEN.