For when any Israelite or any foreigner dwelling in Israel separates himself from me, sets up idols in his heart, and puts a wicked stumbling block before his face, and then comes to the prophet to inquire of Me, I the LORD will answer him Myself.
I. THE NEED OF REPENTANCE. If we are upon Divine authority summoned to change, this must be because there is something wrong and reprehensible and dangerous in man's heart and condition; if called upon to turn, we must be going the wrong way. The admonition of the text follows upon a picture of Israel's idolatry and rebellion against a righteous God. The form of the sin may vary, but the principle of sin is ever the same. Whether in ancient or in modern times, in barbarous or in civilized states of society, men are universally prone to sin and guilty of sin. Where there is no sin, repentance is needless. It is in the departure of the heart's affection and the life's loyalty from the righteous God that man's error lies. Israel's idolatry symbolizes human iniquity.
II. THE NATURE or REPENTANCE. As more fully explained in New Testament Scripture, this is a change of heart, of disposition, leading to a change of character and of life. Mere sorrow for sin is not repentance, inasmuch as emotion of every kind is to some extent matter of temperament, and sorrow does not always lead to reformation. True repentance goes much deeper, and prepares the way forevery spiritual blessing. He who repents looks at things otherwise than before, tutus his thoughts into another channel, his steps into another path.
III. THE CALL TO REPENTANCE.
1. It is a gracious call. The justly offended sovereign may leave the rebel to the consequences of his acts. It is not thus that God deals with us. It is not his wish that any should perish. He sends his messengers to the offending race, with a summons to submission, with proffers of mercy.
2. It is an authoritative call. He commandeth men everywhere to repent. It is true that our Creator and Judge does not interfere with our liberty. Yet he publishes his will as binding upon every moral agent. He has a right to our repentance. It is our place to obey his summons, to offer the repentance which he demands and requires at our hands.
IV. THE DIFFICULTY OF REPENTANCE. This lies in the very character itself of the change. If verbal submission or outward conformity only were required, this would be comparatively easy. But God, who searcheth the heart, will not be satisfied save with the heart's subjection and conversion. Old habits of unspirituality, worldliness, and selfishness are not readily abandoned. Especially in advanced life a radical and inward change is effected, for the most part, only with effort and difficulty. It needs a supernatural motive and a supernatural power to cause old things to pass away and all things to become new, to exchange darkness for light, and the service of Satan for God. Such a supernatural motive we have in the gospel; such a supernatural power and agency in the Holy Spirit.
V. THE FRUITS OF REPENTANCE.
1. These are exactly opposed in character to the fruits of self-indulgence. Other seed in other soil yields other harvest.
2. Reconciliation with God replaces enmity towards God. The conditions of salvation, as laid down in the New Testament, are "repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."
3. Repentance works a change in a man's own character; the principles and motives and ends of life are all new.
4. Through the power of repentance a man's relations to his fellow men are changed - justice takes the place of wrong, and love that of hatred and uncharitabieness. - T.
Which separateth himself from Me.
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