I was passing a little garden the other day; when I could not help standing to admire the beautiful order in which it was kept. Every foot of land was laid out in beds, and every bed growing something, bidding fair for fruitful crops. Peas, beans, plants, trees, nay everything looked well. I thought as I looked at this garden, what man in his senses, would expect vegetables and fruit, without the seed being first sown and the trees being first planted? There must be the seed, the plant, the tree, before there can be the fruit. Everybody knows that it is, the tree that grows the fruit, and the fruit is sure to be what the tree is. Fruit there cannot be without the tree first. It is not good fruit that makes the good tree, but the good tree that grows the good fruit.
I thought again, how many there are that are perplexed about the fruits of repentance, who might learn a lesson by this little garden? Next to it, there was a piece of land that had been dug and manured some time ago, but had had nothing sown in it. Oh, what docks and weeds! I thought that is all that mere education can do for fallen human nature. Exclude the seed, the word of the living God, and the more education, and the bigger the docks and weeds. "Do you know," said a lady to a Christian friend, who was carrying the good news of Salvation to the lost, "what sort of people those are that you are visiting? what a life of infamy that woman has led ever since she was a child! and her husband, what must he be to take up with such a woman; They must be told to repent." "I know all about it," said the dear Christian friend who was about to set Christ crucified before these two unhappy persons, who were both ill; "and if I did not know that I was as bad in my fallen nature as they, I should not go to speak to them of Christ."
My friend had learnt that we are by nature all alike, lost, guilty sinners, and that it is only as we are upheld by God, that we are kept from the most fearful sins. Now what did this lady mean by "they must be told to repent?" She meant that they must be like this little garden, before ever they could be worthy of Christ, or before it was at all proper to set Christ and salvation before them. They must be told to bring forth the fruits of repentance; and then those fruits would make them good trees, or Christians. And how many would have told them to do so? They would have told them to be very sorry for their sins; to forsake them entirely; to lead a new life; to serve God and love Him, and then give them a faint hope they might be saved at last through Jesus Christ. One might just as well say to the crab-tree, Now you must cease to grow crabs, never grow another, and begin from this time to grow good apples; and if you do this, the gardener will come and make you an apple-tree. That man is a poor gardener that does not know that before anything but crabs can be got from that tree, there must be a new nature; that is, apple-nature, grafted or implanted in that tree. And that man knows very little of the utter depravity of the human heart, or of what God says in His Word, that expects anything but sin from a sinful nature. No, there must be repentance, before there can be the fruits of repentance. There must be a new nature before there can be holiness of life. An apple graft cannot bring forth crabs, and that which is born of God cannot sin. The old nature of man is sin itself, and brings forth nothing but sin; the new nature implanted by God is holy and divine.
If my friend had told these persons to bring forth holy fruits of repentance in their sinful condition, she would have denied the depravity of man; and hypocrisy would only have been the result. But to the praise of the God of all grace, she set at once the finished salvation of Christ before them; and they were both converted.
Many are perplexed as to what repentance is, and what difference there is betwixt faith and repentance. This may make it simple. Suppose the inhabitants of Scotland had a very wrong opinion of her Majesty, the Queen; they thought her austere and cruel, and consequently hated and dreaded her. Now she sends her son, the Prince of Wales, to make known her real character. He arrives in Scotland. Every act is an act of kindness: no expense is spared for the good of the people; and all he does is in the name of the Queen: and thus having given full proof first of her love to them, the Prince gives command that all Scotland shall now repent (or as the word always means in Scripture, to change their minds). Now this change of mind in Scotland would be by believing the Prince. To believe the son, would change the mind toward the Queen; there could not I be one without the other.
It is so as to repentance toward God. This whole world has been deceived by Satan about God. All have a dread of God: they think Him a hard master; and they hate Him, and in their blindness they prefer sin and Satan's world to God. "The God this world hath blinded their eyes." But "God so loved the world, that He gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16-19.) "No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared. Him." And was not every act of Jesus an act of love to lost sinners? Oh, look at Him. When did he spurn the sinner from his presence? Hear His sweet parable of the Father's joy in receiving the lost one who had spent all amongst harlots. His arms were wide open; little children were welcome there. Ah! the woman who was a sinner gave Him more heart-joy at His blessed feet, than the Pharisee's dinner on his table. (Luke 7:37-50.) Was any thing spared to show out the love of the Holy God to lost sinners? No! When the fearful hour for which Jesus came into this world arrived, when He said, "Oh, my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt;" and again when on the cross He cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" did God spare His own dear Son? No! And unspeakably fearful as was that hour of darkness, when the Holy One of God was made an offering for sin; yet He did not save Himself; He did not come down from the cross. He who made all things, endured the utmost penalty of sin. And did not God accept that amazing sacrifice? He did, and proved His eternal satisfaction with that one sacrifice, by raising Jesus from the dead. And all this reveals the love of God. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." "In this was manifested the love of God towards us," &c. (1 John 4:9-10.)
Since Jesus then has proved that all men have an entirely wrong mind about God; yea, since Jesus has manifested undeniably the love of God to sinners, God now commands all men to repent, or change their minds towards Him. Hence, if there be real faith by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the Lord Jesus, there must, be an entire change of mind toward God. The one implies the other, and where there is this wondrous change of mind about God, by the Holy Ghost, not a mere change of notions, there is the utmost certainty that this will produce the fruits of repentance, sorrow for sin, forsaking sin, serving God from the heart, loving God, joy in God; yea, an entire change of life.
My reader, dost thou understand? There must be fruit, there be must sorrow for sin, there must be holiness of life. But thou must have life first, faith first, a change of mind toward God first, just as the seed must be put in the ground first. The word of God is quick and powerful. May God, without whose blessing this paper is not worth reading — oh, may He open the eyes of the blind, and through Christ Jesus give thee repentance unto life; so that by the power of the Holy Ghost thy soul may be filled with all joy and peace.