by J. W. McGarvey (1828-1911)

There are certain considerations in regard to repentance, which is exceedingly important for us to keep in mind. Among all the conditions of pardon and eternal life, it is the most difficult to bring about. When you look through the record of the Savior's earthly ministry, you find that he induced a great many to believe in Him-so many that, in the latter part of his career, it is said by one Apostle, "many of the chief rulers believed, yet they did not confess him for fear of the Pharisees, lest they be excluded from the Synagogue." These chief rulers were probably the rulers of the Synagogue, but the Pharisees had a large majority in nearly all of the synagogues, and could easily exclude their rulers when they desired to do so. But when you search for those who repented under the Lord's preaching, you will find but few. If you can point out any failure in His personal ministry, it was the failure to bring men who heard him to repentance. Consequently, we find that when he was about to leave Galilee, he upbraided the cities in which most of his mighty works had been wrought, because they repented not. "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes."

His inability to bring those who saw most and heard most of His ministry to repentance is a startling fact. And so it is with preachers today, the world over. When you go out preaching among the people of this country, you will not find it very difficult to induce your hearers to believe the truth concerning Christ, and, when they are prepared in mind and heart for baptism, you will not find it at all difficult to persuade them to submit to that. Even in the dead of winter, when thick ice must be removed in order to immerse them. You will find no difficulty, provided they have repented and desire to obey the Lord; but how difficult it is to induce men to repent! Sinners outside the church and sinners inside the church cling to their sins, and it appears impossible in many instances to bring them to repentance.

As regards faith, the majority of sinners in this country find it very difficult to be infidels when they try to be. You meet with many a man who claims to be an infidel and seems to take pride in it; but if you watch him closely for a long time, you will find that he is merely trying to be an infidel, and this is demonstrated by the fact that when great danger, or great sorrow, or death comes close to him, the infidelity passes away, and the man who had scoffed at the idea of religion turns pale, and trembles, and calls upon some earnest Christian to kneel at his bed-side and pray for him. That occurrence is almost as common as the claim of infidelity. If, then, when you are addressing your congregation, you make a desperate effort to induce them to believe, very likely the majority of them are saying to you, "I believe as firmly as you do, and you are wasting your time trying to induce me to believe." I recollect when I once felt that way myself. When a youth, I often listened to an old Presbyterian preacher, whom I very highly esteemed, who believed in justification by faith alone, and often insisted that as soon as you believe that Jesus Christ is your personal Saviour your sins are all gone-you are happy in the Lord. I said to myself, and I said to my companions. "I believe just as firmly as that old brother does, but it has not had such an effect on me. He is certainly mistaken." But when you come to an effort to induce men to repent of their sins, there you stagger, in a multitude of cases from week to week and from year to year with the same hearers before you. Why is this? I suppose it is accounted for by two considerations. First, the pleasures of sin-the pleasures that certain sins bring to the sinner dance before his eyes while he hears you, and being unwilling to give up these pleasures, he refuses to repent. Second, repentance has to do with the will, the stubborn will of a man, and a man's will is backed up by his pride. His pride and his self-will together stand against you and enable him to cast off all of the appeals that you make. So he lives on in impenitence.

When preaching was my work, I thought to myself many times, and I think I said it many a time to others, that of all the gifts which I crave, if I had my wish, the first would be that I might have the power to bring men to repentance by my preaching. These being the facts of the case, what should we preach? What should we make the subjects of our addresses to the ungodly? A military man in battle brings his heaviest artillery to bear against that which is the strongest part of the enemy's defense. It is idle to bring the light artillery to bear against the strongest fortification. The great battleships which men are now constructing with the twelve-inch balls that they hurl are employed against these vessels that are covered over with iron twelve inches thick and against the strongest of fortified walls. The preacher, too, should level his heaviest artillery, his strongest appeals, against that part of the fort of his enemy, that is comparable to the thickest armor of fort and battleship. at is that but impenitence? I am afraid that many preachers make a mistake here. There are some who seem to plan their sermons to gather up the greatest amount of oratorical beauty which they can array, with the aim chiefly in their mind of pleasing their audiences, that they can go away delighted with the preacher. That is a very foolish idea. One of the Kings of France, Louis XV, I believe, who was a very wicked man, had two court preachers, both of them very eminent men. He was asked one day which of them he preferred to hear, or rather, what was his estimate of the two preachers. He answered, "When I hear such a one (naming him), I am left thinking, what a wonderful man that is. When I hear the other, I am left thinking what a miserable sinner I am." "Which of the two do you prefer?" Wicked man as he was, he said, "I prefer the latter because he makes me feel like being a better man. The other makes me admire him, the latter makes me despise myself." Oh, what a difference between the two preachers! One exerting all of his powers to make his hearers feel their sinfulness. Now, make your choice.

But, seeing that it is so difficult to induce men to repent, perhaps you would like for me to suggest something about the way to succeed. I wish I could tell you a way by which you could always succeed. It has been a great failure in my own life as a preacher. I have been perhaps unusually successful in convincing my hearers of the truth of what I had to present to them, but I have made a failure in trying to bring them to repentance. I suggest that, inasmuch as the Apostle Paul tells us that the goodness of God brings men to repentance, you struggle in your sermons to bring to bear every fact exhibiting the goodness of God to bad men, if, perchance, through the gratitude that you stir in their hearts you may induce them to repent. And inasmuch as Jesus in his appeal to the cities in which he had done his great works, warned them of the examples of Nineveh and Sodom, to bring them to repentance, his method must be wise, although it may fail. Gather out of the Scriptures as you study them, gather together in your memory, everything that you find there, every fact, every precept, which properly considered, ought to cause men to repent. Then, bring these to bear upon them with all of the power you have: but, in preparing your sermons, do not forget to prepare them for those to whom you speak and the difficulties in their way. Have this in your mind while you are trying to decide what subject you will take and how you will treat and frame every sentence and every line of thought with a view to effecting this great triumph. Thus you will be able to save some.

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