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Repentance, of all things in the world, makes the greatest change: it changes things in heaven and earth; for it changes the whole man from sin to grace, from vicious habits to holy customs, from unchaste bodies to angelical souls, from swine to philosophers, from drunkenness to sober counsels, and God himself, ‘with whom is no variableness or shadow of change,’ is pleased, by descending to our weak understandings, to say, that he changes also upon man’s repentance, that he alters his decrees, revokes his sentence, cancels the bills of accusation, throws the records of shame and sorrow from the court of heaven, and lifts up the sinner from the grave to life, from his prison to a throne, from hell and the guilt of eternal torture, to heaven and to a title, to never-ceasing felicities. If we be bound on earth, we shall be bound in heaven; if we be absolved here, we shall be loosed there; if we repent; God will repent, and not send the evil upon us which we had deserved.
But repentance is a conjugation and society of many duties; and it contains in it all the parts of a holy life, from the time of our return to the day of our death inclusively; and it hath in it some things specially relating to the sins of our former days, which we now to be abolished by special arts, and have obliged us to special labours, and brought in many new necessities, and put us into a very great deal of danger. And, because it is a duty consisting of so many parts and so much employment, it also requires much time, and leaves a man in the same degree of hope of pardon, as is his restitution to the state of righteousness and holy living, for which we covenanted in baptism. For we must know, that there is but one repentance in a man’s whole life, if repentance be taken in the proper and strict evangelical covenant sense, and not after the ordinary understanding of the world: that is, we are but once to change our whole state of life, from the power of the devil and his entire possession, from the state of sin and death, from the body of corruption, to the life of grace, to the possession of Jesus, to the kingdom of the gospel; and this is done in the baptism of water, or in the baptism of the Spirit, when the first rite comes to be verified by God’s grace coming upon us, and by our obedience to the heavenly calling, we working together with God. After this change, if ever we fall into the contrary state, and he wholly estranged from God and religion, and profess ourselves servants of unrighteousness, God hath made no more covenant of restitution to us; there is no place left for any more repentance, or entire change of condition, or new birth: a man can be regenerated but once; and such are voluntary malicious apostates, witches, obstinate impenitent persons, and the life. But if we be overtaken by infirmity, or enter into the marches or borders of this estate and commit a grievous sin, or ten, or twenty, so we be not in the entire possession of the devil, we are, for the present, in a damnable condition if we die; but if we live, we are in a recoverable condition; for so we may repent often. We repent or rise from death but once — from sickness many times; and by the grace of God we shall be pardoned if so we repent. But our hopes of pardon are just as is the repentance; which, if it be timely, hearty, industrious, and effective, God accepts; not by weighing grains or scruples but by estimating the great proportions of our life. A hearty endeavour, and an effectual general change shall get the pardon; the unavoidable infirmities and past evils and present imperfections and short interruptions, against which we watch and pray and strive, being put upon the accounts of the cross, and paid for by the holy Jesus. This is the state and condition of repentance: its parts and actions must be valued according to the following rules:
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