Many think they repent when it is not the offence — but the penalty which troubles them; not the treason — but the blood-axe. Some think they repent when they shed a few tears, as Saul did for his unkindness to David, "And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. And he said to David . . . you have rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded you evil" (1 Sam. 24:16, 17). But for all this, he follows David again.
Just so, men can lift up their voice and weep for sins — yet follow their sins again. Others forsake their sin — but still retain their love for it in their hearts, like the snake that casts the coat, but keeps the sting!
"Blessed are those who mourn: for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). We must go through the valley of tears, to Paradise. Mourning would be a sad subject to treat on — were it not that it has blessedness going before, and comfort coming after.
There is a mourning that is far from making one blessed. Many can weep over a dead child, who cannot mourn over a crucified Savior. Worldly sorrows hasten our funerals. The sorrow of the world works death (2 Corinthians 7:10).
There is a despairing kind of mourning; such was Judas' mourning: he saw his sin, he was sorry, he justified Christ, he made restitution. Judas, who is in Hell, did more than many nowadays! Well, wherein was Judas' sorrow blameworthy? It was a mourning joined with despair; he thought his wound broader than the plaster; his was not "repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18) — but rather unto death.
There is a hypocritical mourning: the heart is very deceitful, it can betray as well as by a tear, as by a kiss! Saul looks like a mourner, and as he was sometimes among the prophets (1 Sam. 10:12), so he seemed to be among the penitents, "And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord" (1 Sam. 15:24). Saul did play the hypocrite in his mourning; for he did not take shame to himself — but he did rather take honor to himself. "Honor me before the elders of the people." How easy it is for a man to put a cheat upon his soul, and by hypocrisy to weep himself into Hell.
There is a forced mourning when tears are forced out by God's judgments. Such was Cain's mourning: "My punishment is greater than I can bear!" (Genesis 4:13). His punishment troubled him more than his sin. To mourn only for the fear of Hell, is like a thief who weeps for the penalty, rather than the offence. A sinner mourns because judgment follows at the heel of sin; but David cries out, "My sin is ever before me" (Psalm 51:3). The prodigal says, "I have sinned against Heaven, and before you." He does not say, "I am almost starved among the husks!" "but I have offended my Father!"
It is an excellent saying of Augustine, "He truly bewails the sins he has committed — who never again commits the sins he has bewailed."
A child of God will confess sin in particular; an unsound Christian will confess sin by wholesale. He will acknowledge that he is a sinner in general; whereas David does, as it were, point with his finger to the sore (Psalm 51:4): "I have done this evil"; he does not say, I have done evil — but this evil.
To die is to be but once done — and after death there is nothing to be done. If you die in your impenitency, there is no repenting in the grave. If you leave your work at death half done, there is no finishing it in the grave (Eccles. 9:10) "There is no work, nor device, nor wisdom in the grave where you go."
God has given you two eyes, if you lose one, you have another; but you have but one soul, and if you are robbed of that, you are undone forever!
The grave buries all a sinner's joy. They have a short feast — but a long reckoning. The time being short, the sinning time cannot be long.
Sinners, the time is shortly coming when the drawbridge of mercy will be quite pulled up. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecc. 8:11). God forbears punishing, therefore men forbear repenting. God is not only gracious — but He waits to be gracious (Isaiah 30:18). But though men will not set bounds to their sin — yet God sets bounds to His patience. God says, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man." The angel cried, "the hour of His judgment has come!" (Rev. 14:7).
If Felix trembled when Paul preached of judgment (Acts 24:25), how will sinners tremble when they shall see Christ come to judgment!
If God lets men prosper awhile in their sin, His vial of wrath is all this while filling — His sword is all this time whetting. And though God may forbear men a while — yet long forbearance is no forgiveness. The longer God is in taking His blow, the heavier it will be at last. As long as there is eternity, God has time enough to reckon with His enemies!