II. The love of God discovered in our redemption, is the most powerful persuasive to repentance. For the discovery of this we must consider, that real repentance is the consequent of faith, and always in proportion to it. Therefore the law which represents to as the divine parity and justice, without any allay of mercy, can never work true repentance in a sinners. When conscience is under the strong conviction of guilt, and of God’s justice as implacable, it causes a dreadful flight from him, and a wretched neglect of means. Despair hardens. The brightest discoveries of God in nature are not warm enough to melt the frozen heart into the current of repentance. It is true, the visible frame of the world, and the continual beliefs of providence, instruct men in those prime truths, the being and bounty of God to these that serve him, and invite them to their duty. “God never left himself without a witness in any age:” his goodness is designed “to lead men to repentance.” Acts 4. 17. And the apostle aggravates the obstinacy of men, that rendered that method entirely fruitless. But the declaration of God’s goodness in the gospel is infinitely more clear and powerful, than the silent revelation by the works of creation and providence. For although the patience and general goodness of God offered some intimations that he is placable, yet not a sufficient support for a guilty and jealous creature to rely on. The natural notion of God’s justice is so deeply rooted in the human soul, that till he is pleased to proclaim an act of grace and pardon, on the conditions of faith and repentance, it is hardly possible that convinced sinners should apprehend him otherwise than an enemy; and that all the common benefits they enjoy, are but provisions allowed in the interval between the sentence pronounced by the law, and the execution of it at death. Therefore God to overcome our fears, and to melt us into a compliance, hath given in the scripture the highest assurance of his willingness to receive all relenting and returning sinners. He interposes the most solemn oath to remove our suspicions. ”As I live, says the Lord, I delight not in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” Ezek. 33. 11. And have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? says the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways and live?” Ezek. 18. 23. The majesty and ardency of the expressions testify the truth and vehemency of his desire, so far as the Excellency of his nature is capable to move our affections. And the reason of it is clear; for the conversion of a sinner implies a thorough change in the will and affections from sin to grace, and that is infinitely pleasing to God’s holiness, and the giving of life to the converted is most suitable to his mercy. The angels who are infinitely inferior to him in goodness, rejoice in the repentance and salvation of men; much more doth God. There is an eminent difference between his inclinations to exercise mercy, and justice. He uses expressions of regret when he is constrained to punish. Psal. 81. 13. “O that my people had hearkened to me, and Israel had walked in my ways! And how shall I give thee up Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? mine heart is turned within me.” Hos. 11. 8. As a merciful judge, that pities the man, when he condemns the malefactor. But he dispenses acts of grace with pleasure, He pardons iniquity, and passes ‘by transgressions because he delights in mercy.” Mic. 7. 18. It is true, when sinners are finally obdurate, God is pleased in their ruin, for the hour of his justice; yet it is not in such manner as in their conversion and life, he doth not invite sinners to transgress, that he may condemn them: he is not pleased when they give occasion for the exercise of his anger. And above all, we have the clearest and surest discovery of pardoning mercy in the death of Christ. For what stronger evidence can there be of God’s readiness to pardon, than sending his Son into the world to be a sacrifice for sin, that mercy without prejudice to his other perfections might upon our repentance forgive us? And what more rational argument is there, and more congruous to the breast of a man, to work in him a serious grief and hearty detestation of sin, not only as a cursed thing, but as it is contrary to the divine will, than the belief that God, in whose power alone it is to pardon sinners, is most desirous to pardon them, if they will return to obedience? The prodigal in his extreme distress resolved to go to his Father with penitential acknowledgments and submission: and, to use the word of a devout writer, his guilty conscience as desperate, asked him, qua spe, with what hope? He replied to himself, illa qua pater est. Ego perdidi quod erat filii; ille quod patris est non amisit: though I have neglected the duty and lost the confidence of a Son, he hath not lost the compassion of a Father. That parable represents man in his degenerate forlorn state, and that the divine goodness is the motive that prevails upon him to return to his duty.
William Bates, “The Harmony of the Divine Attributes,” in The Whole Works of William Bates, (London: Printed for James Black, 1815), 1:331-333. [Some spelling modernized and underlining mine.]
Credit to Marty Foord for the find.