CAUSE OF GOD AND TRUTH.
Section 32—Acts 3:19.
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
It is concluded from hence, that repentance and conversion are in the power of men, and not wrought by the unfrustrable grace of God; that there is no such thing as an absolute election, nor special redemption of particular persons; since all men are exhorted to repent and be converted, and that in order to procure the remission of their sins. But,
1. It should be observed, that repentance is either evangelical or legal, and this either personal or national. Evangelical repentance is not in the power of a natural man, but is the gift of God's free grace. Legal repentance may be performed by particular persons, who are destitute of the grace of God, and by all the inhabitants of a place, as the Ninevites, who repented externally at the preaching of Jonah, though it does not appear that they had received the grace of God, since destruction afterwards came upon that city for its iniquities; and such a repentance these Jews are here exhorted to, on the account of a national sin, the crucifixion of Christ, with which they are charged (vv. 14-18), and in the guilt and punishment, of which they had involved themselves and all their posterity, when they said, His blood be upon us, and upon our children (Matthew 27:25). Likewise the conversion here pressed unto us, is not an internal conversion of the soul to God, which is the work of almighty power, but an outward reformation of life, or a bringing forth fruit in conversation meet for the repentance insisted on. Besides, exhortations to any thing, be it what it will, do not necessarily imply that man has a power to comply with them. Men are required to believe in Christ, to love the Lord with all their heart, to make themselves a new heart and a new spirit, yea, to keep the whole law of God; but it does not follow that they are able of themselves to do all these things. If, therefore, evangelical repentance and internal conversion were here intended, it would only prove that the persons spoken to were without them, stood in need of them, could not be saved unless they were partakers of them, and, therefore, ought to apply to God for them.
2. These exhortations do not militate against the absolute election nor particular redemption of some only, since they are not made to all men, but to these Jews, the crucifiers of Christ; and were they made to all men, they should be considered only as declarations of what God approves of, commands, and requires, and not what he wills and determines shall be; for then all men would repent and be converted; for who hath resisted his will?Besides, in this way God may and does bring his elect to see their need of repentance, and to an enjoyment of that grace, and leaves others inexcusable. It is said, that if Christ died not for all men, God could not equitably require all men to repent: and it is asked, What good could this repentance do them? what remission of sins could it procure? and therefore must be in vain; yea, that it would follow from hence, that no impenitent person can be justly condemned for dying in his impenitent estate. To which I reply; it does not become us to fix what is, and what is not equitable for God to require of his creatures, on supposition of Christ's dying or not dying for them; this is limiting the Holy One of Israel. Supposing Christ had not died for any of the sons of men; have they not all sinned and transgressed the commands of God? and should they not be sorry for these sins, and repent of the same, being committed against the God of their mercies? and might not God equitably require this at their hands, though he had not given his Son to die for them? and though such a repentance would not procure remission of sins,which is not to be procured by any repentance whatever; nor is it by the repentance of those for whom Christ has died, but by his precious blood, without which there is no remission; yet it might be the means of enjoying a present temporal good, and lessening the aggravation of future punishment; as in the case of the Ninevites. Nor does it follow from Christ's not dying for all men, that no impenitent person can be justly condemned for dying in his impenitent estate; since the providential goodness of God leads to repentance;(Rom. 2:4, 5) and therefore such who despise the riches of his goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering,do, after their hardness and impenitent heart, treasure up wrath against the day of wrath, and righteous judgment of God;and since, as many as have sinned without law,(Rom. 2:12) and consequently without the Gospel and the knowledge of Christ, his sufferings, and death, shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law.Besides, as has been observed, the exhortation to repent here made, is not made unto all men, but to the Jews,on a very remarkable occasion, and was blessed to many of them, to the turning them away from their iniquities; for many of them which heard the word, believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand (Acts 4:4). If it should be replied, that though the exhortation to repentance is not here made to all men; yet it is elsewhere expressly said, that God commandeth all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Let it be observed, that as this command to repentance does not suppose it to be in the power of man; nor contradicts its being a free-grace gift of God; nor its being a blessing in the covenant of grace, and in the hands of Christ to bestow; so neither does it extend, as here expressed, to every individual of mankind; but only regards the men of the then present age, in distinction from those who lived in the former times of ignorance:for so the words are expressed: and the times of this ignorance God winked at;overlooked, took no notice of, sent them no messages, enjoined them no commands of faith in Christ, or repentance towards God; but now, since the coming and death of Christ, commandeth all men, Gentiles as well as Jews, everywhere to repent;it being his will, that repentance and remission of sins should be preached among all nations (Luke 24:47): but admitting that it has been God's command in all ages, and to all men that they repent; as all men are indeed bound, by the law of nature, to a natural repentance, though all men are not called by the gospel to an evangelical one; yet I see not what conclusions can be formed from hence against either absolute election or particular redemption.
3. Though there is a close connection between evangelical repentance, true conversion, and pardon of sin; that is to say, that such who are really converted and truly repent, have their sins pardoned; yet not repentance and conversion, but the free grace of God and blood of Christ are the causes of pardon. Forgiveness of sin is indeed only manifested to converted penitent sinners, who are encouraged and influenced to repent of sin, and turn to the Lord from the promise of pardoning grace; hence the most that can be made of such an exhortation is only this; that it is both the duty and interest of men to repent and turn to God, that they may have a discovery of the remission of their sins through the blood of Christ, and not that they shall hereby procure and obtain the thing itself: though, after all, neither evangelical repentance and internal conversion, nor the grace of pardon are here intended; not evangelical repentance and internal conversion, as has been before observed, nor the spiritual blessing and grace of pardon; for, though pardon of sin is signified by blotting it out, Psalm 51:1,9; Isaiah 43:25, and Isaiah 44:22; yet forgiveness of sin sometimes means no more than the removing a present calamity, or the averting of a threatened judgment, Exodus 32:32; 1 Kings 8:33 to 39; and is the sense of the phrase here. These Jews had crucified the Lord of glory, and for this sin were threatened with miserable destruction; the apostle therefore exhorts them to repent of it, and acknowledge Jesus to be the true Messiah; that so when wrath should come upon their nation to the uttermost,they might be delivered and saved from the general calamity; which, though these would be terrible times to the unbelieving Jews, yet would be times of refreshing to the people of God from troubles and persecutions. Though the last clause may be considered, not as expressing the time when their iniquities should be blotted out, but as a distinct additional promise made to penitents, and be read with the other thus: that your sins may be blotted out, that the times of refreshing may come;as they are by the Syriac and Arabic versions, and to which the Ethiopic agrees, and is the reading preferred by Lightfoot; and the sense is this, "Repent of your sin of crucifying Christ, acknowledge Jesus as the true Messiah, and you shall not only be saved from the general destruction of your nation, but shall have the gospel and the consolation of Israel with you. Jesus Christ, who was first preached unto, you, shall be sent down unto you in the refreshing consolatory ministry of the word, though he in person must refrain in heaven, until the times of restitution of all things."
 Limborch, 50:4, c. 13, sect. 16, p. 374; Whitby, p. 70, 88, 153; ed. 2.69, 87, 149.