The life we have at this present is the gift of God, in whom we live, move, and are, and therefore he is called Jehovah. For this life we should be thankful, and we may not in any wise use it after our own fancy, but only to the end for which it is given and lent us; that is, to the setting forth of God’s praise and glory, by repentance, conversion, and obedience to his good will and holy laws whereunto his longsuffering, as it were, even draws us if our hearts were not hardened by impenitence. And therefore our life in the scripture is called a walking; for as the body daily draws more and more near its end, that is, the earth, even so our soul draws daily more and more near unto death, that is, to salvation or damnation, to heaven or hell!
Since we are most careless of this, and very fools, (for we, alas! are the same today we were yesterday, and not better or nearer to God, but rather nearer to hell, Satan, and perdition; being covetous, idle, carnal, secure, negligent, proud, &c.) I think my labour cannot be better bestowed, than with the Baptist, Christ Jesus, and his apostles, to harp on this string, which of all other is most necessary, and most especially in these days. What string is that? says one. Truly, brother, it is the string of repentance, which Christ our Saviour used first in his ministry; and as his minister at this present time, I will use it to you all, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matt. iv.
This sentence, thus pronounced and preached by our Saviour Jesus Christ, as it commands us to repent, so to the doing of the same, it shows us a sufficient cause to stir us up thereunto, namely, because the kingdom of heaven, which is a kingdom of all joy, peace, riches, power and pleasure, is at hand, to all such as do repent. So that the meaning hereof is, as though our Saviour should thus speak at present: “Sirs, since I see you all walking the wrong way, even to Satan and unto hell-fire, by following the kingdom of Satan, which now is coloured under the vain pleasures of this life, and foolishness of the flesh most subtle, to your utter undoing and destruction to behold and mark well what I say unto you, The kingdom of heaven, that is, another manner of joy and felicity, honour and riches, power and pleasure, than you now perceive or enjoy, is even at hand, and at your backs; as, if you will turn again, that is, repent you, you shall most truly and pleasantly feel, see, and inherit. Turn again therefore, I say, that is, repent; for this joy I speak of, even the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Here we may note, first, the corruption of our nature since to this commandment, Repent you, he adds a clause, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; for by reason of the corruption and sturdiness of our nature, God unto all his commandments commonly either adds some promise to provoke us to obedience, or else some sufficient cause which cannot but excite as to hearty labouring for doing the same; as here, to the commandment of doing penance, he adds this cause, saying, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Again, since he joins the cause to the commandment, saying, “For the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” we may learn, that of the kingdom of heaven, none, to whom the ministry of preaching does appertain, can be a partaker, but such as repent, and do penance. Therefore, dearly beloved, if you regard the kingdom of heaven, as you cannot enter therein, except you repent, I beseech you all; of every estate, as you desire your own weal, to repent and do penance: the which that you may do, I will do my best how to help you by God’s grace.
But first, because we cannot well tell what repentance is, through ignorance and for lack of knowledge and false teaching, I will show you what repentance is. Repentance, or penance, is no English word, but we borrow it of the Latinists, to whom penance is ‘forethinking’ in English; in Greek, it means ‘being wise afterwards;’ in Hebrew, ‘conversion or turning;’ which conversion or turnings, cannot be true and hearty, unto God especially, without some good hope or trust of pardon for that which is already done and past. I may well in this sort define it, namely; that penance is a sorrowing or thinking upon our sins past, an earnest purpose to amend, or turning to God, with a trust of pardon.