What do the Scriptures say?
One of the Divinely predicted characteristics of the "perilous times" in which we are now living is that "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:13). The deeper reference of these words is to spiritual seducers and deceivers. Men with captivating personalities, men who occupy a prominent place in Christendom, men with an apparently deep reverence for Holy Writ, are beguiling souls with fatal error. Not only are evolutionists, higher critics and modernists deluding multitudes of our young people with their sugar-coated lies, but some who pose as the champions of orthodoxy and boast of their ability to "rightly divide the Word of truth" are poisoning the minds of many to their eternal destruction.
Such a charge as we have just made is indeed a serious one, and one which is not to be readily received without proof. But proof is easily furnished. The Word of God teaches plainly that in this dispensation, equally with preceding ones, God requires a deep and sincere repentance before He pardons any sinner. Repentance is absolutely necessary to salvation, just as necessary as is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. "Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). "Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18). "For godly sorrow works repentance, not to be repented of" (2 Corinthians 7:10). It is impossible to frame language more explicit than that. Therefore, in view of these verses, and others yet to be quoted, we cannot but sorrowfully regard those who are now affirming that repentance is not, in this dispensation, essential unto salvation, as being deceivers of souls, blind leaders of the blind.
A careful comparison of the prominent place which is given to repentance in the New Testament with the very small place it has in present-day teaching, even in so-called "orthodox" pulpits, brings to light one of the most significant and solemn "signs of the times." Some of the most prominent of those pleased to style themselves "teachers of dispensational truth" insist that repentance belongs to a past period, being altogether "Jewish," and deny in toto that, in this age, God demands repentance from the sinner before he can be saved, thus blankly repudiating Acts 17:30: "But now commands all men everywhere to repent." When it is borne in mind that these men are most diligent students of Scripture, we can but sorrowfully see in them the fulfillment of those words "ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7).
Others, in their recoil from salvation by reformation, have failed to duly preserve the balance of truth, and give proper place to such Scriptures as "He who covers his sins shall not prosper; but whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13), and "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon Him" (Isaiah 55:7). It is not that there is anything meritorious in a sinner's compliance with this righteous demand of God, but that the claims of the Holy One must be pressed on those who have transgressed against Him. Yet that is just the thing the haughty rebel desires to hear about least of all, and the sad thing is that so many are now, wittingly or unwittingly, withholding that which is unpalatable to men but which is honoring to God. How widespread this withholding is, may be quickly discovered by an examination of present-day tracts purporting to explain how a sinner may be saved: in most of them not a word is said about repentance.
Even where it is held that repentance is necessary before a sinner can be saved, only too often the most shallow and superficial views are entertained of what repentance really is. In many circles it is assumed that if a person sheds tears or appears to be broken-hearted on account of the evil course he has followed, this is clear proof that a saving work of Divine grace has begun in that person's heart. But this by no means follows. The prickings of an uneasy conscience are not the same as the conviction of sin which is produced by the Holy Spirit. Esau wept, and wept bitterly, yet he was not regenerated. Felix trembled under the preaching of Paul, but there is no hint in Scripture that he has gone to Heaven. Multitudes are deceived on this very point, and there is very little in present-day ministry which is calculated to undeceive them. Every one of us who values his soul and is concerned about his eternal destiny, will do well to carefully examine his repentance in the light of Scripture and ascertain whether it be of man or from God, natural or supernatural.
The first occurrence of the word "repent" furnishes the key to its meaning and scope. In Genesis 6:6 we read: "And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth." The language is figurative, for He who is infinite in wisdom and immutable in counsel never changes His mind. This is plain from "God is not a man that He should lie, neither the son of man that he should repent" (Num.23:19), and "The strength of Israel will not lie nor repent, for He is not a man that He should repent" (I Samuel 15:29); and again, "with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). Thus, in the light of these definite statements we are compelled to conclude that in Genesis 6:6 (and similar passages) the Almighty condescends to accommodate Himself to our mode of speaking, and express Himself after a human manner — as He does in Psalm 78:65; 87:6; Isaiah 59:16, etc.
Now by carefully noting the setting of this word in
Genesis 6:6 and attentively observing what follows, we discover: first, that
the occasion of repentance is sin, for in Genesis 6:5 we read that "God saw
that the wickedness of man was great in the earth": thus repentance is a
realization of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Second, that the nature of
repentance consists in a change of mind: a new decision is formed in view of
the deplorable conditions existing — "it repented the Lord that He had made
man." Third, that genuine repentance is accompanied by a real sorrow for
sin, for that which necessitated the change of mind: "and it grieved Him at
His heart" — cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10. Fourth, that the fruit or consequence
of repentance appears in a determination to undo (forsake, and rectify as
far as possible) that which is sorrowed over: "and the Lord said, I will
destroy man" (verse 7). All of these elements are found in a repentance
which has been produced in the heart by the gracious and supernatural
operation of the Holy Spirit. Let us now consider:
1. Its Necessity
This is discovered by a contemplation of the law, for "by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). Where there is no expounding and enforcing of the holy law of God there can be no true, deep saving knowledge of sin. As the apostle Paul so plainly affirms, "I had not known sin, but by the law" (Romans 7:7). The exceeding sinfulness of sin (Romans 7:13) is only exposed when the Spirit turns the light of God's law upon our conscience and heart. But this is preeminently an age of lawlessness, and that in every respect. And it cannot be otherwise: where the law of God is flouted, where thousands of preachers are declaring that the law has no place in this dispensation of grace, we cannot expect people to have much respect for human law. God has caused the people to reap that which they have sown: having sown the wind, they are now reaping the whirlwind. Bolshevism and anarchy are the inevitable rebound from having slighted and rejected the Ten Commandments!
Practical godliness consists in conformity of heart and life to the Law of God, and in a sincere compliance with the Gospel of Christ. But it is only as we rightly understand both the Law and the Gospel that we can discern wherein a conformity to the one and a compliance with the other really consists. Now the requirements of the Law are summed up in that word, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5, and cf. Matthew 22:37). Observe carefully the three things here specified: First, the duty required, namely, love to God. Second, the ground or reason for this, namely, because He is the Lord our God. Third, the measure or extent of this duty, namely, to love Him with all the heart. Nothing other than this, nothing less than this, will ever meet the righteous claims of God upon us.
Now that which is implied in and required unto a real love to God is, first a true knowledge of Him. If our apprehensions of God are wrong, if they are not formed by Scripture, then it is obvious we have but a false image of Him, framed by our own fancy. By a true knowledge of God (John 17:3; I John 5:20) we mean far more than a correct theoretical notion of His perfections: there must be a heartfelt realization of His personal loveliness, His ineffable glory. And where that truth truly exists, there will be a delighting of ourselves in Him (Psalm 37:4) and a desire and a determination to please Him. As self-love naturally causes us to magnify self and seek to promote our own interests, so a true love to God causes us to put Him first and seek His interests.
In repentance sin is the thing to be repented of, and sin is a transgression of the law (I John 3:4). And the first and chief thing required by the law is supreme love to God. Therefore, the lack of supreme love to God, the heart's disaffection for His character and rebellion against Him (Romans 8:7) is our great wickedness which we have to repent of. But it will never be in our hearts to repent unless we truly see our blame. And we can never truly see our blame until we perceive that which chiefly renders us to blame. It is the excellency of God, the infinite perfections of His glorious being which renders Him worthy of and entitled to our supreme love and fullest obedience; and this it is which chiefly renders us to blame, for not having loved and served Him. Not to love so lovable an Object as the God of love is the crime of crimes.
The Evil Of Sin What is sin? Sin is saying, I renounce the God who made me; I disallow His right to govern me. I care not what He says to me, what commandments He has given, nor how He expostulates: I prefer self-indulgence to His approval. I am indifferent to all He has done to and for me; His blessings and gifts move me not: I am going to be lord of myself. Sin is rebellion against the Majesty of Heaven. It is to treat the Almighty with contempt. O how vastly different a thing is sin from what the world supposes! How insensible are the unregenerate to the glory of God and that which is due unto Him from us!
The natural man supposes that the great evil of sin consists in its being so injurious to us. For a creature which is absolutely dependent to assume an attitude of haughty independence, is the sin of sins. To despise One who is infinitely glorious and infinitely worthy of honor, love and obedience, is an awful abomination. To be more concerned about pleasing fellow-rebels than to seek the favor of God is turpitude of the blackest dye. O reader, if you have never seen the great evil of sin, then you are a stranger to God and blind to His surpassing loveliness; you are under the blinding power of sin.
Weigh well what is now being presented if you value your soul, dear friend. The "deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:13) may hitherto have closed your eyes to the terrible condition you are in. If so, are you now willing to be undeceived? Are you willing to really see yourself? Then make no mistake upon this point: never was any sinner pardoned while he was impenitent; and never was a soul truly penitent while insensible of the great evil of sin; and never did a sinner perceive the great evil of sin until he became acquainted with the infinitely great and glorious God against whom he has sinned. You may indeed have been sorry for sin on other accounts — as exposing you to shame before men, as having injured your reputation, or because it has brought down God's chastening hand upon your body or temporal affairs. But if you have never seen the great evil of sin as it is against that God who is infinitely glorious in Himself, then your repentance was not genuine, and God has not pardoned you.
"Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight" (Psalm 51:4). A sense of the great evil of sin is essential to true repentance. We cannot be suitably affected toward things unless we see them as they are. No matter how lovely a thing or person may be, if their excellency be not perceived the heart is untouched. Even the infinite glory of God will not excite our esteem and love if we have no sense of it. So, on the other hand, let sin be never so evil, yet if this be not realized we are not suitably affected toward it. Though it deserves to be hated with perfect hatred, and though there be every reason why we should be horrified on account of it and abase ourselves before God, mourning it in bitterness of heart, fearing it, watching against it as the greatest of all evils, yet we shall never do so until we see sin in its real hideousness. Thus a deep sense of the infinite evil of sin is plainly essential to repentance, yes, it is from this that repentance immediately springs.
The evil of sin arises from our obligations to do otherwise, namely, our being under obligation to love and serve Him who is infinitely glorious. But unless I clearly see this, there will not be, there cannot be any deep repentance. The language of ever sinner's heart is, I care not what God requires. I am going to have my own way. I care not what be God's claim upon me, I refuse to submit unto His authority. I care not what He has threatened to do unto those that defy Him, I will not be intimidated. His eyes may be upon me, but I am not going to be restrained thereby; I care not what He loves and what He hates, I shall please myself. But when the Holy Spirit enlightens and convicts a soul, his language is, "Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight."
What Repentance Is Thus, true repentance issues from a realization in the heart, wrought therein by the Holy Spirit, of the sinfulness of sin, of the awfulness of ignoring the claims of God and defying His authority. It is therefore a holy horror and hatred of sin, a deep sorrow for it, an acknowledgment of it before God, and a complete heart-forsaking of it. Not until this is done will God pardon us. Whoever will take the trouble to search through the Scriptures on this point will find that it is plainly and uniformly taught by Moses and the Prophets, by Christ and His apostles. Begin with what God demanded on the day of Atonement: "whatever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in the same day," so far from the sacrifice removing his sins, "he shall be cut off from his people" (Leviticus 23:29).
Weigh well the teaching of these verses: "If they shall bethink themselves in the land where they were carried captives, and repent, and make supplication unto You in the land of them that carried them captives, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; And return unto You with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies, which led them away captive, and pray unto You... Then hear You their prayer and their supplication...and forgive Your people that have sinned against You" (I Kings 8:47-50). No change in dispensation has wrought any change in the character of the thrice holy God. His claims are ever the same.
For the teachings of the Prophets see Psalm 32:3-5; Proverbs 28:13; Jeremiah 4:4; Ezekiel 18:30-32; Hosea 5:15; Joel 2:12-18. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, preached saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). This was as though he said, "Such is the nature of the Messiah's kingdom, so holy is it, that no impenitent sinner, while such, can be a member of it and share its blessings. The promised One is on the eve of making His appearance: therefore repent you, and thus be prepared to receive Him." Thus did John preach, and many did he turn the Lord their God: Luke 1:16, 17.
The Lord Jesus taught and constantly pressed the same truth. His call was, "Repent you, and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15): the Gospel cannot be savingly believed until there is genuine repentance — as the ground must be plowed before it is capable of receiving the seed, so the heart must be melted before it will welcome the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore did He declare, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4), and announce that He had been sent "to heal the broken-hearted" (Luke 4:18). He came here to "call sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32), and insisted that "Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3, 5). He illustrated this truth at length in the parable of the prodigal son, who "came to himself," repented, left the "far country" and returned to the Father, and so obtained his forgiveness (Luke 15:17-20).
When risen from the dead, Christ commissioned His servants "That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations" (Luke 24:47), and Acts 5:31 tells us that He has been exalted on high to communicate these blessings in the same order, namely, to give repentance to (the spiritual) Israel and forgiveness of sins." Accordingly we find the Apostles, who were filled with the Holy Spirit, thus carrying out His command. On the Day of Pentecost when many were "pricked in their hearts" and asked "what shall we do?", Peter did not say, Do nothing but rest upon the finished work of Christ. Instead, he said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Again, in Acts 3:19 we find him saying, "Repent you therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out!"
When Paul was converted and sent to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, it was to "open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins" (Acts 26:18); hence we find he went everywhere and preached to men that they should "repent and turn to God and do works meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20), "testifying to both Jews and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). As to those who shut their eyes, stopped their ears, hardened their hearts, and were given up to destruction in the days of the Prophets (Isaiah 6:10), of Christ (Matthew 13:15), and of the Apostles (Acts 28:27), their sentence ran thus: "Lest they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and be converted, and I should heal them," which compared with Mark 4:12 signifies, "and their sins should be forgiven them".
Against these clear and consistent testimonies of Holy Writ, certain men have insisted that the Divine call to repentance was never made to any except those who were in covenant relationship with God. But as we have shown, Acts 17:30 and 26:20 clearly expose this error. Some have pointed out that the word "repent" is not once found in all John's Gospel, and in view of 20:31 have reasoned that it is not necessary unto salvation. But John's Gospel is plainly addressed unto those who are saved (see 1:16). It is that Gospel which sets forth the Son in relation to the sons of God. John 20:31 obviously means that this Gospel is written to strengthen the faith of believers; as I John 5:13 (addressed to those who already knew they were saved: see 2:3 etc.) signifies the purpose of that epistle was to deepen assurance. Others have drawn a false inference from the very infrequent mention of repentance in the Epistles, but they also are addressed to the saints; yet 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Timothy 2:25; 2 Peter 3:9 manifestly confirm the fact that repentance is required throughout this dispensation.
"There is no new thing under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9), nor is the present-day denial of the necessity of repentance for salvation any twentieth century novelty. In proof of this statement we could fill page after page with quotations from Antinomians and others who lived long before "dispensational truth" was first heard of. No, it is an old device of Satan's yet under a new dress. But woe unto those who accept his lie. God must cease to exist before He will lower His claims and cease demanding repentance from all who have rebelled against Him. Make no mistake upon this point, dear reader: it is turn or burn— turn from your course of self-will and self-pleasing; turn in broken-heartedness unto God, seeking His mercy in Christ; turn with full purpose to please and serve Him, or be tormented day and night forever and ever in the Lake of Fire.
2. Its Nature
"Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). In view of these solemn words it is tremendously important that each of us should seek and obtain from God the repentance which He requires, not resting content with anything short of this. Hence, there needs to be the most diligent and prayerful examination as to the character of our repentance. Multitudes are deceived thereon. Many are perplexed by the conflicting teaching of men on the subject; but instead of that discouraging, it should stir up to a more earnest searching of the Scriptures. Before turning to the positive side of this branch of our theme, let us first point out some of the features of a non-saving repentance.
1. Trembling beneath the preaching of God's Word is not repentance. True there are thousands of people who have listened unmoved to the most awe-inspiring sermons, and even descriptions of the torments of the damned which have struck no terror to their hearts. Yet on the other hand, many who were deeply stirred, filled with alarm, and moved to tears, are now in Hell. I have seen the faces of strong men pale under a searching message, yet next day all its effects had left them. Felix "trembled" (Acts 24:25) under the preaching of Paul!
2. Being "almost persuaded" is not repentance. Agrippa (Acts 26:28) is a case in point. A person may give full assent to the messages of God's servants, admire the Gospel, yes, "receive the Word with joy," and after all be only a stony-ground hearer (Matthew 13:20, 21). Not only so, he may be conscious of his evil-doing and acknowledge the same. Pharaoh owned "I have sinned against the Lord your God" (Exodus 10:16). A man may realize that he ought to yield himself to the claims of God and become a Christian, yet never be more than "almost persuaded."
3. Humbling ourselves beneath the mighty hand of God is not repentance. People may be deeply moved, weep, go home and determine to reform their lives, and yet return to their sins. A solemn example of this is found in Ahab. That wicked king of Israel coveted Naboth's vineyard, plotted to secure it, and gained his end by causing him to be murdered. Then the servant of God met him and said, "Have you killed and also taken possession?" And we are told that he "rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted...and went softly" (I Kings 21:27-29). Yet in the very nest chapter we find him again rebelling against God, and that he was cut off by Divine judgment. Ah, my reader, you may have humbled yourself before God for a time, and yet remain the slave of your lusts. You may be afraid of Hell, and yet not of sinning. If Hell were extinguished, so would be the repentance of many church members. O mistake not fear of the wrath to come for a holy hatred and horror of sin.
4. Confessing sins is not repentance. Thousands have gone forward to the "altar" or "mourners' bench" and have told God what vile creatures they were, enumerating a long list of transgressions, but without any deep realization of the unspeakable awfulness of their sins, or a spark of holy hatred of them. The sequel has shown this, for they now ignore God's commandments as much as they did before. O my reader, if you do not, in the strength of God, resist sin, if you do not turn from it, then your imagined repentance is only whitewash — paint which decorates, but not the grace which transforms into gold.
5. You may even do works meet for repentance, and yet remain impenitent. A sinner may be convinced of the evil of his ways, turn from them, and go so far as to make restitution for the harm which he has wrought, and yet perish notwithstanding. A clear proof of this is furnished in the New Testament. Judas confessed his sins to the priests, and returned their money (Matthew 27:3-5), and then he went out from the presence of these evil men. Was he saved? No, he went and hanged himself! O how this ought to make each of us tremble and search our hearts.
The Greek word "metanoeo," which occurs most frequently as the word rendered "repent," signifies a change of mind: Matthew 21:29 both illustrates and confirms that definition. Yet let it be said very emphatically that saving repentance means far more than a mere change of opinions: it is a changed mind which leads to action. Now this changed mind is not brought about by any intellectual process, but is the result of the understanding being wrought upon by the conscience, and that, as the conscience has been supernaturally ploughed up by the Holy Spirit. In consequence of this there is a judging or condemning of self, a taking sides with God against myself.
Fallen man is not on trial, but is a criminal already under sentence (John 3:18). "There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one" (Romans 3:10-12). That is God's indictment against each of us. No pleading will avail, no excuses will be accepted. The present issue between God and the sinner is, Will man bow to, or endorse with his heart, God's righteous verdict?
It is just here that the Gospel meets us. It comes to us as those who are already lost, as those who are "ungodly" "without strength," at "enmity against God." When the Gospel first comes to the sinner it finds him in a state of apostasy from God, both as sovereign Ruler and our supreme Good, neither obeying and glorifying Him, nor enjoying and finding satisfaction in Him. Hence the demand for "repentance toward God" before "faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). True repentance towards God removes this disaffection of our minds and hearts toward Him, under both these characters. In saving repentance the whole soul turns to Him and says: I have been a disloyal and rebellious creature: I have scorned Your high authority and most rightful law. I will live no longer thus. I now desire and determine with all my might to serve and obey You as my only Lord. I subject myself unto You, to submit to Your will.
Nor is the above all that a truly penitent soul says unto God. He goes on: Hitherto I have been a miserable and forlorn creature, destitute of anything which could satisfy or make me truly happy. My heart has been set upon a vain world which could not meet my real needs; it has flattered and mocked me often, but never contented me; it has "pierced me through with many sorrows." I forsook the Fountain of living waters and turned to broken cisterns which held none. I own and bewail my folly: I unsparingly condemn myself for my madness. I now betake myself to You as my present and everlasting Portion.
The Gospel proclaims the amazing grace of God, which is the guilty and condemned sinner's only hope. Yet that grace will never be really welcomed until the sinner truly bows beneath God's sentence against him. This is why both repentance and faith are demanded of us. The two must never be separated. When our Lord was speaking to the chief priests and elders about their rejection of John's message, the charge preferred against them was: "you repented not afterward, that you might believe in him" (Matthew 21:32). Repentance is the heart's acknowledgment of the justice of God's sentence of condemnation; faith is the heart's glad acceptance of the grace and mercy which are extended to us through Christ. Repentance is not simply the turning over of a new leaf and vowing that I will mend my ways: rather is it a setting to my seal that God is true when He declares I am "without strength"; that in myself my case is hopeless; that I am no more capable of "doing better" than I am of creating a world. Not until this is believed on the authority of God's Word shall I really turn to Christ and welcome Him — not as Helper, but as a Savior!
Repentance is more than conviction of sin or terror of the wrath to come. This is clear from Acts 2:37, 38. Under Peter's searching message the Jews were made to realize their awful guilt before God: they were made conscious of the awful fact that they had murdered the Prince of life, and so were in terrible fear of being cast into Hell. Nevertheless, though already "pricked in their hearts," when they cried out "What shall we do?" Peter said, "Repent." To a superficial mind, such a demand might appear needless yet was it seasonable counsel. Their being "pricked in their heart" was legal terror, whereas saving "repentance" is an evangelical judging of self, mourning over sin out of a sense of God's grace and goodness.
A careful and prayerful pondering of Acts 2:37, 38 should correct more than one error which is now current in various circles. When the hearers of Peter were affrighted by their awful crime and fearful of the wrath to come, pricked in their heart — as though a sword had been run through their vitals — they cried out in anguish "What shall we do?" The apostle did not say, "Be passive, there is nothing you can do," thus encouraging the fatal inertia of hyper-Calvinists. Nor did he say "Believe your sins are blotted out," which is the counsel of many "physicians of no value"in our day. No, his reply was far otherwise, in substance amounting to this: Take all the blame which belongs to you. Own the whole truth unto God. Do not gloss over, but confess your awful wickedness; let your uncircumcised hearts be truly humbled before Him. And then look by faith to the free grace of God through the blood of Christ for pardon, and in token that all your dependence is on His meditation and merits, be baptized in His name, and that shall be to you an eternal sign of the remission of your sins.
"It is manifest from the nature of the case, that he who has his eyes opened to see the glory of the Divine nature, the beauty of the Divine law, the infinite evil of sin, the need of an infinite atonement, and so to see his need of Christ: and at the same time, views God as the supreme, all-sufficient Good, ready to receive every sinner that returns Him through Christ: it is manifest, I say, that every one who is thus taught of God, will repent and turn to God as his sovereign Lord and supreme Good, and return through Jesus Christ, who is the way to the Father, and the only way, in the view of one thus Divinely enlightened. For in the clearer light the glory of the Divine nature and law is seen, in exact proportion will be the sense of the infinite evil of sin, and the need of Christ's infinite atonement and perfect righteousness. And so 'repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ' will be naturally implied in each other.
"He who repents in view of the glory of God, the glory of the law, and of the atonement, will in his repentance look only to free grace through Jesus Christ for mercy, in a view of the glory of God, law, atonement, and will in doing so, take the whole blame of his disaffection to the Divine character, as exhibited in the law, and on the cross of Christ, to himself, judging and condemning himself, and in the very act of faith, repent and be converted. When therefore it is said 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved' (Acts 16:31), the same (inclusive) thing is meant as when it is said, 'Repent you therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out' (Acts 3:19). For the apostolic faith implies repentance, and sometimes both together; but the same thing is always intended. For in the view of the apostles, repentance and faith were mutually implied in each other" (Jos. Bellamy, 1750).
A Full and Formal Definition of Repentance
Giving a more full and formal definition of repentance, we would say: Repentance is a supernatural and inward revelation from God, giving a deep consciousness of what I am in His sight, which causes me to loathe and condemn myself, resulting in a bitter sorrow for sin, a holy horror and hatred for sin, a turning away from or forsaking of sin. It is the discovery of God's high and righteous claims upon me, and of my lifelong failure to meet those claims. It is the recognition of the holiness and goodness of His law, and my defiant insubordination thereto. It is the perception that God has the right to rule and govern me, and of my refusal to submit unto Him. It is the apprehension that He has dealt in goodness and kindness with me, and that I have evilly repaid Him by having no concern for His honor and glory. It is the realization of His gracious patience with me, and how that instead of this melting my heart and causing me to yield loving obedience to Him, I have abused His forbearance by continuing a course of self-will.
Evangelical repentance is a heart-apprehension of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. It is the recognition of the chief thing wherein I am blameworthy, namely, in having so miserably failed to render unto God that which is His rightful due. As the Holy Spirit sets before me the loveliness of the Divine character, as I am enabled to discern the exalted excellency of God, then I begin to perceive that to which He is justly entitled, namely, the homage of my heart, the unrestricted love of my soul, the complete surrender of my whole being to Him. As I perceive that, from the moment I drew my first breath, God has sought only my good, that the One who gave me being has constantly ministered to my every creature need, and that the least I can do in return is to acknowledge His abounding mercies by doing that which is pleasing in His sight; I am now overwhelmed with anguish and horror as I realize I have treated Him more vilely than my worst enemy.
Oftentimes example is better than the most accurate definition. The N. T. furnishes quite a member of concrete instances even where the term itself is not found. When the "publican" stood afar off and would not so much as lift up his eyes unto Heaven, but smote his breast, saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13), we behold repentance in action. He recognized that awful moral distance which sin had taken him from God; he was deeply conscious of his utter unworthiness to gaze upon the Holy One; he unsparingly judged himself; he realized that his only hope lay in the sovereign mercy of God. So too the thief on the cross: in his words to his hardened companion, "Do you not fear God, seeing you are in the same condemnation, and we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds" (Luke 23:40, 41). There was no self-examination, but ready owning of his sinnership and his desert to be punished.
Mark carefully the expressions of penitence used by David in Psalm 51. He talks not of his "failures," "mistakes" or infirmities, but instead of "my transgressions" (verse 1), "my sin" (verse 2), "his evil" (verse 4), "my iniquity" (verse 9), and expressly mentions the worst feature of his crime, namely, his "blood-guiltiness" (verse 14). True repentance abhors gentle names for sin, nor does it seek to cloak wickedness. That which, while being tempted, is thought of as no great offence, when (later) is truly repented of, is acknowledged to be heinous. Sin before its commission often appears unto the mind as a very small evil, but when grace acts in a way of repentance for it, then the false glamour disappears and it is viewed in its dreadful malignity and loathed accordingly.
The Accompaniment of True Repentance
True repentance is always accompanied by a deep longing and a sincere determination to forsake that course which is displeasing to God. With what honesty could any man seek God's pardon while he continued to defy Him and would not part with that which He forbids? Would any king pardon a traitor, though he seemed never so humble, if he saw that he would be a traitor still? True, God is infinitely more merciful than any human king, yet in the very passage where He first formally proclaimed His mercy, He at once added "that will by no means clear the guilty" (Exodus 34:5-7), that is, guilty-hearted, those with false and disloyal hearts toward Himself, who would not be subject to Him in all things, and declined to have their every thought brought into captivity to obedience unto Him (2 Corinthians 10:5).
What has just been said needs to be strongly emphasized in this day of lawlessness, when, on every side, the very "grace of God" is being "turned into lasciviousness" (Jude 4). Many are the scriptures which set forth truth, that there must be a forsaking of sin before God will pardon offenders. "There is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared." (Psalm 130:4). Were God to grant pardon unto those in whom there was no change of heart to fear and obey Him, then there would be mercy with Him that He might be insulted and dishonored still further. God's mercy is never exercised at the expense of His holiness! God never displays one of His attributes so as to dishonor another. To pity a thief, while continuing a thief, would be folly, not wisdom. Well did the Puritan Thomas Goodwin say, "Resolve either to leave every known sin and to submit to every known duty, or else never look to find mercy and favor with God."
Of old it was announced that should any "bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my heart to add drunkenness to thirst [that is, one sin to another]: the Lord will not spare him" (Deuteronomy 29:19, 20). So, on the other hand it was declared, "If My people which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14, and cf. 2 Chron, 6:26). And the principles of God's judgment have not changed! The death of Christ has not caused God to lower His standard — how unspeakably horrid and dreadful that any one should suppose that it has! No, what God demanded of old, He demands now.
Thus, repentance is the negative side of conversion. Conversion is a whole-hearted turning unto God, but there cannot be a turning unto without a turning from. Sin must be forsaken before we can draw near unto the Holy One. As it is written, "you turned to God from idols to serve (live for) the living and true God" (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Thus, repentance is the sinner making his peace with God. We are not unmindful of the fact that that expression is derided by many, yet it is a scriptural one: "let him take hold of My strength, that he may make peace with Me" (Isaiah 27:5). It is blessedly true that Christ "made peace through the blood of His cross" (Colossians 1:20), yet it is equally true that no sinner ever enters into the saving good of Christ's blood until he makes his peace with God; in other words, until he throws down the weapons of his warfare and ceases fighting against God. The Lord Jesus Himself plainly taught this in Luke 14: let the reader carefully ponder verses 28-33, paying special attention to v. 32 and the "so likewise" of v. 33!
3. Its Implications
"If God is an absolutely perfect, and infinitely glorious and amiable Being, infinitely worthy of supreme love and honor, and universal obedience; and if our disaffection to the Divine character and rebellion against God, is altogether inexcusable and infinitely criminal, agreeable to the voice of the Divine law and to the import of the cross of Christ; if God the great Governor of the universe views things in this light, and in this view calls unto us from Heaven to confess our sins, repent and turn unto Him with all our hearts; if these things are so, and they are; then the meaning of God's Word is certain, the ideas designed to be conveyed by them are determinate. To repent, beyond dispute, is to change our minds as to the Divine character, to lay aside our prejudices, to open our eyes, and begin to look upon God as He is, an absolutely perfect, an infinitely glorious and amiable Being, infinitely worthy of supreme love and honor, and of universal obedience; and in the light of this glory to begin to view our disaffection and rebellion as altogether inexcusable and infinitely criminal, and in the view, cordially take all that blame to ourselves which God lays upon us, and to be affected accordingly.
"Repentance is a saying, 'righteous are You, O Lord, when You speak, and clear when You judge.' Should justice take place, no iniquity should be imputed unto You. It would not be a blemish, but a beauty in Your character, and all Heaven ought forever to love and adore Your glorious majesty, should I receive my just deserts and perish forever. But You can have mercy on whom You will, through Jesus Christ. To Your infinite grace and self-moving goodness through Him I look. 'God be merciful to me a sinner.' Repentance stands then in opposition to all our former prejudices against the Divine character; and in opposition to that sin-extenuating, self-justifying, law-hating, God-blaspheming disposition which reigns in every impenitent soul. God is seen in His beauty; the Divine law, as a ministration of condemnation and death, appears glorious, our disaffection and rebellion infinitely criminal. We justify God, approve His law, condemn ourselves, accept the punishment of our iniquity as worthy of God; and thus we confess, repent, and turn unto the Lord, looking only to free grace through Jesus Christ for pardon" (J. Bellamy, 1750).
Repentance, then, presupposes, first, a recognition and acknowledgment of God's claims upon us as our Creator, Governor, Provider and Protector. Because God is who and what He is, namely, the sum and source of all moral and spiritual excellency, and because of our relation to Him as creatures completely dependent upon Him, He is infinitely entitled to be loved with all our hearts, worshiped with fullest adoration, and served with joyous, perfect and unremitting obedience. Until there is at least some measure of a clear and definite (we do not say full) recognition of this, the mind is yet under the blinding power of Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the heart is yet alienated from God (Ephesians 4:18). Thus, repentance necessarily presupposes regeneration, in which the favored soul is "given an understanding that we may know Him that is true" (1 John 5:20). The first evidence that this supernatural enlightenment has been given, is the inward apprehension of God's excellency and supremacy, accompanied by a horrified consciousness of how dreadfully I have failed, all through my life, to give Him His rightful place in my heart and life.
In the second place, true repentance presupposes a hearty approval of God's law and a full consent to its righteous requirements. "The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, and just, and good" (Romans 7:12): it cannot be otherwise, for God is its Author, and nothing unholy, unjust, or evil could ever proceed from Him. It therefore follows that such a law can never be altered or repealed. Those who affirm that the law of God has been abolished, cast the greatest reproach upon all the perfections of the Divine character. Upon His holiness, whereby He loves the right and hates the wrong: for a repeal of the law would suppose God released His creatures from doing right and allowing them to do wrong. Upon His justice, whereby He gives to every one his due: supposing Him to rescind His righteous claims. Upon His immutability; supposing Him to have been in one mind in the past, and another in the present. Upon His goodness: supposing Him to have cancelled that which was designed for our highest well-being.
God's law Never Repealed
If the reader will only make a determined effort to grasp the fact that the requirements of God's law are all summed up in "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart," etc. (Duet. 6:5), he ought to have no difficulty in perceiving how frightful is the teaching that the law has been abrogated. Men must indeed have strange conceptions of Divine grace and of the Gospel, if they suppose that God is now demanding something other or something less than the supreme place in men's affections and lives. Do they think for a moment that in O. T. times God was asking for more love than was His due? Do they imagine that God does not now deserve as much love as He once did? Such a thought would be the most awful blasphemy. Or, do they suppose that God has relinquished His rights and now freely allows His creatures to despise Him? That He has make a concession to their evil hearts by lowering His standard? Is no the real source of opposition to God's law the "enmity of the carnal mind" (Romans 8:7)!
Perhaps the reader is inclined to reply, But did not Christ come here to fulfill the law for us, and does not His obedience free us from its demands? Pause, dear friend, and weigh well such a question, and endeavor to see what such a concept plainly involves. Surely you do not mean that the Son of God become incarnate for the purpose of procuring an abatement of the law, or to purchase lawless liberty for His rebellious subjects. What! Could He esteem His Father's interest and glory, the honor of His law and government, so lightly? Did He shed His precious blood so as to persuade the great Governor of the world to slacken the reins of government and grant an impious license to lawlessness? Perish the thought. Such a terrible concept would make the ineffably holy Christ the enemy of God and the friend of sin.
So far from the Son coming to earth for such a purpose, He expressly declared, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For truly I say unto you, Until Heaven and earth pass, one jot or one title shall in no wise pass from the law, until all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:17, 18). If the verses which follow this quotation be carefully pondered, it will be seen that our Lord denounced the Pharisees because they had, by their own traditions and inventions, nullified God's law: while allowing that it condemned some external and gross acts of sin, they denied that it reprehended the first strivings of corruption in the heart. Therefore did Christ say, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:20).
That the law of God was never to be repealed is taught again and again in Psalm 119: "Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness and Your law is the truth...The righteousness of Your testimonies is everlasting...Concerning Your testimonies, I have known of old that You have founded them forever...Your word is true from the beginning, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever" (verse 142, 144, 152, 160). It was as though the Psalmist said, The duty required by Your law is right and good, everlastingly right and good, and therefore, as Governor of the world. You have by law forever settled and established it as duty and law never to be altered, but endure forever, and forever: therefore, will it endure.
So far from Christ having died to disannul the law, so that now it wholly ceases to be a rule of life to believers, the great and declared design of His coming into the world was to recover His people unto a conformity thereto: see Titus 2:11-13. O how men love their corruptions and hate God's law, desiring to have it cashiered so that they may live as they please, and yet escape the reproaches of their consciences here and eternal punishment hereafter. But "God sits as king forever" (Psalm 29:10) and will assert the rights of His crown, maintain the honor of His majesty and the glory of His great name, and vindicate His injured law. He shall yet say, "But those Mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay before Me" (Luke 19:27).
Herein we may see plainly the imperative and absolute need for regeneration if ever a fallen creature is to be won for God, and a defiant rebel transformed into a loving subject. "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7) — such is the terrible condition of every man and woman by nature. Nothing but the supernatural operation of the all-mighty Spirit of God can produce a change of heart, so that one can truthfully say "I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Romans 7:22). But such teaching as this never has been and never will be popular in the world. The false prophets who carry "peace, peace" will be loved, but they who press the high and unchanging claims of a righteous God will be hated and denounced as "legalists," etc.
Christ came into this world and died to answer all the demands of the law, and this, not only that sinners might be saved, but that the law itself might be the more firmly "established," that is, in the consciences and hearts of the redeemed. Therefore did the apostle write "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yes, we establish the law" (Romans 3:31). In this very epistle to the Romans, the apostle, moved by the Holy Spirit, lays it down as a first principle that "the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness' (Romans 1:18). From this premise, he goes on to prove that, "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (3:19). But is it not clear as a sunbeam that if the law had been repealed at the Cross that none could stand "guilty" before God, for sin is not imputed when there is no law" (Romans 5:13)!
If the law were repealed, what need was there for such a long train of argument to prove that "by deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (3:20)? In such a case it had been quite sufficient to say that a repealed law could neither justify nor condemn anybody. Instead, the apostle shows that the law requires a "patient continuance in well doing" and threatens "tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that does evil" (Romans 2:5,7). This shows that both Jews and Gentiles have sinned and therefore are condemned by the law — brought in guilty — and so the apostle draws the inevitable conclusion that none can be cleared or justified by the law. Is it not obvious then that all this inspired reasoning supposes that the law is as much enforced as ever! Accordingly he goes on to show Christ's death answered the demands of the law, and that, not to make it void, but to "establish" it.
Hence it is that we find the New Testament Scriptures uniformly speak of those who have no saving interest in Christ's righteousness by faith as being as much under the wrath of God and the curse of the law as though He had never died. As we have seen, Romans 1:18 declares "The wrath of God is (not 'was') revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." Again, in Galatians 3:10 we are told, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written: Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them": cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9. But if the law had been repealed by the death of Christ, then all the world would have been freed from the curse, for a repealed law can neither bless the righteous nor curse the wicked!
Therefore it is we find that when Christless sinners are really awakened by the Holy Spirit to see and feel what a dreadful state they are in, they are always convinced that they are under the wrath of God and the curse of His law: see Romans 7:9-11, and thereby they are made to understand their dire need of a Savior. But how could the Holy Spirit use the law if it had been repealed? And what of those who are never awakened and convicted by the Spirit, and who continue to despise the claims of God and flout His holy law? Ah, they shall find that after their hardness and impenitent heart they have but treasured up unto themselves "wrath against the Day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Romans 2:5).
God the Father, as the Governor of the world, gave the law. God the Son magnified it (Isaiah 42:21) by expounding its purity, by obeying its precepts, by enduring its penalty. God the Holy Spirit honors the law by pressing upon the sinner its holy demands, and using it as a "schoolmaster" to bring him to Christ (Galatians 3:24). It is the special work of the third person of the Trinity to communicate unto each of the elect a sense of the infinite glory of God, the equity of His law, and the righteousness of His claims upon them. He begets within them a disposition which conforms them unto the discharge of their duties, and this he does by putting the law into their minds and writing it in their hearts (Hebrews 8:10). In this way it becomes their very nature to love God with all their hearts so that they "might serve Him without (servile) fear in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life" (Luke 1:74, 75). Thus do both the Son and the Spirit honor the Father as Supreme Governor, and join in the same design to discountenance sin, humble the sinner, magnify the law, and glorify grace.
But this enforcing of the infinite glory of God, of His governmental supremacy, of His holy law, of His righteous claims, of His demand for loving obedience and an implicit compliance with all His demands, is what is left out of every false religion in the world. And today there are, perhaps, as many false religions inside of Christendom as there are outside — denials of the Truth, perversions of the Truth, half-truths twisted and mangled, lawlessness proclaimed under the pretense of exalting grace. "Pretense" we say, for God's grace never reigns at the expense of righteousness but "through righteousness" (Romans 5:21). Divine grace teaches us that "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world" (Titus 2:12). It is the ministers of Satan, "deceitful workers" (2 Corinthians 11:13) who are now by their one-sided teaching causing many to "turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness" (Jude 4).
Here, then, is the explanation why true repentance is so little preached today. The sense of God's governmental supremacy has been lost, the claims of His righteousness are ignored, the unchanging demands of His holy law are no longer recognized, hence, the unregenerate, not knowing God, having no sense of His infinite glory, and there being practically nothing in present-day preaching to instruct them therein, it follows that all their imagined reverence for and devotion to God takes its rise from merely selfish considerations, nothing but self love (the natural instinct of self preservation) lying at the bottom of modern "Christianity." As it is natural for unregenerate men to suppose they deserve something for their duties, so it is natural for them to be insensible of the infinite evil of their sins. And hence it is that new gospels are invented, new notions of "The way of salvation" are contrived, to suit the depraved taste of unhumbled and impenitent sinners, who are concerned about their own interests and care not what becomes of God's glory.
In the third place, true repentance presupposes a frank and broken-hearted acknowledgment of our wicked failure to keep God's righteous law. When the Holy spirit opens the eyes of a sinner to see, in some measure, the supreme excellency and loveliness of the Divine character, and shows him how infinitely worthy God is of our sincere adoration: when He assures us of the righteousness and goodness of God's law, and how justly He is entitled to be loved by us with all our hearts; and when He convicts us of our wretched and lifelong failure to respond unto His most just claims upon us; when He makes us feel that so far from having delighted ourselves in this infinitely glorious God, we have sought to dismiss Him from our thoughts, and set our hearts upon the perishing things of time and sense, seeking our satisfaction in them: and that so far from having owned His rightful supremacy over us and His just claim for our lives to be governed by Him, we have scorned His authority, ignored His commandments, and acted only in self-will — then it is for the first time we begin to perceive the infinite evil of sin, and are filled with self-loathing, horror and grief at our terrible course of conduct.
What we have just endeavored to set forth is as different from what the strivings of an uneasy conscience produce as light is from darkness. One who has never been the subject of the supernatural and gracious operations of the Spirit may blame himself for Sabbath-breaking, taking the Lord's name in vain, lying, drunkenness, who has never felt himself to blame for being disaffected to the Divine character. Even the wicked king Saul once acknowledged, "I have sinned, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly" (1 Samuel 26:21). So has many another since then, who was altogether blind to the chief thing wherein he was to blame. While men are ignorant of the beauty of God's character, of how absolutely worthy He is of being loved; while they perceive not the equity and blessedness of His law, of how absolutely entitled it is to implicit, unremitting, and joyous obedience; it is impossible that they should repent because of their failure to render this to Him.
Just as the absence of love to God, together with disaffection to His holy character, lies at the root of and influences the whole course of wickedness which mankind generally live in, so when Scripture calls upon men to repent of particular sins and turn to God, it is their lack of love for God and their enmity against His law, as manifested in and by their particular sins, which they are required to repent of. There is no sin whatever that any man is guilty of but what it proceeds from a disrespect of God's character and a disregard of His authority. Thus it was said of David's sin that he not only had "despised the commandment of the Lord," but had "despised Me," the Lord (2 Samuel 12:9, 10). Therefore in repentance we are required not only to judge our particular sins, but also that insubordination to God which produced them: we are to unsparingly and bitterly condemn ourselves because we have treated the Lord of glory, the King of the universe, with contempt. That is the crime for which we are, above all things else, to blame. Not until we have realized that our rebellion against God was such that nothing but the death of Christ could possibly atone for it, have we truly repented.
The Design of Repentance
Thus, genuine and saving repentance is a taking sides with God against myself. It is not that our repentance extirpates our sins, for there is nothing meritorious about it. It makes no amends for our past vile conduct, nor does it move God to mercy. Yet is repentance required, yes demanded of us, and Divine mercy is not shown where no repentance is. No, repentance is designed to make the heart loathe sin, and that through a deep sense of its infinite enormity and dreadful pollution: it is to make us dread sin through a heart-realization of its awful guilt. Only thus is the stubborn will broken and the heart made contrite and prepared to turn unto the Lord Jesus and seek salvation through Him by grace alone.
Three Kinds of Repentance spoken of in Scripture
We trust that sufficient has been said in the previous sections to enable any exercised and prayerful reader to distinguish between a false and a true repentance, between a non-saving and saving one. There are three kinds of repentance spoken of in Scripture. First, that of desperation: Esau, Pharaoh, Ahithophel, and Judas are illustrations. Second, that of reformation: Ahab's and that which was brought about under the preaching of Jonah, are illustrations. Third: that which is unto salvation: Acts 11:18; 2 Corinthians 7:10. It is most important that we learn to discriminate between legal conviction and evangelical repentance. Multitudes are deceived at this point: they suppose that because they have been terrified through contemplation of the wrath to come and have abandoned many of their evil ways, they have repented. This by no means follows. A legal conviction fears Hell, evangelical repentance reveres God: the one dreads punishment, the other hates sin; the one informs the mind, the other melts the heart. Evangelical repentance makes no excuses and has no reserves, but cries "I have dishonored Your name, grieved Your Spirit, abused Your patience."
When a sinner is brought to truly realize that he is in great danger, he earnestly desires and diligently seeks deliverance, but that is from the natural instinct of self-preservation, and not because of supernatural grace at work in his heart. Tell him that nothing is required from him except to believe in Christ, rest on His finished work, and like a stony-ground hearer he at once receives the Word with joy, and no human can make him doubt his salvation. Yet his heart has never been broken before God, nor has he any true love for Him. Such people mend their ways and become zealous religionists. They pray earnestly, read their Bible frequently, and sometimes become active workers in warning their fellows. But tell such that notwithstanding their tears, zeal, and believing the letter of Scripture, they deserve to be damned as much as they ever did, and that God can justly refuse them mercy, and their enmity against Him is likely to become swiftly apparent.
Thousands of deceived souls in Christendom, deluded by the false gospellers of the day, love a God who has no existence except in their own disordered imagination. And terrible beyond words will be their disillusionment in the next world. "How sad and dreadful thing will it be for such poor sinners when they come to die, and enter into the world of spirits, there to find that the God they once loved and trusted in, was nothing but an image framed in their own fancy! They hated the God of Scripture, and hated His Law, and therefore would not believe that either God or His Law were indeed what they were. They were resolved to have a God and a law more to their own minds. How dreadful will their disappointment be! How terrible their surprise! They would never own that they were enemies to God; now they will see that their enmity was so great as to make them resolutely—notwithstanding the plainest evidence—even to deny Him to be what He was. And how righteous will the ways of the Lord appear to be unto them then, in that He gave such over to strong delusion to believe a lie, because they would not love nor believe the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (Jos. Bellamy)
While God be considered merely as Creditor and sinners as debtors and Christ is regarded as paying the whole debt of all who believe, it cannot but be that souls will be fatally misled. Because Christ obeyed the law as well as suffered its penalty, it by no means follows that we are discharged from doing our duty. Yet, it is now being taught on every side that Christ has done all, and that there is nothing to do but firmly believe in Him, that Christians have nothing to do with the Law, no, not as a rule of life; that they have been freed from all obligations to any duty. But Scripture affirms that Christ died to "purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14), and that so far from the Christian being discharged from duty, his obligations are immeasurably increased by the grace of the Gospel: Romans 12: 1. But everything is viewed in a false light today, and instead of Christ being regarded as the Friend of holiness, He is made the Minister of sin.
Spurgeon on Repentance
"Repentance to be sure must be entire. Many will say, Sir, I will renounce this sin and the other, but there are certain darling lusts which I must keep. O sirs, in God's name let me entreat you: it is not the giving up of any one sin, nor fifty sins, which is true repentance; it is the solemn renunciation of every sin. If you do harbor one of these accursed vipers in your heart, your repentance is but a sham; if you do indulge in but one lust and do give up every other, that one lust, like one leak in a ship, will sink your soul. Think it not sufficient to give up your outward vices, fancy it not enough to cut off the more corrupt sins of your life: it is all or none which God demands. 'Repent' says He, and when He bids you repent, He means repent of all your sins, otherwise He can never accept your repentance as being real. He says, 'Guild you as you will, O sinner, I abhor you! Yes, make yourself gaudy, like the snake in its azure scales, I hate you still, for I know your venom, and I will flee from you when you come to Me in your most specious garb.' All sin must be given up, or else you shall never have Christ. All transgression must be renounced, or else the gates of Heaven must be barred against you, Let us remember this, that repentance to be sincere, it must be entire.
"True repentance is a turning of the heart, as well as the life; it is the giving up of the whole soul to God to be His forever and ever; it is a renunciation of the sins of the heart, as well as of the crimes of the life. Ah, dear hearers, let none of us fancy we have repented when we have only a false and fictitious repentance; let none of us take that to be the work of the Spirit which is only the work of poor human nature; let us not dream that we have savingly turned unto God, when perhaps we have only turned to ourselves; let us not think it is enough to have turned from vice to virtue; let us remember it must be a turning of the whole soul to God, so as to be made anew in Christ Jesus; otherwise we have not met the requirements of the text.
"Lastly, upon this point, true repentance must be perpetual. It is not my turning to God during today that will be a proof that I am a true convert; it is forsaking my sins throughout the whole course of my life, until I sleep in the grave. You must not fancy that to be upright for a week will be a proof that you are saved; it is a perpetual abhorrence of evil. The change which God works is neither a transitory nor superficial one; not a cutting off the top of the weed, but an eradication of it; not the sweeping away of the dust of one day, but the taking away of that which is the cause of the dust. You may today go home and pretend to pray, you may today be serious, tomorrow honest, and the next day you may pretend to be devout, but yet, if you return— as Scripture has it, like the dog to its vomit and like the sow to its wallowing in the mire—your repentance shall but sink you deeper into Hell, instead of being a proof of Divine grace in your heart" (from Spurgeon's Sermon on Psalm 7:12). Would that such faithful sermons were being preached in the so-called orthodox and "fundamentalist's" pulpits today.
"To learn by heart that which others say from the heart—to get the outline of a believer's experience, and then to adopt it skillfully to one's self as our own experience—this is a thing so simple that instead of wondering there are hypocrites, I often marvel that there are not ten times more. And then again, the graces—the real graces within—are very easy to counterfeit. There is a repentance that needs to be repented of, and yet approaches near as possible to true repentance. Does repentance make men hate sin? They who have a false repentance may detest some crimes. Does repentance make men resolve that they will not sin? So will this false repentance, for Balaam said: 'If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I will not go beyond the word of the Lord.' Does true repentance make men humble themselves? So does false repentance, for Ahab humbled himself before God, and yet perished. There is a line of distinction so fine that an eagle's eye has not seen it; and only God Himself, and the soul that is enlightened by His Spirit, can tell whether our repentance be real or not" (Spurgeon on Luke 13:24).
To help the exercised reader identify true repentance, consider:
4. Its Fruits
First, a real hatred of sin as sin, not merely its consequences. A hatred not only of this or that sin, but of all sin, and particularly of the root itself; self-will. "Thus says the Lord God, Repent, and turn from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations" (Ezekiel 14:6). He who hates not sin, loves it. God's demand is, "You shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that you have committed" (Ezekiel 20:43). One who has really repented can truthfully say, "I hate every false way" (Psalm 119:104). He who once thought a course of holy living was a gloomy thing, has another judgment now. He who once regarded a course of self-pleasing as attractive, now detests it and has purposed to forsake all sin forever. This is the change of mind which God requires.
Second, a deep sorrow for sin. The non-saving repentance of so many is principally a distress occasioned by forebodings of Divine wrath; but evangelical repentance produces a deep grief from a sense of having offended so infinitely excellent and glorious a Being as God. The one is the effect of fear, the other of love; the one is only for a brief season, the other is the habitual practice for life. Many a man is filled with regret and remorse for a misspent life, yet has no poignant sorrow of heart for his ingratitude and rebellion against God. But a regenerated soul is cut to the quick for having disregarded and opposed his great Benefactor and rightful Sovereign. This is the change of heart which God requires.
"You sorrowed to repentance: for you were made sorry after a godly manner...for godly sorrow works repentance to salvation" (2 Corinthians 7:9,10). Such a sorrow is produced in the heart by the Holy Spirit and has God for its object. It is a grief for having despised such a God, rebelled against His authority, and been indifferent to His glory. It is this which causes us to "weep bitterly" (Matthew 26:75). He who has not grieved over sin takes pleasure therein. God requires us to "afflict" our souls (Leviticus 16:29). His call is, "Turn you even to Me with all your heart, and with fasting and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful" (Joel 2:12,13). Only that sorrow for sin is genuine which causes us to crucify "the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:24).
Third, a confessing of sin. "He who covers his sins shall not prosper" (Proverbs 28:13). It is "second nature" to the sinner to "deny his sins, directly or indirectly, to minimize, or make excuses for them. It was thus with Adam and Eve at the beginning. But when the Holy Spirit works in any soul, his sins are brought to light, and he, in turn, acknowledges them to God. There is no relief for the stricken heart until he does so: "When I kept silence my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long, for day and night Your hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer" (Psalm 32:3,4). The frank and brokenhearted owning of our sins is imperative if peace of conscience is to be maintained. This is the change of attitude which God requires.
Fourth, an actual turning from sin. "Surely there is no one here so stupefied with the laudanum of hellish indifference as to imagine that he can revel in his lusts and afterwards wear the white robes of the redeemed in Paradise. If you imagine you can be partakers of the blood of Christ, and yet drink the cup of Belial; if you imagine you can be members of Satan and members of Christ at the same time, you have less sense than one would give you credit for. No, you know that right hands must be cut off and right eyes plucked out— that the most darling sins must be renounced—if you would enter the kingdom of God" (from Spurgeon on Luke 13:24).
Three Greek words are used in the New Testament which represent different phases of repentance. First, "metanoeo," which means a change of mind: Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:15, etc. Second, "metamelomai," which means a change of heart: Matthew 21:29,32; Hebrews 7:21, etc. Third, "metanoia," which means a change of course of life: Matthew 3:8; 9:13; Acts 20:21. These three must go together for a genuine repentance. Many experience a change of mind: they are instructed, and know better, but they continue to defy God. Some are even exercised in heart and conscience, yet they continue in sin. Some amend their ways, yet not from love to God and hatred of sin. Some are informed in mind and uneasy in heart, who never reform their lives. These three must go together.
"He who covers his sins shall not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). He who does not fully in his hearts's desire, and increasingly so in his life, turn from his wicked ways, has not repented. If I really hate sin and sorrow over it, shall I not abandon it? Note carefully the "wherein in time past" of Ephesians 2:2 and "were sometimes" of Titus 3:3! "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him" (Isaiah 55:7). This is the change of course which God requires.
Fifth, accompanied by restitution where that is necessary and possible. No repentance can be true which is not accompanied by a complete amendment of life. The prayer of a genuinely repentant soul is, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). And where one really desires to be right with God, he does so with his fellow men too. One who, in his past life, has wronged another, and now makes no determined effort to do everything in his power to right that wrong certainly has not repented! John G. Paton tells of how after a certain servant was converted, the first thing he did was to restore unto his master all the articles which he had stolen from him!
Sixth, these fruits are permanent. Because true repentance is preceded by a realization of the loveliness and excellency of the Divine character and an apprehension of the exceeding sinfulness of sin for having treated with contempt so infinitely a glorious Being, contrition for and hatred of all evil is abiding. As we grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, of our indebtedness and obligations to Him, our repentance deepens, we judge ourselves more thoroughly, and take a lower and lower place before Him. The more the heart pants after a closer walk with God, the more will it put away everything which hinders this.
Seventh, yet repentance is never perfect in this life. Our faith is never so complete that we get to the place where the heart is no more harassed with doubtings. And our repentance is never so pure that it is altogether free from hardness of heart. Repentance is a lifelong act. We need to pray daily for a deeper repentance.
In view of all that has been said, we trust it is now abundantly clear to every impartial reader that those preachers who repudiate repentance are to poor lost souls, "physicians of no value." They who leave out repentance are preaching "another gospel" (Galatians 1:6) than Christ (Mark 1:15, 6:12) and His apostles (Acts 17:30; 20:21) proclaimed. Repentance is an evangelical duty, though it is not to be rested in, for it contributes nothing unto salvation. Those who have never repented are yet in the snare of the Devil (2 Timothy 2:25, 26), and are "treasuring up unto themselves wrath against the Day of wrath" (Romans 2:4,5).
"If, therefore, sinners would take the wisest course to be better for the use of the means of grace, they must try to fall in with God's design and the Spirit's influences, and labor to see and feel their sinful, guilty, undone state. For this end they must forsake vain company, drop their inordinate worldly pursuits, abandon everything which tends to keep them secure in sin and quench the motions of the Spirit; and for this end must they read, meditate and pray; comparing themselves with God's holy law, trying to view themselves in the same light that God does, and pass the same judgment upon themselves, so that they may be in the way to approve of the Law and admire the grace of the Gospel; to judge themselves and humbly apply to the free grace of God through Jesus Christ for all things, and return through Him to God" (Jos. Bellamy).
A summary of what has been before us may be helpful to some.
1. Repentance is an evangelical duty, and no preacher is entitled to be regarded as a servant of Christ's if he be silent thereto (Luke 24:47).
2. Repentance is required by God in this dispensation (Acts 17:30) as in all preceding ones.
3. Repentance is in nowise meritorious, yet without it the Gospel cannot be savingly believed (Matthew 21:32; Mark 1:15).
4. Repentance is a Spirit-given realization of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and a taking sides with God against myself.
5. Repentance presupposes a heart approval of God's law and a full consent to its righteous requirements, which are all summed up in "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart," etc.
6. Repentance is accompanied by a genuine hatred of and sorrow for sin.
7. Repentance is evidenced by a forsaking of sin.
8. Repentance is known by its permanency: there must be a continual turning away from sin and grieving over each fall thereunto.
9. Repentance, while permanent, is never complete or perfect in this life.
10. Repentance is to be sought as a gift from Christ.