Biblical Doctrine, Plainly Stated

By William S. Plumer, 1875


I. In their very nature, faith and repentance are closely united. One never exists without the other. "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced"—there is faith; "and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son"—there is repentance. Zech. 12:10. Jesus in his preaching united these things: "Repent, and believe the gospel." Mark 1:15. So did his apostles. See Acts 20:21. In the Scriptures both faith and repentance are required to salvation. Matt. 3:2; Acts 16:31. Repentance essentially belongs to the religion of sinners. Without it there is no true piety on earth. Luke 13:3, 5.

II. Many good writers call both faith and repentance conditions of salvation. They do not mean that there is any merit in either of these graces. They do not deserve God's favor. They are in no sense the price we pay for life and mercy. But without them we would not be saved; we could not please God. If the beggar would be nourished by the bread offered him, he must take it and eat it. If a title to an estate is offered to one, and he refuses to accept it, it is not his in fact or in law. The thirsty soul must not only know that there is water, but he must drink it, or his thirst will rage on.

III. True repentance is not a transient act of the mind, nor a temporary emotion. It is a glorious habit of the soul. It implies a fixed principle in the renewed mind. It is the hypocrite and self-deceiver who repents and sins, and continues to sin and repent. Genuine repentance produces a permanent change in men's characters.

IV. In Scripture much is said of repentance. It is mentioned in that very ancient poem, the book of Job. There are as many as seven penitential Psalms, namely, the 6th, 32d, 38th, 51st, 102d, 130th, and 143d. Indeed, some have thought that the 25th, 69th, and 86th, were also penitential Psalms. It is very much spoken of by the prophets, by Christ, by the evangelists and apostles.

V. When repentance is genuine, it is always the work of God's Spirit, and comes to us through the mediation of Christ, who is placed on the hill of Zion a Prince and a Savior to grant repentance and forgiveness of sins. Acts 5:31. When the Gentiles repented, it was by God's mercy and grace. Acts 11:18. The weeping prophet says, "Turn me, and I shall be turned: for you are the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh." Jer. 31:18, 19. In his repentance David felt so keenly his dependence on divine grace, that he cried very earnestly, "Take not your Holy Spirit from me." Psalm 51:11. On that occasion his first expression of hope was this: "In the hidden part you shall make me to know wisdom." That is the best and last hope of any sinner, that he shall ever do better than he has done.

VI. Two kinds of repentance are often spoken of, legal and evangelical. In legal repentance the motives are chiefly drawn from the law and the consequences of sin. In evangelical repentance, they are drawn from the gospel and the nature of sin. The latter would turn from sin, if there were no hell; the former would sin on, if there was no fear of wrath. The goodness of God leads the latter to repentance; but the former despises the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering. Romans 2:4.

VII. True repentance embraces these things:

1. A knowledge of sin. When Nathan convinced David of his sin, he cried for mercy. Men will not repent of sins of which they think themselves innocent.

2. Humility, deep and genuine abasement of soul before God. The penitent says: "Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer you?" "O God, you know my foolishness." Job 40:4; Psalm 69:5. True penitents "know every man the plague of his own heart." 1 Kings 8:38.

3. Sincere and hearty confession of sin. "He who covers his sins shall not prosper; but whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy." Proverbs 28:13. "I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and you forgave the iniquity of my sin." Psalm 32:5. Compare Psalm 51:3; Jer. 3:13; 1 John 1:9.

4. Shame belongs to genuine repentance. So said David: "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up." Psalm 40:2. So Ezra: "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to you." Ezra 9:6. Compare Ezek. 36:31, 32. Nor does the pious blush cease when pardon comes. Far from it. Ezek. 16:63.

5. With shame is joined sorrow, ingenuous grief for sin. "Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be repented of." 2 Cor. 7:9, 10. To these are added,

6. Self-loathing, self-abhorrence. Job 42:6; Ezek. 6:9; 20:43. Of course one thus exercised also has,

7. Hatred of sin, sin in every form. Psalm 66:18; 97:10; 119:104, 128. All these exercises are accompanied with

8. Love of holiness—a delight in the law of God after the inner man. Romans 7:22; Psalm 119:140. Such a great change leads to

9. An amendment of life, a thorough reformation, works meet for repentance. Matt. 3:8. "If I have done iniquity, I will do no more." Job 34:32.

VIII. Such repentance has rich and abundant promises made to it in all the Scriptures. It is called repentance unto life, because it ends in eternal happiness. Acts 11:18. It is more than once connected with the remission of sins. Mark 1:4; Acts 3:19. "He looks upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not, he will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light. Lo, all these things works God oftentimes with man." Job 33:27-29. "Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. "Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." Isaiah 1:16-18. "Thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." Isaiah 57:15.

Indeed, the Scriptures declare that God is never better pleased with anything he sees upon earth than he is with godly sorrow for sin. "You desire not sacrifice, else would I give it: you delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Psalm 51:16, 17. In our Lord's great sermon on the mount the first thing he said was: "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The next thing he said was like it: "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." Matt. 5:3, 4.

IX. Men cannot be in too much earnest in seeking repentance. Very tenderly does God call them to this work: "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; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." And lest any should doubt the divine readiness to forgive so flagrant sins, the Lord shows why we may expect remission, adding: "For my thoughts are not as your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:7-9. "Truly God is long-suffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." 2 Pet. 3:9.

X. Very few men intend or expect to live and die without repentance. The very thought of such an end would make them shudder. Why will they defer repentance! Death is approaching. The Spirit is striving. Christ is inviting. Hell threatens. The gates of heaven are open. "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation."