By Aaron Hills
Repentance is a spiritual exercise which presupposes sin. Hence the propriety and deep meaning of Jesus' words: "I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." But all men have sinned, and so, until they have repented, all ought to have a deep interest in this subject, especially since God Himself has said that, "except we repent we shall all perish."
Let us consider in this discussion:
I. What precedes and induces repentance?
II. What is the nature of repentance?
III. The necessity of repentance.
IV. The fruits of repentance.
I. It is well to know what it is that moves men to turn from their sins to God.
1. We will name the convicting influence of the Holy Spirit. God looked over the antediluvian world and saw its awful wickedness, and declared, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man" (Gen. 6: 3). That was implying that He had been striving with them in all their colossal wickedness; but He declared that the probation was limited, and the striving should not go on forever. The Prophet Joel prophesied, "I will pour out my Spirit upon 'all flesh'" (Joel 2: 28). A part of this same prophecy was quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost, and by Paul in Romans 10: 13 and it was applied by both to all, and it was added, "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Peter declared: "The promise is unto you, and unto your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." God calls all sinners to repentance, and doubtless all are wrought upon by the convicting Spirit. Jesus confirms our faith. He declares in John 16: 7, 8. "The Spirit, when he is come, will convict the world, in respect of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment." "The world" includes all mankind. Deacon Stephen in his last sermon before his martyrdom, charged home on the sinners in his audience the guilt of resisting the Holy Ghost (Acts 7: 51).'This is a universal influence that doubtless comes to all mankind, quickening the conscience, pressing truth home upon the aroused and illuminated mind, revealing the enormity of sin, and the displeasure of God, and the foreboding of the wrath to come.
With the clamoring of appetites and passions, and the relish for sin in the depraved heart it may well be doubted if any man would ever repent and be saved, without the convicting influence of the Spirit in his soul.
2. This is purely the sovereign work of God. Nobody is saved against his will. Salvation and compulsion are contradictory terms. But conviction is the work of God's Spirit alone. A body of Christians, wholly right with God can pray conviction on a whole community. They may resist the Spirit and nobody be saved, as is sometimes the case. But they cannot help being convicted. When Peter preached at Pentecost, a multitude were both convicted and saved. When Deacon Stephen preached, they were profoundly convicted; but they resisted the Holy Spirit, and killed the preacher. So far as we know none were saved.
3. Serious consideration is a means that leads to repentance. This is largely under the control of man and so is voluntary. Voluntary thoughtlessness largely characterizes the unconverted world. They shut God out of their thoughts, and often say, "Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways." In view of the folly and inconsideration of the people, Moses cried: "O that they were wise, that they understood this; that they would consider their latter end!" (Deut. 32:29). God complained: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider" (Isa. 1:3). This inconsideration is a fruitful source of ruin. God said, "My people perish for lack of knowledge," and they lack knowledge because they do not consider and seek to know about God and divine things. A study of the condition and peril of the sinful soul would be a long step toward repentance.
4. The study of the Divine Law is a precursor of repentance. By this means, men who are away from God and out of Christ would soon learn their peril. They would soon know that they were transgressors of its precepts and in danger of its penalties. When, the law of God in its spirituality and power comes home to the conscience it is aroused to break up the false peace of the guilty soul. "By the law is the knowledge of sin." The sinner can soon learn that his fancied security is a delusion and that he "is wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked." "The law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ." St. Paul wrote: "When the commandment came, sin revived and I died." All his self-confidence was gone. He found himself to be a poor sinner in the sight of God.
5. A faithful use of the means of grace will induce repentance. The study of the Bible in a right spirit, and attendance upon the sanctuary will sooner or later lead a man to feel his need of God. Paul declared he was "not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it was the power of God unto salvation." The Gospel is perfectly adapted to the end it proposes-the salvation of men; and those who embrace its teachings and follow its counsels will be led to repent of sin and accept Christ.
II. Let us now consider the nature of repentance.
1. Negatively, what it is not.
(1) It is not conviction. We have seen a college student, on two successive Sabbath evenings fall perfectly helpless under conviction and remain so for two hours, yet he fought off conviction and remained impenitent.
(2) It is not an ungodly sorrow of sin. That is, it is not a mere carnal regret of the shame of it, or the natural consequences. Such sorrow or regret leads to no helpful consequences, and produces no spiritual betterment in life.
(3) It is not remorse. Judas had remorse and committed suicide, but he did not repent. Repentance, even on his part, would doubtless have brought him the loving favor of heaven.
(4) It is not despair. If it were, hell would be a world of repentance; for it is a world of undying remorse and despair. But true repentance would turn hell itself into a vestibule of heaven. Repentance cannot consist in an involuntary state of mind.
2. Positively, what repentance is.
(1) There are two Greek verbs, which are translated by the English word, repent. Metamelomai, "to care for," or to be concerned for one's self; hence to change one's course. Sometimes it expresses a state of the sensibility; but it also expresses a change of purpose, as in Matt. 21: 29. "He answered and said, I will not; but afterward he repented and went." The word denotes contrition for sin.
Metanoeo implies all that the other word implies, with the added notion of reformation from sin, that is sorrow for sin and turning from sin. Metanoia is the noun, repentance. It means a change of mind, thought and feeling, and so "a practical reformation," "a reversal of .the past." It evidently expresses a change of choice, purpose, intention, in conformity with the dictates of the intelligence. Ultimately, it is a phenomenon of will, and consists in the turning or change of the ruling preference of the soul.
Dr. Steele thus defines it: "Evangelical repentance is called a repentance toward God because it consists in turning from sin to holiness, implying a sense of, and hatred of sin and a love of holiness," Finney says: "It is a turning from sin to holiness, or more strictly from a state of consecration to self, to a state of consecration to God." We will observe in passing, that if these definitions are Scriptural then a good case of repentance would take all the fight out of a person against holiness. When professors of religion are full of fight against holiness and have a lenient feeling toward sin, it is extremely doubtful if they have ever known good gospel repentance, Ezra said: "O my God. I am ashamed to lift up my face to thee my God" (9: 6). Job said: "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (42: 5). Ezek. 36: 31 says: "Then shall ye remember your evil ways and shall loathe yourselves." All this means that people who have a good case of repentance do not hold up their heads, and boast how good they are, and that they are as good as others. The boast and brag is all taken out of them. Finney says: "Repentance implies such an apprehension of one's guilt as to produce self-condemnation, - a conviction of sin, and guilt, and ill-desert, and a sense of shame. It implies an apprehension of the nature of sin, that it belongs to the heart, and does not essentially consist in though it leads to outward conduct; that it is utterly unreasonable, and that it justly deserves the wrath of God.
It implies an apprehension of the reasonableness of the law, and commands of God, and the folly and madness of sin. It implies an intellectual and hearty giving up of all controversy with God, upon every point. It implies a conviction that God is wholly right, and the sinner wholly wrong, and a thorough and hearty abandonment of all excuses and apologies for sin. It implies a deep and thorough abasement of self in the dust, a crying out of soul against self, and a most sincere and universal, intellectual, and hearty exaltation of God" (Finney's Theology, p. 365).
3. Repentance, then, means a turning from 'sin. The two verses that best define repentance in the entire Bible are Isaiah 55: 7. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord and He will have mercy on Him, and to our God for He will abundantly pardon." And Ezek. 14: 6, "Repent, and turn yourselves from all your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations." Genuine repentance leads a man to go out of the sin business; and makes him only too glad to accept any thing God has for him in the way of personal righteousness. He is glad to accept holiness, for in the purpose of his heart he has parted company with sin forever.
4. Repentance implies confession of sin. It does not conceal, or cover up, or deny sin. The Psalmist said: "I acknowledge my transgression" (51:3). The beloved John wrote: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:7). Multitudes of people find no peace with God because they will not confess their past. It is the direct road to salvation. God has said: "He that covereth his sins shall hot prosper; but he that confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy."
5. A good case of Repentance of financial sins involves restitution. "The thief shall make full restitution" (Ex. 22: 3). A man arose in one of our meetings and made his confession, and said: "I will get right with God if I have to wear the prison stripes." Of course such a penitent found God. We have witnessed many such things in revival meetings; and all verified the promise of God, that He is faithful and just to forgive.
6. Repentance is, of course a duty of the sinner himself. It devolves upon the sinner himself to repent. He must do the work, and no one else can do it for him. It is true that repentance is sometimes spoken of in Scripture as the gift of God. Acts 11: 18. "They ... glorified God, saying, and then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." Also 2 Tim. 2: 25: "If God peradventure may give them repentance." That is, God convicts the sinner of sin, and makes repentance a condition of salvation.
The first passage doubtless means that God gave the Gentiles the offer of salvation on condition of repentance. At any rate God gives repentance to man only as he gives a crop of corn. He gives the conditions and seed and man must make the crop. God gives us the requisite faculties and light on our conduct-the perception of our sinful course to be renounced, an apprehension of it as wrong. He gives us the conviction by the Spirit of our sinfulness, and makes known through conscience and the Word our duty---and his command to repent. One might suppose, from Calvinistic teaching, that repentance was somehow forced into a man by irresistible grace as medicine is often given by hypodermic injection. It is one of the many errors of Calvinism that originate in the forcing of Scriptures to make them teach doctrines in harmony with their peculiar system.
7. "It is important to distinguish Repentance as a duty from all the experiences connected with or resulting from it. The obligatory part is the voluntary turning away from sin-always obligatory and always possible. Whoever has light enough to sin has light enough to renounce sin. If other experiences be made prominent in the presentation of the duty there is danger of an abatement of the of immediate obligation; because these (accompanying) experiences are not (always) immediately possible or attainable. One may become bewildered waiting for conviction or feeling. There is no more propriety in waiting for feeling when one is wronging God than when he is wronging a fellow-man. His plain first duty is to stop and there is no occasion to perplex this plain duty with other experiences" (Fairchild). There is no question that the great moral change will be attended with emotional experiences more or less speedy, more or less intense, according to light and circumstances and the nature of the subject.
8. Fairchild justly observes that, "Repentance like conversion if genuine; is comprehensive in its character; that it covers all sin." It is impossible to repent of a particular sin without repenting of sin as such - of all sin. The repentance may begin with a particular sin, probably often does; but when the sin is abandoned it must be abandoned as sin; and this involves a renunciation of all sin---that is, of the carnal mind which is the essence of all sin. Other sins may not be in the thought at the time; but such is the unity of sin that if one is repudiated all must go. Old habits of sin may afterwards come up as temptations and occasion a new struggle; they may possibly gain sway, and reinstate themselves, involving temporary apostasy. But this does not imply that they were reserved or cherished in the soul. We sometimes hear one say that when he was converted there was one particular sin that he did not repent of; it did not occur to him; it afterward came up and he had a struggle with it, and put it away. The experience is doubtless real, but the philosophy of it is not correctly apprehended, the sin was not reserved in the soul; sin as such was renounced, the sinful attitude; but a sinful habit, not before the mind at the time, appeared afterward as a temptation. Hence in repentance it cannot be necessary to recall every past sin; such repentance would be impossible. The sinful mind, the self-indulgent will, is renounced and thus all sin is repudiated, even if a particular act of sin be not at the moment recalled.
Nor is there any true repentance where one sin is retained. Luke 16: 10, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much." James 2: 10: "Whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point he is guilty of all." Luke 14: 33: "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple" (Fairchild's Theology, pp. 250,251).
Now this being so, it will be seen that Dr. Daniel Steele's definition is justified that "Repentance is a turning from sin to holiness." To turn away from every known sin, and to renounce the carnal mind from which all sins spring, would be to turn in purpose toward holiness, and, so far as its nature is apprehended, to be disposed to welcome it to the heart. Again we repeat, repentance takes out of a man all fight against holiness.
9. "Penitence as distinguished from repentance, is a permanent state-the state into which repentance brings the soul. Penitence must be an attitude or attribute of every moral being who has been recovered from sin; it will have a place in heaven. We sometimes hear it said that when the sinner has repented and been forgiven, he has no occasion to recur to his past sins, or to recall them. This is probably not true; it must always be appropriate to look to the past, to remember the sin that has been forgiven, and perhaps to confess it anew" (Fairchild). Moses and David and St. Paul did, and it is becoming in any of us.
III. Consider the Necessity of Repentance.
1. It would be enough to know that God commands it. John the Baptist preached, "Repent." Six months later Jesus took up the same text and preached, "Repent." Peter did the same in Jerusalem. St. Paul preached the same message in Athens. The Bible is full of the great truth that sin must be abhorred and forsaken. "Except ye repent, ye shall all perish" (Luke 13: 3).
2. Unrepented and unforsaken sin puts us out of harmony with God and all holy beings. God is love, and love is sinless. God is holy, and holiness forever hates sin-and opposes it continually. There can be no truce in the war betwixt right and wrong. While sin remains in man it is an active force, ever seeking expression, ever striving to gain its selfish end, ever seeking dominion and conquest. Unless restricted and restrained it spreads like a contagion, leaving moral blight and ruin in its path. God cannot be indifferent to the existence and influence of such an evil. He must array all the forces of His moral government against it. So it comes about that the sinner finds himself in opposition to God, and Omnipotence arrayed against him. It is a perilous position. Repentance is therefore necessary, because there is no safety for any moral being except to be in moral harmony with God.
3. Repentance is necessary to fit one for heaven. Things are in a mixed condition here in this life. But God is preparing a future and eternal home for His own, from which all sin shall be forever excluded. Nothing shall enter there "that defileth or worketh abomination or maketh a lie." So we must abandon all sin or give up all hope of heaven. God simply will not have His home polluted by I lie presence of sin, and He will not associate with unrepentant, incorrigible sinners.
4. Another reason St, Paul gave for the repentance of all sin was "Because He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness." We must all face our record. The guilty past will rise up before us in that solemn hour when we all stand before the "Great White Throne" to "give account for the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or whether they be evil." Woe to the soul in that hour whose sins have not been put under the blood! The secret things studiously concealed to the human knowledge, will be revealed to the universe. The crimes committed in darkness and hidden securely from the most industrious search will be dragged into the blazing light. The privacy of vice will be turned into the publicity of infamy. Justice will hold the even scales, and "every man will be rewarded according as his work shall be." The guilty soul laden with iniquity and unconfessed and unforsaken sin, will be calling on the rocks and mountains to fall on him and hide him from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and of the Lamb." Then to the unrepentant, existence will be torment, and memory will be the fuel of hell.
IV. The Fruits of Repentance.
God has given every possible encouragement to repentance by describing its blessed results. "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts and let him return unto the Lord and He will have mercy on him and to our God for He will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55: 7). "He that covereth his transgressions shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy" (Prov. 28: 13). "But if the wicked turn from all his sins that he hath committed ... he shall surely live, he shall not die" (Ezek. 18:21). "When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive" (Ezek. 18: 27, 28). "Because he considereth and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed he shall surely live, he shall not die." "Return ye, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin" (v. 30). "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1: 9). There is an open path to God and heaven before the advancing feet of every man who will heartily repent of all sin.