Repentance

"Repent ye, and believe the gospel." (Mark 1:15b)

 

That Perplexing Snare

The gospel not only calls for "faith in our Lord Jesus Christ," but it also sets forth the duty of "repentance toward God" (Acts 20:21). God "now commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30). There is no salvation apart from repentance. It is an indisputable fact, pledged by Divine faithfulness, that the sinner that does not turn from his sins will perish. Either his iniquities or his soul must go. Without true repentance, salvation is impossible; damnation is inevitable. "God is angry with the wicked every day. If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready" (Psa 7:11,12). As has often been stated to sinners: `Repent or Perish!' `Turn or Burn!'

While the necessity of repentance cannot be overemphasized, the means of evangelical repentance must not be ignored. As we stand in the pulpit calling upon sinners to repent, we must understand the desperate dilemma the sinner is in. His heart is so wedded to his sins that he cannot possibly turn from them of himself (Jer 13:23). "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer 17:9). The word "desperate" here is "incurable" (Hebrew anash; see 15:18; 30:12,15). He's a slave to his lusts, bound in the prison-house of sin, incurably wicked! How can we demand that he forsake his sins, without leaving him stranded in a quandary of hopelessness?

When repentance is set forth in a `legal' fashion as though it's something that must be attained unto, prior to faith in Christ - it becomes a `perplexing snare' entangling the souls of men, who cannot find how to unshackle themselves from sin's clutches. Thus, being falsely persuaded that none but the true penitent have a right to trust in gospel promises, the offers from a compassionate Saviour and the hope of a great salvation only serve to torment them. John Colquhoun asks, "Are you caught up in trying to exercise repentance in order to qualify you for believing in Christ?...Know this, I entreat you, that this preposterous and self-righteous course will but sink you the deeper in unbelief, impenitence, and enmity to God...The longer you try in this manner to seek for evangelical repentance in your heart and life, the further you'll be from finding it."

Generally at this point, there are two common OBJECTIONS that arise:

First objection: Those who teach that Christ will receive none but the true penitent, admit that while it is true, the sinner in and of himself cannot forsake his sins, yet by the power and operation of the Spirit of God working in him through the process of `conviction,' he is enabled to repent, turn from sin, and break with his iniquity.

Answer:This line of thinking is answered in the next chapter: The Withering Work.

Second objection: There are those who feel that under this head we are separating two things that should not, and cannot be divided: repentance and faith. It is said that these are `twin graces' given simultaneously by the grace of God to the sinner, and they cannot be severed; that they are like two sides of the same coin, and that every true penitent is a true believer, and that every true believer is a true penitent.

Answer: To this, we whole-heartedly agree. In principle, there can be no such thing as an impenitent believer, or a penitent unbeliever. Both of these spiritual graces are implanted in the soul at the moment of regeneration, together and at once in respect of time. They are inseparable; and "what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mark 10:9). Separating the two, though, is one thing; distinguishing the nature of each, is quite another. In this discussion, we are not implying in any way any type of time sequence as respecting repentance and faith. We are distinguishing now between the principle of a thing, and the practice of a thing. The `acting' of saving faith and the `exercise' of true repentance is our present focus. An order of time is not in view, rather, an order of nature.

"That repentance not only always follows faith," says Calvin, "but is produced by it, ought to be without controversy. Those who think that repentance precedes faith instead of flowing from, or being produced by it, as the fruit by the tree, have never understood its nature, and are moved to adopt that view on very insufficient grounds. But when we attribute the origin of repentance to faith, we do not dream of some period of time in which faith is to give birth to it: we only wish to show that a man cannot seriously engage in repentance unless he knows that he is of God. But no man is truly persuaded that he is of God until he has embraced his offered favor."

When speaking of distressed souls under a sense of sinfulness and of the wrath of God, who dare not venture to trust steadfastly on Christ, Walter Marshall said,"They think it necessary to repent before they believe on Christ for their salvation, because repentance is absolutely necessary to salvation: `Unless you repent you shall all likewise perish' (Luke 13:3), and Christ places the duty of repentance before faith: `Repent and believe the gospel' (Mark 1:15). But we are to know that Christ requires repentance first as the end to be aimed at, and faith in the next place, as the only means of attaining it, and though the end is first in intention, yet the means are first in practice and execution, though both are absolutely necessary to salvation. For what is repentance, but a hearty turning from sin unto God and his service? And what way is there to turn to God, but through Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life, without whom none can come to the Father? (John 14:6). And what way is there of coming to Christ but by faith? Therefore, if we would turn to God in the right way, we must first come to Christ by faith, and faith must go before repentance, as the great instrument afforded us by the grace of God for the effectual performance of it. Repentance is indeed a duty which sinners owe naturally to God, but the great question is, `HOW SHALL SINNERS BE ABLE TO PERFORM IT?' This question is resolved only by the gospel of Christ: `Repent and believe.' The way to repent is to begin with believing. Therefore the great doctrine of John, in his baptism on repentance, was `that they should BELIEVE ON HIM that should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus' (Acts 19:4)."

"What saith Christ himself from heaven," asked Goodwin, "when he gave Paul his commission? `I send thee to open the eyes of the Gentiles, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified' (Acts 26:17,18). Will not all this do? Will not turning unto God from self-love, to loving God and being sanctified, serve to save us under the gospel? No; read the next words: it must all be, says Christ, `through faith that is in me.' Christ saith it from heaven, this is his commission, and he declares that, under the gospel, remission of sins and turning to God, forgiveness of sin and sanctification, were all through faith in him." Bunyan affirms this truth: "Departing from iniquity must be with the mind and affections, or with the heart; yet, nothing can purify the heart but faith, Acts 15:9, `purifying their hearts by faith.' The heart must first be sanctified and made holy; for an unsanctified mind cannot depart from iniquity no more than the Ethiopian can change his skin (Jer 13:23). Nothing can make a man depart from iniquity where faith is wanting." "Faith breeds union with Christ," Thomas Watson says, "and there can be no separation from sin till there be union with Christ."*

*[That this is the historic position is without question: "Saving repentance is an (Zech. 12:10) Acts 11:18) evangelical grace, whereby a person, being by the Holy Spirit made sensible of the manifold evil of his sins, doth, BY FAITH IN CHRIST, humble himself for it (Ezek. 36:31; 2 Cor. 7:11) with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrence." - 1689 Confession of Faith (emphasis mine)]

"Faith is the receiving grace," says Erskine, "and other graces are received by it; it fetches them out of Christ's fullness; it brings out repentance, and then it is a penitential faith; gospel-repentance is in it, and with it, and after it, but not before it...For maintaining the faith of our forefathers," he said, "we were charged with bringing in new schemes of doctrine" in opposition to, what he called "strange opinions that were never before heard tell of in this church, such as gospel repentance before faith and justification; a new scheme and principle that may be charged with not holding the Head, Jesus Christ, and faith in him, as the head of all other gospel graces."

The story of Abraham sending his chief servant to find a bride for his son, Isaac, affords us with a clear picture of these truths (Gen. 24). After traveling many days and many miles, the good providence of God brought Eleazer to Rebekah. In her family's home, and after he had told the story and explained his errand, the question is put to her, "Wilt thou go with this man?" (v58). Rebekah was suddenly invited to forsake all - old ways, old faces, old places, old customs, father, mother, home, relations, friends, all were to be abandoned; and she was to start out on this long and wearisome journey, to be the bride of one she had never seen. Before there was any possibility of Rebekah being prevailed upon to leave her father's house, and join this caravan on such a passage through an unknown country, she had to be fully persuaded, not only, that there was such a person as Isaac, but that all the good things spoken about him were true (v35,36). She believed. Everything and everyone must be forsaken, traveling with strangers had to be faced, enduring the elements, the dangers, and all the unexpectancies of that wide-open country, and going into a strange land with different people, with different customs, and a different dialect. She said, "I will go." Her glory, and the glory of her family, was overshadowed by a greater glory, that she entered into by faith. She overcame all obstacles by faith. Her own pursuits were put aside and forgotten, through believing in the glory of Isaac. There's no other way that she would have left, had she not believed.

All true repentance, forsaking of sin, leaving worldly pursuits, turning from darkness to light, and turning from the power of Satan unto God, Christ says, is "by faith that is in me." All godly sorrow, mourning over sin, hatred of sin, conquering passions and pride, comes through a believed gospel. Leaving of houses and lands, family and friends, turning from the glory of self to the glory of God, overcoming this world, is accomplished through faith in Jesus Christ. "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" We've got a wilderness to face, mountains to cross, great obstacles in front of us; but we've got the promise, "All things are possible to them that believe." "This is the victory," John says, "even our faith!" (1 John 5:4,5).

Rebekah's faith that there was an Isaac, and that all was true concerning him enabled her to break every tie at once. It enabled her to place herself completely in the hands of Abraham's servant. It enabled her to endure all those many miles on the back of those camels. She believed in Isaac. "I had fainted," David said, "unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord" (Psa 27:13). What can possibly pull Moses away from the treasures in Egypt? He saw "greater riches" in Christ (Heb 11:26,27) - "By faith, Moses forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible." Every day on that long journey Rebekah saw Isaac. She saw him when she awoke in the morning; she saw him when she lay down to sleep at night. She saw him in that glorious story that Eleazer had told of him, how the Lord had blessed Abraham, his master, and how he had become great, and how he was rich beyond measure, in camels and asses, in flocks and herds, in silver and gold, in menservants and maidservants; and how his master had only one son, that his wife bare when she was old, and how he loved him so, "and unto him hath he given all that he hath" (Gen 24:35,36; see John 3:35). The gospel is not DO; it's believe. Eleazer didn't want Rebekah to DO anything. Why? because he had absolute confidence in the message; and if she believed it, everything was taken care of. He wouldn't have to tell her to do anything. He wouldn't be wondering which way she'd be going. He wouldn't be wondering if she'd give this up, or give that up. He already knew, if she believed - her heart, her life, her future, her everything, would belong to Isaac! She'd give it all up; and she did. Everything became a "labour of love" for her (1 Thess 1:3). Isaac, "whom having not seen, she loved" (1 Peter 1:8).

Rebekah didn't do all those things in order to go to Isaac. She went to Isaac by faith, and then she did all those things, through faith in his promise. This is why God does not ask for, nor will he accept anything from a sinner prior to faith. There's no use in Rebekah doing one thing, until she's embraced the promise, and given consent. Why? because "if you believe not the record that God hath given of his Son," John says, you're "calling God a liar" (1 John 5:10). You've insulted God by doubting his word! Do what you will, "without faith, it's impossible to please God!" (Heb 1:6). You've scoffed at his promise, you've ignored his offered favor, but worst of all, you've despised his Son, his only Son. This is the reason that until the `glad tidings' are believed and embraced, everything sinners DO is only sin and worthless in the sight of God. Not to believe in Christ is the crowning, damning sin; and this, the Holy Spirit aims at first in conviction: "When he is come," Christ said, "he will convince the world of sin, because they believe not on me" (John 16:8,9). He who believes not on the Son of God does despite to the grandest display of God's love, rejects God's mercy, holds in contempt his unspeakable gift, and tramples on the blood of Christ.

Rebekah wasn't called upon to show her sincerity by deeds of any kind. She didn't first have to prove herself by going 20 miles on the back of a camel, to show she was sincere, in order to be accepted as the bride for Isaac. Why? It was a message of FREE GRACE. Eleazer knew the outcome if the message was believed. Why? because of the glory of Isaac - "unto him hath he given all that he hath" - security beyond measure, wealth untold. The story must have rang in her ears as the love of a prince. O yes, if she believes, the outcome is certain! We are not to set sinners upon doing this and doing that; because when they embrace "the man Christ Jesus," the fruits of faith will be seen, as the glory of God's Son in the gospel is believed (2 Cor 4:6). "Faith is the mother of all graces," Goodwin says, "it is that grace that sets all other graces a-work, that sets all wheels a-going." "Wilt thou go with this man?...she said, I will go."

"Men try to get away from believing in Christ," Spurgeon said, "by expecting an actual conversion to be manifest in them before they will trust the Saviour. Now, understand that Christ has wrought salvation in no man who is unconverted. There must be a perfect turning round of us - a complete conversion from sin to holiness. But that is salvation, and not a preparation for salvation...Why, you poor wretched sinner, you say, `I am not a saint. I cannot be saved.' Who said you were a saint? It is Christ's work to make you into a saint. `Oh, but I do not repent as I should.' It is Christ's work to make you repent as you should, and to him you must come for repentance. `Oh, but my heart won't break.' It is Christ who is to break your heart - not you who are to break it, and then come to him with it ready broken. Come to Jesus just as you are, with your hard, stony, senseless heart, and trust that and everything else to his saving power...Repentance is a grace. Some people preach it as a condition of salvation. Condition of nonsense! There are no conditions of salvation...Christ is a Saviour that begins the alphabet of mercy at A. He does not ask you to get as far as B, C, D, and promise then to meet you; but he begins at the beginning...Do not look for conversion first, but expect it as the result of faith."

"In coming to some souls, and in asking them how they do," Bunyan says, "they will tell you presently, that they are so bad that it is not to be expressed. If you bid them believe in Jesus Christ, they will answer, that they cannot believe; if you ask them, why they cannot believe, they will answer, because their hearts are so hard, so dead, so dull, so backward to good duties; and if their hearts were but better, if they were more earnest, if they could pray better, and keep their hearts more from running after sin, then they could believe; but should they believe with such vile hearts? and presume to believe in Christ, and be so filthy?

"Now, all this is because the spirit of the law still ruleth in such a soul, and blinds them so that they cannot see the terms of the gospel. To clear this, take the substance of the drift of this poor soul, which is this: `If I was better, then, I think, I could believe; but being so bad as I am, that is the reason that I cannot.' This is just to DO something that I may believe; to work, that I may have Christ; to do the law, that I may have the gospel; or thus, to be righteous, that I may come to Christ. O man! Thou must go quiet back again; thou must believe, because thou canst not pray, because thou canst not do; thou must believe, because there is nothing in thee (naturally) that is good, or desireth after good. Or else thou wilt never come to Christ as a sinner; and if so, then Christ will not receive thee; and if so, then thou mayst see, that to keep off from Christ, because thou canst not do, is to keep from Christ by the law.

"Many poor souls in these days also think they must be saved alone by the Saviour, yet they think there is something to be done on their parts, for the obtaining of the good will of the Saviour, such as, their humiliation for sin, their turning from the same, their promises and vows, and resolutions, and what not; and thus they, bringing this along with them, as a means to help them, fall short of eternal salvation.

"See Romans 9:30-32. The apostle saith here, that they that sought not, did obtain; when they that did seek, fell short. `What shall we say then,' saith he, `that the Gentiles, which sought not after righteousness have attained to righteousness, (yea) even the righteousness of faith.' And what else? `But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.' How came that to pass? `Because,' saith he, `they sought it not by faith, but as it were,' mark, he doth not say, altogether; no; but as it were; that is, because as they sought, they did a little, by and by, lean upon the works of the law.

"And let me tell you, that this is such a hard thing to beat off, that though Paul himself did take the work in hand, he did find enough to do touching it. How he is fain to labour, in the first ten chapters of Romans, for the establishing of those that did even profess largely in the doctrine of grace! And also in that epistle to the Galatians, and yet lost many, do what he could.

"Now, the reason why the doctrine of grace doth so hardly go down, even with professors, in truth, effectually is because there is a principle naturally in man that doth argue against the same, and that thus: `Why,' saith the soul, `I am a sinner, and God is righteous, holy, and just; his holy law, therefore, having been broken by me, I must by all means, if ever I look to be saved, in the first place, be sorry for my sins; secondly, turn from the same; thirdly, follow after good duties, and practice the good things of the law, and ordinances of the gospel, and so hope that God for Christ's sake may forgive all my sins'; which is not the way to God as a Father in Christ, but the way, the very way, to come to God by the covenant of works or the law, and thus, fall short of eternal salvation."

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The Withering Work

Doctrinal pitfalls are unavoidable when `conviction of sin' and the `exercise of repentance' are not properly distinguished. Again, we are not speaking of the `principle' or `root' of repentance, but the exercise of repentance is our present focus. It is also important to understand that we are not now referring to any type of counterfeit repentance - `natural' or `legal.'

It's common for the natural man to be filled with sorrow and self-condemnation, because he's conscious of having done wrong. When he considers his actions, and the disagreeable consequences caused toward himself and others, a `natural' sense of regret will follow. There is also regret produced in the `legalist' due to his breaking of God's law, and especially from his gross sins which expose him to eternal danger. He's extremely sorry; but this sorrow arises, not from love toward the God against whom he has sinned, but through the knowledge of sure punishment. His love of sin and his hatred of holiness continue with all their strength, even in the midst of such regret, sorrow, and repentance. Consider Pharaoh: "I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked" (Exo. 9:27). Legal repentance also attempts to buy God off and earn his favor by not committing certain evils, and through the performance of certain decent, moral, or religious acts. See the Pharisee in the temple (Luke 18:11,12). Such sham repentance is not what we are now speaking of, rather, true, gospel repentance is in view - turning to God from the love and practice of all iniquity, to the love and practice of true holiness.

When we confound conviction of sin with true repentance, by failing to see the true place and office of each, serious error and confusion are sure to follow. Consider:

(1) When repentance is confused with conviction, as that which the Spirit works within the sinner in a pre-justified state, the implication is that justification is built upon sanctification. The exercise of repentance is comprised in sanctification. No man can repent unless he hate sin and love holiness. None can hate sin and turn from it, except he be sanctified. In actual sanctification, the believer dies more and more to sin, and lives to righteousness. When this is presented as that which must accompany conviction, prior to faith in Christ, biblical order is turned up-side-down. "Justification," says Watson, "is the very hinge and pillar of Christianity; and an error about justification is dangerous, like a crack in the foundation, or an error in the first concoction. Justification by Christ is a spring of the water of life; and to have the poison of corrupt doctrine cast into this spring is damnable."

(2) God not only commands, but is very pleased with the exercise of true repentance; however, it cannot be pleasing to God if it precedes, in any degree, our receiving Christ by faith; for "without faith, it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6). "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom 14:23). "Without me," says Christ, "ye can do nothing." "The branch cannot bear fruit of itself...I am the vine, ye are the branches" (John 15:4,5). A sinner can do nothing spiritually `good' in the sight of God separate from Christ, that is, apart from vital union with him; therefore, he that is not `in Christ' by faith cannot possibly exercise spiritual repentance.

(3) One of the chief consequences of mingling conviction and repentance is that it tends to keep the unconverted standing afar off from Christ, looking within for those things that are to be had only through union with Christ, e.g., a sincere hatred of all sin accompanied with earnest resolves and endeavors to forsake it.

Confession of sin, hatred of sin, and turning from sin, are all `good' things in the sight of God. These are "things that accompany salvation" (Heb 6:9) - fruits of faith that will surely be evidenced through union with Christ. In the convicting work of the Spirit, God's purpose is not to bring the sinner to the performance of `good' things at all; rather, his goal is to expose how wretched, rotten, and `bad' the person really is. These convictions are humbling, tending to make the sinner despair of help in himself, or in God out of Christ.

Learn this: In conviction, the Spirit is not out to make you `better,' as it were; but `worse.' Contrary to what you may think, his intention is not to get you to quit this and quit that, nor is he directing you into moral or religious exercises whatsoever. His purpose is to reveal you to yourself in all of your guilt and pollution, as one destitute without Christ. The aim of the Spirit is to destroy every confidence you've ever had, that you might see the Cross as your only hope. "It is this conviction alone," says John Owen, "which puts the soul upon a flight unto the mercy of God in Christ, to be saved from the wrath to come - `fled for refuge' (Heb. 6:18)."

Man by nature stands before God under the covenant of works, seeking to be justified by the law. The purpose of God's Spirit is to blast every hope that the sinner has of ever standing righteous before a holy God on such a basis. He effectually shuts the door of hope by the law. The apostle said in Romans 7:9, "I was alive without the law once"; that is, before the Spirit of God got ahold of him, he was ignorant to the spirituality of the law, and its true demands, and how it requires heart-holiness before God (see v7,8); therefore, he says he was "alive" in his hopes of being accepted on the basis of that law. The Lord didn't leave him in that deluded state, though; something happened: "when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died"; that is, by the withering work of the Spirit, he "died" to all fleshly hopes of ever being accepted in the sight of God by anything he could ever do. God's convicting Spirit brought Saul to the end of hope in Saul, that he might see Christ alone as his only hope.

The Spirit's work is not to make us godly and holy, in order that we may be forgiven, but to bring us to the Cross, where forgiveness is found by the unholy and the "ungodly" (Rom. 4:5; 5:6). His aim is to slay us, that we might find life in Christ; and to bruise us, that we might apply to the Great Physician. The law lays open the wound; it is Christ in the gospel that heals. The law in the hands of the Spirit "strips a man, wounds him, and leaves him half dead"; the Saviour "binds up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine" (Luke 10:30,34). "Thus saith the Lord, "I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal" (Deut 32:39).

This is why in that great message of Spurgeon's on conviction, entitled, The Withering Work of the Spirit, he was careful to show that the Spirit of God in conviction does not aim to bring the sinner to holy and good performances in any way; rather his purpose is to bring a man to see that he is nothing but sin, with no hope of help in himself apart from Christ; his hopes in self are destroyed as he is led to see Christ as his whole salvation. He said, "The Spirit of God, like the wind, must pass over the field of our souls, and cause our beauty to be as a fading flower. He must so convince us of sin, and so reveal ourselves to ourselves, that we shall see that the flesh profiteth nothing, that in the flesh dwelleth no good thing, that our fallen nature is corruption itself, and that `they who are in the flesh cannot please God'...So wherever the Spirit of God breathes on the soul of man, there is a withering of everything that is of the flesh, and it is seen that to be carnally minded is death...Wherever the Spirit of God comes, he destroys the goodliness and flower of the flesh; that is to say, our righteousness withers as our sinfulness, our beauty fades as a leaf...When visited by the Spirit, we find that even when the will is present with us, how to perform that which we would we find not; yea, and we discover that our will is averse to all that is good...when the withering wind of the Spirit moves over the carnal mind, he reveals the death of the flesh in all respects, especially in the matter of power towards that which is good. We then learn that word of our Lord: `Without me ye can do nothing.'...It is a great mercy for a man when God sweeps right away all his own righteousness and strength, when he makes him feel that he is nothing and can be nothing, and drives him to confess that Christ must be all in all...Let the hand of the Spirit lay bear to me myself at my very worst, that I may be driven to self-despair, and may fall back upon the free mercy of God, and receive it as a poor, guilty, lost, helpless, undone sinner, who casts himself into the arms of sovereign grace, knowing that God must give all, and Christ must be all."

READ ALSO THE CHAPTER ENTITLED "LOOK AND LIVE"

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"Not saved are we by trying, from self can come no aid;
Tis on the blood relying, once for our ransom paid.
Tis looking unto Jesus, the holy One and Just;
Tis His great work that saves us; it is not try, but trust.

No deeds of ours are needed, to make Christ's merit more;
No frames of mind or feelings, can add to His great store;

Tis simply to receive Him, the holy One of and Just,
Tis only to believe Him, it is not try, but trust."

 

Abstract from the booklet "Without Money and Without Price" by Daniel Shanks

 

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     Repentance is only to be got from Christ. Why then should you make the want of it a reason for staying away from him? Go to Him for it. He is exalted to give it. If you speak of waiting, you only show that you are not sincere in your desire to have it. No man in such circumstances would think of waiting. Your conviction of sin is to come, not by waiting, but by looking; looking to Him whom your sins have crucified, and whom, by your distrust and unbelief, you are crucifying afresh. It is written, "They shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn?"

***

     The word repentance signifies in the Greek, "change of mind;" and this change the Holy Spirit produces in connection with the gospel, not the law. "Repent and believe the gospel: does not mean get repentance by the law, and then believe the gospel; but let this good news about the kingdom which I am preaching, lead you to change your views and receive the gospel. Repentance being put before faith here, simply implies, that there must be a turning from what is false in order to the reception of what is true. If I would turn my face to the north, I must turn it from the south; yet I should not think of calling the one of these preparatory to the other. They must, in the nature of things, go together. Repentance, then, is not, in any sense, a preliminary qualification for faith, - least of all in the sense of sorrow for sin. "It must be reckoned a settled point," says Calvin, "that repentance not only immediately follows upon faith, but springs out of it...They who think that repentance goes before faith, instead of flowing from or being produced by it, as fruit from a tree, have never understood its nature. And Dr. Colquahoun remarks, "Justifying and saving faith is the mean of true repentance; and this repentance is not the mean but the end of that faith."

     That terror of conscience may go before faith, I do not doubt. But such terror is very unlike Bible repentance; and its tendency is to draw men away from, not to, the cross. Alarms, such as these, are not uncommon among unbelieving men, such as Ahab and Judas. They will be heard with awful distinctness in hell; but they are not repentance. Sorrow for sin comes from apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, from the sight of the cross and of the love which the cross reveals. The broken and the contrite heart is the result of our believing the glad tidings of God's free love, in the death and resurrection of his Son. Few things are more dangerous to the anxious soul than the endeavors to get convictions, and terrors, and humiliations, as preliminaries to believing the gospel. They who would tell a sinner that the reason of his not finding peace is that he is not anxious enough, nor convicted enough, nor humble enough, are enemies to the cross of Christ. They who would inculcate a course of prayer, and humiliation, and self-examination, and dealing with the law, in order to believing in Christ, are teaching what is the very essence of Popery; not the less poisonous and perilous, because refined from Romish grossness, and administered under the name of gospel.

     Christ asks no preparation of any kind whatsoever, - legal or evangelical, outward, or inward, - in the coming sinner. And he that will not come as he is shall never be received at all. It is not exercised souls, nor penitent believers, nor well humbled seekers, nor earnest users of the means, nor any of the better class of Adam's sons and daughters, but "sinner", that Christ welcomes. He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. This man receiveth sinners.

     Spurious repentance, the produce and expression of unbelief and self-righteousness, may be found previous to faith - just as all manner of evils abound in the soul before it believes. But when faith comes, it comes not as the result of this self-wrought repentance, - but in spite of it; and this so called repentance will be afterwards regarded by the believing soul as one of those self-righteous efforts, whose only tendency was to keep the sinner from the Saviour. They who call on penitent sinners to believe, mistake both repentance and faith; and that which they teach is no glad tidings to the sinner. To the better class of sinners (if such there be), who have by laborious efforts got themselves sufficiently humbled, it may be glad tidings; but not to those who are without strength, the lost, the ungodly, the hard-hearted, the insensible, the lame, the blind, the halt, the maimed. "It is not sound doctrine," says Dr. Colquhoun, "to teach that Christ will receive none but the true penitent, or that none else is warranted to come by faith to him for salvation. The evil of that doctrine is that it sets needy sinners on spinning repentance, as it were, out of their own bowels, and on bringing it with them to Christ, instead of coming to him by faith to receive it from him. If none be invited but the true penitent, then impenitent sinners are not bound to come to Christ; and cannot be blamed for not coming."

 

 

The above paragraphs from Horatius Bonar came from the book, "God's Way of Peace".

View or download at:

http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/bonar/bonar.html

http://www.ccel.org/b/bonar/way_of_peace/way_of_peace.htm

http://www.biblebelievers.com/Bonar/way_of_peace.htm

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