Acceptable Time

Now or never is the season to prepare for eternity, seeing that your states are unchangeable after death. The gulf will then be fixed; there is no possibility for repentance, or hope of pardon beyond the grave. …

Now is your time to hearken to good counsel. Many of you have misspent a great part of your life; you shall not live it over again. You are not certain of the future. You may be in an unchangeable state before you are aware. So that to defer it one week or day longer may be your undoing. You have now a promise of forgiveness, if you repent, and the hopes of God’s grace, if you seek it. You have yet an opportunity to make peace with God. This is your accepted time, the day of salvation. The door of mercy and of hope is yet open, but before long it will be shut, and your state immutable. Whatever is to be done in preparation for eternity must be now or never. Now quickly or it will be too late; now presently, and without delay, or it may be too late.

John Shower, Heaven and Hell (1700), 55-57.


The Discipline of Repentance

The first great secret of holiness lies in the degree and the decisiveness of our repentance. If besetting sins persistently plague us, it is either because we have never truly repented, or because, having repented, we have not maintained our repentance. It is as if, having nailed our old nature to the cross, we keep wistfully returning to the scene of its execution. We begin to fondle it, to caress it, to long for its release, even to try to take it down again from the cross. We need to learn to leave it there. When some jealous, or proud, or malicious, or impure thought invades our mind we must kick it out at once. It is fatal to begin to examine it and consider whether we are going to give in to it or not. We have declared war on it; we are not going to resume negotiations. We have settled the issue for good; we are not going to re-open it. We have crucified the flesh; we are never going to draw the nails.

—John Stott
The Message of Galatians, 151–152.


Do We Weep Over Sin?

It has been thought by some that as long as Peter lived, the fountain of his tears began to flow whenever he remembered his denying his Lord. It is not unlikely that it was so, for his sin was very great, and grace in him had afterwards a perfect work. This same experience is common to all the redeemed family according to the degree in which the Spirit of God has removed the natural heart of stone.

We, like Peter, remember our boastful promise: “Though all men shall forsake thee, yet will not I.” We eat our own words with the bitter herbs of repentance. When we think of what we vowed we would be, and of what we have been, we may weep whole showers of grief. He thought on his denying his Lord. The place in which he did it, the little cause which led him into such heinous sin, the oaths and blasphemies with which he sought to confirm his falsehood, and the dreadful hardness of heart which drove him to do so again and yet again.

Can we, when we are reminded of our sins, and their exceeding sinfulness, remain stolid and stubborn? Will we not make our house a Bochim, and cry unto the Lord for renewed assurances of pardoning love? May we never take a dry-eyed look at sin, lest ere long we have a tongue parched in the flames of hell.

Peter also thought upon his Master’s look of love. The Lord followed up the cock’s warning voice with an admonitory look of sorrow, pity, and love. That glance was never out of Peter’s mind so long as he lived. It was far more effectual than ten thousand sermons would have been without the Spirit. The penitent apostle would be sure to weep when he recollected the Saviour’s full forgiveness, which restored him to his former place.

To think that we have offended so kind and good a Lord is more than sufficient reason for being constant weepers. Lord, smite our rocky hearts, and make the waters flow.

—Charles H. Spurgeon
Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006).


True Repentance

Repentance is a Godward awakening from the evil of sin. True repentance is a dynamic of God-centeredness. It is a grace of God whereby a sinner is inwardly awakened and outwardly reformed by the Holy and unto the Holy. In Greek, the word for repentance has reference to a fundamental change of mind or a radical redirection of heart. In Hebrew, it has reference to a turning away from the state or occurrence of sin and toward God. In this sense, it is the gravity of God-centeredness acting in love upon sinners in sin. True repentance is not about self; it is about God. In brokenness, the sinner turns to God for forgiveness and renewal.

Repentance is a necessary component of genuine conversion (Luke 3:3; 13:3, 5). Jesus said that He came to call “sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). The Gospel of Matthew notes that Jesus began His ministry by preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17). Similarly, the first words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Mark are, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). Repentance is a definite call of the gospel.

Repentance also remains continually necessary after conversion (Psalm 51; Luke 17:3-4). As George Swinnock once said, “A sheep may fall into the ditch and defile himself, but he hastens out of it as soon as he can. But the swine chooses a dirty place and wallows all the day long in the mud and mire. A saint may fall into sin, but he hastens to recover himself by repentance. In contrast, a sinner lives in it day and night (Prov. 4:17)” (Works, 5:379).

Below is a simple list of essential elements of true repentance.

  1. Acknowledgment of sin

The first element of repentance is the sinners awakened acknowledgement of the wickedness of his sin. As with the prodigal son, the starting point of repentance was marked by the statement, “But when he came to himself” (Lk 15:17). As Thomas Watson wisely said, “The eye is made both for seeing and weeping. Sin must first be seen before it can be wept for.” God, speaking through the prophet, makes this point very clear: “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me” (Hosea 5:15). Without acknowledgement, there can be no repentance. Without acknowledgement of God and His holiness, of self and its wretchedness, of sin and its wickedness, there can be no true repentance.

  1. Confession of sin

Once a sin is acknowledged by the soul, it must say the same thing as God says about it. This is the meaning of the original. To confess a sin is to say the same thing that God would say about that sin. The Prophet Jeremiah shows that in addition to the acknowledgement of sin, admission and ownership of specific guilt should be demonstrated (Jer 3:13, “that you … and that you”).

Not only are we to call sin, sin—instead of a mistake or some other palatable misnomer—we are to be specific in identifying it as God would identify it. This also involves owning the sin for all that it truly is before God. It is, as Watson said, “self-accusing.” “When we come before God, we must accuse ourselves. … The humble sinner does more than accuse himself; he, as it were, sits in judgment and passes sentence upon himself. He confesses that he has deserved to be bound over to the wrath of God” (Watson, 28-29). Although a man acknowledges his sin to himself, without confession before God there is no true repentance. Without such confession, there will be no mercy nor prospering in the Lord (Prov 28:13). As Christians, we are also called to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16).

  1. Sorrow over sin

Sorrow over one’s offense against God is essential to true repentance. The Psalmist shows that a godly confession is one wherein the heart is deeply sorry toward God: “I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin” (Ps 38:18). Watson says, “A woman may as well expect to have a child without pangs as one can have repentance without sorrow! … he that can repent without sorrowing, suspect his repentance.” King David described this godly sorrow as “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:17). True repentance involves the call to “rend your hearts” (Joel 2:13) and “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (James 4:9). As Watson says, “A true penitent labours to work his heart into a sorrowing frame. He blesses God when he can weep; he is glad of a rainy day, for he knows that it is a repentance he will have no cause to repent of” (20). If repentance is true, it will be God-centered. If the heart is God-centered in repentance, it will be shaken in a holy agony.

  1. Shame for sin

To honorably esteem God, one must rightly esteem the dishonor of his sin against God. There can be no acceptable estimation of one’s own sin except that it be accompanied by shame. The Lord instructed the Prophet Ezekiel to preach to Israel in such a way “that they may be ashamed of their iniquities” (Eze 43:10). Ezra cried out, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6). In His gracious substitution on our behalf, Christ was greatly shamed for our sin. The cross was a grotesque spectacle of tremendous shame. “Did our sins put Christ to shame, and shall they not put us to shame? Did he wear the purple and shall not our cheeks wear crimson? Who can behold the sun as it were blushing at Christ’s passion, and hiding itself in an eclipse and his face not blush?” (Watson, 40-41). Without shame over our sin, there can hardly be any true acknowledgement of it. Shame over our sin is a basic ingredient in true repentance.

  1. Hatred of sin

If there be any love to God in our hearts then by necessity there will also be hatred of sin. This is not hatred of getting caught, hatred of exposure, or hatred of consequences. No, this is hatred of sin itself supremely because it is such a vile and base offense against our Lord whom we love more than life itself. David demonstrates his Godward hatred of sin when he says, “I hate every false way” (Ps 119:104). Such hatred is not directed to any one matter in particular, except that sin offends God. “So to discover repentance there is no better sign than by a holy antipathy against sin. Sound repentance begins in love to God—and ends in the hatred of sin” (Watson, 45). As Christians, we are daily striving to grow in our love of what God loves and hate of what God hates. Repentance is therefore a vital means of our sanctification. Without hatred of one’s own sin committed against God, there can be no love to God. True repentance includes hatred of the offense causing sin.

  1. Turning away from sin

Repentance means not only a heart broken for sin but from sin. Repentance in its most basic animation is a deliberate turning away from sin. This is portrayed abundantly in Scripture. A few examples will suffice here: “If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away” (Job 11:14); “Thus says the Lord GOD: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations” (Eze 14:6); “let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Is 55:7). It has well been said that if God is drawing you to Himself then He is also drawing you away from sin. Without a resolved turning away from sin, any attempt at professing repentance proves untrue.

  1. Turning to God

This is the highest and crowning purpose and goal of repentance: a turning to God. True repentance is not merely moral; it is Godward. It departs from all that offends God in complete betrayal of sin’s adulterous lure so as to return to the gracious Lover of sinners. If God is not your goal in repentance, your repentance is not genuine. This objective purpose of repentance is made plain in several texts: “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20); “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ac 20:21); “let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Is 55:7). Repentance is not just a turning away from sin, it is a turning to God—it is fundamentally God-centered. The prodigal son did not merely leave the swine; he specifically turned his unworthy face to return to his father. The Lord Himself grieves over a form of leaving sin without coming to Him: “They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow” (Hos 7:16).

Turning to God is for our benefit. Our repentance is of no benefit to God but to ourselves. If a man drinks of a fountain he benefits himself, not the fountain. If he beholds the light of the sun he himself is refreshed by it, not the sun. If we turn from our sins to God, God is not advantaged by it. It is only we ourselves who reap the benefit. (Watson, 58).

May God be glorified in the delight of our souls to turn away from every distracting lure of lesser glory and destructive lie of sin, to turn to God—our treasure and greatest delight. May we as Christians grow in our view of God, sensitivity and apprehension of sin, and practice of repentance in all humility and reverence.


Counterfeit Repentance

There are several deceits of repentance which might occasion that saying of Augustine that “repentance damns many.” He meant a false repentance; a person may delude himself with counterfeit repentance.

1. The first deceit of repentance is legal terror

A man has gone on long in sin. At last God arrests him, shows him what desperate hazard he has run, and he is filled with anguish. Within a while the tempest of conscience is blown over, and he is quiet. Then he concludes that he is a true penitent because he has felt some bitterness in sin. Do not be deceived: this is not repentance. Ahab and Judas had some trouble of mind. It is one thing to be a terrified sinner and another to be a repenting sinner. Sense of guilt is enough to breed terror. Infusion of grace breeds repentance. If pain and trouble were sufficient to repentance, then the damned in hell should be most penitent, for they are most in anguish. Repentance depends upon a change of heart. There may be terror, yet with no change of heart.

2. Another deceit about repentance is resolution against sin

A person may purpose and make vows, yet be no penitent. `Thou saidst, I will not transgress’ (Jer. 2.20). Here was a resolution; but see what follows: `under every green tree thou wanderest, playing the harlot’. Notwithstanding her solemn engagements, she played fast and loose with God and ran after her idols. We see by experience what protestations a person will make when he is on his sick-bed, if God should recover him again; yet he is as bad as ever. He shows his old heart in a new temptation.

Resolutions against sin may arise:

  • From present extremity; not because sin is sinful, but because it is painful. This resolution will vanish.
  • From fear of future evil, an apprehension of death and hell: `I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him’ (Rev. 6.8). What will not a sinner do, what vows will he not make, when he knows he must die and stand before the judgment-seat? Self-love raises a sick-bed vow, and love of sin will prevail against it. Trust not to a passionate resolution; it is raised in a storm and will die in a calm.

3. The third deceit about repentance is the leaving of many sinful ways

It is a great matter, I confess, to leave sin. So dear is sin to a man that he will rather part with a child than with a lust: “Shall I give the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ (Mic 6.7). Sin may be parted with, yet without repentance.

  • A man may part with some sins and keep others, as Herod reformed many things that were amiss but could not leave his incest.
  • An old sin may be left in order to entertain a new, as you put off an old servant to take another. This is to exchange a sin. Sin may be exchanged and the heart remained unchanged. He who was a prodigal in his youth turns usurer in his old age. A slave is sold to a Jew; the Jew sells him to a Turk. Here the master is changed, but he is a slave still. So a man moves from one vice to another but remains a sinner still.

A sin may be left not so much from strength of grace as from reasons of prudence. A man sees that though such a sin be for his pleasure, yet it is not for his interest. It will eclipse his credit, prejudice his health, impair his estate. Therefore, for prudential reasons, he dismisses it. True leaving of sin is when the acts of sin cease from the infusion of a principle of grace, as the air ceases to be dark from the infusion of light.

—Thomas Watson
Adapted from The Doctrine of Repentance (The Banner of Truth Trust), 15-17.

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