RPM, Volume 13, Number 9, February 27 to March 5, 2011

The Doctrine of Repentance

By Thomas Watson

The Trial of our Repentance

If any shall say they have repented, let me desire them to try themselves seriously by those seven fruits or effects of repentance which the apostle lays down in 2 Corinthians 7:11, "See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter."

1. Earnestness. The Greek word signifies a solicitous diligence or careful shunning all temptations to sin. The true penitent flies from sin, as Moses did from the serpent.

2. Eagerness to clear yourselves. The Greek word is "apology". The sense is this: though we have much care—yet through strength of temptation we may slip into sin. Now in this case, the repenting soul will not let sin lie festering in his conscience but judges himself for his sin. He pours out tears before the Lord. He begs mercy in the name of Christ and never leaves until he has gotten his pardon. Here he is cleared of guilt in his conscience, and is able to make an apology for himself against Satan.

3. Indignation. He who repents of sin, his spirit rises against it, as one's blood rises at the sight of him whom he mortally hates. Indignation is a being fretted at the heart with sin. The penitent is vexed with himself. David calls himself a fool and a beast (Psalm 73:22). God is never better pleased with us, than when we fall out with ourselves, for sin.

4. Alarm. A tender heart is ever a trembling heart. The penitent has felt sin's bitterness. This hornet has stung him and now, having hopes that God is reconciled, he is afraid to come near sin any more. The repenting soul is full of fear. He is afraid to lose God's favor which is better than life. He is afraid he should, for lack of diligence, come short of salvation. He is afraid lest, after his heart has been soft, the waters of repentance should freeze and he should harden in sin again. "Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord" (Proverbs 28:14). A sinner is like the leviathan who is made without fear (Job 41:33). A repenting person fears and sins not; a graceless person sins and fears not.

5. Longing. As sauce sharpens the appetite, so the bitter herbs of repentance sharpen desire. But what does the penitent desire? He desires more power against sin and to be released from it. It is true, he has got loose from Satan—but he goes as a prisoner that has broken out of prison—with a fetter on his leg. He cannot walk with that freedom and swiftness in the ways of God. He desires therefore to have the fetters of sin taken off. He would be freed from corruption. He cries out with Paul: "who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24). In short, he desires to be with Christ—as everything desires to be in its center.

6. Zeal. Desire and zeal are fitly put together to show that true desire puts forth itself in zealous endeavor. How does the penitent bestir himself in the business of salvation! How does he take the kingdom of heaven by force! (Matt. 11:12) Zeal quickens the pursuit after glory. Zeal, encountering difficulty—is emboldened by opposition and tramples upon danger. Zeal makes a repenting soul persist in godly sorrow against all discouragements and oppositions whatever. Zeal carries a man above himself for God's glory. Paul before conversion, violently opposed the saints (Acts 26:11), and after conversion, he was judged mad for Christ's sake: "Paul, you are beside yourself" (Acts 26:24). But it was zeal, not frenzy. Zeal animates spirit and duty. It causes fervency in religion, which is as fire to the sacrifice (Romans 12:11). As fear is a bridle to sin—so zeal is a spur to duty.

7. Readiness to see justice done. A true penitent pursues his sins with a holy malice. He seeks the death of them as Samson was avenged on the Philistines for his two eyes. He uses his sins as the Jews used Christ—he gives them gall and vinegar to drink. He crucifies his lusts (Gal. 5:24). A true child of God seeks to be revenged most of those sins which have dishonored God most. Cranmer, who had with his right hand subscribed the popish articles, was revenged on himself; he put his right hand first into the fire. David defiled his bed by sin ; afterwards by repentance he watered his bed with tears. Israel had sinned by idolatry, and afterwards they defiled their idols: "You will defile your silver-plated idols and your gold-plated images. You will throw them away like menstrual cloths, and call them filth!" (Isaiah 30:22).

Mary Magdalene had sinned in her eye by adulterous glances, and now she will be revenged on her eyes. She washes Christ's feet with her tears. She had sinned in her hair. It had entangled her lovers. Now she will be revenged on her hair; she wipes the Lord's feet with it. The Israelite women who had been dressing themselves by the hour and had abused their looking-glasses unto pride, afterwards by way of revenge as well as zeal, offered their looking-glasses to the use and service of God's tabernacle (Exod. 38:8). So those conjurers who used magic arts, when once they repented, brought their books and, by way of revenge, burned them (Acts 19:19).

These are the blessed fruits and effects of repentance, and if we can find these in our souls we have arrived at that repentance which is never to be repented of (2 Cor. 7:10).

A Necessary Caution

Such as have solemnly repented of their sins, let me speak to them by way of caution. Though repentance is so necessary and excellent, as you have heard—yet take heed that you do not ascribe too much to repentance. The papists are guilty of a double error:

(1) They make repentance a sacrament. Christ never made it so. And who may institute sacraments, but he who can give virtue to them?

(2) The papists make repentance meritorious. They say it merits pardon. This is a gross error. Indeed repentance fits us for mercy. As the plough, when it breaks up the ground, fits it for the seed, so when the heart is broken up by repentance, it is fitted for forgiveness of sin—but it does not merit it. God will not save us without repentance, nor yet for it. Repentance is a cause of salvation. I grant, that repenting tears are precious. They are, as Gregory said, "the fat of the sacrifice;" as Basil said, "the medicine of the soul;" and as Bernard said, "the wine of angels." But yet, tears do not merit pardon for sin. Christ's blood alone can merit pardon. We please God by repentance—but we do not merit pardon by it. To trust to our repentance is to make it a savior. Though repentance helps to purge out the filth of sin—yet it is Christ's blood which washes away the guilt of sin. Therefore do not idolize repentance. Do not rest upon this—that your heart has been wounded for sin—but rather that your Savior has been wounded for sin. When you have wept, say, "Lord Jesus, wash my tears in your blood."

Comfort for the Repenting Sinner

Let me in the next place speak by way of comfort. Christian, has God given you a repenting heart? Know these three things for your everlasting comfort:

1. Your sins are pardoned.

Pardon of sin brings blessedness within it. (Psalm 32:1). Whom God pardons—he crowns. "Who forgives all your iniquities, who crowns you with loving-kindness" (Psalm 103:34). A repenting condition is a pardoned condition. Christ said to that weeping woman, "Your sins, which are many—are forgiven" (Luke 7:47). Pardons are sealed upon soft hearts. O you whose head has been a fountain to weep for sin—Christ's side will be a fountain to wash away sin! (Zech. 13:1). Have you repented? God looks upon you as if you had not offended. He becomes a friend, a father. He will now bring forth the best robe and put it on you. God is pacified towards you and will, with the father of the prodigal, fall upon your neck and kiss you. Sin in scripture is compared to a cloud (Is. 44:22). No sooner is this cloud scattered by repentance, than pardoning love shines forth. Paul, after his repentance, obtained mercy, (1 Tim. 1:16). When a spring of repentance is open in the heart—a spring of mercy is open in heaven!

2. God will pass an act of oblivion.

He so forgives sin as he forgets. "I will remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:34). Have you been penitentially humbled? The Lord will never upbraid you with your former sins. After Peter wept we never read that Christ upbraided him, with his denial of him. God has cast your sins into the depths of the sea (Mic. 7:19). How? Not as cork—but as lead. The Lord will never in a judicial way account for them. When he pardons, God is as a creditor that blots the debt out of his book (Isaiah 43:25). Some ask the question, whether the sins of the godly shall be mentioned at the last day. The Lord said he will not remember them, and he is blotting them out, so if their sins are mentioned, it shall not be to their harm, for the debt-book is crossed out.

3. Conscience will now speak peace.

O the music of a clean conscience! Conscience is turned into a paradise, and there a Christian sweetly solaces himself and plucks the flowers of joy (2 Cor. 1:12). The repenting sinner can go to God with boldness in prayer, and look upon him not as a judge—but as a father. He is "born of God" and is heir to a kingdom (Luke 6:20). He is encircled with promises. He no sooner shakes the tree of the promise, but some fruit falls.

To conclude, the true penitent may look on death with comfort. His life has been a life of tears—and now at death all tears shall be wiped away! Death shall not be a destruction—but a deliverance from jail. Thus you see what great comfort remains for repenting sinners. Luther said that before his conversion he could not endure that bitter word "repentance"—but afterwards he found much sweetness in it.

IMPEDIMENTS to Repentance

Before I lay down the expedients and means conducive to repentance, I shall first remove the impediments. In this great city, when you lack water, you search the cause, whether the pipes are broken or stopped, that the current of water is hindered. Likewise when no water of repentance comes (though we have the conduit pipes of ordinances), see what the cause is. What is the obstruction which hinders these penitential waters from running? There are ten impediments to repentance:

1. Men do not understand that they need repentance.

They thank God that all is well with them, and they know nothing they should repent of: "you say, I am rich, and have need of nothing" (Rev. 3.I7). He who does not think that there is any illness in his body, will not take the physic prescribed. This is the mischief sin has done; it has not only made us sick—but senseless. When the Lord bade the people return to him, they answered stubbornly, "Why shall we return?" (Mal. 3:7). So when God bids men repent, they say, "Why should we repent?" They know nothing they have done amiss. There is surely no disease worse, than that which is not felt.

2 . People think that it is an easy thing to repent.

They think that it is but saying a few prayers: a sigh, or a "Lord have mercy", and the work is done. This mistake of the easiness of repentance is a great hindrance to it. That which makes a person bold and adventurous in sin, must needs obstruct repentance. This opinion makes a person bold in sin. The angler can let out his line as far as he will—and then pull it in again. Likewise when a man thinks he can lash out in sin as far as he will—and then pull in by repentance when he pleases—this must needs embolden him in wickedness. But to take away this false conceit of the easiness of repentance, consider:

(1) A wicked man has a mountain of guilt upon him, and is it easy to rise up under such a weight? Is salvation obtained with a leap? Can a man jump out of sin—into heaven? Can he leap out of the devil's arms—into Abraham's bosom?

(2) If all the power in a sinner is employed against repentance, then repentance is not easy. All the faculties of a natural man join forces with sin: "I have loved strangers, and after them will I go" (Jer. 2:25). A sinner will rather lose Christ and heaven—than his lusts! Death, which parts man and wife, will not part a wicked man and his sins; and is it so easy to repent? The angel rolled away the stone from the sepulcher—but no angel, only God himself, can roll away the stone from the heart!

3. Another impediment of repentance, is presuming thoughts of God's mercy.

Many suck poison from this sweet flower. Christ who came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) is coincidentally the occasion of many a man's perishing. Though to the elect he is the "bread of life"—yet to the wicked he is "a stone of stumbling" (1 Pet. 2:8). To some his blood is sweet wine—to others the water of Marah. Some are softened by this Sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2), others are hardened. "Oh," says one, "Christ has died; he has done all for me; therefore I may sit still and do nothing." Thus they suck death from the tree of life; and perish by the Savior.

So I may say of God's mercy. It is coincidentally the cause of many a one's ruin. Because of God's mercy, men presume and think they may go on in sin. Should a king's clemency, make his subjects rebel? The psalmist says, "there is mercy with God, that he may be feared" (Psalm 130:4)—but not that we may live in sin. Can men expect God's mercy—by provoking his justice? God will hardly show those mercy who sin, because mercy abounds. "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!" (Romans 6:1-2)

4. The next impediment of repentance, is a slothful sluggish disposition.

Repentance is looked upon as a toilsome thing, and such as requires much industry; and men are settled upon their lees and care not to stir. They had rather go sleeping to hell—than weeping to heaven! "A slothful man hides his hand in his bosom" (Proverbs 19:24); he will not be at the labor of smiting on his breast. Many will rather lose heaven, than ply the oar and row there upon the waters of repentance. We cannot have the world without labor and diligence—and would we have that which is more excellent? Sloth is the cancer of the soul: "slothfulness casts into a deep sleep" (Proverbs 19:15).

It was a witty fiction of the poets, that when Mercury had cast Argus into a sleep and with an enchanted wand closed his eyes, he then killed him. When Satan has by his witcheries lulled men asleep in sloth, then he destroys them. Some report that while the crocodile sleeps with its mouth open, the Indian rat gets into its belly and eats up its entrails. So while men sleep in security they are devoured.

5. The next impediment of repentance, is the bewitching pleasure of sin.

"Who had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess. 2:12) Sin is a sugared draught, mixed with poison. The sinner thinks there is danger in sin—but there is also delight, and the danger does not terrify him as much as the delight bewitches him. Plato calls love of sin, a great devil. Delighting in sin hardens the heart. In true repentance there must be a grieving for sin—but how can one grieve for that which he loves? He who delights in sin, can hardly pray against it. His heart is so bewitched with sin that he is afraid of leaving it too soon. Samson doted on Delilah's beauty—and her lap proved his grave. When a man rolls iniquity as a sugared lump under his tongue, it infatuates him and is his death at last. Delight in sin is a silken halter. Will it not be bitterness in the latter end (2 Sam:2:26)?

6. An opinion that repentance will take away our joy.

But that is a mistake. It does not kill our joy—but refines our joy, and removes the foul lees of sin. What is all earthly joy? It is but a pleasant insanity. Worldly mirth is but like a pretended laugh. It has sorrow following at the heels. Like the magician's rod, it is instantly turned into a serpent; but divine repentance, like Samson's lion, has a honeycomb in it.

God's kingdom consists as well in joy—as in righteousness (Romans 14:17). None are so truly cheerful as penitent ones. The oil of joy is poured chiefly into a broken heart! "He will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning" (Isaiah 61:3). In the fields near Palermo grow a great many reeds in which there is a sweet juice from which sugar is made. Likewise in a penitent heart, which is the bruised reed, grow the sugared joys of God's Spirit. God turns the water of tears into the juice of the grape—which exhilarates and makes glad the heart. Who should rejoice if not the repenting soul? He is heir to all the promises—and is not that matter for joy? God dwells in a contrite heart—and must there not needs be joy there? "I live with those whose spirits are contrite and humble" (Isaiah 57:15). Repentance does not take away a Christian's music—but raises it a note higher and makes it sweeter.

7. Another obstacle to repentance, is despondency of mind.

"It is a vain thing for me," says the sinner, "to set upon repentance; my sins are of that magnitude that there is no hope for me." "Return now everyone from his evil way . . . And they said, There is no hope" (Jer. 18:11,12). Our sins are mountains—and how shall these ever be cast into the sea? Where unbelief represents sin in its bloody colors, and God in his judge's robes—the soul would sooner fly from him than to him. This is dangerous. Our sins need mercy—but despair rejects mercy. It throws the cordial of Christ's blood on the ground. Judas was not damned only for his treason and murder—but it was his distrust of God's mercy that destroyed him. Why should we entertain such hard thoughts of God? He has affections of love to repenting sinners (Joel 2:13). Mercy rejoices over justice. God's anger is not so hot—but mercy can cool it; nor so sharp—but mercy can sweeten it. God counts his mercy his glory (Exod. 33:18,19).

We have some drops of mercy ourselves—but God is "the Father of mercies" (2 Cor. 1:3), who begets all the mercies that are in us. He is the God of tenderness and compassion. No sooner do we mourn—than God's heart melts. No sooner do our tears fall—than God's repentings kindle (Hos. 11:8). Do not say then, that there is no hope. Disband the army of your sins, and God will sound a retreat to his judgments. Remember, great sins have been swallowed up in the sea of God's infinite compassions. Manasseh made the streets run with blood—yet when his head was a fountain of tears, God grew merciful.

8. The next impediment of repentance, is hope of sinning with impunity.

Men flatter themselves in sin, and think that God, having spared them all this while, never intends to punish them. Because the judgment is put off, they think therefore, "surely there will be no judgment". "The wicked say to themselves, God has forgotten; He hides His face and will never see." (Psalm 10:11). The Lord indeed is longsuffering towards sinners and would by his patience allure them to repentance—but here is their wretchedness; because he forbears to punish—they forbear to repent. Know, that the lease of patience will soon run out. There is a time when God will say, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man" (Gen. 6:3). A creditor may forbear his debtor—but forbearance does not excuse the payment. God takes notice how long the hour-glass of his patience has been running: I gave her time to repent, but she would not turn away from her immorality" (Rev. 2:21). Jezebel added impenitence to her immorality, and what followed? "So I will cast her on a bed of suffering" (Rev. 2:22), not a bed of pleasure—but a bed of languishing where she will consume away in her iniquity. The longer God's arrow is drawing, the deeper it will wound! Sins against God's patience will make a man's hell so much the hotter.

9. The next impediment of repentance, is fear of reproach.

"If I repent—I will expose myself to men's scorns." The heathen could say, "when you apply yourself to the study of wisdom, prepare for sarcasms and reproaches." But consider well—who they are, who reproach you. They are such as are ignorant of God and spiritually insane. And are you troubled to have them reproach you, who are insane? Who minds a madman laughing at him? What do the wicked reproach you for? Is it because you repent? You are doing your duty. Bind their reproaches as a crown about your head. It is better that men should reproach you for repenting—than that God should damn you for not repenting! If you cannot bear a reproach for true religion, never call yourself Christian. Luther said, "a Christian is as if a crucified one." Suffering is a saint's badge. And alas, what are reproaches? They are but chips off the cross, which are rather to be despised than laid to heart!

10. The last impediment of repentance, is immoderate love of the world.

No wonder Ezekiel's hearer's were hardened into rebellion—when their hearts went after covetousness (Ezek. 33:31). The world so engrosses men's time and bewitches their affections that they cannot repent. They had rather put gold in their bag—than tears in God's bottle! Many scarcely ever give heed to repentance; they are more for the plough and breaking of clods—than breaking up the fallow ground of their hearts. The thorns choke the Word. We read of those who were invited to Christ's supper who put him off with worldly excuses. "But they all began making excuses. One said he had just bought a field and wanted to inspect it, so he asked to be excused. Another said he had just bought five pair of oxen and wanted to try them out. Another had just been married, so he said he couldn't come." (Luke 14:18-20).

The farm and the shop so take up people's time, that they have no leisure for their souls. Their golden weights hinder their silver tears. There is an herb in the country of Sardinia, like balm, which if they eat much of, will make them die laughing. Such an herb (or rather, weed) is the world, if men eat too immoderately of it. Instead of dying repenting, they will die laughing.

These are the obstructions to repentance which must be removed so that the current may be clearer. In the last place I shall prescribe some rules or means conducive to repentance.

MEANS to Repentance

I. The first means to repentance, is SERIOUS CONSIDERATION.

The first means conducive to repentance, is serious consideration: "I thought on my ways—and turned my feet unto your testimonies" (Psalm 119:59). The prodigal, when he came to himself, seriously considered his riotous luxuries, and then he repented. Peter, when he thought of Christ's words, wept. There are certain things which, if they were well considered of, would be a means to make us break off a course of sinning.

1. Firstly, consider seriously what SIN is, and sure enough there is enough evil in it to make us repent. There are in sin these twenty evils:

(1) Sin is a parting from God. (Jer. 2:5). God is the supreme good, and our blessedness lies in union with him. But sin, like a strong bias, draws away the heart from God. The sinner parts from God. He bids farewell to Christ and mercy. Every step forward in sin, is a step backward from God: "they have forsaken the Lord, they have gone away backward" (Isaiah 1:4). The further one goes from the sun, the nearer he approaches to darkness. The further the soul goes from God, the nearer it approaches to misery.

(2) Sin is a walking contrary to God. (Lev. 26:27). The same word in the Hebrew signifies both to commit sin and to rebel. Sin is God's opposite. If God is of one mind, sin will be of another. Sin strikes at God's very being. If sin could help it, God would no longer be God, "Rid us of the Holy One of Israel!" (Isaiah 30:11). What a horrible thing is this, for a piece of proud dust to rise up in defiance against its Maker!

(3) Sin is an injury to God. It violates his laws. Here is grievous high treason! What greater injury can be offered to a prince—than to trample upon his royal edicts? A sinner offers contempt to the statute laws of heaven: "they cast your law behind their backs" (Neh. 9:26), as if they scorned to look upon it. Sin robs God of his due. You injure a man when you do not give him his due. The soul belongs to God. He lays a double claim to it: it is his by creation and by purchase. Now sin steals the soul from God and gives the devil that which rightly belongs to God.

(4) Sin is profound ignorance. Some say that all sin is founded in ignorance. If men knew God in his purity and justice—they would not dare go on in a course of sinning: "they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, says the Lord" (Jer. 9:3). Therefore ignorance and lust are joined together "As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance" (1 Pet. 1:14). Ignorance is the womb of lust. Vapors arise most in the night. The black vapors of sin arise most in a dark ignorant soul. Satan casts a mist before a sinner—so that he does not see the flaming sword of God's wrath. The eagle first rolls himself in the sand and then flies at the stag, and by fluttering its wings, so bedusts the stag's eyes that it cannot see—and then it strikes it with its talons! So Satan, that eagle or prince of the air, first blinds men with ignorance and then wounds them with his darts of temptation. Is sin ignorance? There is great cause to repent of ignorance.

(5) Sin is hazardous. In every transgression a man runs an apparent hazard of his soul. He treads upon the brink of the bottomless pit! Foolish sinner, you never commit a sin, but you do that which may undo your soul forever. He who drinks poison, it is a wonder if it does not cost him his life. One taste of the forbidden tree lost Adam paradise. One sin of the angels lost them heaven. One sin of Saul lost him his kingdom. The next sin you commit—God may clap you up prisoner among the damned! You who gallop on in sin—it is a question whether God will spare your life a day longer or give you a heart to repent.

(6) Sin besmears with filth. In James 1:21 it is called "filthiness". The Greek word signifies the putrid exudate of ulcers. Sin is called an abomination (Deut. 7:25), indeed, in the plural, abominations (Dent. 20:18). This filthiness in sin is inward. A spot on the face may easily be wiped off—but to have the liver and lungs cancered, is far worse. Such a pollution is sin, it has gotten into mind and conscience (Titus 1:15). It is compared to a menstruous cloth (Isaiah 30:22), the most unclean thing under the law. A sinner's heart is like a field spread with dung. Some think sin is an ornament; it is rather an excrement. Sin so besmears a person with filth—that God cannot abide the sight of him: "My soul loathed them!" (Zech. 11:8).

(7) In sin there is odious ingratitude. God has fed you, O sinner, with angels' food. He has crowned you with a variety of mercies—yet do you go on in sin? As David said of Nabal: "in vain have I kept this man's sheep" (1 Sam. 25:21). Likewise in vain has God done so much for the sinner. All God's mercies may upbraid, yes, accuse, the ungrateful person. God may say, I gave you wit, health, riches, and you have employed all these against me: "I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, and lavished on her the silver and gold—which they used for Baal" (Hos. 2:8). I sent in provisions and they served their idols with them. The snake in the fable which was frozen, stung him who brought it to the fire and gave it warmth. Likewise, a sinner goes about to sting God with his own mercies. "Is this your kindness to your friend?" (2 Sam. 16:17). Did God give you life—to sin? Did he give you wages—to serve the devil?

(8) Sin is a debasing thing. It degrades a person of his honor: "I will make your grave; for you are vile" (Nah. 1:14). This was spoken of a king. He was not vile by birth—but by sin. Sin blots our name, and taints our blood. Nothing so changes a man's glory into shame—as sin. It is said of Naaman, "He was a great man and honorable—but he was a leper" (2 Kings 5:1). Let a man be ever so great with worldly pomp—yet if he be wicked, he is a leper in God's eye. To boast of sin is to boast of that which is our infamy; as if a prisoner should boast of his fetters—or be proud of his halter.

(9) Sin is infinite loss. Never did any thrive by grazing in sin's pasture. What does one lose? He loses God; he loses his peace; he loses his soul. The soul is a divine spark lighted from heaven; it is the glory of creation. And what can countervail this loss (Matt. 16:26)? If the soul is gone, the treasure is gone; therefore in sin there is infinite loss. Sin is such a trade, that whoever follows it is sure to be ruined.

(10) Sin is a burden. "My iniquities have gone over my head—as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me" (Psalm 38:4). The sinner goes with his weights and fetters on him. The burden of sin is always worst—when it is least felt. Sin is a burden wherever it comes. Sin burdens God: "I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves" (Amos 2:13). Sin burdens the soul. What a weight did did the apostate Spira feel! How was the conscience of Judas burdened, so much so that he hanged himself to quiet his conscience! Those who know what sin is, will repent that they carry such a burden.

(11) Sin is a debt. It is compared to a debt of millions (Matt. 18:24). Of all the debts we owe, our sins are the worst. With other debts a sinner may flee to foreign countries—but with sin he cannot. "Where shall I flee from your presence?" (Psalm 139:7). God knows where to find out all his debtors. Death frees a man from other debts—but it will not free him from his debt of sin. It is not the death of the debtor, but of the creditor—which discharges this debt.

(12) There is deceitfulness in sin. "The deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:13). "The wicked works a deceitful work" (Proverbs 11:18). Sin is a mere cheat. While it pretends to please us, it beguiles us! Sin does as Jael did. First she brought the milk and butter to Sisera, then she pounded the tent peg through his head, so that he died (Judg. 5:26). Sin first courts, and then kills. It is first a fox, and then a lion. Whoever sin betrays—it kills. Those locusts in Revelation are perfect emblems of sin: "They had gold crowns on their heads . . . They had tails that stung like scorpions, with power to torture people" (Rev. 9:7-10). Sin is like the usurer who feeds a man with money and then makes him mortgage his land. Sin feeds the sinner with delightful objects and then makes him mortgage his soul. Judas pleased himself with the thirty pieces of silver—but they proved deceitful riches. Ask him now, how he likes his bargain.

(13) Sin is a spiritual sickness. One man is sick with pride, another with lust, another with malice. It is with a sinner as it is with a sick patient: his palate is distempered, and the sweetest things taste bitter to him. So the Word of God, which is sweeter than the honeycomb, tastes bitter to a sinner: "They put sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5:20). And if sin be a disease it is not to be nourished—but rather cured by repentance.

(14) Sin is a bondage. It binds a man to the devil as his slave. Of all conditions, servitude is the worst. Every man is held with the cords of his own sin. "I was held before conversion," said Augustine, "not with an iron chain—but with the obstinacy of my will." Sin is imperious and tyrannical. It is called a law (Romans 8:2) because it has such a binding power over a man. The sinner must do as sin will have him. He does not so much enjoy his lusts—as serve them, and he will have work enough to do to gratify them all. "I have seen princes going on foot" (Eccles. 10:7); the soul, that princely thing, which once was crowned with knowledge and holiness—is now made a lackey to sin and runs the devil's errand!

(15) Sin has a spreading malignity in it. It does hurt not only to a man's self—but to others. One man's sin may occasion many to sin. One man may help to defile many. A person who has the plague, going into company, does not know how many will be infected with the plague by him. You who are guilty of open sins, know not how many have been infected by you. There may be many, for anything you know, now in hell, crying out that they would never have come there—if it had not been for your bad example!

(16) Sin is a vexatious thing. It brings trouble with it. The curse which God laid upon the woman is most truly laid upon every sinner: "in sorrow you shall bring forth" (Gen. 3:16). A man vexes his thoughts with plotting sin, and when sin has conceived, in sorrow he brings forth. Like one who takes a great deal of pain to open a floodgate, when he has opened it, the flood comes in upon him and drowns him! So a man beats his brains to contrive sin, and then it vexes his conscience, brings trouble to his estate, rots the wall and timber of his house (Zech. 5:4).

(17) Sin is a foolish thing. What greater foolishness is there, than to gratify an enemy! Sin gratifies Satan. When lust or anger burn in the soul—Satan warms himself at the fire! Men's sins feast the devil. Samson was called out to amuse the Philistines (Judg. 16:25). Likewise the sinner amuses the devil! Nothing more satisfies him—than to see men sin. How he laughs to see them hazarding their souls for the world, as if one would trade diamonds for straws; or would fish for gudgeons with golden hooks! Every wicked man shall be indicted as a fool, at the day of judgment. "But God said to him—You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" Luke 12:20

(18) There is cruelty in every sin. With every sin you commit—you give a stab to your soul. While you are kind to sin—you are cruel to yourself, like the lunatic man in the Gospel who would cry out and cut himself with stones (Mark 5:5). The sinner is like the jailer—who drew a sword to kill himself (Acts 16:27). The soul may cry out, "I am being murdered!" Naturalists say the hawk chooses to drink blood, rather than water. So sin drinks the blood of souls.

(19) Sin is a spiritual death. "Dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). The life of sin—is the death of the soul. A dead man has no sense. So an unregenerate person has no sense of God. "Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more." (Eph. 4:19). Try to persuade him to mind his salvation. To what purpose do you make orations to a dead man? Go to reprove him for vice? To what purpose do you strike a dead man?

He who is dead has no taste. Set a banquet before him, and he does not relish it. Likewise a sinner tastes no sweetness in Christ, or in precious Scripture promises. They are but as cordials in a dead man's mouth!

The dead putrefy; and if Martha said of Lazarus, "by now the smell will be terrible because he has been dead for four days" (John 11:39). How much more may we say of a wicked man, who has been dead in sin for thirty or forty years, "by now the smell will be terrible!"

(20) Sin without repentance, will bring to final damnation. As the rose perishes by the canker which breed in itself—so do men perish by the corruptions which breed in their souls. What was once said to the Grecians of the Trojan horse, "This engine is made to be the destruction of your city!" the same may be said to every impenitent person, "This engine of sin will be the destruction of your soul!" Sin's last scene is always tragic. Diagoras Florentinus would drink poison in a frolic—but it cost him his life. Men drink the poison of sin in a merriment—but it costs them their souls! "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23 ). What Solomon said of wine may also be said of sin: at first "it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a poisonous serpent; it stings like a viper!" (Proverbs 23:31-32). Christ tell us of the worm and the fire (Mark 9:48).

Sin is like oil, and God's wrath is like fire. As long as the damned continue sinning, so the fire will continue scorching! "Who of us can dwell with everlasting burnings?" (Isaiah 33:14). "They cursed the God of heaven for their pains and sores. But they refused to repent of all their evil deeds!" (Revelation 16:11)

But men question the truth of this and are like impious Devonax who, being threatened with hell for his villainies, mocked at it and said, "I will believe there is a hell when I come there, and not before!" We cannot make hell enter into men—until they enter into hell.

Thus we have seen the deadly evil in sin which, seriously considered, may make us repent and turn to God. If, for all this, men will persist in sin and are resolved upon a voyage to hell—who can hinder their damnation? They have been told what a soul-damning rock sin is—but if they will voluntarily run upon it and damn themselves—their blood is upon their own head!

II. The second serious consideration to work repentance, is to consider the MERCIES of God. A stone is soonest broken upon a soft pillow, and a heart of stone is soonest broken upon the soft pillow of God's mercies. "The goodness of God leads you to repentance" (Romans 2:4). The clemency of a prince sooner causes relenting in a malefactor. While God has been storming others by his judgments—he has been wooing you by his mercies.

(1) What preventative mercies have we had? What troubles have been prevented, what fears blown over? When our foot has been slipping, God's mercy has held us up! (Psalm 94:18). His mercy has always been a screen between us and danger. When enemies like lions have risen up against us to devour us—free grace has snatched us out of the mouth of these lions! In the deepest waves the arm of mercy has upheld us—and has kept our head above water. And will not all of God's preventative mercies lead us to repentance?

(2) What positive mercies have we had! Firstly, in supplying mercy. God has been a bountiful benefactor, "the God who fed me all my life long unto this day" (Gen. 48:15). What man will spread a table for his enemy? We have been enemies—yet God has fed us! He has given us the horn of oil. He has made the honeycomb of mercy drop on us. God has been as kind to us—as if we had been his best servants. And will not this supplying mercy lead us to repentance?

Secondly, in delivering mercy. When we have been at the gates of the grave, God has miraculously preserved our lives. He has turned the shadow of death into morning, and has put a song of deliverance into our mouth. And will not delivering mercy lead us to repentance?

The Lord has labored to break our hearts with his mercies. In Judges, chapter 2, we read that when the angel had preached a sermon of mercy, "the people wept loudly." If anything will move tears, it should be the mercy of God. He is an obstinate sinner indeed—whom these great cable-ropes of God's mercy will not draw to repentance!

III. The third serious consideration to work repentance, is to consider God's AFFLICTIVE providences. God has sent us in recent years to the school of affliction. He has twisted his judgments together. He has made good upon us, those two threatenings, "I will be to Ephraim as a moth" (Hos. 5:12). Has not God been so to England in the decay of trading? And "I will be unto Ephraim as a lion" (Hos. 5:14) has he not been so to England in the devouring plague? All this while God waited for our repentance. But we went on in sin: "I hearkened and heard—but no man repented of his wickedness, saying, What have I done?" (Jer. 8:6).

And of late, God has been whipping us with a fiery rod in those tremendous flames of the great fire of London—which is emblematic of the great conflagration at the last day when "the elements shall melt with fervent heat" (2 Pet. 3:10). When Joab's grain was on fire—then he went running to Absalom (2 Sam. 14:31). God has set our houses on fire—that we may run to him in repentance. "The Lord's voice cries unto the city: "Hear the rod—and him who has appointed it!" (Mic. 6:9). This is the language of the rod—that we should humble ourselves under God's mighty hand and "break off our sins by righteousness" (Dan. 4:27). Manasseh's affliction ushered in repentance (2 Chron. 33:12).

God uses affliction ,as the proper medicine for carnal security. "Their mother has played the harlot" (Hos. 2:5), by idolatry. What course now will God take with her? "Therefore I will hedge up your way with thorns" (Hos. 2:6). This is God's method, to set a thorn-hedge of affliction in the way. Thus to a proud man—contempt is a thorn. To a lustful man—sickness is a thorn, both to stop him in his sin and to goad him forward in repentance. The Lord teaches his people as Gideon did the men of Succoth: "Gideon taught them a lesson, punishing them with thorns and briers from the wilderness" (Judg. 8:16). Here was a sharp lesson. Likewise God has of late been teaching us humiliation, by thorny providences. He has torn our golden fleece from us; he has brought our houses low—that he might bring our hearts low. When shall we dissolve into tears—if not now?

God's judgments are so proper a means to work repentance that the Lord wonders at it, and makes it his complaint that his severity did not break men off from their sins: "I kept the rain from falling when you needed it the most, ruining all your crops." (Amos 4:7). "I struck your farms and vineyards with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured all your fig and olive trees." (Amos 4:9). "I sent plagues against you like the plagues I sent against Egypt long ago. I killed your young men in war and slaughtered all your horses. The stench of death filled the air!" (Amos 4:10). But still this is the theme of God's complaint, "Yet you have not returned to me!"

The Lord proceeds gradually in his judgments. First he sends a lesser trial—and if that will not do, then a greater one. He sends upon one a gentle illness to begin with—and afterwards a burning fever. He sends upon another a loss at sea—then the loss of a child—then a loss of a husband. Thus by degrees he tries to bring men to repentance.

Sometimes God makes his judgments go in circuit—from family to family. The cup of affliction has gone round the nation; all have tasted it. And if we repent not now, we stand in contempt of God, and by implication we bid God do his worst! Such an epitome of wickedness, will hardly be pardoned. "The Lord, the Lord Almighty, called you to weep and mourn. He told you to shave your heads in sorrow for your sins and to wear clothes of sackcloth to show your remorse. But instead, you dance and play; you feast on meat, and drink wine. 'Let's eat, drink, and be merry,' you say. The Lord Almighty has revealed to me that this sin will never be forgiven you until the day you die! That is the judgment of the Lord, the Lord Almighty!" (Isaiah 22:12-14). That is, this sin shall not be expiated by sacrifice.

If the Romans severely punished a young man who in a time of public calamity was seen sporting—of how much sorer punishment shall they be thought worthy, who strengthen themselves in wickedness and laugh in the very face of God's judgments! The heathen mariners in a storm repented (Jon 1:14). Not to repent now and throw our sins overboard is to be worse than heathens.

IV. The fourth serious consideration to work repentance, is to consider how much we shall have to answer for at last—if we do not repent. How many prayers, counsels, and admonitions will be put upon the account book. Every sermon will come in as an indictment. As for such as have truly repented, Christ will answer for them. His blood will wash away their sins. The mantle of free grace will cover them. "In those days, search will be made for Israel's guilt—but there will be none; and for the sins of Judah—but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare" (Jer. 50:20). Those who have judged themselves in the lower court of conscience shall be acquitted in the High Court of heaven. But if we do not repent—our sins must be all accounted for at the last day, and we must answer for them in our own persons, with no counsel allowed to plead for us.

O impenitent sinner, think with yourself now, how you will be able to look your infallible Judge in the face! You have a damned cause to plead and will be sure to be damned on the day of judgment! "What could I do when God stands up to judge? How should I answer Him when He calls me to account?" (Job 31:14). Therefore, either repent now, or else provide your answers and see what defense you can make for yourselves when you come before God's dread tribunal. When de calls you to account—how will you answer him!

II. The second means to repentance, is a PRUDENT COMPARISON.

Compare penitent and impenitent conditions together—and see the difference. Spread them before your eyes and by the light of the Word—see the impenitent condition as most deplorable—and the penitent as most comfortable. How sad was it with the prodigal before he returned to his father! He had spent all; he had sinned himself into beggary, and had nothing left but a few husks! He was fellow inhabitant with the swine! But when he came home to his father, nothing was thought too good for him. The robe was brought forth to cover him, the ring to adorn him, and the fatted calf to feast him. If the sinner continues in his impenitency, then farewell Christ and mercy and heaven! But if he repents, then presently he has a heaven within him. Then Christ is his, then all is peace. He may sing a song to his soul and say, "soul, you have enough stored away for years to come. Eat, drink, and be merry!" (Luke 12:19).

Upon our turning to God, we have more restored to us in Christ—than ever was lost in Adam. God says to the repenting soul, "I will clothe you with the robe of righteousness; I will enrich you with the jewels and graces of my Spirit. I will bestow my love upon you! I will give you a kingdom! Son, all I have is yours!"

O my friends, do but compare your estate before repentance and after repentance together. Before your repenting, there were nothing but clouds and storms to be seen—clouds in God's face and storms in conscience. But after repenting how is the weather altered! What sunshine above! What serene calmness within! A Christian's soul is like the hill Olympus—all light and clear, and no winds blowing!

III. A third means conducive to repentance, is a SETTLED DETERMINATION to leave sin. Not a faint wish—but a resolved vow. "I have sworn that I will keep your righteous judgments" (Psalm 119:106). "All the delights and artifices of sin, shall not make me break my vow!" There must be no hesitation, no consulting with flesh and blood, "Had I best leave my sin—or not?" But as Ephraim, "What have I to do any more with idols!" (Hos:14:8). I will be deceived no more by my sins! I will no longer fooled by Satan! This day I will put a bill of divorce into the hands of my lusts! Until we come to this settled resolution, sin will gain ground of us—and we shall never be able to shake off this viper! It is no wonder that he who is not resolved to be an enemy of sin—is conquered by it.

This resolution must be built upon the strength of Christ more than our own. It must be a humble resolution. As David, when he went against Goliath put off his presumptuous self-confidence, as well as his armor, "I come to you in the name of the Lord" (1 Sam. 17:45) so we must go out against our Goliath lusts—in the strength of Christ! Being conscious of our own inability to leave sin, let us get Christ to be bind with us, and engage his strength for the mortifying of corruption!

IV. The fourth means conducive to repentance, is earnest PRAYER. The heathens laid one of their hands on the plough—and the other they lifted up to Ceres, the goddess of corn. So when we have used the means, let us look up to God for a blessing. Pray to him for a repenting heart: "You, Lord, who bid me repent—give me grace to repent". Pray that our hearts may be holy stills, dropping tears. Beg of Christ to give to us such a look of love as he did to Peter, which made him go out and weep bitterly. Implore the help of God's Spirit. It is the Spirit's smiting on the rock of our hearts—which makes the waters gush out! "He causes his wind to blow—and the waters to flow" (Psalm 147:18). When the wind of God's Spirit blows—then the water of tears will flow.

There is good reason we should go to God for repentance:

(1) Because repentance is God's gift: "God has granted even the Gentiles, repentance unto life." (Acts 11:18). The Arminians hold that it is in our power to repent. True—we can harden our hearts—but we cannot soften them. This crown of freewill has fallen from our head! Nay, there is in us not only impotency—but obstinacy! (Acts 7:51). Therefore beg of God a repentant spirit. He alone can make the stony to heart bleed! His is a word of creative power.

(2) We must have recourse to God for blessing because he has promised to bestow it. "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:25-26). I will soften your adamant hearts—in my Son's blood! Show God his hand and seal.

Here is another gracious promise: "They shall return unto me with their whole heart" (Jer. 24:7). Turn this promise into a prayer: "Lord, give me grace to return unto you with my whole heart!"

V. The fifth means conducive to repentance, is endeavor after clearer discoveries of GOD. "I had heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes! Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes!" (Job 42:5 6). Job, having surveyed God's glory and purity—as a humble penitent, he abhorred himself. By looking into the clear looking-glass of God's holiness—we see our own blemishes and so learn to bewail them.

VI. Lastly, we should labor for FAITH. But what is faith to repentance? Faith breeds union with Christ, and there can be no separation from sin, until there is union with Christ. The eye of faith looks on God's mercy—and that thaws the frozen heart! Faith carries us to Christ's blood, and that blood mollifies the hard heart! Faith persuades of the love of God, and that love sets us a-weeping!

Thus I have laid down the means or helps to repentance. What remains now—but that we set upon the work. And let us be in earnest—not as actors, but as warriors. I will conclude all, with the words of the psalmist: "He who goes out weeping—will return with songs of joy!" (Psalm 126:6).

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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