Arthur W. Pink
A. Repentance, then, presupposes, first, a recognition and acknowledgment of God's claims upon us as our Creator, Governor, Provider, and Protector. Because God is who and what He is, namely the Sum and Source of all moral and spiritual excellency, and because of our relation to Him as creatures completely dependent upon Him, He is infinitely entitled to be loved with all our hearts, worshiped with fullest adoration, and served with joyous, perfect, and unremitting obedience. Until there is at least some measure of a clear and definite (we do not say full) recognition of this, the mind is yet under the blinding power of Satan (II Cor. 4:4) and the heart is yet alienated from God (Eph. 4:18). Thus, repentance necessarily presupposes regeneration, in which the favored soul is “given an understanding that we may know him that is true” (I John 5:20). The first evidence that this supernatural enlightenment has been given, is the inward apprehension of God's excellency and supremacy, accompanied by a horrified consciousness of how dreadfully I have failed, all through my life, to give Him His rightful place in my heart and life.
B. In the second place, true repentance presupposes a hearty approval of God's law and a full consent to its righteous requirements. “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12): it cannot be otherwise, for God is its Author, and nothing unholy, unjust, or evil, could ever proceed from Him. It therefore follows that such a law can never be altered or repealed. Those who affirm that the law of God has been abolished cast the greatest reproach upon all the perfections of the divine character. Upon His holiness, whereby He loves the right and hates the wrong: for a repeal of the law would suppose God releasing His creatures from doing right and allowing them to do wrong. Upon His justice, whereby He gives to everyone his due: supposing Him to rescind His righteous claims. Upon His immutability: supposing Him to have been in one mind in the past, and another in the present. Upon His goodness: supposing Him to have canceled that which was designed for our highest well being.
If the reader will only make a determined effort to grasp the fact that the requirements of God's law are all summed up in “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart . . .” (Deut. 6:5), he ought to have no difficulty in perceiving how frightful is the teaching that the law has been abrogated. Men must indeed have strange conceptions of divine grace and of the gospel, if they suppose that God is now demanding something other or something less than the supreme place in men's affections and lives. Do they think for a moment that in Old Testament times God was asking for more love than was His due? Do they imagine that God does not now deserve as much love as He once did? Such a thought would be the most awful blasphemy. Or, do they suppose that God has relinquished His rights and now freely allows His creatures to despise Him? that He has made a concession to their evil hearts by lowering His standard? Is not the real source of opposition to God's law the “enmity of the carnal mind” (Rom. 8:7)?!
Perhaps the reader is inclined to reply, But did not Christ come here to fulfill the law for us, and does not His obedience free us from its demands? Pause, dear friend, and weigh well such a question, and endeavor to see what such a concept plainly involves. Surely you do not mean that the Son of God became incarnate for the purpose of procuring an abatement of the law, or to purchase lawless liberty for His rebellious subjects. What! Could He esteem His Father's interest and glory, the honor of His law and government, so lightly? Did He shed His precious blood so as to persuade the great Governor of the world to slacken the reigns of government and grant an impious license to lawlessness? Perish the thought. Such a terrible concept would make the ineffably holy Christ the enemy of God and the friend of sin.
So far from the Son coming to earth for such a purpose, He expressly declared, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17-18). If the verses which follow this quotation be carefully pondered, it will be seen that our Lord denounced the Pharisees because they had, by their own traditions and inventions, nullified God's law: while allowing that it condemned some external and gross acts of sin, they denied that it reprehended the first strivings of corruption in the heart. Therefore did Christ say, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).
That the law of God was never to be repealed is taught again and again in Psalm 119: “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness and thy law is the truth. . . . The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting . . . Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them forever. . . . Thy Word is true from the beginning, and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth forever” (vv. 142, 144, 152, 160). It was as though the psalmist said, “The duty required by Thy law is right and good, everlastingly right and good; and therefore, as Governor of the world, Thou hast by law forever settled and established it as duty and law never to be altered, but to endure forever and forever; therefore, will it endure.”
So far from Christ having died to disannul the law, so that now it wholly ceases to be a rule of life to believers, one great and declared design of His coming into the world was to recover His people unto a conformity thereto (see Titus 2:11-13). O how men love their corruptions and hate God's law, desiring to have it cashiered so that they may live as they please, and yet escape the reproaches of their consciences here and eternal punishment hereafter. But God “sitteth King for ever” (Ps. 29:10) and will assert the rights of His crown, maintain the honor of His majesty and the glory of His great name, and vindicate His injured law. He shall yet say, “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay before me” (Luke 19:27).
Herein we may see plainly the imperative and absolute need for regeneration, if ever a fallen creature is to be won to God and a defiant rebel transformed into a loving subject. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7)—such is the terrible condition of every man and woman by nature. Nothing but the supernatural operation of the almighty Spirit of God can produce a change of heart, so that one can truthfully say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man” (Rom. 7:22). But such teaching as this never has been and never will be popular in the world. The false prophets who cry, “Peace, peace,” will be loved, but they who press the high and unchanging claims of a righteous God will be hated and denounced as “legalists,” and much more.
Christ came into this world and died to answer all the demands of the law, and this, not only that sinners might be saved, but also that the law itself might be the more firmly “established,” i.e., in the consciences and hearts of the redeemed. Therefore did the apostle write, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Rom. 3:31). In this very Epistle of the Romans the apostle, moved by the Holy Spirit, lays it down as a first principle that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). From this premise, he goes on to prove that “now we know that what thing soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (3:19). But is it not clear as a sunbeam that if the law had been repealed at the cross that none could stand “guilty” before God, for “sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Rom. 5:13)!
If the law were repealed, what need was there for such a long train of argument to prove that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (3:20)? In such case, it had been quite sufficient to say that a repealed law could neither justify nor condemn anybody. Instead, the apostle shows that the law requires a “patient continuance in well doing” and threatens “tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil” (Rom. 2:5, 7). This shows that both Jews and Gentiles have sinned and, therefore, are condemned by the law—brought in guilty— and so the apostle draws the inevitable conclusion that none can be cleared or justified by the law. Is it not obvious, then, that all this inspired reasoning supposes that the law is as much enforced as ever? Accordingly he goes on to show Christ's death answered the demands of the law, and that, not to make it void, but to “establish” it.
Hence it is that we find the New Testament Scriptures uniformly speak of those who have no saving interest in Christ's righteousness by faith, as being as much under the wrath of God and the curse of the law as though He had never died. As we have seen, Romans 1:18 declares, “The wrath of God is [not “was”] revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Again, in Galatians 3:10 we are told, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written: Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (compare II Thess. 1:7-9). But if the law had been repealed by the death of Christ, then all the world would have been freed from the curse, for a repealed law can neither bless the righteous nor curse the wicked!
Therefore it is we find that when Christless sinners are really awakened by the Holy Spirit to see and feel what a dreadful state they are in, they are always convinced that they are under the wrath of God and the curse of His law: see Romans 7:9-11, and thereby are they made to understand their dire need of a Saviour. But how could the Holy Spirit use the law if it had been repealed? And what of those who are never awakened and convicted by the Spirit, and who continue to despise the claims of God and flout His holy law? Ah, they shall find that after their hardness and impenitent heart they have but treasured up unto themselves “wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5).
God the Father, as the Governor of the world, gave the law. God the Son magnified it (Isa. 42:21) by expounding its purity, by obeying its precepts, by enduring its penalty. God the Holy Spirit honors the law by pressing upon the sinner its holy demands, and using it as a “schoolmaster” to bring him to Christ (Gal. 3:24). It is the special work of the Third Person of the Trinity to communicate unto each of the elect a sense of the infinite glory of God, the equity of His law, and the righteousness of His claims upon them. He begets within them a disposition which conforms them unto the discharge of their duties, and this He does by putting the law into their minds and writing it in their hearts (Heb. 8:10). In this way it becomes their very nature to love God with all their heart so that they “might serve him without (servile) fear in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life” (Luke 1:74-75). Thus do both the Son and the Spirit honor the Father as Supreme Governor, and join in the same design to discountenance sin, humble the sinner, magnify the law, and glorify grace.
But this enforcing of the infinite glory of God, of His governmental supremacy, of His holy law, of His righteous claims, of His demand for loving obedience and an implicit compliance with all His commands, is what is left out of every false religion in the world. And today there are, perhaps, as many false religions inside of Christendom as there are outside—denials of the Truth, perversions of the Truth, half-truths twisted and mangled, lawlessness proclaimed under the pretense of exalting grace. “Pretense” we say, for God's grace never reigns at the expense of righteousness but “through righteousness” (Rom. 5:21). Divine grace teaches us that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:13). It is the ministers of Satan, “deceitful workers” (II Cor. 11:13), who are now by their one-sided teaching causing many to “turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness” (Jude 4).
Here, then, is the explanation why true repentance is so little preached today. The sense of God's governmental supremacy has been lost, the claims of His righteousness are ignored, the unchanging demands of His holy law are no longer recognized, hence, the unregenerate, not knowing God, having no sense of His infinite glory, and there being practically nothing in present-day preaching to instruct them therein, it follows that all their fancied reverence for and devotion to God takes its rise from merely selfish considerations, nothing but self-love (the natural instinct of self-preservation) lying at the bottom of modern “Christianity.” As it is natural for unregenerate men to suppose they deserve something for their duties, so it is natural for them to be insensible of the infinite evil of their sins. And hence it is that new gospels are invented, new notions of “the way of salvation” are contrived, to suit the depraved taste of unhumbled and impenitent sinners, who are concerned about their own interests and care not what becomes of God's glory.
C. In the third place, true repentance presupposes a frank and broken-hearted acknowledgment of our wicked failure to keep God's righteous law. When the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of a sinner to see, in some measure, the supreme excellency and loveliness of the divine character, and shows him how infinitely worthy God is of our sincere adoration: when He assures us of the righteousness and goodness of God's law, and how justly He is entitled to be loved by us with all our hearts; and when He convicts us of our wretched and lifelong failure to respond unto His most just claims upon us; when He makes us feel that so far from having delighted ourselves in this infinitely glorious God, we have sought to dismiss Him from our thoughts, and set our hearts upon the perishing things of time and sense, seeking our satisfaction in them; and that so far from having owned His rightful supremacy over us and His just claim for our lives to be governed by Him, we have scorned His authority, ignored His commandments, and acted only in self-will—then it is, for the first time, we begin to perceive the infinite evil of sin, and are filled with self-loathing, horror, and grief at our terrible course of conduct.
What we have just endeavored to set forth is as different from what the strivings of an uneasy conscience produces as light is from darkness. One who has never been the subject of the supernatural and gracious operations of the Spirit may blame himself for sabbath-breaking, taking the Lord's name in vain, lying, drunkenness, who has never felt himself to blame for being disaffected to the divine character. Even the wicked king Saul once acknowledged, “I have sinned, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly” (I Sam. 26:21). So has many another since then, who was yet altogether blind to the chief thing wherein he was to blame. While men are ignorant of the beauty of God's character, of how absolutely worthy He is of being loved; while they perceive not the equity and blessedness of His law, of how absolutely entitled it is to implicit, unremitting, and joyous obedience; it is impossible that they should repent because of their failure to render this to Him.
Just as the absence of love to God, together with disaffection to His holy character, lies at the root of and influences the whole course of wickedness which mankind generally live in, so when Scripture calls upon men to repent of particular sins and turn to God, it is their lack of love for God and their enmity against His law, as manifested in and by their particular sins, which they are required to repent of. There is no sin whatsoever that any man is guilty of, but what it proceeds from a disrespect of God's character and a disregard of His authority. Thus it was said of David's sin that he not only had “despised the commandment of the Lord,” but had “despised me,” the Lord (II Sam. 12:9-10). Therefore in repentance we are required not only to judge our particular sins, but also that insubordination to God which produced them: we are to unsparingly and bitterly condemn ourselves because we have treated the Lord of glory, the King of the universe, with contempt. That is the crime for which we are, above all things else, to blame. Not until we have realized that our rebellion against God was such that nothing but the death of Christ could possibly atone for it, have we truly repented.
Thus, genuine and saving repentance is a taking side with God against myself. It is not that our repentance expiates our sins, for there is nothing meritorious about it. It makes no amends for our past vile conduct, nor does it move God to mercy. Yet is repentance required, yea demanded of us, and divine mercy is not shown where no repentance is. No, repentance is designed to make the heart loathe sin, and that through a deep sense of its infinite enormity and dreadful pollution; it is to make us dread sin through a heart-realization of its awful guilt. Only thus is the stubborn will broken and the heart made contrite and prepared to turn unto the Lord Jesus and seek salvation through Him by grace alone.
D. There are three kinds of repentance spoken of in Scripture. First, that of desperation: Esau, Pharaoh, Ahithophel, and Judas are illustrations. Second, that of reformation: Ahab's and that which was brought about under the preaching of Jonah, are illustrations. Third, that which is unto salvation: Acts 11:18; II Corinthians 7:10. It is most important that we learn to discriminate between legal conviction and evangelical repentance. Multitudes are deceived at this point: they suppose that because they have been terrified through contemplating the wrath to come and have abandoned many of their evil ways, they have repented. This by no means follows. A legal conviction fears hell, evangelical repentance reveres God: the one dreads punishment, the other hates sin; the one informs the mind, the other melts the heart. Evangelical repentance makes no excuses and has no reserves, but cries, “I have dishonored Thy name, grieved Thy Spirit, abused Thy patience.”
When a sinner is brought to truly realize that he is in great danger, he earnestly desires and diligently seeks deliverance, but that is from the natural instinct of self-preservation, and not because of supernatural grace at work in his heart. Tell him that nothing is required from him except to believe in Christ, rest on His finished work, and like a stony-ground hearer he at once receives the Word with joy, and no human being can make him doubt his salvation. Yet his heart has never been broken before God, nor has he any true love for Him. Such people mend their ways and become quite zealous religionists. They pray earnestly, read the Bible frequently, and sometimes become active workers in warning their fellows. But tell such that notwithstanding their tears, zeal, and believing the letter of Scripture, they deserve to be damned as much as ever they did, and that God can justly refuse them mercy, and their enmity against Him is likely to become swiftly apparent.
Thousands of deceived souls in Christendom, deluded by the false gospellers of the day, love a God who has no existence except in their own disordered imaginations. And terrible beyond words will be their disillusionment in the next world.
While God be considered merely as creditor and sinners as debtors and Christ is regarded as paying the whole debt of all who believe, it cannot but be that souls will be fatally misled. Because Christ obeyed the law as well as suffered its penalty, it by no means follows that we are discharged from doing our duty. Yet, it is now being taught on every side that Christ has done all, and that there is nothing to do but firmly believe in Him, that Christians have nothing to do with the law—no, not as a rule of life—that they have been freed from all obligations to any duty. But Scripture affirms that Christ died to “purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14), and that so far from the Christian being discharged from duty, his obligations are immeasurably increased by the grace of the gospel (Rom. 12:1). But everything is viewed in a false light today, and instead of Christ being regarded as the Friend of holiness, He is made the Minister of sin.
Would that such faithful sermons were being preached in the so-called orthodox and fundamentalist pulpits today.