by John Colquhoun
WHEN JOHN THE BAPTIST SAW MANY OF THE PHARISEES and Sadducees coming to his Baptism, he said to them, ‘Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.’1 What he styles fruits the apostle Paul calls works, meet for repentance.2 The fruits of true repentance, then, are in general the good works which every evangelical penitent endeavours, through grace, diligently to perform; the spiritual and acceptable works, or ‘fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.’ They are styled fruits, and fruits of repentance, for they spring from the incorruptible seed of evangelical repentance in the heart, implanted there at regeneration. Such works, are ‘fruits meet for repentance.’ They are suitable to it, and they evince the genuineness of it. As a tree is known by its fruit, so repentance is known by good works. These are effects of it, and therefore are proofs or evidences to men of the sincerity of it. The root of true repentance is in the heart. But in vain does a man pretend to have it there, if the fruit of spiritual exercises and of holy performances does not appear in the life. Even though Cain’s terror, Pharaoh’s fair promises, Ahab’s humiliation, Herod’s reverencing the prophet, hearing him gladly, and doing many things, Judas’ confession, the stony-ground hearers’ joy, the tongues of men and of angels, the gifts of miracles and of prophecy, and the knowledge of all mysteries, were all concentrated in one man, they would not prove him to be a true penitent. Nothing can evince this except the genuine fruits of evangelical repentance. The chief of these I shall now consider briefly, under the following particulars:
1. Carefulness or vigilance is one of the fruits of it. ‘Behold,’ said the apostle to the Corinthians, ‘this self-same thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you!’3 The exercise of their godly sorrow produced in them a holy thoughtfulness and care to comply with the apostle’s injunctions with respect to the incestuous person, and to approve themselves to God by rectifying what was amiss. It rendered them careful to remove him from visible communion with them, of which they had been negligent before, and to sin after this fashion no more; and solicitous also to perform good works in general, as well as not to displease the Lord. Carefulness about the one thing needful, that good part which shall not be taken away, is both a fruit and an evidence of evangelical repentance. The true penitent is careful to keep himself from his iniquity, and to ‘walk worthy of the Lord to all pleasing.’
2. Another of the fruits of true repentance is the penitent’s clearing of himself. Our apostle, in the passage already cited, adds, ‘Yea, what clearing of yourselves!’ as if he had said, ‘Your godly sorrow influenced you to take such measures with respect to the incestuous person, as might furnish a plea against any accusation of connivance with him in his guilt’. The believers in Corinth cleared themselves, not by denying the fact, or defending it, but by confessing their culpable neglect, declaring that they did not approve of the sin, but abhorred it, and that they complied willingly with the apostle’s directions. Every sincere penitent, by relying only on the surety-righteousness of Jesus Christ for his title to the justification of life, clears himself in the sight of God from all the guilt of his own sins;4 and by refusing to countenance sinful principles and practices around him, he clears himself from being partaker of other men’s sins. He studies also to clear his character from slanderous imputations of evil, or even of doubtful conduct.
3. Holy indignation against sin is a fruit and evidence of evangelical repentance. The apostle in the fore-cited passage adds, ‘Yea, what indignation!’ The godly sorrow of the saints in Corinth raised in their souls a holy indignation, a lively resentment, against their own iniquities, and against the sin of that delinquent who had publicly dishonoured the name of Christ, and had both defiled and troubled the church. It excited indignation in them, not against the person of the offender, but against his heinous sin, and not his only, but their own also, in not excluding him from their communion sooner. The heart of every true penitent is filled with indignation against his iniquities, as striking immediately against the honour of his God and Saviour.5 Godly sorrow for sin makes the heart of the penitent rise and swell with indignation at sin, and at himself as a sinner. The more he is enabled to trust that God for Christ’s sake forgives him, the less able is he to forgive himself. He is angry and sins not, when he is angry at nothing but sin, and angry with himself only because he has sinned.
4. Another consequence and evidence of true repentance, according to the apostle, is fear, a filial and reverential fear of God, which causes the soul to stand in awe of God, and holds it back from that which would offend and dishonour Him.6 The penitential sorrow of the Corinthians wrought in them, not a slavish fear of hell, but a filial fear of God; a fear of sinning against Him, and of grieving His Spirit and His ministers; a fear lest, as the apostle had suggested, the contagion should spread in the church; a jealous and cautious fear, lest any accursed thing should still be found with them, or lest, by the force of temptation, they should fall into a similar or any other abomination, to provoke the Lord to anger. The true penitent fears lest he offend; and that he may not offend, he exercises a holy and filial fear of God, and a humble and jealous fear of himself. There arises in his heart a reverential fear from an awful apprehension of the infinite majesty and holiness of the Lord; and also a fear which makes him vigilant, disposing him to watch and war against sin, that it may not, in time to come, surprise and prevail against him.
5. Vehement or ardent desire, is one of the fruits of evangelical repentance. When the believers in Corinth sorrowed to repentance, it produced in them, as the Apostle says, ‘vehement desire.’ It excited in them fervent desire after a thorough reformation, by putting away from among them that wicked person and every evil thing,7 and by doing what would be well-pleasing to God through Jesus Christ. It raised in them an ardent desire to give the apostle full satisfaction, and to honour God for the future by a holy and exemplary conduct. True repentance, in whomsoever it is, produces not merely desire, but vehement desire to depart from all iniquity, to exercise all spiritual graces, and to perform all commanded duties, as well as to advance daily in conformity to Jesus Christ, and in communion with him.8 A false penitent may pray in secret, but the true penitent must. His vehement desire cannot be shut up within him. It must have a vent; and it cannot vent itself otherwise than by the prayer of faith. Happy are they who are thus necessitated to wrestle daily with the Lord in secret!
6. The apostle informs us, in the passage already cited, that godly sorrow produces zeal. Under the influences of the Holy Spirit, it inflamed the hearts of the saints in Corinth with ardent zeal for the manifested glory of God in Christ; for restoring the discipline, peace, and order of the church; for the doctrines of grace, and the ordinances of the gospel; and for defending the character of the apostle against the slanders of the false teachers. Wherever evangelical repentance exists it produces that sacred zeal which is according to knowledge, an enlightened zeal for the glory of God and the interest of Christ in the world.9 This holy zeal is an affection compounded of love and anger. It is an enlightened and prudent eagerness of spirit to honour God. to promote true holiness, and to oppose error and wickedness.10 The zealous penitent, from a tender regard to the honour of God his Saviour, burns with holy anger against all corruptions of His truth and transgressions of His law, exerts himself to advance His glory among men, and to transmit to the latest posterity, entire and uncorrupted, the doctines and ordinances of His glorious Gospel. He may be compared to the burning bush. It was sharp indeed and prickly, but was so in the midst of light and heat. He sees transgressors and is grieved. He loves the Lord, and therefore hates evil. It is not the persons of transgressors that he abhors, but their sins. His zeal begins at home. He diligently strives against, and suppresses, those sins in himself against which he declares in others around him. He remembers that, as the snuffers in the temple were of pure gold, so they who would be zealous for pure religion in others, ought to be pure themselves. Having turned to the love and practice of a new obedience, he is zealous for good works, and careful to maintain them.
7. Another of the fruits of true repentance is revenge on sin. Our apostle in the fore-cited passage says that the godly sorrow of the Corinthians wrought revenge in them. It disposed them to take a sort of holy vengeance upon themselves, like men who know not how to forgive themselves, when they reflected on the malignity and heinousness of their own sins; and it made them determined to inflict deserved punishment on the scandalous delinquent by casting him out of the church. It produced in them, not revenge on persons in a private way, for such vengeance belongs to God, but a readiness to revenge, by the infliction of church-censures, all disobedience, particularly that of the unhappy offender among them, which was shown in the punishment inflicted on him by many. Godly sorrow and self-loathing reveal themselves by holy revenge; such revenge, especially on the body of sin in the heart, as aims at the complete destruction of it. How great was that revenge on the body of sin, which the apostle Paul felt, when he exclaimed, ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’11 He who formerly delighted in sin is now divided against himself. He now acts the part of an accuser, advocate, and judge, against himself: yea, he, as it were, inflicts punishment on himself for the exceeding sinfulness of his heart and life. Accordingly, the humble penitent is represented as smiting on his thigh,12 as if he thereby declared that he would willingly take vengeance on the legs that carried him forward in the ways of sin; and that he would be filled with holy resentment against himself for the innumerable injuries which, by his unaccountable crimes, he did to the honour of his God and Saviour. When he repents of his wickedness, he says, ‘What have I done?’13 What an ungrateful, what a vile, what a loathsome, what a wretched sinner, have I been!
8. The penitent’s making ample restitution of what he borrowed or fraudulently took from others is a fruit and evidence of true repentance. According to the ceremonial law, the trespass-offering was to be accompanied by restitution to the party who had been injured.14 Zacchaeus, accordingly, proved himself a true penitent by making ample restitution. Every sincere penitent will likewise, with self-loathing, make haste to rid himself of dishonest gain. He will shake his hands from holding of bribes.15 He will obey scrupulously the charge of Solomon, ‘Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.’16 With diligence he will make search for every remainder of that accursed thing. With interest, he will restore it to the injured party if he can; if not, to their relations; and failing them, to the poor. And if he be not able, it will occasion much uneasiness and distress of mind to him. He who has injured his neighbour, and refuses, though he has ability, to make restitution, is an unrighteous man; and ‘the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God.’17 All appearances of repentance without this are hypocritical. Whatever profession of repentance such a man makes, his religion is vain. He refuses to do to others as he would that they should do to him. To pretend to have turned from iniquity with bitter remorse, and yet to feed sweetly on the fruits of it, is vain. This is so obvious that even Judas in his repentance, counterfeit as it was, was impelled to restore the reward of iniquity.
An ancient philosopher at Athens, having, at a shop there, obtained a pair of shoes with promise to pay for them at a later date, and having afterwards heard that the tradesman was dead, at first was glad to think that the debt was now paid. But recollecting himself, he brought the money and threw it into the shop, saying, ‘Take it; thou art alive to me, while dead to all the world besides.’ What, then, are we to think of many professed Christians who see their creditors struggling with those difficulties into which their extravagance has plunged them, while they themselves are in easy, perhaps in affluent circumstances, and so are well able, if they choose to retrench superfluous expenses, to make them restitution in whole or in part, but will not, because not compelled by law? Such persons shew themselves to be destitute of true repentance, for they prefer wealth, indulgence, and the pride of life, to rendering ‘to all their dues,’ to owing no man any thing, but to love him.18 They who can restore that which they owe their neighbour, but will not, surely do not turn from that sin, for they deliberately continue to enjoy the fruit of it.
9. Another of the fruits and evidences of evangelical repentance is the reparation of injuries in cases in which proper restitution cannot be made; such as injuries done to persons in their reputation, in their influence and usefulness, in their families or connections, in their peace of mind, in their contentment, and in many other instances. Hence is this exhortation: ‘Confess your faults one to another.’19 The evangelical penitent, though he cannot undo what he has done yet will study to counteract the evil arising from the injury, by stooping even to the humblest submissions, and the most ingenuous confessions, how contrary soever to the pride and self-love remaining in his heart. If he was formerly guilty of such scandalous offences as impaired the honour of God before the world, exposed religion to the scorn of profane men, and grieved or stumbled the hearts of the godly he will endeavour diligently to counteract the tendency of his former evil conduct. Or if he formerly propagated errors respecting either doctrine or duty, he will now retract them, and exert himself to undo that part of his conduct. And as far as his arguments, his persuasions, his influence and example can reach, he will diligently endeavour to stop the further progress of the mischief. In these and various other instances, true repentance, under the almighty agency of the Holy Spirit, disposes a man to employ every proper means of counteracting the tendency of his former bad conduct. Indeed, to repent sincerely of such injuries, and yet wilfully to refuse the conduct by which the honour of God and the credit of religion may in some measure be restored, is impossible. A man may as well pretend to repent of his having wounded a person, whilst he sees him bleeding to death, and yet refuses, though he has it in his power, to bind up his wounds. Multitudes, alas! flatter themselves that they have sincerely repented of their sins, who yet will on no account condescend to make the smallest reparation for the injuries they have done. This indeed shows that their penitence is no better than that of Ahab, who humbled himself, but neither restored Naboth’s vineyard, nor turned from any of his other abominations.
10. Once more, diligence in the spiritual performance of all our duties is one of the fruits of true repentance. To be diligent is to be bent on activity, constant in application, and persevering in endeavour. The evangelical penitent, under the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit, and in proportion to the degree of his repentance, performs all his duties with speed, activity, and perseverance. When he remembers, with sorrow and self-abasement, how diligent he was in the service of sin and Satan, how he did evil with both hands earnestly,20 he is powerfully urged to serve now with holy diligence his God and Saviour. And especially when he considers how diligent his adorable Redeemer was in obeying the law as a covenant, for his justification, he is irresistibly constrained to give all diligence in yielding obedience to it as a rule, for His glory. He is commanded, not only to keep the commandments of this holy law as the rule of his duty, but to keep them diligently. ‘Ye shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God.’21 And again, ‘Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.’22 The true penitent, accordingly, is diligent in all his duties, not only in all the various duties of his civil calling, but in the exercises of devotion in all their variety. In the latter he is even more diligent than in the former. As the shekel of the sanctuary was the double of the common shekel, so, in the affairs of eternity, he doubles the diligence that he uses in the business of time. Like Solomon, he first builds the house of God, and then his own house. He looks upon the salvation of his soul, in subservience to the manifested glory of God, as the most interesting employment of life. And therefore he not only gives diligence, but all diligence, in adding ‘to his faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity.’23
So much for the principal fruits and evidences of true repentance.
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Reader, have you in any degree brought forth these fruits of evangelical repentance? If you have, they are so many evidences of your having the grace of true repentance. They are signs of your having that repentance to salvation which is not to be repented of. They are so many proofs that you have in regeneration received the principle of this repentance, and that in progressive sanctification you have attained the habit and exercise of it. They are, therefore, great encouragements to you to continue and advance in the daily exercise of it, and by faith to receive more and more of it out of the fulness of Christ. But, although they serve to encourage you to these, yet they form no part of your warrant to trust in Christ for that great salvation, of which evangelical repentance is an essential part. Your warrant to renew the exercise of trusting in Jesus Christ for His whole salvation, lies in His word of grace, and not in either your heart or your life.24 And therefore, if you make your evidences of grace your warrant or ground of right, either in whole or in part, to renew the acting of faith in Christ, you will provoke Him to hide His face, and to cover them with a cloud in His anger. They are fruits, not only of repentance, but of faith; but if you presume to make them grounds of faith, your faith and repentance will quickly decline. See that your exercise of faith, then, be always grounded on faithfulness in the Word, and never on feelings in the heart. True repentance is offered and promised to you in the blessed Gospel. Trust in the Lord Jesus for it, on the warrant of the unlimited offer and promise. Trust also and plead this precious and absolute promise: ‘All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord.’25 Place at all times the confidence of your heart in Jesus Christ, and rely with firm trust on His faithfulness in that promise, for the performance of it to you; and according to your faith it will be unto you. He will make you advance daily in the habit and exercise of repentance unto life.
Let every reader endeavour diligently to repent, and to bring forth fruits worthy of true repentance. Advance daily in those holy tempers, and in the performance of those good works, which are the fruits of evangelical repentance. Since the genuine fruits of evangelical repentance are at the same time works of faith and labours of love, it will be necessary that you exercise faith and love in order to produce them. The exercise of unfeigned faith and love is pre-requisite to true repentance, and to all the genuine fruits of it. As these fruits are fruits also ‘of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God’, it will be no less necessary for their production, that you be united to Christ, that you have His righteousness imputed to you, and His Spirit as a Spirit of holiness put within you. And as they are fruit unto God, you must be dead to the law as a covenant of works, as well as united to Christ, in order to produce even the smallest measure of them. Paul addressed the believers in Rome thus: ‘Ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.’26 To be united in a conjugal relation to Christ, the Head and Husband of His church, and to be delivered in justification from the law as a covenant of works, are necessary to your bringing forth fruit unto God, or your serving Him in newness of spirit. O consider, then, that it will be impossible for you, either to exercise true repentance, or to bring forth any of its fruits, unless, in order to do so, you are a believer in Jesus Christ, united to Him by faith, justified by His righteousness imputed to you, and dead to the law as a covenant. All these are necessary to the least exercise of evangelical repentance and to the production of any of its fruits. Come to Christ, then, for grace and strength to exercise true repentance. Believe on Him in order to repent sincerely. The more you cordially trust in Him for the grace of repentance, the more you will repent of all your sins; and the more you sincerely repent of them, the more of the fruits of repentance will you produce. Your exercise of repentance will be according to your acting of faith.
John Colquhoun was born in Scotland in January 1748. His early education was from the local school supported by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK). At the age of 20, Colquhoun began his studies at the University of Glasgow. Once his pastoral ministry began, he labored faithfully for almost 50 years, and died in 1827. He was one of the greatest of Scottish preachers and writers. His works, include: A Treatise on the Covenant of Grace, A Catechism for the Instruction and Direction of Young Communicants, A View of Saving Faith, A Collection of the Promises of the Gospel, A View of Evangelical Repentance, Spiritual Comfort, and a collection of sermons entitled Sermons, Chiefly on Doctrinal Subjects.
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