Arthur W. Pink
One of the divinely predicted characteristics of the “perilous times” in which we are now living is that “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (II Tim. 3:13). The deeper reference of these words is to spiritual seducers and deceivers. Men with captivating personalities, men who occupy prominent places in Christendom, men with an apparently deep reverence for Holy Writ, are beguiling souls with fatal error. Not only are evolutionists, higher critics, and modernists deluding multitudes of our young people with their sugar-coated lies, but some who pose as the champions of orthodoxy and boast of their ability to “rightly divide the Word of Truth,” are poisoning the minds of many to their eternal destruction.
Such a charge as we have just made is indeed a serious one, and one which is not to be readily received without proof. But proof is easily furnished. The Word of God teaches plainly that in this dispensation, equally with preceding ones, God requires a sincere and deep repentance before He pardons any sinner. Repentance is absolutely necessary for salvation, just as necessary as is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (II Cor. 7:10). It is impossible to frame language more explicit than that. Therefore, in view of these verses and others yet to be quoted we cannot but sorrowfully regard those who are now affirming that repentance is not, in this dispensation, essential unto salvation, as being deceivers of souls, blind leaders of the blind.
A careful comparison of the prominent place which is given to repentance in the New Testament with the very small place it has in present-day teaching, even in so-called “orthodox” pulpits, brings to light one of the most significant and solemn “signs of the times.” Some of the most prominent of those who are pleased to style themselves “teachers of dispensational truth” insist that repentance belongs to a past period, being altogether “Jewish,” and deny in toto that, in this age, God demands repentance from the sinner before he can be saved, thus blankly repudiating Acts 17:30: “But now commandeth all men every where to repent.” When it is borne in mind that these men are most diligent students of Scripture, we can but sorrowfully see in them the fulfillment of those words “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Tim. 3:7).
Others, in their recoil from salvation by reformation, have failed to duly preserve the balance of truth, and give proper place to such Scriptures as “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13), and “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him” (Isa. 55:7). It is not that there is anything meritorious in a sinner's compliance with this righteous demand of God, but that the claims of the Holy One must be pressed on those who have transgressed against Him. Yet that is just the thing which the haughty rebel desires to hear about least of all, and the sad thing is that so many are now, wittingly or unwittingly, withholding that which is unpalatable to men but which is honoring to God. How widespread this withholding is may be quickly discovered by an examination of present-day tracts purporting to explain how a sinner may be saved: in most of them not a word is said about repentance! Alas, in the past, our own tracts have failed sadly to sufficiently emphasize this point.
Even where it is held that repentance is necessary before a sinner can be saved, only too often the most shallow and superficial views are entertained of what repentance really is. In many circles it is assumed that if a person sheds tears or appears to be heartbroken on account of the evil course he has followed, this is clear proof that a saving work of divine grace has begun in that person's heart. But this by no means follows. The prickings of an uneasy conscience are not the same as the conviction of sin which is produced by the Holy Spirit. Esau wept, and wept bitterly, yet he was not regenerated. Felix trembled under the preaching of Paul, but there is no hint in Scripture that he has gone to heaven. Multitudes are deceived on this very point, and there is very little in present-day ministry which is calculated to undeceive them. Every one of us who values his soul and is concerned about his eternal destiny, will do well to carefully examine his repentance in the light of Scripture and ascertain whether it be of man or from God, natural or supernatural.
The first occurrence of the word “repent” furnishes the key to its meaning and scope. In Genesis 6:6 we read, “And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth.” The language is figurative, for He who is infinite in wisdom and immutable in counsel never changes His mind. This is plain from “God is not a man that he should lie, neither the son of man that he should repent” (Num. 23:19), and “The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent, for he is not a man that he should repent” (I Sam. 15:29); and again, “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). Thus, in the light of these definite statements we are compelled to conclude that in Genesis 6:6 (and similar passages) the Almighty condescends to accommodate Himself to our mode of speaking, and express Himself after a human manner—as He also does in Psalm 78:65; 87:6; Isaiah 59:16, etc.
Now by carefully noting the setting of this word in Genesis 6:6 and attentively observing what follows, we discover: first, that the occasion of repentance is sin, for in Genesis 6:5 we read that “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth”: thus repentance is a realization of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Second, that the nature of repentance consists in a change of mind: a new decision is formed in view of the deplorable conditions existing—“it repented the Lord that he had made man.” Third, that genuine repentance is accompanied by a real sorrow for sin, for that which necessitated the change of mind: “and it grieved him at his heart” (cf. II Cor. 7:10). Fourth, that the fruit or consequence of repentance appears in a determination to undo (forsake, and rectify as far as possible) that which is sorrowed over: “and the Lord said I will destroy man” (v. 7). All of these elements are found in a repentance which has been produced in the heart by the gracious and supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit.