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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
I am fully persuaded that there is no repentance without faith. The devils are said to believe and tremble, because the wrath and curse of God is in them. Judas repented himself, but then it was grief and desperate sorrow (Isa. 17:11). His repentance found no place in the mercy of God, nor in the death of Christ; therefore it was desperate repentance, without hope, and without remedy.
True repentance springs not from the application of the law, when God's curse and man's crimes meet together in the court of conscience; which is always attended with another meeting, namely, the just indignation of God and the carnal enmity of man. Where this apparently irreconcilable enmity seems to work within, no place of repentance appears; there is room for desperate sorrow, but not for sorrow after a godly sort. The sinner may wish the evil things that he hath done were undone, which is one branch of repentance; but at the same time he loves sin in his heart, and feels enmity work against God, and he would fain flee out of His hand if he could.
Besides, repentance is not a thing extorted by indignation and wrath. Repentance is not attended with a fleeing from God, but it is a repentance toward God; not repentance without faith, but coupled with it: "Repentance toward God, and faith toward out Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). We are not driven to it, but led. Terrible majesty is not the object of it, but goodness: "The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." The apostles joined forgiveness of sins with that repentance which they preached: "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."
Repentance is a grace that is to be found in the fullness of Christ, where all grace is treasured up; and, as the Prince of Peace and the only Saviour of men, He bestows it upon all the chosen subjects of His empire. It is a grace of His kingdom, and is often exercised by every loyal subject of His, not only at first but upon every transgression. Legal repentance is always attended with self-pity and enmity to God; it works fear of the punishment of sin, but no real hatred to it; it is always mixed with pride and self-righteousness, but no self-abasement nor true relish for spiritual provision.
Evangelical repentance is a free grace gift in Christ, Who is exalted to give it: "Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a prince and a Saviour to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." It is the riches of God's goodness, and forbearance, and longsuffering, that leads men to repentance (Rom. 2:4). It is man's misery and God's mercy meeting together in the conscious sinner.
It is the loving Father and the relenting son meeting together in Christ Jesus. God makes us accepted in the Beloved. Here the sin-sick soul and the great physician, the condemned criminal and the Lord our righteousness, the insolvent debtor and the divine surety, the broken heart and the bond of love, soft words and broken bones, the filthy wretch and the cleansing fountain, the starving soul and the bread of God, the killing kiss and the marriage bond, meet together. Real repentance rises from this joyful meeting and vital union.
Such souls are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18). "Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth." This sprang not from the spirit of bondage, but from the spirit of adoption; not from a servant, but from a son, as the next words show: "Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him" (Jer. 31:18-20).
Evangelical repentance springs from a believing view of a reconciled God and Father in the face of Christ, and of our interest in His eternal love. "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eyes seeth Thee; wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5,6). Repentance rises from humble submission to the will of God, and the obedience of faith: "Son, go work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterwards he repented and went." This is both the will and the work of God, that we believe on Him whom He hath sent.
Repentance is attended with the self-abasement, and a sense of the pacification of God towards us. "And I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; that thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God" (Ez. 16:62,63).
This is another sweet stream from the springing well of eternal life; as it is written: "And when they heard these things they held their peace and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also the the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." It is called repentance unto life, because it flows out of God's cordial acceptance of us in Christ Jesus, and is a grace that is exercised under a sense of the dying love of Jesus, and in whose favour is life. "He that findeth me," says Christ, "findeth life, and shall obtain favor of the Lord."
It is this work that crucifies the sinner to this world and the world to him, and is the death's wound to legal price and self-righteousness.