Repentance is a familiar word. Would that its true import were as well known! Yet right certain is it that unless the sinner repents he will inevitably perish eternally. This is as true as the words of Christ can make it, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." (Luke 13:33I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (Luke 13:3).) Tremendous fact! One's heart deeply sympathizes with many honest souls in their difficulties about repentance, and would fain help them a little from that Word, which, if received by simple faith, removes a host of difficulties.
In seeking to do so I will just refer to one of the books of the Word of God, and take up the case of one soul that experienced genuine repentance. We shall find it in Job 40 and 42. It will serve to bring out very clearly what repentance is-its order, and of what it is the blessed consequence. Job, as is well known to most who have read the book of Job, was seeking to justify himself-to extol and hold fast his own righteousness. Take one or two passages: Chapter 27:6, " My righteousness I hold fast, and I will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me as long as I live." Again, " Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity.". Here, undoubtedly, Job had not yet learned the great lesson; his heart was not yet humbled nor broken down. With him it was still "my righteousness" and " my integrity." Himself was the great theme with him thus far. That will never do before God. The light of His presence must destroy all our pretensions to goodness and righteousness-our place before Him is "prostration," low in His presence. Oh, how important for the sinner to know this! The unsullied light of that presence reveals to the conscience the true condition of things, as we shall see that it did in Job's case ere we close.
At the close of the controversy between Job and his friends, Job was still seeking to justify himself, and no answer being found in the mouths of Job's opponents, Elihu's anger was kindled. We read: " So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then. was kindled the wrath of Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram. Against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God." (Chapter 32:1, 2.) How solemnly true is this of man in general! An insubjection to God, and an exaltation and justification of self is what characterizes man in general. Job justified himself rather than God. He had not yet learned that all his righteousnesses were as filthy rags, and that he was vile before God. In chaps. 38, 39, and 40, the Lord Himself answered Job; and this proved effectual in opening his eyes to see his true condition, which laid him low in the dust before him. Here I would notice what produced this wonderful change in Job. From one who could speak of his own righteousness, be became prostrated in the presence of God, crying out because of his own personal vileness. It was the reception into his soul of that Word which made known the light of the nature of Him who spake it; which made known to Job, in true and solemn character, the depravity of his own nature, and the rebellion of his own heart against God. It was not a preparatory work on the part of Job, but the result of the entrance of that Word which gives light-the nature of God-and exhibits the darkness of man's nature.
God had taken Job in hand, and addressed him personally, and consequently all his self-righteousness fell to the ground. The stronghold of his legal heart was broken in upon and demolished. The Word, quick and powerful, against which no legal fortress can stand; penetrated Job's heart, laying bare its secret springs-opening up to him the corrupt fountains of his nature, spreading its depravity before him.
This was undoubtedly that which produced his repentance. The Word of God received into the soul, ministering light, discovering all the darkness and sin which reigns there, in view of what God is, as the One who is essentially light. Hence there is a work of self-judgment effected, which prostrates the soul before God, and leads it to cast itself upon his mercy.
It is very blessed to notice this with Job: " Then Job answered the Lord and said, Behold I am vile; what shall I answer thee'? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken, but I will not answer; yea, twice, but I will proceed no further." (Chapter 40:1-5.) And again, " I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (Chapter 42:5, 6.) Here God's end was so far reached. Job had learned himself-he was humbled—the blessed fruit of the work of God in him. He was brought to repentance-that is, to form a correct judgment of himself in the light of God's presence, and His heart-searching, soul-subduing word. God's truth had done its work with Job. He had received its unerring testimony, and the blessed result was "repentance toward God." He owns himself vile. He abhors himself, and repents in dust and ashes. What a moment for Job! He was pregnant with deep importance. His self-righteousness was gone, and the spirit of self-vindication-making way for that healthy and divinely wrought exercise of soul, in the light, under a sense of sin, called repentance. Blessed work of God! The deeper the better, most surely!
Now Job becomes a blessed subject of the fullness of God's bounty and grace. God, with an unsparing hand, heaps rich blessings upon him, and he is blessed. This is so with every soul that has repented-that divine work in the soul, which is never known apart from the quickening operations of God's blessed Spirit. The fullness of God's Christ is the blessed portion of such. All things are theirs in Christ.
Repentance, then, is no human preliminary; it is no preparatory work on the part of the sinner to conversion, but rather the result of the reception of the testimony of God-which is faith-and the quickening of the soul by the power of the Holy Ghost, which ever accompanies true faith.
It is the natural order of God's most blessed work with wind in the soul of the sinner. The word is applied and received. If this reception is real, it is life eternal to the soul, and, as a consequence, repentance is wrought-that holy recognition of the righteous judgment of God upon all pertaining to the old man in us, which ends in the renewed and delivered soul rising up and breathing the atmosphere of the new creation, where all things are of God. Many have put repentance before faith, as a human preparatory work, simply because souls have not been brought into peace immediately. Now, undoubtedly, peace may not be had before the work of repentance is wrought; and the deeper the work of the latter, the more profound will be the former. Yet in every case where the work is real, the hearty reception of the Word (I do not say the full testimony of God as to accomplished redemption) must come first. God's solemn testimony with respect to man's state, as in the case of Job, must be received; and when fully and simply received, it is life to the soul, which results in a perfect abhorrence of self, and the renunciation of all self-righteousness, and the confession of personal vileness. "Behold, I am vile," is the solemn consciousness of the soul.
Then peace with God is the result of knowing that "Jesus was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification "—that the work is finished, and redemption an accomplished fact, and the Accomplisher Himself seated in brightest majesty at the right hand of the throne of God. Hence the need of preaching a full gospel-that is, the testimony that God has given with respect to man, and that which He has given of His Son- once in death, but now raised and glorified, which, when simply believed, is life and peace.