Simple Christian Truths: Repentance and Faith

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 10
When the Lord Jesus commenced His ministry, He cried, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel," (Mark 1:1515And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel. (Mark 1:15)) The apostle Paul also said, when addressing the elders from Ephesus, that he had testified "both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:2121Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21)) The Lord's commission indeed to His disciples, after His resurrection from the dead, was that repentance and remission of sins (which could only be on faith in the message) should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:4747And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47)) It is therefore according to the divine order that these two things should be conjoined in preaching the gospel to sinners; and it might be added, with perfect truth, that these two things are also connected, of necessity, in the soul that divinely receives the glad tidings of the grace of God. Whether repentance has been sufficiently insisted on, or whether the essential bond between repentance and faith has been maintained in modern evangelistic preaching, we do not here inquire, as it is our object rather to expound the meaning of these two things, and their mutual relationship in the word of the gospel.
The first thing then that meets the soul is the demand for repentance toward God. This very fact implies the condition of those on whom the demand is made. It for example, the Lord cried, "Repent ye," there was something in those to whom He spoke that needed repentance. It is evident, in a word, that such a message could only be addressed to sinners. The Lord speaks indeed, in another place, of just persons (if there were such) who need no repentance.
It is then because men are sinners that repentance is necessary, repentance toward God; for it is against Him that they have sinned, and under His just judgment that they have consequently fallen. The preaching of repentance is, on this very account, designed to awaken the sinner to a sense of his condition, by bringing before his soul the claims of a holy God, as well as the provisions of His grace. The presentation of God in the gospel as the One who so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life, is surely calculated to touch the most obdurate heart. A God coming in judgment to deal with sinners even the natural conscience could understand; for the soul, whatever its subterfuges, knows its deserts. But a God appearing in grace, sending His beloved Son into the world, making Him to be sin on the cross, and publishing the glad tidings of grate and salvation far and wide, is so contrary to all human thoughts that the sinner may well be arrested, and compelled to consider. Justice is a well-known principle even in this world; but grace is so beyond its experience that it can hardly fail to beget a desire to trace out its source and origin. If God then proclaims the necessity of repentance, He Himself seeks to produce it by bringing the soul under the appeals of His grace, in the gospel.
But let us inquire what repentance is. It is the more important to be careful as to this, owing to the loose and insufficient answers frequently given to this question. Some say that it is sorrow for sin; some that it is a change of mind, dwelling upon the literal meaning of the word; while others affirm that it comprises the determination both to forsake sin and also to do the will of God in, time to come. In truth it is none of these, nor all of them combined together, though some of the things mentioned may constitute a part of scriptural repentance. That sorrow for sin does not amount to repentance is seen from the apostle's words: "Godly sorrow [sorrow according to God] worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of." (2 Cor. 7:1010For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)) Mere sorrow for sin may spring from the sense of shame, or from the bitter consequences which sin often entails, and may often have no reference to God; and even sorrow according to God, as in the above scripture, is not, though it works, repentance. Much less could change of mind, or the vain effort to forsake sins and to do the will of God, be accepted as answering to it. No; scriptural repentance is nothing less than our identification with God in His judgment of our sins, our taking His part against ourselves, and our consequent bowing in the dust before Him in true self-judgment. This involves our hatred of sin, inasmuch as the moment, through grace, we side with God in His judgment upon our deeds, we are so far in communion with Him, as to His thoughts and feelings, about our sins. When we thus repent, we justify God and condemn ourselves. This can never take place but in His presence, when His light, the light of His holiness, reveals sin to us as it appears in His sight; so that we are able to say with Job, " 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." (Job 42:5,65I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. 6Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:5‑6)) Or again, with the psalmist, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest." (Psa. 51:44Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. (Psalm 51:4))
The reader, however, must remember that we are explaining what scriptural repentance is, and that we are by no means affirming that even true repentance always answers to this description. There may indeed be but a feeble sense of sin, a very imperfect self-judgment, when the soul is first awakened; but let none on this account be discouraged, for God-who requires nothing, but gives everything in this day of grace-will deepen His own work in His own time, and give a truer estimate of sin to all who seek it. Peter thus proclaimed to his nation concerning Christ, " Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins." (Acts 5:3131Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:31)) So also, when Peter had explained to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem the reasons and the effect of his visit to Cornelius, they said, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." (Acts 11:1818When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. (Acts 11:18)) If, however, repentance is the gift of God, it is a gift He is ever ready to bestow; and we learn from our Lord Himself that "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." Indeed, it is the father himself that says, concerning the returned prodigal, "Let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." (Luke 15:23,2423And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. (Luke 15:23‑24))
Now, faith, as we have seen, is always conjoined: with repentance; and while repentance is toward God, faith is toward the Lord Jesus Christ. The explanation of this is very simple. It is against God we have sinned, and it is He who has passed judgment upon, our sins; so that, when we are convicted of our guilt, it is to Him we turn with confession and self-judgment: In this state our one need is to learn the way of salvation, just as when the jailor, conscience-smitten, rushed into the presence of Paul and Silas, and cried; "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Their answer was the presentation of Christ. "Believe," they said, "on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." (Acts 16: 30, 31) This, as the reader may perceive, is a summary of what was said; for we read in the next verse that they, spoke unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in this house. But the fact of the term-the Lord Jesus Christ―being used, shows that it was a full gospel they preached,― the gospel concerning His person, His death and resurrection, and His present exaltation as Lord at the right hand of. God. The jailor received, through grace, the testimony thus delivered, and there was therefore in his soul faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. He believed God's testimony to the finished work of Christ on the crow, to' the value of that work before God as having made full and perfect atonement for sin, and also to the testimony to His resurrection; so that he could then say, "He was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification." And it is with faith, as so exercised, that remission of sins is always connected. This will be at once understood, if the reader will turn to the passage already cited from Luke 24, where repentance and remission of sins are linked together, both to be preached in the name of the risen Christ. For the moment there is the reception of God's testimony concerning the death and resurrection of Christ, forgiveness of sins is enjoyed. Repentance brings into a right state of soul before God; faith identifies the soul with all the value of the work of Christ. Both therefore are absolutely necessary for salvation.
The question, however, is often asked, Whether repentance must always precede faith? The very form of the question, as a few words will show, is misleading. If the true nature of repentance has been apprehended, the reader will see that it cannot be dissociated from faith. For what produces repentance It is God's testimony, received in power, concerning me as a sinner. Somehow or other light has entered into my soul, and convicted before God, I bow to all He says of me in His word, as a lost sinner. This faith-faith in God's word as to the truth of my condition -must always be connected with repentance. The two things are indissolubly united. But the soul may remain in a state of repentance, if it may be so described, a long time before accepting God's further testimony as to His Beloved Son; and it need scarcely be said that, as long as it thus continues, there will be no peace or liberty. Hence-repentance in such a case precedes faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ, and this is undoubtedly the general order of the soul's experience.
We say the general order, for it cannot be denied that there would seem to be many exceptions. Repentance is so little preached, and the forgiveness of sins, or, in other cases, eternal life, without even raising the question of sin, is so often pressed upon souls-especially in so-called revival preaching -that many appear to be converted with scarcely any exercise as to the state, of their souls before God, almost without ever having had the burden of sin upon their conscience. Fully granting that there are genuine cases of this kind, it yet must be said that all such will have conscience-work as to sin sooner or later. With them, what answers to repentance will undoubtedly follow after their conversion. But the divine order is repentance toward God first, and then faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ; and wherever the truth of the gospel is proclaimed according to God, this order will be maintained in the experience of souls. Take, for example, the, epistle to the Romans, which in an especial manner presents the gospel. In tie first place, after unfolding his theme, the apostle proves that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, then—but not till then- made full and perfect atonement of God's grace for the sinner's guilt, and thereon he proceeds to explain how God has met also the sinner's state as well as the sinner's guilt. We do not here enter into this, beyond calling attention to the fact that the demonstration of our guilt precedes his description of how God has set forth Christ Jesus as a propitiation through faith in His blood. And wherever this divine order of the presentation of truth. is followed, it must necessarily produce repentance toward God, though repentance will ever be connected with the reception of the Word, before faith toward the. Lord Jesus Christ.
E. D.