Saturday, March 12, 2011


J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)

I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”—Luke 13:3

REPENTANCE is one of the foundation stones of Christianity. Sixty times, at least, we find repentance spoken of in the New Testament. What was the first doctrine our Lord Jesus Christ preached? We are told that He said, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mar 1:15). What did the Apostles proclaim when the Lord sent them forth the first time? They “preached that men should repent” (Mar 6:12). What was the charge that Jesus gave His disciples when He left the world? That “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations” (Luk 24:47). What was the concluding appeal of the first sermons that Peter preached? “Repent, and be baptized.” “Repent ye, and be converted” (Act 2:38; 3:19). What was the summary of doctrine that Paul gave to the Ephesian elders when he parted from them? He told them that he had taught them publicly, and from house to house, “testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Act 20:21). What was the description that Paul gave of his own ministry, when he made his defense before Festus and Agrippa? He told them that he had showed all men that they should “repent, and do works meet for repentance” (Act 26:20). What was the account given by the believers at Jerusalem of the conversion of the Gentiles? When they heard of it they said, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Act 11:18)...Surely we must all agree that these are serious considerations. They ought to show the importance of the inquiry I am now making. A mistake about repentance is a most dangerous mistake. An error about repentance is an error that lies at the very roots of our religion. What, then, is repentance? When can it be said of any man that he repents?

Repentance is a thorough change of man’s natural heart upon the subject of sin. We are all born in sin. We naturally love sin. We take to sin as soon as we can act and think, as the bird takes to flying and the fish takes to swimming. There never was a child that required schooling or education in order to learn deceitfulness, sensuality, passion, self-will, gluttony, pride, and foolishness. These things are not picked up from bad companions or gradually learned by a long course of tedious instruction. They spring up of themselves, even when boys and girls are brought up alone. The seeds of them are evidently the natural product of the heart. The aptitude of all children to these things is an unanswerable proof of the corruption and fall of man. Now when this heart of ours is changed by the Holy Ghost, when this natural love of sin is cast out, then takes place that change which the Word of God calls “repentance.” The man in whom the change is wrought is said to “repent.” He may be called, in one word, a “penitent” man...

(1) True repentance begins with knowledge of sin. The eyes of the penitent man are opened. He sees with dismay and confusion the length and breadth of God’s holy Law, and the extent, the enormous extent, of his own transgressions. He discovers, to his surprise, that in thinking himself a “good sort of man,” and a man with a “good heart,” he has been under a huge delusion. He finds out that, in reality, he is wicked, guilty, corrupt, and bad in God’s sight. His pride breaks down. His high thoughts melt away. He sees that he is neither more nor less than a great sinner. This is the first step in true repentance.

(2) True repentance goes on to work sorrow for sin. The heart of a penitent man is touched with deep remmorse because of his past transgressions. He is cut to the heart to think that he should have lived so madly and so wickedly. He mourns over time wasted, over talents misspent, over God dishonored, over his own soul injured. The remembrance of these things is grievous to him. The burden of these things is sometimes almost intolerable. When a man so sorrows, you have the second step in true repentance.

(3) True repentance proceeds, further, to produce in a man confession of sin. The tongue of a penitent man is loosed. He feels he must speak to that God against Whom he has sinned. Something within him tells him he must cry to God, pray to God, and talk with God about the state of his own soul. He must pour out his heart and acknowledge his iniquities at the throne of grace. They are a heavy burden within him, and he can no longer keep silence. He can keep nothing back. He will not hide anything. He goes before God, pleading nothing for himself and willing to say, “I have sinned against heaven and before Thee: my iniquity is great. God be merciful to me, a sinner!” When a man goes thus to God in confession, you have the third step in true repentance.

(4) True repentance, furthermore, shows itself before the world in a thorough breaking off from sin. The life of a penitent man is altered. The course of his daily conduct is entirely changed. A new King reigns within his heart. He puts off the old man (Eph 4:22). What God commands he now desires to practice; and what God forbids, he now desires to avoid (Cp. Luk 8:15; Psa 25:11; Luk 18:13). He strives in all ways to keep clear of sin, to fight with sin, to war with sin, to get the victory over sin. He ceases to do evil. He learns to do well. He breaks off sharply from bad ways and bad companions. He labors, however feebly, to live a new life. When a man does this, you have the fourth step in true repentance.

(5) True repentance, in the last place, shows itself by producing in the heart a settled habit of deep hatred of all sin. The mind of a penitent man becomes a mind habitually holy. He abhors that which is evil and cleaves to that which is good (Rom 12:9). He delights in the Law of God (Psa 1:2). He comes short of his own desires not infrequently. He finds in himself an evil principle warring against the Spirit of God (Gal 5:17). He finds himself cold when he would be hot, backward when he would be forward, heavy when he would be lively in God’s service. He is deeply conscious of his own infirmities. He groans under a sense of indwelling corruption. But still, for all that, the general bias of his heart is towards God and away from evil. He can say with David, “Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way” (Psa 119:128). When a man can say this, you have the fifth or crowning step of true repentance...

True repentance, such as I have just described, is never alone in the heart of any man. It always has a companion—a blessed companion. It is always accompanied by lively faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Wherever faith is, there is repentance; wherever repentance is, there is always faith. I do not decide which comes first—whether repentance comes before faith or faith before repentance. But I am bold to say that the two graces are never found separate, one from the other...

Beware that you make no mistake about the nature of true repentance. The devil knows too well the value of that precious grace not to dress up spurious imitations of it. Wherever there is good coin, there will always be bad money. Wherever there is a valuable grace, the devil will put in circulation counterfeits and shams of that grace and try to palm them off on men’s souls. Make sure that you are not deceived.

(1) Take heed that your repentance be a business of your heart. It is not a grave face, or a sanctimonious countenance, or a round of self-imposed austerities - it is not this alone which makes up true repentance towards God. The real grace is something far deeper than a mere affair of face, clothes, days, and forms. Ahab could put on sackcloth when it served his turn—but Ahab never repented.

(2) Take heed that your repentance be a repentance wherein you turn to God...Felix could tremble when he heard the Apostle Paul preach. But...this is not true repentance. See that your repentance leads you unto God and makes you flee to Him as your best Friend.

(3) Take heed that your repentance be a repentance attended by a thorough forsaking of sin. Sentimental people can cry when they hear moving sermons on Sundays, and yet return to the ball, the theatre, and the opera in the week after...feelings in religion are worse than worthless, unless they are accompanied by practice. Mere sentimental excitement, without thorough breaking off from sin, is not the repentance that God approves.

(4) Take heed, above all things, that your repentance be closely bound up with faith in the Lord Jesus. See that your convictions be convictions that never rest, except at the foot of the Cross whereon Jesus Christ died. Judas Iscariot could say, “I have sinned” (Mat 27:4), but Judas never turned to Jesus. Judas never looked by faith to Jesus, and therefore Judas died in his sins. Give me that conviction of sin that makes a man flee to Christ and mourn because by his sins he has pierced the Lord Who bought him. Give me that contrition of soul under which a man feels much about Christ and grieves to think of the despite he has done to so gracious a Savior. Going to Sinai, hearing about the Ten Commandments, looking at hell, thinking about the terrors of damnation—all this may make people afraid, and has its use. But no repentance ever lasts in which a man does not look at Calvary more than at Sinai, and see in a bleeding Jesus the strongest motive for contrition. Such repentance comes down from heaven. Such repentance is planted in man’s heart by God the Holy Ghost.

- From Old Paths reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust.


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