Repentance in a scriptural sense differs widely from the traditional sense in which it is commonly understood. Even our standard lexicographers have failed to define it in harmony with the scriptures. Webster says it is “sorrow for anything done or said: the pain or grief which a person experiences of the injury or inconvenience produced by his own conduct, &c.” The scriptures make a distinction between even a godly sorrow for sin, and repentance, and show that the former is productive of the latter. The preaching of repentance, and baptism of repentance, preached and administered by John the Baptist, very evidently signified a change from Judaism to Christianity, “Saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him; that is, on Christ Jesus.” Acts 19:4. The case of Esau shows a wide difference between sorrow or regret, and repentance; for while overwhelmed with sorrow and regret, he could find no place for repentance, which he sought carefully and with tears. He could not change, or recede from the transaction in which he sold his birthright to his brother Jacob, nor alter the last testament of his father Isaac, so as to reverse the order of the birthright blessings. The Gentiles by sorrow or regret could not change their deplorable condition, until God granted them repentance, their condition was hopeless. A change from death unto life, from law unto gospel, from sin unto salvation, is the repentance which is preached with remission of sins, in the name, and by the authority of the risen Savior, who has removed the legal impediments out of the way, by himself bearing the sins of his people in his own body on the tree.
Certainly when the word repent, or repentance is applied to the immutable God, who is of one mind and changes not, who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, we are not at liberty to so construe the word as to contradict the declarations. Num. 23:19. “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent; hath he said, and shall he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” Or that in I Sam. 15:29, “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.” God does not repent in the sense in which men understand the term; for he says, “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” Mal. 3:6. Therefore when it is said, “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart,” Gen. 6:6, or in the passage on which our views are called for, Jonah 3:10, “ And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not,” in neither case are we to conclude there was the least change or shadow of turning, in any of the essential attributes or perfections of the immutable God, but a change only in the dispensation or administration of his dealings with the subjects of his power and providence, and that change of dispensation in the strictest harmony with what he had purposed in himself before the world began. Can anyone who has any knowledge of God, for a moment suppose that he did not know what would be the sinful state of man, before he created the world? Why was a Savior provided before the foundation of the world to save his people from their sins, if God who made that provision did not know that the wickedness of man would be great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart would be only evil continually? Or can it be supposed that God, who has declared the end from the beginning, did not know what would be the effect of the preaching of Jonah to the Ninevites?
The allusion made by our Lord Jesus Christ to the prophet Jonah, when he said to a wicked generation that no other sign should be given them, attached a wonderful importance to the whole book of that prophet. A sign, a type, a similitude, is presented, pointing to a generation involved in guilt, against whom God, in his holy law, had uttered the sentence of wrath, which doomed them to utter destruction. Jonah, as a type of Christ, at least, so far as related to his being in the deep for three days and three nights, and then emerging from the deep, set forth in the figure, how God can be just, and the justifier of sinners. God’s holy law, and God in that holy law had said, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” But the crucified, buried and risen, and exalted Savior, has brought to light the way in which the truth and justice of God is perfectly sustained in all its jots and tittles, and still they who were by the righteous sentence of the law condemned to destruction, are saved from that utter destruction and perdition through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
If then we admit, and we cannot deny, that God did set forth by the wickedness of Nineveh, and the sentence pronounced against her, the lost and ruined condition of those who were condemned by his righteous law, and that salvation which should result from the death, burial and resurrection of our Redeemer, was signified by Jonah being three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, then how preposterous to say or think that the Lord changed his mind, or was by any power or influence out of himself induced to recall the sentence which Jonah was commanded to preach to the Ninevites.
We presume that every saint has experienced substantially what is set forth in the whole figure. We were made to see, and feel, and confess that we were sinners of the deepest dye, and the word of the Lord came to us, in the law, saying we must die. The effect of the preaching of Jonah on the people of Nineveh, but faintly describes the effect of the entrance of the word of the Lord, when the commandment came, and sin revived, and death with its terrors compassed us about on every side. The flaming sword turned every way, and met us at every point. How God could maintain his truth and justice, without executing the sentence of his holy law upon us, was as difficult for us to see, as to see how Nineveh could be released from her dreadful doom. But when the “sign of the prophet Jonah” was explained to us, and we saw it fulfilled in the resurrection of our Redeemer, who had died our death, and rose again for our justification, then was our life and immortality brought to light.
Although Nineveh was not destroyed in forty days from the time of Jonah’s prophesying, according to our computation of time, yet according to what is regarded as authentic history, that city was utterly destroyed in about two hundred years after that period, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Nahum.
It is not our intention to anticipate whatever brother Purington, or any other brother, may have to say in reply to our friend D.A. Reid; we shall be pleased to publish whatever light he may have on the subject.
October 15, 1870.
Elder Gilbert Beebe