Covington, GA., Jan. 1, 1859.
True repentance is a godly exercise. It is not the act of the creature in the sense we generally hear it spoken of. Anything that the creature himself can produce, or put into operation by his own volition may properly be called the act of the creature. Man, in his fallen condition, is an enemy to God and opposed to His government, therefore, he has no fear of God before his eyes. Consequently, it is impossible for him to sorrow after a godly manner on account of his sins, or exercise that which he does not possess and is a stranger to. He does not love God, therefore does not repent.
A great deal is said in the Scriptures concerning repentance. There is evidently more than one king among men spoken of in the Bible. It is certainly a departure from the standard of truth and justice in a natural sense for men to pursue a course of outward wickedness, being hateful, and hating one another, seeking to gratify their own sensual passions and lusts like the antediluvian world, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Gentile nations when suffered to walk in their own ways. Because there may not be any outward, or expressed law to restrain men in their wickedness, does not destroy the principle of right in the actions and conduct of men. Speaking of the sins of the Gentiles, Paul says, “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, &c.” Again, “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections, &c.” Also, “God gave them over to a reprobate mind to do those things which are not convenient, &.” All this teaches us that God will recompense to every man according to his works. And to be given up, or over to one’s own wickedness is a great calamity, a sore, but righteous judgment of God. This was true in relation to the Jewish nation in their destruction and visible extermination as a people. It is certainly right and just that men should repent, and turn from their sins. This is true in relation to the principle of right and wrong among men, and before God.
Upon a close examination of man’s character scripturally considered, he is destitute of all the functions of spiritual life and immortality. He is already condemned and the wrath of God abideth upon him. He is not condemned by a law that he was never under. The human family are not under grace naturally considered, but are under law to God, as accountable beings, to love Him with all the powers and faculties they had standing in the first Adam, by whose transgression they were made sinners. Hence it is vain to look for true gospel repentance where it does not exist. To preach repentance in the name of Adam, or in the name of sinners is certainly unscriptural and absurd. The law demands every thing of the sinner, but furnishes nothing. It shuts him up in prison upon the principle, “Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Gal. 3:10. Paul says, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Rom. 3:19. No intelligent reader of the Bible will contend that it is by works of wickedness that sinners are justified before God. But Paul says that it is not by works of righteousness which we have done. For the sake of argument we will admit that sinners can perform certain works of righteousness, yet Paul says, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” Rom.4:4. Therefore, all hope of salvation by works is excluded. But in the person of Jesus Christ, salvation is revealed. He is exalted a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. True repentance is a gift; sometimes it is called evangelical repentance. If it is a gift, sinners are the recipients of it. It is freely bestowed. It is a spiritual blessing coupled with forgiveness of sins. When the Apostles were sent out to preach, they were commanded to preach repentance and remission of sins in the name of Jesus, among all nations. And why? Because God had a people among all nations. And that people are called Israel, with whom the covenant is made. “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the House of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jer. 31:34. Here is a full expression of new covenant blessings bestowed upon a special and peculiar people. It furnishes everything that appertains to eternal salvation.
John, the harbinger of Christ, preached the baptism of repentance, saying, “Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matt. 3:2. At the time when the people, which sat in darkness saw great light, and to them which sat in the regions and shadow of death, light sprung up, “Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matt. 4:17. The Apostles preached repentance in the name of Jesus, and so have all Christ’s ministers in all ages. And all the heralds of the cross of Christ still continue to preach it. And all that see this great light which is sprung up and are pricked in their hearts by the eternal Spirit cry out “men and brethren, what shall we do.” It is the goodness of God, not the fear of hell, that leads men to repentance. Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of. This was the case with thousands on the day of Pentecost, and it is the same at all times when God pours out his Spirit. Sinners see, feel, and realize their awful state before God. They sorrow after a godly manner like penitent sinners. It is not the exercise of the fleshly powers of the sinner, but the spontaneous overflowing of a heart deeply sensible of the spiritual demands of a righteous law. There is a union to the law with an acknowledgment of its righteousness. By the law is the knowledge of sin. He feels it to be so. What the law demands, the gospel, which is Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God, more than furnishes upon the principle of unmerited grace. Christ is the end of the law to every one that believeth. Genuine repentance is wrought in the sinner before he experiences the remission of his sins. Peace and pardon flows to him through Jesus Christ.
The saints continue to experience this repentance more or less all of their sojourning in this vale of tears. David felt it when he acknowledged, “I have sinned,” and Peter went out and wept bitterly. Its blessed effect upon the Corinthian Church is worthy of imitation. Paul rejoiced that they sorrowed to repentance. He says, “For behold this self-same thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you; yea, what clearing of yourselves; yea, what indignation; yea, what fear; yea, what vehement desire; yea, what zeal; yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” II Cor. 7:11. Gospel repentance, therefore, is a turning from our sins to God, a clearing of ourselves from every sinful way and work. It is the true result of godly sorrow, and is accompanied with humility of soul, and contrition of heart before God. The Jewish converts turned from the rites and ceremonies of the old covenant system, and believed, and embraced the gospel system of salvation by grace; the Gentile believers forsook their idol gods, and false worship, to serve the living God, and received the faith and practice of the Apostolic Church, and continued therein. In all subsequent ages until the present day his people have endeavored to follow the footsteps of the flock.
The gist of our subject is that gospel repentance extends no further than to gospel characters, or those that are under grace. As a command it is binding upon those to whom it is given, and who feel the exercise thereof. May all Old School Baptists, and every one who loves our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, remember that in the absence of love to God, to Jesus Christ, to the brethren and sisters of our heavenly Father’s family, genuine repentance cannot be in exercise. Let us repent of our sins, and turn to God, and perform works worthy of our profession.
Joseph L. Purington.