An enquiry concerning the duty of the unregenerate to believe, repent or pray.
PART 1. Brother Beebe: - I will now notice the charge which Brother Meredith has been informed is made against the Old School Baptists, that they hold it "not to be the duty of the unregenerate to believe, repent or pray." I will in my examination of this charge endeavor to show what there is of truth and what of falsehood in its several items. I will commence with the subject of belief. The charge that we hold it "not to be the duty of the unregenerate to believe," has originated evidently from persons who do not know or distinguish the difference there is between believing the Son, and believing on the Son, or between believing the record that God gave of His Son, and believing on the Son of God. See John 3:36 & I John 5:10. Such distinction not only is made in the texts above referred to, but is evidently manifested in christian experience. The one, the believing on the Son of God, is no other than the exercise of that faith which is the gift of God, and is distinguishingly denominated the faith of God's elect. It is a reliance on that obedience which Christ has rendered to law and justice in behalf of His people, as our alone and complete righteousness before God and redemption from under the law, and a trust in Christ, as our whole salvation. But it is evident that, from a very early period in the travel of the church on to this day, a great proportion of the professed church of Christ have mistaken a simple belief of the truth of the record which God has given of His Son; or indeed a simple belief in the truth of the scriptures, for that faith which characterizes one as a believer in Christ. That is, the revelation made of Christ in the scriptures has been considered as a proposition presented to the minds of men for their reception; and the reception of this proposition either as dogmatically laid down, or on examination, has been understood as constituting one a believer in Christ, and the rejection of it, the ground of condemnation. Hence the solicitude that has been manifested to instill into the minds of children the knowledge and belief of certain summaries of what was considered essential points to be believed in order to constitute them christians. Hence the catechumenical system in the earlier ages of the church, and Sunday School and Bible Class plans of our day. Hence also creeds and catechisms as essential summaries of christian doctrine which must be driven into the minds of children by parental and priestly authority, and often beaten in by the rod of the schoolmaster, in order to make christians of them.
Owing to the mistake which has thus existed, when it has been asserted that the natural man is not required of God to exercise that faith which is peculiarly the faith of God's elect, and is not condemned for not exercising it, it has been construed into a denial of its being his duty to believe, that is, the record which God has given, or the testimony of the scriptures. The fact is, so far as I understand what is the Old School or apostolic Baptist doctrine on this point, it is this; that the peculiar faith which constitutes one a believer in Christ, in a gospel sense, and which goes out from one's self and from all he has done or felt, to rest upon, and plead Christ's obedience to the law, as his whole righteousness, and ground of acceptance with God, &c.; is a belief which the law knows nothing about; for the law is not of faith; and which can in no sense be considered a natural duty, it being not the acting of any natural powers or faculties of man as created of the earth earthy, but is the peculiar exercise of that spiritual life which was created in, and is derived from the Son of God, as the Head of His people; and which requires that a person be born of God to exercise it. Hence this faith in contra-distinction from its being a legal duty, is declared to be the gift of God. On the other hand, I understand the Old School doctrine to be, that it is the duty of all rational beings to believe all God has spoken in the scriptures as they have access to them directly or indirectly, and to believe the testimony of the works of creation and providence, where the scriptures have not come. To disbelieve the record, which God hath given of His Son, is to make God a liar (I John 5:10;) and surely no person can do this and be guiltless. The obligation man is under thus to believe God, arises, not from any demand which the gospel as such peculiarly makes upon him, but from the nature and fitness of things, and from what God is. It is a law of our creation.
The "duty of the unregenerate to repent," comes next under consideration. This owing to the confusion into which it has been thrown by the introduction of the various systems of conditionalism, and other causes is a difficult subject rightly to understand and explain in all its bearings. My own mind I confess has been much difficulted to draw a clear line of distinction between the different relations and senses in which the idea of repentance, is presented to our view in the scriptures, and between the idea of its being a duty incumbent on men at large, and that of its being a free gospel blessing bestowed by the exalted Saviour on the spiritual Israel of God. But as it is highly important that we should understand the true import of the scriptures on this subject, I have at different times elicited considerable enquiry from me; and such as I have, give I unto you. I will add that ever since I knew by experience what repentance is, as given by Christ, (as I have a hope that I do know it to some extent,) I have been fully convinced that the manner in which repentance is held and preached by the conditionalists of all grades, is altogether foreign from the scriptural view of it. On the other hand I have never been able to receive in all points as correct, the explanations which Doctor Gill and other sound brethren have given of it. There will be found some difference between the explanation of this subject which I have to give, and that given by Brother Beebe in No.14, more particularly in relation to John's preaching repentance; this difference I trust is not such as to break any bones.
I shall lay down the following positions, as waymarks, in the investigation of this subject. First: If we suppose that the original law of man's creation, or the law as published in Ten Commands from Sinai, commanded repentance as one of its requisitions, it will lead to the following insuperable difficulties. 1st. Repentance presupposes sin, therefore the law's commanding repentance as one of the conditions of its fulfillment, would be to command the previous existence of sin. 2nd. If the law commands repentance, then repentance is essential to that righteousness which the law requires, and consequently Christ in bringing in that righteousness and magnifying the law in behalf of His people, must have repented for them, as well as obeyed in their behalf in other respects. This supposition therefore I think cannot stand. 3rd. If we suppose that the gospel commands repentance as a condition of acceptance with God, then the gospel must in some sense be a law under which the human family exists. Consequently a failure to obey this command would involve condemnation. And if the gospel thus comes from God who changes not, with its demands upon the human family at large, then from the moment any individual existed as an accountable creature to God, he was obligated to render obedience to this gospel-law, and failing at any moment to do it, he incurred condemnation from it. If he lived twenty years, or more, or less, in impenitency or in transgression of this command of the gospel, and then became a penitent, his after repentance could not make satisfaction for his former neglect of it. Hence it is evident that all must be viewed as transgressors of this gospel-law. Now Christ redeemed His people from the curse of the law; but who is revealed as a redeemer from the condemnation of the gospel? And if not redeemed from it, must we not lie under the condemnation or suffer the penalty? If then no Redeemer is provided to save from gospel condemnation, who can be saved? If it be said that Christ redeemed from this as from the law, then as before He must have repented for His people. This is but one among several absurdities arising from a supposition of this kind.
4th. If on the other hand we suppose that the unregenerate are under no obligations to repent, we must consider them as justifiable in continuing on in their sins of whatever grade they may be. This I think none will admit; for there certainly are instances in the scriptures of unregenerated persons being exhorted or admonished to repent. The query then arises, Whence does this obligation to repent arise? This I will endeavor to answer, after a little. The difficulty on this subject has frequently been attempted to be solved by a reference to the fact of there being two kinds of repentance spoken of in the scriptures. There certainly are these different repentances brought to view, designated by different words in the original of the scriptures; but I find there is but one word in its formation and derivations, used in all those passages of scripture which are immediately connected with our present enquiry; such as Matt.3:2; 4:17; 11:20,21; Acts 8:22; 17:30; the same also is used in these, and the like texts, namely: Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; also the word repentance as found in II Cor.7:9,10. (The word repented in this 10th verse, is a different word in the original and of different import.) Hence I think there is but the one kind of repentance we have to do with in this case. And I know not that it is here necessary for our present enquiry to consider this repentance as classed into outward, and heart repentances, or the like. The original word used in the above texts, metanoco, according to its etymology, signifies "To reflect on, or to be wise after the act, or to return or come to a right understanding." This repentance therefore imports a change of mind after an act has been committed, and which therefore implies a condemning of the act, and of course, sorrow for it, and a change of conduct. This sorrow may be natural or worldly sorrow, or it may be godly or spiritual sorrow, as the act is viewed in the light of reason, or in the light of the Spirit. If the former, it needs to be repented of again. But the main point in the idea of repentance, is I think altogether missed by conditionalists, and perhaps is frequently overlooked by others, and which in fact, is the substance of the thing. It is this, that as repentance is self-condemnation, it stands in direct opposition to all self-righteousness, self-justification, or reliance on our own acts for acceptance with God, &c. Hence the utter absurdity of making repentance a condition of salvation. In pursuing the enquiry concerning the obligation of men to repent, I shall have again to refer to the law of Ten Commands; and as I had occasion in the preceding communication, and have again in this to speak of it in distinction from the original law under which man was created, I wish here to guard against being understood as meaning that they are separate laws. I understand them to be in substance the same law, but differently revealed. In the original creation of man the law requiring him to love God with all his heart, &c., was not delivered to him verbally in so many words, nor in a series of implied prohibitions as in the Decalogue; but was written in indelible characters upon man. I do not say, nor mean in his heart; but upon his existence as a rational being, and upon all by which he was surrounded, for all declared the wisdom, power, and goodness of their Creator, and therefore reflected the obligation of man to love his Creator with all his powers and faculties. Thus it is said, Rom.1:19,20. "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse." Had man continued in the state of uprightness in which he was created, he would not have needed the specifications contained in the Decalogue to show him what was right or wrong. Though a test of his love and subjection to God was needed, and that was given him in the prohibition of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But man having sinned and come short of the glory of God, and sunken into a state of condemnation, God, in bringing in that dispensation which was particularly designed to typify the salvation in all its parts, of spiritual Israel; as well as to prepare the way for the manifestation of the Messiah, saw proper, to give a new edition of the law, or to declare it in Ten Commands from Sinai, which commands are but so many specifications by which are showed man's entire departure from the standard of right. Hence says Paul; "I had not known sin but by the law; for I had not known lust except the law had said Thou shalt not covet." Rom.7:7. This law was given in the letter of it, in covenant form to national Israel; and was written on tables of stone to show that the law in itself cannot give life; that its commands in their outward address to man leave the heart as lifeless and hard as the stones on which they were written.
This law of Ten Commands, in its spirituality and as addressed to all, both Jews and Gentiles, I understand was given expressly to teach repentance. I do not say, to show that repentance was a part of the original requisition of the law, and a part of the righteousness it required; but that it is addressed to man as depraved and condemned, to call him off from self-confidence, and to repentance. I feel myself fully supported in this by the declarations of scripture, that the law was added by reason of transgression; entered that the offence might abound, &c.; and especially by this text, "What things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law" - for what? - "that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God." What is this but self-condemnation before God, that is designed to be accomplished by the declaration of the law? And what is such self-condemnation, but repentance toward God? It is then I think clear, that it is the law of Ten Commandments in its spirituality that calls for repentance. But it may be asked, Is it the laws thus calling for repentance that makes it the duty of man to repent, or thus to be humbled and abased before God? I answer no; for the law calls for it only as it shows the nature and truth of man's case, that he is a guilty condemned creature, polluted in all his ways. The fitness, propriety and obligation of man to repent arises from the nature and truth of the case. If it is a duty of man to practice truth toward God and toward man, then it is his duty thus to be humble and abased before God and men, because the truth is that he is thus debased by his transgressions of the law; and to plead or trust to his works for justification is to plead and trust a falsehood, as showed by the Decalogue; for his works condemn him. However I would here remark that I doubt the propriety of using the term duty in a strict sense in relation to repentance, although it may be admitted in a loose sense. Of the fitness of repentance, and of the obligation man is under to exercise it, from his still existing as the creature of God, and a subject of His moral government, I have no doubt, that is, so far as the light of reason and external revelation can show them the evil of sin.
Let us now look a little at christian experience on this point; for the Spirit's teaching is truth. When a person is led by the teachings of the Holy Spirit truly to know the law and by it to know his guilt and depravity, he at once falls prostrate at the footstool of mercy, acknowledging the justice of his condemnation, and feels that from the fitness of things, he cannot be too much abased and humbled before God against whom he has sinned. It is true that in the former stages of his exercises, he may have sought to work himself up to a repentance, as a something that was to make amends for his transgressions and make his peace with God; but he now abhors this attempt to mock God and dishonor His law as much as any of his former open sins. And he would no sooner think of pleading the condemnation and contrition he now feels as a reason why he should escape punishment, than the criminal before a court would think of pleading the fact of his being clearly proved guilty, as a proper ground for his being cleared. This contrite penitent sees and feels that there is no way by which in justice he can be released from enduring the curse of the law, until he is led by faith to behold that satisfaction which Christ has made to the law for such sinners as he. He now feels that there is a natural fitness that he and every other person should be abased and humbled before God as transgressors of His law and abusers of His goodness. But further, being brought into the light of the gospel, he sees that it was sovereign grace alone which brought him thus to repentance, and that the condemnation which man lies under in consequence of his awful departure from God, is that he should be given over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient, or fit, or as the Master saith, that he should love darkness rather than light.
In accordance with what I have above shown as taught by experience, of the fitness and propriety of men's being thus humbled before God, the Apostle speaks of the goodness of God, that is, in the riches of His goodness, forbearance, &c., toward man, leading him to repentance, or in other words, as naturally tending to produce in him humbleness and contrition of heart, if he rightly viewed himself, but that instead of its having this proper effect, he, after his hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto himself wrath against the day of wrath, &c. See Rom.2:4-5. Now I understand the Old School doctrine thus to teach the natural fitness that all men, to be consistent with truth, should be abased and penitent before God as transgressors of His law. And farther, I understand it to be in accordance with Old School doctrine for a person, when he knows of another's committing any sin, whether he be regenerated or not, to exhort him to repent of that sin, as Peter exhorted Simon, Acts 8:22. But this exhortation will of course with propriety, be nothing other than a persuading of the person to use that light which God has given him, relative to this sin, whether that be the light of reason, or of grace. Such exhortations however must not be considered as, peculiarly a part of the ministerial office. If the above comes up to what others would import by saying that it is the duty of the unregenerate to repent, let them have this phrase, to convey the idea that men can or are required of themselves to exercise that repentance which is unto life, or that it is their duty to exercise repentance as a part of legal righteousness, or to make amends for a deficiency in that righteousness, or as a condition proposed by the gospel, in either of these senses the Old School doctrine does not represent it to be the duty of the unregenerate to repent.
Although I have already drawn out this subject to what many will think an unprofitable and unreasonable length, yet I cannot as I have entered upon it, feel satisfied without pursuing the enquiry as to what constitutes the preaching of repentance both under the day spring, and the sun rising of the gospel.
PART II. The branch of the above enquiry now before us is, What constitutes preaching repentance both under the day spring, and the sun rising of the gospel day? The day spring of course comes first, and under this we find both John and Christ preaching, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." In order to come to a proper understanding of the import and design of this preaching, it is necessary to refer back to the peculiar standing of the Jews. I have already remarked on another branch of this inquiry, that the law of Ten Commands in the letter of them, were given in covenant form to national Israel. Connected with these commands and as conditions of the same covenant, was the observance of the whole Jewish ritual as commanded by Moses. In the offering of sacrifices and in other rites, repentance or an acknowledgment of guilt and condemnation was implied and taught; also the hearing and reception of the Messiah, when He should come, was commanded. Deut.18:15-19. Hence the "foundation of repentance from dead works" is named, Heb.6:1,2, among the principles or first rudiments of the doctrine of Christ, which the believers from among the Hebrews were called upon to leave. Hence also when Messiah came, it was according to the Divine and revealed plan of His manifestation, that He should first present Himself to the Jews, nationally, for their reception or rejection; on the principles of the Sinai Covenant. Hence it is said, Christ "came to His own and they received Him not," &c. John 1:11. It was as I understand it, in accordance with this arrangement, and the provisions of the Sinai Covenant, that John came preaching repentance and that Christ preached it; and also that the Seventy were sent two and two to give notice of His coming, or that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. They preached repentance to show that according to the order of Messiah's kingdom, and to what had been figuratively taught in the Sinai ritual, repentance, and not self-righteousness, was requisite to a right reception of the Messiah, and to entering into His kingdom. They called upon them thus to repent upon the principles of that covenant under which they as a nation in a peculiar manner existed, and according to which Christ thus first presented Himself to them as the Messiah for their reception or rejection. It is true, as Brother Beebe said, in his remarks on repentance, that a special design of John's being sent preaching repentance was "to make ready a people prepared of the Lord." But still I think John's preaching, saying Repent, &c., was addressed to the Jews nationally upon the principles of their covenant; and that it was thus left to the Holy Spirit, whose province it peculiarly is, to make manifest the "people prepared of the Lord," to lead such through John's preaching to be convinced of their sinfulness and just condemnation, and to hope for the immediate manifestation of the Messiah; and as a fruit of their repentance, to renounce their self-righteousness, and their dependence on, having Abraham for their father, for justification; and were accordingly prepared to come to John's baptism as a baptism - not of self-righteousness for justification, but of "repentance for the remission of sins." Hence in the text already quoted, John 1:11, after it is said "He came to His own, that is nationally, and His own received Him not, it is further declared that to as many as received Him, to them gave He power, &c., which were born not of blood," &c. Thus showing that their being distinguished thus from the nation, was peculiarly of God. From this view of this subject, Pedobaptists may think it consistent to preach repentance according to John's manner of preaching, because they imagine their children to have been brought in under the Abrahamic covenant; but surely no consistent Baptist will think of blending the principles of the Sinai covenant with the gospel ministry in calling upon men to repent as a self-preparation for receiving the gospel.
I will now come to the preaching of repentance under the sun rising of the gospel day. On this point we have a plain direction in Luke 24:47, where Christ after His resurrection teaches His disciples that, "Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." This I understand to be the particular instruction given how repentance is to be preached since the ascension of Christ.
1st. It is to be preached in His - Christ's - name. Not in Moses' name. Not as a demand of the law; nor as John preached it to the Jews on the principles of the Sinai covenant. Neither does preaching repentance in the name of Christ, consist with calling upon men to repent, for this implies that the repentance called for is such as the natural man can exercise, or the reflections of the natural mind will produce. Hence this preaching tends to build men up in the notion of their own ability and to satisfy them with such repentance as they are capable of exercising; and therefore tends to produce in their minds the very reverse to that repentance which Christ gives, a being abased in the dust as guilty, ruined, helpless sinners.
Repentance is truly preached in the name of Christ, when the law in its exceeding broadness, unchangeableness and spirituality as taught and illustrated by Christ, and established by the gospel is preached, as cutting off all human works as the ground of acceptance with God, "Stopping every mouth and presenting all the world as guilty before God." This is the preaching which, when the heart is opened by the Holy Ghost to receive it, and by Him applied, produces the fruits of genuine repentance, namely: a being stripped of all self glorying and self confidence and an abhorring of one's self and being humbled as in dust and ashes. But further in preaching repentance in the name of Christ, as He is "exalted as a Prince and a Saviour for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins," the sensible sinner [text obscured in original] should be pointed to Christ as Him who alone can melt his heart and give him that repentance which needeth not to be repented of. And the intimate connection between this repentance, and the receiving of the forgiveness of sins, must be clearly held forth; so that none, on the one hand shall indulge in the hopes of experiencing pardoning mercy through Christ, unless brought to know and feel the odiousness and exceeding sinfulness of sin; and on the other hand, that those who are mourning over their own vileness and ruin may be encouraged to hope for the forgiveness of their sins through Christ. Now I will leave it to Brother Meredith and others who have been alarmed at the cry against our Old School preachers, that they do not preach repentance to sinners, to judge whether the above described kind of preaching; or the calling upon the unregenerate to repent and the trying to scare them to it by dwelling on the horrors of hell, and thus leading them to infer that repentance is a bodily exercise, a mere excitement of the passions, appears the most consistent with gospel doctrine and preaching, and the most like preaching true "repentance toward God." But there is another point which it is incumbent on me to notice before I quit this subject, namely; Acts 17:30. "The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent." We must first notice the import of the expression now commandeth. If the obligation of the Gentiles to repent, rests upon this command, as a new law then instituted, as those who dwell so much upon this text seem to intimate, then their previously gross idolatry afforded no just ground for repentance, and they were guiltless in practicing it. But such a conclusion is entirely inconsistent with Paul's view of their case given, Rom.1:18-32. The true import of this expression as connected with the idea that God had heretofore winked at the times of this ignorance, appears to me to be this, namely: That although hitherto the law of Ten Commands as designed to teach the knowledge of sin, was confined mostly to the Jews, while the Gentiles were left without any special revelation to teach them their sins; yet now under the gospel dispensation, this law as connected with the gospel proclamation was "to be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations," showing the absurdity and wickedness of idolatry, and the guilt and condemnation of all as transgressors of the divine law. Hence wherever the gospel came among the Gentiles thus accompanied with the proclamation of the law, those Gentiles whose hearts were opened to receive the word, were led to renounce all their hopes arising from those idolatrous rites which they had performed and to fall prostrate before God as guilty sinners, needing His pardoning mercy; as were the Jews stripped of their legal righteousness. And not only this, but God is so revealed in the external testimony of the law and the gospel as human reason becomes convinced comes are more or less made to feel that they are dependent on, and accountable to the living God. In accordance with this view of the import of this text, I will add that the primary idea of the word here rendered command, is to instruct, teach, direct, and hence also it came to be used to denote commanding as one mode of directing; it further signifies to give notice or warning, &c. Hence I understand the text as designed, not to intimate that under the gospel God had instituted a new command or law for the Gentiles, or laid them under a new obligation to exercise repentance; but to show the bearing and effect the gospel proclamation as embracing an illustration of the spirituality of the law was designed to have upon all people, and that it was thus addressed to all, in distinction from what was the case under the former dispensation.
Lastly, the subject of prayer, or the enquiry whether it is the duty of the unregenerate to pray, demands attention. If the charge that Old School Baptists "believe it is not the duty of the unregenerate to pray," is designed to convey the idea that they do not hold, or preach that it is the duty of unregenerate persons, or right for them, to read or say over a form of prayer, as a regular or occasional task, and as means of salvation, or a condition of acceptance with God, whilst their hearts are insensible of the wants their words express; every consistent Old School Baptist, and every other person who knows the wickedness of mocking God with lip service, while the heart is far from Him, must plead guilty to this charge. But as this charge imports that we do not admit it right for any person, under a sense of his dependence on God and feeling his need of divine mercy or aid in any case to ask God for it; I think the charge is false. I for one believe it right for anyone to pray to God for any aid or mercy that he truly feels the need of, and is authorized by the Scriptures to believe that God bestows upon the sons of men.
To say it is the duty of unregenerate persons to pray, as a form of worship is to say that God requires of them that worship which is neither spiritual, nor from the heart. But Christ informed the woman of Samaria that, "God is a Spirit and they that worship Him, must worship Him in Spirit and in truth." John 4:24. But for a person to pray, not as a form of worship, but simply to ask God for mercy because he feels he needs it, is the privilege of any; hence Peter exhorts Simon to pray God, if perhaps the thought of his heart might be forgiven him; under the impression, undoubtedly, that Simon from the sharp rebuke and warning he had given him, would see and feel the wickedness of his thought and the need of forgiveness.
I have thus traveled over a good deal of ground upon these subjects, whether Brother Meredith will be any better satisfied than with Brother Beebe's brief explanation, I know not. The confusion into which these subjects have been thrown by conditionalists and their use of them, seemed to require a general and particular examination of them. I cannot say that after all I have said, and my anxiety to place the subjects in a clear light, I have succeeded to any degree.
But I leave it. God may enable some others to set the subject in a clearer light, or may lead some to comprehend the ideas, I have attempted to convey; and if they are wrong to show the right. Yours in the gospel of Christ,
SIGNS of the TIMES: Vol.7 (1839)