Westminster Fifteen: Of Repentance Unto Life

1. Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace (Zech 12:10; Acts 11:18), the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the Gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ (Luke 24:47; Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21).

Ministers of Christ are not just to preach faith in Christ; they must also preach repentance unto life. But they are not only to preach repentance, but they are to declare it as an evangelical grace. That is, repentance is a gift from God. God demands nothing of sinners in salvation which He does not also offer, in the preaching of the Word, as a free gift.

2. By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God (Ezek. 18:30–31; 36:31; Isa. 30:22; Ps. 51:4; Jer. 31:18–19; Joel 2:12–13; Amos 5:15; Ps. 119:128; 2 Cor. 7;11), purposing and endeavouring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments (Ps. 119:6, 59, 106; Luke 1:6; 2 Ki. 23:25).

The sinner begins in a state of moral stupidity. He does not see the danger of his sins, and he does not see the filthiness of them. He does not do so because he does not connect his behavior to the holy nature of God, as being inconsistent with who God is and what God has said. Nor does he see and understand how God would be delighted to show him mercy if in a state of penitence. If he were to see this, he would grieve for his sins and hate them, and turn away from them to God. If brought to this state of repentance, he would turn to God with the full intent of walking with Him through all his days, following all His laws.

3. Although repentance be not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof (Ezek. 36:31–32; 16:61–63), which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ (Hos. 14:2, 4; Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7); yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 17:30–31).

Repentance is necessary to salvation but must never be thought of as the cause of it. Apples are necessary to apple trees, but apples never caused anything to become an apple tree. No man was ever saved apart from repentance, but repentance is not the reason God saves him—it is one of the instruments of salvation. The so-called “Lordship” controversy in fundamentalist circles is a result of not understanding this truth. If a man must repent in order to be saved, and if repentance is not an evangelical gift, then it does follow that to demand repentance is to demand salvation by works. But the problem is in the premises. Repentance is a gift of God.

4. As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation (Rom. 6:23; 5:12; Matt. 12:36); so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent (Isa. 55:7; Rom. 8:1; Isa. 1:16, 18).

A tiny sin is worthy to damn a man. And by the same token, no sin is so great as to exclude a man from God’s presence if there is true repentance. God can and does save the greatest of sinners.

5. Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man’s duty to endeavour to repent of his particular sins, particularly (Ps. 19:13; Luke 19:8; 1 Tim. 1:13, 15).

While there is no obligation to name every particular sin ever committed (which cannot be done), for the sake of simple honesty, it is important for a man to name particular sins as he comes in repentance to God. If he does not, then the possibility is great that his repentance is for sins defined according to his own lights, and not according to the Word. The duty is not to list every sin, but to list sins in truth, in a manner that demonstrates that we know what we are doing.

6. As every man is bound to make private confession of his sins to God, praying for the pardon thereof (Ps. 51:4–5, 7, 9, 14; Ps. 32:5–6); upon which, and the forsaking of them, he shall find mercy (Prov. 28:13; 1 John 1:9); so, he that scandalizeth his brother, or the Church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private or public confession, and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended (James 5:16; Luke 17:3–4; Josh. 7:19; Ps 51), who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him (2 Cor. 2:8).

Repentance for sin ought to be as public as the sin was, or in some measure commensurate with it. In other words, the duty of repentance brings with it the duty of restitution, whether done publicly or privately as the case may require. When this is done, the sinner is to be received back into fellowship in love.

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