This is discovered by a contemplation of the law, for “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Where there is no enforcing and expounding of the holy law of God there can be no true, deep, saving knowledge of sin; as the apostle Paul so plainly affirms, “I had not known sin, but by the law” (Rom. 7:7). The exceeding sinfulness of sin (Rom. 7:13) is only exposed when the Spirit turns the light of God’s law upon our conscience and heart. But this is preeminently an age of lawlessness, and that in every respect. And it cannot be otherwise: where the law of God is flouted, where thousands of preachers are declaring that the law has no place in this dispensation of grace, we cannot expect people to have much respect for human law. God has caused the people to reap that which they have sown: having sown the wind, they are now reaping the whirlwind. Bolshevism and anarchy are the inevitable rebound from having slighted and rejected the Ten Commandments!
Practical godliness consists in a conformity of heart and life to the law of God, and in a sincere compliance with the gospel of Christ. But it is only as we rightly understand both the law and the gospel that we can discern wherein a conformity to the one and a compliance with the other really consists. Now the requirements of the law are summed up in that word, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut. 6:5; cf. Matt. 22:37). Observe carefully the three things here specified: first, the duty required, namely, love to God. Second, the ground or reason for this, namely, because He is the Lord our God. Third, the measure or extent of this duty, namely, to love Him with all the heart. Nothing other than this, nothing less than this, will ever meet the righteous claims of God upon us.
Now that which is implied in and required unto a real love to God is, first, a true knowledge of Him. If our apprehensions of God are wrong, if they are not formed by Scripture, then it is obvious we have but a false image of Him, framed by our own fancy. By a true knowledge of God (John 17:3; I John 5:20) we mean far more than a correct theoretical notion of His perfections: there must be a heartfelt realization of His personal loveliness, His ineffable glory. And where that truly exists, there will be a delighting of ourselves in Him (Ps. 37:4) and a desire and a determination to please Him. And self-love naturally causes us to magnify self and seek to promote our own interests, so a true love to God causes us to put Him first and seek His interests.
In repentance sin is the thing to be repented of, and sin is a transgression of the law (I John 3:4). And the first and chief thing required by the law is supreme love to God. Therefore, the lack of supreme love to God, the heart’s disaffection for His character and rebellion against Him (Rom. 8:7) is our great wickedness, of which we have to repent. But it will never be in our hearts to repent unless we truly see our blame. And we can never truly see our blame until we perceive that which chiefly renders us to blame. It is the excellency of God, the infinite perfections of His glorious being, which renders Him worthy of and entitled to our supreme love and fullest obedience; and this it is which chiefly renders us to blame, for not having loved and served Him. Not to love so lovable an Object as the God of love is the crime of crimes.
What is sin? Sin is saying, I renounce the God who made me; I disallow His right to govern me. I care not what He says to me, what commandments He has given, nor how He expostulates: I prefer self-indulgence to His approval. I am indifferent unto all He has done to and for me; His blessings and gifts move me not: I am going to be lord of myself. Sin is rebellion against the majesty of heaven. It is to treat the Almighty with contempt. Oh, how vastly different a thing is sin from what the world supposes! How insensible are the unregenerate to the glory of God and that, which is due unto Him from us!
The natural man supposes that the great evil of sin consists in its being so injurious to us. For a creature, which is absolutely dependent, to assume an attitude of haughty independence is the sin of sins. To despise One, who is infinitely glorious and infinitely worthy of honor, love, and obedience, is an awful abomination. To be more concerned about pleasing fellow rebels than to seek the favor of God is turpitude of the blackest dye. O reader, if you have never seen the great evil of sin, then are you a stranger to God and blind to His surpassing loveliness; you are under the blinding power of sin.
Weigh well what is now being presented if you value your soul, dear friend. The “deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13) may hitherto have closed your eyes to the terrible condition you are in. If so, are you now willing to be undeceived? Are you willing to really see yourself? Then make no mistake upon this point: never was any sinner pardoned while he was impenitent; and never was a soul truly penitent while insensible of the great evil of sin; and never did a sinner perceive the great evil of sin till he became acquainted with the infinitely great and glorious God against whom he has sinned. You may indeed have been sorry for sin on other accounts—as exposing you to shame before men, as having injured your reputation, or because it has brought down God’s chastening hand upon your body or temporal affairs. But if you have never seen the great evil of sin, as it is against that God who is infinitely glorious in Himself, then your repentance was not genuine, and God has not pardoned you.
“Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (Ps. 51:4). A sense of the great evil of sin is essential to true repentance. We cannot be suitably affected toward things unless we see them as they are. No matter how lovely a thing or person may be, if their excellency be not perceived the heart is untouched. Even the infinite glory of God will not excite our esteem and love, if we have no sense of it. So, on the other hand, let sin be never so evil, yet if this be not realized we are not suitably affected toward it. Though it deserves to be hated with perfect hatred, and though there be every reason why we should be horrified on account of it and abase ourselves before God, mourning it in bitterness of heart, fearing it, watching against it as the greatest of all evils, yet we shall never do so until we see sin in its real hideousness. Thus a deep sense of the infinite evil of sin is plainly essential to repentance, yea, it is from this that repentance immediately springs.
The evil of sin arises from our obligations to do otherwise, namely, our being under obligation to love and serve Him who is infinitely glorious. But unless I clearly see this, there will not be, there cannot be any deep repentance. The language of every sinner’s heart is, I care not what God requires, and I am going to have my own way. I care not what be God’s claims upon me; I refuse to submit unto His authority. I care not what He has threatened to do unto those that defy Him, I will not be intimidated. His eyes may be upon me, but I am not going to be restrained thereby; I care not what He loves and what He hates, I shall please myself. But when the Holy Spirit enlightens and convicts a soul, his language is—”Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.”
Thus, true repentance issues from a realization in the heart, wrought therein by the Holy Spirit, of the sinfulness of sin, of the awfulness of ignoring the claims of God and defying His authority. It is therefore a holy horror and hatred of sin, a deep sorrow for it, an acknowledgment of it before God, and a complete heart forsaking of it. Not until this is done will God pardon us. Whoever will take the trouble to search through the Scriptures on this point, will find that it is plainly and uniformly taught by Moses and the prophets, by Christ and His apostles. Begin with what God demanded on the Day of Atonement: “whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day,” so far from the sacrifice removing his sins, “he shall be cut off from among his people” (Lev. 23:29).
Weigh well the teaching of these verses: “If they shall bethink themselves in the land whither they were carried captives, and repent, and make supplication unto thee in the land of them that carried them captives, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; and return unto thee with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies, which led them away captive, and pray unto thee . . . then hear thou their prayer and their supplication . . . and forgive thy people that have sinned against thee” (I Kings 8:47-50). No change of dispensation has wrought any change in the character of the thrice-holy God. His claims are ever the same.
For the teachings of the prophets see Psalm 32:3-5; Proverbs 28:13; Jeremiah 4:4, Ezekiel 18:30-32, Hosea 5:15, Joel 2:12-13. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, preached saying, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). This was as though he said, “Such is the nature of the Messiah’s kingdom, so holy is it, that no impenitent sinner, while such, can be a member of it and share its blessings. The promised One is on the eve of making His appearance: therefore repent ye, and thus be prepared to receive Him.” Thus did John preach, and many did he turn unto the Lord their God (Luke 1:16-17).
The Lord Jesus taught and constantly pressed the same truth. His call was, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15): the gospel cannot be savingly believed until there is genuine repentance—as the ground must be ploughed before it is capable of receiving the seed, so the heart must be melted ere it will welcome the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Therefore did He declare, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4), and announce that He had been sent “to heal the broken-hearted” (Luke 4:18). He came here to “call sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32), and insisted that “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). He illustrated this truth at length in the parable of the prodigal son, who “came to himself,” repented, left the “far country,” returned to the Father, and so obtained His forgiveness (Luke 15:17-20).
When risen from the dead, Christ commissioned His servants “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations” (Luke 24:47), and Acts 5:31 tells us that He has been exalted on high to communicate these blessings in the same order, namely, “to give repentance to [the spiritual] Israel and forgiveness of sins.” Accordingly we find the apostles, who were filled with the Holy Spirit, thus carrying out His command. On the day of Pentecost when many were “pricked in their hearts” and asked, “What shall we do?” Peter did not say, Do nothing, but rest upon the finished work of Christ. Instead, he said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Again, in Acts 3:19 we find him saying, “Repent ye therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out”!
When Paul was converted and sent to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, it was to “open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins” (Acts 26:18); hence we find he went everywhere and preached to men that “they should repent and turn to God and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20), “testifying to both Jews and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). As to those who shut their eyes, stopped their ears, hardened their hearts, and were given up to destruction in the days of the prophets (Isa. 6:10), of Christ (Matt. 13:15), and of the apostles (Acts 28:27), their sentence ran thus: “ . . . lest they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and be converted, and I should heal them,” which, compared with Mark 4:12, signifies, “and their sins should be forgiven them.”
Against these clear and consistent testimonies of Holy Writ, certain men have insisted that the divine call to repentance was never made to any except those who were in covenant relationship with God. But as we have shown, Acts 17:30 and 26:20 clearly expose this error. Some have pointed out that the word “repent” is not once found in all John’s Gospel, and in view of 20:31 have reasoned that it is not necessary unto salvation. But John’s Gospel is plainly addressed unto those who are saved (see 1:16). It is that Gospel which sets forth the Son in relation to the sons of God. John 20:31 obviously means that this Gospel is written to strengthen the faith of believers; as I John 5:13 (addressed to those who already knew they were saved: see 2:3, etc.) signifies the purpose of that Epistle was to deepen assurance. Others have drawn a false inference from the very infrequent mention of repentance in the Epistles, but they also are addressed to the saints; yet II Corinthians 7:10; II Timothy 2:25, II Peter 3:9 manifestly confirm the fact that repentance is required throughout this dispensation.
“There is no new thing under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9), nor is the present-day denial of the necessity of repentance for salvation any twentieth-century novelty. In proof of this statement we could find page after page with quotations from Antinomians and others who lived long before “dispensational truth” was first heard of. No, it is an old device of Satan’s, yet under a new dress. But woe be unto those who accept his lie. God must cease to exist before He will lower His claims and cease demanding repentance from all who have rebelled against Him. Make no mistake upon this point, dear reader: it is turn or burn—turn from your course of self-will and self-pleasing; turn in broken heartedness to God, seeking His mercy in Christ; turn with full purpose to please and serve Him, or be tormented day and night forever and ever in the lake of fire.