The Doctrine of Repentance
By Thomas Watson, 1668
The NATURE of true repentance
I shall next show what gospel repentance is. Repentance
is a grace of God's Spirit, whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and
outwardly reformed. For a further amplification, know that repentance is
a spiritual medicine made up of six special ingredients:
1. Sight of sin
2. Sorrow for sin
3. Confession of sin
4. Shame for sin
5. Hatred for sin
6. Turning from sin
If any one ingredient is left out, it loses its virtue.
Ingredient 1. SIGHT of Sin
The first ingredient of Christ's gospel-medicine is
eye-salve. "I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them
from darkness to light" (Acts 26:17-18). It is the great thing noted in the
prodigal's repentance: "he came to himself" (Luke 15:17). He saw
himself a sinner—and nothing but a sinner. Before a man can come to
Christ—he must first come to himself. A man must first recognize
and consider what his sin is, and know the plague of his heart—before he can
be duly humbled for it.
The first thing God made was light. So the first
thing in a penitent, is illumination: "For you were once darkness, but now
you are light in the Lord" (Eph. 5:8). The eye is made both for seeing
and weeping. Sin must first be seen—before it can be
wept for. Hence I infer that where there is no sight of sin—there can be
Many who can spy faults in others—see none in themselves.
They cry that they have good hearts. Is it not strange that two
should live together, and eat and drink together—yet not know each other?
Such is the case of a sinner. His body and soul live together,
work together—yet he is unacquainted with himself. He knows not his own
heart, nor what a hell he carries about him. Under a veil—a deformed
face is hidden. People are veiled over with ignorance and self-love;
therefore they see not what deformed souls they have! The devil does with
them as the trainer with the hawk. He covers their eyes, and carries them
hooded to hell! "The sword will pierce his right eye!" (Zechariah
11:17) Men have insight enough into worldly matters—but the right
eye of their mind is blind. They do not see any evil in sin; the sword
has pierced their right eye!
Ingredient 2. SORROW for Sin
"I will be sorry for my sin." (Psalm 38:18) Ambrose calls
sorrow the embittering of the soul. The Hebrew word "to be sorrowful"
signifies "to have the soul, as it were, crucified". This must be in true
repentance: "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced—and they shall
mourn" (Zech. 12:10), as if they did feel the nails of the cross sticking in
their sides. A woman may as well expect to have a child without pangs—as one
can have repentance without sorrow! He who can repent without sorrowing,
suspect his repentance. Martyrs shed blood for Christ, and penitents
shed tears for sin: "she stood at Jesus' feet weeping" (Luke 7:38).
See how this tear dropped from her heart. The sorrow of her heart—ran
out at her eye!
The brazen laver for the priests to wash in (Exod. 30:18)
typified a double laver: the laver of Christ's blood we must
wash in by faith—and the laver of tears we must wash in by
repentance. A true penitent labors to work his heart into a sorrowing frame.
He blesses God when he can weep. He is glad of a rainy day, for he
knows that it is a repentance he will have no cause to repent of. Though the
bread of sorrow is bitter to the taste—yet it strengthens the heart
(Psalm 104:15; 2 Cor. 7:10).
This sorrow for sin is not superficial: it is a holy
agony. It is called in scripture a breaking of the heart: "The
sacrifices of God are a broken and a contrite heart" (Psalm 51:17); and a
rending of the heart: "Rend your heart" (Joel 2:13). The expressions of
smiting on the thigh (Jer. 31:19), beating on the breast (Luke
18:13), putting on of sackcloth (Isaiah 22:12), plucking off the
hair (Ezra 9:3), all these are but outward signs of inward sorrow.
This sorrow is:
(1) To make Christ precious. O how desirable
is a Savior to a troubled soul! Now Christ is Christ indeed—and mercy is
mercy indeed. Until the heart is full of sorrow for sin—it is not fit for
Christ. How welcome is a surgeon—to a man who is bleeding from his wounds!
(2) To drive out sin. Sin breeds sorrow—and
sorrow kills sin! Holy sorrow purges out the evil humours of the
soul. It is said that the tears of vine-branches are good to cure the
leprosy. However that may be, it is certain that the tears which drop from
the penitential eye, will cure the leprosy of sin. The saltwater of
tears—kills the worm of conscience.
(3) To make way for solid comfort. "Those who
sow in tears shall reap in joy" (Psalm 126:5). The penitent
has a wet sowing-time—but a delicious harvest. Repentance breaks the
abscess of sin—and then the soul is at ease! Hannah, after weeping,
went away and was no longer sad (1 Sam. 1:18). God's troubling of the soul
for sin, is like the angel's troubling of the pool (John 5:4), which made
way for healing.
But not all sorrow evidences true repentance. There is as
much difference between true and false sorrow—as between water in the
spring, which is sweet—and water in the sea, which is briny. The apostle
speaks of "godly sorrow" (2 Cor. 7:9). What is this godly sorrowing? There
are six qualifications of it:
1. True godly sorrow is INTERNAL. It is inward
in two ways:
(1) It is a sorrow of the heart. The sorrow of
hypocrites lies in their faces: "they disfigure their faces" (Matt.
6:16). They make a sour face—but their sorrow goes no further. It is like
the dew which wets the leaf, but does not soak to the root.
Ahab's repentance was in outward show. His garments were rent—but not
his heart (1 Kings 21:27). Godly sorrow goes deep, like a vein which
bleeds inwardly. The heart bleeds for sin: "they were pricked in their
heart" (Acts 2:37). As the heart bears a chief part in sinning—so
it must in sorrowing.
(2) It is a sorrow for heart-sins, the first
outbreaks and risings of sin. Paul grieved for the law of sin in his members
(Romans 7:23). The true mourner weeps for the stirrings of pride and lust.
He grieves for the "root of bitterness" even though it never blossoms
into overt act. A wicked man may be troubled for scandalous
sins; a real convert laments heart sins.
2. Godly sorrow is SINCERE. It is sorrow for
the offence—rather than for the punishment. God's law
has been infringed—and his love abused. This melts the soul in tears.
A man may be sorry—yet not repent. A thief is sorry when he is caught,
not because he stole—but because he has to pay the penalty!
Hypocrites grieve only for the bitter consequence of sin. Their eyes
never pour out tears—except when God's judgments are approaching. Pharaoh
was more troubled for the frogs—than for his sin.
Godly sorrow, however, is chiefly for the trespass
against God—so that even if there were no conscience to smite,
no devil to accuse, no hell to punish—yet the soul would still
be grieved because of the offense done to God. "My sin is ever before
me" (Psalm 51:3); David does not say, The sword is ever before me—but
"my sin". "O that I should offend so good a God, that I should grieve
my Comforter! This breaks my heart!" Godly sorrow shows itself to be
sincere, because when a Christian knows that he is out of the gun-shot of
hell and shall never be damned—yet he still grieves for sinning against that
free grace which has pardoned him!
3. Godly sorrow is always intermixed with FAITH.
Sorrow for sin, is chequered with faith, as we have seen a bright rainbow
appear in a watery cloud. Spiritual sorrow will sink the heart—if
the pulley of faith does not raise it. As our sin is ever
before us, so God's promise must be ever before us. As we much feel
our sting, so we must look up to Christ our brazen serpent.
Some have faces so swollen with worldly grief, that they can hardly look out
of their eyes. That weeping is not good—which blinds the eye of faith.
If there are not some dawnings of faith in the soul—it is not the
sorrow of humiliation, but of despair.
4. Godly sorrow is a GREAT sorrow. "In that
day shall there be a great mourning" (Zech. 12:11). Two suns did set
that day when Josiah died, and there was a great funeral mourning. To such a
height must sorrow for sin be boiled up.
Question 1. Do all have the same degree of sorrow?
Answer: No, there may be greater or lesser sorrow. In the
new birth all have pangs—but some have sharper pangs than others.
(1) Some are naturally of a more rugged disposition, of
higher spirits—and are not easily brought to stoop. These must have
greater humiliation, as a knotty piece of timber must have sharper wedges
driven into it.
(2) Some have been more heinous offenders—and their
sorrow must be suitable to their sin. Some patients have their abscess let
out with a needle, others with a lance. Heinous sinners must
be more bruised with the hammer of the law.
(3) Some are designed and cut out for higher service, to
be eminently instrumental for God—and these must have a mightier work of
humiliation pass upon them. Those whom God intends to be pillars in his
church—must be more hewn. Paul, the prince of the apostles, who was
to be God's ensign-bearer to carry his name before the Gentiles and kings,
was to have his heart more deeply lanced by repentance.
Question 2. But how great must sorrow for sin be in all?
Answer: It must be as great as for any worldly loss.
"They shall look upon me whom they have pierced—and they shall mourn as for
an only son" (Zech. 12:10). Sorrow for sin must surpass worldly
sorrow. We must grieve more for offending God—than for the loss of dear
relations. "The Lord, the Lord Almighty, called you on that day to weep
and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth" (Isaiah
22:12). This repentance was for sin. But in the case of the burial of
the dead, we find God prohibiting tears (Jer. 22:10; 16:6), to
intimate that sorrow for sin must exceed sorrow at the grave. And with good
reason, for in the burial of the dead it is only a friend who
departs—but in sin God departs!
Sorrow for sin should be so great as to swallow up all
other sorrow, as when the pain of the kidney-stone and gout
meet—the pain of the kidney-stone swallows up the pain of the gout.
We are to find as much bitterness in weeping for sin—as ever we found
sweetness in committing it. Surely David found more bitterness in
repentance—than ever he found comfort in Bathsheba.
Our sorrow for sin must be such as makes us willing to
let go of those sins which brought in the greatest income of profit or
delight. The medicine shows itself strong enough—when it has purged out our
disease. Just so, the Christian has arrived at a sufficient measure of
sorrow—when the love of sin is purged out.
5. Godly sorrow in some cases is joined with RESTITUTION.
Whoever has wronged others by unjust fraudulent dealing, ought to
make them recompense. There is an express law for this: "He must make full
restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person
he has wronged." (Num. 5:7). Thus Zaccheus made restitution: "if I have
cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount"
(Luke 19:8). When Selymus the great Turk, lay upon his death-bed, being
urged to put to charitable use that wealth he had wronged the Persian
merchants of—he commanded that it should be sent back to the right owners.
Shall not a Christian's creed be better than a Turk's Koran? It is a bad
sign when a man on his death-bed bequeaths his soul to God, and his
ill-gotten goods to his friends. I can hardly think God will receive his
soul. Augustine said, "Without restitution, no remission".
Question 1. Suppose a person has wronged another—and
the wronged man is dead. What should he do?
Answer: Let him restore his ill-gotten goods to that
man's heirs and family. If none of them are living, let him restore to
God—that is, let him put his unjust gain into God's treasury by relieving
Question 2. What if the party who did the
wrong is dead?
Answer: Then those who are his heirs ought to make
restitution. Mark what I say—if there are any who has an estate left to
them, and he knows that the one who left his estate had defrauded others and
died with that guilt upon him—then the heir who now possesses the estate, is
bound to make restitution, otherwise he entails the curse of God upon his
Question 3. If a man has wronged another and is not
able to restore, what should he do?
Answer: Let him deeply humble himself before God,
promising to the wronged party full satisfaction, if the Lord makes him
able, and God will accept the will for the deed.
6. Godly sorrow is ABIDING. It is not a few
tears shed in a passion, which will serve the turn. Some will fall a-weeping
at a sermon—but it is like an April shower, it is soon over—or like a vein
opened and presently stopped again. True sorrow must be habitual. O
Christian, the disease of your soul is chronic and frequently returns
upon you; therefore you must be continually medicating yourself by
repentance. This is "godly sorrow."
Application: How far are they from repentance, who never
had any of this godly sorrow! Such are:
(1) Deluded Papists, who leave out the very
soul of repentance, making all penitential work consist in external fasting,
penance, pilgrimages, in which there is nothing of spiritual sorrow. They
torture their bodies—but their hearts are not torn. What is this, but the
carcass of repentance?
(2) Carnal Protestants, who are strangers to
godly sorrow. They cannot endure a serious thought, nor do they trouble
their heads about sin. One physician spoke of a frenzy some
have—which will make them die dancing. Likewise, sinners spend their
days in mirth—they fling away sorrow—and go dancing to damnation!
Some have lived many years—yet never put a drop of repentant tears in God's
bottle, nor do they know what a broken heart means. They weep and wring
their hands as if they were undone, when their estates are gone—but
have no agony of soul for sin!
There is a two-fold sorrow: Firstly, there is a
rational sorrow, which is an act of the soul whereby it has an
animosity against sin, and chooses any torture rather than to admit sin.
Secondly, there is a sensitive sorrow, which is expressed by many
tears. The first of these is to be found in every child of God—but the
second, which is a sorrow running out at the eye, all have not.
Yet it is very commendable to see a weeping
penitent. Christ counts as great beauties—those who are tender-eyed;
and well may sin make us weep. We usually weep for the loss of some great
good; by sin we have lost the favor of God. If Micah did so weep for the
loss of his idols, saying, "You've taken away all my gods, and I have
nothing left!" (Judges 18:24). Then well may we weep for our sins, which
have taken away the true God from us!
Some may ask the question—whether our repentance and
sorrow must always be at the same level. Although repentance must be
always kept alive in the soul—yet there are two special times when we
must renew our repentance in an extraordinary manner:
(1) Before the receiving of the Lord's Supper. This
spiritual Passover is to be eaten with bitter herbs. Now our eyes
should be fresh broached with tears, and the stream of sorrow overflow. A
repenting frame is a sacramental frame. A broken heart and
a broken Christ do well agree. The more bitterness we taste in
sin—the more sweetness we shall taste in Christ! When Jacob wept—he
found God: "Jacob named the place Peniel—face of God—for I have seen
God face to face!" (Gen. 32:30). The way to find Christ comfortably in the
sacrament, is to go weeping there. Christ will say to a humble penitent, as
to Thomas: "Put your hand into the wound in my side" (John 20:27), and let
those bleeding wounds of mine heal you.
(2) Another time of extraordinary repentance is at the
hour of death. This should be a weeping season. Now is our last work to
be done for heaven, and our best wine of tears should be kept until
such a time. We should repent now—that we have sinned so much—and wept so
little; that God's bag of our sins has been so full—and his bottle
of our repenting tears has been so empty (Job 14:17). We should repent
now—that we repented no sooner; that the garrisons of our hearts held out so
long against God before they were leveled by repentance. We should repent
now—that we have loved Christ no more—that we have fetched no more virtue
from him and brought no more glory to him. It should be our grief on our
death-bed that our lives have had so many blanks and blots in
them—that our duties have been so tainted with sin, that our
obedience has been so imperfect—and we have gone so lame in the ways of
God. When the soul is going out of the body—it should swim to heaven in a
sea of tears!
Ingredient 3. CONFESSION of Sin
Sorrow is such a vehement passion—that it will have vent.
It vents itself at the eyes by weeping, and at the tongue by
confession. "The children of Israel stood and confessed their sins (Neh.
9:2). "I will go and return to my place, until they acknowledge their
offence" (Hos. 5:15). This is a metaphor alluding to a mother who, when she
is angry, goes away from the child and hides her face until the child
acknowledges its fault and begs pardon. Gregory Nazianzen calls confession
"a salve for a wounded soul." Confession is self-accusing: "I have sinned!"
(2 Sam. 24:17). When we come before God, we must accuse ourselves. The truth
is—that by this self-accusing we prevent Satan's accusing. In our
confessions we accuse ourselves of pride, infidelity, passion, so that when
Satan, who is called "the accuser of the brethren", shall lay these things
to our charge, God will say, "They have accused themselves already;
therefore, Satan, you have no suit; your accusations come too late."
The humble sinner does more than accuse himself; he, as
it were, sits in judgment and passes sentence upon himself. He confesses
that he has deserved to be bound over to the wrath of God. Hear what
the apostle Paul says: "if we judged ourselves, we would not come under
judgment" (1 Cor. 11:31). But have not wicked men, like Judas and Saul,
confessed sin? Yes! but theirs was not a true confession. That confession of
sin may be right and genuine, these eight qualifications are requisite:
1. Confession must be VOLUNTARY.
It must come as water out of a spring—freely. The
confession of the wicked is extorted, like the confession of a man upon a
rack. When a spark of God's wrath flies into their conscience, or they are
in fear of death—then they will fall to their confessions! Balaam, when he
saw the angel's naked sword, could say, "I have sinned!" (Num. 22:34). But
true confession drops from the lips—as myrrh from the tree, or honey from
the comb—freely. "I have sinned against heaven, and before you" (Luke
15:18). The prodigal charged himself with sin, before his father
charged him with it.
2. Confession must be with REMORSE.
The heart must deeply resent it. A natural man's
confessions run through him as water through a pipe. They do not affect him
at all. But true confession leaves heart-wounding impressions on a man.
David's soul was burdened in the confession of his sins: "as a heavy burden,
they are too heavy for me" (Psalm 38:4). It is one thing to confess sin—and
another thing to feel sin's wounds.
3. Confession must be SINCERE.
Our hearts must go along with our confessions. The
hypocrite confesses sin—but loves it; like a thief who
confesses to stolen goods—yet loves stealing. How many confess pride and
covetousness with their lips—but roll them as honey under their tongue.
Augustine said that before his conversion he confessed sin and begged power
against it—but his heart whispered within him, "not yet, Lord". He really
did not want to leave his sin. A good Christian is more honest. His heart
keeps pace with his tongue. He is convinced of the sins he
confesses, and abhors the sins he is convinced of.
4. In true confession a man PARTICULARIZES sin.
A wicked man acknowledges he is a sinner in general.
He confesses sin by wholesale. A wicked man says, "Lord, I have
sinned"—but does not know what the sin is; whereas a true convert
acknowledges his particular sins. As it is with a wounded man, who comes to
the surgeon and shows him all his wounds—here I was cut in the head, there I
was shot in the arm; so a mournful sinner confesses the various sins of his
soul. Israel drew up a particular charge against themselves: "we have served
Baal" (Judg. 10:10). The prophet recites the very sin which brought a curse
with it: "Neither have we hearkened unto your servants the prophets, which
spoke in your name" (Dan. 9:6). By a diligent inspection into our hearts, we
may find some particular sin indulged—point to that sin with a repentant
5. A true penitent confesses sin in the FOUNTAIN.
He acknowledges the pollution of his nature. The
sin of our nature is not only a privation of good—but an infusion
of evil. It is like rust to iron or stain to scarlet. David acknowledges
his birth-sin: "I was shaped in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive
me" (Psalm 51:5). We are ready to charge many of our sins to Satan's
temptations—but this sin of our nature is wholly from ourselves; we cannot
shift it off to Satan. We have a root within, which bears gall and wormwood
(Deut. 29:18). Our nature is an abyss and seed of all sin, from whence come
those evils which infest the world. It is this depravity of nature
which poisons our holy things; it is this which brings on God's judgments.
Oh confess sin in the fountain!
6. Sin is to be confessed with all its circumstances and
Those sins which are committed under the gospel horizon,
are aggravated sins. Confess sins against knowledge, against grace, against
vows, against experiences, against judgments. "The wrath of God came upon
them and slew the fattest of them. For all this they sinned still" (Psalm
78:31-2). Those are killing aggravations, which enhance our sins.
7. In confession, we must so charge ourselves as to clear
Should the Lord be severe in his providences and
unsheathe his bloody sword—yet we must acquit him and acknowledge he has
done us no wrong. Nehemiah in his confessing of sin vindicates God's
righteousness: "Every time you punished us you were being just. We have
sinned greatly, and you gave us only what we deserved" (Neh. 9:33).
Mauritius the emperor, when he saw his wife slain before his eyes by Phocas,
cried out, "Righteous are you, O Lord, in all your ways".
8. We must confess our sins with a resolution not to
commit them over again. Some run from the confessing of
sin—to the committing of sin, like the Persians who have one day in
the year when they kill serpents; and after that day allow them to swarm
again. Likewise, many seem to kill their sins in their confessions, and
afterwards let them grow as fast as ever. "Cease to do evil" (Isaiah 1:16).
It is vain to confess, "We have done those things we ought not to have
done", and continue still in doing so. Pharaoh confessed he had sinned (Exod.
9:27)—but when the thunder ceased he fell to his sin again: "he sinned yet
more, and hardened his heart" (Exod. 9:34). Origen calls confession "the
vomit of the soul whereby the conscience is eased of that burden which
did lie upon it." Now, when we have vomited up sin by confession—we
must not return to this vomit! What king will pardon that man who, after he
has confessed his treason, practices new treason? Thus we see how confession
must be qualified.
Use 1. Is confession a necessary ingredient in
repentance? Here is a bill of indictment against four kinds of people:
(1) It reproves those who hide their sins, as
Rachel hid her father's idols under her saddle (Gen. 31:34). Many had rather
have their sins covered—than cured. They do with their sins as
with their pictures: they draw a curtain over them. But though men will have
no tongue to confess—God has an eye to see! He will unmask their treason:
"But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face!" (Psalm 50:21). Those
iniquities which men hide in their hearts—shall be written one day on
their foreheads as with the point of a diamond! They who will not
confess their sin as David did—that they may be pardoned; shall confess
their sin as Achan did—that they may be punished. It is dangerous to keep
the devil's counsel—to hide our sins. "He who covers his sins shall not
prosper" (Proverbs 28:13).
(2) It reproves those who do indeed confess sin, but only
by halves. They do not confess all; they confess the pence—but
not the pounds. They confess vain thoughts or badness of memory—but
not the sins they are most guilty of, such as rash anger, extortion,
immorality. They are like one who complains that his head aches—when
his lungs are full of cancer! But if we do not confess all, how should we
expect that God will pardon all? It is true that we cannot know the exact
catalogue of our sins—but the sins which come within our view and
cognizance, and which our hearts accuse us of, must be confessed as ever we
hope for mercy.
(3) It reproves those who in their confessions, mince
and mitigate their sins. A gracious soul labors to
make the worst of his sins—but hypocrites make the best of
them. They do not deny they are sinners—but they do what they can to lessen
their sins. They indeed offend sometimes—but it is their nature.
These are excuses rather than confessions. "I have sinned: for
I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord: because I feared the
people" (1 Sam. 15:24). Saul lays his sin upon the people: they would have
him spare the sheep and oxen. It was an excuse, not a self-indictment. This
runs in the blood. Adam acknowledged that he had tasted the forbidden
fruit—but instead of aggravating his sin he transferred it from himself to
God: "The woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit—and I ate" (Gen.
3:12), that is, if I had not had this woman to be a tempter, I would not
have transgressed. How apt we are to pare and curtail sin, and look upon it
through the small end of the telescope, that it appears but as "a little
cloud, like a man's hand" (1 Kings 18:44).
(4) It reproves those who are so far from confessing sin,
that they boldly plead for it. Instead of having tears to lament
it, they use arguments to defend it. If their sin is anger, they will
justify it: "I do well to be angry!" (Jon. 4:9). If it be covetousness, they
will vindicate it. When men commit sin they are the devil's servants; when
they plead for it they are the devil's attorneys, and he will give them a
Use 2. Let us show ourselves penitents by
sincere confession of sin. The thief on the cross made a confession of his
sin: "we indeed are condemned justly" (Luke 23:41). And Christ said to him,
"Today shall you be with me in paradise!" (Luke 23:43), which might have
occasioned that speech of Augustine's, that "confession of sin shuts the
mouth of hell and opens the gate of paradise" That we may make a free and
sincere confession of sin, let us consider:
(1) Holy confession gives glory to God. "Give
glory to the Lord, the God of Israel—and make a confession to
Him" (Josh. 7:19). A humble confession exalts God. When we confess sin,
God's patience is magnified in sparing, and his free grace in saving such
(2) Confession is a means to humble the soul.
He who subscribes himself a hell-deserving sinner, will have little heart to
be proud. Like the violet, he will hang down his head in humility. A
true penitent confesses that he mingles sin with all he does—and therefore
has nothing to boast of. Uzziah, though a king—yet had a leprosy in his
forehead; he had enough to abase him (2 Chron. 26:19). So a child of God,
even when he does good—yet acknowledges much evil to be in that good. This
lays all his plumes of pride in the dust.
(3) Confession gives vent to a troubled heart.
When guilt lies boiling in the conscience, confession gives ease. It is like
the lancing of an abscess, which gives ease to the patient.
(4) Confession purges out sin. Augustine
called it "the expeller of vice". Sin is bad blood; confession is like the
opening of a vein to let it out. Confession is like the dung-gate, through
which all the filth of the city was carried forth (Neh. 3:13). Confession is
like pumping at the leak; it lets out that sin which would otherwise drown.
Confession is the sponge which wipes the spots from off the soul.
(5) Confession of sin endears Christ to the soul.
If I say I am a sinner—how precious will Christ's blood be to me!
After Paul has confessed a body of sin, he breaks forth into a thankful
triumph for Christ: "I thank God through Jesus Christ" (Romans 7:25). If a
debtor confesses a judgment but the creditor will not exact the debt,
instead appointing his own son to pay it, will not the debtor be very
thankful? So when we confess the debt, and that even though we should
forever lie in hell we cannot pay it—but that God should appoint his own Son
to lay down his blood for the payment of our debt—how is free grace
magnified and Jesus Christ eternally loved and admired!
(6) Confession of sin makes way for pardon. No
sooner did the prodigal come with a confession in his mouth, "I have sinned
against heaven", than his father's heart did melt towards him, "Filled with
love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him" (Luke
15:20). When David said, "I have sinned", the prophet brought him a box with
a pardon, "The Lord has put away your sin" (2 Sam. 12:13). He who sincerely
confesses sin, has God's bond for a pardon: "If we confess our sins, he is
faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). Why does not
the apostle say that if we confess, God is merciful to forgive our
sins? He says that God is just, because he has bound himself by
promise to forgive such. God's truth and justice are engaged for the
pardoning of that man who confesses sin and comes with a penitent heart by
faith in Christ.
(7) How reasonable and easy is this command
that we should confess sin!
(a) It is a reasonable command, for if
one has wronged another, what is more rational than to confess he has
wronged him? We, having wronged God by sin, how equal and consonant to
reason is it that we should confess the offence.
(b) It is an easy command. What a vast
difference is there between the first covenant and the second! In the first
covenant it was, if you commit sin you die! In the second covenant it
is, if you confess sin you shall have mercy! In the first covenant no
surety was allowed; under the covenant of grace, if we do but confess the
debt, Christ will be our surety. What way could be thought of as more ready
and facile for the salvation of man, than a humble confession? "Only
acknowledge your iniquity" ( Jer. 3:13). God says to us, I do not ask for
sacrifices of rams to expiate your guilt; I do not bid you part with the
fruit of your body for the sin of your soul, "only acknowledge your
iniquity." Do but draw up an indictment against yourself and plead
guilty—and you shall be sure of mercy. All this should render this duty
amiable. Throw out the poison of sin by confession, and "this day is
salvation come to your house".
There remains one case of conscience: are we bound to
confess our sins to men? The papists
insist much upon auricular confession; that is—one must confess his
sins in the ear of the priest or he cannot be absolved. They urge, "Confess
your sins one to another" (James 5:16)—but this scripture is little to their
purpose. It may as well mean that the priest should confess to the people as
well as the people to the priest. Auricular confession is one of the Pope's
golden doctrines. Like the fish in the Gospel, it has money in its mouth:
"when you have opened its mouth, you shall find a piece of money" (Matt.
17:27). But though I am not for confession to men in a popish sense—yet I
think in three cases there ought to be confession to men:
(1) Firstly, where a person has fallen into scandalous
sin and by it has been an occasion of offence to some and of falling to
others, he ought to make a solemn and open acknowledgment of his sin, that
his repentance may be as visible as his scandal (2 Cor. 2:6-7).
(2) Secondly, where a man has confessed his sin to
God—yet still his conscience is burdened, and he can have no ease in his
mind—it is very requisite that he should confess his sins to some prudent,
pious friend, who may advise him and speak a word in due season ( James
5:16). It is a sinful modesty in Christians, that they are not more free
with their ministers and other spiritual friends in unburdening themselves
and opening the sores and troubles of their souls to them. If there is a
thorn sticking in the conscience, it is good to make use of those who may
help to pluck it out.
(3) Thirdly, where any man has slandered another and by
clipping his good name has made it weigh lighter, he is bound to make
confession. The scorpion carries its poison in its tail—the
slanderer in carries its poison in his tongue! His words pierce deep
like swords. That person who has murdered another in his good name or, by
bearing false witness, or has damaged him in his estate, ought to confess
his sin and ask forgiveness: "if you are standing before the altar in the
Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone
has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go
and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God"
(Matt. 5:23-24). How can this reconciliation be effected but by confessing
the injury? Until this is done, God will accept none of your services. Do
not think the holiness of the altar will privilege you; your praying and
hearing are in vain, until you have appeased your brother's anger by
confessing your fault to him.
Ingredient 4. SHAME for Sin
The fourth ingredient in repentance is shame: "that they
may be ashamed of their iniquities" (Ezek. 43:10). Blushing is
the color of virtue. When the heart has been made black with sin, grace
makes the face red with blushing: "I am ashamed and blush to lift up my
face" (Ezra 9:6). The repenting prodigal was so ashamed of his sinfulness,
that he thought himself not worthy to be called a son any more (Luke 15:21).
Repentance causes a holy bashfulness. If Christ's blood were not at the
sinner's heart, there would not so much blood come in the face. There are
nine considerations about sin which may cause shame:
(1) Every sin makes us guilty, and guilt usually breeds
shame. Adam never blushed in the time of innocency. While he kept
the whiteness of the lily, he had not the blushing of the rose. But when he
had deflowered his soul by sin—then he was ashamed. Sin has tainted our
blood. We are guilty of high treason against the Crown of heaven. This may
cause a holy modesty and blushing.
(2) In every sin there is much unthankfulness, and that
is a matter of shame. He who is upbraided with ingratitude will
blush. We have sinned against God when he has given us no cause: "What
iniquity have your fathers found in me?" (Jer. 2:5). Wherein has God wearied
us, unless his mercies have wearied us? Oh the silver drops which have
fallen on us! We have had the finest of the wheat; we have been fed with
angels' food. The golden oil of divine blessing has run down on us from the
head of our heavenly Aaron. And to abuse the kindness of so good a God—how
may this make us ashamed!
Julius Caesar took it unkindly at the hands of Brutus, on
whom he had bestowed so many favors, when he came to stab him: "What, you,
my son Brutus?" O ungrateful—to be the worse for mercy! One reports
of the vulture, that it draws sickness from perfumes. To contract the
disease of pride and luxury, from the perfume of God's mercy—how unworthy is
that! It is to requite evil for good, to kick against our feeder, "He
nourished him with honey from the rock, and with oil from the flinty crag,
with curds and milk from herd and flock and with fattened lambs and goats,
with choice rams of Bashan and the finest kernels of wheat. You drank the
foaming blood of the grape. Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked. He
abandoned the God who made him and scorned the Rock of his salvation" (Deut.
32:13-15). This is to make an arrow of God's mercies—and shoot at him! This
is to wound him with his own blessing! O horrid ingratitude! Will not this
dye our faces a deep scarlet? Unthankfulness is a sin so great, that God
himself stands amazed at it: "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: I have
nourished and brought up children—and they have rebelled against me!"
(3) Sin has made us naked, and that may breed shame.
Sin has stripped us of our white linen of holiness. It has made us
naked and deformed in God's eye—which may cause blushing. When Hanun had
abused David's servants and cut off their garments so that their nakedness
appeared, the text says, "the men were greatly ashamed" (2 Sam. 10:5).
(4) Our sins have put Christ to shame, and should not we
be ashamed? The Jews arrayed him in purple; they put a reed in
his hand, spit in his face, and in his greatest agonies reviled him. Here
was "the shame of the cross". And that which aggravated the shame, was to
consider the eminency of his person—as he was the Lamb of God. Did
our sins put Christ to shame—and shall they not put us to
shame? Did he wear the purple—and shall not our cheeks wear crimson? Who can
behold the sun as it were blushing at Christ's passion, and hiding itself in
an eclipse—and his face not blush?
(5) Many sins which we commit are by the special
instigation of the devil—and should not this cause shame? The
devil put it into the heart of Judas to betray Christ (John 13:2). He filled
Ananias' heart to lie (Acts 5:3). He often stirs up our passions (James
3:6). Now, as it is a shame to bring forth a child illegitimately, so too is
it to bring forth such sins as may call the devil father. It is said
that the virgin Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke
1:35)—but we often conceive by the power of Satan. When the heart conceives
pride, lust, and malice—it is very often by the power of the devil. May not
this make us ashamed to think that many of our sins are committed in
copulation with the old serpent?
(6) Sin turns men into beasts (2
Peter 2:12), and is not that matter for shame? Sinners are compared to
foxes (Luke 13:32), to wolves (Matt. 7:15), to donkeys
(Job 28 11:12), to swine (2 Pet. 2:22). A sinner is a swine with a
man's head. He who was once little less than the angels in dignity—has now
become like the beasts. Grace in this life does not wholly obliterate this
brutish temper. Agur, that good man, cried out, "surely I am more brutish
than any!" (Proverbs 30:2). But common sinners are in a manner wholly
brutified; they do not act rationally, but are carried away by the violence
of their lusts and passions. How may this make us ashamed, who are thus
degenerated below our own species? Our sins have taken away that noble, holy
spirit which once we had. The crown has fallen from our head. God's image is
defaced, reason is eclipsed, conscience stupified! We have more in us of the
brute, than of the angel.
(7) In every sin there is folly ( Jer. 4:22).
A man will be ashamed of his folly. Is not he a fool who labors more for the
bread which perishes—than for the bread of life! Is not he a fool who for a
lust or a trifle—will lose heaven! They are like Tiberius, who for a drink
of water forfeited his kingdom? Is not he a fool who, to safeguard his body,
will injure his soul? As if one should let his head be cut, to save his
shirt! Is not he a fool who will believe a temptation of Satan—before a
promise of God? Is not he a fool who minds his recreation more than
his salvation? How may this make men ashamed—to think that they
inherit not land—but folly (Proverbs 14:18).
(8) That which may make us blush, is that the sins we
commit are far worse than the sins of the heathen. We act against
more light. To us have been committed the oracles of God. The sin committed
by a Christian is worse than the same sin committed by an heathen, because
the Christian sins against clearer conviction, which is like weight put into
the scale, which makes it weigh heavier.
(9) Our sins are worse than the sins of the devils.
The fallen angels never sinned against Christ's blood. Christ did not
die for them. The medicine of his merit was never intended to heal them. But
we have affronted his blood by unbelief. The devils never sinned
against God's patience. As soon as they apostatized, they were damned. God
never waited for the angels—but we have spent upon the stock of God's
patience. He has pitied our weakness, borne with our rebelliousness. His
Spirit has been repulsed—yet has still importuned us and will take no
denial. Our conduct has been so provoking as to have tired not only the
patience of a Job, but of all the angels. The devils never sinned against
example. They were the first that sinned and were made the first example. We
have seen the angels, those morning stars, fall from their glorious orb; we
have seen the old world drowned, Sodom burned—yet have ventured upon
sin. How desperate is that thief who robs in the very place where his fellow
hangs in chains. And surely, if we have out-sinned the devils, it may well
put us to the blush.
Use 1. Is shame an ingredient of repentance?
If so, how far are they from being penitents who have no shame? Many have
sinned away shame: "the wicked know no shame" (Zeph. 3:5). It is a great
shame not to be ashamed. The Lord sets it as a brand upon the Jews: "Are
they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they
do not even know how to blush!" (Jer. 6:15). The devil has stolen shame from
men. When one of the persecutors in Queen Mary's time was upbraided for
murdering the martyrs, he replied, "I see nothing to be ashamed of!" When
men have hearts of stone and foreheads of brass—it is a sign
that the devil has taken full possession of them.
There is no creature capable of shame but man. The brute
beasts are capable of fear and pain—but not of shame. You cannot make a
beast blush. Those who cannot blush for sin, do too much resemble the
beasts. There are some so far from this holy blushing that they are proud
of their sins. They are so far from being ashamed of sin, that they
glory in their sins: "whose glory is in their shame" (Phil. 3:19). Some are
ashamed of that which is their glory: they are ashamed to be seen with a
good book in their hand. Others glory in that which is their shame: they
look on sin as a piece of gallantry. The swearer thinks his speech most
graceful when it is interlarded with oaths. The drunkard counts it a glory
that he is mighty to drink (Isaiah 5:22). But when men shall be cast into
the fiery furnace, heated seven times hotter by the breath of the
Almighty—then let them boast of sin!
Use 2. Let us show our penitence by a modest
blushing: "O my God, I blush to lift up my face" (Ezra 9:6). "My God"—there
was faith; "I blush"—there was repentance. Hypocrites will confidently
avouch God to be their God—but they know not how to blush. O let us take
holy shame to ourselves for sin. Be assured, the more we are ashamed of sin
now—the less we shall be ashamed at Christ's coming. If the sins of the
godly are mentioned at the day of judgment, it will not be to shame them—but
to magnify the riches of God's grace in pardoning them. Indeed, the wicked
shall be ashamed at the last day. They shall sneak and hang down their
heads—but the saints shall then be as without spot (Eph. 5:27), so without
shame; therefore they are bid to lift up their heads (Luke 21:28).
Ingredient 5. HATRED of Sin
The fifth ingredient in repentance is hatred of sin. The
Schoolmen distinguished a two-fold hatred: hatred of abominations,
and hatred of enmity.
Firstly, there is a hatred or loathing of ABOMINATIONS:
"Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe
yourselves for your sins and detestable practices!" (Ezek. 36:31). A true
penitent is a sin-loather. If a man loathes that which makes his stomach
sick, much more will he loathe that which makes his soul sick! It
is greater to loathe sin—than to leave it. One may leave sin
for fear, as in a storm the jewels are cast overboard—but the nauseating and
loathing of sin argues a detestation of it. Christ is never loved—until sin
is loathed. Heaven is never longed for—until sin is loathed. When the soul
sees its filthiness, he cries out, "Lord, when shall I be freed from this
body of death! When shall I put off these filthy garments of sin—and be
arrayed in the robe of Your perfect righteousness! Let all my self-love be
turned into self-loathing!" (Zech. 3:4-5). We are never more precious in God's eyes—than
when we are lepers in our own eyes!
Secondly, there is a hatred of ENMITY. There
is no better way to discover life—than by motion. The eye moves, the pulse
beats. So to discover repentance there is no better sign than by a holy
antipathy against sin. Sound repentance begins in love to God—and
ends in the hatred of sin. How may true hatred of sin be known?
1. When a man's HEART is set against sin.
Not only does the tongue protest against sin—but
the heart abhors it. However lovely sin is painted—we find it
odious—just as we abhor the picture of one whom we mortally hate, even
though it may be well drawn. Suppose a dish be finely cooked and the sauce
good—yet if a man has an antipathy against the meat—he will not eat it. So
let the devil cook and dress sin with pleasure and profit—yet a true
penitent has a secret abhorrence of it, is disgusted by it, and will not
meddle with it.
2. True hatred of sin is UNIVERSAL.
True hatred of sin is universal in two ways: in respect
of the faculties, and of the object.
(1) Hatred is universal in respect of the faculties.
That is, there is a dislike of sin not only in the judgment—but in
the will and affections. Many a one is convinced that sin is a vile
thing, and in his judgment has an aversion to it—yet he tastes sweetness in
it—and has a secret delight in it. Here is a disliking of sin in the
judgment and an embracing of it in the affections! Whereas in true
repentance, the hatred of sin is in all the faculties, not only in the
intellectual part—but chiefly in the will: "I do the very thing I hate!"
(Romans 7:15). Paul was not free from sin—yet his will was against
(2) Hatred is universal in respect of the object.
He who truly hates one sin—hates all sins. He who hates a serpent—hates all
serpents. "I hate every false way!" (Psalm 119:104). Hypocrites will hate
some sins which mar their credit. But a true convert hates all sins—gainful
sins, complexion sins, the very stirrings of corruption. Paul hated the
motions of sin within him (Romans 7:23).
3. True hatred against sin is against sin in all forms.
A holy heart detests sin for its intrinsic pollution. Sin
leaves a stain upon the soul. A regenerate person abhors sin not only for
the curse—but for the contagion. He hates this serpent not
only for its sting but for its poison. He hates sin not only for hell—but as
4. True hatred is IMPLACABLE.
It will never be reconciled to sin any more. Anger may be
reconciled—but hatred cannot. Sin is that Amalek which is never to be taken
into favor again. The war between a child of God and sin is like the war
between those two princes: "there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all
their days" (1 Kings 14:30).
5. Where there is a real hatred, we not only oppose sin
in ourselves but in OTHERS too. The church at Ephesus could not
bear with those who were evil (Rev. 2:2). Paul sharply censured Peter
for his deception, although he was an apostle. Christ in a holy
anger, whipped the money-changers out of the temple (John 2:15). He would
not allow the temple to be made an exchange. Nehemiah rebuked the
nobles for their usury (Neh. 5:7) and their Sabbath profanation (Neb.
A sin-hater will not endure wickedness in his family: "He
who works deceit shall not dwell within my house" (Psalm 101:7). What a
shame it is when magistrates can show height of spirit in their passions—but
no heroic spirit in suppressing vice.
Those who have no antipathy against sin, are strangers to
repentance. Sin is in them—as poison in a serpent, which, being
natural to it, affords delight. How far are they from repentance who,
instead of hating sin, love sin! To the godly—sin is as a thorn in the eye;
to the wicked sin is as a crown on the head! "They actually rejoice in doing
evil!" (Jer. 11:15).
Loving of sin is worse than committing it. A
good man may run into a sinful action unawares—but to love sin is desperate.
What is it, which makes a swine love to tumble in the mire? Its love of
filth. To love sin shows that the will is in sin, and the more of the will
there is in a sin, the greater the sin. Wilfulness makes it a sin not to be
purged by sacrifice (Heb. 10:26). O how many there are—who love the
forbidden fruit! They love their oaths and adulteries; they love the sin and
hate the reproof. Solomon speaks of a generation of men: "madness is in
their heart while they live" (Eccles. 9:3). So for men to love sin, to hug
that which will be their death, to sport with damnation, "madness is in
their heart". It persuades us to show our repentance, by a bitter hatred of
sin. There is a deadly antipathy between the scorpion and the crocodile;
such should there be between the heart and sin.
Question: What is there in sin, which may make a penitent
Answer: Sin is the accursed thing, the most deformed
monster. The apostle Paul uses a very emphatic word to express it: "that sin
might become exceedingly sinful" (Romans 7:13), or as it is in the Greek,
"exaggeratedly sinful". That sin is an exaggerated mischief, and deserves
hatred will appear if we look upon sin as a fourfold conceit:
(1) Look upon the origin of sin, from whence it comes.
It fetches its pedigree from hell: "He who commits sin is of the devil!" (1
John 3:8). Sin is the devil's special work. God has a hand in ordering sin,
it is true—but Satan has a hand in acting it out. How hateful is it to be
doing that which is the special work of the devil, indeed, that which makes
men into devils!
(2) Look upon sin in its nature, and it will appear very
hateful. See how scripture has pencilled sin out: it is a
dishonoring of God (Romans 2:23 ); a despising of God (1 Sam. 2:30); a
fretting of God (Ezek. 16:43); a wearying of God (Isaiah 7:13); a grieving
the heart of God, as a loving husband is with the unchaste conduct of his
wife: "I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned
away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols" (Ezek.
6:9). Sin, when acted to the height, is a crucifying Christ afresh and
putting him to open shame (Heb. 6:6), that is, impudent sinners pierce
Christ in his saints, and were he now upon earth they would crucify him
again in his person. Behold the odious nature of sin.
(3) Look upon sin in its comparison, and it appears
ghastly. Compare sin with AFFLICTION and hell, and it is
worse than both. It is worse than affliction, sickness, poverty, or death.
There is more malignity in a drop of sin than in a sea of affliction—for sin
is the cause of affliction, and the cause is more than the effect. The sword
of God's justice lies quiet in the scabbard—until sin draws it out!
Affliction is good for us: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted"
(Psalm 119:71). Affliction causes repentance (2 Chron. 33:12). The viper,
being stricken, casts up its poison. Just so, when God's rod strikes us with
affliction, we spit away the poison of sin! Affliction betters our grace.
Gold is purest, and juniper sweetest—when in the fire. Affliction prevents
damnation. "We are being disciplined—so that we will not be condemned with
the world." (1 Cor. 11:32). Therefore, Maurice the emperor prayed to God to
punish him in this life—that he might not be punished hereafter.
Thus, affliction is in many ways for our good—but there
is no good in sin. Manasseh's affliction brought him to humiliation
and repentance—but Judas' sin brought him to desperation and
damnation. Affliction only reaches the body—but sin goes further: it poisons
the mind, disorders the affections. Affliction is but corrective; sin is
destructive. Affliction can but take away the life; sin takes away the soul
A man who is afflicted may have his conscience quiet.
When the ark was tossed on the flood waves, Noah could sing in the ark. When
the body is afflicted and tossed, a Christian can "make melody in his heart
to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19). But when a man commits sin, conscience is
terrified. Witness Spira, who upon his abjuring the faith, said that he
thought the damned spirits did not feel those torments which he inwardly
endured. In affliction, one may have the love of God (Rev. 3:19). If a man
should throw a bag of money at another, and in throwing it should hurt him a
little—he will not take it unkindly—but will look upon it as a fruit of
love. Just so, when God bruises us with affliction—it is to enrich us
with the golden graces and comforts of his Spirit. All is in love. But when
we commit sin, God withdraws his love. When David sinned, he felt nothing
but displeasure from God: "Clouds and thick darkness surround him" (Psalm
97:2). David found it so. He could see no rainbow, no sunbeam, nothing but
clouds and darkness about God's face.
That sin is worse than affliction is evident, because the
greatest judgment God lays upon a man in this life is to let him sin without
control. When the Lord's displeasure is most severely kindled against a
person, he does not say, I will bring the sword and the plague on this
man—but, I will let him sin on: "I gave them up unto their own hearts lust,
living according to their own desires" (Psalm 81:12). Now, if the giving up
of a man to his sins (in the account of God himself) is the most dreadful
evil, then sin is far worse than affliction. And if it is so, then how
should it be hated by us!
Compare sin with HELL, and you shall see that sin
is worse. Torment has its epitome in hell—yet nothing in hell is as bad as
sin. Hell is of God's making—but sin is not of God's making. Sin is the
devil's creature. The torments of hell are a burden only to the sinner—but
sin is a burden to God. In the torments of hell, there is something that is
good, namely, the execution of divine justice. There is justice to be found
in hell—but sin is a piece of the highest injustice. It would rob God of his
glory, Christ of his purchase, the soul of its happiness. Judge then if sin
is not a most hateful thing—which is worse than affliction, or the torments
(4) Look upon sin in the CONSEQUENCE, and it will appear
hateful. Sin reaches the BODY.
It has exposed it to a variety of miseries. We come into the world with a
cry—and go out with a groan! It made the Thracians weep on their children's
birthday—to consider the calamities they were to undergo in the world. Sin
is the Trojan horse out of which comes a whole army of troubles. I
need not name them because almost everyone feels them. While we suck the
honey—we are pricked with the briar. Sin puts a dreg in
the wine of all our comforts. Sin digs our grave (Romans 5:12).
Sin reaches the SOUL.
By sin we have lost the image of God, wherein did consist both our
sanctity and our majesty. Adam in his pristine glory, was like a
herald who has his king's coat of arms upon him. All reverence him because
he carries the king's coat of arms—but pull this coat off, and no man
regards him. Sin has done this disgrace to us. It has plucked off our coat
of innocency. But that is not all. This virulent arrow of sin would
strike yet deeper. It would forever separate us from the beautiful vision of
God, in whose presence is fullness of joy. If sin be so foully sinful, it
should stir up our implacable indignation against it. As Ammon's hatred of
Tamar was greater than the love with which he had loved her (2 Sam. 13:15),
so we should hate sin infinitely more, than ever we loved it.
Ingredient 6. TURNING from Sin
The sixth ingredient in repentance, is a turning from
sin. Reformation is left last, to bring up the rear of repentance. What
though one could, with Niobe, weep himself into a stone—if he did not weep
out sin? True repentance, like acid, eats asunder the iron chain of sin!
Therefore weeping fro sin, and turning from sin—are put
together, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and
weeping and mourning!" (Joel 2:12). After the cloud of sorrow
has dropped in tears, the sky of the soul is clearer: "Repent, and
turn from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your
abominations" (Ezek. 14:6).
This turning from sin is called a forsaking
of sin (Isaiah 55:7), as a man forsakes the company of a thief or sorcerer.
It is called "a putting of sin far away" (Job 11:14), as Paul put away the
viper and shook it into the fire (Acts 28:5). Dying to sin—is the
life of repentance. The very day a Christian turns from sin—he must
enjoin himself a perpetual fast. The eye must fast from impure
glances. The ear must fast from hearing slanders. The tongue
must fast from unwholesome speech. The hands must fast from bribes.
The feet must fast from the path of the harlot. And the soul
must fast from the love of wickedness.
This turning from sin implies a great change. There is a
change wrought in the heart. The flinty heart has become
fleshly. Satan would have Christ prove his deity—by turning stones into
bread. Christ has wrought a far greater miracle—in making stones become
flesh. In repentance Christ turns a heart of stone—into a heart of flesh.
There is a change wrought in the life.
Turning from sin is so visible, that others may discern it. Therefore it is
called a change from darkness to light (Eph. 5:8). Paul, after he had seen
the heavenly vision, was so different—that all men wondered at the change
(Acts 9:21). Repentance changed the jailer into a nurse and a
servant (Acts 16:33). He took the apostles and washed their wounds
and set food before them. A ship is going eastward; there comes a wind which
turns it westward. Likewise, a man was turning hell-ward before the contrary
wind of the Spirit blew, turned his course, and caused him to sail
Chrysostom, speaking of the Ninevites' repentance, said
that if a stranger who had seen Nineveh's excess had gone into the city
after they repented, he would scarcely have believed it was the same
city—because it was so transformed and reformed. Such a visible change does
repentance make in a person—it is as if another soul lodged in the
That the turning from sin be rightly qualified, these few
things are requisite:
1. It must be a turning from sin with the HEART.
The heart is the first thing which lives—and it
must be the first thing which turns. The heart is that which the
devil strives hardest for. Never did he so strive for the body of Moses—as
he does for the heart of man. In true religion—the heart is all. If
the heart is not turned from sin—it is no better than a pretense: "her
unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but
only in pretense" (Jer. 3:10). Judah did make a show of
reformation; she was not so grossly idolatrous as the ten tribes. Yet Judah
was worse than Israel: she is called "unfaithful" Judah—that is,
"treacherous". She pretended to a reformation—but it was not in truth. Her
heart was not for God—she did not turn with the whole heart. It is odious to
make a show of turning from sin—while the heart is yet in league with
sin! I have read of one of our Saxon kings who was baptized, who in the same
church had one altar for the Christian religion and another for an idol. God
will have the whole heart turned from sin. True repentance must have no
reserves or idols.
2. It must be a turning from ALL sin.
"Let the wicked forsake his way" (Isaiah 55:7). A real
penitent turns out of the road of sin. Every sin is abandoned. As Jehu would
have all the priests of Baal slain (2 Kings 10:24)—not one must escape—so a
true convert seeks the destruction of every lust—not one must escape. He
knows how dangerous it is to entertain any one sin. He who hides one rebel
in his house, is a traitor to the King. Just so, he who indulges one sin, is
a traitorous hypocrite!
3. It must be a turning from sin upon a SPIRITUAL ground.
A man may restrain the open acts of sin—yet not
turn from sin in a right manner. Acts of sin may be restrained out of
fear or design—but a true penitent turns from sin out of a pious
principle, namely, out of love to God. Even if sin did not bear such bitter
fruit—if death did not grow on this tree—a gracious soul would
forsake sin, out of love to God.
This is the most easy turning from sin. When things are
frozen and congealed, the best way to separate them is by fire. When
men and their sins are congealed together, the best way to separate them is
by the fire of love. Three men, asking one another what made them leave sin:
one said, "I think of the joys of heaven!" Said the second, "I think of the
torments of hell!" But the third said, "I think of the love of God, and that
makes me forsake sin!" How shall I offend the God of love?
4. It must be such a turning from sin—and turning
This is in the text, "that they should repent and
turn to God" (Acts 26:20). Turning from sin is like pulling the arrow
out of the wound; turning to God is like pouring in the balm. We read in
scripture of a repentance from dead works (Heb. 6:1), and a repentance
toward God (Acts 20:21). Unsound hearts pretend to leave old sins—but they
do not turn to God or embrace his service. It is not enough to forsake the
devil's quarters—but we must get under Christ's banner and wear his colors.
The repenting prodigal did not only leave his harlots—but he arose and went
to his father! It was God's complaint, "They do not turn to the Most High
God" (Hos. 7:16). In true repentance the heart points directly to God—as the
compass needle to the North Pole.
5. True turning from sin is such a turn—as has no return.
"What have I to do any more with idols?" (Hos. 14:8).
Forsaking sin must be like forsaking one's native soil—never more to return
to it. Some have seemed to be converts and to have turned from sin—but they
have returned to their sins again. This is a returning to folly (Psalm
85:8). It is a fearful sin, for it is against clear light. It is to be
supposed that he who did once leave his sin, felt it bitterly in the pangs
of conscience. Yet he returned to it again; he therefore sins against the
illuminations of the Spirit. Such a return to sin reproaches God: "What evil
did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They
followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves!" (Jer. 2:5). He
who returns to sin, by implication charges God with some evil. If a man
divorces his wife, it implies he knows some fault by her. To leave God
and return to sin—is tacitly to asperse the Deity. God, who "hates divorce"
(Mal. 2:16), hates that he himself should be divorced.
To return to sin gives the devil more power over a man
than ever. When a man turns from sin, the devil seems to be cast out of
him—but when he returns to sin, the devil enters into his house again and
takes possession, and "the last state of that man is worse than the first!"
(Matt. 12:45). When a prisoner has broken prison, and the jailer gets him
again, he will lay stronger irons upon him. He who leaves off a course of
sinning, as it were, breaks the devil's prison—if Satan takes him returning
to sin, he will hold him faster and take fuller possession of him than ever!
Oh take heed of this! A true turning from sin is a divorcing it, so
as never to come near it any more. Whoever is thus turned from sin is a
blessed person: "When God raised up his servant, he sent him to bless you—by
turning each of you back from your sinful ways" (Acts 3:26).
Use 1. Is turning from sin a necessary
ingredient in repentance? If so, then there is little true repentance to be
found. People are not turned from their sins; they are still the same as
they ever were! They were proud—and so they are still. They are like the
beasts in Noah's ark, they went into the ark unclean—and came out
unclean. Men come to gospel ordinances impure—and go away impure. Though
men have seen so many changes on the outside—yet there is no change wrought
within: "after all this punishment, the people will still not repent and
turn to the Lord Almighty" (Isaiah 9:13).
How can they say they repent—who do not turn? Are they
washed in Jordan—who still have their leprosy upon their forehead?
May not God say to the unreformed, as once to Ephraim, "Ephraim is
joined to idols—let him alone!" (Hos. 4:17)? Likewise, here is a man joined
to his drunkenness and uncleanness—let him alone! Let him go on in sin! If
there is either justice in heaven, or vengeance in hell—he shall not go
Use 2. It reproves those who are but half-turned.
And who are these? Such as turn in their judgment, but not in their
practice. They cannot but acknowledge that sin is a dreadful evil,
and will weep for sin—yet they are so bewitched with it that they
have no power to leave it! Their corruptions are stronger than
their convictions. These are half-turned, "almost Christians"
(Acts 26:28). They are like Ephraim, "as worthless as a half-baked
cake!" (Hos. 7:8).
They are but half-turned, who turn only from gross
sin—but have no intrinsic work of grace. They do not prize Christ—or love
holiness. It is with mere moral people as with Jonah; he got a gourd to
shield the heat of the sun, and thought that he was safe—but a worm
presently arose and devoured the gourd. So men, when they are turned from
gross sin, think that their morality will be a gourd to defend them
from the wrath of God—but at death there arises the worm of conscience,
which smites this gourd, and then their hearts fail, and they are in a
They are but half-turned, who turn from many
sins—but are unturned from some special sin. There is a harlot in
the bosom which they will not let go! This is as if a man should be
cured of several diseases—but has a cancer in his breast, which kills him.
It reproves those whose turning is as good as no turning, who expel one
devil and welcome another. They turn from swearing—to slandering, from
extravagance—to covetousness. Such turning will turn men to hell!
Use 3. Let us show ourselves penitents, in
turning from sin to God. There are some people I have little hope to prevail
with. Let the trumpet of the Word sound ever so shrill, let threatenings be
thundered out against them, let some flashes of hell-fire be thrown in their
faces—yet they will keep their beloved sin. These people seem to be like the
swine in the Gospel, carried down by the devil violently into the sea. They
will rather be damned—than turn from their sin! "these people keep going
along their self-destructive path, refusing to turn back, even though I have
warned them!" (Jer. 8:5).
But if there is any sincerity in us, if conscience is not
cast into a deep sleep, let us listen to the voice of the charmer, and turn
to God as our supreme good. How often does God call upon us to turn to him?
He swears, "As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure
in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked
ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness! Why should you die?"
(Ezek. 33:11). God would rather have our repenting tears—than our blood.
Turning to God is for our benefit. Our repentance is of
no benefit to God—but to ourselves. If a man drinks of a fountain—he
benefits himself, not the fountain. If he beholds the light of the sun—he
himself is refreshed by it, not the sun. If we turn from our sins to God,
God is not advantaged by it. It is only we ourselves who reap the benefit.
In this case self-love should prevail with us: "If you become wise, you will
be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer."
If we turn to God—he will turn to us. He will turn his
anger from us—and his face to us. It was David's prayer, "O turn
unto me, and have mercy upon me" (Psalm 86:16). Our turning will make God
turn: "Turn unto me, says the Lord—and I will turn unto you" (Zech. 1:3). He
who was our enemy—will turn to be our friend. If God
turns to us—the angels are turned to us. We shall have their tutelage
and guardianship (Psalm 91:11). If God turns to us—all things shall
turn to our good, both mercies and afflictions. We shall taste honey at the
end of the afflicting rod.
Thus we have seen the several ingredients
1. Sight of sin
2. Sorrow for sin
3. Confession of sin
4. Shame for sin
5. Hatred for sin
6. Turning from sin