by Joseph P. Duggan
Last Sabbath we began our study of repentance with a consideration of Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 7:10: For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of." noting that the sorrow of repentance, while uncomfortable, and even unpleasant because it entails grief, humiliation, and the crushing of the human spirit, that is is nevertheless not something to be repented of. Noting that the sorrow of repentance, while uncomfortable, and even unpleasant because it entails grief, humiliation, and the crushing of the human spirit, that it is nevertheless not something to be repented of, for blessing comes through tribulation, peace with God comes though discomfiture, and life is born in travail. Thus it was that while Paul loved the Corinthians, he rebuked and humiliated them in order that he could finally say: "Now I rejoice" - not that they were made sorrowful, but that they sorrowed to repentance.
Regarding the godly sorrow which works repentance to salvation we have already noticed first its source: that it is Godly, that is, from God. That while repentance is an activity of man, for God does not repent for us, nevertheless it can only be the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. (Romans 2:4). And second, its end or purpose that it is godly, that is, in accordance with the purpose of God: the gracious purpose of salvation! That is is designed by God to function, inseparably conjoined to faith, to function as a part of the process and work which ushers those whom Christ calls into eternal life and perfect this salvation in them.
Let us note further that the nature of repentance and its various elements and aspects are and must be determined by God. This is obvious for, (1) if repentance is God's gift and if He is the author of it, then certainly He is the one that determines wherein true repentance consists. (2) And further, if its His instrumentality to achieve His purposes, then certainly He is by far best able to just how and in what ways it should function.
Attitudes and changes of heart of various kinds may externally closely resemble repentance but only true repentance which is patterned after God's will is of value to the sinner. Now in reference to the nature of repentance, let us remember that God's ways are not our ways. We do things partially and either through sloth or inability can never achieve perfection and completion. The Lord, however, is omnipotent and His will is not subject to frustration nor slackening of purpose. Thus it is that true repentance, the repentance that the Most High gives to and works in His people is thorough-going and complete. And just as sin corrupts and defiles the mind, the heart, the will, the body and so forth, just as the sickness of sin pervades every part of the sinner's being, so also the medicine of repentance (if it be true and effective) must pervade the whole of the truly penitent.
Let me clarify: Repentance as one of the fruits of regeneration pervades men as does regeneration, this means man as a living soul (and we do not here refer to the body) for the salvation of the body is not achieved until that time of which Paul spoke: "In a moment, in the twinkling of the eye, at the last trump: for the trump shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed, for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." (I Corinthians 15:52, 53). But, the salvation of the souls of the regenerate is already at hand. And since God's salvation is thorough, likewise His gift of repentance is thorough.
In the first place, repentance must be a function of the mind or intellect. As Paul says elsewhere, "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened" (Ephesians 1:18). This is the case since in regeneration the effects of sin are overcome, and in this regard we think of sin primarily as it causes ignorance, or darkness, and as it tends to destroy and weakens the ability to reason, so that the corrupted mind strives to suppress the knowledge that the individual has indeed sinned against God and that this sin means defilement, personal guilt, and the enmity of God. Now it is, of course, unwise to define the meaning of a word on the basis of its etymology, but in this case it would appear that the etymology of repentance does properly reflect in this aspect of repentance. The principle Greek word which is translated "repentance" or in the verbal form "to repent" may be broken down into its parts which mean "afterthought" or "to think afterwards". Thus, through the gift of repentance men rethink the meaning of sin and with new understanding see that it involves defilement, personal guilt and the enmity of God.
In repentance, men change their minds, they make new judgments as to the relative good of serving sin or serving God. Thus, for as example, Paul, before his conversion thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth as he explains to Agrippa (Acts 26:9). But having been regenerated, he repents - and rethinks - he comes to new judgment so that he can say, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ." (Philippians 3:8).
Repentance is not then merely an emotional outburst, but as all emotional experiences ought to be, it must affect, indeed radically affect the individual's mind. When the tears of sorrow are past we must still have clear minds, yea, minds that are stronger and healthier. In repentance we must be able to see that which was not clear before, we must be able to understand that which formerly was completely alien to us, we must be able to and actually make radically different ethical, moral and religious judgments. We must be able in true perspective to understand sin, ourselves, and God. This aspect of true repentance is clearly enunciated in Paul's advice to Timothy, "But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will." There is no repentance where there is no change of mind, for, as we have seen, repentance is God's work unto salvation, and God's salvation is to the end that sin and the effects of sin be destroyed. Thus not only is the will converted and soul purified and the body resurrected, but also in repentance the mind is renewed so that it can think, reason, and understand properly.
In the second place, repentance must be a function of the emotions. This naturally follows if repentance involves a radical change in the way one looks at things. For if we are lead to see truly God's absolute holiness and purity, and if we are caused to know our own all-pervasive depravity, must we not say with Job, "wherefore I abhor myself in dust and ashes." (Job 42:6). When God's revelation shows us his perfect holiness as contrasted to ourselves, must not our emotions be shaken and must we not say with Jeremiah: "Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets; all my bones shake; I am like a man whom wine hath overcome, because of the Lord, and because of the words of his holiness." (Jeremiah 23:9). In short, when our eyes are opened, and when our minds are caused to think clearly concerning our sinful selves we must recognize and we must thoroughly experience the fact that "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart..." (Psalm 51:17).
In repentance, then, we not only think new thoughts, but also, because of this, we must experience the shattering of self-confidence, the crushing of our spirits and the utter humiliation of the ego.
Jesus Christ came to call sinners to himself to become heirs of the redemption wrought by His death for the cleansing from sin, but He says also: I came to call sinners to repentance. He came to call us to life eternal and repentance is one aspect of the manifestation of this life in us. And one aspect of repentance to salvation is emotional upheaval to which Paul alludes here: mourning, humiliation, grief, sorry and fear, not simply at one point in our lives; not simply as an expression of a conversion crisis but as a continued experience of the converted man, manifesting the regeneration which must continually live in him. If we lack an abiding experience of sorrow for our sin and humiliation, must we not doubt that we have hearkened unto Christ's call to repentance.
In the third place, true repentance not only turns the intellect..and it not only causes godly sorrow and remorse for sin, but also it involves and brings to pass a radical transformation of the affections - it turns the heart. This transformation is absolutely essential to true repentance. For if a man were enabled to see the heinousness of his sin and the terrible judgment which it entails and if this in turn produced remorse and grief and yet if all this in turn failed to cause him to hate the sin which he formerly loved and to love the holy and gracious Lord whom he formerly despised, then surely this would be as Paul here says, "The sorrow of the world which worketh death." (2 Corinthians 7:10). Certainly this could not be called true repentance for repentance is God's gift and God's gifts are never so horribly incomplete. And further, repentance is part of God's instrumentality to work salvation, and certainly that soul which continues to cleave to sin lovingly and which continues to hate or be indifferent to the Author of salvation, that soul certainly has not truly been subjected to the operations of saving grace.
The truly penitential frame of mind will thus not only deeply affect the intellect and the emotions, but also the affections. For, in the first place, if we are given new minds which are enabled and caused to make new judgments and to hold opinions formerly unknown, such new wisdom will apprehend not only the blackness of sin, but also the absolute holiness and loveliness of the Godhead (the two must go together). And apprehending these truths, the affections must keep pace with the mind to cause us to hate the one and love the other. In the 119th Psalm, verse 104, the only proper relationship between the understanding and the heart is set forth: "Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way." The truly penitential state not only radically transforms the mind and deeply affects the emotions, but also reverses the affections, for, in the second place, if we truly are caused to grieve and sorrow because of our unrighteousness, how can we any longer love that unrighteousness? And if we truly are humiliated and broken in spirit when we see infinite goodness and holiness of the Lord God omnipotent, how can we any longer hate or despise him whom we have apprehended as the epitome and fount of all that which is good and desirable?
Briefly then, if we truly repent with our intellects, and if we truly experience the emotional upheaval of repentance, then this repentance must remain true to its divine origin, nature and goal and express itself also in the transformation of the affections. A true "sorrowing after a godly sort" which yields "repentance unto life" will not merely engender within us a vague feeling of love for God, for Christ, for His church, but should and must powerfully turn us so that we experience and manifest the fervent mind and vehement desire to which the apostle here refers in the fourth place - and here we come to what is to some a great stumbling block. Oh, some people are quite willing to undergo a change of mind and with their intellects be convinced that their sin is offensive to God and their own best interest and to believe that the Lord is good and to be served. Ah, and they may even shed tears because of the recognition of their depravity and even their hearts will soften so that the Lord becomes the object of their admiration or respect and so that sin becomes less desirable and enjoyable. But when it comes to actual behavior, old habits cannot be broken and new (godly) habits are not formed. Sin may be resisted, but eventually it prevails again and again. Acts of righteousness may appear desirable, but somehow there is not enough energy actually to perform them and persist in such performance. If this is the case, there is no true repentance. Rather: true repentance consists of sincere sorrow for sin and thorough-going transformation of the intellect and the affections. Plus, a radical change of the will, a change of such power and reality that it truly influences one's life. Lacking this, that is, without a manifest transformation of one's behavior a person clearly demonstrates that his sorrow, his new way of looking at things and the reorientation of his affections either are insincere or are lacking in true vigor and extent. Such a repentance that fails to transform the life clearly is not part of, nor does it flow from the true gift of God, nor is it effectual in God's work of salvation: because it does not follow the divinely ordained pattern. It certainly does not conform to the the wondrous changes which caused Paul to rejoice in the Corinthians.
Now this transformation of life will consist in two things: first (negatively), the breaking off from deeds (and for that matter words and thoughts) of iniquity and second (positively) a returning to the Lord which issues in pure thoughts - edifying words - and righteous deeds. In reference to the necessity of the negative element - the turning from sin - listen to the Lord's words as found in Ezekiel 14:6, He commands, "Repent! and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations." And again, (Ezekiel 18:30) the Lord prescribes "therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent! and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
Failure to take the "knife of mortification and run it through the heart of one's dearest lusts" is certain evidence that: (1) earlier tears were false for no one cherishes and protects that which truly causes him woe; (2) and that there was no real change of mind for no one can endure in himself the existence of that which he truly thinks is harmful and also odious to the professed object of his adoration; (3) and further it is evidence that there has been no realignment of the affections for we not do that which we hate and find disgusting.
But further, there must be the positive element, for the new wisdom of the penitent not only apprehends the blackness of sin and causes him to flee it, but also it sees the loveliness of God's purity, holiness, and righteousness, and this seeing causes him to seek out and pursue such for himself, pursue it with all of his heart, soul and mind. By way of illustration, we might think of the prodigal son who, when he repented not only forsook the pig sty but also fled to his father. In this regard, we ought also to recall the preaching of John the Baptist: "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance." (Matthew 3:8). Similarly Paul regarded as a vital part of his ministry that the Gentiles should "do works meet for repentance." (Acts 26:20). Likewise our Lord spoke to the church at Ephesus and yet speaks to us "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works." (Revelation 2:5). Repentance is whole-heartedly from sin. But it is equally whole-hearted to God and to the works which God commands and finds pleasure in. It is thus that Paul calls repentance: "repentance towards God" (Acts 20:21).
Just as repentance involves a new mind which sees righteousness in its true light as something good and beneficial. And just as it involves a new heart which loves God and his way, so also an integral part of it is the obedience of the will to the dictates of the mind and heart, and the strengthening of the will so that it causes our lips to move and our feet to walk to the glory of God.
We have seen that the godly sorrow of repentance has as its author and source - our heavenly Father and that it is designed by God to function as part of the process and work which ushers men into eternal life and perfects this salvation in them.
Let us then receive God's gift fully and with enthusiasm. And let us long for and pursue, not half-heartedly, the accomplishment of God's purposes. And further let us yield and submit to God's love, His wisdom, and His authority by repenting truly and thoroughly: with our minds, with our emotions, with our affections, with our behavior. 2 Corinthians 7:10: "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation."