The Doctrine of Repentance by Thomas Watson


THE NATURE OF TRUE REPENTANCE

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 colour 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 excess 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 that 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,1 on whom he had bestowed so many favours, when he came to stab him: `What, thou, my son Brutus?' O ungrateful, to be the worse for mercy! Aelian2 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 it; to requite evil for good, to kick against our feeder (Deut. 32.15); to make an arrow of God's mercies and shoot at him, to wound him with his own blessing! 0 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, 0 heavens, and give ear, 0 earth: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me' (Isa. 1.2).

(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 did appear, 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, spat 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 Ghost (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, like Circe's3 enchanting cup, turns men into beasts (Ps. 49.12), and is not that matter for shame? Sinners are compared to foxes (Luke 13.32), to wolves (Matt. 7.15), to asses (Job 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 is 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!' (Prov. 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, masculine spirit which once we had. The crown is 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 labours more for the bread that perishes than for the bread of life? Is not he a fool who for a lust or a trifle will lose heaven, like Tiberius4 who for a draught of drink forfeited his kingdom? Is not he a fool who, to safeguard his body, will injure his soul? As if one should let his arm or head be cut to save his vest! Naviget antyciram5. (Horace). Is not he a fool who will believe a temptation before a promise? 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 (Prov. 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 Indian because the Christian sins against clearer conviction, which is like the dye to the wool or the weight put into the scale that makes it weigh heavier.

(9) Our sins are worse than the sins of the devils: the lapsed angels never sinned against Christ's blood. Christ died not for them. The medicine of his merit was never intended to heal them. But we have affronted and disparaged his blood by unbelief.

The devils never sinned against God's patience. As soon as they apostatised, 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 forwardness. 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 Moses but of all the angels. We have put God to it, and made him weary of repenting ( Jer. 15.6).

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 unjust knoweth no shame' (Zeph. 3.5). It is a great shame not to be ashamed. The Lord sets it as a brand upon the Jews: `Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush' (Jer. 6.15). The devil has stolen shame from men. When one of the persecutors in Queen Mary's time was upbraided with his bloodiness to the martyrs, he replied, `I see nothing to be ashamed of'. Many are no more ashamed of their sin than King Nebuchadnezzar was of his being turned to grass. 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 proud of their long hair. These are the devil's Nazarites. `both not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him' (1 Cor. 11.14). It confounds the distinction of the sexes. Others are proud of their Hack spots. And what if God should turn them into blue spots?

Others 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 (Isa. 5.22). But when men shall be cast into a fiery furnace, heated seven times hotter by the breath of the Almighty, then let them boast of sin as they see cause.

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. 0 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 be 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: `Ye shall loathe yourselves for your iniquities' (Ezek. 36.3 I). A true penitent is a sin-loather. If a man loathe that which makes his stomach sick, much more will he loathe that which makes his conscience sick. It is more to loathe sin than to leave it. One may leave sin for fear, as in a storm the plate and jewels are cast overboard, but the nauseating and loathing of sin argues a detestation of it. Christ is never loved till sin be loathed. Heaven is never longed for till sin be loathed. When the soul sees an issue of blood running, 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 have the fair mitre of glory set upon my head? 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.

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. Hatred, said Cicero,z is anger boiled up to an inveteracy. Sound repentance begins in the love of God and ends in the hatred of sin.

How may true hatred of sin be known?

I. When a man's spirit is set against sin

The tongue does not only inveigh against sin, but the heart abhors it, so that however curiously painted sin appears, we find it odious, as we abhor the picture of one whom we mortally hate, even though it may be well drawn. `I love not thee, Sabidi.'6 Suppose a dish be finely cooked and the sauce good, yet if a man has an antipathy against the meat, he will not taste it. So let the devil cook and dress sin with pleasure and profit, yet a true penitent with 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. (I) 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, but yet he tastes sweetness and has a secret complacency 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: `what I hate, that do I' (Rom. 7.15). Paul was not free from sin, yet his will was against it.

(2) Hatred is universal in respect of the object. He who hates one sin hates all. Aristotle7 said, hatred is against the whole kind. He who hates a serpent hates all serpents: `I hate every false way' (Ps. 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 (Rom. 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 hell.

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 favour 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 dissimulation although he was an apostle. Christ in a holy displeasure whipped the money-changers out of the temple (John 2.15). He would not suffer the temple to be made an exchange. Nehemiah rebuked the nobles for their usury (Neh. 5.7) and their Sabbath profanation (Neb. 13.17). A sin-hater will not endure wickedness in his family: `He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house' (Ps. 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 it is as a crown on the head: `When thou doest evil, then thou rejoicest' (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 that makes a swine but loving to tumble in the mire? What is it that makes a devil but loving that which opposes God? 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 that 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 that may make a penitent hate it?
Answer: Sin is the cursed thing, the most misshapen monster. The apostle Paul uses a very emphatic word to express it: `that sin might become exceeding sinful' (Rom. 7.13), or as it is in the Greek, `hyperbolically sinful'. That sin is a hyperbolical mischief and deserves hatred will appear if we look upon sin as a fourfold conceit:

(I) Look upon the origin of sin, from whence it comes. It fetches its pedigree from hell: 'He that committeth sin is of the devil, for the devil sinneth from the beginning' (i John 3.8). Sin is the devil's proper 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 peculiar work of the devil, indeed, that which makes men devils?

(2) Look upon sin in its nature, and it will appear very hateful. See how scripture has pencilled it out: it is a dishonouring of God (Rom. 2.23 ); a despising of God (I Sam. 2.30); a fretting of God (Ezek. 16.43); a wearying of God (Isa. 7.13); a breaking the heart of God, as a loving husband is with the unchaste conduct of his wife: `I am broken with their whorish heart' (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, 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 till sin draws it out. Affliction is good for us: It is good for me that I have been afflicted' (Ps. 119.71). Affliction causes repentance (2 Chron. 33.12). The viper, being stricken, casts up its poison; so, God's rod striking us, we spit away the poison of sin. Affliction betters our grace. Gold is purest, and juniper sweetest, in the fire. Affliction prevents damnation (1 Cor. 11.32). Therefore, Maurice the emperor8 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, but Judas' sin brought him to desperation.

Affliction only reaches the body, but sin goes further: it poisons the fancy, disorders the affections. Affliction is but corrective; sin is destructive. Affliction can but take away the life; sin takes away the soul (Luke 12.20). A man that is afflicted may have his conscience quiet. When the ark was tossed on the 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,9 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 and raise the skin, he will not take it unkindly, but will look upon it as a fruit of love. 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 darkness are round about him' (Ps. 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: `So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust' (Ps. 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 be so, then how should it be hated by us!

Compare sin with hell, and you shall see that sin is worse. Torment has its emphasis in hell, yet nothing there is as bad as sin. Hell is of God's making, but sin is none of his 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: `I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves' (Amos. 2.13). 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 be not a most hateful thing, which is worse than affliction or hell.

(4) Look upon sin in the issue and 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, as Herodotus tells us, to consider the calamities they were to undergo in the world. Sin is the Trojan horse10 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 gives a dash in the wine of our comforts; it digs our grave (Rom. 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 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 bearded arrow of sin would strike yet deeper. It would for ever separate us from the beautiful vision of God, in whose presence is fulness of joy. If sin be so hyperbolically sinful, it should swell our spleen and stir up our implacable indignation against it. As Ammon's hatred of Tamar was greater than the love wherewith 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,11 weep himself into a stone, if he did not weep out sin? True repentance, like aqua fortis [nitric acid], eats asunder the iron chain of sin. Therefore weeping and turning are put together (Joel 2.12). After the cloud of sorrow has dropped in tears, the firmament of the soul is clearer: `Repent, and turn your-selves 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 (Isa. 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 oaths. 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 notable 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 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 turned that all men wondered at the change (Acts 9.21). Repentance turned the jailer into a nurse and physician (Acts 16.33). He took the apostles and washed their wounds and set meat 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 heaven-ward. 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 scarce have believed it was the same city because it was so metamorphosed and reformed. Such a visible change does repentance make in a person, as if another soul did lodge in the same body.

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 primum vivens, the first thing that lives, and it must be the primum vertens, the first thing that 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 religion the heart is all. If the heart be not turned from sin, it is no better than a lie: `her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly' (Jer. 3.10), or as in the Hebrew, `in a lie'. 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 'treacherous' Judah. She pretended to a reformation, but it was not in truth. Her heart was not for God: she turned not with the whole heart.

It is odious to make a show of turning from sin while the heart is yet in league with it. 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 the heathen. God will have the whole heart turned from sin. True repentance must have no reserves or inmates.

2. It must be a turning from all sin

`Let the wicked forsake his way' (Isa. 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. He knows how dangerous it is to entertain any one sin. He that hides one rebel in his house is a traitor to the Crown, and he that indulges one sin is a traitorous hypocrite.

3. It must be a turning from sin upon a spiritual ground

A man may restrain the 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 religious principle, namely, 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 it out of love to God. This is the most kindly 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 says, I think of the joys of heaven; another, I think of the torments of hell; but the third, I think of the love of God, and that makes me forsake it. How shall I offend the God of love?

4. It must be such a turning from sin as turns unto God

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 colours. The repenting prodigal did not only leave his harlots, but he arose and went to his father. It was God's complaint, `They return, but not to the most High' (Hos. 7.16). In true repentance the heart points directly to God as the needle to the North Pole.

5. True turning from sin is such a turn as has no return

`Ephraim shall say, 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 (Ps. 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 bitter 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 iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me?' (Jer. 2.5). He that returns to sin by implication charges God with some evil. If a man puts away 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 `hateth putting away' (Mal. 2.16), hates that he himself should be put away.

To return to sin gives the devil more power over a man that 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, but 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: `God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities' (Acts 3.26).

Use 1. Is turning from sin a necessary ingredient in repentance? If so, then there is little repentance to be found. People are not turned from their sins; they are still the same as they were. They were proud, and so they are still. Like the beasts in Noah's ark, they went into the ark unclean and came out unclean. Men come to ordinances impure and go away impure. Though men have seen so many changes without, yet there is no change wrought within: `the people turneth not unto him that smiteth' (Isa. 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; but if there be either justice in heaven or vengeance in hell, he shall not go unpunished.

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, like Saturn,' has a bad aspect and influence 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, who was a cake baked on one side and dough on the other (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 civil persons as with Jonah; he got a gourd to defend him from 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 their civility 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 begin to despair.

They are but half-turned who turn from many sins but are unturned from some special sin. There is a harlot in the bosom they will not let go. 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 profuseness to covetousness, like a sick man that turns from a tertian ague13 to a quartan. Such turning will turn men to hell.

Use 3. Let us show ourselves penitents in turning from sin to God. There are some persons I have little hope to prevail with. Let the trumpet of the word sound never so shrill, let threatenings be thundered out against them, let some flashes of hell-fire be thrown in their faces, yet they will have the other game at sin. These persons seem to be like the swine in the Gospel, carried down by the devil violently into the sea. They will rather damn than turn: `they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return' ( Jer. 8.5). But if there be any candour or sobriety in us, if conscience be not cast into a deep sleep, let us listen to the voice of the charmer, and turn to God our supreme good.

How often does God call upon us to turn to him? He swears, `As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways' (Ezek. 33.11). God would rather have our repenting tears than our blood.

Turning to God makes for our profit. 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 thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself' (Prov. 9.12).

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' (Ps. 86.16). Our turning will make God turn: `Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord, and I will turn unto you' (Zech. 1.3). He who was an 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 (Ps. 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 rod. Thus we have seen the several ingredients of repentance.


1. Brutus, the close friend of Julius Caesar, helped to stab him to death in 44 B.C.

2. A Roman who wrote about nature (early in the third century).

3. An enchantress in Greek legend who gave her magic cup to Ulysses' companions and changed them into swine.

4. The third Roman emperor, mentioned in Luke 3.1. He reigned from A.D. 14 to 37. For much of his reign he was accused of chronic intoxication.

5. Let him sail to Anticyra.' Hellebore, a plant found at Anticyra, a town on the Gulf of Corinth, was believed to be a cure for insanity.

6. Theologians of the Middle Ages.

7. A famous orator and statesman of the last century before Christ.

8. An epigram of the Roman writer Martial. Its English counterpart is found in the lines:

I do not love you, Dr Fell,
But why it is I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not love you, Dr Fell.


9. A Greek of the fourth century B.C., famous as philosopher, logician, metaphysician and `the father of natural science'.

10. Roman emperor in the sixth century.

11. An eminent lawyer living near Venice in the Reformation period (sixteenth century). He turned from Romanism, accepted the Protestant faith, but later apostatized and died in despair in 1548. His Life was published in Geneva in 1550, John Calvin supplying a preface. John Bunyan was deeply impressed by what happened to Spira. The man in the iron cage in the Interpreter's House in Pilgrim's Progress undoubtedly represents him.

12. The Greek poet Homer's story of the wooden horse filled with soldiers by means of which the Greeks captured Troy in the province of Ilium (near the Dardanelles) is one of the most famous stories handed down from the ancient world.

13. The wife of a king of Thebes in ancient times, who boasted of her twelve children, whereupon, according to Greek legend, she lost them all suddenly, and her grief changed her into a stone which shed tears in summer.

14. Non-Christian astrologers have long supposed that the planets exert an influence, good or ill, on human life. The planet Saturn has been supposed to exert a baleful influence on men; hence the adjective `saturnine'.

15. A burning fever occurring every third (by inclusive reckoning, fourth) day.

The Doctrine of Repentance | Home