On September 9th 2015, Channel 4 weatherman Liam Dutton achieved the unachievable with incredible poise. As part of the broadcast, Dutton was confronted by the “second longest one word official place name in the world”: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Without a moment’s hesitation, Dutton easily says the hardest place name in the United Kingdom.
Is anything too hard for us to say? A prestigious list of celebrities assures that “sorry seems to be the hardest word”. Unfortunately for Elton John, Joe Cocker, Blue, Mary J. Blige, Ray Charles, Kenny G and Scatman John, a visit to any of Northern Ireland’s school playgrounds disproves this ‘sorry-seems-the-hardest-word-to-say’ hypothesis. After-all, up-and-down the country, children are being told to “look each other in the eyes and say ‘sorry’”. Sure, this happens begrudgingly through gritted teeth; but sorry, then, isn’t all that impossible to say. Sorry is easy to say. Sorry is hard to mean.
That’s Brooks’ sixth device. Brooks takes us from a God-who-is-all-mercy (his fifth device) to a repentance-that-is-all-empty. Satan “persuades the soul that repentance is an easy work” (55). “Repentance”, he may surreptitiously slander, “is as easy as saying sorry; there’s nothing else to it”. Satan’s device is convincing us that it isn’t all that difficult to return to God, to confess in sorrow, to beg God’s mercy, to experience pardon, to save your soul. If repentance is such light work? It follows that my soul “need not make such a matter of sin” (55). Indeed: “by this device, Satan draws many a soul to sin, and makes many millions of souls servants [and] slaves to sin” (55).
Before we seriously consider each remedy, I wish to offer a brief caveat. It’s vitally important that we remember Brooks’ target audience. Brooks is addressing Christians. Brooks is engaging with people who have been saved by grace, through faith, in Christ. Brooks is categorically denying any form of salvation by works. This means: Brooks denies the idea that our work of repentance brings our salvation. Repentance is a grace; we draw the strength to “crucify all” in repentance only from union with “a crucified Christ” (58). Therefore: when Brooks discourses on the hard work of repentance, he is not simply arguing that genuine repentance may be reached by rolled-up shirt sleeves and elbow grease. This hard work is impossible bar Christ. So, please remember: repentance is a grace that is ours in Christ. It is only through Christ that we can genuinely repent. Therefore, the easy repentance Satan urges us toward is really ‘repentance’ – that is, false repentance.
So: is repentance really such an easy word?
Remedy #1: seriously consider that repentance is a difficult work, above our power.
Repentance is beyond our power. Brooks states this in its stark magnificence:
“There is no power below that power that raised Christ from the dead, that made the world, that can break the heart of a sinner or turn the heart of a sinner…men are not born with repentance in their hearts, as they are born with tongues in their mouths…it is not in the power of any mortal to repent at pleasure” (56)
In 2 Timothy 2:25-26, Paul urges Timothy to be a faithful servant to the Lord, in the hope that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will”. Repentance “is a gift that comes down from above” (56). It is granted by the Father to His stumbling people. It involves a powerful escape from Satan’s grasp. This is far beyond my strength. I can’t even get my dog to change direction; how can I hope my heart will be easier to fix?
So: repentance is a mighty work. Brooks repeats this over and over. He does not want us to settle for easy ‘repentance’. Believing “these five words ‘Lord, have mercy on me’ are efficacious to send them to heaven [by one’s own power in speaking them]…[is] buying a counterfeit jewel…[and resting] in the shadow of repentance” (56).
Remedy #2: seriously consider the nature of true repentance.
“Repentance hath in it three things: the act, subject and terms” (57). Here, Brooks delivers his most in-depth treatment of true repentance. The formal act of repentance, he ascertains, is “a changing and converting…turning from darkness to light” (57). The subject of this turning is the whole man: “both the sinner’s heart and life…first his person, then his practice” (57). The terms of this turning, from which both heart and life are changed, are “from sin to God” (57). The heart must be turned away from sin’s controlling power, and the life must deliberately turn from acts of sin. This means turning away from all sin, including the sinful actions, attitudes and inclinations we tell ourselves are part of our personalities and are essential to our wellbeing. In short, “repentance doth include turning from the most darling sin” (58). “Every sin strikes at the honour of God, the being of God, the glory of God, the heart of Christ, the joy of the Spirit…therefore [true repentance] strikes at all [sin], hates all, conflicts with all and will labour to draw strength from a crucified Christ to crucify all” (58). Therefore, true repentance “doth include a sensibleness of sin’s sinfulness…how opposite and contrary it is to the blessed God…[and] it breaks the heart with sighs, and sobs and groans” (59). But: “both [must turn] unto God” (57). Repentance is not a simple cease-and-desist toward sin. Instead, it is a turning, in gratitude, toward God-focused obedience. “The heart [is now] under [God’s] power in a state of grace, the life [is now] under His rule in all new obedience” (57). Repentance isn’t simply walking away from all evil; it is walking towards all that is holy and good.
Brooks’ penetrating question bears repeating: “would it be such an easy thing to repent as Satan would make the soul to believe?” (60). In union with Christ, true repentance requires the power that “made the world or raises the dead” (60). Repentance can never lead to a downplaying of the seriousness of sin. Satan’s ‘repentance’ is not repentance.
Remedy #3: seriously consider that repentance is a continued act.
Often, we present repentance as a one-time-only deal. We repent at conversion, and we lead a sorrow-free life afterwards. But, this is not true repentance. “True repentance inclines a man’s heart to perform God’s statutes always, even unto the end” (60). Indeed, “repentance is a grace, and must have its daily operation as well as other graces” (60). We cannot settle with a once-in-a-lifetime view of repentance. This does not undermine the efficacy of God’s saving-power, or the fullness of our union with Christ, or the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Instead: this undermines our human pride. At conversion, sin’s power over us is broken; but in our daily lives, sin’s nature remains unchanged. Sin is sin, so “repentance is no transient act, but a continued act of the soul”. It is not easy. True repentance turns from “more and more sin”, and turns “nearer and nearer to God” everyday (61).
Remedy #4: seriously consider that repentance is a great work of grace.
Sin is in our nature. Sin weakens us, killing parts of our conscience and corrupting our worship toward, and our sensibility of, God. But: “for a soul…to repent of his falls…is as great a work of grace…as it is not to sin” (63). God’s grace draws us to repent; a focus on His loving-kindness leads us to turn toward Him (Psalm 26:3-5, Luke 7:37-50). Repentance is a powerful work of God’s grace. It cannot be easily manufactured. Don’t be fooled by Satan’s lies.
Remedy #5: seriously consider that Satan will use easy repentance to lead you to despair.
Satan is snake. He’s slippery; his devices refuse to be pinned down. Satan urges us to put our confidence in easy repentance so he can “break the neck of the soul” (64). He’ll tell us it’s easy, but when we start to wake-up, he’ll tell us that repentance is the most difficult thing in the world. He’ll set our sin before us, and tell us that we belong to him. The sin he told us was a “mote”? He’ll tell us that it is an unmovable “mountain…and [it is] vain to repent of them…for such a wretch…to attempt repentance is to attempt an impossible thing” (65).
Satan’s offer of easy repentance will break our necks. We need to mean the hardest word. “Oh that you were wise to break off your sins by timely repentance” (65).