Today we continue our series on Gospel Convergence concerning the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the Confession. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.
I can remember the first time I really considered repentance as a vital doctrine in the life of a Christian – it was roughly three years ago when I read Thomas Watson’s The Doctrine of Repentance. This short Puritan Paperback captured my attention and pressed upon me the vitality that repentance brings to the Christian life (A Grief Observed: Inwardly Humbled, Visibly Reformed was one post growing out of that). Therefore, while a call for repentance, sorrow and grief may come across a little puritanical, it is so very necessary.
Five Facets of Repentance
In the Confession we can observe five facets of repentance put forth in chapter 15:
Repent unto Life
The first facet set forth is perhaps a rather obvious one – there must be repentance unto life. Like we have noted previously many chapters build on preceding chapters; this chapter likewise builds on the doctrines of previous chapters (such as effectual calling and saving faith). The Confession states: ‘Such of the elect…God in their effectual calling giveth them repentance unto life’ (pg. 70). There must be repentance unto life. This was of course the call of Jesus and the Apostles:
‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt. 3:2)
‘unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’ (Luke 13:3)
‘Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out’ (Acts 3:19)
In many ways life begins with repentance.
Repent throughout Life
Life does not end with repentance though, as the Confession makes clear there must be repentance throughout life. We noted in an earlier post that no-one is without sin, and this battle against sin continues into our Christian lives (Part Six). For that reason it is necessary to maintain an attitude of repentance throughout the Christian life. God in His grace has made this possible for us:
‘God hath, in the covenant of grace, mercifully provided that believers so sinning and falling be renewed through repentance unto salvation’ (pg. 70).
This was Jesus’ invitation to the church in Ephesus, and therefore to the church everywhere: ‘repent, and do the works you did at first’ (Rev. 2:5). The believers in Ephesus were reminded that their behaviour was different from when they began life with Christ – now they must repent and return to that way of life.
Repent with Despair and Determination
To be able to do so they needed to repent with both despair and determination, and this is the third facet highlighted by the Confession. Permit me to quote at length:
This saving repentance is an evangelical grace, whereby a person, being by the Holy Spirit made sensible of the manifold evils of his sin, doth, by faith in Christ Jesus, humble himself for it with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrency, praying for pardon and strength of grace, with a purpose and endeavour, by supplies of the Spirit, to walk before God unto all well-pleasing in all things. (pg. 70-71)
There is to be horror and awe at our sin and our sinfulness, but in relation also a renewed purpose and determination to be holy. This is not will-power though, but a grace brought about by the Holy Spirit. This facet is the key to perceiving true and false repentance. Paul makes the same clarification:
I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor. 7:9-10)
The Confession encourages us to see it as every man’s duty to ‘repent of his particular known sins particularly’ (pg. 71). There is no chapter and verse for this, so to speak. Rather, it appears that this fourth facet is simply wise, practical advice. Repent particularly; name and shame your sin. There is nothing quite as humbling as specifically naming your sin. The Confession gives a reference to the account of Zacchaeus’ repentance (Luke 19:1-10), and perhaps this is a good illustration of what repenting particularly might look like.
Repent of all Sin
Finally, the Confession wants its readers to be aware of both the heinousness of all sin, and yet the remarkable power of God to forgive repenting sinners. We are reminded that the ‘wages of sin is death’ (Rom. 6:23); or in the wording of the Confession: ‘there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation’ (pg. 71). But it also assures us that ‘there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation on them that repent’ (pg. 71). This truth is reinforced in the beautiful language of Isaiah:
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (55:6-7)
In other words, repent of all sin because no sin is so small it will not condemn you and no sin is so big that it will exclude you from God’s grace. Therefore, this ‘makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary’ (pg. 71).
Essentially, rightly understanding and practicing repentance is a key indicator of new life in us. Bruce Milne warns, ‘the absence of any changed attitude to sin is evidence that a person is not truly regenerate’ (Know the Truth, pg. 233). This is exactly what the Apostle John writes:
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9)