The New Birth: 2. Repentance

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In the last chapter we saw that a man is born from above, or born anew by the reception or belief of the word of God, applied by the Spirit’s power to the conscience. In simple words, faith, or belief in the testimony of God by His word, whatever may be the subject He is pleased to use, or the means employed in communicating His word. Faith is the first principle of this new nature. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:1717So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)). And, moreover, that the reception of this new nature by faith in God’s testimony is also, for every one who believes, eternal life.
Now, there is that which is an invariable accompaniment of the new birth, which troubles many an earnest soul who is looking for peace. I speak of Repentance. There are so many perplexing views of this really important work in a soul that I desire to put it simply before my readers, as the Lord may give grace for it, knowing His love and goodness to souls.
There is one thing I would state, in beginning such a subject, that there is never a real effectual work of God in a soul apart from true repentance. Some have stumbled souls by saying that such a work is a necessary preparation for faith, and a reception of the Gospel. That is, that it goes before faith, and hence before the new birth in a soul. Now, without hesitation, I would say that in every instance, in all Scripture, where the work of repentance is spoken of as a doctrine, or the fruits of it spoken of in a soul, it invariably follows faith. I do not say but that it has gone before peace. Peace with God may not be known for many a day, but the work of repentance has always followed faith, and consequently accompanied the new birth in every instance.
Many have thought that repentance is sorrow for sin, and that a certain amount of it is necessary before the reception of the Gospel. Others have got into the other extreme, and have thought that it is a change of mind about God. Now, these thoughts are both wrong. No doubt, as the apostle says — “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Cor. 7:1010For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)). But the Corinthians had been converted long before, and their sorrow of heart for that for which he charged them, led to a judgment of their ways under the power of God’s word to them through Paul. He says in another place that “the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Rom. 2:44Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? (Romans 2:4)). One then “works repentance,” and the other leads to it, but neither of them are repentance itself. Repentance is the true judgment which I form of myself, and all in myself, in view of what God has revealed and testified to me, whatever may have been the subject He has used.
We will now examine some of the instances in the word of God.
Jonah, the prophet, went to the men of Nineveh, by the command of God, to preach of judgment. He said — “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” The result of his preaching was, that “the people of Nineveh believed God,... and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (Jonah 3:4-54And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. 5So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. (Jonah 3:4‑5)). Here was a real work of repentance which followed faith in the preached word of God by Jonah. And we read, “The men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah” (Matt. 12:4141The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. (Matthew 12:41)). Here was a real work of self-judgment in view of the testimony of God. For this, simply, is repentance; it is the judgment we form of ourselves, and all in ourselves, under the effect of God’s testimony which we have believed.
Now turn to an example of repentance in the passage in Ezek. 26, to which we have before alluded. It spoke of the new birth to Israel by water and the Spirit which is necessary for them to enter into the earthly blessings of the kingdom. “I will sprinkle clean water upon you... and I will put my spirit within you... Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and for your abominations” (Ezek. 25-31).” Here is again a real work of repentance in a soul which has been born again of water and the Spirit.
John Baptist’s testimony to Israel was, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Belief in his testimony that the kingdom of heaven was at hand produced the truest repentance in their souls, that is, they judged themselves and their state as unfit for God’s Kingdom, and they did works meet for repentance — works which proved the sincerity of their self-judgment.
The Lord Jesus himself preaches in Galilee, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:1515And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel. (Mark 1:15)). They could not repent till they believed the good news of the kingdom. Faith in the testimony as to it produced repentance, or the judgment of self in view of such a testimony.
The mission to the disciples, in Luke 24:4747And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47), was “That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” These things were announced in His name, but unless there was faith in His name no repentance or remission would follow.
Many instances could be adduced from the word of God to show that true repentance is always preceded by faith, or belief in the testimony of God, and is inseparable from the new nature which is thereby implanted in the soul.
When a soul is born again, and has thereby a new nature which it had not before, it begins to discover the workings of the old. Sometimes this work is very deep and long, and often the most wretched experiences are gone through, ere the soul learns peace with God. Tempted perhaps to think betimes that it is not a child of God at all.
Perhaps my reader is one who is in this state of misery and unhappiness of soul. You can look back, it may be, on a time when all went smoothly, and no trouble of soul came in to disturb your life. Then you had but one nature as a sinner. Some word of God, awakened your conscience, and since then your life has been miserable. You enjoy moments of hopefulness perhaps, in thinking of the love and grace of God, and the tenderness of Christ in dealing with poor, lost souls; and then come the accusings of conscience and a broken law; things that you know were right have been neglected, and things which were unfit for God’s presence practiced, and your soul is miserable, and there is no peace. How like your state of soul must have been that of the poor prodigal on his way to his father’s house, uncertain how all would end; at one moment looking at his rags and filth, at another at the fullness and plenty of the father’s house. So with you; the very new nature which you have got is that by which you are discovering the workings of the old. As long as you had no new nature there was no trouble of soul, but now the very trouble is the result of having a new nature which you had not before. It is your new nature which, loving the things of God, and having its source from the Spirit of God, which has learned to loathe what you find in self, and to long to be right before Him. (See carefully the state of a soul in Romans 7:14-2514For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:14‑25).)
How often, in such a case does the soul seek for peace by progress and victory over itself. It thinks, by suppressing this evil desire, and curbing that evil temper or disposition to get peace. In other words, to get peace by endeavoring to get better, instead of giving up all hopes of getting better and by surrendering every such pretension, and being cast over altogether upon Christ! To find that Christ has gone down under the waves and billows of judgment, not only for the sins which troubled the conscience before God, but also for that evil nature which so troubles and distresses the heart. When it was proved that you were utterly without strength, unable to do aught to deliver yourself, Jesus bore the judgment of it all before God, and rising out of it, God has transferred you to His side of the grave — that you live now by His life in resurrection (John 12:2424Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12:24)), and that God sees you standing in redemption, alive in the life of His Son, and that the nature which so troubles you has been condemned and put aside forever. How sweet to discover this — to find that all God recognizes now is the new man. That all this terrible experience is but learning what your old nature is in God’s sight; that it is a true work of repentance in your soul.
God has given your old nature the place of death in the judgment of the cross of Christ. He does not attempt to improve it in any degree. His testimony is, that He has given to you everlasting life in His Son; it is this life and this only, which He owns, and directs, and by which He trains and educates you — never recognizing in any measure the old nature. Nevertheless it exists in you, and His spirit, through Christ’s advocacy, deals with your conscience about it, never letting you alone about its workings, although never imputing them to you, that you may continue to judge them and keep them in the place of death, which He has given them, by being engaged with Christ who is your life; and thus that the only thing which may be active is the life of Jesus in your body.
We will, in the next chapter (Lord willing), look into the fact that God does not change, or remove, or ameliorate, the old nature, in any degree, in imparting a new. Both natures remain as distinct as possible, but there is no necessity whatsoever that a Christian should live in the practice or power of any nature but the new; nay, rather, this is what God looks for in the Christian at all times.