Monday, October 6, 2008

The Nature Of True Repentance - Part 2

In part one of this series we talked about what true repentance is not. This time we will look at the positive side and see what true repentance is, and once again I will be quoting from Thomas Watson's book The Doctrine of Repentance - a book that I highly recommend.

Watson begins:
Repentance is a grace of God's Spirit whereby a sinner in inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.
He then goes on to say that true repentance is made up of six parts and that if any one of these is missing repentance has lost its virtue; these six ingredients are:

  1. Sight of sin
  2. Sorrow for sin
  3. Confession of sin
  4. Shame for sin
  5. Hatred for sin
  6. Turning from sin

We will look at each of these individually: the first two now, and the final four over the next two posts.

1. Sight of Sin

Before repentance can occur one must first know from what they are repenting. The Hebrew word for repentance literally means to turn around and the Greek word means to change your mind, but before we can turn around or change our mind we must first know what it is that we are turning from or changing our mind about. This is what Thomas Watson calls the sight of sin; we must see our sin for what it is - an offense against a holy God and a violation of His laws; he writes:
It is a great thing noted in the prodigal's repentance: he came to himself (Luke 15:17). He saw himself as a sinner and nothing but a sinner. Before a man can come to Christ he must first come to himself... A man must first recognize and consider what sin is, and know the plague of his heart before he can be humbled by it... The eye is mad for both seeing and weeping. Sin must be seen before it can be wept for.
This is a major problem in our modern Christianity - there is no sorrow for sin. And Watson writes:
Where there is no sight of sin, there can be no repentance.many who can spy faults in others see none in themselves. They cry they have good hearts.
But do we have good hearts? Not according to God's word; the apostle Paul wrote:
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Romans 3:10-18
This is not the picture of someone with a good heart - and this is what we are all like. We have been blinded to the sin on our lives and until we see it clearly for what it is we have not repented. Thomas Watson writes:
The devil does with them as the falconer with the hawk; he blinds them and carries them hooded to hell...

2. Sorrow for Sin

The next ingredient of true repentance is sorrow for sin; the Psalmist writes:
I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.
Psalm 38:18
And we cannot repent without sorrow over our sin. When we truly see our sin as God sees it the next step will be sorrow. Sorrow that we have offended God, sorrow that we have broken His laws and His commandments, and sorrow that we have violated His holiness. When we see our sin as God sees it we will repent in dust and ashes, we will turn from our sin and we will never want to return to it again. Watson writes here:
The Hebrew word 'to be sorrowful' signifies 'to have the soul, as it were, crucified'. This is a must for true repentance: 'They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn' (Zech. 12:10), as if they feel the nails of the cross sticking in their sides.
He then goes on to say:
A woman may as well expect to have a child without pangs as one can have repentance without sorrow.
Watson further explains that while sorrow for sin is necessary, not all sorrow is evidence of true repentance; he writes:
There is as much difference between true and false sorrow as between water in a spring, which is sweet, and water in the sea, which is briny.
He then gives us these six qualifications for godly sorrow; they are:

1. True godly sorrow is inward

By this he means that it is not a hypocritical sorrow that is outward only; he writes:
The sorrow of hypocrites lies in their faces: 'they disfigure their faces' (Matt. 6:16). They make a sour face, but their sorrow goes no further, like the due that wets the leaf but dies not soak to the root... Godly sorrow goes deep, like a vein which bleeds inwardly. The heart bleeds for sin... As the heart bears the chief part in sinning, so it must in sorrowing.
2. Godly sorrow is ingenuous

Our sorrow over sin should be for the offence rather then the punishment; Watson writes:
God's law has been infringed, his love abused. This melts the soul into tears. A man may be sorry, not repent, as a thief is sorry when he is taken, not because he stole, but because he has to pay the penalty. Hypocrites grieve only for the bitter consequences of sin... Godly sorrow, however, is chiefly for the trespass against God, so that even if there were no conscience to smite, no devil to accuse, no hell to punish, yet the soul would still be grieved because of the prejudice done to God.
3. Godly sorrow is fiducial (trustful)

By this he means that our sorrow must be intermixed with faith; Watson writes:
Spiritual sorrow will sink the heart if the pulley of faith does not raise it. As our sin is ever before us, so God's promise must be ever before us... The weeping is not good which blinds the eye of faith. If there is not some dawnings of faith in the soul, it is not the sorrow of humiliation but if despair.
4. Godly sorrow is a great sorrow

Here we have two questions that we must answer: (1) Do all have the same degree of sorrow? and (2) How great must sorrow for sin be? In answer to the first questions Thomas Watson writes:
No... in the new birth all have pangs, but some have sharper pangs than others.

Some are naturally of a more rugged disposition, of higher spirits, and are not as easily brought to stoop. These must have a greater humiliation, as a knotty piece of timber must have greater wedges driven into it.

Some have been more heinous offenders, and their sorrow must be suitable to their sin. Some patients have their sores let out with a needle, others with a lance.

Some are designed and cut for higher service, to be eminently instrumental for God, and these must have a mightier work of humiliation pass upon them. Those whom God intends to be pillars in his church must be more hewn.
And in answer to the second question he writes:
Sorrow for sin must surpass worldly sorrow. We must grieve more for offending God than for the loss of dear relations... Sorrow for sin should be so great as to swallow up all other sorrow... We are to find as much bitterness in weeping for sin as we ever found in committing it.
He then concludes:
The Christian has arrived at a sufficient measure of sorrow when the love of sin is purged out.
5. Godly sorrow in some cases is joined with restitution

This one is self-explanatory - true godly sorrow will lead one to repay or make restitution for whatever ill-gotten gain sin may have come through a sinful act.

6. Godly sorrow is abiding

By this he means that the sorrow of true repentance will not be something that only lasts for a brief time and is then forgotten. Watson writes:
True sorrow must be habitual. O Christian, the disease of your soul is chronic and frequently returns upon you; therefore you must be continually physicking yourself by repentance. This is that sorrow which is 'after a godly manner.'
Thomas Watson then concludes this section by saying:
The more bitterness we taste in sin, the more sweetness we shall taste in Christ.
I hope this has opened your eyes, as it has mine, to what true repentance is. I encourage you to take some time today to examine yourself; ask yourself honestly if you have seen your sin the way God sees your sin, and if you have experienced a true, godly sorrow that leads to life, or if your sorrow has been worldly sorrow that is only concerned with escaping the punishment and consequences of your sin and not with the realization that you have offended a Holy God.

And rest assured that while you are searching your own heart I will also be searching my own.

Next time we will look at what Thomas Watson had to say about confession of sin and shame for sin.
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