WHILE leaving a jail meeting, some years ago, a brother in Christ handed
me a slip of paper. On looking at it later, I found that it contained a list of passages
containing the word "repentance." It was a gentle hint that I had omitted
preaching repentance to the prisoners, as indeed, I had.
Let us examine the passages he brought before me and determine,
if we can, the Lord's mind on this subject.
It goes without saying that repentance was proclaimed. But the
mere fact is not sufficient to guide our steps. Christ Himself ceased to proclaim it
after He was rejected. He confines Himself to the announcement of His sufferings
(Matt.16:20; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:31). But when Luke takes up the thread concerning the
things which He began to do and teach (Acts 1:1) he reverts to this early ministry and
engages our attention with the Kingdom (Acts 2:30) and repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38)
-- the very same subjects which the Lord had proclaimed before He was rejected.
Now we know that the Kingdom as proclaimed by the apostles was
rejected once again (Acts 28:26,27). Stephen is stoned (Acts 7:59). James is killed by
Herod (Acts 12:1). Peter is imprisoned (Acts 12:4) and is finally found in Babylon (1
Peter 5:13). Paul's life is imperilled and he, too, becomes a prisoner (Acts 28:17).
If the Lord Himself stopped the proclamation of pardon and
repentance when His message was rejected, it is certainly worth the enquiry: Has it
been again withdrawn, now that the same message, proclaimed by His apostles, has once more
|Repentance is an After-Mind
But first, let us inquire, What is repentance? When we define our terms
many difficulties disappear. To repent is, literally, to observe -- afterward, to
Such reconsideration may lead one to turn about or be
"converted" (Acts 3:19), but it is quite distinct from conversion.
Likewise repentance may lead to work (Rev.2:5), but it
is not itself work, as might be supposed from some translations which render it
Those truly repentant evidenced it by suitable fruits (Matt. 3:9;
Luke 3:8; Acts 26:2,6).
Repentance may accompany faith (Mark 1:15), but for that very
reason must be distinguished from faith. It may lead to deliverance, in a sense (2
Cor.7:10), and to life (Acts 2:18), but in itself means none of these things, but only
such a reconsideration as these may demand.
The divine picture of repentance is found in the case of Nineveh
(Matt.12:41; Luke 2:32). Jonah's message to that great wicked city was "Yet forty
days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" This was no "gospel;" no glad or
joyful message. Such a message would not have caused repentance, for if God had a
message of joy for them what could they possibly repent of? Repentance is not produced by
any gospel. That is why we read (Mark 1:15) "repent ye and believe the
gospel." The proclamation of judgment is generally the moving cause of repentance.
The word "preach" when connected with repentance is always a proclamation
as in Jonah's case. It is never evangelize, the word generally translated
"preach" (Matt.12:41; Mark 6:12; Luke 11:32; Mark 1:4).
Tyre and Sidon and awful Sodom never were exhorted to repent
though they were more susceptible to the proclamation of judgment than religious Chorazin
and Bethsaida and high Capernaum (Matt.2:21). If there was any virtue in repentance and
Sodom had the opportunity presented to Capernaum it would still be a flourishing city as
There are a remarkable pair of repentance parables recorded by
Luke (Luke 13:1-9 and 17:3-6). These will lead us to see the close connection of
repentance with the Kingdom of God.
Some there were in that day, as there are now, who believe that
God deals men's deserts to them in this present life. They told the Lord how Pilate had
mingled the blood of certain Galileans with their sacrifices. He replies: "Suppose ye
that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such
things? I tell you, nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." And
so, too, in the case of those upon whom the tower of Siloan fell.
And then, without further explanation, He spoke the parable of The
Fruitless Fig Tree. Three years had He been dressing the fig tree and still there was no
fruit. Three years had He been calling upon the nation to repent and bring forth the
fruits of repentance, but He found none. One more chance would He give it. This is
recorded in the book of Acts. But even this effort failed. The fig tree has been cut down.
The call to repentance failed to bring about the Kingdom.
The second parable of The Wild Fig Tree (or "sycamine"
Luke 17:3-6) is like the first, but views the subject from a different standpoint.
After considering the conduct which He would have them show a
repentant brother, they request their Lord, "Increase our faith." And their Lord
replies, "If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this wild
fig tree, `Be thou plucked up by the roots, and be thou planted in the sea;' and it should
Israel, politically, is figured by a fig tree; Rome is the wild
fig tree. The fruit of this wild fig or mulberry tree is an insipid imitation of the good
fig tree, eaten only by the poorest classes (Amos 7:14).
So Roman world-wide dominion had the appearance of that
Kingdom which will bear the sweet fruits of righteousness. Its soft, brittle timber was a
poor substitute for the princely cedars, though it did ape the semblance of the cedar's
imperial majesty (Isa.9:10).
How differently the Master would have them treat these two trees!
All His labor was directed to save one of them from destruction. A grain of faith on their
part would have transplanted the other to the midst of the sea, far from Israel's land. In
plain words, if they really repented and believed, they would have dwelt beneath the shade
of their own fig tree, the Kingdom Jehovah had promised them, and the Roman yoke would
soon be broken. Only their unrepentant, unbelieving attitude bound them with the chains of
Repentance is the Basis
of Israel's Blessings
Thus we see how vitally repentance is linked with the Kingdom as
proclaimed by our Master in His early ministry, before His rejection. And this was in
strict accord with Moses and the prophets. The thirtieth chapter of Deuteronomy lays down
the conditions upon which the Kingdom will come. The very first is repentance.
"And it shall come to pass when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and
the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind..."
This was the foundation of John the Baptist's preaching, "Repent ye." Why?
"For the Kingdom of the heavens has drawn nigh" (Matt.3:2). This Kingdom, which
will break in pieces and consume the Babylonian, the Medo Persian, the Grecian and the
Roman world powers, which shall never be left to any other people but the Chosen Nation
(Dan.2:44) -- this Kingdom will never be theirs until they enter it through the portals of
repentance. Those who do not repent and bring forth its proper fruits will be baptized
with fire, they will be burned up as chaff.
Once we have grasped the thought that repentance is the key to
the earthly Kingdom, we will understand why it is that it is hardly mentioned except when
that Kingdom is proclaimed. The Kingdom is in view in the early part of the Gospels, it is
again presented in the book of Acts, and it is finally attained in the Revelation. So we
find that the verb occurs twelve times (the number of government) in the Revelation; four
times (the number of the earth) referring to the Kingdom in the Acts, and sixteen times
(four squared) in the Gospels. It occurs only once in a private way in the epistles of
Paul (2 Cor.12:21).
As a noun it occurs only four times in Paul's epistles proper and
none refer to the Kingdom. John had preached the baptism of repentance to all the people
of Israel (Acts 13:24). The Lord continued this proclamation, and even after His
exaltation, He is proclaimed by Peter as "a Prince and a Saviour, for to
give repentance to Israel...."
It is not until Peter visits Cornelius that we have any hint that
the nations have any part in this. When the events attending Peter's visit are rehearsed,
they were amazed and exclaimed, "Then, indeed, to the Nations, too, God has granted
repentance unto life!" (Acts 2:18). But the very next statement shows that they did
not follow up its proclamation.
It was not until Paul went to the nations that repentance was
proclaimed to them. At Athens he could say, "now chargeth He all men everywhere
to repent." Why? Not on account of God's grace as made known in His glad message, but
"Because He has appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness
by that Man Whom He hath ordained..." These are the judgments which will usher in and
sustain the Kingdom. It was while this Kingdom was still in view, before Israel was set
aside, that Paul testified both to Jews and Greeks, "repentance toward God, and faith
toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).
But while Paul preached thus in his itinerant ministry, his
epistles, written in view of or after Israel's final rejection of their King, contain
nothing of repentance in connection with the gospel. His epistle to the Romans is a grand,
complete, exhaustive treatise on the gospel, yet repentance is altogether omitted, except
where he notes how the goodness (not grace) of God ought to lead men to
repentance, but fails to do so (Rom.2:4).
Repentance and Pardon are
the Portals of the Kingdom
The gospel of God and the gospel of the mystery (Rom.1:1 and 16:25)
immeasurably transcend the proclamation of repentance and pardon, the portals to the
Kingdom. Pardon might be withdrawn (Matt.18:21-35). Many of those who repented during the
proclamation of the Kingdom, afterwards fell away (Heb.6:6). These, the apostle tells us,
it is impossible to renew again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son
of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame. The unrepentant nation had crucified their
Christ and now these apostates repeat their rejection of the Kingdom, and crucify the King
But no such dire apostasy is possible to those who believe God's
glad message and the proclamation of the reconciliation as set forth in the Roman letter.
For such there is no condemnation: nothing can separate them from the love of God which is
in Christ Jesus.
And here is where the greatest mischief has been wrought. Not
only has the gospel been dragged down from its heavenly height, but those who have
believed it are being harassed by doubts which are engendered by failing to recognize
God's distinct message for the earthly Kingdom. There is a grand harmony in all God's
works which is plain enough in nature, but which seems almost unknown to spiritual eyes.
The bird has its home in the air, the fish in the sea and other
animals upon the ground. Each knows its place; but God's people seem continually inclined
to swim with their wings or grovel in the ground when their right place is to be pinioned
in the heights of heaven.
Let us remember, the Kingdom has been rejected. And all
that which was intended to bring it about must not be pressed into service for which it is
not fit, but should await the time when finally God sends His Christ again and He falls
like a stone upon man's grand monarchies and grinds them to powder. In view of that time,
repentance will again be urged as is clearly seen in the oft-repeated charge in the seven
letters to the churches in Rev.2 and 3 and in the charges against apostate Israel
(Rev.16:9-11) and the remainder of mankind (Rev.9:20,21).
Then it will be in point to proclaim repentance once again.
Meanwhile, we should proclaim peace. We should point men, not to
their feelings or misdeeds or coming judgment, but to Christ. Not even to the
judgment due their sins, but His judgment on the cross which fends all thought of wrath.
For the present God is not counting men's offenses against them.
He is beseeching men to receive the reconciliation effected by the death of His Son. Nor
penance, nor penitence, nor repentance may intrude or obscure that marvelous mystery of
the gospel, the reconciliation. God asks nothing now from man. Yea, more than that, God
Himself is entreating men to accept the reconciliation He has wrought (2 Cor.5:17-20). In
the past our Lord could tell them, "If thy brother repent, forgive him" (Luke
17:3-4) for God was acting so at that time. Now, however, as beloved children we are to
imitate God in forgiving one another quite apart from any repentance on the part of our
brethren. The reason for this is found in the fact that God Himself acts thus. He points
to Himself and His gift -- His Son -- and asks alone for faith in Him. He does not ask the
sinner to look back or within, but only up. One glimpse of Him will entail far deeper
loathing not only of our past, but of ourselves, than any repentance could ever bring
about. Indeed our past is in the sepulchre, buried from our sight. Our life is Christ and
this looks back to no repentance.
"But," some will say, "I never saw a real case of
conversion yet, but it was accompanied by repentance." This may be quite true, but,
shall we mold God's word to suit our experience or the experience of others when that
experience is itself the result of defective teaching? No! rather let us mold our
experience to suit His word, and let us value it only in as much as it agrees with what He
Repentance is not necessary to faith in the gospel. Take the
pattern case which God has given us for a standard. Abraham believed God's good news
concerning the seed. This faith God reckoned to him for righteousness. Did he repent? What
call was there for repentance? Good news may be believed without a previous repentance.
In the case of the Kingdom matters are different. It cannot come
until God has first emptied the hoarded bowls of wrath upon His apostate people and broken
the seals of judgment that right a rebellious world. The Kingdom must be entered through
much tribulation. Its nearness means judgment. Therefore we read "Repent, for the
Kingdom of the heavens, has drawn nigh." Therefore John the Baptist goes on
to warn them of "the wrath to come."
But nowadays there is no mixture of judgment in the gospel,
except that which Christ Himself bore and which is past long since. This is the plain
teaching of the fifth chapter to the Romans, "We shall be saved from wrath through
This is one of our especial blessings, that, in that judgment
era, whether we are wakeful or drowsy, we shall live together with Him. For this He is
coming to the air to receive us to Himself (1 Thess.4:15,17; 5:10).
|Salvation is in Christ Jesus
O, that we knew the sufficiency of Christ for everything! We are so
anxious to pry men into the "Kingdom" that we invent various crowbars to get
them in, all the while ignoring the great truth that the gospel is God's power for
salvation (Rom.1:16). We preach on all sorts of topics from sanitation to
sanctification (ever tinkering with man himself) when the gospel is concerning His Son
(Rom.1:3). In a word we are trying to "bring men to Christ," when He would
have us bring Christ to men!
How grand it is to fall back upon God Himself! He will see to it
that everyone whom He has selected will be invited and justified and sanctified. And He
does it in spite of all the stumbling blocks we put in the sinner's way. Some preach law
outright, some regeneration, some the spirit's work, some baptism, some repentance -- but
none of these are good news; indeed, there is no good news apart from Christ.
Let it be our precious privilege to preach Christ crucified to
those who know Him not; and to those who know Him, Christ glorified. Let Christ be first
and Christ be last and Christ fill all between. Let us not look back and vaunt ourselves
with, "I prayed, I repented, I was baptized, and I--,"
but let us rather shout with the Apostle "no longer I, but CHRIST!" If
I had a hand in my salvation it must needs contain a flaw, for I find failure fills
everything I do. But if Christ alone deserves the crown, then all like Him is
perfect and immutable. Some who repented fell away (Heb.6:6) and it was impossible to
renew them again to repentance. Therefore the apostle exhorts them to leave
repentance from dead works (Heb.6:1).
It is God's purpose that in all things Christ should have the
preeminence and that all fullness should dwell in Him. He is God's fullness. He
is our fullness. Both God and His saints are mutually and completely furnished in Christ