Results tagged “repentance” from Reformation21 Blog

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 5, Sin


[Editorial Note: This is the fifth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Article 5: Sin

WE AFFIRM that all people are connected to Adam both naturally and federally. Therefore, because of original sin everyone is born under the curse of God's law and all break his commandments through sin. There is no difference in the condition of sinners due to age, ethnicity, or sex. All are depraved in all their faculties and all stand condemned before God's law. All human relationships, systems, and institutions have been affected by sin.

WE DENY that, other than the previously stated connection to Adam, any person is morally culpable for another person's sin. Although families, groups, and nations can sin collectively, and cultures can be predisposed to particular sins, subsequent generations share the collective guilt of their ancestors only if they approve and embrace (or attempt to justify) those sins. Before God each person must repent and confess his or her own sins in order to receive forgiveness. We further deny that one's ethnicity establishes any necessary connection to any particular sin.

Recognition and repentance of sin are both central to the proclamation of the gospel. When Peter preached to the Jews at Pentecost, he confronted their sin by declaring, "this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men" (Acts 2:23).

When the crowd recognized their guilt, their hearts were pierced, and they cried out to ask what they must do. Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). If they were to be saved, the message was clear: they must recognize and repent of their sins and identify with Christ. The ones who received and acted on Peter's words were saved that day (Acts 2:41).

Recognition and repentance of sin are both central to the practice of the gospel, It is the pattern of the Christian life as we continue to walk in the light. Consider the familiar words of the Apostle John that were written to believers: "If we say we have not sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 Jn 1:8-9).

These words are both sobering and encouraging. If we ignore or deny our sin, we demonstrate that the truth of God does not indwell us. In other words, failing to recognize our sin is serious business; it evidences we are not saved. However, the wonderful news is when we confess our sins, God forgives us and cleanses us. He is faithful and just to do so because he is keeping his promise that our sins have been punished through the cross on the basis of Christ's blood.

The Bible is replete with warnings about the danger of concealing our sins as well as the blessings of confessing them. Therefore, it is critical that we are able to know the sins for which we truly bear guilt so that we may confess them. Our salvation and blessed life as a Christian depend upon this. Simply put, if we have sinned, we must recognize our guilt and confess that before God in order to receive forgiveness.

This truth becomes crucial in the ongoing debate about social justice among evangelicals. Some argue that people today not only bear the guilt for their own sins, but also for the sins of past generations - particularly those of racism. For example, even though none of us were alive during the practice of American slavery, and many were not yet born at the time of Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder, some argue that whites should both confess and repent of the sins of their ancestors in these matters.

Article 6 of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel addresses this critical error. Scripture is clear that although we are all sinners, by nature and practice, no one is morally culpable and called to repent for someone else's sin (Rom 5:12).

Nevertheless, some reference Exodus 20:5 where God says he will "visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation." Therefore, it is argued, future generations can be complicit in the sins of their ancestors.

However, the text actually assigns this guilt to "those who hate me." The warning places guilt upon those who continue to walk in the wicked ways of their ancestors. The children share in their father's guilt because they share in their father's sins. This is further clarified by the prophet Ezekiel's words:, "The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father for the iniquity of the son" (Ezk 18:20).

This continues to be the case in the New Testament. Nowhere do we find guilt assigned to individuals for the sins of others. Each person is called upon to confess their personal sins in order to receive forgiveness. Hence, John declares, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins..." (1 Jn 1:9).

But what about Peter's sermon at Pentecost as was referenced earlier? Is that not an example of guilt being assigned to a group of people for the sins of others? Peter said to the entire crowd, "you crucified and killed Jesus." Everyone knows that it was the Jewish leadership who handed Jesus over, Pilate who sent him to the cross, and Roman soldiers who nailed him to that tree. Yet, Peter declares to every person within the sound of his voice that it was they who are guilty of this vile sin.

We must remember Peter is preaching this sermon in the heart of Jerusalem - the very place where Jesus had been unjustly tried and crucified mere weeks prior. It was the Jewish leaders who handed Jesus over to the Roman government and called for his execution (Jn 18:28-31). When Pilate gave the Jewish crowds the opportunity to set Jesus free, they demanded that he be crucified, and they vowed, "His blood be on us and on our children" (Mt 27:15-26).

Furthermore, this was no sin of ignorance. Peter declared that Jesus was "a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know" (Acts 2:22). There was ample evidence that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but essentially the entire nation had rejected him and insisted he be crucified. Virtually everyone in the nation of Israel was active in the crucifixion and murder of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, Peter's pronouncement of guilt upon this Jewish crowd in the heart of Jerusalem was certainly justified.

However, before we rush to embrace the idea of corporate guilt, we must consider some vital facts.

First, neither Peter nor any of the other apostles include themselves in the guilt of killing Jesus. They also were Jews, in Jerusalem when he was crucified, and most of them abandoned him in that very hour. Yet, they seem to bear no guilt.

Second, no Jews are told throughout the rest of the New Testament that they are guilty for the crucifixion of Jesus. When Paul preached to the Jews in Antioch, he declared, "those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers" condemned Jesus (Acts 13:27). This continues to be the pattern throughout the rest of Acts.

Surely the crucifixion of Jesus was the greatest act of injustice in the history of the world, yet his death was not laid at the feet of future Jewish generations. There could be no greater evidence that one's ethnicity does not establish any necessary connection to any particular sin. Clearly, we are called upon to confess our own sins, not the sins of others.

The Scripture must be our only guide in matters of guilt and repentance. We do not have the right to burden people with guilt that God's Law does not clearly lay upon them, and we certainly should not call upon people to repent for sins in which they bear no legitimate guilt. To do such a thing is to go beyond the line of Scripture and is nothing less than "teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Mk 7:7).

The truth is there is real hatred towards others that dwells in our own hearts that calls for confession and repentance. The gospel demands that we do the harder task of confronting the real guilt of sin that we indeed bear, and the humble repentance God requires. This is the task to which we must be fully committed. As important as brotherly reconciliation is, there is more at stake when we assign guilt for sin and call for repentance. What is at risk is our personal standing before God (1 Jn 1:8-9).

C.S. Lewis addressed this issue in his time. At the beginning of WWII, young Christians were calling upon England to repent of her past sins they believed contributed to the evils of the war. They claimed England was reaping what it had sown from the nation's prior actions.

Lewis wrote an article entitled "Dangers of National Repentance," where he declared, "Young Christians are turning to it in large numbers." But what harm is there, Lewis reasoned, in having a heart that is willing to repent of any sin - even if it is not directly your own? He saw it as a grave danger with no sign of spiritual health at all. Scripture calls us to is the harder work of repenting of our own sin.

Therefore, I believe C. S. Lewis' warning then is as relevant to the discussion among evangelicals now: "The first and fatal charm of national repentance is the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting of our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing the conduct of others."

Tom Buck serves as the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Lindale, TX

Stumbling on a Two-Way Street


Sin is a two-way street. There is the offender and the offended. We may not think of sin in those terms, especially in instances where we are the offended party. But the truth of the matter is that we bear the burden of responding to sin in a Christlike manner whether we play the role of villain or victim (Eph. 4:32). 

Scan the moral landscape of today's evangelical church and it is readily apparent that preaching or teaching that we sin (or, worse, that there is such a thing as 'sin' at all) is becoming increasingly outmoded. Oh, sure, we'll concede that we make mistakes. Of course, we do. After all, "nobody's perfect" right? But to suggest that we sin? Well, that's Testament; so...Moses on Mount and disgracious.

This somewhat passive approach to the sins you and I commit is, I believe, a by-product of our collectively treating so casually the fact that we are sinners--violators of God's law-- as opposed to mere "mistake-makers" (Rom. 3:23). That being said, this commentary isn't about sin, necessarily. Well, it is but, then, again, it isn't. It's actually about forgiveness. But any true understanding of the importance of forgiveness in the life of the Christian begins with an understanding of the significance of sin; because it is sin that necessitates forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9). If no sin has been committed, then, no forgiveness is required.

There is an irony in that, ordinarily, you and I are inclined to view forgiveness in terms of an obligatory gesture of contrition owed to us by someone who has wronged us. But there is a flip-side to forgiveness in that we should not view it solely within the context of one's moral or ethical indebtedness to us, but as Christ did, as a gift, a benefit, a blessing to be volitionally and unreservedly bestowed on those who, like you and me, are wholly undeserving of it (Ps. 103:10; Dan. 9:9; Eph. 1:7; Col. 3:13). As the 19th century preacher and theologian Charles Spurgeon truthfully exclaimed:

"You are nothing better than deceitful hypocrites if you harbor in your minds a single unforgiving thought. There are some sins which may be in the heart, and yet you may be saved. But you cannot be saved unless you are forgiving. If we do not choose to forgive, we choose to be damned."

As sinners, we often find it difficult to forgive other sinners. One would think, given this universal spiritual nexus we all share, that the very opposite would be the case--namely, that forgiving those who sin against us would be easy or, at least, easier since we all share the same sin-nature (1 Kin. 8:46a; Ps. 14:3, 53:3; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:10). One of the primary reasons why we find forgiveness so arduous an undertaking is that sin is weighty (Rom. 6:23; 1 Tim. 1:15; 1 Pet. 3:18). It is our sin that cost the Son of God His life on the cross (Jn. 3:16; Mk. 15:24-25).

Sin and forgiveness are inextricably connected insofar as the fact that you and I are sinners is not only a declaration of what we are in terms of our spiritually-depraved condition (Eph. 2:1), but also of the kind of fruit we are capable of as a result of that condition (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 7:18, 24). The Puritan theologian Thomas Watson underscores this truth quite unambiguously in his book The Doctrine of Repentance in that:

"Sin is like the usurer who feeds a man with money and then makes him mortgage his land. Sin feeds the sinner with delightful objects and then makes him mortgage his soul. Judas pleased himself with thirty pieces of silver, but they proved deceitful riches. Ask him now how he likes his bargain."

In the fall of 1995, the Christian band DC Talk released the album Jesus Freak which contained the introspective What If I Stumble?, the chorus of which poses some very sobering questions for Christians to consider concerning sin and forgiveness:

"What if I stumble?
What if I fall?
What if I lose my step
and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue
when my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble?
And what if I fall?"

I mentioned earlier that sin is a two-way street. Consequently, so is forgiveness. For not only when we are sinned against do we have the opportunity to forgive - regardless if it is requested or not - but when we sin against others, for it is when you and I stumble and fall (and we will) that we are reminded of the Christlike humility we are obligated and expected to display toward others (Matt. 18:21-22) when the roles are reversed (as they undoubtedly will be). As Thomas Watson reminds us in The Godly Man's Picture:

"A humble soul thinks better of others than of himself (Phil. 2:3). A humble man values others at a higher rate than himself, and the reason is because he can see his own heart better than he can another's. He sees his own corruption and thinks surely it is not so with others; their graces are not so weak as his; their corruptions are not so strong. `Surely', he thinks, 'they have better hearts than I.' A humble Christian studies his own infirmities and another's excellences and that makes him put a higher value upon others than himself."

Reflecting for a moment on the words of the chorus above, ask yourself the following questions: 

How will you respond when the walk of someone you care about stumbles and falls? When his or her walk with Christ becomes a crawl? When they let you down by not living up to an expectation you had of them? When they fail to follow through on a commitment they made? When he or she is caught in an adulterous relationship? Or when you find out your closest friend has been gossiping about you? What then? As you consider these questions, consider also these words from Thomas Watson who, in The Art of Divine Contentment, exhorts us to:

"Look upon the unkindness of your friend and mourn for your own unkindness against God. Shall a Christian condemn that in another which he has been too guilty of himself?"

Forgiveness is a cross those who claim the name of Christ must be willing to bear and with joy (Lk. 9:23; Rom. 15:13).

As believers of and cross-bearers with Jesus, the question is never if you and I will stumble and fall but when and to what extent we stumble. We know this in principle, of course, though perhaps less so in practice. But forgiving those who wrong us actually can be a source of God-exalting joy when we understand that the ultimate goal of forgiveness is our sanctification, that is, to be conformed to the image of the One who forgave - and continues to forgive - you and me (Eph. 1:7).

Can the "Welcoming Church" Speak the Truth?


One feature of life in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is the unveiling of the annual buzz-word for our General Assembly. This year, the word is "welcoming." So far as it goes, this is a fine aspiration for our denomination. We, of course, want our doors to be open not merely to certain kinds of people but to one and all. We especially want to embrace the heart of our Savior for lost souls of all kinds. We have good news to proclaim, and our gospel is one of welcome from a God of grace in the name of his crucified and resurrected Son.

Moreover, there is a legitimate need to emphasize "welcoming" in our national context of polarized worldviews. Far too many evangelical Christians look upon their political opposites as culture war "enemies" rather than as neighbors to be loved, served, and evangelized. If, for instance, proponents of sexual perversity and gender confusion are perceived as our enemies, then Jesus has told us what to do: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 5:44-45). Unlike tax collectors and Gentiles, who love only their own, let us heartily welcome perceived enemies as neighbors who need to hear about our gracious God and his gospel.

It must be pointed out, however, that the context for "welcoming" as our new buzzword is not the polarized cultural struggle but its corollary within the PCA. In this context, "welcoming" is the self-embraced label of the progressive camp, which has assigned "fearful" as the conservative/confessional label. Commissioners are being urged to vote for "welcoming" priorities, which will likely be those that take a soft stance on homosexuality, gender egalitarianism, and other progressive priorities. The upcoming "Revoice" conference in St. Louis is providing an advance screening of what this looks like. This PCA event, much lauded by our progressive friends, advocates an "LGBT Christian" category and speaks of "sexual minorities"1 and even "queer treasure, honor, and glory" in heaven. Far from an irrelevant outlier, this conference previews where the "welcoming" agenda is seeking to go.

With this in mind, the question I want to ask is this: "Can the welcoming church tell the truth?" Amen to us welcoming sinners of all kinds with an open heart and ready embrace. On this point, progressives and conservatives sincerely agree. But, having welcomed one and all, do we then speak biblical truth about sexuality, gender identity, sin and repentance? For instance, what does the welcoming church say to the homosexual who wants to join its membership? We, of course, declare to them forgiveness and cleansing through the blood of Christ through faith alone. But do we add 1 Corinthians 6:9 and the Bible's insistence that homosexual desires be not merely accommodated but mortified and repented? When a new convert expresses disdain over the exclusive maleness of our pulpits and eldership, do we apologize and convey plans to become more welcoming in the future, or explain the Bible's teaching about male headship in the home and church? If they are secularists who assume an evolutionary worldview, at some point do they hear from us a biblical critique of evolution and an exposition of biblical creation?

Let me conclude by answering my own question. Yes, let us be a truly welcoming church, extending a warm-hearted invitation to sinners of all kinds, just as Jesus extended such a welcome to us. But then, for the love of Christ and those we welcome, let us plainly and thoughtfully speak the truth. For unless God and his truth are sovereignly welcome in our midst, our welcome to the lost will end up in vain.

1. See Kevin DeYoung's excellent critique of the phrase "sexual minorities," over at the Gospel Coalition.

Essential Tools for Preaching Christ (Part 3)


When a man and a woman are engaged to be married they can hardly talk about anything else. In fact, we might suspect that something is wrong if they don't express excitement about the wedding. The church is espoused to Christ and looks forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9). Christ's love compelled Paul's preaching (2 Cor. 5:14) and he denounced himself with maledictions if he failed to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16). In the end, ministers must preach Christ because they want to preach Christ. Christ should be central to their sermons because both preachers and listeners cannot bear to be without him whom their souls love (Song 3:1).

This post is the third and final one treating the proper methods of preaching Christ. It shows that preaching Christ is more a matter of the heart than the application of method. Preaching Christ is not ultimately a technique. Preaching Christ is a devotionally necessary response to the preacher's relation to Christ. Paul summarized the aims of the gospel in terms of preaching "repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). The nature of saving faith and repentance, through which we exercise hope and love, highlights the reasons behind this devotional necessity.

The nature of saving faith makes preaching Christ necessary devotionally. While saving faith receives the whole Word of God because it is God's Word, "the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace" (WCF 14.1). Christ is the pioneer and the perfector of our faith (Heb. 12:2). Faith involves being confident that God is able to perform whatever he promises (Rom. 4:21). Christ is both the example and object of faith for believers. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Faith trusts that if we pray according to God's will he hears us (1 Jn. 5:14-15). Faith teaches us to pray in Christ's name (Jn. 14:13-14), asking mercy from God for his sake and "drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation" (WLC 180). Ministers preach hoping that those hearing them will either come to faith in Christ or that they will grow in their faith in Christ (Eph. 4:13). Their own faith in Christ and their desire to foster saving faith in others must always lead them to preach Christ as the object of faith.

The nature of repentance unto life makes preaching Christ necessary devotionally. Repentance requires a true sense of sin in relation to its nature and not merely out of fear to its consequences. Sin is not hateful primarily because it is dangerous to sinners, but because it is offensive to God. We saw in a previous post from John 16:8-11 the relationship between Christ and the conviction of sin. Repentance involves grief and hatred for sin and turning from sin to God. Not all sorrow for sin is godly sorrow and not all sorrow for sin leads to life instead of to death (2 Cor. 7:10). Some people, like Peter, hate sin in its nature because they love Christ. Other people, like Judas, hate sin in its effects because they got caught. Remorse for sin is not repentance from sin. Before purposing and endeavoring after new obedience, we must apprehend God's mercies in Christ (WSC 87). Repentance creates a cycle or a tug of war between indwelling sin on the one side and increasing holiness on the other. Faith in Christ alone gives forward momentum to repentance.

It speaks volumes about the state of Christianity at the present day that preachers and hearers need to be told that preaching Christ should be central in preaching. It is a sadder reality that some construct arguments as to why Christ does not need to be in the sermon. This is like a bride not only lacking vigor and excitement over her betrothed but arguing why such things are not really an important part of marriage. A practical problem in this regard is that many pastors who love Christ struggle with how to preach him to small struggling congregations in which almost all listeners are professing Christians. The corrective to this apparent problem is to remember that how ministers should preach Christ to believing congregations is not radically different from how they should preach him to unconverted people. Preachers must always set Christ's glory and beauty before their hearers as the object of their faith and as the means of their repentance. The Christian life is not radically different than our first conversion, since we live by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 2:20). If we live the entire Christian life through faith and repentance, then we must live the entire Christian life out of devotion to Christ. Preaching void of Christ cannot call hearers to faith and repentance in Christ. If preaching cannot call sinners to faith and repentance, then it cannot call them to do anything. If preachers preach Christ from devotional necessity, then the other methods of preaching Christ will fall into place more easily. Their pent up joy and excitement over Christ will look for outlets. We must love Christ more fervently if we would preach him more effectively. We must treasure Christ more greatly if we would hear Christ in the preached Word more expectantly.

*This is the eighth post in a Dr. McGraw's series on Preaching Christ.

Cultural Myths About Truth and Love


A witness for Christ in any age--and certainly in this present age--requires a prayer-saturated, Christ-centered, Gospel-motivated, Bible-shaped, Spirit-filled and God-glorifying commitment to "speak the truth in love." But this essential command for effective Gospel ministry to both those not yet saved and those already saved is easier said than done. The prevailing tendency is to sacrifice "speaking the truth" in the name of love, or to thoughtlessly speak the truth without love. We cannot truly love without speaking truth truthfully; and we can't speak truth truthfully without loving intentionally and thoughtfully. You can "speak the truth" without loving but you can't "love" without "speaking the truth." To paraphrase a much more able Gospel minister from another age who confronted this issue with a clear, insightful and captivating observation: "Truth without love is barbarity, but love without truth is cruelty" (Bishop J. C. Ryle).

Because speaking the truth is central to an effective Gospel ministry, there is little doubt that Satan will devise as many reasons possible to discourage Christians from either speaking to those living in the death spiral of sin and idolatry; or to distract them from intentionally, thoughtfully and relentlessly loving sinners drowning in the brokenness of a sin-deceived life.

Furthermore, it is equally obvious that if Satan cannot silence the truth, he will attempt to trap us into speaking the truth without love. If he can't stop us from loving, he will entice us to quit speaking the truth. He does this in two ways. First, Satan tempts us to minimize truth with meaningless euphemisms that disguise the horrific consequences and the irrationality and blasphemy of sin. Second, and often even more effectively, he will culturally intimidate us into outright silence in the name of love. Our diminished truth speaking or silence actually reveals that we are more interested in people loving us than we are in them knowing truthfully the love of Christ and being brought into the life-changing blessing of loving the Christ who first loved them.

So Satan--with an insatiable desire to reduce love into deeds that are void of truth or to communicate truth through self-righteous arrogance--today employs five deceptive myths:

Five Deceptive Myths

  1. To love someone, we must initially avoid speaking the truth about sin, the idolatry that produces the sin and its consequences for time and eternity. To love simply requires you to manifest Gospel deeds of love. Do not tell them the truth about sin, even though the love of Christ revealed in the Gospel is directly related to the reality of sin, the sinfulness of sin, and the wages of sin-- which is death.
  2. To love someone you must accept them; and, to accept them you must accept their behavior. At the very least you must be silent about their sin, the rationale for its idolatry, and the lifestyle arrangements created to embrace that sin and affirm it as culturally acceptable--unless and until they give you permission to speak about it.
  3. To love others acceptably we must not simply speak in terms and vocabulary they understand, but only in the terms and vocabulary they approve and dictate (i.e. deceitful world view euphemisms)--e.g. adultery becomes an "extra-marital affair" or "recreational sex" or "hooking up"; homosexuality becomes "gay" or "an alternative lifestyle" etc.
  4. You have not loved someone acceptably unless they approve and affirm the truth you have spoken and the love you have given.
  5. You have not spoken the truth in love unless those to whom you have spoken are drawn to love you in return.

What is the Result?

In the present age the influence of these myths (when they are individually and/or collectively embraced) are almost always initially revealed by "selective truth speaking"--all of which is done in the name of "sensitivity." The result is that many contemporary Christians following their leaders will sacrifice truth speaking in the name of love; yet, amazingly, they will boldly address the sins and prevailing issues that the culture agrees are undesirable. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with speaking to cultural sins (cultural sin and justice concerns must both be addressed, after all). However, though many boldly speak the truth on issues found on the list of "Culturally Approved Topics for Denunciation," there is an astonishing silence about other prevalent issues the Bible clearly identifies as heinous sins. Why the silence? First of all, those who the masses confront are confronted with permission by today's culture shapers. Many suppose that by speaking to these issues the cultural capital of the church will be enhanced. But in contrast, those sins--corporate, cultural, and individual--which are avoided, are the ones that have been declared off limits because they are on the "Cultural Approved Lifestyle List." Even more, those issues on the Culturally Approved Lifestyle List are not only declassified as sins but now are to be celebrated, perpetuated and propagated. This brings us to the crux of the question: is "selective truth speaking" an evidence of sensitivity or is it a lack of courage; is it compassion or is it cowardice?

Multitudes of ministers and leaders are imploring Christians to embrace this "selective truth speaking" as an exalted virtue. For example, the present culture expresses concern about refugees, sex trafficking, racism, and other heinous sins and injustices--and rightly so! Churches and pulpits join the culture's efforts by truth speaking affirming these practices as sins and lovingly instituting ministry initiatives to eradicate these acts of iniquity and minister to the victims. And so we should and must! But by doing so an unassailable fact emerges - leadership is speaking publicly with compassion, courage and conviction. In fact, when pastors speak publicly on these issues, in their sermons and on their podcasts or blogs, people praise them for the very fact that they are being leaders. They should be praised for this.

However, at the same time, many of the voices that speak boldly on these issues are silent in the same public square concerning the agenda of culturally normalizing unfettered sexual eroticism, marital anarchy, and the sanctity of life (among others). In addition to their deafening on these issues - which the culture is now promoting and celebrating - it is now considered unspiritual or unbecoming for the Christian and/or the church to participate in the messiness of bringing the blessings of common grace to the culture by promoting and debating public policies rooted in a Biblically informed public theology for human flourishing.

A Crucial Theological Fact

Often, in all of this, one important theological fact is forgotten. We live in a world that, emphatically, does not desire the love of Christ or the truth of the Gospel. It never has and, apart from the moving of the Holy Spirit; and, it never will. Neither did I, until the grace of God changed my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, who brought me from death unto life. What did He use? He used believers who spoke the truth in love to me. They did so with varying degrees of sophistication, but praise the Lord they were willing to speak the truth and love me. Now I, as a beneficiary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their courageous compassion, must also speak the truth--lovingly--to those who need me to do so (even if they do not approve me doing so - even if they do not want me to do so)--we still must do so as others did so for me and you.

Final Thoughts

We must seek to speak the truth thoughtfully, timely and with words carefully chosen--even while we create an environment of love for effective communication. If a doctor knows you have a terminal condition and loves you he will not be silent. He will thoughtfully tell you the truth. He will likely take you aside in a private room providing an appropriate environment. Then he will tell you the truth in love and he will love you with the truth. Ministers are physicians for the soul. We know sin brings death and we know God's grace has provided the solution to sin's guilt and power. We also know that God has commissioned us to speak the truth in an environment of love. We cannot be silent about the truth they need to hear in the name of love any more than the doctor could. Nor would we tell them the truth about sin and God's grace in Christ without creating a thoughtful environment of love.

Those who have not yet come to Christ need to hear the truth of His Word spoken from those who will love them sacrificially and intentionally. And those who know Christ but have faltered in their walk for Him need us to love them enough to speak the truth. Those around us need us to deliver truth with a love that demonstrates the astonishing and unstoppable love of Christ and Him crucified.

In a world that has grown increasingly hostile to the truth of the Gospel, it would be easy to fall prey to perhaps right-hearted but wrong-headed statements like the one famously attributed to the renowned St. Francis of Assisi: "preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words." Instead, we must preach the Gospel and we must use words because they are necessary. Why? Because God's word tells us that "faith comes by hearing." In a word, we must speak the truth.

Love is essential because it opens the door for truth, affirms the truth and authenticates the truth; but, it is the truth that will "set you free." We are all born with a desire to be approved. But for believers our approval rating does not come from the world. "Do your best to present yourself unto God...handling accurately the Word of Truth."

Dr. Harry L. Reeder, III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, ALHarry completed his doctoral dissertation on "The Biblical Paradigm of Church Revitalization" and received a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina (where he serves as adjunct faculty member). He is the author of From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Churchas well as a number of other published works.

A Pastoral Letter to Myself (In the Case that I Fall)


Dear Self,

You're much weaker than you think. Remember that Scripture says, "Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). It's easy to look at men who have fallen in ministry with a hint of disgust and harsh judgment when they don't simply disappear. But, let's be honest; you know how much you would struggle to fade away from public life if the same thing happened to you. Pernicious pride is always lingering within. God-forbid that this letter ever becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; but if it should, pursue humility, accountability and godliness. By God's grace, diligently pursue repentance and holiness. If you should sin in such a way that you are no longer qualified to serve in pastoral ministry, please put the following counsel in practice:

1. Remember that you only have yourself to blame.

Ever since the garden, man instinctively seeks to shift blame on others for his sin. You're like your father, Adam. Remember the way in which he sought to blame even God for giving him Eve; and, remember how he blamed Eve for giving him the fruit (Genesis 3:12)? Guard against the temptation to blame others for your own sin. As a Christian, you are not obligated to sin; and, when you do sin, it is a willful transgression against the Law of God. No one else made you sin. Now you must own it. You're not helping anything by scandalously blaming others, publicly exposing them, and ensuring they take a fall with you. If someone else was involved in your sin, there are appropriate means that God has appointed for dealing with them, and you are not part of it now. Repent! Begin working through a process of spiritual restoration. Trust the Lord and His church to rightly handle others.

2. Stay off of public platforms.

Your repentance should be as public as your sin (not in the sense of parading it, but in the sense of making it evident); and, if at some point you have a public platform of which people outside your local church are aware and talking about your sin, it may need to be addressed in an open forum. Otherwise, shut down your social media accounts, don't write posts for ex-pastor blogs, and don't try to find ways to turn your fall into a method of gaining fans and followers. Your friends and counselors may not be willing to tell you this, so I will. You have brought shame to the name of Christ and His Church. You have violated the 3rd commandment (Exodus 20:7). The grace of God is so profound and rich that you're not beyond forgiveness and restoration, but that doesn't negate the fact that your sin has consequences. Whatever public ministry you had before has been lost at present...and rightfully so! The world doesn't need you; and, it certainly doesn't need you to start a new blog detailing your recovery process or to write a book about the sordid details of your fall. They surely don't need daily Tweets of your glimpses of hope in the midst of the darkness of your rebellion. From the dust you came, and to the dust you shall return. You are far from being as great and necessary as you think. Know that truth about yourself and act on it appropriately.

3. Be honest and get pastoral help.

It's going to be tough to admit to another pastor that you need his counseling because you've spent so much of your life counseling others. Remember, it's the same pride that got you into this mess that will keep you from getting the help you need. You've never been surprised by the sin of other Christians, so why do you think one of your friends will be surprised by yours? Find a man you respect and love, sit with him and let him pour into your life. You need his counsel, so be honest. What led to your fall? What changes have you made? What's going on in your heart? If you can't be honest and receive counsel, you still haven't reached the end of yourself--you're still living upon your own self-righteousness. Give it up now and trust God's appointed ministers to help you. You'll be exceedingly thankful that you did so, in the end.

4. Rediscover the power of the ordinary means of grace.

Up until this point in your life, you've never met a man who fell in ministry who was making good use of the means of grace. They're simple means. You talk about them all the time. You know from your own experiences how wonderfully transformative and powerful they can be. But, you allowed yourself to get too busy with ministry over the years. You got distracted, off track and started using the Bible as a preaching manual, first and foremost, instead of the truth that you are to always love, behold, and apply. Prayer became non-existent for you; worshipping with the saints became a chore; and, partaking of the Lord's Supper has of recent years been merely a ritual. Now it's time to transform your schedule and your habits to make use of the means of grace. You know what to do, so do it. God promises to be there when you arrive; and, while your salvation was all of God, your communion with Him depends in large part upon your willingness to engage in the relationship.

5. Use the gifts God has given you to serve in another vocation.

Don't spend your time trying to find ways to plant a new church or take on a de facto pastoral ministry in another city. As far as pastoral ministry is concerned, you're done for now. That doesn't mean that God is done with you; and, it doesn't mean that your gifts are useless to the rest of the world. You've spent much time learning how to organize and inspire people to work hard and work together; you've learned how to lead a team to make great progress. You've learned how to become a problem solver, a motivator--as well as how to network and skillfully use resources. You've preached sermons in the past about the gift of work and how God's people don't have to be pastors to glorify Him. Now it's time to take your own advice, find work so you can provide for your family, and be the best man you can be on the job. It will take time to get used to, but God has uniquely gifted you to serve others. Don't let those gifts go to waste.

6. Remember the Gospel that you have preached.

Don't forget what you have preached to others. You're far worse than you think. God's grace is far greater than you can imagine. You didn't come into the Christian life as a perfect man, and you won't leave this earth as one. You're going to sin--as you always have--but thanks be to God that in Jesus Christ there is grace upon grace for pardon and restoration. If you confess your sin, He is faithful and just to forgive you and to cleanse you of all unrighteousness. Jesus died that you might live. While the consequences of your sin are going to be very difficult to live with for some time, you have been redeemed and are, therefore, secure in Christ. Don't forget these precious truths. Your sin is great, but your Savior is greater. Remember the word of the Apostle, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Those are just as true for you today as they were the first day you believed. Fight to believe the truths of the Gospel for your own soul.



The Christ-Defined Roadmap to Church Revitalization

The last post was an attempt to document three Biblical axioms concerning the ministry of church revitalization. Briefly let's review them:

  1. Church revitalization was an Apostolic ministry strategy initiated by the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-16:35). Then it was not only affirmed but also defined by the Ascended Christ as He addressed the Seven Churches in Revelation chapter two.
  2. The objective in church planting and church revitalization is not church growth, which inevitably leads to mission and message drift, but church health and vitality.
  3. Every local church, presbytery, and denomination ought to implement the Apostolic strategy which "turned the world upside down" as they sought to fulfill the Great Commission. This strategy was repeated in city after city as they extended the Kingdom of Christ through four Gospel ministry initiatives...

#1. Evangelism and Discipleship

#2. Church Planting and Church Revitalization

#3. Deeds of love and mercy.

#4. Leadership multiplication and mobilization.

Since church revitalization and church planting are Apostolic strategies designed to fulfill the Great Commission after the Ascension of Christ and the blessing of Pentecost are revealed in God's Word, the information as to how they are to be implemented will be found in the same place. Not only is a Gospel-driven, Spirit-empowered and Christ-exalting ministry of church revitalization found in the Word of God, even more impressive if possible, is the fact that Christ Himself reveals the three step church revitalization roadmap. Where? Revelation 2:1-7.

Remember, Repent, Recover

The book of Revelation is addressed in the immediate to seven churches. The first church mentioned is the Church of Ephesus that was likely the mother church of the other six, all of which would be located on a major trade route into Asia Minor. Unsurprisingly the same heart of the Great Shepherd who would leave the 99 to pursue one sheep who wandered from the flock is displayed as he pursues four wandering flocks of the seven churches who were in need of revitalization. He does not "write them off", nor ignore them, nor does He simply focus on planting another church. What He does do is call them back to Gospel health and vitality and even identifies what the leadership of the church must do to implement a ministry of revitalization. He begins with the church at Ephesus. It is there that He reveals a three-step roadmap to implement the ministry of Gospel revitalization. So where does He reveal it?

After identifying the commendable traits still resident in the life and ministry of the Church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-3, Christ incisively addresses the reason of their spiritual impotence in verse 4 - "you have left your first love." After His diagnosis in verses 5-7, He gives the solution and then the stark prognosis if the solution is neglected - "I will come and remove the lampstand from you." So what is the solution for the revitalization of the church at Ephesus so that they are once again a "first love" church? Christ's answer is - "Remember, Repent and Recover the deeds you did at first." Simply but profoundly the Savior "who purchased the church with His own blood" outlines the road map to spiritual health and Gospel vitality to produce a church that once again would be able to say "the love of Christ compels us." So just how do you implement the revitalization roadmap "Remember, Repent and Recover"? The implementation answer is found not in Revelation 2 but in the Epistles of Paul in general and I Timothy and Titus in particular.

The fact is this was not the first time that the church at Ephesus was in need of a ministry of revitalization. At the conclusion of Paul's 3 year ministry he warned the elders of Ephesus in his farewell sermon (Acts 20) that Satan would attack the church by infiltrating the leadership with false leaders and false teachers. The leadership did not heed the warnings of Paul. The result was that when Paul who had spent years incarcerated first in Jerusalem, then Caeserea Maritima and ultimately in Rome, was released, he was informed of their decline. Paul like Christ does not "write them off", nor does he simply ignore their plight and plant another church. What he does do is send them his best disciple - Timothy - with a handbook on Church revitalization - I Timothy. By the way he also gives another handbook on revitalization to Titus - note the overlap of content within I Timothy and Titus - who was also sent on a mission of church revitalization to Crete with instructions "to set in order what remains."

Obviously the Lord blessed Timothy's ministry since the church was still viable five decades later as they receive another epistle - Revelation. But now they are in need of another ministry of revitalization - this time under the leadership of the Apostle John. So how does a church follow the three-step roadmap of "Remember, Repent and Recover the first things"? The answer is found in the Epistles of Paul, who had revitalized churches and who mentored both revitalization pastors Timothy and Titus. It is there that the ten strategies to implement the three-step roadmap of Remember, Repent and Recover are found.

The Ten Strategies 


Strategy #1 - Connect to the past.

Learn from the Past - to live in the Present - to change the Future


Strategy #2 - Godly Repentance

If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9


Strategy #3 - Recover: Gospel-Driven and Christ-centered Ministry

The Gospel is the foundation, the formation and the motivation of a "first-love" Church where the Christ is the sum, the circumference, the substance and the center of all things.

Strategy #4 - Recover: Personal Spiritual Formation

Gospel healthy leaders influence others to effectively achieve a defined mission together.

Strategies #5&6 - Recover: The Ministry of Prayer and the Word

The Ministry of Prayer and the Word are the essential lifelines of Gospel health and vitality. 

Strategy #7 - Recover: Mission and Vision

Mission is what God's people are called to do while Vision is what they are to be as they fulfill the mission by the grace of God to the Glory of God.

Strategy #8 - Recover: Leadership Multiplication and Mobilization

A Gospel healthy church defines leaders, develops leaders and deploys leaders for the church and from the church into the world.

Strategy #9 - Recover: Small Group Discipleship.

A knowing and growing fellowship intentionally implements relational and informational small group disciple-making.

Strategy #10 - Recover: The Great Commitment

To live you have to give, therefore, the giving church is the living church.

Dr. Harry L. Reeder, III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL. Harry completed his doctoral dissertation on "The Biblical Paradigm of Church Revitalization" and received a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina (where he serves as adjunct faculty member). He is the author of From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Churchas well as a number of other published works.

Before I had my own email address (remember the good old days?), I warned in one of my Windows on the World that the internet would make pornography pervasive. Now we are living a depraved new world, in which sexually explicit material is the most common and most financially profitable content available on the internet. Sexual chat rooms abound, enabling people to commit virtual adultery with an almost limitless number of partners in the privacy of their own homes and offices. Sin has never been so simple. Pornography is one of the largest industries in America, and the more people are exposed to it, the more pornographic our mainstream media becomes. Once regarded as a shameful sin, porn has become the norm. 

The Problem of Pornography

Pornography diminishes our capacity for the human relationships God wants us to share for his glory. Sexual intimacy is designed to serve as the covenant cement that binds one woman to one man in a love relationship for life. But when our sexual experience is privatized through pornography, we treat sex as a means of selfish gratification rather than a joy to be shared with the man or the woman God has called us to love. When a single person uses pornography it stifles the growth of selfless love and makes it increasingly difficult to have other-centered relationships that build up the church and may lead to marriage. When a married person uses pornography it defiles the marriage bed, darkens the flame of romance, and destroys the partnership of prayer. But these are not the only problems with pornography. It is a secret sin, and therefore it isolates us from the spiritual community we need to grow in grace. It is a visual sin, and therefore violates Christ's command not to look at someone with lust in our hearts (see Matt. 5:28). And since it is often accompanied with masturbation, it is an intensely physical sin, and therefore more easily gains addictive control. 

Unless this sin is mortified--that is to say, unless it is put to death (see Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5)--it will only intensify. Pornography makes greater and greater demands until finally it becomes a life-dominating sin. As one of the Puritans said, sexual pictures secretly convey poison to the soul. Now they are only a click away--a click that may eventually lead a man or a woman straight to hell. 

A Plan for Spiritual Change

What is God's plan for putting pornography to death? George Scipione says at least six things are needed in any effective spiritual strategy for dealing with this sexual sin [see George Scipione, "Is Porn Norm?" Evangelium , pp. 2-5]. 

The first is regeneration, or the new birth. This is essential to everything else. Unless we are born again, we do not have the Holy Spirit living in us, and we will be powerless in our struggle against sin. But when the Spirit is alive in us, we can begin to grow in godliness: "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). 

The second is renewed repentance and faith. When Christians feel guilty, sometimes it is all we can do to drag ourselves back to God. But God wants us to run straight back to the cross, believing that because Jesus died for our sins, we are fully forgiven--forgiven for as many sins as we have sinned. 

The third part of a spiritual strategy for dealing with sexual sin is a renewed mind. This is always God's plan for spiritual change: a transformed mind that leads to a transformed life (see Rom. 12:1-2). This mind may be fed by reading good Christian literature, but fundamentally it is formed by feeding on the Word of God. 

The fourth part is renewed obedience. It is not just our thinking that needs to change, but the way that we live. This means replacing the old habits of lustful sin with new habits of purity before God. Among other things, this means being wise about when and where we use various forms of electronic communication. If you can't be trusted not to look at sexual images, don't watch television when you are alone, keep your office door open, or do whatever else it takes to limit the temptation to sin (see Matt. 5:29-30). 

The fifth part is regular use of the regular means of grace. Some people always seem to be looking for some special method that will guarantee spiritual change. But the only means that God has given for our spiritual growth are the ordinary means of the word, sacraments, and prayer. If you want to make progress in your struggle with sexual sin (or any other sin, for that matter), spend more time reading your Bible, sit under the faithful preaching of the gospel, receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper by faith, and pray daily for Christ to take control of your thoughts and actions. 

Sixth is regular reporting to responsible shepherds. We are not designed to grow in godliness by ourselves, but only in community with other Christians. When we are struggling with sin--especially any kind of addictive sin--we need to share our struggle in the church. Do not be afraid: a good brother or sister will not condemn you, but encourage you in the mercy of Christ. When the struggle is intense, you may need daily or at least weekly accountability from a close Christian friend. In addition, it is always wise to make sure that a pastor or elder is aware of your situation for the purpose of prayer. Many Christians also find it helpful to meet with a counselor who is trained to help people who are in bondage to sexual sin. Good places to get help and resources include Harvest USA and the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF). 

Anyone who does these things by faith will experience the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Anyone who is involved with pornography and decides not to do these things is pursuing his or her own destruction.

Ref21 Vault.jpg *This post first appeared on Ref21 back in August 2005. You can find the original post here

The Marrow: Some Questions

I believe the Marrow of Modern Divinity will receive some more attention in 2016 due to the publication of Sinclair Ferguson's new book. I have just finished it and in the book, Ferguson makes many wonderful and much-needed pastoral insights. 

His book also got me thinking some more about The Marrow. In fact, I think Ferguson's book will get us thinking about some of the more controversial issues surrounding the Marrow. In this post I'd like to highlight some of these issues. They are, in no particular order:

1. Edward Fisher, author of the Marrow, has an interesting history. John Trapp called him a sly antinomian. Now, forgetting the "antinomian" part, what about the "sly" part? 

Consider this excellent historical digging by Chad Vandixhoorn:

"It seems to me that Fisher almost certainly knew of some members of the assembly's committee for the examination of antinomians and its activities and appears to have tailored his work to avoid their censure. Quite overwhelming the customary references to Protestant Reformers and the puritan authors of the previous decades, Fisher's opening pages wedge in an unusual number of citations of authors who are members of the assembly's antinomianism committee, such as John Lightfoot and Edward Reynolds. Furthermore, he cites only one author who is a member Parliament, Francis Rous, who is also the only member of Parliament to bring accusations against antinomians. Fisher delicately laces one or two pages with references to the accused antinomians John Eaton and Tobias Crispe only at the close of the 1645 edition of the Marrow. He wisely deletes all reference to them in his 1646 edition, replacing that portion of the dialogue with a lengthy monologue and increasing the number of quotations from Westminster divines" (in 'The strange silence of prolocutor Twisse: Predestination and politics in the Westminster assembly's debate over justification', The Sixteenth Century Journal 40 (2009), pp. 395-418). HT: Patrick Ramsey.

There's a lot more work in recent years that has uncovered Fisher's background. We need to remember that for all his Bunyan-esque brilliance, he was not a trained theologian. 

2. How did Thomas Boston's lack of theological training and lack of library resources impact his ability to understand the Marrow in its seventeenth-century context? 

I am not sure Boston was able to understand the texts from the previous century very well because he simply did not have access to them like we do today. If he had read more of Preston, for example, he surely would have come to the conclusion that Preston was a hypothetical universalist. 

I find it interesting that we rarely critique the historical theology of those from earlier centuries. I think we assume they were right without doing the necessary digging to see whether they actually read carefully. Just read the Preface to John Ball's work (1645) where some Westminster divines admit they had been too busy to read his work as carefully as they ought, but they are commending it anyway! Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

3. Related to #2 above, what do we make of the changing historiography that seems to show that Fisher was a hypothetical universalist? 

I know Boston and his friends did not think the Marrow taught hypothetical universalism. And many scholars try with all their might to avoid the implications of this thought, but I simply cannot see how we can deny that the Marrow teaches HU. 

The English hypothetical universalists had pastoral concerns behind their view in relation to the Free Offer of the Gospel. Culverwell, whom Fisher quotes in the Marrow in relation to the Fee Offer, held to HU (Ussher convinced him). No particularist at that point in Reformed history (so far as I know) would be comfortable with the language used by Fisher. That later particularists in Scotland aren't uncomfortable with Fisher's language is a very interesting historical point. 

So when discussing the nature of the Free Offer in relation to the Marrow, and all of the pastoral issues surrounding this topic, our view of the Marrow controversy in Scotland will in some sense be dictated by whether we believe the Marrow teaches HU or not. 

4. Would the Marrow Men be comfortable with Witsius (and others)?

The famous Auchterarder Creed says:  "It is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ." In 1716 the Presbytery of Auchterarder gave a series of propositions for candidates to give their assent if they were to be ordained to the ministry. This proposition from the Creed was designed to guard against a type of preparationism.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland considered this phrase as "unsound and detestable doctrine."

So the Marrow Men ended up fighting a battle in order to defend the Auchterarder Creed. But, the big question remains, have Reformed theologians in the past affirmed that one must forsake sin in order to come to Christ?

Interestingly, Herman Witsius, the so-called "middle-man" in the Antinomian-Neonomian debates that emerged in the latter part of the seventeenth century, asks whether repentance precedes the remission of sins. 

Does sorrow for sin (repentance) precede justification, "as a disposing condition, prerequisite in the subject"? 

Witsius claims that the simplicity of Scripture is to be preferred over the "subtleties of the schools."

When a principle of new life is infused into a sinner by the Holy Spirit, all sorts of spiritual actions take place in the person who has this Spirit of grace. When this happens the soul, "quickened by the Spirit," sees itself as defiled and Christ as full of grace. When this happens, the person is displeased with himself and flees to Christ. "Hence arises the receiving and accepting of Christ, that it may be delivered from the filthiness and guilt of its sins." Here is where it gets interesting:

"Hence it follows, that that act of faith, whereby we receive Christ for righteousness, cannot be exercised, without a previous, or at least a concomitant repentance, and purpose of a new life."

In other words, it is "sound and orthodox" for Witsius to say that an awakened sinner will, in his experience, have a previous (or, concomitant/accompanying) hatred for sin and purpose of a new life before receiving Christ. 

Would the Marrow Men be okay with that language? Is this all their opponents were saying? Regarding the former question, I think it would make them uncomfortable. As to the latter, this is where a lot more work needs to be done (and will be done in the near future, dv.).

Faith goes before justification, as does repentance. Repentance, according to Witsius, is a privilege of the covenant of grace; but it is a duty required by God "as an act to be performed" by the sinner "in order to obtain pardon, not that it any how merits pardon...but that at least it shows the man that is effectually called and regenerated..."

There's also the view of Vos: "Without the conviction of sin, the act -- the exercise -- of faith is unthinkable. Also, believing in Christ is something reasonable that occurs in the light of truth, not a blind, mystical urge. Thus it is not subject to any doubt that, in order, repentance and the knowledge of sin precede surrendering faith." (See also Davenant, pt. 5).

5. Is it possible to question the Marrow today without being accused of being a "sly neonomian"? 

Thankfully, with the excellent historical work that has been done in recent years by the likes of David Como, Jonathan Moore, Aaron Denlinger, Donald John Maclean, William Vandoodewaard, Richard Snoddy, and Michael Lynch, it means that these types of questions are not the mad ravings of neonomians, but of those who are concerned about what really happened, not what we would like to imagine happened. 

Boston had reservations about the conditionality of the covenant of grace, but pretty much every orthodox Reformed theologian I have read affirmed the conditionality of the covenant of grace (e.g., Bishop Davenant; see also ch. 19 of A Puritan Theology). According to Ferguson: "Later, however, [Boston] was of a very different mind: 'I had no great fondness for the doctrine of the conditionality of the covenant of grace'" (p. 67).  Boston says also, "I had no great gust for faith's being called the condition..."

The Reformed theologians that I have studied in the seventeenth century were very careful in describing how faith is an antecedent condition for receiving the benefits of the covenant. They had to in order to ward off the Antinomian view that faith was not a condition for receiving the benefits of Christ. 

There are many more issues that deserve further consideration; and indeed the questions above are just scratching the surface of the exceedingly complicated history of The Marrow of Modern Divinity

On pastoral (dis)qualification and other things

This is not about Mark Driscoll, though it is prompted by a few notes being sounded (not by him, as far as I am aware) with regard to his resignation letter, and the circumstances surrounding it.

First, pastoral qualification is never merely a matter of apparent giftedness and effectiveness. It has at its root a question of character. I thankfully acknowledge that, mercifully, and to the best of our knowledge, Mark has not been guilty of "immorality, illegality and heresy." Nevertheless, I protest that this is not the issue in the matter of pastoral qualification and disqualification. The presence of scandalous and often public sin would certainly disqualify any man from ministry at that point in time and very possibly perpetually. Its mere absence, though, is not the same as being qualified for ministry. There are a set of very specific and detailed qualifications that are necessary - not optional - for any man who would be an under-shepherd of any flock of God. For the sake of completeness, here they are, with some emphasised elements, some relating to present and some to past issues:
This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1Tim 3:1-7)

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you--if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. (Ti 1:5-9)
Many moons ago, a few of us worked briefly through these issues, some relevant ones being here. Any man - however prominent, apparently gifted or seemingly effective - who falls short in these matters is disqualified from the pastorate. If these matters of character remain as unresolved patterns of behaviour in any man seeking to shepherd the flock of God, then he cannot - for the sake of the church, he must not! - be permitted to take that office.

A second matter has to do with the matter of apologies and forgiveness. We are often told that some man has apologised for something. He was sorry he did it. Fine, and so might we all be. But an apology is not the same as repentance. The gracious dynamic that truly resolves sin and its offence is not the mere passage of time, nor the issuing of a more-or-less public apology (see here for more on this). It is the expression of sincere repentance, with its appropriate fruits, with forgiveness extended in principle and practice, leading - we trust - to genuine reconciliation and appropriate restoration. Quite apart from anything else, I can be sorry for a sin that I may or intend to go on committing. Repentance involves a God-dependent determination and whole-souled commitment to keep from sinning in that way again. So applause for apology is a different thing to forgiving the repentant, and we should not confuse the two, either in their intention or effect.

Finally, let there be no gloating: "let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1Cor 10:12). You may believe you saw this coming. You may have mourned over the painful trajectory that developed, and perhaps the failure of those who publicly applauded phases of Mark's career publicly to address the change in tack. You may have your suspicions and fears about what comes next. But to revel in the sin of another is a demonic thing. To rejoice in a man's public downfall is to join Satan's company. When you see another man, any man, sinning and stumbling, remember that - but for the grace of God - that is you, and pray with tears that it might never be.

Time heals all wounds?

There seems to be a common misconception among believers, at least in my growing experience as a Christian and as a pastor. It is a misconception that I have seen and felt from various directions. It shows itself among husbands and wives, parents and children, church members toward one another and toward the church as a whole, brothers and sisters in Christ in different churches, and various other relationships.

Some particular sin is committed, some specific greater or lesser offence offered or received. (I am thinking more of this than of the gradual accumulation of distress caused by ignorant or ingrained behaviour over time, although they may be connected.) Division is created, either hidden or open. That sin, that offence, is like a splinter in the flesh, creating a persistently sore spot, perhaps even a festering wound, sensitive to every pressure. If you have had such a splinter in your flesh, you know that you might, over time, forget that it is there, precisely because no pressure is applied. You can learn, in measure, to protect the spot in question. And then, in some way and for some reason, pressure is exerted once more, and - yoicks! - do you remember that you have a splinter! The only way to deal with the tenderness and soreness, perhaps with the growing infection, is to remove the splinter. That can be a profoundly painful experience in itself, but at least it solves the problem.

So it is with sins and offences that cannot be covered with a blanket of love. Some pains and griefs will not die but keep creeping up into a relationship to turn it sour. The only way to deal with the pain and the division is to remove the splinter. Generally speaking, this does not just happen over time. But this is what many Christians seem to expect. A husband lies to his wife at a key moment, or insults her publicly, and the matter is never resolved. A wife steals from her husband under particular circumstances, or gossips about him, and the wound never heals. A parent strikes a child in sinful and uncontrolled anger, or indulges in a pattern of selfish neglect, and the matter rankles. A child hurls angry abuse at a parent, or betrays some particular trust, and the words or the deeds hang mouldering in the atmosphere. In such close-knit environments, the pressure is likely to be felt time and again, with the result that there may always be a simmering tension, an underlying rumble that suggests that the volcano might erupt at any moment. Another lie, another theft, another outburst of anger, and . . .  BOOM!

In other environments, the pressure may be less regular. A church member speaks harshly to another, and subsequently avoids that person for months to come. But then they are necessarily thrown closely together, and the wound is found to have festered and there is a spirit of bitter recrimination. A man leaves the church having sat with a face like thunder through countless sermons, hurling insults and abuses at the elders as he goes. Later, a pastor is preaching away, and - behold! - the face of the offender in the congregation, with the immediate resurgence of all the old pains for the man of God. And then, at the door, to be greeted like an old friend by that very man! A couple leave a congregation, having laid various charges against the saints and with significant and sore unfinished business. A decade later, there is a crisis in their life or in the life of someone to whom they used to be close, and they pitch up and expect themselves or others to pitch in as if nothing has happened. A pastor speaks cuttingly and carelessly and unrepentantly, privately or publicly, and a wounded sheep wanders from the flock. Months later, that sheep attends a conference and there is that man preaching on the love of Christ, and the bile rises in the victim's throat.

The simple passage of time does not heal such wounds. Even in the relationship of God with men, God's forgetting of our sins is a deliberate putting away - under specific circumstances and with good grounds - of that which has caused offence. It is not a gradual fog that gathers due to unavoidable gaps in the divine mind. The matter is there until repentance and forgiveness deals with it, and then it is cast into the depths of the sea. On a human level, the passage of time may dull the immediate pain of the splinter, only for it to flare up when pressure is re-applied. And yet how many of us seem to think or hope that if we just leave our sin or the sins of others alone, maybe the wound will heal? To be sure, it may temporarily scab over, but the slightest movement at that particular point will re-open the injury, and perhaps reveal not just the original cut but a developed infection.

How, then, do we remove the splinter? How do we heal the wound? It is not by ignoring it and hoping that it will get better by itself. It is not by pretending that nothing is wrong. It is not by mentally downgrading the offence and hoping that it all gets better. It is not by saying sorry (this may be a topic for another post, but there is a difference between being and even saying sorry, and seeking forgiveness - you can be very sorry that something has happened without repenting of your sin). It is not by positive thinking.

The way to address it is to identify the splinter, and then to remove it or to allow it to be removed. The wound must be opened, lanced if necessary, the balm of forgiveness poured in, and the whole injury properly bound up.

If you are the offended party, that may require that you graciously identify with the offender where the offence lies, as they may have genuinely forgotten it, may have no sense that they have sinned or caused offence, or may simply be hoping you have not remembered it, or that it will go away. You should consider whether or not it is genuinely a matter of sin against you, or if you simply have an excessive sensitivity at some point. Should the time come to address the matter, you would want to do so not in a spirit of vindictiveness or bitterness, but with a disposition of readiness to extend forgiveness when it is sought. And, should forgiveness be sought, that is the moment at which to extend it in a Christian spirit, fully and freely (Eph 4:32). If your sincere offer of forgiveness to any sincerely repentant approach is rebuffed, you can at least stand with a clear conscience (Rom 12:18).

If you are the offending party, it may mean first of all that you face up to your sinful behaviour. There may be something that is lying on your conscience, and has been for many months or even years, and you need to address it. There may be ignorance about the matter, but there may come a point at which it is pointed out to you, and you need to consider the charge. You may simply be too bullheaded to acknowledge your sin, and that needs to change. There may be something which you are, on your knees before God, persuaded was not sin, but which has still led to some degree of distance and difficulty in a relationship. Whether it is something that you need to raise, or something that has been raised with you, go and deal with the matter in all humility (Phil 2:1-4). Go and repent of your particular sins particularly, dealing with them before God and men, remembering that the blood of Christ cleanses from all transgressions, and sincerely seeking forgiveness not just vertically, in your relationship with the Lord, but horizontally, in your relationship with men. If your desire for and pursuit of reconciliation is rebuffed, you at least have a conscience void of offence.

As I have hinted, you cannot guarantee a righteous response when you seek to deal with these things. Perhaps some tenderness may remain if, from one side or the other, there is an unwillingness to seek and secure a righteous resolution. But you or I should do all that we can to remove the splinter, lance the boil, clean the wound, pour in the balm, bind up the injury, and go on in peace. Time alone will not accomplish this. It needs the tweezers of repentance to draw out the splinter, and the oil of forgiveness to soothe the hurt, not to mention the plaster of renewed affection to allow healing to go on. By God's grace, just as broken bones are stronger than before, so can such restored relationships be even sweeter and surer than they ever were.

Results tagged “repentance” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 15.5,6, part two

v. Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man's duty to endeavour to repent of his particular sins particularly.

vi. As every man is bound to make private confession of his sins to God, praying for the pardon thereof upon which, and the forsaking of them, he shall find mercy; so he that scandalizeth his brother, or the Church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private or public confession and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended; who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him.

Public and private repentance

Having explained the difference between general and particular repentance, the Confession goes on to remind us of the Bible's teaching about private and public repentance. We must always confess our sin to God, privately (at least) and perhaps sometimes publicly. We see confession of sin again and again in Psalm 51. David cannot help but to cry out to God, for it is against God first that he has sinned. It is his cry to his Lord that he would be cleansed and that the sins that haunted him would be hidden away (Ps. 51:4-5, 7, 9, 14). We see the same in Psalm 32, where the king acknowledges his sin to God, covering nothing. He confesses his 'transgressions to the LORD' and urges 'everyone who is godly' to pray to God while he may be found (Ps. 32:5-6).

The good news is that when we forsake our sin, we will find mercy. It is a sound proverb that 'he who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy' (Prov. 28:13). As the Apostle John once wrote, and as Christians have often recalled, 'if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness' (1 John 1:9).

A private confession to God is a necessity. In his presence believers will always find mercy. But there are some cases, particularly when we have scandalized or hurt a brother or sister, when we ought to be willing to confess the sin to other people. A truly repentant person will not shrink from a true repentance before the one that has been wounded. A husband must be ready to confess his sin to his wife, a mother to her daughter. There is no need to publish our sins, especially some sins, for all to hear. But there is good reason to repent of our particular sins before those whom we have personally wounded. It is James who writes, 'confess your sins to each other and pray for each other' (James 5:16). The principle of meeting with people to discuss our sin is raised in the gospel of Luke as well (Lk. 17:3-4). So this is instruction we cannot afford to ignore. 

Nonetheless, what if we have sinned publicly? During dinner with friends witnessing our rude comments? In front of the family when we lose self control? What if our behaviour has led the name of Christ to be tarnished in the whole community, or in his church. In such a case we are in Achan's situation. Everyone already knows what we've done, so we had better confess the act ourselves, as sin - no matter what the consequences. In Achan's case, the confession did not help him to escape his penalty. But he was assured that in his public death-row confession, he was giving glory to God (Josh. 17:9). Maybe it is that sort of public confession we see in one of David's Psalms, where the very title of his Psalm publicly announces that he had committed adultery with his neighbour's wife (Ps. 51:1).

However, we cannot end here. Just as we were reminded that God will forgive those who repent of their sins to him, we are told that we need to forgive those who repent of their sins to us - whether privately or publicly. When a brother or sister or neighbour repents of their sin, we must be reconciled. More than that, we must receive them in love. We need to be ready to forgive and comfort, as Paul urged the Corinthians to do, lest anyone be 'overwhelmed by excessive sorrow'. We need to reaffirm our love to those who repent (2 Cor. 2:7-8). And in doing so, we will be showing the same mercy to others that our Father in heaven has shown to us in Christ.

Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn is the associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. He is the editor of The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1653.

Chapter 15.5, 6, part one

v. Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man's duty to endeavour to repent of his particular sins particularly.

vi. As every man is bound to make private confession of his sins to God, praying for the pardon thereof upon which, and the forsaking of them, he shall find mercy; so he that scandalizeth his brother, or the Church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private or public confession and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended; who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him.

General and particular repentance

So far we have reflected on what repentance is and why it is important. These final paragraphs discuss the details of how repentance ought to look. Indeed, the need for details is the first thing mentioned in section five: we ought not to be content with a general confession of sin. 

Almost everyone will acknowledge that they are not perfect, and all Christians will confess that they are sinners. But sweeping admissions of sin should never content us. Many readers will have met people who have made general confessions of sin a science, or one of the fine arts. Listen to them pray and they can confess sin in general eloquently, seemingly without end.

The problem is not with their general repentance. The problem is that their repentance is always general. They will never be heard confessing a particular sin. They will not admit that they are wrong, either to their family, their friends, their co-workers, or their elders; nor are they much more particular on their knees. That is why the Confession goes on to remind us that 'it is every man's duty to endeavour to repent of his particular sins particularly'. We should consider this instruction in our own prayers, in the prayers of our children, and in the prayers of our leaders, such as parents and elders and deacons. Those who piously content themselves with general confessions of their sinfulness often prove to be the most stubborn sinners. 

The first step to repenting of particular sins is to realize that we commit individual sins. David prayed that the Lord would keep him from 'willful sins'; assumed in this prayer request is a confession that as a sinner, David could consciously commit acts of sin (Ps 19:13). 

The second aspect of particular repentance is actually naming sin. Even while stating that ignorance and unbelief contributed to his sin, the Apostle Paul was willing to confess that he had been a blasphemer, a persecutor, a violent man. A particular confession did not require him to repeat his blasphemies, to recall the details of his persecutions or to retell violent stories. No one needed to hear all of that. But it would not have been enough if Paul had piously asserted that he was the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:13, 15). 

Finally, particular repentance is evidenced in turning away from particular sin. That is one of the evils of contenting oneself with a general repentance - no particular sin is ever identified, so no particular sin is left behind, and no Christian grace is embraced. How different this is from the case of Zacchaeus the tax collector. He did not simply announce that he was a sinner. He said, 'I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount' (Lk. 19:8). There was nothing vague about that!

Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn is the associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. He is the editor of The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1653.

Chapter 15.3, 4, part two

iii. Although repentance be not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God's free grace in Christ; yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it.

iv. As there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.

The necessity of repentance

Though repentance is not the cause of God's pardon, we must also be clear that there is no pardon without repentance. Ponder the parallel, even if it is not a perfect one: God requires faith in Christ, but faith does not save us. In a similar way, God requires repentance, but repentance does not save us. However that does not mean that either faith or repentance remain unimportant to God. On the contrary, 'it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it'. 
Jesus said this on more than one occasion, and once he said it twice in a row: 'unless you repent', he told a crowd, 'you too will all perish' (Luke 13:3-5). This is as true for people on the streets of Jerusalem as it is for the philosophers on the Acropolis: as Paul explained, God 'commands all people everywhere to repent' (Acts 17:31; c.f., 30-31).

Comfort for sinners

Everyone is commanded to repent because 'all have sinned' (Rom. 5:12). Everyone is commanded to repent, even the people who commit small sins, because 'there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation'. Paul did not suggest that the wages of really major sin is death. He said that 'the wages of sin is death', without any qualification (Rom. 6:23). Who will leave the bar of heaven breathing a sigh of relief that God did not care about the little sins? Who can sincerely say that the Word of God is not including us and our sins in these sweeping declarations about humanity and human sin? 

Remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was he who said 'that men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless [or idle] word they have spoken' (Mt. 12:36). When we recall these words, some of us will find great comfort in this divine truth expressed in human words: 'there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent'. Is that not near the very heart of God's message in Isaiah? 'Let the wicked forsake his way', he says, 'and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon' (Isa. 55:7). Or as Paul put it to the church in Rome, 'there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus' (Rom. 8:1). 

That is good news for sinners. Perhaps that is why this comfort is placed up front in the opening paragraphs of Isaiah's long prophecy: 'take your evil deeds out of my sight!' the Lord commands, 'Stop doing wrong'. And what does the Lord promise to those who heed this call? He promises that 'though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool' (Isa. 1:16, 18). Have you wounded others with your careless words? Are you stained with sin that you cannot wash away? Then look to the grace of God in Christ, and repent of your sins. If you do, you will surely find a gracious redemption that is full and free.

Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn is the associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. He is the editor of The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1653.

Chapter 15.3, 4, part one

iii. Although repentance be not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God's free grace in Christ; yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it.

iv. As there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent. 

Repentance as 'self-satisfaction' or the 'cause' of pardon?

The first two paragraphs of chapter fifteen tell us what repentance is. It is a work of God's grace that sees us climbing out of the swamp of our sin and despair and walking instead down the straight and narrow path that leads to God and eternal life. But how essential is our repentance to our salvation? These central two paragraphs set out to answer this question.

In the first place, we should not exaggerate the importance of our repentance in salvation. God forgives us when we turn from our sin to him in Christ, but he does not forgive us because he considers our repentance a deed that deserves an award. Nor does he forgive us because he thinks that in repenting of our sin we are atoning for our own wrongs. Our repentance does not earn God's pardon; that was the late medieval view of penance in its crassest form. Penance came to be understood as the sinner's self-satisfaction - the sinner paying the price for his own sin by pious deeds before God. This mind-set is something that we slip into effortlessly, on our own, without lessons in medieval church history.

Here the basic point is that we ought not to think that our change in attitude and action impresses the Lord - a message which the Lord passed on more than once through his prophet Ezekiel. The covenant Lord declared through the prophet that he was going to show mercy to his wayward people. He was going to give them a new heart and cause them to walk in his statutes, and keep his laws. These people were going to be transformed, but they needed to remember that God was not doing it for their sakes; that is, not for anything that they had done or were about to do. He was helping them in spite of them, and only because he is merciful. Their only appropriate stance was shame for sinful ways and gratefulness for the Lord's mercy. Pride for their recent transformations was not to even register on their spiritual radar (Ezek. 36:31-32; Ezek. 16:61-63). 

God's free grace in Christ

We do not rely on repentance as the grounds of our pardon. No, we rely on 'God's free grace in Christ'. It is free grace that God emphasized through the life and teaching of the prophet Hosea. 'I will heal their waywardness', God promised, speaking of those who had come to rely on human helpers and false religion. I will 'love them freely', he went on to say, 'for my anger has turned away from them' (Hosea 14:4; c.f., 14:2-4). 
God justifies penitent people 'freely by his grace' and he does so in Christ, or, as Paul says in Romans 3, 'through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus' (Rom. 3:24). We find this teaching in more than one place in Paul's writing. It is not our new walk of life that saves us; instead, our redemption is through Jesus' blood only. Stated differently, 'the forgiveness of sins' is not in accordance with the quality of our repentance, but 'in accordance with the riches of God's grace' (Eph. 1:7).

Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn is the associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. He is the editor of The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1653.

Chapter 15.1, 2

i. Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the Gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.

ii. By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments.

Repentance that leads to life

The previous chapter in the Confession stressed the importance of faith in Christ for all of life and for the life that is to come. But when the Scriptures speak of life, they also speak of the repentance that leads to life, or 'repentance unto life' (Acts 11:18).

Repentance is a gospel grace or an evangelical grace because it is needed for salvation. Repentance is also a gospel grace because it teaches us to reflect on Jesus Christ. That seems to be the point the authors of the Confession may be making when they point readers to an ancient prophecy. Every Christian knows that true repentance involves a serious consideration of his own sin. But the prophet Zechariah explained that when the Holy Spirit would be poured out in a special measure, God's people would especially consider the cost of their sin as it was accounted on the cross of the Saviour. We mourn what sin required of the Son of God - indeed, Zechariah says, we 'mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son' (Zech. 12:10). As we look on Christ, the one who was pierced for our transgressions, we begin to see the full measure of our sin. 

Preaching repentance

Repentance is important for our salvation, and this fact 'is to be preached by every minister of the Gospel, as well as' the need for 'faith in Christ'. We see the importance of preaching repentance in the Bible. At the beginning of his ministry John the Baptist preached that the time had come for sinners to 'repent and believe the gospel' (Mark 1:15). At the end of his earthly ministry, our Lord himself sounded a similar note. He told his disciples that not only 'the forgiveness of sins' but also 'repentance' would 'be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem' (Luke 24:47). The Apostle Paul, too, testified 'both to the Jews and also to the Greeks' that they had need for 'repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ' (Acts 20:21).

Turning from sin and turning to God

So repentance considers our sin; and it considers the cost of our sin to the Saviour. We could add to this that repentance and faith need to walk together. But we can also say more. As paragraph two reminds us, people being led to repentance should really see and sense the danger of their sin. The Lord God himself urges his people to see their peril through the prophet Ezekiel. 'Repent!' he says, 'Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die' (Ezek. 18:30-31)? 

Here is a call that Christians wish every sinner would hear and heed. But we should not only see the danger, but also the filthiness and repulsiveness of our sins. That too was preached by Ezekiel. He spoke of remembering 'evil ways and wicked deeds'; he went on to say that there is place for us to 'loathe' ourselves for our 'sins and detestable practices' (Ezek. 36:31). These are strong words, but sin is a strong poison. Indeed, Isaiah compares the disposal of our cherished idols with the disposal of a menstrual cloth (Isa. 30:22). We must never forget that sin is a dirty affair because it is absolutely 'contrary to the holy nature' of God.
Sin is also a personal affair, for sin is set against God himself, the one to whom we ought to have been faithful. Is that not why King David was so stricken with grief when he was confronted by Nathan the prophet? 'Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight', he cried to the Lord. It was to God that he spoke when he confessed that his Maker was 'proved right' when he spoke, and 'justified' when he judged (Psa. 51:4; c.f., Jer. 31:18-19). All sin is to be judged, for it breaks the 'righteous law of God'. It is because we consider God's precepts to be right, that we come to 'hate every wrong path' (Psa. 119:128).
Sinners can sink to great depths of sorrow over sin, but not all remorse is real repentance. There must be what Paul calls a 'godly sorrow' that produces a God-ward change (2 Cor. 7:11). True repentance not only comes to hate sin, but also to see the Saviour. This is really very important for us to understand. As we consider what God thinks of sin, we must also consider his mercy to sinners. After all, he is the one who spoke through the prophet Joel, urging his people to 'Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity' (Joel 2:12-13). We can treasure the powerful understatement of Amos, who told his hearer to repent, for 'perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy' (Amos 5:15). And as we consider God's mercy, we need to so grieve for and hate our sins, as to turn from them all unto God.
Is this not the most basic need that each one of us has? We were made to be with God, to fellowship with him. We want to be in a situation where we are no longer 'put to shame' when we consider our Creator's commands. We want to consider our ways, and turn our steps to walk according to God's statutes. Indeed, we want simply to follow God's righteous laws (Psa. 119:6, 59, 106). That is our purpose, our endeavour; to be upright in God's sight (Luke 1:6), and to turn to the Lord with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength, in all the ways of His commandments (2 Kings 23:25).
Let us pray that this would be the main purpose of our repentance. Let us not only cease our foolish wanderings, but by God's grace follow in the footsteps of our Saviour, until one day we find him in his glory, and sin will be no more.

Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn is the associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. He is the editor of The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1653.