Pastor, Preach Repentance
True repentance grows in the gospel soil of God’s sovereign grace. Its roots comprise both biblically-informed grief over sin and biblically-informed apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ. Its trunk and branches are turning from sin and turning to God. Its fruit is the endeavor for new obedience in full dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
All this we have gleaned so far from looking at chapter 15 of the Second London Baptist Confession. The chapter now concludes by examining the necessity of preaching repentance in the light of what we know about sin:
Such is the provision which God hath made through Christ in the covenant of grace for the preservation of believers unto salvation; that although there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation; yet there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation on them that repent; which makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary.
No Sin So Small
The Confession completes its treatment of repentance with some particular and searching counsel about the necessity of preaching repentance in the light of what we know about sin. As we noted when we began, every sin is grievous, and the "least" sin (as men perceive it) is sufficient for the condemnation of any man. However, that God is willing to forgive the sins of those who come to him in faith and repentance is the hope of the sinner, and must therefore be preached to sinners fully and freely.
Never underestimate sin. There is no sin so small but it deserves damnation. The wages of sin — all sin, each and every sin — is death (Rom. 6:23). In this sense, no sin should be considered small, as it brings so great a condemnation. The holy law of God is like a great and fragile object, perhaps a beautiful window or some other work of art, all made of one piece. If I make a crack in this great and fragile thing, no one accuses me of breaking only a part of it. The entire object is no longer whole. Thus it is with the law of God: to break it at all is to break it all (James 2.10). To stumble in any point is to become a lawbreaker, and therefore to be guilty, and deserving of punishment.
When David cries out for forgiveness in Psalm 51, there is a comprehensiveness in his desperate request. David is concerned for particular sins, yes, but with every particular sin also. He wants God to cleanse him from sin in its totality and sins in their plurality. He desires a complete cleansing (for example, Ps. 51:2, 7, 9), because he knows that one sin is fatal to peace with God. All this means that when we look at any man or woman, boy or girl, we are looking at someone who is a lawbreaker, who has offended the gracious and holy God, and is therefore liable to the just and fearful punishment of that God for the transgression of his revealed will. That proper and righteous punishment is death and hell. This is the horror of sin.
No Sin So Great
We should not underestimate sin, yet neither should we underestimate the Christ who saves us from sin. Here is cause for great praise and thanksgiving! Such is the provision which God has made through Christ in his covenant of grace for the preservation of believers unto salvation, that there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation on them that repent. The blood of Christ is sufficient to wash away the deepest stain of iniquity — his blood can make the foulest clean. The gospel offer, the gospel provision, for repenting sinners is that those whose sins are like scarlet shall be made as white as snow through the blood of the Lamb; though our sins are red like crimson, they shall be as pure new wool (Isa. 1:18).
All upon whom God has set his love are so provided for by the atoning blood of Christ in his propitiating sacrifice that each sin, all sin, and every sin can be covered, transgressions swept away as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). Again, this is no ground for sinning with impunity, but is rather the great motivation to holiness of life and fleeing every sin.
We should also be very clear in our minds and hearts, and in our preaching, about the certainty of forgiveness where true repentance is demonstrated. As we should ourselves repent with an “apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ,” so we should preach to others. God is always pleased to forgive those in whom he is working faith in Christ and repentance unto life. The one follows on from the other as night follows day: those whom God predestines and calls (a sovereign, mighty, and effectual call) are invariably justified (Rom. 8:30). God’s effectual calling works newness of life, which issues in faith and repentance in the heart of man.
God is then graciously pleased to forgive and justify that man, declaring him righteous in his sight. Although repentance does not oblige God to forgive us, true repentance always issues in true forgiveness, and we should assure men that it does. We do not call on men in our preaching to know that they are regenerate before they believe and repent. We call upon them to believe in Christ and to repent of their sins. We trust that God will work his salvation in those people by his effectual call, which will be manifested in them by their faith and repentance.
To put it concisely: In order for men to be saved, they must repent and believe—and this makes the preaching of repentance absolutely, vitally, and constantly necessary.
The Preachers' Plea
Much contemporary preaching demands faith. This is right insofar as it goes, but it is not all. Preachers should not demand faith only. We are saved by faith in Christ, yes, but Christ saves us, through faith, from sin. He was called Jesus (literally, Savior) because he was going to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). If the preaching of salvation through Christ has no reference to sin, then the people to whom we preach are robbed of the whole context of sin which gives penitent faith in Christ its significance. It is easier, even pleasant, to preach faith in Christ as the only necessary response to the proclamation of gospel truth, but it is sin to which sinners are attached.
So-called ‘faith in Christ’ that is divorced from any recognition of sin, and any turning from sin to God through faith in Christ, is not the saving faith of which the Bible speaks. To preach faith without repentance waters down the gospel demands addressed to men and women who are wedded to their sins.
On the other hand, preaching repentance in its proper relation to faith is not a pleasant task. It usually draws out the anger and hatred of sinful men (although some may later repent). It can therefore be tempting to avoid preaching in this way. Nevertheless, if you do not marry faith and repentance in your preaching, you will never see men divorced from their sins. Men might make all manner of accusations, and charge the preacher with ‘legalistic preaching’, or of not preaching the gospel, but repentance unto life is "an evangelical grace," and calls to such repentance must therefore be an indispensable element of evangelical preaching. There is no hope for pardon without repentance of sin, and to fail to preach the necessity of repentance is, to some extent, to abandon the souls of those to whom we preach, and to bring condemnation upon ourselves (Ezek. 3:18–19).
The Old Testament men of God called upon their hearers to repent of their sins, turning to God in faith and with repentance, and practiced such repentance themselves (see Isa. 6:5 and 55:7; Joel 2:12–13; Ezek. 1:28 and 33:11; Job 42:5–6; Jer. 3:12–13; 8:6). We find precisely the same pattern and language in the servants of God in the New Testament, pre-eminently in Jesus Christ himself, the great Servant of the Most High (who, of course, needed to repent of no sins himself, being perfect in obedience). The opening note of Christ’s preaching ministry was repentance (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:15). It was a constant theme in our Lord’s public teaching and in his own understanding of his mission (Luke 5:32; 13:3, 5; 15:7, 10). It was the note sounded by his forerunner, John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2, 8, 11; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3, 8; Acts 13:24; 19:4). It was the command that the Christ issued to his disciples (Luke 24:46–47; Acts 26:16–18); it was a command that they obeyed, from their first public ministry (Mark 6:12) to their ongoing efforts to spread the gospel of God abroad (Peter in Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; Paul in Acts 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). The writer to the Hebrews puts “repentance from dead works” alongside “faith toward God” as part of the foundation of the truth as it is in Jesus (Heb. 6:1).
The nature of the gospel ministry itself, the requirement for obedience to the command and example of Christ, and the absolute necessity of true repentance, alongside faith, for the salvation of lost sinners, all demand that we preach a full-orbed and biblical gospel. That means that repentance must be preached. The apostle Peter said that God has exalted Christ to his right hand as Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31). The present heavenly ministry of our Lord involves his giving of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins.
Preacher, do you wish to be well-pleasing to God as you undertake the awesome privilege of laboring together with him (2 Cor. 5:9–11; 6:1)? Do you want to be a faithful ambassador of Christ in your ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18–21)? Then you must plead men to repent from their sins. It is necessary for the unconverted, as an indispensable element in their initial experience of salvation; it is necessary for the converted, as an indispensable element in their ongoing experience of salvation.
Conclusion by the Cross
Faith is not a momentary experience of dependence, but a constant and ongoing attitude of trust and confidence toward Christ. So also with repentance; it is not a momentary experience of sorrow, but a constant and ongoing activity, a heartfelt contrition over our sinfulness and our sins. God does not despise the broken and the contrite heart (Ps. 51:17). this is a picture of the attitude of the faithful follower of the Lord Jesus.
A Christian cannot look at the cross of Christ, and the awful blood-price paid for our deliverance from sin, without grief over the sin that took Christ to the cross and demanded of him the full price of forsakenness from God. Christ’s blood pours out as an overflowing and ever-flowing fountain — one to which the believer goes repeatedly and continually, for the cleansing of sin and uncleanness (Zech. 13:1). The cross is where repentance begins, and the cross is where repentance continues.
The principled pursuit of holiness, the life of heart obedience to all the revealed will of God as a bondservant of Jesus Christ, is a life of unparalleled peace through the mercy of God. This life has within it as a foundational element that true gospel repentance, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief over and hatred of his sin, turn from that sin to God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.
Editor's Note: This post has been adapted from A New Exposition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, edited by Rob Ventura, slated for release by Mentor Books in November 2022.
Jeremy Walker serves as a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, and is married to Alissa, with whom he enjoys the blessing of three children. He has authored several books, and is grateful to preach and to write as opportunity provides.
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"The Ordo Salutis: Repentance" by David P. Smith
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 We do not have space here to deal with the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31–32), except to say that those who commit such sin never truly repent of it: it is bound up with such hardness of heart that it does not enter this equation. Rather we should note that this same passage reminds us that, for the truly repentant sinner, “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven.” True repentance always brings forth true forgiveness from our merciful Father in heaven.