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.