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Tumbling in the Billows of Repentance

December 14, 2006

Almighty God, we never cease to cut ourselves off from you by our sins, and yet you gently urge us to repentance, and promise also to hear our prayer with favor. Grant we may not stubbornly keep in our sins and be ungrateful to your great generosity, but may return to you in such a way as to witness by our lives to the genuineness of our repentance, and may so rest in you alone as to resist being buffeted hither and thither by the perverse lust of our flesh. Rather, grant we may stand firm and fast in a right purpose and so endeavour to obey you throughout our lives, at last receiving the fruit of our obedience in your heavenly kingdom through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.–John Calvin (source: Covenant Theological Seminary course in Calvin’s Institutes by Dr. David Calhoun)

Reading Psalm 84 this morning I was struck with grateful amazement at the magnitude of God’s grace: that I am blessed to dwell in his house, that he will give grace and glory, that he will withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly. But I don’t walk uprightly. And so he urges me to repent, a grace that leads to glory.

There are conditions. John Owen has a most wonderful way of challenging the assumption of grace, just as he has a wonderful way of providing assurance of grace. In a sermon short-titled “The Design of Impendent Judgments” (Banner of Truth, VIII.636), he lists these requirements for repentance:

A real conviction of sin
A real sense of God’s displeasure, and the approach
of desolating judgments
Real reformation, in an abstinence from all known
sin, and the avowed fruits of a reformed conversation

Accordingly, true repentance, says Owen, means:

Unless these abide and dwell in our minds,–unless they accompany us continually in all our ways and occasions,–rise and lie down with us,–we shall not cordially engage in this duty (loc. cit.).

Chapter 15 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith deals with “Repentance Unto Life and Salvation.” Paragraph 2 reads,

Whereas there is none that doth good and sinneth not, and the best of men may, through the power and deceitfulness of their corruption dwelling in them, with the prevalency of temptation, fall into great sins and provocations; God hath, in the covenant of grace, mercifully provided that believers so sinning and falling be renewed through repentance unto salvation.

Paragraph 5 sets forth the rationale of the necessity of repentance:

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.

“The constant preaching of repentance” brings something else to my mind. If you do not have a copy of a Reformed confession handy, I submit that it is likely that you also are not hearing the constant preaching of repentance. The modern antinomian church wants you to have a lot more fun than that. But that is not necessarily the best thing for your soul’s growth in grace. I did not hear the constant preaching of repentance until God moved us to a Reformed church.

I know that when I am withholding necessary repentance, I am out of sorts with God and thus with myself and everything else. The Christian’s objective in life is union with Christ; we can’t enjoy this blessing without repentance. “[N]one of the blessings bestowed by the Father, however much the gratuitousness appears, are apart from Christ nor are they enjoyed except in union with him.” (John Murray: The Epistle to the Romans, Eerdmans, p. 238)

[R]epent ye, and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15) tells me these two actions form one command. If I am unable to repent, I might be deceived about believing the gospel. If the constant preaching of repentance is necessary to repentance–and the Puritans say it is and I believe them–then placing oneself under such preaching becomes a gospel imperative.

And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. Deuteronomy 8:2


Victorbravo said…
I find reading the various confessions fun as well as edifying.Some shy away from them because they are challenging. But that is the point. The Gospel is simple, but it is rich and demands work too.

10:02 AM  
Laura B said…
Thank you for this post, Lauren. I am coming out of a “Reformed” church that would fall very much under this category, and I am afraid that it is only those who keep themselves acquainted with the Puritan sort of preaching, as you say, who can remain in (if necessary) or leave such a church without serious damage to their souls, no matter the emphasis on the gospel.
9:40 AM  
Mrs. B said…
You make an excellent point, Laura. Too many churches seem to convey the attitude that the gospel can be preached without doctrine. If preaching excludes true doctrine, I can only think it hinders sanctification through the Word.I hope you have a good church in your immediate future, Laura. You’re too diligent to be thwarted by one that is insufficient to uphold the truth.

11:50 AM  
HZ said…
Another thing I was thinking about this morning — how God provides all that is necessary to sustain us in our salvation until its completion. How beautiful, and how beautifully phrased in this post, to realize that one of these ‘sustenances’ and ‘daily breads’ of our spiritual life that God provides for us is repentance. Thank you.
2:00 PM  

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