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08 April, 2013

The Doctrine of Repentance – Part 12

By Thomas Watson, 1668
The Nature of true repentance

 2. It must be a turning from ALL sin.
"Let the wicked forsake his way" (Isaiah 55:7). A real penitent turns out of the road of sin. Every sin is abandoned. As Jehu would have all the priests of Baal slain (2 Kings 10:24)—not one must escape—so a true convert seeks the destruction of every lust—not one must escape. He knows how dangerous it is to entertain any one sin. He who hides one rebel in his house, is a traitor to the King. Just so, he who indulges one sin, is a traitorous hypocrite!

3. It must be a turning from sin upon a SPIRITUAL ground.
A man may restrain the open acts of sin—yet not turn from sin in a right manner. Acts of sin may be restrained out of fear or design—but a true penitent turns from sin out of a pious principle, namely, out of love to God. Even if sin did not bear such bitter fruit—if death did not grow on this tree—a gracious soul would forsake sin, out of love to God.

This is the most easy turning from sin. When things are frozen and congealed, the best way to separate them is by fire. When men and their sins are congealed together, the best way to separate them is by the fire of love. Three men, asking one another what made them leave sin: one said, "I think of the joys of heaven!" Said the second, "I think of the torments of hell!" But the third said, "I think of the love of God, and that makes me forsake sin!" How shall I offend the God of love?

4. It must be such a turning from sin—and turning unto God.
This is in the text, "that they should repent and turn to God" (Acts 26:20). Turning from sin is like pulling the arrow out of the wound; turning to God is like pouring in the balm. We read in scripture of a repentance from dead works (Heb. 6:1), and a repentance toward God (Acts 20:21). Unsound hearts pretend to leave old sins—but they do not turn to God or embrace his service. It is not enough to forsake the devil's quarters—but we must get under Christ's banner and wear his colors. The repenting prodigal did not only leave his harlots—but he arose and went to his father! It was God's complaint, "They do not turn to the Most High God" (Hos. 7:16). In true repentance the heart points directly to God—as the compass needle to the North Pole.

5. True turning from sin is such a turn—as has no return.
"What have I to do any more with idols?" (Hos. 14:8). Forsaking sin must be like forsaking one's native soil—never more to return to it. Some have seemed to be converts and to have turned from sin—but they have returned to their sins again. This is a returning to folly (Psalm 85:8). It is a fearful sin, for it is against clear light. It is to be supposed that he who did once leave his sin, felt it bitterly in the pangs of conscience. Yet he returned to it again; he therefore sins against the illuminations of the Spirit. Such a return to sin reproaches God: "What evil did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves!" (Jer. 2:5). He who returns to sin, by implication charges God with some evil. If a man divorces his wife, it implies he knows some fault by her. To leave God and return to sin—is tacitly to asperse the Deity. God, who "hates divorce" (Mal. 2:16), hates that he himself should be divorced.

To return to sin gives the devil more power over a man than ever. When a man turns from sin, the devil seems to be cast out of him—but when he returns to sin, the devil enters into his house again and takes possession, and "the last state of that man is worse than the first!" (Matt. 12:45). When a prisoner has broken prison, and the jailer gets him again, he will lay stronger irons upon him. He who leaves off a course of sinning, as it were, breaks the devil's prison—if Satan takes him returning to sin, he will hold him faster and take fuller possession of him than ever! Oh take heed of this! A true turning from sin is a divorcing it, so as never to come near it any more. Whoever is thus turned from sin is a blessed person: "When God raised up his servant, he sent him to bless you—by turning each of you back from your sinful ways" (Acts 3:26).

Use 1. Is turning from sin a necessary ingredient in repentance? If so, then there is little true repentance to be found. People are not turned from their sins; they are still the same as they ever were! They were proud—and so they are still. They are like the beasts in Noah's ark, they went into the ark unclean—and came out unclean. Men come to gospel ordinances impure—and go away impure. Though men have seen so many changes on the outside—yet there is no change wrought within: "after all this punishment, the people will still not repent and turn to the Lord Almighty" (Isaiah 9:13).

How can they say they repent—who do not turn? Are they washed in Jordan—who still have their leprosy upon their forehead? May not God say to the unreformed, as once to Ephraim, "Ephraim is joined to idols—let him alone!" (Hos. 4:17)? Likewise, here is a man joined to his drunkenness and uncleanness—let him alone! Let him go on in sin! If there is either justice in heaven, or vengeance in hell—he shall not go unpunished!