Chapter XVIII, Of Repentance

Chapter XVIII. 

In order that men might in reality come to that salvation, to which they have been called by God, they are by Him led to it by means of sincere repentance, in consequence of which they are induced, being convicted of, and repenting their sins, to take their refuge to Christ, and by their thus confiding in him, acquire mercy and forgiveness of sins. 


455. To insure us of our eternal salvation in His presence, God has made ample preparations, in all the proceedings which have been already treated of. It is true that the Lord Jesus has delivered us from our sins, reconciled us to God, opened unto us heaven and eternal salvation, — even so that God has called upon us to partake of his grace and of the merit of the Lord Jesus Christ. But in to the enjoyment of these benefits, we have only then success, if Ave are aided by divine power. This aid God bestows upon us; thus raising again and upholding sinful men.

456. But this restoration of man is not accomplished at once, but only partly, so that only the beginning of it is made in this life. In this respect four different points are to be attended to, viz:

1. Man, who requires help, and whose restoration is called repentance:

2. God the Lord, who is either bringing sinful men before the judgement seat, or forgiving them their sins, which latter is called justification or forgiveness of sins; men, who are induced to turn away from their evil and sinful life, giving themselves with all their might to the service of God; this is called conversion, new birth, and renewing, and

3. Christ, and the fact that men become united with him; which is called the engrafting in Christ. But the complete restoration, is only brought about after the death of this body, in eternal life and in the kingdom of glory.

457. The first of these works of mercy is repentance. Concerning which we have to inquire:

a. Its nature, 

b. Its necessity, 

c. Of how many parts it consists, 

d. Its source, 

e. Whom among men it might concern, and 

f. Its fruits and consequences. 

458. What is repentance? Repentance means a real acknowledgment and sincere repentance of the sins of which we feel ourselves guilty, along with the firm assurance that God is willing to forgive them for the sake and the merits of his beloved Son.

459. b. The necessity of repentance, can be partly proved from the fact that God in so many instances and so frequently requests us to repent; partly also from reasons, which God himself has pointed out to us in scripture. Such are: that forgiveness of sins cannot be expected, unless they are repented of, Acts. 5, 31; that by repentance men may recover themselves from the snares of the devil, 2 Timot. 2, 25. 26. and from eternal condemnation, 2 Peter 3, 9. Whosoever therefore does not repent cannot expect to find forgiveness of sins, remains in the snares of the devil, and is a victim of eternal condemnation. Even so is impenitence drawing down the wrath of God upon mankind, Rom. 2, 5: “After thy hardness and impenitent heart treasureth (thou) up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God.” Impenitence makes void God’s works of mercy, Rev. 2, 5; draws dawn the fiery persecution of divine judgement v. 16, and great tribulation, v. 21, 22.

460. Besides the adduced reasons, repentance is also necessary

i. That the preaching of the Gospel might take effect upon us. For both John the baptist and the Lord Jesus have commenced their preaching with the following words: “Repent ye for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matth, 3, 2; 4, 17: this proves the kingdom of God, which has been preached by the Gospel, to be connected with repentance. Wherever therefore there is no repentance, there cannot possibly take place either the kingdom of heaven, or the promises connected therewith.

ii. That we may love God. Nobody can serve two masters; he must necessarily hate the one and love the other, Matth. 6, 24. If there is therefore one who does not hate sin, but on the contrary has a predilection for it, such a one is the servant of sin, John 8, 34. and it is therefore impossible for him to serve God. He must hate Him, and do the things which he knows to be hateful in His sight. Whosoever on the other hand is willing to come to God must love him and hate sin, and consequently if any one wishes to come to God, such a one must hate sin.

iii. That we might desist from sin. Every one who remains in sin, cannot expect the service, which he renders unto God, to be acceptable un to him. Isa. 1, 15; “When ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood;” Pslm. 59, 7: “let his (the condemned) prayer become sin.” The kingdom of God is inaccessible to him, and the lake prepared for him, which burneth with fire and brimstone; Galat. 5, 21: “They which do such things (the works of the flesh) shall not inherit” the kingdom of God.” 1 Cor. 6. 9. 10: “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven;” Revel. 21,’ 8: “the unbelieving etc. etc. shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.” — The departing from sin is a fruit of repentance. For every one, who is not conscious of the burden of sin, will not leave that sin, which is so congenial to his nature.

461. Of how many parts repentance consists? We answer: of two parts, viz: the act of repentance, and of faith.

The act of repentance consists of

aa. man’s conviction of being a sinner,

bb. the conviction that God is zealous against sin; and that he is determined to punish the same with hellfire in all eternity;

cc. the conviction that man is by no means able to help himself in this emergency, and that he has to expect this help from no creature whatsoever;

dd. of a deepfelt repentance and sorrow with which the sinner feels himself sorely afflicted on account of his sin; and finally

ee. of a heartfelt desire, if possible, not to have sinned at all, together with a intense hatred against sin.

462. A repentance of such a nature we meet with in the case of King David, who after having, with an afflicted heart, listened to the threatenings of divine judgement, exclaimed “I have sinned against the Lord,” 2 Samuel. 12, 13; — in the case of Peter, who with many tears and much anxiety repented his having denied his master, Matth. 26, 75; — in the case of the women who had been a sinner, and who whilst repenting, shed her tears so abundantly as to wet the Lord’s feet there- with, Luk. 7, 38; — in the case of the publican, who, in the deepfelt contrition of his heart, would not lift, up as much as his eyes unto heaven, but prayed God, with a repenting soul to grant him forgiveness of his sins, Luk. 18, 13.

463. The same sort of repentance manifests itself also in the case of those ungodly men, who, as their conscience awakens to the state of their soul, are despairing of the grace of God. Thus we read of Cain, that, when his sins were laid before him, he exclaimed: “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” Genes. 4. 13. Judas also repented his having shed innocent blood, and by this thought fell in such a state of affliction, that he took away his lite, in order to deliver himself of this painful idea, Matth. 27, 4. 5.

464. The second part of the christian’s repentance consists of faith (cf. #.461.) Faith is a heartfelt confidence of a sinful but repenting man, that God is willing, in accordance with His gracious promises, in mercy to forgive all his sins, through Jesus Christ.

465. Faith constitutes a most indispensable part of repentance for, we find:

i. both, (repentance and faith) always mentioned together in Scripture: Mrk.1.15: “repent ye and believe the Gospel.” — And to the woman who had been a sinner, and who had repented her sins with many tears, Luk. 7, 38 the Lord Jesus says: “thy faith has saved thee, go in peace.”

ii. that a repentance of sins without faith, would lead us to despair. This is clearly proved in the adduced instances of Cain and Judas. For the repentance of these two men agrees entirely with that of David and Peter, with that exception, that the first could not find any comfort in their mournful state, whilst the latter have found this comfort in the grace of God, by which their hearts have been lifted up again and gladdened. Thus we see that it is faith, that constitutes the difference between that repentance which leads to despair and condemnation, and that which leads to the grace of God. Which proves faith to be a principal part of a true and saving repentance. And it is to this circumstance St. Paul refers, when speaking, 2 Cor. 7, 10. of a twofold sorrow: “For godly sorrow worketh repentance not to be repented of: (such a repentance namely which is accompanied by faith, as was the case with that of David and Peter) but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (a sorrow which is without faith, as was that of Cain and Judas). Repentance consists therefore of these two parts. Every one who becomes a conviction of his sins, and sincerely repents and mourns over them, and who believes that God is willing to forgive him his sins, out of mere mercy, for the sake and the merits of Jesus Christ, — may be convinced that he has come to a real and saving repentance.

466. Besides the above mentioned, there are other things, which are to be considered as unessential parts of repentance, viz:

I. The satisfaction which man may he induced to make and the ransom he may be willing to render for his sins, for

1. Such has nowhere in scripture been required as an essential ingredient of repentance;

2. If we were able to make satisfaction for our sins, then the blotting out of the same would not any more be of grace, which latter is jet taught in scripture.

3. Many have repented, without having given satisfaction for their sins. Thus we read of the publican having repented, and consequently delivered of his guilt, without having given satisfaction for them, Luk. 18, 13. 14. The same was the case with the woman who had been a sinner, ibid. 7, 50; nor did Peter do penance, while yet his repentance was considered a sincere and effectual one, as also did one of the malefactors, who were crucified with the Lord Jesus, for he cannot he said to have been in a position to be able to do satisfaction for his sins, Luk. 23, 40 ff. — From which follows, that, for the sake of an effectual and saving repentance, our own satisfaction is not required.

467. Nor can

II. The confession of sin, or the confessing the same to the priest be said to be a necessary part of repentance. It is true that the (lutheran) church has retained the same, because of its usefulness and the wholesome influence it is calculated to exert. For by means of the services connected with the same, all those who intend to join the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, become, in as far as they require it, properly instructed of its importance. For there they are admonished to try themselves, whether they might approach the table of the Lord as worthy receivers; the Minister having thereby an opportunity to admonish his audience as to the things pertaining to their salvation. And every one, who has a heart burdened with care has then an occasion offered to him for unburdening the same before the Minister of the divine word and for receiving his advice. Finally it offers an opportunity to bring home God’s promises concerning the merciful forgiveness of our sins to every one more especially. — Yet, in spite of all these advantages, confession is not to be considered as a necessary part of repentance, as if without the same there could be no effectual repentance. To prove which, we state:

468. That, even before this usage had been introduced in the church, men have repented effectually. For it is, in itself, quite sufficient for man, to confesses his sins unto God; and many pious Christians residing among heathens and turks, do sincerely repent their sins, and find grace by God, although they never have occasion to confess them to any mortal.

469. III. Nor is the new obedience to be considered as a part of repentance, but rather as a fruit of the same.

470. d. The source of this repentance. Repentance must be wrought in us by God, because no man is able to bring himself to it, by his own exertions. “We are not sufficient to think anything as of ourselves,” 2. Cor. 3, 5;. “For it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do,” Philip. 2, 13. — Now we have found repentance to consist of two parts, viz. of a sorrow on account of the evil consequences of sin, and of a jog, on account of the merciful forgiveness of sins. The sorrow has its source in the law, for by it is the knowledge of sin,”- Rom. 3, 20; for the wrath of God has been made manifest to every sinner, as we read Deut. 27, 20: “Cursed be he that corfirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.” And St. Paul distinctly says Rom. 4, 15: “the law worketh wrath.” 

471. The joy springs from the Gospel, which is a joyful message of the grace of God, and of his forgiving our sins, and in which we are promised that every one who believes in him shall be saved. It tells us, that the Lord Jesus had come into the world to save sinners, 1. Timoth. 1, 15; that his blood cleanses us from all our sins, 1. John. 1, 7; that there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, Rom. 8, 1. — These are the doctrines which a faithful Minister has to preach to his hearers, in accordance to the will of Christ; Matth. 13, 52: “Every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new an old.”

472. It is accordingly of importance, that these old and new things. Law and Gospel should not be mixed up with each other, but carefully kept separate. Like as the law does not teach the forgiveness of sin, so nobody has a right to look upon the Gospel as a mere call to repentance, by which men should come to a conviction of their sins, and by it be frightened. For the reader will have had sufficient occasion to see by the forgiving statements, how that the Law and the Gospel had each of them their separate functions, how that the Law served frighten the conscience, whilst the Gospel has to pour comfort in the same, how that the Law could comfort no sinner, whilst the Gospel was to frighten no one on account of his sins.

473. e. Who among men are concerned by this repentance. It concerns all men who have sinned without exception. It makes no difference, whether they formerly acknowledged the grace of God, or not, whether they had committed sins from neglect or from wilfulness. This can be proved by the fact:

474. That all sinners have been called to repentance. Matth. 11, 28: “Come unto me all ye that labour” etc.; Luk. 24, 17: “That repentance and remission of sins were to be preached in his name among all nations;“- John. 7, 37: “If any men thirst, let him come unto me, and drink;” Acts 10, 43: “To him give all prophets witness, that through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” — In this preaching of the Gospel all men without exception, and without any distinction are addressed, as well as those who had known already the mercy of God, and those who had not. It is therefore not with us to imagine such a distinction or to attempt to put a limit to the lovingkindness of our God,

475. Because God calls to repentance, and receives in mercy especially those, who have formerly known him and his grace, but have deprived themselves again of this knowledge in consequence of sin. Jerem. 3, 1: “Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the Lord;” v. 6, 7: “Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, turn thou unto me.

David also, who by inspiration of the Holy spirit, has been able to write so many beautiful Psalms, fell afterwards in to sin, to return from which he was requested by Nathan, 2. Samuel. 12, Iff. — Manasseh, who when a child, had been brought by his father to a conviction of the truth, gave himself, at a later period, unto idolatry, and other grievous sins, 2. Kings 21, 21 ff., and was afterwards induced to repent by means of a hard imprisonment, 2. Chron. 33, 11. 12. — Peter also, after having, denied the Lord Jesus, was induced to repent, partly by the authority of the Lord himself, Luk. 22, 61 partly by a kind conversation, John, 21, 15 ff. — All which, after having, as it is admitted, on all sides, committed sin, have repented and been received again in mercy; and in the same way also those in our days, who fall into sins may hope to come repentance and to receive mercy.

476. f. As to the fruits and consequences of repentance; of this, two are to be mentioned, viz:

i. God’s grace and mercy, which He bestows again upon that man whom, on account of his sin, he formerly hated. Thus David says Pslm. 51, 17: “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise;”- Pelm. 34, 19: “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” And God says himself Isa. 57, 15: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit; ibid. 66, 2: “To this man will I look, even to him, that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” That this is indeed the case, is sufficiently proved by the instances connected with Peter, the publican, the woman who had been a sinner, to whom the Lord Jesus has spoken words of comfort, and whom he has mercifully accepted again. It are more especially those who are poor in the spirit, who have the promise of inheriting life eternal, Matth. 5, 3.

477. ii. A new obedience and change of life; and where both are absent then the latter estate of such a man is worse than his first, and of such a one the proverb holds true: “The dog is turned to his vomit again; and the saw that was washed to her wallowing in the mire,” 2. Pet. 2, 20. 22. But every one who comes to saving repentance, departs from evil and does good, to which we are frequently exhorted by God: Isa. 1, 16; 1. Peter, 3, 11; Pslm. 34, 15 etc.; and this for the following reasons. Every one who repents his sins from his heart, must necessarily hate the same; and in thus hating it, he will take care not to commit them again, thereby, by the help of the spirit mortifying the deeds of the body, Rom: 8, 13. and Crucifying the flesh, with its affections and lusts,” Galat. 5, 24.