Article XII. Repentance



By S. W. HARKEY, D. D. 

“Of Repentance it is taught, that those who have sinned after Baptism, may at all times obtain forgiveness of sins, if they come to repentance; and to them absolution should not bRepene denied by the Church. And true Repentance properly is sorrow for sin, and to be alarmed on account of it, and yet with this to believe the Gospel and absolution, that sins are forgiven, and grace obtained through Christ, which faith again comforts the heart and restores it to peace. Afterwards such persons must abstain from all sin, and reformation of life must follow, which are the fruits of Repentance, as John says, Matt. iii. 8, ‘Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.’

“Here they are rejected who teach that such as have once become pious cannot fall again.

“On the other hand the Novatians are also condemned, who denied absolution to such as had sinned after Baptism.

“Those also are rejected who teach that we do not obtain forgiveness of sins by faith in Christ, but by the merit of our own good works.”

CHRISTIANITY in its relation to man, is both external and internal — objective and subjective. It contains a system of truth, not of man’s own discovery, but revealed by God. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” 2 Pet. i. 21. It is addressed to his reason and consciousness, and he is expected to receive it, to seek to understand it correctly, to believe it, and to practice its precepts and duties in his life. It is to him a divine rule of life. All its institutions too, as the Church, with her Gospel, ministry, worship, sacraments, and benevolent operations, belong to the external or objective of Christianity.

But such external religion must have its counterpart in the soul of the believer. There must be a work of grace in the heart, consisting of knowledge of sin, repentance of sin, faith in Christ, love to God and man, holiness, and an internal life of piety. “The kingdom of God is within you,” Luke xvii. 21; “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” Eph. iv. 23, 24. “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,” 2 Cor. v. 17.

An external religion may exist without the internal; and then it is a body without a soul, a form without a life, a system of dry, dead dogmas and ceremonies, which can accomplish nothing for the enlightenment and salvation of the race. This was the great error of the Romish church. She had an immense and most powerful hierarchy, a grand system of doctrines, rules, forms, and ceremonies — a mighty politico-religious establishment, which controlled men’s hearts and consciences, making most abject slaves of them, and ruling the world with a rod of iron. But true spiritual life — the life of repentance, faith, love, holiness, and piety in the soul — was wholly lost in the Church as such. Only in individual cases, and in spite of the Church and her teaching and influence, do we find any trace of it. For more than a thousand years previous to the Reformation, the true doctrine of repentance, faith, and justification had been utterly perverted by Rome. She had rejected almost the whole system of Evangelical Christianity, taught by Christ and the Apostles, and had substituted in its place a most burdensome religion of works, penance, fasts, confessions, church ceremonies, pilgrimages, indulgences, and the like. Man was not to be saved by ” Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” Acts xx. 21, but really without Christ, by his own works and merits. His sins were to be washed away by Baptism, as a mere work, ex opere operato; and if he sinned again afterwards, he must make atonement for himself by a series of mortifications of the flesh in church-imposed penances, and by confessing to the priest and obtaining his ghostly absolution. Christ and his precious salvation were covered up — yea, buried out of sight, beneath a great mass of human corruptions and inventions.

“The vital doctrines of Christianity,” says D’Aubigne, “had almost entirely disappeared, and with them the life and light that constitute the essence of the religion of God. The spiritual strength of the Church was gone. She lay an exhausted, enfeebled, and almost lifeless body, extended over that part of the world which the Roman empire had occupied.”

And again:

“It was especially by the system of penance, which flowed immediately from Pelagianism, that Christianity was perverted. At first, penance had consisted in certain public expressions of repentance, required by the Church from those who had been excluded on account of scandals, and who desired to be received again into its bosom.

“But by degrees penance was extended to every sin, even to the most secret, and was considered as a sort of punishment to which it was necessary to submit, in order to obtain the forgiveness of God through the priest’s absolution.

“Ecclesiastical penance was thus confounded with Christian repentance, without which there can be neither justification nor sanctification. Instead of looking to Christ alone for pardon through faith, it was sought for principally in the Church through penitential works.

“Great importance was soon attached to external marks of repentance — to tears, fasting, and mortification of the flesh; and the inward regeneration of the heart, which alone constitutes a real conversion, was forgotten.

“The penitential works, thus substituted for the salvation of God, were multiplied in the Church from Tertullian (born A. D. 160,) down to the thirteenth century. Men were required to fast, to go barefoot, to wear no linen, etc.; to quit their homes and their native land for distant countries; or to renounce the world and embrace a monastic life.

“In the eleventh century voluntary flagellations were superadded to these practices: somewhat later they became quite a mania in Italy, which was then in a very disturbed state. Nobles and peasants, old and young, even children of five years of age, whose only covering was a cloth tied round the middle, went in pairs, by hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands, through the towns and villages, visiting the churches in the depth of winter. Armed with scourges, they flogged each other without pity, and the streets resounded with cries and groans, that drew tears from all who heard them.”

What a terrible showing is not this of what must follow when the true doctrine of repentance and faith is lost or perverted! So even Luther, when a young man, though then already one of the best educated and most intelligent of his day, was in utter darkness as to the way of salvation, when distressed and alarmed on account of sin. He knew not that he could come to Christ for pardon, nor how to come. He commenced to torment himself by penance — to labor, fast, and pray, after the papal plan, and do all sorts of works — he entered a monastery to be shut out from the world entirely, and most zealously and conscientiously devoted himself to the observance of all its rules and duties — sometimes for many days eating almost nothing, lying on the hard floor of his cell, agonizing and struggling day and night to obtain the forgiveness of his sins, until he came near destroying his own life, all to no purpose, for his soul could find in this way no peace. What a grand deliverance did God grant him, when afterwards he was led to trust in Christ by faith, and, “being justified by faith, to have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Many years afterwards, when he had come clearly and fully into the light on this great subject, he wrote as follows:

“It was impossible that the Papists should teach correctly concerning repentance, since they did not understand the nature of sin correctly. They were in error in regard to original sin, maintaining that man’s natural powers remained entire and uncorrupted, that his reason could yet teach correctly and his will act right, and that God does certainly give his grace, when man, in the use of his free will, does as well as he can.

“From this it must follow that they would repent only of actual sins, as willful wicked thoughts (for bad emotions, lusts, and desires, were no sins), wicked language and actions, which the free will might have omitted.

“And to such repentance they reckoned three parts, namely, sorrow, confession, and satisfaction, with the comfort and assurance that any person who did properly have sorrow, and confess, and make satisfaction, had thereby merited pardon and paid God the debt of sin! Accordingly they directed the people, when alarmed on account of sin, to trust in their own works. * * In all this there was no Christ, nor a thought of faith in him; but men hoped to overcome and destroy sins in the sight of God, by their own works; under such impressions we too became monks and priests, that we might set ourselves against sins!”

And Melanchthon also testifies to the utterly erroneous teaching of the Papists on this subject. He says:

“All honorable, honest men of intelligence, of high and low station, even the Theologians themselves, will have to confess, as also our enemies, convinced beyond doubt, in their own hearts, that formerly, before Dr. Luther wrote, there existed only the most dark and confused writing and books on the subject of Repentance. One may see with the sententiaries what innumerable useless questions there are, which as yet no Theologians even have been able sufficiently to explain. Much less could the people get any just conception of the subject out of their sermons and books, or see which certainly is specially necessary in true repentance, how or in what way the heart and conscience must seek for rest and peace. And even now we may challenge any one of them to come forth, who could out of their books, instruct a single soul to understand and know with certainty when sins are forgiven! Gracious God! What blindness do we see here! How they know just nothing at all about the subject! How are their writings utter night and darkness! ”

And then he proceeds to point out some of these curious questions and errors, a few of which we may give in our own language. They ask whether forgiveness of sins takes place in attrition or contrition? And if forgiveness is granted on account of sorrow or contrition, why then is absolution necessary? And if sins are already pardoned, where then is the necessity of the Power of the Keys? They say that God must forgive us our sins, if we perform good works, without grace — that we merit grace by attrition or sorrow — that if we hate sins, and rebuke them in ourselves, this is sufficient to blot them out — that it is on account of sorrow that we obtain forgiveness of sins, and not on account of faith in Christ — that in confession the actual enumeration of all our sins is necessary, and none can be forgiven but those that are thus enumerated — that in the sacrament of Penance we obtain grace ex opere operato, even when the heart is hot in the work, and when there is no faith in Christ — that in the exercise of the Power of the Keys souls may be redeemed from Purgatory by means of Indulgences — and much more of such miserable stuff. From this we may see how utterly lost was all true evangelical piety in the Church of Rome, at the commencement of the Reformation.

Under these circumstances our Reformers were required to state the real truth of God on this subject, which they seek to do in few words, in the Twelfth Article of the Confession.

We must consider well the position and object of the authors of the Confession, must place ourselves, as nearly as possible, in their circumstances, to understand them correctly. They were not revolutionists, pulling down and destroying everything before them, making “havoc of the Church,” by uprooting “the wheat with the tares;” but they were true Reformers, most conscientiously anxious not to do injustice to Rome — not to find errors where there were none — but to retain everything that was true and good in Catholicism, and to point out and change only that which was false and evil. This will account, in part at least, for the language used in our Article, and the manner in which they present the subject. Protestant writers of the present day would scarcely think of beginning an Article on Repentance by referring first to those “who have sinned after Baptism.” Repentance must be the same for all men, as well those who have not been baptized as those who have. In all cases it must consist of the two parts, sorrow for sin and faith in Christ, as they have it, and it is equally necessary for all men. But at the time of the Reformation, especially among Romanists, Repentance, as far as they had any ideas on the subject at all, was associated with sins committed after Baptism, confessions to the priest and absolution. To this state of things the shape of the Article is undoubtedly due.

A brief analysis of the doctrines taught or implied in the Article gives us the following result:

1. That persons may sin or fall again after Baptism. “Quod lapsis post baptismum,” that such as have fallen after Baptism, even those who have been justified, may again lose the Holy Spirit, and hence the Confessors “condemn those who deny that men once justified can lose the Spirit of God.”

It is, of course, implied that sins are forgiven in true Baptism, whether the subject be an infant or an adult person. And yet, whatever be the effects or benefits of Baptism, whatever change the Spirit of God may produce in the soul, through it as a means, and in the condition and relations of the subject, they are not such that he may not again sin or fall from the new state into which it placed him.

2. But the condition of such fallen ones, though sad and greatly to be deplored, is not bitterly hopeless, not beyond the reach of mercy and recovery. Like other sinners they “may at all times obtain forgiveness of their sins, if they repent.” Not by a system of penance or self-inflicted tortures can they be restored, not by means of indulgences, meritorious works, self-denials and sufferings, as the Romanists taught; but by Repentance. Whenever they truly repent their sins will be forgiven them. But without true repentance there is no pardon and no salvation.

3. That as God pardons such fallen ones when they truly repent, “the Church should not refuse to grant absolution unto them.” As they have obtained the divine forgiveness, the Church ought also to grant its forgiveness, and gladly restore these returning prodigals to membership and the full enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of members.

4. But true Repentance, in its full and complete sense, properly consists of two parts. The one is sorrow for sin, and the other is faith in Christ. And, though these two parts may be considered separately, yet they are so united as to constitute one complete whole. Neither can be fully presented, understood or attained without the other. The one wounds, the other heals; the one alarms and condemns, the other pardons and brings peace again to the soul; the one points to Sinai, the other to Calvary.

5. That good works and reformation of life must follow, if our repentance be genuine; for these are its legitimate fruits. No person who has truly repented of sin can continue still to live in sin, for this would be a contradiction. He cannot be sorry for and hate that which he still loves and practices. On the contrary, he must forsake all sin, lead a pious and holy life, and “perform all manner of good works.”

6. Holding these doctrines, the Reformers, in our Article, reject the four following errors:

First, That those who have once become pious may not again lose the Spirit of God and fall into sin.

Second, That men may attain to such perfection in this life that they cannot sin any more.

Third, That those who have fallen into sin after Baptism, should not be restored again by the Church, even when they truly repent.

Fourth, That justification or pardon of sin is not obtained by faith in Christ, but by our own merits and good works.

These were regarded as serious errors by our Confessors, and are therefore here condemned and rejected.

So much by way of an analysis of our Article. It is plain that a full development of all these points would require a volume and not a brief lecture. The field is quite too vast, and we must therefore pass over some points very hastily or not touch them at all, and give our attention mainly to one or two.

I. Repentance and Remission of Sins as Connected with Baptism. 

The Confessors do not state in this Twelfth Article that they hold that sins are forgiven in Baptism, and that the baptized person is in a state of grace or favor with God: but this is taught by implication. Hence sinning after Baptism is represented as “losing the Spirit of God,” and falling from grace, and the restoration of such as requiring special repentance and absolution, that is, pardon and readmission by the Church. It is, however, not difficult to ascertain what they did hold on this subject by referring to other articles of the Confession and other sources of information. In Article Two, which treats of Original Sin, they say:

“This disease, or natural depravity, is truly sin, condemning and bringing eternal death upon all that are not born again by baptism and the Holy Spirit.”

Here the new birth is “by baptism and the Holy Spirit:” the Holy Spirit as the agent and baptism as the means. The condition and the relations of the baptized person are so changed that it may be said of him, he is “born again,” and is no longer condemned to eternal death on account of original sin.

In the Ninth Article, which treats of Baptism, they say:

“Of Baptism, it is taught that it is necessary (ad salutem, adds the Latin), and that through it grace is offered, and that children also ought to be baptized, who by such baptism are dedicated to God, and received into his favor.”

In Luther’s Smaller Catechism we have several important questions and answers on this subject, as follows:

Question: “What are the gifts or benefits of baptism?”

Answer: It worketh forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and confers everlasting salvation on all who believe, as the word and promise of God declare.”

Question: “How can water produce such great effects?”

Answer: “It is not the water that produces them, but the word of God which accompanies and is connected with the water, and our faith, which relies on the word of God connected with the water. For the water without the word of God is simply water, and no baptism. But when connected with the word of God, it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life, and a ‘washing of regeneration’ in the Holy Ghost’ ”

From this, and much more that might be cited, it is clear enough that the Confessors held and taught that sins are forgiven, and grace is bestowed, in the administration of the sacrament of Baptism. I suppose that this point will not be disputed.

But what is true Baptism as they held it? I answer that they regarded the four following things as necessary to constitute true Baptism: 1. The divine agency: the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. 2. The human agency: The use of water applied to the subject in a proper manner by an authorized person. 3. The word of God, “which accompanies and is connected with the water.” The act must not only be performed ” in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” but with prayer, and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in obedience to his express command. 4. “Our faith, confiding in this word of God in the use of baptismal water.” If any one of these be absent, it is no Baptism. If the Holy Spirit, the divine agency, be absent, or there be no water used in a proper way, or no word or command of God, or there be no true faith in the administrator, or the subject, or the persons concerned and present, it is no baptism. But having all these present, then, according to the teaching of our Confessors, the subject is born again by Baptism and the Holy Spirit, or, in the language of Christ to Nicodemus, “born of water and of the Spirit.” Then such baptized person, whether infant or adult, is delivered from condemnation and eternal death. To him the grace of God is offered, as he is offered and dedicated to God. He is received into the divine favor. The Holy Spirit, through this ordinance as a means, and because of “faith confiding in the word of God,” “causes the forgiveness of sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to those that believe.” Such a baptized person must now be declared pardoned, free from sin, a child of God and an heir of heaven.

This seems to be the true doctrine of the Lutheran Church on this subject. It is no “baptismal regeneration” ex opere operato, as the Papists held, and still hold it. It is no BAPTISMAL OR WATER regeneration at all; for “it is not the water that does it.” But it is Holy Ghost regeneration, through Baptism, the word of God, and prayer, as means. It will scarcely be denied that an infant, being thus baptized, may be regenerated by the Holy Ghost without repentance and faith on its own part, it being, properly speaking, capable of neither; but adult persons are proper subjects for Baptism only when they repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost,” Tit. iii. 5. Of course we can speak of infant regeneration, in any case, only in the limited specific sense of the word as denoting alone the divine agency — the work of the Holy Spirit, the subject being wholly passive. It is clear also that the Scriptures do connect pardon of sin and salvation with Baptism. “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned,” Mark xvi. 16. On the day of Pentecost, when the awakened multitudes asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter replied: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost,” Acts ii. 38. And the Lord sent the devout Ananias to the now penitent Saul of Tarsus, to say to him, among other things: “And now why tarriest thou? arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord,” Acts xxii. 16. From these and other passages of God’s word we see that faith and Baptism secure salvation — that men are born again “of water and of the Spirit” — that they must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ “for the remission of sins” — that by Baptism Paul was to “wash away his sins” — that it is “the washing (or bath) of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” It is a lame subterfuge to say, as Dr. Macknight has done and thousands of others with him, that in all these passages it does not mean that ” any change in the nature of the baptized person is produced by Baptism, but it is an emblem of the purification of his soul from sin.” Of course Baptism itself does not produce the change — “it is not the water that produces it,” we must say again with Luther; but it is “the renewing of the Holy Ghost; ” or “the renewing” (the change), “is by the Holy Ghost.”

Though this doctrine has been greatly misunderstood and perverted, especially in the Church of Rome, its history is interesting in a high degree, and sheds much light upon the subject. We are told that it was customary among the Jewish doctors, “when they admitted a proselyte into their Church by Baptism, always to speak of him as one born again.” The manner of speaking and teaching of Christ and the Apostles, we have just seen. And as far back as the second century, Mosheim (Vol I, p. 69) tells us, “that adult persons were prepared for Baptism by abstinence, prayer and other pious exercises” — “that the Sacrament of Baptism was administered publicly twice every year,” namely, at Easter and Pentecost — “that the persons that were to be baptized repeated the Creed, confessed and renounced their sins, and particularly the devil and his pompous allurements” — “that after Baptism, they received the sign of the Cross, were anointed, and, by prayers and the imposition of hands, were solemnly recommended to the mercy of God, and dedicated to his service; in consequence of which they received milk and honey, which concluded the ceremony.” All this was evidently intended to convey the idea that these baptized persons were now “new creatures,” cleansed from sin and received into favor with God.

In the third century, says the same author (Vol. I., p. 91, 92):

“There were twice a year stated times, when baptism was administered to such as, after a long course of trial and preparation, offered themselves as candidates for the profession of Christianity. * * The remission of sin was thought to be its immediate and happy fruit; while the bishop, by prayer and the imposition of hands, was supposed to confer those sanctifying gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are necessary to a life of righteousness and virtue. * * After the administration of baptism, the candidates returned home, adorned with crowns, and arrayed in white garments, as sacred emblems — the former, of their victory over sin and the world; and the latter, of their inward purity and innocence. * * it was a custom with many in this century, to put off their baptism to the last hour, that thus, immediately after receiving by this rite the remission of their sins, they might ascend, pure and spotless, to the mansions of life and immortality.”

Thus Constantine the Great lived nearly a quarter of a century without baptism, after he professed to have become a believer in Christianity, and received the ordinance only a few days before his death.

Thus gradually men fell into the error of changing this sacrament from a means into an efficient cause. People were no longer “born of water and of the SPIRIT;” but the water itself did the work. All baptized persons were regenerated and pardoned — washed and purified from all sin — by the efficient working of the ordinance itself And this error, canonized in the Church of Rome, has come down to our own times. No necessity for repentance, faith, and a regeneration of the soul by the Spirit of God — Baptism has done it all.

The only trouble was in regard to sins committed after Baptism, What was to be done with these? Could persons be baptized again to obtain the remission of their sins committed after Baptism? Certainly not. The Novatians (A. D. 250), referred to in our Article, would not admit those into the Church again, who had fallen into sin after Baptism, even if they did repent. Novatus held that the Church was a society of the pure — “Cathari” — and as sin after Baptism made men impure, they could not be re-admitted. But the Western or Latin Church took the opposite view of the case, and a large council resolved “That they should be treated and healed with the remedies of repentance” — this afterwards meant penance, and is the remedy to this day in the Catholic Church.

Neander gives the following interesting account of this subject:

“The controversy with the Novatian party turned upon two general points; one relating to the principles of penitence, the other to the question, what constitutes the idea and essence of a true Church? In respect to the first point of dispute, Novatian had been often unjustly accused of maintaining that no person, having once violated his baptismal vows, can ever obtain forgiveness of sins — that he is certainly exposed to eternal damnation. But, first, Novatian by no means maintained that a Christian is a perfect saint; he spoke here not of all sins, but assuming as valid the distinction between “peccata venialia” and “peccata mortalia,” he was treating only of the latter. Again, he was speaking by no means of the divine forgiveness of sin, but only of the Church tribunal — of absolution by the Church. The Church, he would say, has no right to grant absolution to a person who, by mortal sin, has trifled away the pardon obtained for him by Christ, and appropriated to him by Baptism. No counsel of God, touching the case of such persons, has been revealed; for the forgiveness of sin which the Gospel assures us of, relates only to sins committed before Baptism. We ought, doubtless, to be interested for such fallen brethren; but nothing can be done for them save to exhort them to repent, and to commend them to God’s mercy.

With regard to the second part of the controversy, the idea of the Church, Novatian maintained that one of the essential marks of a true Church being purity and holiness, every Church which, neglecting the exercise of discipline, tolerated in its bosom, or re-admitted to its communion, such persons as, by gross sins, have broken their baptismal vow, ceases by that very act to be a true Christian Church, and forfeits all the rights and privileges of such a Church.”

Thus far Neander. Pacianus puts it short, thus:

“Quod mortale peccatum ecclesia donare non possit, immo quod ipsa pereat recipiendo peccantes.”

With such facts as these before them in the history of the Church, and fully acquainted with the theology of the times, and the modes of thought and expression customary among men of that day, the authors of the Augsburg Confession, as we have already stated in our analysis of this Twelfth Article, held that in true Baptism, both of adults and infants, God does forgive their sins and receive them into his favor — that is the teaching of God’s word — that they are “born of water and of the Spirit.” And as infant Baptism was universally practiced in the Catholic Church, there was no repentance necessary or possible in their case, as a preparation for Baptism or pardon of sin. But they might sin after Baptism, and could not be baptized again for pardon, or as often as they might sin, and hence they commence their article as they do: “Of Repentance it is taught, that those who have sinned after Baptism, may at all times obtain forgiveness of sins” (not by being baptized again or often, but) “if they come to repentance.” Of course this implies equally that all men, adults, who have not been baptized, must repent and believe, both to be fit subjects for Baptism, and to obtain pardon of sin,

II. Repentance, Its Nature and Necessity. 

In the brief time allowed us in this lecture, we cannot now attempt a full discussion of the great subject of Repentance, as held and taught by Lutherans. We must content ourselves with a few hasty remarks.

Two Greek words are used in the Scriptures which are uniformly translated into English by the one word Repentance, which yet seem to have different meanings. They are μετανοία and μεταμέλεια, from the verbs Μετανοέω and Μεταμέλομαι. It has been observed, and it seems to me satisfactorily shown by Dr. George Campbell, in his Notes on the Gospels, that Μετανοία “denotes a change to the better,” and Μεταμέλία, “barely a change, whether it be to the better or the worse” — “that the former marks a change of mind that is durable and productive of consequences; the latter expresses only a present uneasy feeling of regret or sorrow for what is done, without regard either to duration or to effects; in fine, that the first may properly be translated into English, to reform; the second, to repent, in the familiar acceptation of the word.” He cites Favorinus (an Italian scholar, died 1527,) as defining μεταμέλεια ”as dissatisfaction with one’s self , for what one has done,” “which exactly hits the meaning of the word repentance; whereas Μετανοία is defined, a genuine correction of faults, a change horn worse to better. We cannot more exactly define the word “reformation” ” Luther, in his German translation, has generally distinguished the two verbs, rendering μετανοειν, Busse thun, and μεταμέλεσθαι reuen, gereuen.

This agrees well with what our Confessors present in the Article under consideration, that Repentance is “sorrow for sin,” — then should follow good works, which are fruits of Repentance. Hence it is well said, “Reformation of life must follow Repentance” — nay, true Repentance is the very first act in reformation of life, and he who does not lead a new and holy life, does not know what true Repentance is.

Accordingly, in our Catechism it is said: “Repentance is a total change of heart and mind.” Schmid, in his Dogmatik, says: “The first working of divine grace is to draw man away from his sinful state by producing in him real pain on account of sins committed, an earnest desire to be delivered from their control.” (p. 361).

And this brings us to the other point made by our Confessors, namely, That true Repentance has two parts, sorrow for sin, and faith in Christ. 

1. It is sorrow for sin. This places it in our emotional nature — sorrow, pain, terror, alarm, regret, are among the expressions used to designate these feelings. But not every kind of sorrow constitutes true Repentance. Paul says: “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (2 Cor. vii. 10.) “Godly sorrow” is that required by God, produced by his truth and Spirit in an intelligent conviction of the evil and heinousness of sin, as committed against a good and merciful God and his just and holy law, and that leads to a thorough change of life. In this verse the two Greek words for repentance, already referred to, are used: “The sorrow according to God worketh μετανοίαν, a reformation, ending in salvation, αμεταμελητον, not to be grieved over or regretted.” But the sorrow arising from worldly considerations worketh death.

Not even every kind of sorrow for sin, is, in the true sense, a godly sorrow. That which arises from fear of punishment — and is in the nature of terror or alarm — can lead only to despair and misery. This last has usually been called legal, but the former evangelical Repentance.

And while it is true that repentance has its seat in our emotional nature, it is also true that our emotions must be reached through the intellect. Hence there must be knowledge of sin and intelligent conviction of sin. There can be no true repentance without a correct knowledge of sin, at least to some extent. Men are never sorry for anything which they have done, and, in the nature of the case, it is impossible they should be, unless they know precisely what it is, and why they are sorry for it. It is simply absurd to say that you are sorry for sin, but you do not know what sin is, nor why you should be sorry for it.

Conviction of sin is in the judgment and conscience, which are convinced of its existence in ourselves. That we have broken the divine law by acts of omission and commission, in innumerable instances, in thoughts, feelings, words, motives, and desires, is clearly seen and felt. We have been led by God’s Holy Spirit to compare our lives and actions with the divine law, and we know that we are sinners “by the holy commandments, which we have not kept.” And the reason why we should be sorry for these sins is, because God’s law is right, good, pure, and holy; but our conduct and lives have been wrong, impure, and injurious to ourselves and our fellow-men, and dishonorable to God. And this sorrow is not active, but passive — not self-made or self imposed, as if we must make ourselves feel by certain direct efforts and exercises, as by singing and working upon the imagination, by relating terrible scenes and stories, arousing the animal passions and sympathies in times of excitement. But it is produced by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, in the application of the truth to the heart and conscience. We see the evil we have done — the injury to God and his government — to our fellow-men and the cause of virtue and piety — to ourselves, our bodies and souls — and regret it and mourn over it. This begets a sense of shame for the filthiness, vileness, and degrading influence of sin. It grieves us that we have sinned against the love and mercy of God, so abundantly shown us in all our past lives, and especially in the gift of Jesus Christ, and his sufferings and death for us.

“These feelings are different in degree according to the natural temperament of the individual, the clearness of his views, the amount of his religious knowledge, and his actual guilt.”

This must produce hatred of sin and a turning from it — Confession of it, and an earnest desire to be delivered from it. No cloaking or hiding it, as God cannot be deceived — no excusing it, as it is seen to have been committed, in many instances, voluntarily, against light and knowledge, and the warnings of God and good men.

Repentance is a continuous work. Many persons seem to have the idea that they must repent once of all their sins, and then be done with it forever — they must have great sorrow, so as to be completely broken down and overcome; and the more terrible their distress, excitement, lamentations and weeping, the deeper and truer their repentance is supposed to be; but when “they get through,” then they are done with repentance, unless, indeed, they should “fall from grace,” which is almost certain to be the case; then they must be renewed at the next “protracted meeting” or time of revival, by going through the same process! But must we not reply to all this, that as long as there is any sinning, even though it be only through infirmity and incautiousness, there must also be repenting? Luther says:

“Baptizing with water signifies that the old Adam in us is to be drowned and destroyed by daily sorrow and Repentance, together with all sins and evil lusts; and that again the new man should daily come forth and rise, that shall live in the presence of God in righteousness and purity forever.”

And in the Smalcald Articles, he says:

“And this Repentance continues with Christians until death, for it contends with the remaining sins in the flesh during the whole of life; and St. Paul testifies, in the 7th Chapter of the Romans, that he contends with “the law of sin which is in his members; ” and that not by his own unaided powers, but by the gift of the Holy Ghost, which follows upon the forgiveness of sins. This same gift (the working of the Holy Spirit) daily cleanses and scours out of us our remaining sins, and labors to make us entirely pure and holy.”

And what are the facts of the case in the experience and consciousness of the very best and most faithful of Christians? Do they ever feel themselves to be anything but sinners, pardoned and saved by grace? Knowledge of sin is a part of our Repentance; but can the knowledge of sin ever cease and be forgotten? Does not the conviction of sin abide always? Do good men ever cease to confess their sins, and to mourn over them even in the midst of their most exalted spiritual rejoicings in a Saviour’s love? Never, never! And is this not continued repentance?

2. True Repentance includes Faith in Christ. It has been a mooted question whether faith comes before or after repentance. But faith is of two kinds, usually called historical and Justifying. The former is simply belief of the truth upon satisfactory evidence, and the latter is trust in Christ for salvation. But it is clear that belief of the truth, or historical faith, must come before repentance, as it is by the truth that men come to a knowledge of sin and are led to see the necessity of repentance; but justifying faith can only come after repentance, grows out of it and is a part of it. Repentance, in its first part or narrower sense, is an indispensable antecedent and condition of saving faith, without which it cannot exist, just as the breaking up of “the fallow ground ” and the preparation of the soil are necessary to the sprouting and growth of the seed sown upon the earth. Justifying faith cannot properly be said to include repentance, because, as we see, it must, in the order of time, come after it, and cannot take place without it; but repentance is not and cannot be complete without faith, and is therefore a part of it. The fruit cannot be said to include the tree that bears it, and without which it could not exist; but it is part of the tree upon which it grows.

Let us hear the great Melanchthon a few minutes on this subject:

“But inasmuch as our opponents condemn what we have stated in regard to the two parts of Repentance, we must show that not we, but the Scriptures, have thus set forth these two parts of repentance or conversion. Christ says: ‘Come unto me all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ (Matt. xi. 28.) Here are two parts. The labor and heavy burden of which Christ speaks are the sorrow for sin, the great terror of the wrath of God felt in the heart. The other, the coming to Christ, IS FAITH, which believes that for Jesus’ sake sins are forgiven us, and that by the Holy Spirit we are “born again” and made alive. Therefore these two must be the most important part of Repentance, namely, sorrow for sin and faith in Christ. And in Mark i. 15, Jesus says again: ‘Repent ye, and believe the Gospel.’ First, he makes us sinners and alarms us; and then comforts us, and announces the forgiveness of sins. For, to believe the Gospel is not merely to receive the histories which it contains, for such faith even the devils have; but it properly means to believe that through Christ sins are forgiven us, for this is the faith which the Gospel preaches to us. Here also you see the two parts: sorrow or alarm of the conscience, when he says, ‘Repent;’ and faith, when he says, ‘Believe the Gospel.’ Should now any one say, Christ includes also the fruits of repentance, yea, the whole new life, we shall not seriously object to this. It is enough for us here, that the Scriptures expressly set forth these two parts; sorrow for sin, and faith.

“So also Paul, in all his Epistles, as often as he treats of the manner of our conversion, unites these two parts. The dying of ‘our old man’ (Rom. vi. 6), contrition and terror on account of the wrath of God and the judgment to come, and, on the contrary, our renewing by faith. For by faith we are comforted and brought to life again, and are saved from death and hell. Of these two parts he speaks clearly, in Rom. vi. 2, 4, 11, that we are ‘dead indeed unto sin,’ caused by sorrow and alarm, the first part of repentance, and are again to be raised up with Christ, brought about through faith, when we again obtain life and comfort. And, inasmuch as faith is to bring joy and peace to the conscience again, Rom. v. i, ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God,’ it follows that before there was terror and anguish in the soul. Therefore sorrow for sin and faith must go together.”

It is clear then that our Confessors are correct in stating that true Repentance has these two parts, sorrow for sin and faith in Christ, and that no amount of contrition and alarm which does not lead us to trust in Christ for salvation, can be regarded as true Repentance.