Explaining Repentance

Repentance unto Life by John Brown of Haddington

Q. 87 What is repentance unto life?

A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after new obedience.

This catechetical exploration of repentance, written by John Brown of Haddington, helpfully explores the full extent to which Christians should consider when forsaking sin. For most Christians familiar with American Evangelicalism, you will be shocked by thoroughness and intricate consideration given to turning from sin, and turning to God. He considers, in turn: 1) Worldly Sorrow, 2) Legal Repentance, 3) the Grace of Repentance, 4) Five Aspects of Gospel Repentance, 5) New Obedience, and 6) Concluding Observations. Many of us have never thought so deeply about any subject in our lives, much less repentance. May these question and answers provoke deeper and truer repentance in us all.

Q. Why is this mean of salvation called repentance unto life?

A. Because it proceeds from, and is an evidence of spiritual life, and issueth in eternal life.

Q. Is there any repentance unto death?

A. Yes; the sorrow of this world, and legal repentance.

Worldly Sorrow
Q. What call you the sorrow of this world?

A. Excessive vexation and grief on account of worldly losses and disappointments, Judges 18:24.

Q. How doth this work death?

A. It wastes our bodies wounds our souls, and tempts to self-murder.

Legal Repentance
Q. What is legal repentance?

A. That fear, grief, and reformation from sin which an unbeliever may have.

Q. Wherein do legal and gospel repentance differ?

A. In their order, cause, object, and fruits.

Q. How do they differ in their order?

A. Legal repentance goeth before faith in Christ, gospel repentance (or repentance unto life) follows after it, Zech. 12:10.

Q. How do they differ in their cause?

A. Legal repentance flows from the view of God’s justice and wrath in his threatenings and judgments; but repentance unto life flows from the view of God’s holiness and love manifested in the death of Christ, and precept of the law.

Q. How do they differ in their object?

A. In legal repentance, we are affected chiefly with the guilt of sin, and with gross sins; but in repentance unto life, we are affected chiefly with the filth of sin, the dishonour done to God by it, and with secret and beloved sins, Gen. 4.

Q. How do they differ in their fruits?

A. Legal repentance turneth us only from some acts of sin, and worketh death; but repentance unto life turneth us from the love of every sin, and leads to eternal life, 1 Kings 21:27.

Q. How doth legal repentance work death?

A. It irritates lust, fills us with wrath against God because of his justice and holiness, and promotes self-murder.

The Grace of Repentance
Q. Why is repentance unto life called a grace?

A. It is God’s free gift, and our beautiful ornament.

Q. Why is gospel repentance called a saving grace?

A. Because it is an evidence and part of begun salvation, and makes us meet for perfect salvation.

Q. Why is repentance so often joined with faith in scripture?

A. Because it inseparably flows from, and attends faith in Jesus Christ, Zech. 2:10, 1 Tim. 1:5.

Q. Hath it the same hand with faith in our salvation?

A. No; it doth receive salvation as faith doth.

Q. Who are the subjects of gospel repentance?

A. Every sinner ought to repent; but only believing sinners do, or can truly repent, Zech. 12:10.

Q. Who is the author of saving repentance?

A. God in Christ by the Holy Spirit, Acts 5:31.

Q. What is the instrumental cause of repentance?

A. God’s providence, but especially his word.

Defining Gospel Repentance
Q. In how many things doth gospel repentance consist?

A. Five, viz., a sense of sin, an apprehension of God’s mercy; grief for, hatred of, and turning from sin.

Q. What call you a sense of sin?

A. A heart affecting view of it in its nature, number, and aggravations.

Q. Why is this necessary in true repentance?

A. To make our soul sick and weary of sin, Jer. 13:27.

Q. How is this true sense of sin produced?

A. By the convictions of God’s Spirit, John 16:8.

Q. What do you mean by an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ?

A. A sight of him as merciful in pardoning our sins, and saving our souls through Christ.

Q. How is the affecting apprehension of God’s mercy produced?

A. By the Spirit’s enlightening our mind in the knowledge of Christ and his mediation, Gal. 1:16.

Q. Why is it necessary in repentance?

A. To melt our heart for sin, and keep us from despair.

Q. What is grief for sin?

A. Our sorrowing for sin as it dishonours God, defiles and wounds our own soul, and the souls of others, Psa. 51:4-17.

Q. What doth most powerfully excite true grief for sin?

A. A believing view of Christ in his sufferings.

Q. How doth this view excite true grief for sin?

A. As in the death of Christ we clearly see the greatness of that divine love against which sin is committed, and the greatness of God’s indignation at our sin.

Q. How doth the view of the greatness of God’s love, which appears in Christ’s death, excite grief for sin?

A. It fills us with indignation and shame, that we have rendered unto God hatred for such astonishing love.

Q. How doth the view of God’s indignation against sin, which appears in Christ’s death, excite grief for sin?

A. It fill us with shame and sorrow, that we have delighted so much in that abominable thing which God so hateth, as to punish it with the death of his Son.

Q. What are the properties of true grief for sin?

A. It is a godly, kindly, universal, proportionate, and superlative grief and sorrow, 2 Cor. 7:10-11.

Q. How is it a godly sorrow?

A. As sin is sorrowed for chiefly as against God, Psa. 51:4.

Q. How is it a kindly grief?

A. It flows from our love to God, and the faith of his love to us, 1 John 4:19.

Q. How is it universal grief?

A. As we grieve for all known sins with our whole heart, Psa. 15:17.

Q. How is it proportionate grief?

A. As we grieve most for our greatest sins, as original sin, unbelief, and beloved lusts, Psa. 51:3-5, Rom. 7:14-24.

Q. How is it superlative grief?

A. As we are more grieved for sin than for afflictions, Rom. 7:24.

Q. Is true grief for sin always sensibly greater than grief for afflictions?

A. No, but it is more deep and lasting, as it continues while we live, Psa. 51:3.

Q. Must tears always attend true grief for sin?

A. Many have tears for sin without true grief, and some may have true grief for sin without tears.

Q. Why is grief for sin necessary in repentance?

A. To make our soul willing to leave sin. Job 42:5-6.

Q. What is hatred of sin?

A. A dislike and abhorrence of it, and loathing ourselves for it.

Q. What chiefly excites us to the true hatred of sin?

A. A view of Christ as crucified for us, Zech. 12:10.

Q. How doth the view of this, as the greatest evidence of God’s love, stir up hatred of sin?

A. It makes us hate sin as the murdered of God’s dear Son, and our best friend, Zech. 12:10, Acts 2:36-37.

Q. How doth the view of Christ’s death, as the greatest evidence of God’s indignation at sin, excite hatred of it?

A. It makes us to hate sin because God hates it; and, as far as possible, as God hates it, Psa. 139:22-23.

Q. What are the properties of true hatred of sin?

A. It is a gracious hatred, flowing from love to God; an universal hatred of all sin, at all times; a proportionate hatred, chiefly bended against our greatest sins; a superlative hatred of sin above any other thing; a self loathing hatred, whereby we loath and abhor ourselves as the rest and lodging of sin, Psa. 97:10, and 119:104.

Q. Is it not also a perfect hatred?

A. Yes, as therein we desire to hate sin with all our heart, and are grieved that any love to sin should remain in us; and it is hatred which cannot admit of reconciliation with sin.

Q. Why is hatred of sin necessary in true repentance?

A. To make our soul turn from, and war against it.

Q. What do you understand by turning from sin?

A. Our leaving the practice of gross sins, and ceasing from the love of every sin, Psa. 119:49, Isa. 1:16.

Q. Can we return to these gross sins of which we have truly repented?

A. We cannot return to a course of such sins, nor live always hardened in them, 1 John 3:9.

Q. To whom do we turn, in leaving the pleasures and service of sin?

A. To God as our Lord and Portion.

Q. Is turning from the pleasures and service of sin different from our turning to God?

A. No; every step we turn from sin is a step towards God, Hos. 14:1.

Q. What is the cause of our turning from sin to God?

A. God’s almighty love drawing our heart, Hos. 11:4.

Q. Can then any graceless man turn from sin?

A. He may turn from the outward practice of some gross sins, but cannot turn from the love of any sin.

Q. In what manner do true penitents turn from sin to God?

A. Humbly, with a deep sense, and free confession of their sin; universally, from all sins with their whole heart; and heartily, from love to God, with full purpose of heart, and endeavor after new obedience.

Q. What mean you by turning from sin to God with a full purpose of heart?

A. Our fixed resolution of heart to war against and mortify sin, and obey God more and more, in spite of all opposition, Phil. 3:14.

Q. Are true penitents often turned out of their designed path?

A. Yes; but never from their fixed purpose against sin, Jer. 32:40, Psa. 48:5, and 119:100.

Repentance Produces New Obedience
Q. How is our full purpose of heart against sin evidenced?

A. By our endeavor after new obedience to the law of God, Psa. 119:5, 2 Cor. 7:1, Heb. 12:28.

Q. Why is this obedience called new?

A. Because it proceeds from a new principle, is influenced by new motives, directed by a new rule, and managed in a new manner to a new end, Ezek. 36:26-27.

Q. How doth it proceed from a new principle?

A. It proceeds from a new heart united to Christ, and not from the old corrupt heart, Matt. 7:17, Luke 8:15.

Q. How is this obedience influenced by new motives?

A. It is influenced by the authority of God, and his love in Christ shed abroad in our hearts; not by the old motives of the fear or favour of men, or legal fear of God’s wrath, or hope of his favour, 1 John 4:19, and v. 2.

Q. How is it directed by a new rule?

A. It is directed by the law as a rule of life; not by the law as a covenant, and our own inclination, 1 Cor. 9:21.

Q. How is this obedience new in its end?

A. Its end is the glory of God, not self-interest and applause.

Q. What are the properties (or manner) of this new obedience?

A. It is sincere, as therein we study to be in reality what we appear: spiritual, as all the powers of our soul are employed in it with holy fear and delight: constant, as we walk habitually in the ways of God as long as we live: humble, as, after we have done all, we count ourselves unprofitable servants: and universal, as we study conformity to the whole law of God, in thought, word, and deed.

Final Reasonings on Repentance
Q. What are the marks of repentance unto life?

A. A careful desire to avoid, and be rid of sin; a humble, free, and ingenuous confession of it; and a holy revenge on it, in cutting short our lusts of their wonted provision, 2 Cor. 7:11, Psa. 51, Rom. 7:14-24.

Q. For what reasons should we repent of our sin?

A. God’s mercies and judgments call us to it; his command, and our baptismal, and other engagements, bind us to it; and except we repent, we shall surely perish.

Q. When ought we to repent of our sin?

A. Immediately without delay; for the present day may be our last; and every day’s continuance in sin is a re-acting of our former sins, hardens our heart, and may provoke God to deny us grace to repent, Psa. 119:59-60.

Q. Is the repentance of the thief on the cross any encouragement to delay repentance till our last moments? — A. No; for it is but an instance of such late repentance; and that in a man who perhaps never heard of Christ before; and at such a time as the like never was, nor will be; namely, when Christ triumphed over Satan on the cross, Luke 23:40-43.

Q. Can we truly repent of ourselves?

A. No.

Q. What then should we do to obtain repentance?

A. Carefully consider our sins, and the sufferings of Christ, and cry, that, as a Prince exalted to give repentance, he may turn us, and we shall be turned, Isa. 55:7.

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