By: Charles Spurgeon
Note: This has been edited for brevity.
Perhaps some of the Puritan fathers may have gone too far, and have given too great a prominence to the terror of the Lord in their ministry; but the age in which we live has tried to forget those terrors altogether, and if we dare to tell men that God will punish them for their sins, we are then accused of trying to frighten them into religion, and if we faithfully and honestly tell our listeners that sin will bring certain judgment, it is said that we are attempting to scare them into goodness. Now we don't care what men mockingly accuse us of; we feel it is our duty, when men sin, to tell them that they will be punished; and so long as the world will not give up its sin, we feel we must not cease our warnings. But the cry of the age is, that God is merciful, that God is love. Yes, who said He wasn't?
But remember it is equally true, God is just, severely and inflexibly just! He would not be God, if He were not just; He could not be merciful if He were not just, for punishment of the wicked is demanded by the highest mercy to the rest of mankind. Rest assured, however, that He is just, and that the words I am about to read you from God's word are true: "The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God;" "God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses His wrath every day;" "If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready. He has also prepared for Himself deadly weapons; He makes His arrows fiery shafts" (NASB).
Because this is a wicked age, it will not accept the idea of a real hell; and because it is hypocritical, it will speak of hell, but only with fictitious punishment. This doctrine is so prevalent as to make even the ministers of the gospel flinch from their duty in declaring the day of wrath. How few there are who will solemnly tell us of the judgment to come. They preach of God's love and mercy, as they ought to do, and as God has commanded them; but what good is it to preach mercy unless they preach also the doom of the wicked? And how shall we hope to carry out the primary purpose of preaching unless we warn men that if they "Don't repent of their sin, God will sharpen His sword in judgment?"
To begin, then: the repenting here meant is genuine, not artificial--not that which stops with a bunch of promises and vows, but that which deals with the real acts of life. Possibly one of you will say, this morning, "Look, I will turn to God; from this time forward I will not sin, but I will endeavor to walk in holiness; my vices shall be abandoned, my evil will be thrown the winds, and I will turn to God with a sincere heart;" but, maybe tomorrow you will have forgotten this; you will weep a tear or two under the preaching of God's word, but by tomorrow every tear shall have been dried, and you will utterly forget that you ever came to church at all.
How many of us are like men who see their faces in a mirror, and walk away and forget what we looked like! Yes, my friends, it is not your promise of repentance that can save you; it is not your vow, it is not your solemn declaration, it is not the tear that is dried more easily than the dew-drop by the sun; it is not the momentary emotion of the heart, which constitutes a real turning to God. There must be a true and actual abandonment of sin, and a turning to righteousness in real act and deed in every day life. Do you say you are sorry, and repent, and yet go on from day to day, just as you always have before? Will you now bow your heads, and say, "Lord, I repent," and in a little while commit the same acts of sin again? If you do, your repentance is worse than nothing, and will make your punishment even more sure; for he that makes a promise to his Maker, and does not keep his promise, has committed another sin, in that he has attempted to deceive the Almighty, and lie to the God that made him. Repentance, to be true, to be evangelical, must be a repentance which really affects our outward behavior.
Next, repentance to be true "must be total." How many will say, "Lord, I will give up this sin and the this other one; but there are certain favorite lusts which I must hang on to." O friends, in God's name let me tell you, it is not the giving up of one sin, nor fifty sins, which is true repentance; it is the serious giving up of every sin. If you conceal one of these accursed vipers in your heart, then your repentance is nothing but a fake. If you indulge in only one lust, and give up every other, then that one lust, like one leak in a ship, will sink your soul. It is not sufficient just to give up your outward sins; it is not enough just to give up the most wicked sin of your daily life; it is all or nothing which God demands "Repent" He says; and when he commands you to repent, He means, repent of all your sins, otherwise He never can accept your repentance as being real and genuine. The truly repentant person hates all of their sins, not just certain ones. He says, "Cover yourself with the finest gold, O sin, I will still hate you! Yes, cover yourself with pleasure, make yourself flashy, like the snake with its turquoise scales--I still hate you, for I know your venom, and I run from you, even when you come to me in the most illusive clothing." All sin must be given up, or else you will never have Christ; all evil must be renounced, or else the gates of heaven must be locked to keep you out forever. Let us, remember, then, that for repentance to be sincere, it must be total repentance.
Again: when God says, "If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword," He means "urgent" repentance. You say, when we are nearing the end of our mortal life, and when we are entering the borders of the thick darkness of the future state, then we will change our ways. But my dear listeners, do not delude yourselves. Few have ever changed after a long life of sin. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" If so, let him that is accustomed to doing evil learn to do well. Put no faith in the repentance which you promised yourselves that you would declare on your death beds. There are ten thousand arguments against one, that if you do not repent in health, you will never repent in sickness.
Too many have promised themselves a quiet time before they leave the world, when they could turn their face to the wall and confess their sins; but how few have found that time of silence! Don't men drop dead in the streets--yes, even in the church pew? Don't they die at their places of employment? And when death is gradual, it offers only a feeble time for repentance. Many a Christian has said on his death bed, "O! if I had to now seek my God; if I had to now cry to Him for mercy, what would become of me? The pain of death is enough, without the agony of repentance. It is enough to have the body tortured with the often pains of death, without having the soul torn with sorrow." Sinners! God said, "Today, if you hear my voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me."
When God the Holy Spirit convinces men of sin, they will never talk of delays. You may never have another day to repent in. Therefore, says the voice of wisdom, "repent now." The Jewish rabbis said, "Let every man repent one day before he dies; and since he may die tomorrow, let him take heed to turn from his evil ways today." Even so we say, immediate repentance is that which God demands, for He has never promised you that you will have any other hour to repent in, except the one that you now have.
Furthermore; the repentance described here as being absolutely necessary is a sincere repentance. It is not a phony tear; it is not hanging out the banner of grief, while you have frivolity in your hearts; it is not having a bright light within, and closing all the blinds on the windows by a pretended repentance. It is the putting out the party candles in the heart; it is sorrow of soul, which is true repentance. A man may renounce every outward sin, and yet not really repent. True repentance, is a turning of the heart, as well as of the life; it is the giving up of the whole soul to God, to be His forever and ever; it is a renunciation of the sins of the heart, as well as the corruptions of the life.
Yes! dear listeners, let none of us dream that we have repented when we have only made a false and make believe repentance; let none of us take that to be the work of the Spirit which is only the work of poor human nature; let us not dream that we have turned to God in true salvation, when, perhaps, we have only turned to ourselves. And let us not think that it is enough to have turned from one vice to another, or from vice to virtue; let us remember it must be a turning of the whole soul, so that the old man is made new in Christ Jesus; otherwise we have not answered the requirements of the text--we
have not turned to God.
And lastly on this point, this repentance must be "perpetual." It is not my turning to God today that will be a proof that I am a true convert; it is the forsaking of my sin throughout my entire life, until I am laid in the grave. You need not dream that to be moral for a week will be proof that you are saved; it is a continuous rejection of evil. The change which God works is neither a momentary nor a superficial change; not a simple cutting of the top of a weed, but a complete eradication of it; not the sweeping away of the dust of one day, but the taking away of that which is the cause of the defilement. In olden times, when rich and generous kings came into their cities they made the fountains run with milk and wine; but the fountain was not therefore a fountain of milk and wine forever; tomorrow it will run with water as before.
So today you may go home and pretend to pray; you may today be serious, tomorrow you may be honest, and the next day you may pretend to be devout; but if you return, as Scripture says it, "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud," your repentance will but sink you deeper into hell, instead of being a proof of divine grace in your hearts.
It is very hard to distinguish between legal repentance and evangelical repentance; however, there are certain marks by which they may be distinguished, and at the risk of tiring you, we will just notice one or two of them; and may God grant that you may find them in your own souls! Legal repentance is a fear of damning; evangelical repentance is a fear of sinning.
Legal repentance makes us fear the wrath of God; evangelical repentance makes us fear the cause of that wrath--sin. When a man repents with that grace of repentance which God the Spirit works in him, he repents not of the punishment which is to follow the deed, but of the deed itself; and he feels that even if there were no pit of Hell for the wicked; if there were no ever-gnawing worm of torment, and no everlasting fire, he would still hate sin. It is such repentance as this which every one of you must have, or else you will be lost. It must be a hatred of sin. Do not suppose that because when it is your time to die that you will be afraid of eternal torment, therefore that will be repentance. Every thief is afraid of the prison; but he will steal tomorrow if you set him free. Most men who have committed murder tremble at the sight of the electric chair, but they would murder again if they were allowed to live. It is not the hatred of the punishment that is repentance; it is the hatred of the sin itself. Do you feel that you have such a repentance as that? If not, these thundering words must be preached to you again--"If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His Sword" (NASB).
Sinner! You are so desperately set on sin, that I have no hope that you will ever turn from it of yourself. But, listen! He who died on Calvary is exalted on high "to give repentance and forgiveness of sin." Do you this morning feel that you are a sinner? If so, ask Christ to give you repentance, for He can work repentance in your heart by His Spirit, though you can't work it there yourself. Is your heart like iron? He can put it into the furnace of his love and make it melt. Is your soul like a very hard rock? His grace is able to dissolve it, like the ice is melted before the sun. He can make you repent, though you can't make yourself repent. If you feel your need of repentance, I will not now say to you "repent," for I believe there are certain acts that must precede a sense of repentance. I advise you to go to your homes, and if you feel that you have sinned, and yet cannot sufficiently repent of your sin, bow your knees before God and confess your sins; tell Him you cannot repent as you should; tell Him your heart is hardened; tell Him it is cold as ice. You "can" do that if God has made you feel your need of a Savior. Then if it should be laid on your heart to endeavor to seek after repentance, I will tell you the best way to find it. Spend an hour first in trying to remember your sins; and when conviction has gotten a firm hold on you, then spend another hour--where? At Calvary, my listener. Sit down and read that chapter which contains the history and mystery of the God that loved and died; sit down and think you see that glorious Man, with blood dripping from His hands, and His feet gushing rivers of blood; and if that does not make you repent, with the help of God's Spirit, then I know of nothing that can. An old preacher once said: "If you feel that you do not love God, love Him till you feel you do; if you think you cannot believe, believe Him till you feel you believe." Many a man says he cannot repent while he is repenting. Keep on with that repentance, till you feel you have repented.
O! what would I give if one of my listener should be blessed by God to go home, and repent! If I had worlds to buy one of your souls, I would readily give them, if I might but bring one of you to Christ. I shall never forget the hour when God's mercy first looked on me. It was in a place very different from this, among a despised people, in an insignificant little chapel of a peculiar sect. I went there bowed down with guilt, laden with sins. The minister walked up the pulpit stairs, opened his Bible, and read that precious text: "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other;" and, as I thought, fixing his eyes on me, before he began to preach to others, he said: "Young man! Turn! Turn! Turn! You are one of the ends of the earth; you feel you are; you know your need of a Savior; you are trembling because you think He will never save you. He says this morning 'Turn!'"