WHILE leaving a jail meeting, some years ago, a brother in
Christ handed me a slip of paper. On looking at it later, I found that it contained a list
of passages containing the word repentance. It was a gentle hint that I had
omitted preaching repentance to the prisoners, as indeed, I had.
Let us examine the
passages he brought before me and determine, if we can, the Lords mind on this
It goes without saying
that repentance was proclaimed. But the mere fact is not sufficient to guide our
steps. Christ Himself ceased to proclaim it after He was rejected. He confines
Himself to the announcement of His sufferings (Matt.16:20; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:31). But when
Luke takes up the thread concerning the things which He began to do and teach (Acts 1:1)
he reverts to this early ministry and engages our attention with the Kingdom (Acts 2:30)
and repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38)the very same subjects which the Lord had
proclaimed before He was rejected.
Now we know that the
Kingdom as proclaimed by the apostles was rejected once again (Acts 28:26,27). Stephen is
stoned (Acts 7:59). James is killed by Herod (Acts 12:1). Peter is imprisoned (Acts 12:4)
and is finally found in Babylon (1 Peter 5:13). Pauls life is imperilled and he,
too, becomes a prisoner (Acts 28:17).
If the Lord Himself
stopped the proclamation of pardon and repentance when His message was rejected, it is
certainly worth the enquiry: Has it been again withdrawn, now that the same message,
proclaimed by His apostles, has once more been rejected?
But first, let us inquire,
What is repentance? When we define our terms many difficulties disappear. To repent is,
literally, to observe afterward, to reconsider.
Such reconsideration may
lead one to turn about or be converted (Acts 3:19), but it is quite
distinct from conversion.
Likewise repentance may lead
to work (Rev.2:5), but it is not itself work, as might be supposed from some translations
which render it penance.
Those truly repentant
evidenced it by suitable fruits (Matt. 3:9; Luke 3:8; Acts 26:2,6).
Repentance may accompany
faith (Mark 1:15), but for that very reason must be distinguished from faith. It may lead
to deliverance, in a sense (2 Cor.7:10), and to life (Acts 2:18), but in itself means none
of these things, but only such a reconsideration as these may demand.
The divine picture of
repentance is found in the case of Nineveh (Matt.12:41; Luke 2:32). Jonahs message
to that great wicked city was Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!
This was no gospel; no glad or joyful message. Such a message would not have
caused repentance, for if God had a message of joy for them what could they
possibly repent of? Repentance is not produced by any gospel. That is why we read (Mark
1:15) repent ye and believe the gospel. The proclamation of judgment
is generally the moving cause of repentance. The word preach when connected
with repentance is always a proclamation as in Jonahs case. It is never
evangelize, the word generally translated preach (Matt.12:41; Mark 6:12; Luke
11:32; Mark 1:4).
Tyre and Sidon and awful
Sodom never were exhorted to repent though they were more susceptible to the proclamation
of judgment than religious Chorazin and Bethsaida and high Capernaum (Matt.2:21). If there
was any virtue in repentance and Sodom had the opportunity presented to Capernaum it would
still be a flourishing city as of old.
There are a remarkable
pair of repentance parables recorded by Luke (Luke 13:1-9 and 17:3-6). These will lead us
to see the close connection of repentance with the Kingdom of God.
Some there were in that
day, as there are now, who believe that God deals mens deserts to them in this
present life. They told the Lord how Pilate had mingled the blood of certain Galileans
with their sacrifices. He replies: Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners
above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, nay: but, except
ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. And so, too, in the case of those upon whom
the tower of Siloan fell.
And then, without further
explanation, He spoke the parable of The Fruitless Fig Tree. Three years had He been
dressing the fig tree and still there was no fruit. Three years had He been calling upon
the nation to repent and bring forth the fruits of repentance, but He found none. One more
chance would He give it. This is recorded in the book of Acts. But even this effort
failed. The fig tree has been cut down. The call to repentance failed to bring about the
The second parable of The
Wild Fig Tree (or sycamine Luke 17:3-6) is like the first, but views the
subject from a different standpoint.
After considering the
conduct which He would have them show a repentant brother, they request their Lord,
Increase our faith. And their Lord replies, If you had faith as a grain
of mustard seed, ye might say unto this wild fig tree, Be thou plucked up by the
roots, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.
Israel, politically, is
figured by a fig tree; Rome is the wild fig tree. The fruit of this wild fig or mulberry
tree is an insipid imitation of the good fig tree, eaten only by the poorest classes (Amos
So Roman world-wide
dominion had the appearance of that Kingdom which will bear the sweet fruits of
righteousness. Its soft, brittle timber was a poor substitute for the princely cedars,
though it did ape the semblance of the cedars imperial majesty (Isa.9:10).
How differently the Master
would have them treat these two trees! All His labor was directed to save one of them from
destruction. A grain of faith on their part would have transplanted the other to the midst
of the sea, far from Israels land. In plain words, if they really repented and
believed, they would have dwelt beneath the shade of their own fig tree, the Kingdom
Jehovah had promised them, and the Roman yoke would soon be broken. Only their
unrepentant, unbelieving attitude bound them with the chains of Rome.
Thus we see how vitally
repentance is linked with the Kingdom as proclaimed by our Master in His early ministry,
before His rejection. And this was in strict accord with Moses and the prophets. The
thirtieth chapter of Deuteronomy lays down the conditions upon which the Kingdom will
come. The very first is repentance. And it shall come to pass when all
these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee,
and thou shalt call them to mind... This was the foundation of John the
Baptists preaching, Repent ye. Why? For the Kingdom of the heavens
has drawn nigh (Matt.3:2). This Kingdom, which will break in pieces and consume the
Babylonian, the Medo Persian, the Grecian and the Roman world powers, which shall never be
left to any other people but the Chosen Nation (Dan.2:44) this Kingdom will never
be theirs until they enter it through the portals of repentance. Those who do not repent
and bring forth its proper fruits will be baptized with fire, they will be burned up as
Once we have grasped the
thought that repentance is the key to the earthly Kingdom, we will understand why it is
that it is hardly mentioned except when that Kingdom is proclaimed. The Kingdom is in view
in the early part of the Gospels, it is again presented in the book of Acts, and it is
finally attained in the Revelation. So we find that the verb occurs twelve times (the
number of government) in the Revelation; four times (the number of the earth) referring to
the Kingdom in the Acts, and sixteen times (four squared) in the Gospels. It occurs only
once in a private way in the epistles of Paul (2 Cor.12:21).
As a noun it occurs only
four times in Pauls epistles proper and none refer to the Kingdom. John had preached
the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel (Acts 13:24). The Lord continued
this proclamation, and even after His exaltation, He is proclaimed by Peter as a Prince
and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel....
It is not until Peter
visits Cornelius that we have any hint that the nations have any part in this. When the
events attending Peters visit are rehearsed, they were amazed and exclaimed,
Then, indeed, to the Nations, too, God has granted repentance unto life! (Acts
2:18). But the very next statement shows that they did not follow up its proclamation.
It was not until Paul went
to the nations that repentance was proclaimed to them. At Athens he could say, now
chargeth He all men everywhere to repent. Why? Not on account of Gods
grace as made known in His glad message, but Because He has appointed a day in the
which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man Whom He hath ordained...
These are the judgments which will usher in and sustain the Kingdom. It was while this
Kingdom was still in view, before Israel was set aside, that Paul testified both to Jews
and Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ
But while Paul preached
thus in his itinerant ministry, his epistles, written in view of or after Israels
final rejection of their King, contain nothing of repentance in connection with the
gospel. His epistle to the Romans is a grand, complete, exhaustive treatise on the gospel,
yet repentance is altogether omitted, except where he notes how the goodness (not
grace) of God ought to lead men to repentance, but fails to do so (Rom.2:4).
The gospel of God and the
gospel of the mystery (Rom.1:1 and 16:25) immeasurably transcend the proclamation of
repentance and pardon, the portals to the Kingdom. Pardon might be withdrawn
(Matt.18:21-35). Many of those who repented during the proclamation of the Kingdom,
afterwards fell away (Heb.6:6). These, the apostle tells us, it is impossible to renew
again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put
Him to an open shame. The unrepentant nation had crucified their Christ and now these
apostates repeat their rejection of the Kingdom, and crucify the King again.
But no such dire apostasy
is possible to those who believe Gods glad message and the proclamation of the
reconciliation as set forth in the Roman letter. For such there is no condemnation:
nothing can separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
And here is where the
greatest mischief has been wrought. Not only has the gospel been dragged down from its
heavenly height, but those who have believed it are being harassed by doubts which are
engendered by failing to recognize Gods distinct message for the earthly Kingdom.
There is a grand harmony in all Gods works which is plain enough in nature, but
which seems almost unknown to spiritual eyes.
The bird has its home in
the air, the fish in the sea and other animals upon the ground. Each knows its place; but
Gods people seem continually inclined to swim with their wings or grovel in the
ground when their right place is to be pinioned in the heights of heaven.
Let us remember, the Kingdom
has been rejected. And all that which was intended to bring it about must not be
pressed into service for which it is not fit, but should await the time when finally God
sends His Christ again and He falls like a stone upon mans grand monarchies and
grinds them to powder. In view of that time, repentance will again be urged as is clearly
seen in the oft-repeated charge in the seven letters to the churches in Rev.2 and 3 and in
the charges against apostate Israel (Rev.16:9-11) and the remainder of mankind
Then it will be in point
to proclaim repentance once again.
Meanwhile, we should
proclaim peace. We should point men, not to their feelings or misdeeds or coming judgment,
but to Christ. Not even to the judgment due their sins, but His judgment on the
cross which fends all thought of wrath.
For the present, God is
not counting mens offenses against them. He is beseeching men to receive the
reconciliation effected by the death of His Son. Nor penance, nor penitence, nor
repentance may intrude or obscure that marvelous mystery of the gospel, the
reconciliation. God asks nothing now from man. Yea, more than that, God Himself is
entreating men to accept the reconciliation He has wrought (2 Cor.5:17-20). In the past
our Lord could tell them, If thy brother repent, forgive him (Luke 17:3-4) for
God was acting so at that time. Now, however, as beloved children we are to imitate God in
forgiving one another quite apart from any repentance on the part of our brethren. The
reason for this is found in the fact that God Himself acts thus. He points to Himself and
His gift His Son and asks alone for faith in Him. He does not ask the sinner
to look back or within, but only up. One glimpse of Him will entail far deeper loathing
not only of our past, but of ourselves, than any repentance could ever bring about. Indeed
our past is in the sepulchre, buried from our sight. Our life is Christ and this looks
back to no repentance.
But, some will
say, I never saw a real case of conversion yet, but it was accompanied by
repentance. This may be quite true, but, shall we mold Gods word to suit our
experience or the experience of others when that experience is itself the result of
defective teaching? No! rather let us mold our experience to suit His word, and let us
value it only in as much as it agrees with what He has said.
Repentance is not
necessary to faith in the gospel. Take the pattern case which God has given us for a
standard. Abraham believed Gods good news concerning the seed. This faith God
reckoned to him for righteousness. Did he repent? What call was there for repentance? Good
news may be believed without a previous repentance.
In the case of the Kingdom
matters are different. It cannot come until God has first emptied the hoarded bowls of
wrath upon His apostate people and broken the seals of judgment that right a rebellious
world. The Kingdom must be entered through much tribulation. Its nearness means judgment.
Therefore we read Repent, for the Kingdom of the heavens, has drawn nigh.
Therefore John the Baptist goes on to warn them of the wrath to come.
But nowadays there is no
mixture of judgment in the gospel, except that which Christ Himself bore and which is past
long since. This is the plain teaching of the fifth chapter to the Romans, We shall
be saved from wrath through Him (Rom.5:9).
This is one of our
especial blessings, that, in that judgment era, whether we are wakeful or drowsy, we shall
live together with Him. For this He is coming to the air to receive us to Himself (1
O, that we knew the
sufficiency of Christ for everything! We are so anxious to pry men into the
Kingdom that we invent various crowbars to get them in, all the while ignoring
the great truth that the gospel is Gods power for salvation (Rom.1:16). We
preach on all sorts of topics from sanitation to sanctification (ever tinkering with man
himself) when the gospel is concerning His Son (Rom.1:3). In a word we are trying
to bring men to Christ, when He would have us bring Christ to men!
How grand it is to fall
back upon God Himself! He will see to it that everyone whom He has selected will be
invited and justified and sanctified. And He does it in spite of all the stumbling blocks
we put in the sinners way. Some preach law outright, some regeneration, some the
spirits work, some baptism, some repentance but none of these are good
news; indeed, there is no good news apart from Christ.
Let it be our precious
privilege to preach Christ crucified to those who know Him not; and to those who know Him,
Christ glorified. Let Christ be first and Christ be last and Christ fill all between. Let
us not look back and vaunt ourselves with, I prayed, I repented, I
was baptized, and I, but let us rather shout with the Apostle no
longer I, but CHRIST! If I had a hand in my salvation it must needs contain a
flaw, for I find failure fills everything I do. But if Christ alone deserves the
crown, then all like Him is perfect and immutable. Some who repented fell away (Heb.6:6)
and it was impossible to renew them again to repentance. Therefore the apostle exhorts
them to leave repentance from dead works (Heb.6:1).
It is Gods purpose
that in all things Christ should have the preeminence and that all fullness
should dwell in Him. He is Gods fullness. He is our fullness. Both God and His
saints are mutually and completely furnished in Christ (Col.1:19,20; 2:9,10).
A. E. Knoch
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