Repent Unto Life by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Delivered on Sabbath Morning, September 23, 1855, by the
REV. C. H. Spurgeon
At New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.
“Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”—Acts 11:18.
(edited, see full version on Mongerism)
May God give me grace so to speak to you that his word may be as a sharp sword, “piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow.”
By “Repentance unto life,” I think we are to understand that repentance which is accompanied by spiritual life in the soul, and ensures eternal life to every one who possesses it. “Repentance unto life,” I say, brings with it spiritual life, or rather, is the first consequent thereof. There are repentances which are not signs of life, except of natural life, because they are only effected by the power of the conscience and the voice of nature speaking in men; but the repentance here spoken of is produced by the Author of life, and when it comes, it begets such life in the soul, that he who was “dead in trespasses and sins,” is quickened together with Christ; he who had no spiritual susceptibilities, now “receives with meekness the engrafted word;” he who slumbered in the very center of corruption, receives power to become one of the sons of God, and to be near his throne. This I think is “repentance unto life,”—that which gives life unto a dead spirit.
I have said also, this repentance ensures eternal life; for there are repentances of which you hear men speaks which do not secure the salvation of the soul. Some preachers will affirm that men may repent, and may believe, and yet may fall away and perish. We will not consume our time by stopping to expose their error this morning; we have often considered it before, and have refuted all that they could say in defense of their dogma. Let us think of an infinitely better repentance. The repentance of our test is not their repentance, but it is a “repentance unto life;” a repentance which is a true sign of eternal salvation in Christ; a repentance which preserves us through this temporary state in Jesus, and which when we are passed into eternity, gives us a bliss which cannot be destroyed. “Repentance unto life “is the act of salvation of the soul, the germ which contains all the essentials of salvation, which secures them to us, and prepares us for them.
First, then, we will consider certain FALSE REPENTANCES. I will begin with this remark—that trembling beneath the sound of the gospel is not “repentance.” There are many men who when they hear a faithful gospel sermon, are exceedingly stirred and moved by it. By a certain power which accompanies the Word, God testifies that it is his own Word, and he causes those who hear it involuntarily to tremble. I have seen some men, while the truths of Scripture have been sounded from this pulpit, whose knees have knocked together, whose eyes have flowed with tears as if they had been fountains of water. I have witnessed the deep dejection of their spirit, when—as some of them have told me—they have been shaken until they knew not how to abide the sound of the voice, for it seemed like the terrible trumpet of Sinai thundering only their destruction. Well, my hearers, you may be very much disturbed under the preaching of the gospel, and yet you shall not have that “repentance unto life.”
There are many of you who cannot attend the house of God without being alarmed; you know what it is often to stand aghast at the thought that God will punish you; you may often have been moved to sincere emotion under God’s minister; but, let me tell you, you may be after all a castaway, because you have not repented of your sins, neither have you turned to God…..It is possible that you may confess your sins, and yet may not repent. You may approach God, and tell him you are a wretch indeed; you may enumerate a long list of your transgressions and of the sins that you have committed, without a sense of the heniousness of your guilt, without a spark of real hatred of your deeds. You may confess and acknowledge your transgressions, and yet have no abhorrence of sin; and if you do not in the strength of God resist sin, if you do not turn from it, this fancied repentance shall be but the guilding which displays the paint which decorates; it is not the grace which transforms into gold, which will abide the fire. You may even, I say confess your faults, and yet have not repentance….
Now, having thus warned you that there are many false kinds of repentance, I propose to occupy a short time by some remarks on TRUE REPENTANCE, and the signs whereby we may discern whether we have that “repentance” which is “unto life.”
“Repentance” is a hatred of sin; it is a turning from sin and a determination in the strength of God to forsake it. “Repentance” is a hatred of sin, and a forsaking it. It is possible for a man to repent without any terrific display of the terrors of the law; he may repent without having heard the trumpet sounds of Sinai, without having heard more than a distant rumble of its thunder. A man may repent entirely through the power of the voice of mercy. Some hearts God opens to faith, as in the case of Lydia. Others he assaults with the sledge hammer of the wrath to come; some he opens with the picklock of grace, and some with the crowbar of the law. There may be different ways of getting there, but the question is, has he got there? Is he there? It often happens that the Lord is not in the tempest or in the earthquake, but in the “still small voice.”
There is another mistake many poor people make when they are thinking about salvation, and that is—that they cannot repent enough; they imagine that were they to repent up to a certain degree, they would be saved. “Oh, sir!” some of you will say, “I have not penitence enough.” Beloved, let me tell you that there is not any eminent degree of “repentance” which is necessary to salvation. You know there are degrees of faith, and yet the least faith saves; so there are degrees of repentance, and the least repentance will save the soul if it is sincere.
The Bible says, “He that believeth shall be saved,” and when it says that, it includes the very smallest degree of faith. So when it says, “Repent and be saved,” it includes the man who has the lowest degree of real repentance. Repentance, moreover, is never perfect in any man in this mortal state. We never get perfect faith so as to be entirely free from doubting; and we never get repentance which is free from some hardness of heart. The most sincere penitent that you know will feel himself to be partially impenitent. Repentance is also a continual life-long act. It will grow continually. I believe a Christian on his death-bed will more bitterly repent than ever he did before. It is a thing to be done all your life long. Sinning and repenting—sinning and repenting, make up a Christian’s life. Repenting and believing in Jesus—repenting and believing in Jesus, make up the consummation of his happiness. You must not expect that you will be perfect in “repentance” before you are saved. No Christian can be perfect. “Repentance” is a grace.
First, I tell you, there is always sorrow with it. No man ever repents of sin without having some kind of sorrow with it. More or less intense, it may be, according to the way in which God calls him, and his previous manner of life, but there must be some sorrow. We do not care when it comes, but at some time or other it must come, or it is not the repentance of the Christian.-
Yet again, I must ask you one question more. Do you think you you’ll repent of your sins if no punishment were placed before you? or do you repent because you know you shall be punished for ever if you remain in your sins? Suppose I tell you there is no hell at all; that, if you choose, you may swear; and, if you will, you may live without God. Suppose there were no reward for virtue, and no punishment for sin, which would you choose?. Can you honestly say, this morning, “I think, I know, by the grace of God, I would choose righteousness if there were no reward for it, if there were nothing to be gained by righteousness, and nothing to be lost by sin.”
Every sinner hates his sin when he comes near to the mouth of hell; every murderer hates his crime when he comes to the gallows; I never found a child hate its fault so much as when it was going to be punished for it. If you had no cause to dread the pit—if you knew that you might give up your life to sin, and that you might do so with impunity, would you still feel that you hated sin, and that you could not, would not, commit sin, except through the infirmity of the flesh? Would you still desire holiness? Would you still desire to live like Christ? If so—if you can say this in sincerity—if you thus turn to God and hate your sin with an everlasting hatred, you need not fear but that you have a “repentance” which is “unto life.”-
“THE BLESSED BENEFICENCE OF GOD in granting to men “repentance unto life.” “Repentance,” my dear friends, is the gift of God. It is one of those spiritual favors which ensure eternal life. It is the marvel of divine mercy that it not only provides the way of salvation, that it not only invites men to receive grace, but that it positively makes men willing to be saved. God punished his Son Jesus Christ for our sins, and therein he provided salvation for all his lost children. He sends his minister; the minister bids men repent and believe, and he labors to bring them to God. They will not listen to the call, and they despise the minister. But then another messenger is sent, a heavenly ambassador who cannot fail. He summons men to repent and turn to God.
Their thoughts are a little wayward, but after he, the Divine Spirit, pleads with them, they forget what manner of men they were, and they repent and turn. Now, what would we do if we had been treated as God was? If we had made a supper or a feast, and sent out messengers to invite the guests to come, what would we do? Do you think we should take the trouble to go round and visit them all, and get them to come? And when they sat down and said they could not eat would we open their mouths? If they still declared they could not eat, should we still make them eat? Ah! beloved, I am inclined to think you would not do so. If you had signed the letters of invitation, and the invited would not come to your feast, would you not say, “You shall not have it.” But what does God do? He says, “Now I will make a feast, I will invite the people, and if they do not come in, my ministers shall go out and fetch them in bodily. I will say to my servants, go ye out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that they may partake of the feast I have prepared.” Is it not a stupendous act of divine mercy that he actually makes them willing?
He does not do it by force, but uses a sweet spiritual suasion. They are first as unwilling to be saved as they can be; “but,” says God, “that is nothing, I have power to make you turn to me, and I will.” The Holy Ghost then brings home the Word of God to the consciences of his children in so blessed a manner, that they can no longer refuse to love Jesus. Mark you, not by any force against the will, but by a sweet spiritual influence changing the will. O, ye lost and ruined sinners! stand here and admire my Master’s mercy. He sets not only a feast of good things before men, but he induces them to come and partake of them, and constrains them to continue feasting until he carries them to the everlasting eternal mansion. And as he bears them up, he says to each one, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore, by my lovingkindness I have drawn thee. Now, dost thou love me?” “Oh, Lord,” they cry, “thy grace in bringing us here proves that thou dost love us, for we were unwilling to go. Thou saidst, you shall go, we said we would not go, but thou hast made us go. And now, Lord, we bless thee, and love thee for that force. It was sweet constraint.” I was a struggling captive, but I am now made willing.
Oh! sovereign grace, my heart subdue!
I would be led in triumph too;
A willing captive to my Lord
To sing the honors of his Word.”
Well now, what say you? Some of you will say, “Sir, I have been trying to repent for a long time. In pains and afflictions I have been praying and trying to believe, and doing all I can.” I will tell you another thing: you will try a long time before you will be able to do it. That is not the way to get it. I heard of two gentlemen travelling. One of them said to the other, “I do not know how it is, but you always seem to recollect your wife and family, and all that is doing at home, and you seem as if you connected all things around you with them; but I try to bring mine to my recollection constantly, and yet I never can.”; No,” said the other, “that is the very reason—because you try. If you could connect them with every little circumstance ye meet, you would easily remember them. I think at such and such a time—now they are rising; at such and such a time—now they are at prayers; at such and such a time—now they are having their breakfast. In this way I have them still before me.” I think the same thing happens with regard to “repentance.” If a man says, “I want to believe,” and tries by some mechanical means to work himself into repentance, it is an absurdity, and he will never accomplish it. But the way for him to repent is by God’s grace to believe, to believe and think on Jesus. If he picture to himself the wounded bleeding side the crown of thorns, the tears of anguish—if he takes a vision of all that Christ suffered, I will be bound for it he will turn to him in repentance. I would stake what reputation I may have in spiritual things upon this—that a man cannot, under God’s Holy Spirit, contemplate the cross of Christ without a broken heart. If it is not so, my heart is different from any one’s else.
I have never known a man who has thought upon, and taken a view of the cross, who has not found that it begat “repentance,” and begat faith. We look at Jesus Christ if we would be saved, and we then say. “Amazing sacrifice! that Jesus thus died to save sinners.” If you want faith, remember he gives it, if you want repentance, he gives it! if you want everlasting life, he gives it liberally. He can force you to feel your great sin, and cause you to repent by the sight of Calvary’s cross, and the sound of the greatest, deepest death shriek, “Eloi! Eloi! lama sabachthani?” “My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” That will beget “repentance;” it will make you weep and say, “Alas! and did my Saviour bleed; and did my Sovereign die for me?” Then beloved, if you would have “repentance,” this is my best advice to you—look to Jesus. And may the blessed Giver of all “repentance unto salvation” guard you from the false repentances which I have described, and give you that “repentance,” which existeth unto life.
“Repent! the voice celestial cries,
Nor longer dare delay;
The wretch that scorns the mandate, dies,
And meets a fiery day.
No more the sovereign eye of GOD
O’erlooks the crimes of men;
His heralds are despatch’d abroad
To warn the world of sin.
The summons reach thro’ all the earth
Let earth attend and fear;
Listen, ye men of royal birth,
And let your vassals hear!
Together in his presence bow,
And all your guilt confess
Embrace the blessed Saviour now,
Nor trifle with his grace.
Bow, ere the awful trumpet sound,
And call you to his bar:
For mercy knows the appointed bound.
And turns to vengeance there.”