Adapted from a Sermon by J.C. Ryle
Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:3
Our text this morning, at first sight, looks stern and severe: “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”—I can imagine someone saying, “Is this the Gospel?” “Are these glad tidings? Is this the good news of which ministers speak?”—“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”(John 6:60.)
But from whose lips did these words come? They came from the lips of One who loves us with a love that passes knowledge, even Jesus Christ, the Son of God. They were spoken by One who so loved us that He left heaven for our sakes,—came down to earth for our sakes,—lived a poor, humble life for thirty-three years on earth for our sakes,—went to the cross for us, went to the grave for us, and died for our sins. The words that come from lips like these, must surely be words of love.
And, after all, what greater proof of love can be given than to warn a friend of coming danger? The father who sees his son tottering toward the brink of a precipice, and as he sees him cries out sharply, “Stop, stop!”—does not that father love his son?—The mother who sees her infant on the point of eating some poisonous berry, and cries out sharply, “Stop, stop! put it down!” —does not that mother love that child?—It is indifference which leaves people alone, and allows them to go on everyone in his own way. It is love, tender love, which warns, and raises the cry of alarm. The cry of “Fire! Fire!” at midnight, may sometimes startle a man out of his sleep, rudely, harshly, unpleasantly. But who would complain, if that cry was the means of saving his life? The words, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” may seem at first sight stern and severe. But they are words of love, and may be the means of delivering a precious soul from hell.
Our attention will be drawn to three things as we consider this text of Scripture.
I. First of all, we will consider the nature of repentance: —What is it?
II. Secondly, the necessity of repentance: —Why is repentance needful?
III. Thirdly, the encouragements to repentance: —What is there to lead men to repent?
I. First of all, what is repentance?
Let us see that we set down our feet firmly on this point. The importance of the question cannot be overrated. Repentance is one of the foundation stones of Christianity. Fifty times, at least, we find repentance spoken of in the New Testament.
What was the first doctrine our Lord Jesus Christ preached? We are told, that He said, “repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15.)
What did the Apostles proclaim when the Lord sent them out the first time? They “proclaimed that people should repent” (Mark 6:12.)
What was the charge which Jesus gave His disciples when He left the world? That “repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” (Luke 24:47.)
What was the concluding appeal of the first sermons which Peter preached? “Repent and be baptized.” “Repent therefore, and turn back.” (Acts 2:38; 3:19.)
What was the summary of doctrine which Paul gave to the Ephesian elders, when he parted from them? He told them that he had taught them publicly, and from house to house, “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:21.)
What was the description which Paul gave of his own ministry, when he made his defence before Festus and Agrippa? He told them that he had showed all men that they should “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20.)
What was the account given by the believers at Jerusalem of the conversion of the Gentiles? When they heard of it they said, “then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts11:18.)
Surely we must all agree that these are serious considerations. They ought to show the importance of the question we are considering. A mistake about repentance is a most dangerous mistake. An error about repentance is an error that lies at the very roots of our religion.
I. What, then, is repentance? When can it be said of any man, that he repents?
Repentance is a thorough change of man’s natural heart with respect to the subject of sin. We are all born in sin. We naturally love sin. We take to sin, as soon as we can act and think, as the bird takes to flying, and the fish takes to swimming. There never was a child that required schooling or education in order to learn deceitfulness, sensuality, passion, self-will, gluttony, pride, and foolishness. These things are not picked up from bad companions, or gradually learned by a long course of tedious instruction. They spring up of themselves, even when boys and girls are brought up alone. The seeds of them are evidently the natural product of the heart. The aptitude of all children to these things is an unanswerable proof of the corruption and fall of man.
Now when this heart of ours is changed by the Holy Spirit, when this natural love of sin is cast out, then takes place that change which the Word of God calls “repentance.” The man in whom the change is wrought is said to “repent.” He may be called, in one word, a “penitent” man.
But when doctrines of this kind are handled it is not safe to deal in general statements only. Let us now look into the parts and portions of which repentance is made up. Let us see something of the experience of every truly penitent man.
(i) First, true repentance begins with knowledge of sin.
The eyes of the penitent man are suddenly opened. He sees with dismay and confusion the length and breadth of God’s holy law, and the extent, the enormous extent, of his own transgressions. He discovers, to his surprise, that in thinking himself a “good sort of man,” and a man with a “good heart,” he has been under a huge delusion. He finds out that, in reality, he is wicked, and guilty, and corrupt, and bad in God’s sight. His pride breaks down. His high thoughts melt away. He sees that he is neither more nor less than a great sinner. This is the first step in true repentance.
(ii) Next, true repentance goes on to work sorrow for sin.
The heart of a penitent man is touched with deep remorse because of his past transgressions. He is cut to the heart to think that he should have lived so badly and so wickedly. He mourns over time wasted, over talents misspent, over God dishonoured, over his own soul injured. The remembrance of these things is grievous to him. The burden of these things is sometimes almost intolerable. When a man so sorrows, you have the second step in true repentance.
(iii) Next, true repentance proceeds, further, to produce in a man confession of sin.
The tongue of a penitent man is loosed. He feels he must speak to that God against whom he has sinned. Something within him tells him he must cry to God, and pray to God, and talk with God, about the state of his own soul. He must pour out his heart, and acknowledge his iniquities, at the throne of grace. They are a heavy burden within him, and he can no longer keep silence. He can keep nothing back. He will not hide anything. He goes before God, pleading nothing for himself, and willing to say, “I have sinned against heaven and before you: my iniquity is great. God be merciful to me, a sinner!” When a man thus goes to God in confession, you have the third step in true repentance.
(iv) Next, true repentance, furthermore, shows itself before the world in a thorough breaking off from sin.
The life of a penitent man is altered. The course of his daily conduct is entirely changed. A new King reigns within his heart. He puts off the old man. What God commands he now desires to practise; and what God forbids he now desires to avoid. He strives in all ways to keep clear of sin, to fight with sin, to war with sin, to get the victory over sin. He ceases to do evil. He learns to do well. He breaks off sharply from bad ways and bad companions. He labours, however feebly, to live a new life. When a man does this, you have the fourth step in true repentance.
(v) True repentance, in the last place, shows itself by producing in the heart a settled habit of deep hatred of all sin.
The mind of a penitent man becomes a mind habitually holy. He abhors that which is evil, and cleaves to that which is good. He delights in the law of God. He comes short of his own desires not infrequently. He finds in himself an evil principle warring against the spirit of God. He finds himself cold when he would be hot, backward when he would be forward, heavy when he would be lively in God’s service. He is deeply conscious of his own infirmities. He groans under a sense of indwelling corruption. But still, for all that, the general bias of his heart is towards God, and away from evil. He can say with David, “I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way.” (Psa.119:128.) When a man can say this, you have the fifth, or crowning step, of true repentance.
But now, is the picture of repentance complete? No, there remains yet one thing which ought never to be forgotten. Were it not to be mentioned hearts may be made sad that God would not have made sad, and raise seeming barriers between men’s souls and heaven.
True repentance, such as has just been described, is never alone in the heart of any man. It always has a companion—a blessed companion. It is always accompanied by lively faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Wherever faith is, there is repentance; wherever repentance is, there is always faith. These two graces are never found separate one from the other. Just as you cannot have the sun without light, or ice without cold, or fire without heat,—so long you will never find true faith without true repentance, and you will never find true repentance without lively faith. The two things will always go side by side.
And now, before we go any further, let us search and try our own hearts, and see what we know about true repentance. I do not say that any man ever knows sin, or mourns for sin, or confesses sin, or forsakes sin, or hates sin, perfectly, thoroughly, completely, and as he ought. But this I do say, that all true Christians will recognize something which they know and have felt, in the things which have just been said. Repentance, such as has been described, will be, in the main, the experience of every true believer. Search, then, and see what you know of it in your own soul.
Beware that you make no mistake about the nature of true repentance. The devil knows too well the value of that precious grace not to dress up imitations of it. Wherever there is good currency there will always be counterfeit money. Wherever there is a valuable grace, the devil will put in circulation counterfeits and shams of that grace, and try to palm them off on men’s souls. Make sure that you are not deceived.
(i) Be careful that your repentance be a business of your heart.
It is not a grave face or a round of self-imposed austerities,—it is not this alone which makes up true repentance towards God. The real grace is something far deeper than a mere affair of face, and clothes, and days, and forms. Ahab could put on sackcloth when it served his purposes. But Ahab never repented.
(b) Be careful that your repentance be a repentance in which you turn to God.
Roman Catholics can run to priests and confessionals, when they are frightened. Felix could tremble, when he heard the Apostle Paul preach. But all this is not true repentance. See that your repentance leads you to God, and make you flee to Him as your best Friend.
(c) Be careful that your repentance be a repentance attended by a thorough forsaking of sin.
Sentimental people can cry when they hear moving sermons on Sundays, and yet return to their worldly occupations week after week. Herod liked to hear John the Baptist preach, and heard him gladly. But feelings in religion are worse than worthless, unless they are accompanied by practice. Mere sentimental excitement, without thorough breaking off from sin is not the repentance which God approves. (Mark 6:20.)
(d) Be careful, above all things, that your repentance be closely bound up with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
See that your convictions be convictions which never rest except at the foot of the cross where Jesus Christ died. Judas Iscariot could say, “I have sinned,” but Judas never turned to Jesus. Judas never looked by faith to Jesus, and therefore Judas died in his sins.
Real conviction of sin is that which makes a man flee to Christ, and mourn, because by his sins he has pierced the Lord who bought him. It is that of a soul under which a man feels much about Christ, and grieves to think of the injury he has done to so gracious a Saviour. Such repentance comes down from heaven. Such repentance is planted in man’s heart by God the Holy Spirit.
II. Passing on now to the second point which was proposed: the necessity of repentance. Why is repentance needful?
Our text shows clearly the necessity of repentance.—The words of our Lord Jesus Christ are distinct, express, and emphatic: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” All, all, without exception, need repentance toward God. It is not only necessary for thieves, murderers, drunkards, adulterers, and the inmates of prisons and of jails. No, all, without exception, need repentance toward God. All are born in sin, and all must repent and be converted if they would be saved. All must have their hearts changed about sin. All must repent, as well as believe the Gospel.
But from where comes the necessity of repentance? Why is such tremendously strong language used about this necessity? What are the reasons, what are the causes, why repentance is so needful?
(i) For one thing, without repentance there is no forgiveness of sins.
In saying this, it must be emphasized that the tears of repentance wash away no sins. Our best repentance is a poor, imperfect thing, and needs repenting over again. We are counted righteous before God only for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works.
But still it is no less true that justified people are always penitent people, and that a forgiven sinner will always be a man who mourns over, and loathes his sins. God in Christ is willing to receive rebellious man, and grant him peace, if he only come to Him in Christ’s name, however wicked he may have been. But God requires, and requires justly, that the rebel throws down his arms. The Lord Jesus Christ is ready to pity, pardon, relieve, cleanse, wash, sanctify, and fit for heaven. But the Lord Jesus Christ desires to see a man hate the sins that he wishes to be forgiven. Let some men call this “legality” if they will. Let some call it “bondage” if they please. But what do the Scriptures say? The testimony of God’s Word is plain and unmistakable. Justified people are always penitent people. Without repentance there is no forgiveness of sins.
(ii) For another thing, without repentance there is no happiness in the life that now is.
There may be high spirits, excitement, laughter and merriment, so long as health is good, and money is in the pocket. But these things are not solid happiness. There is a conscience in all men, and that conscience must be satisfied. So long as conscience feels that sin has not been repented of and forsaken, so long it will not be quiet, and will not let a man feel comfortable within. We all of us have an inner man, unknown to the world,—an inner man, with which our companions and friends often know nothing of. That inner man has a burden upon it so long as sin is not repented of; and until that burden is taken off, that inner man has no real comfort. You might as well expect the solar system to go on well without the sun, as expect that heart of yours to be comfortable when God is not in His place. The great account with God must be settled. The King must be upon His throne. Then, and not until then, there will be peace within. Without repentance there can be no true happiness. We must repent if we want to be happy.
(iii) For another thing, without repentance there can be no conformity for heaven in the world that is yet to come.
Heaven is a prepared place, and they who go to heaven must be a prepared people. Our hearts must be in tune for the occupations of heaven, or else heaven itself would be a miserable place. Our minds must be in harmony with those of the inhabitants of heaven, or else the society of heaven would be intolerable to us. If you went there with an impenitent heart, heaven would be no heaven to your soul. What could you possibly do in heaven, if you got there with a heart loving sin? To which of all the saints would you speak? By whose side would you sit down? Surely the angels of God would make no sweet music to the heart of him who cannot bear to be with saints on earth, and never praised the Lamb for redeeming love! Surely the company of patriarchs, and apostles, and prophets, would be no joy to that man who will not read his Bible now, and does not care to know what apostles and prophets wrote. There really can be no happiness in heaven, if we get there with an impenitent heart. As the fish is not happy when it is out of water, an unconverted, impenitent man, would not be happy if he got to heaven without a heart changed by the Holy Spirit. He would be a creature out of his proper element. He would have no faculties to enable him to enjoy his holy dwelling place. Without a penitent heart there is no qualification “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” We must repent, if we want to go to heaven. (Col 1:12.)
I can only urge you to lay to heart the things which have just been said, and to ponder them well. You live in a world of cheating, imposition, and deception. Let no man deceive you about the necessity of repentance. Would that professing Christians would see, and know, and feel, more than they do, the necessity, the absolute necessity, of true repentance towards God! There are many things which are not needful. Riches are not needful. Health is not needful. Fine clothes are not needful. Noble friends are not needful. The favour of the world is not needful. Gifts and learning are not needful. Millions have reached heaven without these things. Thousands are reaching heaven every year without them. But no one ever reached heaven without “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:21)
Let no one ever persuade you that any religion deserves to be called the Gospel, in which repentance toward God does not have a central and prominent place. So long as you hug your sins, and cleave to your sins, and will have your sins, so long you may talk as you please about the Gospel, but your sins are not forgiven. You may call that legal, if you like. You may say, if you please, you “hope it will be all right in the end;—God is merciful;—God is love;—Christ has died;—I hope I shall go to heaven after all.” No, I tell you, it is not all right. It will never be all right, at that rate. You are trampling underfoot the blood of atonement. You have as yet no part or lot in Christ. So long as you do not repent of sin, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is no Gospel to your soul. Christ is a Saviour from sin, not a Saviour for man in sin. If a man will have his sins, the day will come when that merciful Saviour will say to him, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt. 25:41.)
Let no one ever delude you into supposing that you can be happy in this world without repentance. You may laugh and play, and fill your time with amusements—but all this is no proof that you are happy. So long as you do not quarrel with sin, you will never be truly happy. Thousands go on for a time in this way, and seem merry before the eyes of men, and yet in their hearts carry about a lurking sorrow. When they are alone they are wretched. When they are not in jovial company they are low. Conscience makes cowards of them. They do not like being by themselves. They hate quiet thinking. They must constantly have some new excitement. Every year they must have more. The man who seeks happiness in anything except in God, needs greater excitement every year that he lives, and after all is never happy.
Yes! and worse than all, the longer you go on without repentance, the more unhappy will that heart of yours be. When old age creeps over you, and grey hairs appear on your head,—when you are unable to go where you once went, and take pleasure where you once took pleasure,—your wretchedness and misery will break in upon you like an armed man. The more impenitent a man is, the more miserable he becomes.
While the impenitent man has health and strength, and goes on in the whirl of business, he will not hear conscience. He drowns and silences its voice by plunging into the world. He will not allow the inner man to speak to him. But the day will come when conscience will be heard, whether he likes it or not. The day will come when its voice will sound in his ears, and pierce him like a sword. The time will come when he must retire from the world, and lie down on the sick bed, and look death in the face. And then conscience, that solemn witness, will sound in his heart, and if he has not repented, will bring wretchedness and misery to his soul. Consider this well: that without repentance there is no real peace!
Above all, let no man make you dream that there is a possibility of reaching heaven without repentance toward God. We all want to go to heaven. A man would be justly set down as a madman, if he said that he wanted to go to hell. But never let it be forgotten, that none go to heaven except those whom the Holy Spirit has prepared for it. The inhabitants of heaven are all of one heart, and one mind. Heaven is the place to which God’s people shall go. But for those who are impenitent and unbelieving, and will not come to Christ, for such the Bible says, plainly and unmistakably, there remains nothing but hell. It is a solemn thought that an impenitent man is unfit for heaven. He could not be happy in heaven, even if he got there.
Once more I charge you to remember,—without repentance toward God, there can be no fitness for heaven. It would give pain to an impenitent man to place him there. It would be no mercy to him.—He would not be happy. He could not be happy. There could be no enjoyment in heaven to a man who got there without a heart hating sin, and a heart loving God.
III. We come now to the third and last thing of which I proposed to speak. We will consider the encouragement there is to repentance. What is there to lead a man to repent?
There are no doubt many difficulties in the way when the subject of repentance is brought before us. Man is slow to give up sin. You might as well tell him to cut off a right hand, or pluck out a right eye, or cut off a right foot, as tell him to part with his darling sins.—Old habits and early ways of thinking about religion are very strong. At first they are all like cobwebs. At last they are iron chains.—There is the power of pride, and the “fear of man that lays a snare.” (Prov 29:25)—There is the natural dislike there is in people to being thought a saint, and supposed to care about religion.—Many cannot bear to be laughed at and thought ridiculous because they care for their souls.—And there is the malice of our great enemy, the devil. Will he part with his “lawful captives” without a conflict? Never. Will he give up his prey without a fight? Never. And remember the “roaring lion”, that “prowls around … seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8.) Will he give up a man, and let him repent, without a struggle? Never. Absolutely never! Man needs many encouragements to make him repent.
But there are encouragements, great, broad, wide, full and free. There are things in the Word of God which ought to encourage every heart, and arouse everyone to repent without delay. There is hope. There is an open door: It is possible: the thing can be done! By the grace of God a man may repent!”
(i) Hear, for one thing, what a gracious Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ is.
He is first in the great argument to encourage a man to repentance. To every doubting soul it may be said, Look at Christ, think of Christ. He is one “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.” He is one anointed “a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance … and forgiveness of sins.” He is one who came “to seek and to save that which was lost.” He is one who cries, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He is one who has pledged His royal word: “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” And He it is of whom, it is written, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” All doubts, and questions, and difficulties, and objections, and fears may be answered with this simple argument. To everyone who needs encouragement: Look at Christ, think of Christ. Consider Jesus Christ the Lord; and then doubt no more about repentance. (Heb. 7:25; Acts 5:31 NASB; Luke 19:10; Matt. 11:28; John 6:37; 1:12.)
(ii) Hear, for another thing, what glorious promises the Word of God contains.
It is written: “He who confesses and forsakes his transgressions will obtain mercy.” It is written again: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is written again: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Surely these promises are encouragements. Again I say, doubt no more about repentance. (Prov. 28:13; 1 John 1:9; Matt. 5:3, 4, 6.)
(iii) Hear, for another thing, what gracious declarations the Word of God contains:
“When a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life.”—“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”—“The Lord is … not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”—“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked… turn back, turn back … for why will you die?”—“There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”—(Ezek. 18:27; Psalm 51:17; 2 Pet. 3:9; Ezek. 33:11; Luke 15:10.) Surely these words are encouraging, if any words can be! Again I say, doubt no more about repentance.
(iv) Hear, for another thing, what marvellous parables our Lord Jesus spoke upon this subject.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying,,”—as if his heart was so full of sorrow that he could not show it sufficiently,—he “beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” (Luke 18:10-14) And remember that other marvellous parable,—the parable of the prodigal son. Which, after the son “came to himself,” and arose, and came to his father, we hear the wonderful pronouncement of the father: “let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:11-24.) Surely these are mighty encouragements to repentance. Again I say, doubt no more about repentance.
(v) Hear, lastly, what wonderful examples there are in the Word of God, of God’s mercy and kindness to penitent men.
Read the story of David. What sin can be greater than David’s sin? But when David turned to the Lord, and said, “I have sinned against the Lord,” the answer came, “The Lord also has put away your sin.”—Read the story of Manasseh. What wickedness could have been greater than his? He killed his own children. He turned his back upon his father’s God. He placed idols in the temple. And yet, when Manasseh was in prison and humbled himself, and prayed to the Lord, the Lord heard his prayer, and brought him out of captivity.—Read the history of Peter. What apostasy could be greater than his? He denied his Master three times over with an oath! And yet, when Peter wept, and mourned for his sin, there was mercy even for Peter, and penitent Peter was restored to his Master’s favour.—Read the story of the penitent thief. What case could be more desperate than his? He was a dying man on the brink of hell. Yet when he said to Jesus, “remember me when you come into your kingdom,” at once the marvellous answer came, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (2 Sam. 12:13; 2 Chron. 33:1-19; Mark 16:7; Luke 23:39-43.)
What greater encouragement to repentance can be imagined or conceived? Why are all these cases recorded? They are intended to lead men to repentance. They are all patterns of God’s long-suffering—patterns of God’s mercy—patterns of God’s willingness to receive penitent sinners. They are proofs of what God’s grace can do. They are a cloud of witnesses, proving that it is worthwhile for man to repent—that there is encouragement for man to turn to God, and that such a one as goes on still in his sins is utterly without excuse. “God's kindness is meant to lead him to repentance.” (Rom. 2:4.)
Here, Ryle recalls hearing of a mother whose daughter ran away from her, and lived a life of sin. For a long time no one could tell where she was.—Yet that daughter came back and was reclaimed. She became a true penitent. She was taught to mourn for sin. She turned to Christ and believed in Him. Old things passed away, and all things became new. Her mother was asked one day to tell what she had done to bring her daughter back.—What means had she used?—What steps had she taken? Her reply was a very striking one. She said, “I prayed for her night and day.” But that was not all. She went on to say, “I never went to bed at night without leaving my front door unlocked. I thought if my daughter came back some night when I was in bed, she should never be able to say that she found the door shut. She should never be able to say that she came to her mother’s home, but could not get in.” And so it turned out. Her daughter came back one night, and tried the door, and found the door open, and at once came in, to go out and sin no more. That open door was the saving of her soul.—That open door is a beautiful illustration of the heart of God towards sinners! The door of mercy is set wide open. The door is not yet locked. God’s heart is full of love. God’s heart is full of compassion. Whatever a man may have been, if he returns to God, he will find God willing to receive him, ready to pardon him, and glad to have him at home. All things are ready. Whoever will may come in.
And, out of all the millions who have turned to God and repented, whoever repented of repentance? Not one. Thousands every year repent of folly and unbelief. Thousands mourn over time misspent. Thousands regret their drunkenness, and gambling, and immorality, and oaths, and idleness; and neglected opportunities. But no one has ever risen up and declared to the world that he repents of repenting and turning toward God. The steps in the narrow way of life are all in one direction. You will never see in the narrow way the step of one who turned back because the narrow way was not good.
The way of Christ may have its crosses. But it is a way of pleasantness, and a path of peace. Surely that fact alone speaks volumes. Surely it is worthwhile for a man to repent. There are encouragements. The impenitent man is without excuse.
And now the three points set out at the beginning of this sermon have been laid out. We have seen the nature of repentance toward God—the necessity of repentance—and the encouragements to repentance. It only remains to come to a close with a few words of practical application.
(1) The first word will be a word of warning.
A heartfelt warning to every impenitent soul who may hear these words. It can never be safe to suppose that all who attend a place of worship are truly repentant toward God, and lively believers in Jesus Christ. And so the first word will be a word of warning,—a sincere, heartfelt warning,—to all impenitent and unconverted people who may be present.
What stronger warning can I give you than that which our text contains? What words can be more solemn and more heart-searching than the words of our Lord and Master: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”? You who are hearing these words, and, as you hear, know you are not yet at peace with God,—you who are halting, lingering, undecided, in religion; you are the man to whom the words of the text should come with power: “Unless you repent, you,” even you, “will perish.”
Do consider what awful words these are! Who can measure out the full amount of what they contain? “Will perish!” Perish in body,—perish in soul,—perish miserably at last in hell! Consider the horrors of that thought. The worm that never dies, the fire that is not quenched, the blackness of darkness forever, the hopeless prison, the bottomless pit, the lake that burns with fire and sulfur,—all, all are only feeble pictures of the reality of hell. And to this hell all impenitent people are daily travelling! From churches and chapels,—from rich men’s mansions and poor men’s cottages,—from the midst of knowledge, wealth, and respectability, all who will not repent are certainly travelling towards hell. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Consider how great is your danger! Where are your sins, your many sins? You know you are a sinner. You must be aware of it. It is vain to pretend you have committed no sins. And where are your sins, if you have never yet repented, never mourned for sin, never confessed sin, never fled to Christ, and never found pardon through Christ’s blood? Watch out for yourself.—The pit opens her mouth for you. The devil is saying of you, “He will be mine.” Watch out for yourself. Remember the words of the text: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” They are not my words, but Christ’s words. It is not my saying, but Christ’s saying. Christ says it—Christ, the merciful: Christ, the gracious,—“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Think again of your guilt.—Pause a moment and deliberately think of your guilt. It is guilt when a man does not repent. We are responsible and accountable to God for repentance. It is vain to say we are not. What does the apostle Paul say to the Athenians: “God… commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30.) What does our Lord say of Chorazin and Bethsaida? Why were they so guilty? Why was their position in hell to be so intolerable? Because they would not repent and believe.—It is the express testimony of the Son of God that the impenitent man who has been called to repentance, and refused to obey the call, is more guilty than the man who has never been urged to repent.
Think again of the folly of remaining an impenitent person! Think of the folly. The world you cleave to is melting beneath your feet already. What will money do for you in the life to come? What will your gold be worth to you a hundred years from now? When your last hour comes, what can all the gold in the world, the pleasures of the world, do for you, if you die an impenitent man? You live for the world, perhaps, now. You strive hard and furiously to be successful in business. You travel far and wide to add acre to acre, or accumulate stock, or expand your business. You do all you can to get money, to amass riches, to make yourself comfortable, to have pleasure, to leave something for wife and children when you die. But remember! Remember, if you have not got the grace of God and true repentance, you are a poor man, a pauper in the sight of God.
(2) The second word of application will be an invitation to all who feel their sins and desire to repent, and yet do not know what to do.
If any one asks, “What shall I do, this very day, if I am to take this advice?” The answer may be given in the Master’s name, Repent, Repent, Repent this very day. Repent without delay.
There are some who say that unconverted people should not be told to repent or pray. But his cannot be right. We find the Apostle Peter saying to Simon the Magician, “Repent … of this wickedness of yours.”We find him saying, “Pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” (Acts 8:22.) It is safe to follow in the Apostle’s steps. The same may be said to everyone who is anxious about their soul. Repent, Repent, Repent without delay. The time will soon come when you must be decided, if you ever mean to be. Why not this very day? Why not tonight? Sermon-hearing cannot go on forever. Going to church must have an end. Liking this minister and liking that minister, belonging to this church and belonging to that church, holding these views and holding those views, thinking this preacher sound and that preacher unsound, is not enough to save a soul. A man must act at last, as well as think, if he means to go to heaven. A man must break off from his sins, and flee to the Lord Jesus, if he does not intend to be damned. A man must come out from the world, and take up the cross. A man must be decided, and repent, and believe. A man must show his colours, and be on the Lord Jesus Christ’s side, if he means to be saved. And why not begin all this today? Again I say, Repent, Repent, Repent without delay!
If you still wonder what you ought to do: Go and cry to the Lord Jesus Christ this very day. Go and pour out your heart before Him. Go and tell Him what you are, and tell Him what you desire. Tell Him you are a sinner: He will not be ashamed of you. Tell Him you want to be saved: He will hear you. Tell Him you are a poor weak creature: He will listen to you. Tell Him you do not know what to do or how to repent: He will give you His grace. He will pour out His Spirit upon you. He will hear you. He will grant your prayer. He will save your soul. There is enough in Christ, and to spare, for all the needs of all the world,—for all the needs of every heart that is unconverted, unsanctified, unbelieving, impenitent, and un-renewed. Go to that Saviour this day, and tell Him the needs of your soul. Go to Him just as you are. Go to the Lord Jesus in that spirit; and He will receive you. He will not refuse you. He will not despise you. He will grant you pardon, peace, everlasting life, and give you the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Do you ask whether there is anything else you ought to do? Yes there is! Go and resolve to break off from every known sin. It never can be right to sit still in wickedness. It never can be wrong to say with Isaiah, “Cease to do evil.” (Isa. 1:16.) Whatever your sin is, resolve, by God’s help, that tomorrow morning you will rise an altered man, and break off from that sin.—Whether it be passion, or lying, or cheating, or covetousness,—whatever your sin and fault,—determine, by God’s grace, that you will sharply break off from it. Give it up without delay, and turn from it, by God’s help, for the rest of your days. Cast it from you: it is a serpent that will bite you to death. Throw it from you: it is useless lumber; it will sink the ship down to ruin. Cast away your besetting sin—give it up—turn from it—break it off. By God’s help resolve that in that respect you will sin no more.
But it is also possible that someone may be ashamed of repentance. I urge you to cast away such shame forever. Never be ashamed of repentance toward God. Of sin you might be ashamed. Of lying, passion, covetousness,—of these a man ought to be ashamed. But of repentance, of prayer, of faith in Christ, of seeking God, of caring for the soul,—never, so long as you live, never be ashamed of such things as these.
And it is just possible also that someone may be afraid to repent. You think you are so bad and unworthy that Christ will not have you. I urge you once more, to cast away such fear forever. Never be afraid to repent. The Lord Jesus Christ is very gracious. He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. Do not fear to draw near to Him.—There is a confessional ready for you. You need none made by man. The throne of grace is the true confessional.—There is a Confessor ready for you. You need no ordained man, no priest, no bishop, no minister, to stand between you and God. The Lord Jesus is the true High Priest. The Lord Jesus Christ is the real Confessor. None is so wise, and none so loving as He is. None but He can send you away with a light heart and in perfect peace.—Take this invitation. Fear nothing. Christ is not an austere man. He “does not despise any.” (Job 36:5.) Arise this day, and flee to Him. Go to Christ and repent this day without delay.
(3) The last word of application will be an exhortation to all who have known what repentance is by experience.
To all who have, by God’s grace, felt their sins, sorrowed for their sins, confessed their sins, given up their sins, and found peace in the blood of Jesus Christ. To you the word is: Keep up your repentance. Let it be a habit of mind you watch over to the last day of your life. Let it be a fire you never allow to burn low or to become dull. Keep up your repentance, if you love life.
This is not meant to lead you to measure the degree of your justification by your repentance, or to suppose that your sins are not forgiven because your repentance is imperfect. Justification is one thing, and repentance is another. You must not confuse things that differ. It is only faith that justifies. It is only faith that lays hold of Christ. But for all that, keep a jealous watch over your repentance. Keep it up, and alive and current. Whenever you find a slackness coming over your soul,—whenever you feel slow, and dull, and heavy, and cold, and careless about little sins, look to your own heart then, and beware lest you fall. Say to your soul, “Oh, my soul, what are you doing? Have you forgotten David’s fall? Have you forgotten Peter’s backsliding? Have you forgotten David’s subsequent misery? Have you forgotten Peter’s after tears? Awake, O my soul, awake once more. Heap on fuel, make the fire burn bright. Return again to your God, let your repentance once more be lively.—Let your repentance be repented over again.”—Sadly, how few are the hours in a Christian’s best days when he does not “make work for repentance!”
Keep up your repentance until the last day of your life. There will always be sins to deplore, and infirmities to confess. Take them daily to the Lord Jesus Christ, and obtain from Him daily supplies of mercy and grace. Make confession daily to the great High Priest, and receive from Him daily forgiveness. Feed daily on the Passover Lamb. But never forget that it was to be eaten with bitter herbs.
May repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ be the two great pillars before the temple of our religion, the cornerstones in our system of Christianity! May the two never be disjoined! May we, while we repent, believe; and while we believe, repent! And may repentance and faith, faith and repentance, be ever uppermost, foremost, the chief and principal articles, in the creed of our souls!