Thursday, February 29, 2024




1.  The Heart of Biblical Repentance

2. True and False Repentance

3. Repentance -  A New Testament Overview

4. Biblical  Repentance is a  Spiritual Medicine



Psalm 51

I (and I suspect, most preachers) find preaching on repentance difficult. It is a subject that easily comes across as harsh and heavy – and those preaching the subject often seem to come across as angry. A note to all preachers: this is not about us. This is about God. And we are one of them which are called sinners.   There is no doubt that there has been a reaction against such preaching in which the preacher sees himself as apart from his hearers. On the other hand, we find that preaching that urges repentance upon our hearers is hardly heard.  If we consider what we have said previously, then we cannot ignore this subject, lest we deprive our people of a necessary remedy for their healing. Jim Packer says that “repentance is the drainage routine on the highway of holiness on which God calls us to travel.”[1] 

Life in this sinful world demands continues cleansing. We need preaching that reminds us of this necessary spiritual discipline. George Whitefield (1714-1770) once heard the American Presbyterian Gilbert Tennent (1703-1764) preaching. Whitefield responded, "I never before heard such a searching sermon.[2]" By this he meant that the hearers were brought to conviction and repentance. Under Whitefield’s own ministry he saw much evidence of people responding to the gospel, repenting of their sin, frequently crying out as they were convicted of their sin. In a letter dated July 1739, addressed to the Bishop of Gloucester, George Whitefield complains that Anglican ministers generally do not mention this subject. He refers specifically to Dr. Stebbington, a noted Anglican minister of his day: “he does not speak a word of original sin or the dreadful consequences of our fall in Adam upon which the doctrine of the new birth is entirely founded.[3]

Little is said about the spiritual discipline of regular repentance in modern pulpits. This is a serious omission, because we have seen that the call to repentance was so central in the ministries of Jesus, John the Baptist and the apostles.  Note, that repentance was often also accompanied by physical healing. We suspect that there may be greater benefits to repentance than we may think.

Thomas Watson says that “Repentance is a spiritual medicine made up of six special ingredients”[4]. We shall find that repentance is a medicine that kills the sin virus. John Owen is famously attributed with the saying, Be killing sin before it kills you. 

He warns against[5]

(i)                  Being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebr.3:12-13)

(ii)                Coming under God’s chastisement  (Psalm 89:30-32)

(iii)              Loss of peace 

(iv)              The danger of eternal destruction

(v)                Grieving the Holy Spirit 

(vi)              Wounding the Lord Jesus (who died for sin) afresh.

(vii)            Taking away a man’s usefulness in his generation.

I will generally follow the outline of Thomas Watson’s   chapter on the nature of true repentance. 

1. Seeing sin for what it is

2. Sorrow for sin

3. Confession of sin 

4. Shame for sin 

5. Hatred for sin

6. Turning from sin  

I want to however add a 7th aspect from the 51st Psalm.  If you have discovered a good remedy for your soul’s healing, PLEASE HELP OTHERS by teaching others to turn from sin (Psalm 51:13)

1. First Ingredient: Seeing sin for what it really is.  We see this from the experience of David. When he was shown his sin by the prophet Nathan, he immediately owned it.  One further illustration from Scripture illustrates this point - The parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32.  This younger son who left his father’s house defiantly …“he came to himself” (Lk. 15:17). He saw himself for what he was, a sinner (15:18), and he confesses: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.“ Note: not only against the earthly father but also the Father who is in heaven!

Before a person can be converted, they must firstly be helped to come to themselves.  Someone must put on the light. Thomas Watson very helpfully says, “The first creation God made was light. So the first thing in a penitent sinner needs is illumination“.  This is, as we have previously said, the work of the Holy Spirit. He works by the agency of God’s Word. The Word of God is a mirror for our soul, showing us the nature of our sin and also the remedy for that sin.  

2. Second Ingredient:  Sorrow for sin:  4 important aspects

(i) Brokenness. David was broken by the revelation of his sin. There must be real pain in the soul. Thomas Watson says, “A woman may as well expect to have a child without pain as one can have repentance without sorrow.”[6] David ‘s language in Psalm 51 makes it clear that here is a broken man who shows heartfelt sorrow for his sin: “Have mercy on me … wash me … I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me … against you and you only have I sinned … my bones are broken …“. David here speaks of a brokenness of soul that may have well also led to physical manifestations. The Hebrew word “to be sorrowful’ is closely aligned with the thought of being crushed. So, he speaks of his bones being crushed/broken (51:8). That same word is also used in 51:17, where it is said that,  “a broken / crushed  and contrite heart, God will not despise”. What do we learn from such language? We learn that repentance is not a superficial emotion.  Thomas Watson says, “This sorrow for sin is not superficial: it is a holy agony. It is called in scripture ‘a breaking of the heart’…”  (Ps. 51.17). It is a hard, unpleasant experience.

(ii) Godly sorrow: Paul speaks about such godly sorrow in 2 Cor. 7:9. Godly sorrow is a sorrow of the heart. It goes deep. The people listening to Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost received these words deep into their hearts: “they were cut to the heart“ (Acts 2:37).  Paul continuously grieved for the fact that he saw sin in himself (Rom. 7:23).  We have seen that shallow repentance is mostly sorry that it has been caught out. Godly sorrow by contrast deeply grieves over the fact grieves that it has offended God. The essence of all sin begins with a rebellious heart against God.

(iii)  Restitution where necessary. (See Numbers 5:7). It is upon this principle that Zacchaeus the tax collector proved his repentance (See Luke 19: 1-10) “… if I have defrauded anyone, I restore it fourfold.” In David’s case the restitution is not explicitly stated, but following his repentance he took responsibility and did take care of Bathsheba.  He wept over the child that was conceived and died, with exceeding sorrow. God was His prime focus in that sorrow.

(iv) Consistent or habitual:  In Hosea 6:4 God through his prophet speaks to the insincere repentance of his people (see 6:1-3).  He says, “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.”  Their repentance is not consistent. It is not habitual. To the woman caught in adultery (Jn.8:1-11) Jesus says – “Go and sin no more”. Be consistent in your repentance! Judging by David’s life as seen in the prayers of the Psalms we see this consistent habit in him. He was a repentant repenter.

3. Third Ingredient: Sorrow must have an outward expression. That expression we call confession. David confessed to God in the presence of the prophet Nathan, “I have sinned!“ (2 Sam.12:13). Achan confessed his sin in Joshua 7 against God and against the people. This is an admittance that sin is never private. Many had died as a result of Achan’s unfaithfulness.  How do we confess our sin? 

(i)      It must be voluntary and not forced. Confession must come as water out of a spring, freely.

(ii)    It must be felt.

(iii)  It must be sincere.

(iv)  It must be named. 

(v)    It must be owned. (This sin that possesses us is so deep that it begins at our conception (see Ps. 51:5).  While Satan is the tempter and incites us to sin, we cannot blame him for our sin.  We are sinful! We must take responsibility for our sin.

Confession, says Thomas Watson, “is like pumping at the leak; it lets out that sin which would otherwise drown. Confession is the sponge that wipes the spots from off the soul.”  Though it is primarily against God, there are cases when we need to make our confession before men. [7]Can you see that a life of confession and repentance is biblically therapeutic? Keep short accounts with sin. Keep your soul unclogged. This will bring true freedom. 

4. Fourth Ingredient: Shame for sin. Shame underlies the whole of Psalm 51.  Every sin makes us guilty, and guilt usually breeds shame. Adam never needed to feel ashamed while he was in the state of innocence.  Gen. 2:25 says “And the man and the woman were both naked and were not ashamed.”  As soon as they sinned and knew they were naked, they were ashamed, for they sewed fig leaves for themselves (Gen. 3:7).

Zephaniah 3:5 says that “the unjust knows no shame…”.  Have you noticed that the more callous and sinful a nation becomes, the less shame it has? In fact, it appears that the more ungodly people become, the more they glory in their shamelessness (Phil. 3.19). In such societies people usually boast in their sexual exploits. They boast how drunk they were over the weekend. They are not ashamed of their sin. 

A sense of shame is good for individuals as well as a nation. The more we are aware of sin, the healthier the individual or nation will be.

5. Fifth Ingredient: Hatred for sin. As soon as his sin was out in the open,  David hated what he had done. A true repenter will hate his own sin and the sin that he sees in others.   He knows that it comes straight from the devil (1 Jn. 3:8) and it makes people into devils. Through sin the image of God in man has become severely distorted.   It has ruined our purity and innocence before God. It has separated us from God and from one another, so that we do not know God as we ought to. We do not love and respect one another as we ought to.  But most of all, sin dishonours God (Rom. 2:23), and despises God. Sin is the reason why Christ was killed by crucifixion.    If this is what sin has done for us, we should truly hate it. Our repentance should be a reflection of this. 

6. Sixth Ingredient: Turn from sin. David firmly resolved to turn from sin. Dying to sin is the life of repentance. This starts on the very day on which you become a Christian. Watch what your eyes see. Watch what your ears hear - do not lend your ears out to slander. Watch what you say. Do not use your tongue to distribute gossip and lies. Let your feet stay on paths that are firm.  This turning from sin implies a notable change!  It is so visible that others see it.  Therefore, it is called a change from darkness to light (Eph. 5:8). This gives the devil no opportunity, no foothold to trip us up.  

These are the vital ingredients found in the medicine of repentance.  And now one more aspect:

7. Teaching others to turn from sin: David not only turned from sin, but he was now resolved to help others to turn from sin (see 51:13).  True Repentance is strengthened when we resolve not only to sin no longer, but when we have a desire to help others to do the same. Our society will improve under the application of this gospel medicine, as we help one another, graciously, one sinner patiently teaching another sinner to find spiritual remedies for our sin-stained souls.

We do ourselves no favour, and we do others no favour by ignoring this greatly important doctrine. In fact, it is the absence of preaching and teaching this doctrine with pastoral love and care that hurts our church and society. It is the chief reason why the church and society stagnates and regresses.  I repeat what Jim Packer wrote, 

“Repentance is the drainage system on the highway of holiness on which God calls us all to travel. It is the way we get beyond what has proved to be dirt, rubbish and stagnant floodwater in our lives. This routine is a vital need, for where real repentance fails, real spiritual   advance ceases and real spiritual growth stops short.”

[1] Jim Packer: A Passion for Holiness, p.

[2] George Whitefield’s Journals, p. 347

[3] ibid, p.300

[4]  Thomas Watson: The Doctrine of Repentance, Puritan Paperbacks, p.18

[5] John Owen: The Mortification of sin, Puritan Paperbacks, pp 65-75

[6] Thomas Watson: The Doctrine of Repentance, Puritan Paperbacks  p.  19

[7] See Watson , p.37

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  OUTLINE 1.  The Heart of Biblical Repentance 2. True and False Repentance 3. Repentance -  A New Testament Overview 4. Biblical  Repentanc...