No careful student of the Scriptures will deny that the salvation of a sinner is impossible apart from repentance, for the simple reason that repentance, in the New Testament sense, signified simply a change of mind (especially morally).
When the sinner is convicted by the Holy Spirit of the seriousness of sin and of judgment, and cries to the Lord to save him, he has, of course, repented, or changed his mind.
Many of God’s servants, however, considering only the fact that sinners need such a change of mind, conclude that the way to produce the greatest results in their ministry is to stress repentance.
Those who make repentance their theme today do so because they have failed to learn the lesson which God has demonstrated historically. They cry to men to change their minds and hearts, forgetting that the goodness of God leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4). God has demonstrated, historically, the fact that when men are given holy laws to keep they only break them, and when they are called upon to repent of their transgressions they only become angry. What man therefore needs is the grace of God, not only to accomplish his salvation for him, but also to touch his heart and make him willing to receive it. This is why we contend that in every dispensation man has been saved essentially by grace through faith,1 though this was not “manifested” until “due time,” through the Apostle Paul (I Tim. 2:6,7).
One thing is certain: that evangelists who would bring us back to the gospels and to Pentecost; who insist that repentance is the message for the hour, should cease talking only in generalities and should dare to preach it as it was preached when it was in order.
When John the Baptist preached repentance, he was specific. He dealt with the particular sins of the publicans, the soldiers, and the common people. He drove the Pharisees and Sadducees away from his baptism, calling them a “generation of vipers” and demanded “fruits meet for repentance.” He faced even Herod the king, rebuking him for living with his brother’s wife and “for all the evils which he had done.”
When our Lord preached repentance He too was specific, warning the people against the very leaders of His day and pronouncing woes upon them to their faces, listing the particular sins of which they were guilty (Matt. 23).
When Peter preached repentance at Pentecost he also was specific, charging Israel, and especially her rulers, with the crucifixion of Christ.
This is all in striking contrast to what some of our most popular evangelists are doing today as they preach a little grace and a little repentance; neither with true spiritual power. Those who are supposed to be “calling America to repentance” are very careful not to be too specific. One of them, speaking in Washington, D.C., said: “We do not point our finger at anyone.” If it is God’s plan today to call the nations, and this particular nation, to repentance, Washington would surely be one place to be specific.
We do not deny that some who stress repentance are getting people saved, but we insist that they are not getting them saved by preaching repentance, but by whatever of the gospel of grace their message may contain.
Let us then take our place with the Apostle Paul, to whom the twelve, through their leaders, turned over their Gentile ministry (Gal. 2:2-9) and who said by divine inspiration:
“For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles; I magnify mine office” (Rom. 11:13).
Satan would, of course, oppose and oppress us for preaching God’s message for sinners today, the undiluted, unadulterated gospel of the grace of God, but when he does, let us again join Paul in saying with all our hearts:
“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
And, as we do this faithfully, sinners will repent; they will change their minds, not because we demanded it of them or even exhorted them to do it, but because, as we preached the glory of Christ’s finished work and the wonder of God’s love and grace, the Holy Spirit opened their eyes to see it, and their hearts to receive it.
- See the author’s book: “Things That Differ.”