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J.C. Ryle: “Repentance” (part 3)

June 21, 2015

Here is the third portion of Bishop Ryle’s sermon on “Repentance”; this portion addresses the encouragements towards repentance:

III. I come now to the third and last thing of which I promised to speak. I will consider the encouragement to repentance. What is there to lead a man to repent?

I feel it very important to say something on this point. I know that many difficulties arise in the way when the subject of repentance is brought before us. I know how slow man is 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. I know the strength of old habits and early ways of thinking about religion. At first they are all like cobwebs. At last they are iron chains. I know the power of pride, and that “fear of man that bringeth a snare.” I know the dislike there is in people to being thought a saint, and supposed to care about religion. I know that hundreds and thousands would never shrink from storming a Redan, a Malakhoff—and yet cannot bear to be laughed at and thought ridiculous because they care for their souls. And I know, too, 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! I once saw a lion, at the Zoological Gardens, being fed. I saw his meal cast down before him. I saw the keeper try to take that meal away. I remember the lion’s roar, his spring, his struggle to retain his food. And I remember the “roaring lion that walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pet. v. 8.) Will he give up a man, and let him repent, without a struggle? Never, never, never! Man wants 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 nerve every heart, and arouse everyone to repent without delay. I desire to bring these things before the readers of this volume. I would not have one soul lay down this paper and say, “The thing cannot be done—it is impossible.” I should like all to say, “There is hope—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!”

(a) Hear, for one thing, what a gracious Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ is. I place Him first and foremost, as the great argument to encourage a man to repentance. I say to every doubting soul, Look at Christ, think of Christ. He is one “able to save to the uttermost, all who come unto God by Him.” He is one anointed “a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance as well as remission of sins.” He is one who “came to seek and to save that which was lost.” He is one who said, “I came not to call the righteous—but sinners to repentance.” He is one who cries, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He is one who has pledged His royal word, “Him who comes unto Me, I will never cast out.” And He it is of whom it is written, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to those who believe on His name.” I answer all doubts, and questions, and difficulties, and objections, and fears with this simple argument. I say to everyone who wants encouragement, Look at Christ, think of Christ. Consider Jesus Christ the Lord; and then doubt about repentance no more. (Heb. vii. 25; Acts v. 31; Luke xix. 10; Mark ii. 17; Matt. xi. 28; John vi. 37; John i. 12.)

(b) Hear, for another thing, what glorious promises the Word of God contains. It is written, “Whoever confesses and forsakes his sins shall find 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 God. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Surely these promises are encouragements. Again I say, doubt about repentance no more. (Prov. xxviii. 13; 1 John i. 9; Matt. v. 3, 4, 6.)

(c) Hear, for another thing, what gracious declarations the Word of God contains, “When the wicked man turns away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.” “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit—a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” “God is not willing that any should perish—but that all should come to repentance.” “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked—turn ye, turn ye, why will you die?” “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” (Ezek. xviii. 27; Psalm xli. 17; 2 Pet. iii. 9; Ezek. xxxiii. 11; Luke xv. 10.) Surely those words are encouraging, if any words can be! Again I say, doubt about repentance no more.

(d) Hear, for another thing, what marvelous parables our Lord Jesus spoke upon this subject. “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a publican. The Pharisee took his stand and prayeth thus with himself: God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven but smote upon his breast”–as though his heart was so full of sorrow that he could not show it sufficiently,–“he smote upon his breast and said, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner! I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” (Luke xxiii. 10-14.) Hear, again, that other marvelous parable—the parable of the prodigal son. “A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of the goods that falleth to me. And he divided his living unto them. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country, where he wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land, and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine.” And there, feeding swine, in his lowly case “he came to himself” and said, ‘How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough, and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise, and go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. Make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off,”–mark that–“a great way off–his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no longer worthy to be called thy son. But the father said unto his servants, Bring forth the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet: and bring hither the fattened calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry, because this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry.” (Luke xv. 11-24.) Surely these are mighty encouragements to repentance. Again I say, doubt about repentance no more.

(e) 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 has put away thy 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, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” at once the marvelous answer came, “Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou” (even thou) “be with Me in paradise.” (2 Sam. xii. 13; 2 Chron. xxxiii. 1-19; Mark xvi. 7; Luke xxiii. 39-43.)

What greater encouragement to repentance can be imagined or conceived? Why are all these cases recorded for our learning? 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 worth while for man to repent—that there is encouragement for man to turn to God, and that such an one as goes on still in his sins is utterly without excuse. “The goodness of God leads him to repentance.” (Rom. ii. 4.)

I remember 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, and the door on the latch. 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. The door is always upon the latch. God’s heart is full of love. God’s heart is full of compassion. Whosoever a man may have been, and whatsoever a man may have been, at midnight, at any time, whenever 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. Whosoever will may come in.

And, out of all the millions who have turned to God and repented, who ever repented of repentance? I answer boldly, Not one! Thousands every year repent of folly and unbelief. Thousands mourn over time misspent. Thousands regret their drunkenness, and gambling, and fornication, 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.

I remember reading of a remarkable event that occurred in a place of worship where a Puritan minister, Mr. Doolittle, was preaching, two hundred years ago. Just as he was about to begin his sermon, he saw a young man, a stranger, coming into his church. He guessed by the young man’s manner that he was anxious about his soul, and yet undecided about religion. He took a remarkable course with him. He tried a curious experiment—but God blessed it to the young man’s soul. Before Mr. Doolittle gave out his text, he turned to an old Christian whom he saw on one side of his church. He addressed him by name, and said to him, “Brother, do you repent of having served God?” The old Christian stood up manfully before the congregation, and said, “Sir, I have served the Lord from my youth, and He has never done me anything but good.” He turned to the left hand, where he saw another Christian, and addressed him in the same way. “Brother,” said he, calling him by his name, “Do you repent of having served Christ? “That man also stood up manfully before the congregation, and said, “Sir, I never was truly happy until I took up the cross, and served the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then Mr. Doolittle turned to the young man, and said, “Young man, will you repent? Young man, will you take up the cross? Young man, will you this day begin to serve Christ?” God sent power with these words. The young man stood up before the congregation, and said in a humble tone, “Yes sir, I will.” That very day was the beginning of eternal life in the young man’s soul. We may depend upon it, the two answers which Mr. Doolittle got that day are the experience of all true Christians. We may be quite sure that no man ever repents of repentance. No man was ever sorry that he served the Lord. No man ever said at the end of his days, “I have read my Bible too much, I have thought of God too much, I have prayed too much, I have been too careful about my soul.” Oh, no! The people of God would always say, “Had I my life over again, I would walk far more closely with God than ever I have done. I am sorry that I have not served God better—but I am not sorry that I have served Him. The way of Christ may have its cross. But it is a way of pleasantness, and a path of peace.” Surely that fact alone speaks volumes. It is a fact that clinches every argument which I have already advanced. Surely it is worth while for a man to repent. There are encouragements. The impenitent man is without excuse.

There remains one more portion of this work by Ryle – the practical application of this, and we will look at it next.

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