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J.C. Ryle: “Repentance” (part 4)

June 22, 2015

Here is the final portion of Bishop Ryle’s Repentance, where he gives us some words of application of these truths about the subject of repentance:

And now, I have brought before my readers the three points which I proposed at the outset of this paper to consider. I have shown you the nature of repentance toward God—the necessity of repentance—and the encouragements to repentance. It only remains to conclude this paper by a few words of practical affectionate application to the souls of all who read it.

(1) My first word shall be a word of warning. I offer an affectionate warning to every impenitent soul into whose hands this volume may fall. I cannot for a moment suppose that all who read its pages are truly repentant toward God, and lively believers in Jesus Christ. I dare not think it. I cannot think it. And my first word shall be a word of warning—tender, affectionate warning, to all impenitent and unconverted people who may happen to read this paper.

What stronger warning can I give you than that which my text contains? What words can I use more solemn and more heart-searching than the words of my Lord and Master, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish”? Yes! you who are reading, and, as you read, 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, “Except thou repenteth, thou,” even thou, “shalt perish!”

Oh, think what dreadful words are these! Who can measure out the full amount of what they contain? “Shall perish!” Perish in body—perish in soul—perish miserably at last in hell! I dare not attempt to paint 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 brimstone—all, all are but feeble emblems of the reality of hell. And to this hell all impenitent people are daily travelling! Yes: 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. “Except ye repent, ye shall all perish!”

Think 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? Oh, take heed to yourself. The pit opens her mouth for you. The devil is saying of you, “He will be mine.” Take heed to yourself. Remember the words of the text: “Except ye repent, ye shall 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 says, “Except thou repenteth, thou wilt certainly perish.”

Think again of your guilt. Yes, I say, 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 Paul say to the Athenians, “God commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts xvii. 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 man! Yes, I say the folly. The world you cleave to is melting beneath your feet already. What will bank-notes do for you in the life to come? What will your gold be worth to you a hundred years hence? When your last hour comes, what can all the gold in the globe 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 compass sea and land to add acre to acre, or accumulate stock in the funds. 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, oh, 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.

I shall never forget the effect produced upon my own mind when I read some years ago of that fearful shipwreck, the loss of the Central America—a great steamer which was lost on the voyage from Havannah to New York. That steamer was bringing home from California three or four hundred gold-diggers. They had all got their gold, and were coming home, proposing to spend their latter days in ease in their own country. But man proposes—and God disposes.

About twenty-four hours after the Central America left Havannah, a mighty storm arose. Three or four heavy seas in succession struck the ship, and seriously damaged her. The engines became disabled and useless, and she was tossed by the wild sea. She sprung a leak, and in spite of every effort the ship began to fill. And after a while, when all on board had pumped and baled, and baled and pumped, until they were exhausted, it became plain that the Central America, with her three or four hundred passengers and all her crew, was likely to go down into the deep, deep sea, and carry nearly all on board with her. The crew launched the only boats they had. They placed the women passengers in these boats, with just a sufficient complement of sailors to manage them. All honor be to them for their kind feeling to the weak and defenseless at a time like that! The boats put off from the vessel; but there were left behind two or three hundred people, many of them gold-diggers, when the Central America went down. One who left the ship in one of the last boats which took the women, described what he saw in the cabin of the steamer when all hope was gone, and the great ship was about to go down. People took out their gold. One said, holding his leather bag, containing his long-toiled-for accumulations, “Here—take it who will! Take it who will. It is no more use to me—the ship is going down. Take it who will.” Others took out their gold-dust, and scattered it broadcast over the cabin. “There,” they said, “take it—take it who will! We are all going down. There is no more chance for us. The gold will do us no good!”

Oh, what a comment that is on the truly valueless nature of riches when a man draws near to God! “Riches profit not in the day of wrath—but righteousness delivereth from death.” (Prov. xi. 4.) Think of your folly—your folly as well as your danger, your folly as well as your guilt—if you will cleave to your sins. Think of your folly, if you will not hear the warning which I give you this day. In my Master’s name, I say to you once more, “Except thou repenteth,” thou, even thou who art reading this paper, “thou shalt likewise perish!”

(2) My second word of application shall be an invitation to all who feel their sins and desire to repent, and yet know not what to do. I give it broadly and fully to all who ask me, “What shall I do, this very day, if I am to take your advice?” I answer that question without any hesitation. I say to you, in my Master’s name, Repent, Repent, Repent this very day. Repent without delay.

I feel no difficulty in saying this. I cannot agree with those who say that unconverted people should not be told to repent or pray. I find the Apostle Peter saying to Simon Magus, “Repent of this thy wickedness.” I find him saying, “Pray God, if perhaps the thought of thy heart may be forgiven.” (Acts viii. 22.) I am content to follow in the Apostle’s wake. I say the same to everyone who is anxious about his soul. I say, 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 to-night? Sermon-hearing cannot go on for ever. Going to churches and chapels must have an end. Liking this minister and liking that minister, belonging to this church and belonging to that chapel, 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 to-day? Oh, Repent, Repent, Repent without delay!

Do you ask me again what you ought to do? Go, I tell you, 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 unrenewed. “What is your hope?” said a man to a poor Welsh boy, who could not speak much English, and was found dying in an inn one day. “What is your hope about your soul?” What was his reply? He turned to the questioner, and said to him, in broken English, “Jesus Christ is plenty for everybody! Jesus Christ is plenty for everybody!” There was a mine of truth in those words. And well said another—a navigator who died in the Lord at Beckenham: “Tell them all, tell every man you meet—Christ is for every man! JESUS CHRIST IS FOR EVERY MAN!” Go to that Saviour this day, and tell Him the wants of your soul. Go to Him, in the words of that beautiful hymn which says—

“Just as I am: without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee—
O Lamb of God, I come!

“Just as I am: and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot—
O Lamb of God, I come!”

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 Ghost.

Do you ask me whether there is anything else you ought to do? Yes! I reply. Go and resolve to break off from every known sin. Let those who will call such advice legal: I trust I may never shrink from giving it. It never can be right to sit still in wickedness. It never can be wrong to say with Isaiah, “Cease to do evil.” (Isa. i. 16.) Whatever be your sin, resolve, by God’s help, that to-morrow morning you will rise an altered man, and break off from that sin. Whether it be drinking or swearing, or Sabbath-breaking, or passion, or lying, or cheating, or covetousness–whatever your sin and fault—determine, by God’s grace, that you will break off sharp 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 perdition. 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 I think it just possible that some reader of this volume may be ashamed of repentance. I do beseech you to cast away such shame for ever. Never be ashamed of repentance toward God. Of sin you might be ashamed. Of lying, swearing, drunkenness, gambling, Sabbath-breaking—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, never, so long as you live, never be ashamed of such things as these. I remember, long ago, a thing that came under my own knowledge, which gave me some idea what the fear of man can do. I was attending a dying man, who had been a sergeant in the 7th Dragoon Guards. He had ruined his health by drinking spirits. He had been a careless, thoughtless man about his soul. He told me upon his death-bed, that when he first began to pray he was so ashamed of his wife knowing it, that when he went upstairs to pray he would take his shoes off and creep up in his stockings, that his wife might not be aware how he was spending his time. Verily, I am afraid there are many like him! Do not you be one of them. Whatever you are ashamed of, never be ashamed of seeking God.

But, I think it just possible that some reader of this volume is afraid to repent. You think you are so bad and unworthy that Christ will not have you. I do beseech you once more, to cast away such fear forever. Never, never be afraid to repent. The Lord Jesus Christ is very gracious. He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. Fear not 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. None but He can give you absolution, and send you away with a light heart and in perfect peace. Oh, take the invitation I bring you. Fear nothing. Christ is not an “austere man.” He “despiseth not any.” (Job xxxvi. 5.) Arise this day, and flee to Him. Go to Christ and repent this night without delay.

(3) My last word of application shall be an exhortation to all who have known what repentance is by experience. I address it 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. What shall I say to you but this—Keep up your repentance. 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.

I do not want you to make a Christ of repentance, or to turn it into a bondage for your soul. I do not bid 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—keep it up, and let not the fire burn low. 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 take heed lest you fall. Say to your soul, “Oh, my soul, what art thou doing? Hast thou forgotten David’s fall? Hast thou forgotten Peter’s backsliding? Hast thou forgotten David’s subsequent misery? Hast thou forgotten Peter’s after tears? Awake, O my soul, awake once more. Heap on fuel, make the fire burn bright. Return again to thy God, let thy repentance once more be lively. Let thy repentance be repented over again.” Alas, 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 absolution. Feed daily on the passover Lamb. But never forget that it was to be eaten with bitter herbs. “Sir,” said a young man to Philip Henry, “how long should a man go on repenting?” What did old Philip Henry reply? “Sir, I hope to carry my repentance to the very gates of heaven. Every day I find I am a sinner, and every day I need to repent. I mean to carry my repentance, by God’s help, up to the very gates of heaven.”

May this be our divinity, your divinity, my divinity; your theology, my theology! May repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ be Jaclin and Boaz, the two great pillars before the temple of our religion, the corner-stones in our system of Christianity! (2 Chron. iii. 17.) 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!

To say the least, this is Godly counsel for us all–may we heed these wise words in our own lives.

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