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Except Ye Repent
By Dr. Harry Ironside

Pastor Harry A. Ironside

Chapter 4 – CHRIST’S CALL TO REPENT

“The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Notice that combination — grace and truth. Men must face facts if they would enjoy grace. Surely there never was a more insistent call to repentance than that put forth by Him of whom it could be said, “Grace is poured into thy lips.”

From the moment He began to preach, His message, like that of His forerunner, John, was, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” There is something intensely solemnizing in this. God had come down to earth and was speaking in His Son. He came with a heart filled with love and compassion for men, so bruised and ruined by sin; but He had to wait upon them; He had to press home to them their sad plight; He had to call upon them to acknowledge their guilt and their ungodliness ere He could pour into their hearts the balm of His grace. For God must have reality. He refuses to gloss over iniquity. He insists upon self-judgment, upon a complete right-about-face, a new attitude, ere He will reveal a Saviour’s love.

With this principle the arrangement of the four Gospels is in perfect harmony. In the Synoptics the call is to repent. In John the emphasis is laid upon believing. Some have thought that there is inconsistency or contradiction here. But we need to remember that John wrote years after the older Evangelists, and with the definite object in view of showing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, we might have life through His Name. He does not simply travel over ground already well trodden. Rather, he adds to and thus supplements the earlier records, inciting to confidence in the testimony God has given concerning His Son. He does not ignore the ministry of repentance because he stresses the importance of faith. On the contrary, he shows to repentant souls the simplicity of salvation, of receiving eternal life, through trusting in Him who, as the true light, casts light on every man, thus making manifest humanity’s fallen condition and the need of an entire change of attitude toward self and toward God.

To tell a man who has no realization that he is lost, that he may be saved by faith in Christ, means nothing to him, however true and blessed the fact is in itself. It is like throwing a life preserver to a man who does not realize he is about to be engulfed in a maelstrom. When he sees his danger he will appreciate the means of deliverance offered. So when the message of the Synoptics has made a profound impression on the soul of a man, he will be ready for the proclamation of eternal life and forgiveness through faith in Christ alone.

When they came to Jesus and told Him of certain Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices as his Roman legions quelled a Jewish uprising, and again when they reported the falling of a tower in Siloam as a result of which many were killed, He solemnly declared: “Think ye that these were sinners above all others? I tell you, nay, but except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish.” Whether men are taken away by violence, by accident, or, as we say, by natural death, their doom is the same unless they have turned to God in repentance. We perhaps think of such occurrences as those referred to, as signal instances of the divine judgment against wickedness. But God’s holy eye discerns the sinfulness of every heart and calls upon all to take sides with Him against themselves. Until this is done, saving faith is an impossibility. This is not to limit grace. It is to make way for it. And be it remembered, repentance is not a state automatically produced. It is the inwrought work of the Holy Spirit effected by faithful preaching of the Word. But how seldom today do we hear the cry, “Except ye repent.”

When our Lord looked on to the day of manifestation He declared: “The men of Nineveh shall rise in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” Could He have made it clearer that grace is for the repentant soul, and there can only be judgment without mercy for him who persists in hardening his heart against the Spirit’s pleading?

And so, when He upbraided the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, He prophesied their doom because they would not repent. Bethsaida, Chorazin, Capernaum are but ruins today because, although the testimony given was of such character that if it had been vouchsafed to Tyre and Sidon they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes, the people in these cities were unmoved. The stones of these Galilean cities are today crying out of the dust of ages, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.” But how few there are with ears to hear and hearts to understand!

It has often been noticed with wonder by thoroughly orthodox theologians that, whereas many cultured preachers, whose Gospel testimony is unimpeachably correct, see few or no converts, some fervent evangelist who does not seem to proclaim nearly so clear a Gospel, but who drives home to men and women the truth of their lost condition and vehemently stresses the necessity of repentance, wins souls by the scores or even hundreds. It was so with Sam Jones, with D. L. Moody, with Gypsy Smith, with Billy Sunday, with W. P. Nicholson, with Mel Trotter, and many more. Is not the explanation simply this, that, when men truly face their sins in the presence of God, their awakened and alarmed consciences make them quick to respond to the slightest intimation of God’s grace to those who seek Him with the whole heart? This is not to set a premium upon ignorance, nor to glorify a half-Gospel, for undoubtedly where the full clear announcement of salvation by faith alone in a crucified, risen, and exalted Christ follows the call to repentance, the converts will be much better established than where they have to grope for years after the truth that sets free from all doubt and confusion of mind. The evangelists cited above all came themselves to a better understanding of grace in their maturity than in their early years. But those years were nevertheless wonderfully fruitful in the turning of many from sin to righteousness and from the power of Satan unto God.

And is it not marvelously significant that, in the three Gospels which were first circulated throughout the ancient world, the call goes forth to Jew and Gentile insisting that no unrepentant soul will ever find favor with God? Then, as the Christian testimony was better known, the sweet and precious unfoldings of light, life, and love were given in the Gospel of John. Of course, in the actual testimony of the Lord, the two were ever intermingled, for “grace and truth” are never to be separated.

Our Lord was the master soul-winner, and we who would be used of God in winning our fellows to a knowledge of Himself may well learn His ways and copy His methods, so far as human frailty will permit.

How easily He might have declared to the rich young ruler, who came running to Him asking, “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” that there was nothing to do, “only believe and live.” Had He done so it would have been actually true. But He did not so say. Instead He undertook to probe the conscience of the young man by using the stern precepts of the Law, and He put a test upon him that only real faith would have led him to meet. “One thing thou lackest.” What was that? The young man had never realized his need of a Saviour. Self-satisfied and self-contained, he honestly prided himself on his goodness. The test, “sell what thou hast, and give to the poor,” was not putting salvation on the ground of human merit; but it was intended to reveal to the young man the hidden evil of his heart and to show him his need of mercy.

To the Samaritan woman He did not give the living water until He had uncovered her life of sin, so that she exclaimed, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.” This was tantamount to saying, ‘I perceive that I am a sinner.’ And after she believed in Him as Saviour and Messiah her own testimony was, “Come, see a man who told me all things that ever I did: Can this be the Christ?”

Rutherford complained in his day that there were so few professed believers who had ever spent a sick night for sin. And if this was true then, it is doubly true today.

When our Lord answered the complaining legalists who objected that He received sinners and ate with them, He related the threefold parable of Luke 15. There we see the entire Trinity concerned in the salvation of a sinner. The Saviour seeks the lost sheep. The woman with the light, illustrating the Holy Spirit’s work, seeks the lost piece of silver. And all heaven rejoices when the lost one repents.

The eager father welcomes back the returning prodigal. But we should not overlook the fact, that it was when the ungrateful youth “came to himself” and took the position of self-judgment because of his wicked folly, and actually turned his face homeward, that the father ran to him, though still a great way off, and fell on his neck and kissed him. He did not wait for his boy to ring the door bell or knock in fear and anxiety upon the gate. But, on the other hand, he did not offer him the kiss of forgiveness while he was down among the swine. He hastened to meet him when in repentance he turned homeward with words of confession in his heart.

Does all this becloud grace? Surely not. Rather does it magnify and exalt it. For it is to unworthy sinners who recognize and acknowledge their dire condition that God finds delight in showing undeserved favor.

The weeping harlot in the seventh of Luke, kneeling at the feet of Jesus and washing them with her tears while she dries them with her hair — and a woman’s hair is her glory — illustrates, as perhaps nothing else can, the relation of repentance to saving faith. Her tears of contrition told out the grief of her heart as she mourned over her sins and judged her unclean life in the light of Christ’s purity. His words of grace, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven,” no sooner had fallen upon her ears than she believed His testimony, and she went away knowing she was clean. True, He had not yet died for her sins, but faith laid hold of Him as the one only Saviour who had power on earth to forgive. Her weeping, her washing of His feet, her humiliation had nothing meritorious in them. The merit was all His. He who said to another of like character, “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more,” had remitted all her iniquities and won her heart forever.

“It is not thy tears of repentance or prayers,
But the blood that atones for the soul:
On Him then, who shed it thou mayest at once
Thy weight of iniquities roll.”

When Bernard of Clairvaux was dying the monks praying by his pallet spoke of his merits. He cried out in Latin words which translated into English mean, “Holy Jesus, Thy wounds are my merits.” Only a repentant man would so speak.

And so our Lord tells us that “there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance.” There, where they know what a soul is really worth, every saint and angel rejoices with the Good Shepherd when a lost sheep is reclaimed from its wanderings.

[Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), a godly Fundamentalist author and teacher for many years, served as pastor of Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church from 1930-1948]

Except Ye Repent
By Dr. Harry Ironside

Pastor Harry A. Ironside

Chapter 3 – JOHN’S BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE

The New Testament opens with a call to repentance. The ministry of John the Baptist was pre-eminently devoted to emphasizing its importance. Sent of God in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the way of the Lord, he found a self-satisfied, self-righteous nation prating of being the chosen people professedly waiting for the promised Messiah, and yet utterly unready to welcome Him because of their low moral condition.

Like the Tishbite, he appeared suddenly and unannounced, a wilderness preacher, declaring to the abjects of Israel first, and then as others sought him out, to the self-righteous scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees the need of heart preparation for the reception of the Kingdom. His message was summed up in the pregnant words: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It was a challenge to face their sins and the true state of their hearts in the light of the holiness and righteousness of God. And we are glad to learn that the publicans and sinners hearing him justified God and were baptized in recognition of the judgment of self and the need of remission of sins.

For with the preaching was linked the rite of baptism. It was definitely declared to be a baptism of repentance for (or unto) the remission of sins. That is, those who submitted to his baptism were practically saying: ‘In this act I declare my change of mind, my new attitude toward myself, my sins, and my God. I own my unworthiness, and I cast myself upon the infinite mercy of God, looking to Him for deliverance, counting on Him to forgive my sins and graciously fit me for the reception of the King and a place in the Kingdom of the heavens.’

I do not say that all who were baptized entered into its full meaning, but I do insist that this was its true import. Baptism, of course, did not procure remission of sins. It was simply the acknowledgment of the need of such forgiveness. Those so baptized might be likened to debtors giving their notes in recognition of their indebtedness. When our Lord condescended to be identified with this remnant by Himself undergoing baptism He was, as it were, endorsing their notes, declaring that He was ready to meet all their responsibilities by fulfilling every righteous demand of the throne of God on their behalf. It was more than three years later that He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened [or pained] till it be accomplished.” Ah, the notes were fast falling due, and on the cross He must settle in bloody agony for them all.

How much of this John, the forerunner, saw it is not easy to say. But that he did have some insight into the great truth, that Jesus was not only Messiah but Saviour, was evidenced by his words, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!” His baptism of repentance was with a view to the remission of sins through the offering up of the foreordained Lamb as a propitiatory sacrifice.

To the haughty, self-righteous leaders John said: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.” And then he warned them that natural relationship to Abraham would not save anybody, but spiritual kinship only; for faith alone makes one a child of the faithful patriarch. “Fruits meet for repentance.” That is, the changed life must evidence the changed attitude; otherwise there is no true repentance at all.

And then he declared: “Now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: Every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” How different this to the ameliorative measures advocated by many who should know better! Some modern preaching might be summed up in ‘the axe is laid to the fruit of the tree.’ Cut off the bad fruit. Prune the tree. Spray it with a religio-philosophical mixture. Change its environment if possible. Attempt by ethical culture, by religious education, to make the tree produce good fruit — then all will be well. No need of repentance. No place for a second birth. But in spite of human reasoning, the divine principle remains unchanged. The tree is bad; that is why its fruit is corrupt. No use experimenting and trying to produce good fruit from so unwholesome a plant. Lay the axe to the root. Hew down the bad tree to make way for a new one of the heavenly Father’s planting.

Repentance is the recognition, the avowed recognition, of God’s estimate of the hopeless character of our hearts till renewed by the Word and Spirit of God. Grapes cannot be gathered from a thorn bush, nor figs from thistles. It is not the fruit that must be dealt with. The tree must be removed. To attempt to improve it is useless. God Himself has given it up. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately [literally, incurably] wicked.” Therefore the need of a new heart and a new spirit.

It was thus that John prepared the way of the Lord. No matter with whom he dealt, he sought to expose the hidden evil of the heart and the need of self-judgment, which is just the recognition that, “in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” In order to make this manifest, covetous soldiers were commanded to be content with their wages, tax-gatherers to exact no more than their due. Herod, the King himself — who sought to patronize John, while living in vilest incest and licentiousness — writhed as he heard the stern preacher declare, while he pointed to Herodias, “It is not lawful for thee to have her.” A prison cell and later the executioner’s sword might silence the tongue of the preacher of repentance, but his words live on forever, rebuking still the self-indulgent, the self-righteous, the covetous, the lustful, to the end of time, who fancy they can in some way bribe an offended God to overlook and condone their iniquity.

John the Baptist has been described as “the last of the prophets,” and his ministry was certainly most intimately linked with that of the great prophetic brotherhood of the Old Testament. We have already seen how our Lord identifies him in spirit with Elijah; and to His questioning disciples, who were perplexed regarding the prediction in Malachi of Elijah’s return prior to the ushering in of the great and dreadful day of the Lord, the Saviour replies, referring to John, “If ye will receive it, this is Elijah which was for to come.” He came to break up the fallow ground that the word of the Kingdom might not be sown among thorns. Thus he was chosen of God as a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight in the desert a highway for our God. His was a leveling message. There were hills of pride to come down and valleys of degradation to be filled in by grace in order that the divine program might be expeditiously carried out.

In one sense his was a unique ministry which can never again be repeated, inasmuch as the same circumstances will never be duplicated. But there is a wider sense in which a similar message is always in order, for man’s heart remains unchanged and the King is still seeking those who will acknowledge and bow to His authority. Hence the importance of ever insisting upon the need of repentance, a state of soul which must always precede blessing.

The words of the holy Virgin, in the Magnificat, have an ever present application: “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away” (Luke 1:52-53). This is the same leveling doctrine as that proclaimed by John. It is the “no difference” doctrine of the Apostle Paul. Yet how the human heart rebels against it. How men pride themselves on fancied distinctions which God’s eye does not discern.

“Must I be saved in the same way as my coachman?” indignantly asked a distinguished lady.

“Madam,” was the faithful reply, “you do not need to be saved at all. But if you ever are saved it will be on exactly the same ground as any other poor sinner.”

Years ago I was amazed to hear an eloquent French evangelist, Paul J. Loizeaux, exclaim, “Oh, how hard it is to find sinners! If only I could find one, I have a marvelous message for him.” A moment’s thought made his meaning clear. To be a sinner is one thing; to know it is another.

Faithful preaching of man’s responsibility will drive this truth home to the conscience. Repentance is the recognition of my sinnership — the owning before God that I am as vile as He has declared me to be in His holy Word. Until one comes to this place there is no further word from heaven for any man, except the sentence of doom. This truth does not in the least degree compromise the Gospel of grace. It rather prepares the sinner to know “the grace of God in truth” and to rejoice in it, reveling in the marvellous provision God has made to “satisfy the longing soul.”

Just as one may be hungry and not realize it because of a cloyed taste, and so fail to heed the dinner call, so one may be dying for lack of God’s gracious provision and have no sense of his lost estate, and therefore no appreciation of the message of grace. The call to repentance is designed of God to produce that soul hunger that will make the distressed one come with full appetite to the Gospel feast. Until one is thus aroused and made conscious of his need he will turn from the Gospel story with indifference and contempt. “The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”

Too often the earnest Gospel preacher dwells on the hopelessness of obtaining salvation by good works, when addressing men whose works are altogether evil and who have no thought of meriting life eternal but care only for the things of this godless world. We are warned against casting pearls before swine. Is it not possible even in Gospel preaching to do this very thing? We may make it all too simple, so easy that we quite misrepresent the God of all grace, who has in all ages first sought to show men their sinfulness and guilt, and then has offered the remedy to those who confessed to their dread disease.

I am persuaded revival would come to believers and awakening to the lost if there were more faithful preachers of the John the Baptist type, who would cry aloud and spare not, but would solemnly show the people their sins and call upon them in the Name of the Lord to repent, remembering that he who justifies himself must be condemned by God, but he who condemns himself will find complete justification in Christ, who died for his sins and who now is exalted to God’s right hand as a Prince and a Saviour, granting repentance and remission of sins to all who receive His testimony.

“I am not told to labor
To put away my sin,
So foolish, weak and helpless,
I never could begin.
But, blessed truth, I know it,
Though ruined by the fall,
Christ for my sin has suffered,
Yes, Christ has done it all.”

It will be seen that repentance is the very opposite of meritorious experience. It is the confession that one is utterly without merit, and if he is ever saved at all it can only be through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, “who gave himself a ransom for all.” Here is firm footing for the soul who realizes that all self-effort is but sinking sand. Christ alone is the Rock of our salvation.

[Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), a godly Fundamentalist author and teacher for many years, served as pastor of Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church from 1930-1948]

Except Ye Repent
By Dr. Harry Ironside

Chapter 1 – REPENTANCE: ITS NATURE AND IMPORTANCE

Pastor Harry A. IronsideMore and more it becomes evident that ours is, as Carlyle expressed it, an “age of sham.” Unreality and specious pretence abound in all departments of life. In the domestic, commercial, social, and ecclesiastical spheres hypocrisy is not only openly condoned, but recognized as almost a necessity for advancement and success in attaining recognition among one’s fellows.

Nor is this true only where heterodox religious views are held. Orthodoxy has its shallow dogmatists who are ready to battle savagely for sound doctrine, but who manage to ignore sound living with little or no apparent compunction of conscience.

God desires truth in the inward parts. The blessed man is still the one “in whose spirit there is no guile.” It is forever true that “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” It can never be out of place to proclaim salvation by free, unmerited favor to all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. But it needs ever to be insisted on that the faith that justifies is not a mere intellectual process — not simply crediting certain historical facts or doctrinal statements; but it is a faith that springs from a divinely wrought conviction of sin which produces a repentance that is sincere and genuine.

Our Lord’s solemn words, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish,” are as important today as when first uttered. No dispensational distinctions, important as these are in understanding and interpreting God’s ways with man, can alter this truth.

No one was ever saved in any dispensation excepting by grace. Neither sacrificial observances, nor ritual service, nor works of law ever had any part in justifying the ungodly. Nor were any sinners ever saved by grace until they repented. Repentance is not opposed to grace; it is the recognition of the need of grace. “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” “I came not,” said our blessed Lord, “to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

One great trouble in this shallow age is that we have lost the meaning of words. We bandy them about until one can seldom be certain just how terms are being used. Two ministers were passing an open grocery and dairy store where, in three large baskets, eggs were displayed. On one basket was a sign reading, “Fresh eggs, 24 cents a dozen.” The second sign read, “Strictly fresh eggs, 29 cents a dozen.” While a third read, “Guaranteed strictly fresh eggs, 34 cents a dozen.” One of the pastors exclaimed in amazement, “What does that grocer understand ‘fresh’ to mean?” It is thus with many Scriptural terms that to our forefathers had an unvarying meaning, but like debased coins have today lost their values.

Grace is God’s unmerited favor to those who have merited the very opposite. Repentance is the sinner’s recognition of and acknowledgment of his lost estate and, thus, of his need of grace. Yet there are not wanting professed preachers of grace who, like the antinomians of old, decry the necessity of repentance lest it seem to invalidate the freedom of grace. As well might one object to a man’s acknowledgment of illness when seeking help and healing from a physician, on the ground that all he needed was a doctor’s prescription.

Shallow preaching that does not grapple with the terrible fact of man’s sinfulness and guilt, calling on “all men everywhere to repent,” results in shallow conversions; and so we have a myriad of glib-tongued professors today who give no evidence of regeneration whatever. Prating of salvation by grace, they manifest no grace in their lives. Loudly declaring they are justified by faith alone, they fail to remember that “faith without works is dead”; and that justification by works before men is not to be ignored as though it were in contradiction to justification by faith before God. We need to reread James 3 and let its serious message sink deep into our hearts, that it may control our lives. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” No man can truly believe in Christ, who does not first repent. Nor will his repentance end when he has saving faith, but the more he knows God as he goes on through the years, the deeper will that repentance become. A servant of Christ said: “I repented before I knew the meaning of the word. I have repented far more since than I did then.”

Undoubtedly one great reason why some earnest Gospel preachers are almost afraid of, and generally ignore, the terms “repent” and “repentance” in their evangelizing is that they fear lest their hearers misunderstand these terms and think of them as implying something meritorious on the part of the sinner. But nothing could be wider of the mark. There is no saving merit in owning my true condition. There is no healing in acknowledging the nature of my illness. And repentance, as we have seen, is just this very thing.

But in order to clarify the subject, it may be well to observe carefully what repentance is not and then to notice briefly what it is.

First, then, repentance is not to be confounded with penitence, though penitence will invariably enter into it. But penitence is simply sorrow for sin. No amount of penitence can fit a man for salvation. On the other hand, the impenitent will never come to God seeking His grace. But godly sorrow, we are told, worketh repentance not to be repented of. There is a sorrow for sin that has no element of piety in it– “the sorrow of the world worketh death.” In Peter’s penitence we see the former; in the remorse of Judas, the latter. Nowhere is man exhorted to feel a certain amount of sorrow for his sins in order to come to Christ. When the Spirit of God applies the truth, penitence is the immediate result and this leads on to repentance, but should not be confounded with it. This is a divine work in the soul.

Second, penance is not repentance. Penance is the effort in some way to atone for wrong done. This, man can never do. Nor does God in His Word lay it down as a condition of salvation that one first seek to make up to either God or his fellows for evil committed. Here the Roman Catholic translation of the Bible perpetrates a glaring deception upon those who accept it as almost an inspired version because bearing the imprimatur of the great Catholic dignitaries. Wherever the Authorized Version has “repent,” the Douay-Rheims translation reads, “Do penance.” There is no excuse for such a paraphrase. It is not a translation. It is the substituting of a Romish dogma for the plain command of God. John the Baptist did not cry, ‘Do penance, for the kingdom of God is at hand.’ Our Lord Jesus did not say, ‘Do penance and believe the gospel,’ and, ‘Except ye do penance ye shall all likewise perish.’ The Apostle Peter did not tell the anxious multitude at Pentecost to ‘Do penance and be converted.’ St. Paul did not announce to the men at Athens that ‘God commandeth all men everywhere to do penance’ in view of a coming judgment day. No respectable Greek scholar would ever think of so translating the original in these and many other instances.

On the contrary, the call was to repent; and between repenting and doing penance there is a vast difference. But even so, we would not forget that he who truly repents will surely seek to make right any wrong he has done to his fellows, though he knows that he never can make up for the wrong done to God. But this is where Christ’s expiatory work comes in. As the great Trespass Offering He could say, “Then I restored that which I took not away” (Psalm 69). Think not to add penance to this — as though His work were incomplete and something else were needed to satisfy God’s infinite justice.

In the third place, let us remember that reformation is not repentance, however closely allied to, or springing out of it. To turn over a new leaf, to attempt to supplant bad habits with good ones, to try to live well instead of evilly, may not be the outcome of repentance at all and should never be confounded with it. Reformation is merely an outward change. Repentance is a work of God in the soul.

Recently it was the writer’s privilege to broadcast a Gospel message from a large Cleveland station. While he was waiting in the studio for the time appointed an advertiser’s voice was heard through the loud speaker announcing: “If you need anything in watch repairing go to” such a firm. One of the employees looked up and exclaimed, “I need no watch repairing; what I need is a watch.” It furnished me with an excellent text. What the unsaved man needs is not a repairing of his life. He needs a new life altogether, which comes only through a second birth. Reformation is like watch repairing. Repentance is like the recognition of the lack of a watch.

Need I add that repentance then is not to be considered synonymous with joining a church or taking up one’s religious duties, as people say. It is not doing anything.

What then is repentance? So far as possible I desire to avoid the use of all abstruse or pedantic terms, for I am writing not simply for scholars, but for those Lincoln had in mind when he said, “God must have thought a lot of the common people, for He made so many of them.” Therefore I wish, so far as possible, to avoid citing Greek or Hebrew words. But here it seems almost necessary to say that it is the Greek word metanoia, which is translated “repentance” in our English Bibles, and literally means a change of mind. This is not simply the acceptance of new ideas in place of old notions. But it actually implies a complete reversal of one’s inward attitude.

How luminously clear this makes the whole question before us! To repent is to change one’s attitude toward self, toward sin, toward God, toward Christ. And this is what God commands. John came preaching to publicans and sinners, hopelessly vile and depraved, “Change your attitude, for the kingdom is at hand.” To haughty scribes and legalistic Pharisees came the same command, “Change your attitude,” and thus they would be ready to receive Him who came in grace to save. To sinners everywhere the Saviour cried, “Except ye change your attitude, ye shall all likewise perish.”

And everywhere the apostles went they called upon men thus to face their sins — to face the question of their helplessness, yet their responsibility to God — to face Christ as the one, all-sufficient Saviour, and thus by trusting Him to obtain remission of sins and justification from all things.

So to face these tremendous facts is to change one’s mind completely, so that the pleasure lover sees and confesses the folly of his empty life; the self-indulgent learns to hate the passions that express the corruption of his nature; the self-righteous sees himself a condemned sinner in the eyes of a holy God; the man who has been hiding from God seeks to find a hiding place in Him; the Christ-rejecter realizes and owns his need of a Redeemer, and so believes unto life and salvation.

Which comes first, repentance or faith? In Scripture we read, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Yet we find true believers exhorted to “repent, and do the first works.” So intimately are the two related that you cannot have one without the other. The man who believes God repents; the repentant soul puts his trust in the Lord when the Gospel is revealed to him. Theologians may wrangle over this, but the fact is, no man repents until the Holy Spirit produces repentance in his soul through the truth. No man believes the Gospel and rests in it for his own salvation until he has judged himself as a needy sinner before God. And this is repentance.

Perhaps it will help us if we see that it is one thing to believe God as to my sinfulness and need of a Saviour, and it is another thing to trust that Saviour implicitly for my own salvation.

Apart from the first aspect of faith, there can be no true repentance. “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” And apart from such repentance there can be no saving faith. Yet the deeper my realization of the grace of God manifested toward me in Christ, the more intense will my repentance become.

It was when Mephibosheth realized the kindness of God as shown by David that he cried out, “What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?” (2 Sam. 9:8). And it is the soul’s apprehension of grace which leads to ever lower thoughts of self and higher thoughts of Christ; and so the work of repentance is deepened daily in the believer’s heart.

“Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream,
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
This He gives you,
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.”

The very first evidence of awakening grace is dissatisfaction with one’s self and self-effort and a longing for deliverance from chains of sin that have bound the soul. To own frankly that I am lost and guilty is the prelude to life and peace. It is not a question of a certain depth of grief and sorrow, but simply the recognition and acknowledgment of need that lead one to turn to Christ for refuge. None can perish who put their trust in Him. His grace superabounds above all our sin, and His expiatory work on the cross is so infinitely precious to God that it fully meets all our uncleanness and guilt.

[Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), a godly Fundamentalist author and teacher for many years, served as pastor of Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church from 1930-1948]

Exposing Error: Is It Worthwhile?

By Dr. Harry Ironside

Objection is often raised even by some sound in the faith-regarding the exposure of error as being entirely negative and of no real edification. Of late, the hue and cry has been against any and all negative teaching. But the brethren who assume this attitude forget that a large part of the New Testament, both of the teaching of our blessed Lord Himself and the writings of the apostles, is made up of this very character of ministry-namely, showing the Satanic origin and, therefore, the unsettling results of the propagation of erroneous systems which Peter, in his second epistle, so definitely refers to as “damnable heresies.”

Our Lord prophesied, “Many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” Within our own day, how many false prophets have risen; and oh, how many are the deceived! Paul predicted, “I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch.” My own observation is that these “grievous wolves,” alone and in packs, are not sparing even the most favoured flocks. Undershepherds in these “perilous times” will do well to note the apostle’s warning: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.” It is as important in these days as in Paul’s-in fact, it is increasingly important-to expose the many types of false teaching that, on every hand, abound more and more.

We are called upon to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” while we hold the truth in love. The faith means the whole body of revealed truth, and to contend for all of God’s truth necessitates some negative teaching. The choice is not left with us. Jude said he preferred a different, a pleasanter theme-“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordainedto this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 3, 4). Paul likewise admonishes us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11).

This does not imply harsh treatment of those entrapped by error-quite the opposite. If it be objected that exposure to error necessitates unkind reflection upon others who do not see as we do, our answer is: it has always been the duty of every loyal servant of Christ to warn against any teaching that would make Him less precious or cast reflection upon His finished redemptive work and the all-sufficiency of His present service as our great High Priest and Advocate.

Every system of teaching can be judged by what it sets forth as to these fundamental truths of the faith. “What think ye of Christ?” is still the true test of every creed. The Christ of the Bible is certainly not the Christ of any false “-ism.” Each of the cults has its hideous caricature of our lovely Lord.

Let us who have been redeemed at the cost of His precious blood be “good soldiers of Jesus Christ.” As the battle against the forces of evil waxes ever more hot, we have need for God-given valour.

There is constant temptation to compromise. “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.” It is always right to stand firmly for what God has revealed concerning His blessed Son’s person and work. The “father of lies” deals in half-truths and specializes in most subtle fallacies concerning the Lord Jesus, our sole and sufficient Savior.

Error is like leaven of which we read, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Truth mixed with error is equivalent to all error, except that it is more innocent looking and, therefore, more dangerous. God hates such a mixture! Any error, or any truth-and-error mixture, calls for definite exposure and repudiation. To condone such is to be unfaithful to God and His Word and treacherous to imperiled souls for whom Christ died.

Exposing error is most unpopular work. But from every true standpoint it is worthwhile work. To our Savior, it means that He receives from us, His blood-bought ones, the loyalty that is His due. To ourselves, if we consider “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt,” it ensures future reward, a thousand-fold. And to souls “caught in the snare of the fowler”-how many of them God only knows-it may mean light and life, abundant and everlasting.

[Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), a godly Fundamentalist author and teacher for many years, served as pastor of Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church from 1930-1948]

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