“Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Mark 1:14-15
Our Lord Jesus Christ commences His ministry by announcing its leading commands. He comes up from the wilderness newly anointed, like the bridegroom from his chamber. His love notes are repentance and faith. He comes forth fully prepared for His office, having been in the desert, “tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.” His loins are girded like a strong man to run a race. He preaches with all the earnestness of a new zeal, combined with all the wisdom of a long preparation. In the beauty of holiness from the womb of the morning He glitters with the dew of His youth.
Hear, O heavens and give ear, O earth, for Messiah speaks in the greatness of His strength. He cries unto the sons of men, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Let us give our ears to these words which, like their Author, are full of Divine Grace and the Truth of God. Before us we have the sum and substance of Jesus Christ’s whole teaching—the Alpha and Omega of His entire ministry. And coming from the lips of such an One, at such a time, with such peculiar power, let us give the most earnest heed and may God help us to obey them from our inmost hearts.
I. I shall commence by remarking that the Gospel which Christ preached was, very plainly, a command. “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Our Lord does condescend to reason. Often His ministry graciously acted out the old text, “Come, now and let us reason together; though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as wool.” He does persuade men by telling and forcible arguments, which should lead them to seek the salvation of their souls. He does invite men and oh, how lovingly He woos them to be wise!
“Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” He does entreat men. He condescends to become, as it were, a beggar to His own sinful creatures, beseeching them to come to Him. Indeed, He makes this to be the duty of His ministers, “As though God did beseech you by us, we pray you, in Christ’s place, be you reconciled to God.” Yet, remember, though He condescends to reason, to persuade, to invite, and to beseech, still His Gospel has in it all the dignity and force of a command.
And if we would preach it in these days as Christ did, we must proclaim it as a command from God, attended with a Divine sanction and not to be neglected except at the infinite peril of the soul. When the feast was spread upon the table for the marriage supper, there was an invitation—but it had all the obligation of a command—since those who rejected it were utterly destroyed as despisers of their king. When the builders reject Christ, He becomes a stone of stumbling to “the disobedient.” But how could they disobey if there were no command?
The Gospel contemplates, I say, invitations, entreaties and beseeching—but it also takes the higher ground of authority. “Repent and believe,” is as much a command of God as, “You shall not steal.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” has as fully a Divine authority as, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.” Think not, O Man, that the Gospel is a thing left to your option to choose or not! Dream not, O Sinners, that you may despise the Word from Heaven and incur no guilt! Think not that you may neglect it, and no ill consequences shall follow!
It is just this neglect and despising of yours which shall fill up the measure of your iniquity. It is this concern for which we cry aloud, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” God commands you to repent. The same God before whom Sinai was moved and was altogether on a smoke—that same God who proclaimed the Law with sound of trumpet, with lightning and with thunder, speaks to us more gently but still as Divinely, through His only begotten Son, when He says to us, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Why is this, dear Friends? Why has the Lord made it a command to us to believe in Christ? There is a blessed reason. Many souls would never venture to believe at all if it were not made a penal offense to refuse to do so. For this is the difficulty with many awakened sinners, may I believe? Have I a right to believe? Am I permitted to trust Christ? Now this question is put aside, once and for all, and should never irritate a broken heart again. You are commanded by God to do it, therefore you may do it.
Every creature under Heaven is commanded to believe in the Lord Jesus and bow the knee at His name. Every creature, wherever the Gospel comes, wherever the Truth of God is preached, is commanded then and there to believe the Gospel. And it is put in that shape, I say, lest any conscience-stricken sinner should question whether he may do it. Surely, you may do what God commands you to do! You may throw this at the devil’s lies—“I may do it. I am bid to do it by Him who has authority and I am threatened if I do not with eternal damnation from His Presence, for ‘He that believes not shall be damned.’”
This gives the sinner such a blessed permit, that whatever he may be or may not be, whatever he may have felt or may not have felt, he has a warrant which he may use whenever he is led to approach the Cross. However benighted and darkened you may be, however hard-hearted and callous you may be, you have still a warrant to look to Jesus in the words, “Look unto Me and be you saved all you ends of the earth.” He that commanded you to believe will justify you in believing. He cannot condemn you for that which He Himself bids you do.
But while there is this blessed reason for the Gospel’s being a command, there is yet another solemn and an awful one. It is that men may be without excuse in the Day of Judgment. No man may say at the last, “Lord, I did not know that I might believe in Christ. Lord, Heaven’s gate was shut in my face. I was told that I might not come, that I was not the man.” “No,” says the Lord, with tones of thunder, “the times of man’s ignorance I winked at, but in the Gospel I commanded all men everywhere to repent. I sent my Son, and then I sent my Apostles and afterwards my ministers. And I bade them all make this the burden of their cry, ‘Repent and be converted every one of you.’
“And as Peter preached at Pentecost, so I bade them preach to you. I bade them warn, exhort, and invite with all affection, but also to command with all authority, compelling you to come in. And inasmuch as you did not come at My command, you have added sin to sin. You have added the suicide of your own soul to all your other iniquities. And now, inasmuch as you did reject My Son, you shall have the portion of unbelievers, for ‘he that believes not shall be damned.’”
To all the nations of the earth, then, let us sound forth this decree from God. O Man, Jehovah that made you, He who gives you the breath of your nostrils, He against whom you have offended, commands you this day to repent and believe the Gospel. He gives His promise—“He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” And He adds the solemn threat—“He that believes not shall be damned.” I know some Brethren will not like this but that I cannot help. The slave of systems I will never be, for the Lord has loosed that iron bondage from my neck and now I am the joyful servant of the Truth of God which makes men free.
Offend or please, as God shall help me, I will preach every Truth of God as I learn it from the Word. And I know if there is anything written in the Bible at all, it is written as with a sunbeam, that God in Christ commands men to repent and believe the Gospel. It is one of the saddest proofs of man’s utter depravity that he will not obey this command, but that he will despise Christ and so make his doom worse than the doom of Sodom and Gomorrah. Without the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit, no man will ever be obedient to this command. But still it must be published for a witness against them if they reject it. And while publishing God’s command with all simplicity, we may expect that He will Divinely enforce it in the souls of those whom He has ordained unto eternal life.
II. While the Gospel is a command, it is a two-fold command explaining itself. “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” I know some very excellent Brethren—would God there were more like them in zeal and love—who, in their zeal to preach up simple faith in Christ have felt a little difficulty about the matter of repentance. And I have known some of them who have tried to get over the difficulty by softening down the apparent hardness of the word repentance, by expounding it according to its more usual Greek equivalent, a word which occurs in the original of my text and signifies “to change one’s mind.”
Apparently they interpret repentance to be a somewhat slighter thing than we usually conceive it to be—a mere change of mind, in fact. Now, allow me to suggest to those dear Brethren that the Holy Spirit never preaches repentance as a trifle. And the change of mind, or understanding, of which the Gospel speaks is a very deep and solemn work—and must not on any account be depreciated. Moreover, there is another word which is also used in the original Greek for repentance, not so often, I admit—but still it is used, which signifies “an after-care,” a word which has in it something more of sorrow and anxiety than that which signifies changing one’s mind.
There must be sorrow for sin and hatred of it in true repentance, or else I have read my Bible to little purpose. In very truth, I think there is no necessity for any other definition than that of the children’s hymn—
“Repentance is to leave
The sins we loved before,
And show that we in earnest grieve,
By doing so no more.”
To repent does mean a change of mind. But then it is a thorough change of the understanding and all that is in the mind, so that it includes an illumination—an illumination of the Holy Spirit. And I think it includes a discovery of iniquity and a hatred of it, without which there can hardly be a genuine repentance. We must not, I think, undervalue repentance. It is a blessed Grace of God the Holy Spirit and it is absolutely necessary unto salvation.
The command explains itself. We will take, first of all, repentance. It is quite certain that whatever the repentance here mentioned may be, it is a repentance perfectly consistent with faith. And therefore we get the explanation of what repentance must be, from its being connected with the next command, “Believe in the Gospel.” Then, dear Friends, we may be sure that that unbelief which leads a man to think that his sin is too great for Christ to pardon it, is not the repentance meant here.
Many who truly repent are tempted to believe that they are too great sinners for Christ to pardon. That, however, is not a part of their repentance, it is a sin—a very great and grievous sin—for it is undervaluing the merit of Christ’s blood. It is a denial of the truthfulness of God’s promise. It is a detracting from the Divine Grace and favor of God who sent the Gospel. Such a persuasion you must labor to get rid of, for it came from Satan and not from the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit never teaches a man that his sins are too great to be forgiven, for that would mean God the Holy Spirit were teaching a lie.
If any of you have a thought of that kind this morning, be rid of it. It comes from the powers of darkness and not from the Holy Spirit. And if some of you are troubled because you never were haunted by that fear, be glad instead of being troubled. He can save you. Be your sin as black as coal, He can save you. And it is a wicked falsehood and a high insult against the majesty of Divine love when you are tempted to believe that you are past the mercy of God. That is not repentance, but a foul sin against the infinite mercy of God.
Then, there is another spurious repentance which makes the sinner dwell upon the consequences of his sin, rather than upon the sin, itself, and so keeps him from believing. I have known some sinners so distressed with fears of Hell, and thoughts of death and eternal judgment, that to use the words of one terrible preacher, “They have been shaken over the mouth of Hell by their collar,” and have almost felt the torments of the pit before they went there.
Dear Friends, this is not repentance. Many a man has felt all that, and has yet been lost. Look at many a dying man, tormented with remorse, who has had all its pangs and convictions and yet has gone down to the grave without Christ and without hope. These things may come with repentance, but they are not an essential part of it. That which is called Law-work, in which the sinner is terrified with horrible thoughts that God’s mercy is gone forever, may be permitted by God for some special purpose, but it is not repentance.
In fact, it may often be devilish rather than heavenly, for, as John Bunyan tells us, Diabolus does often beat the great Hell drum in the ears of the men of Mansoul, to prevent their hearing the sweet trumpet of the Gospel which proclaims pardon to them. I tell you, Sinner, any repentance that keeps you from believing in Christ is a repentance that needs to be repented of. Any repentance that makes you think Christ will not save you, goes beyond the Truth of God and against the Truth of God, and the sooner you are rid of it, the better. God deliver you from it, for the repentance that will save you is quite consistent with faith in Christ.
There is, again, a false repentance which leads men to hardness of heart and despair. We have known some seared as with a hot iron by burning remorse. They have said, “I have done much evil. There is no hope for me. I will not hear the Word any more.” If they hear it, it is nothing to them. Their hearts are hard as adamant. If they could once get the thought that God would forgive them, their hearts would flow in rivers of repentance. But no—they feel a kind of regret that they did wrong—but yet they go on in it all the same. They feel there is no hope and that they may as well continue to live as they were likely to do and get the pleasures of sin since they cannot, as they think, have the pleasures of Divine Grace.
Now, that is not repentance. It is a fire which hardens and not the Lord’s fire which melts. It may be a hammer, but it is a hammer used to knit the particles of your soul together and not to break the heart. If, dear Friends, you have never been the subject of these terrors do not desire them. Thank God if you have been brought to Jesus but long not for needless horrors. Jesus saves you, not by what you feel but by that finished work, that blood and righteousness which God accepted on your behalf. Remember that no repentance is worth the having which is not perfectly consistent with faith in Christ.
An old saint, on his sickbed, once used this remarkable expression—“Lord, sink me low as Hell in repentance. But”—and here is the beauty of it—“lift me high as Heaven in faith.” Now, the repentance that sinks a man low as Hell is of no use except there is the faith, also, that lifts him as high as Heaven. Then the two are perfectly consistent, the one with the other. A man may loathe and detest himself and all the while he may know that Christ is able to save and has saved him. In fact, this is how true Christians live. They repent as bitterly for sin as if they knew they should be damned for it. But they rejoice as much in Christ as if sin were nothing at all.
Oh, how blessed it is to know where these two lines meet, the stripping of repentance and the clothing of faith! The repentance that ejects sin as an evil tenant, and the faith which admits Christ to be the sole master of the heart. The repentance which purges the soul from dead works and the faith that fills the soul with living works, the repentance which pulls down and the faith which builds up. The repentance that scatters stones and the faith which puts stones together.
The repentance which ordains a time to weep and the faith that gives a time to dance—these two things together make up the work of Divine Grace within, whereby men’s souls are saved. Be it, then, laid down as a great Truth of God, most plainly written in our text, that the repentance we ought to preach is one connected with faith, and thus we may preach repentance and faith together without any difficulty whatever.
Having shown you what this repentance is not, let us dwell for a moment upon what it is. The repentance which is here commanded is the result of faith. It is born at the same time with faith—they are twins and to say which is the elder is beyond my knowledge. It is a great mystery—faith is before repentance in some of its acts and repentance before faith in another view of it. The fact is that they come into the soul together. Now, a repentance which makes me weep and abhor my past life because of the love of Christ which has pardoned it, is the correct repentance.
When I can say, “My sin is washed away by Jesus’ blood,” and then repent because I so sinned as to make it necessary that Christ should die—that dove-eyed repentance which looms at His bleeding wounds and feels that her heart must bleed because she wounded Christ—that broken heart that breaks because Christ was nailed to the Cross for it—that is the repentance which brings us salvation.
Again, the repentance which makes us avoid present sin because of the love of God who died for us, this also is saving repentance. If I avoid sin today because I am afraid of being lost if I commit it, I have not the repentance of a child of God. But when I avoid it and seek to lead a holy life because Christ loved me and gave Himself for me and because I am not my own but am bought with a price, this is the work of the Spirit of God.
And again, that change of mind, that carefulness which leads me to resolve that in the future I will live like Jesus and will not live unto the lusts of the flesh, because He has redeemed me, not with corruptible things as silver and gold but with His own precious blood—that is the repentance which will save me and the repentance which He asks of me. O you nations of the earth, He asks not the repentance of Mount Sinai, while you fear and shake because His lightning is abroad. But He asks you to weep and wail because of Him—to look on Him whom you have pierced and to mourn for Him as a man mourns for his only son.
He bids you remember that you nailed the Savior to the tree, and asks that this argument may make you hate the murderous sins which fastened the Savior there, and put the Lord of Glory to an ignominious and an accursed death. This is the only repentance we have to preach. Not Law and terrors. Not despair. Not driving men to self-murder—this is the terror of the world which works death. But godly sorrow is a sorrow unto salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This brings me to the second half of the command, which is, “Believe in the Gospel.” Faith means trust in Christ. Now I must again remark that some have preached this trust in Christ so well and so fully, that I can but admire their faithfulness and bless God for them. Yet there is a difficulty and a danger. It may be that in preaching simple trust in Christ as being the way of salvation, they may omit to remind the sinner that no faith can be genuine but such as is perfectly consistent with repentance for past sins.
My text seems to me to put it thus—no repentance is true but that which consorts with faith, and no faith is true but that which is linked with a hearty and sincere repentance on account of past sins. So then, dear Friends, those people who have a faith which allows them to think lightly of past sins, have the faith of devils, and not the faith of God’s elect. Those who say, “Oh, as for the past, that is nothing. Jesus Christ has washed all that away.”
Those who can talk about all the crimes of their youth and the iniquities of their riper years, as if they were mere trifles. Those who never think of shedding a tear over past sins, never feel their souls ready to burst because they were such great offenders—such men who can trifle with the past and even fight their battles over again when their passions are too cold for new rebellions—I say that such who think sin a trifle and have never sorrowed on account of it, may know that their faith is not genuine.
Such men as have a faith which allows them to live carelessly in the present, who say, “Well, I am saved by a simple faith,” and then sit on the ale-bench with the drunkard, or stand at the bar with the spirit-drinker, or go into worldly company and enjoy the carnal pleasures and the lusts of the flesh—such men are liars. They have not the faith which will save the soul. They have a deceitful hypocrisy. They have not the faith which will bring them to Heaven.
And then, there are some other people who have a faith which leads them to no hatred of sin. They do not look upon sin in others with any kind of shame. It is true they would not do as others do, but then they can laugh at what others commit. They take pleasure in the vices of others—laugh at their profane jests and smile at their loose speeches. They do not flee from sin as from a serpent, nor detest it as the murderer of their best Friend. No, they dally with it. They make excuses for it. They commit in private what in public they condemn. They call grave offenses slight faults and little defalcations.
In business they wink at departures from uprightness and consider them to be mere matters of trade. The fact being that they have a faith which will sit down arm-in-arm with sin and eat and drink at the same table with unrighteousness. Oh, if any of you have such a faith as this, I pray God to turn it out bag and baggage. It is of no good to you. The sooner you are cleaned out of it the better, for when this sandy foundation shall all be washed away, perhaps you may then begin to build upon the rock.
My dear Friends, I would be very faithful with your souls, and would lay the lancet at each man’s heart. What is your repentance? Have you a repentance that leads you to look out of self to Christ and to Christ only? On the other hand, have you that faith which leads you to true repentance? To hate the very thought of sin so that the dearest idol you have known, whatever it may be, you desire to tear from its throne that you may worship Christ and Christ only? Be assured of this, that nothing short of this will be of any use to you at the last.
A repentance and a faith of any other sort may do to please you now, as children are pleased with fancies. But when you get on a deathbed and see the reality of things, you will be compelled to say that they are a falsehood and a refuge of lies. You will find that you have been daubed with untempered mortar—that you have said, “Peace, peace,” to yourselves, when there was no peace. Again, I say, in the words of Christ, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). Trust Christ to save you and lament that you need to be saved.
Excerpt of a sermon by C.H. Spurgeon. Faith and Repentance – Part 2 to follow