Thomas Watson’s The Doctrine of Repentance is, in my opinion, a must read for all Christians. Watson’s explication of biblical repentance is humbling and encouraging.
On turning from sin and turning to God, Watson writes:
The Book of Common Prayer is not widely known by Baptists as we have no official religious book outside of the Bible. I believe it would serve all of us well to read other Christian texts beyond our denominational boundaries.
Not only do many non-Baptist Christian texts contain edifying truths, reading beyond one’s normal purview helps to keep a protestant from forgetting he/she is indeed a protester of the doctrinal corruption and false gospel of the Roman Catholic church.
Southern Baptist theologian and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary founder and first president James Petigru Boyce produced a great work on systematic theology titled Abstract of Systematic Theology (read for free here). While not incredibly long, hence “abstract,” the book faithfully explores the common areas of Systematic Theology and gives an insight into the theological history of Southern Baptists in the process.
Regarding the elements of true Christian Repentance, Dr. Boyce writes:
To set forth more explicitly what Christian Repentance is, it may be stated that it includes
1. An intellectual and spiritual perception of the opposition between holiness in God and sin in man. It does not look at sin as the cause of punishment but abhors it because it is vile in the sight of God and involves in heinous guilt all who are sinners.
2. It consequently includes sorrow and self-loathing, and earnest desire to escape the evil of sin. The penitent soul does not so much feel the greatness of its danger as the greatness of its sinfulness.
3. It also includes an earnest turning to God for help and deliverance from sin, seeking pardon for guilt and aid to escape its presence.
4. It is also accompanied by deep regret because of the sins committed in the past, and by determination with God’s help to avoid sin and live in holiness hereafter. The heart heretofore against God and for sin is now against sin and for God.
Boyce, James. Abstract of Systematic Theology. Kindle Edition.
Faith and repentance are the biblical responses to the Gospel. Is there such a thing as a “counterfeit repentance?” Thomas Watson writes about counterfeit repentance in his book The Doctrine of Repentance. Regarding counterfeit repentance, Watson writes:
To discover what true repentance is, I shall first show what it is not. There are several deceits of repentance which might occasion that saying of Augustine that `repentance ****s many’. He meant a false repentance; a person may delude himself with counterfeit repentance.
1. The first deceit of repentance is legal terror
A man has gone on long in sin. At last God arrests him, shows him what desperate hazard he has run, and he is filled with anguish. Within a while the tempest of conscience is blown over, and he is quiet. Then he concludes that he is a true penitent because he has felt some bitterness in sin. Do not be deceived: this is not repentance. Ahab and Judas had some trouble of mind. It is one thing to be a terrified sinner and another to be a repenting sinner. Sense of guilt is enough to breed terror. Infusion of grace breeds repentance. If pain and trouble were sufficient to repentance, then the ****ed in hell should be most penitent, for they are most in anguish. Repentance depends upon a change of heart. There may be terror, yet with no change of heart.
2. Another deceit about repentance is resolution against sin
A person may purpose and make vows, yet be no penitent. `Thou saidst, I will not transgress’ (Jer. 2.20). Here was a resolution; but see what follows: `under every green tree thou wanderest, playing the harlot’. Notwithstanding her solemn engagements, she played fast and loose with God and ran after her idols. We see by experience what protestations a person will make when he is on his sick-bed, if God should recover him again; yet he is as bad as ever. He shows his old heart in a new temptation.
Resolutions against sin may arise:
(1) From present extremity; not because sin is sinful, but because it is painful. This resolution will vanish.
(2) From fear of future evil, an apprehension of death and hell: `I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him’ (Rev. 6.8). What will not a sinner do, what vows will he not make, when he knows he must die and stand before the judgment-seat? Self-love raises a sick-bed vow, and love of sin will prevail against it. Trust not to a passionate resolution; it is raised in a storm and will die in a calm.
3. The third deceit about repentance is the leaving of many sinful ways
It is a great matter, I confess, to leave sin. So dear is sin to a man that he will rather part with a child than with a lust: `Shall I give the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ (Mic. 6.7). Sin may be parted with, yet without repentance.
(1) A man may part with some sins and keep others, as Herod reformed many things that were amiss but could not leave his incest.
(2) An old sin may be left in order to entertain a new, as you put off an old servant to take another. This is to exchange a sin. Sin may be exchanged and the heart remained unchanged. He who was a prodigal in his youth turns usurer in his old age. A slave is sold to a Jew; the Jew sells him to a Turk. Here the master is changed, but he is a slave still. So a man moves from one vice to another but remains a sinner still.
(3) A sin may be left not so much from strength of grace as from reasons of prudence. A man sees that though such a sin be for his pleasure, yet it is not for his interest. It will eclipse his credit, prejudice his health, impair his estate. Therefore, for prudential reasons, he dismisses it. True leaving of sin is when the acts of sin cease from the infusion of a principle of grace, as the air ceases to be dark from the infusion of light.