one doctrine upon which all historic Christianity is agreed
it's the fundamental teaching that salvation is made available
to mankind through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This
sacrifice is usually taken to mean the whole history of
Christ's incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection,
although frequently only one aspect of this divine drama is
taken as representative of them all. That salvation is the
result of the entire life and work of Christ is evident in the
language of Paul, said of Christ Jesus:
"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to
be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took
upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness
of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled
himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the
cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given
him a name which is above every name: that at the name of
Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things
in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue
should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God
the Father (Phil. 2:6-11).
This passage traces the redemption of mankind to the entire
work of Christ in all his incarnation, suffering, death,
resurrection, and ascension to glory. In his redemption work
Christ is likened to a sacrificial lamb under the ancient
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the
world" (John 1:29).
This was no doubt an allusion to the ritual ordained in
"Now this is that which thou shalt offer upon the altar;
two lambs of the first year day by day continually. The one
lamb thou shalt offer in the morning; and the other lamb thou
shalt offer at even" (29:38-39).
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed that the suffering Messiah
should be brought as a lamb to the slaughter (Isa. 53:7), and
the Book of Revelation represents Christ as "a Lamb slain"
(5:6) and "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world"
"Ye were not redeemed with corruptible t hings, as silver
and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition
from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as
of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was
foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was
manifest in these last times for you" (I Pet. 1:18-20).
Moreover, this is Christ's own interpretation of his work,
for he said: "The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I
will give for the life of the world.
Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his
blood, ye have no life in you" (John 6:51, 53).
"But God commendeth his love toward us," says Paul, "in
that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more
then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from
wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were
reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being
reconciled, we shall be saved by his life (Rom. 5:8-10).
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews voices the same
"Since the children then share blood and flesh, he himself
participated in their nature, so that by dying he might crush
him who wields the power of death (that is to say, the devil)
and release from thralldom those who lay under a life-long
fear of death" (Heb. 2:14-15, Moffatt).
I have quoted Moffatt here as he properly translates the
Greek word for "destroy," showing that it does not mean that
Christ annihilates the devil by his atoning death, but rather
that he crushed him and breaks his power over those who trust
in Christ for salvation. Paul repeats this theme very often.
"In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness
of sins" is an expression found in Ephesians 1:7 and
Colossians 1:14. "If we walk in the light," writes John, "as
he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and
the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin"
(I John 1:7). Here "blood" is taken as representative of the
whole atoning work of Christ which, in a figure, it is. In the
Book of Revelation we read:
"Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his
own blood" (1:5b).
"Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood"
"These are they which came out of great tribulation, and
have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of
the Lamb" (7:14b).
THE MEANING OF THE ATONEMENT
The most able minds of the church have pondered for
generations upon the meaning of the atonement -- what was it
that made Christ's death necessary? The Scriptures teach that
Christ's death was a ransom but to whom? The ancient Greek
fathers taught that Christ's death was a ransom to Satan.
Satan had acquired a certain control over man and had brought
him into bondage, and Christ was given by the Father as a
ransom to Satan in order to buy the souls of men back to God.
Gregory of Nyssa taught this theory in what was perhaps its
crudest form, namely, that Christ was like the bait on a
fishhook which Satan accepted, not being able to perceive the
divinity of Christ hidden under the forms of his humiliation.
Therefore Satan took hold of Christ, but he was not powerful
enough to maintain Christ in his grasp. This theory has been
regarded as impossible and absurd for perhaps a thousand
years, but it has recently been revived in a modified form by
Gustaf Aulen of the Theological School of Lund, Sweden. Aulen
has professed to see in this old theory an approximation to
the truth that man's state is self-contradictory, for although
he has by a sad apostasy perverted himself into an abnormal
condition under the devil's sway, he is nevertheless a
creature of God who rightly belongs to God. Aulen thinks this
old theory is an attempt to show that although the
relationship between God and Satan is hostile, God would not
use force in accomplishing his purpose. 
The theory that the death of Christ was a ransom to Satan
held the field from the days of Origen, who died A.D. 254,
until a new interpretation was made by Anselm, Archbishop of
Canterbury, who died A.D. 1109. Anselm taught that sin is debt
(guilt) and that under the government of God it is absolutely
necessary that this debt shall be paid, or that the penalty
incurred by the guilt of sin shall be suffered either by the
sinner or by a satisfactory substitute. This doctrine has
become the orthodox interpretation of the universal church.
The Council of Trent wrote: "Jesus Christ who, when we were
enemies, merited justification for us by his most sacred
passion on the tree and satisfied God the Father for us"; so
holds the Roman Catholic Church and this view is re-echoed by
the Lutheran Formula of Concord, the Heidelberg Catechism, the
second Helvetic Confession, the Westminster Confession, and
the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. There have
been a number of minor theories unnecessary to specify here.
The most prominent orthodox digression from the Anselmic
interpretation is that called the governmental theory,
propounded by Hugo Grotius, who died 1645. Grotius taught that
the law is the product of the divine will and the right to
relax its demands at. will belongs to God's prerogative of
moral governor, but since the free remission of the penalty in
the case of some sinners would weaken the motives restraining
from disobedience the subjects of the divine government in
general by affording an example of impunity, the benevolence
of God requires that as a precondition of the forgiveness of
any sinners he should furnish such an example of suffering in
Christ as would exhibit his determination that sin shall not
escape with impunity. This is called the government theory
because it emphasizes the fact that the sufferings of Christ
were not an exact substitute for the sinner but were made a
moral equivalent in the divine system of government. This
theory was carried over into the Arminian theology and was
taken up by the Wesleyan theologians with modifications, the
purpose being to avoid the conclusion of the Calvinists that
if Christ died for any man that man would be saved regardless
of anything which he might do. Wesleyan theologians sought to
get away from such a mechanical theory. This doctrine has been
thinned out by liberals into something like the moral theory
of atonement. On the other hand, it can be interpreted in an
orthodox manner as by the great Dutch theologian, Philip
Limborch, who wrote: "The death of Christ is called a
sacrifice for sin, but sacrifices are not payment of debt, nor
are they full satisfactions for sins. But a gratuitous
remission is granted when they are offered."
We don't regard it necessary to arouse further controversy
on the subject by proposing any ingenious interpretation of
the atonement. It's enough to leave it where the New Testament
placed it and say that in some way, possibly beyond human
understanding in this life,
"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten
Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but
have everlasting life."
CHRIST DIED FOR ALL MEN
Controversy over the doctrine of atonement has arisen from
the difficulty of reconciling a universal atonement with the
salvation of only a part of the human race. Those who believe
in predestination have argued that if Christ suffered as a
substitute for any soul, then that soul must be saved
automatically and it's impossible that he should be lost.
Nevertheless, according to the Christian teaching many souls
are lost; therefore, say the orthodox Calvinists, it's obvious
that Christ did not die for these souls else they wouldn't,
and couldn't, be lost. The reply which Arminian theologians
make to this argument is that the death of Christ didn't
automatically insure the salvation of any given individuals,
but it made salvation possible for every human being in all
the history of the world because the benefit of Christ's
atonement was retroactive from the day when he died on the
cross, back through the long ages to the fall of Adam. This
atonement had in fact been effective during all these years
inasmuch as it had already been an accomplished fact in the
purpose of God.
This doctrine -- that even though some are lost, all men
may be saved through the atoning merits of Christ's death --
is taught so plainly in the Scriptures that the only way to
avoid it is to deny the sincerity of these offers of
salvation, which, of course, means to deny the truth of the
Scriptures themselves. Following are some Scriptures which
state in unequivocal language that the death of Christ was
suffered in behalf of every human being that ever lived in
"That he by the grace of God should taste death for every
man' (Heb. 2:9b).
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the
world" (John 1:29).
"He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours
only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (I John 2:2).
"We thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all
dead: and that he died for all" (II Cor. 5:14b-15a).
"God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world;
but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17).
"This is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world"
"As by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to
condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free
gift came upon all men unto justification of life" (Rom.
"Who gave himself a ransom for all" (I Tim. 2:6).
Those who believe in universalism, or a second probation,
have twisted these texts in order to prove that all men will
be saved, regardless of their behavior in this life. Paul's
language as translated by James Moffatt is very sweeping: "As
one man's trespass issued in doom for all, so one man's act of
redress issued in acquittal and life for all. Just as one
man's disobedience made all the rest sinners, so one man's
obedience will make all the rest righteous." Orthodox
believers have been "put to it" in order to reconcile these
statements with a whole regiment of texts which teach the
eternal damnation of the finally impenitent.
The explanation is so simple it's a matter of wonder that
any could miss it. First of all, it is true that all men are
conditionally saved in Christ as infants. This is the sense in
which this scripture is perfectly fulfilled in harmony with
the texts which teach the doctrine of eternal punishment. That
all men are conditionally saved in Christ as infants is a
specific teaching of the Lord Jesus himself, who said:
"Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto
me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:14).
They are passive under the atonement, and all men are
invited to return to this state of childhood innocency by the
call of the Lord Jesus:
"Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become
as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of
heaven" (Matt. 18:3).
GOD INVITES ALL MEN TO ACCEPT SALVATION
Inasmuch as the conditions of salvation run so sharply
against the sinful inclinations of mankind, nearly all gospel
workers find it necessary to urge upon all men the necessity
of seeking the Lord. Like Paul, they insist that we must
through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. It is
certainly true, as Jesus himself has taught, that strait is
the gate and narrow is the way that enters into life, and
Christian teachers are justified in warning every man, and
with tears as did Paul at Corinth. There is always, as is so
often the case regarding other truths, a danger of putting the
truth in a false light at this point by a misplaced emphasis.
In other words, we must take great care to point out that the
narrowness is in man's own sinful nature itself; it's not due
to any lack of generosity in the divine call and provisions
for man's salvation. In fact, the Scriptures teach that God is
seeking man; that he is urging his salvation upon man; that he
shines around man like the light of a summer sun and the only
way anybody can be lost is to reject Christ, although in the
blindness of sin that is, alas, far too easy to do. However
much we may stress the urgency of the need of seeking God, we
must never forget that in its deepest truth the fact is that
God is seeking men, always and everywhere. The following texts
serve to indicate that fact:
"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my
voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup
with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20).
"The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that
heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And
whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely"
In this first text Christ presents himself as one who must
be rejected in order to be avoided, and' in the second he is
represented as extending a universal welcome to all men.
"God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not
imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto
us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for
Christ, as. though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in
Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (II Cor. 5:19-20).
Both by his Spirit and through his people Christ pleads
with men to accept forgiveness and reconciliation.
"Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth"
"Ho, every one that trusteth, come ye to the waters"
"Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I
will give you rest," says our Lord in Matthew 11:28.
"Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him
come with me, and drink" (John 7:37).
"I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the
power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to
the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16).
And at the close of his earthly ministry our Lord said:
"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every
creature" (Mark 16:15).
These texts prove clearly that the atonement of Christ is
for all men. He paid the debt for every man. They show further
that this privilege is offered graciously, freely, and
urgently to all men.
The writer is a conservative Christian who sincerely
confesses the solemn belief that multitudes of men will be
eternally lost because they reject the mercy which is offered
through Christ. This point is stressed in order to make clear
the truth that the doom of the lost will not be because they
could not find the way of salvation, but because they rejected
it. Strictly speaking, it's not correct to say that God's
grace is limited to only a few saintly souls; on the contrary,
"the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to
all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly
lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this
present world" (Titus 2:11-12).
Even the ancient heathen realized that God was moving in
their lives. This is beautifully brought out by Lactantius who
quotes Cicero, the ancient Roman philosopher, as follows:
"There is indeed a true law, right reason, agreeing with
nature, diffused among all unchanging, everlasting, which
calls to duty by commanding, deters from wrong by forbidding;
which, however, neither commands nor forbids the good in vain,
nor affects the wicked by commanding or forbidding. It's not
allowable to alter the provisions of this law, nor is it
permitted us to modify it, nor can it be entirely abrogated.
Nor, truly, can we be released from this law, either by the
senate or by the people; nor is another person to be sought to
explain or interpret it. Nor will there be one law at Rome and
another at Athens; one law at the present time, and another
hereafter: but the same law, everlasting and unchangeable,
will bind all nations at all times; and there will be one
common Master and Ruler of all, even God, the framer,
arbitrator, and proposer of this law; and he who shall not
obey this will flee from himself, and, despising the nature of
man, will suffer the greatest punishments through this very
thing, even though he shall have escaped the other punishments
which are supposed to exist." 
Lactantius was a Roman Christian writer who died in A.D.
330. And that Cicero, who died 43 B.C., here made a correct
surmise about the nature of God, the revelation of himself by
his Spirit on the hearts of all men, is confirmed by the words
"When the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature
the things contained in the law, these, having not the law,
are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law
written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing
witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else
excusing one another" (Rom. 2:14-15).
It is the teaching of the old school of Christianity that a
man cannot come to God for salvation merely in his own natural
"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent
me draw him" (John 6:44);
and the reason we cannot come to God by our own natural
effort is because we are naturally weak and helpless.
Come, ye sinners poor and needy, Weak and wounded, sick and
This is the teaching of Paul:
"If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the
death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be
saved by his life" (Rom. 5:10).
"When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died
for the ungodly" (5:6).
Therefore our salvation must come as a gift by the grace of
God, for there is nothing we can do to merit it:
"By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of
yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8).
Paul speaks of the Word of God "which effectually worketh
also in you that believe" (I Thess. 2:13d).
Augustine, who died in A.D. 430, wrote of the mysterious
movement of this grace of God in the soul of man: Too late
loved I Thee, O Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! too
late I loved Thee! And behold, Thou wert within, and I abroad,
and there I searched for Thee; deformed I, plunging amid those
fair forms which Thou hadst made. Thou wert with me, but I was
not with Thee. Things held me far from Thee, which, unless
they were in Thee, were not at all. Thou calledst and
shoutedst, and burstest my deafness. Thou flashedst, shonest,
and scatteredst my blindness. Thou breathedst perfumes, and I
draw in breath and pant for Thee. I tasted, and hunger and
thirst Thou touchedst me, and I burned for Thy peace." 
But that our salvation is in the last instance dependent
entirely upon the grace which God extends to us is taught by
"It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of
his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
"God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation
through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth"
(II Thess. 2:13b).
And to repeat the text already given in another connection,
"The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to
all men" (Titus 2:11).
This is offered to all humanity through the atonement, and
in conformity with the general principles of Christian
doctrine we must attribute this universal grace to the
propitiatory work of the sacrifice of Christ. All that we have
by way of grace and redemption comes to us as a favor through
his atoning passion and death. Furthermore, this universal
grace is given to all men and would work salvation in every
human being that has ever lived if its offer were fully
accepted. It would save every man, if he would yield to it.
Men are lost because they reject this.
In the final analysis even the heathen are lost for this
"Even as they did not like to retain God in their
knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those
things which are not convenient" (Rom. 1:28).
"Esau . . . . sold his birthright" (Heb. 12:16); that is,
it was something which he had and cast away, and thus it is by
the rejection of Christ that men are lost. This explains and
justifies the remark which evangelists sometimes make, "The
greatest of all sins is to reject Christ," and that is because
such a rejection is the fundamental basis of all sin.
In the prologue to the Gospel of John Jesus Christ is
introduced as the pre-existent Word that was with God and was
God from the beginning. Then the writer asserts that this Word
"was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into
the world" (John 1:9). The manner of this lighting is
discovered in the fifth verse: "And the light shineth in
darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." Goodpeed
translates this: "The light is still shining in the darkness,
for the darkness has never put it out."
Chrysostom, the greatest orator of the ancient church, who
died in A.D. 407, made a beautiful comment on this passage:
"If he enlightens every man coming into the world, how comes
it that so many men remain without light? For all do not so
much as acknowledge Christ. How then doth he enlighten every
man? He illuminates indeed so far as in him is; but if any of
their own accord, closing the eyes of their mind, will not
direct their eyes unto the beams of this light, the cause that
they remain in darkness is not from the nature of the light,
but through their own malignity, who willingly have rendered
themselves unworthy of so great a gift. But why believed they
not? Because they would not: Christ did his part." 
Ambrose, a father of the Latin church, who died in A.D.
397, wrote: "The mystical Sun of Righteousness is arisen to
all; he came to all; he suffered for all; and rose again for
all: and therefore he suffered, that he might take. away the
sin of the world. But if any one believe not in Christ, he
robs himself of this general benefit, even as if one by
closing the windows should hold out the sunbeams. The sun is
not therefore not arisen to all, because such a one hath so
robbed himself of its heat: but the sun keeps its prerogative;
it's such a one's imprudence that he shuts himself out from
the common benefit of the light." 
Everybody knows that the Song of Solomon is a book commonly
regarded as hard to understand. Modern negative criticism has
seen in this book merely a human love lyric, but the devout
thought of the church has throughout all ages understood this
book to be a dramatic story of the wooing of the soul by its
eternal Lover. It's not unreasonable to believe that the Song
of Solomon is to be understood as expressing the love of
Christ for his church in general and as wooing the human soul
privileged to become a member of that church. We choose to
follow the age-old voice of Christian tradition in accepting
this interpretation, for to do so is to honor the Scriptures
while to count this book a mere story of human love is to
degrade its message. Viewed in this light, then, let's see how
this great spiritual poem portrays the wooing of the soul by
Christ who comes seeking it.
The soul is speaking:
"I slept, but my heart lay
I dreamed -- Ah! there is my darling knocking!
Then Christ speaks: "Open to me, my own,"
he calls, "my
dear, my dove, my paragon!
My head is drenched with dew,
my hair with drops of the night."
This seems a good description of Christ's passion in the
Garden of Gethsemane.
Then the soul makes its excuses:
"But I have doffed my robe; why should I don it? My feet
are bathed; why should I soil them?" Then my darling put his
hand in, his right hand at the door, and my heart yearned for
him; how my soul fainted when I heard him! So I rose to let my
darling in, my hands all moist with myrrh, my finger wet with
liquid myrrh, that dripped on the catch of the bolt. I opened
to my darling, but, my darling, he had gone; I sought him, but
I could not find him, I called, he never answered. -- Song of
Sol. 5:2-6, Moffatt
This shouldn't be taken to mean that people who really
desire to be saved cannot any more be saved, for the very fact
that they wish to be saved is proof that the Spirit of God is
calling them. On the contrary, this's merely a poetical way of
saying that when people tarry too long the Lord leaves them
and they will be plunged into grief and despair although they
will not have any true heart-hunger for God.
Augustine has described the way in which the soul's eternal
Lover woos it from sin to grace with these words:
"What is that which shines through me, and strikes my heart
without injury, and I both shudder and burn? I shudder
inasmuch as I am unlike it; and I burn inasmuch as I am like
it. It is Wisdom itself that shines through me, clearing my
cloudiness, which again overwhelms me, fainting from it, in
the darkness and amount of my punishment. For my strength is
brought down in need, so that I cannot endure my blessings,
until Thou, O Lord, who hast been gracious to all mine
iniquities, heal also all mine infirmities Let him that is
able hear Thee discoursing within." 
THE MEANING OF REPENTANCE
By turning our minds back to the central theme of man's
ideal relation to God we are reminded that love is the key to
the Christian doctrine of salvation. God does love all men
with a love like that of a mother. The Lord says:
"Can a woman forget her infant, forget to pity her babe?
Yet even were a mother to forget, never will I forget you"
(Isa. 49:15, Moffatt).
"As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you"
"I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with
loving-kindness have I drawn thee" (Jer. 31:3).
I'm aware that these verses were spoken directly to ancient
Israel, but I believe they have a much wider meaning as
referring to the ideal bond of love which it is the passionate
purpose of God to restore in all mankind as far as is possible
and consistent with the freedom of the human will. It's the
breaking of this tie of love between man and God that
occasions all the sin and misery of mankind; It is not quite
accurate to say that this tie is broken by sin, for it's the
breaking of it which constitutes the very meaning of Sm. If
this be true, it's easy to see the path by which man must
return to God. The whole world of man's life is filled with
the gentle light of that eternal sun. Everywhere a man may
look he will find the light contending against the darkness of
this. sinful world.
We've tried to show that God is offering salvation to man
all the time and everywhere, and actually in infancy he
conditionally gave salvation to man, and as a consequence men
are lost by rejecting Christ. There is no danger of making
salvation too easy by presenting it in this its true
scriptural light, because once a man's eyes have become opened
by faith to see the realities of the eternal world he will be
stricken with a consciousness of his misery and sin which will
impel him to seek the Lord in deep sorrow of heart. We must
bear in mind at the outset, however, that men everywhere are
rejecting Christ; they are shutting their eyes against the
light; they are barring the doors against the gracious Guest.
Jesus explained that this is done through the cares of the
world. The seed of God is sown in the heart of man, but "he
also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth
the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of
riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful." Or, as it
is explained in another place, the cares of this world and the
deceitfulness of riches and the lusts of other things entering
in choke the word and it becometh unfruitful. Thus we see how
things which are commonly regarded as innocent, harmless
things the constant hum of the industry, enjoyment, pleasure,
anxiety, and toil of everyday life, are allowed to engross all
the attention, to fill all the mental sky of a person's life.
Or, to change the figure, these things are allowed, like weeds
and thorns, to grow up to such a point that the seed of the
Word of God cannot grow good thoughts, good desires, a
beginning conviction of sin, a yearning for God. All these are
planted in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and choked out
because the hearer of the Word does not give his own soul, and
the claims of God and of eternity, even a fair chance to grow
in his heart. That is one reason why God blesses sermons and
songs. They're like small hoes which for a brief moment push
aside the weeds and let the eternal sun shine upon the seed of
the Word of God in the heart. But even when these are lacking
that seed will yet grow if only it has an opportunity.
An illustration of this is seen in the case of men cast
adrift on the sea. When they float for days away from
newspapers, telephones, the day's business, and all the jokes
and fun, frolic and diversions of earthly life, and there in
the solemn silence and stillness face eternity one day after
another, it often happens in this vacant place of the heart
that the eternal seed of God springs up to bless their lives.
Most gospel preachers spend a great deal of time explaining
the various steps of repentance, its degrees and its stages
and its relation to faith. But when one remembers that man is
lost because he has strayed from God's love he sees that the
very first step back to that love, and therefore to a state of
salvation, is faith. Repentance is simply one aspect of faith,
for faith does not move very far until it makes repentance
inevitable or dies in its failure to do so. The very moment a
man begins to believe in God as his loving Father, at that
moment he begins to see his own sinfulness and appalling need.
That's the beginning of repentance.
At the beginning this faith is a gift from God, yet a gift
which the sinner has the power to reject. If exercised, faith
will lead him through all the experience of repentance and
acceptance to the full knowledge of the grace of God and the
full joy of eternal life. This's proved by the fact that
repentance is definitely said to be a gift from God. When
Peter described to the church in Jerusalem his experience in
preaching to the household of Cornelius,
"they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then
hath God also to the Gentiles GRANTED Repentance unto life"
On another occasion Peter preached in Jerusalem concerning
Jesus being exalted to
"a Prince and a Savior, for TO GIVE REPENTANCE to Israel"
This is one of those good gifts which come down from above
Let's illustrate the relation of faith to repentance by a
little story: In early pioneer days a certain innkeeper
enriched himself by robbing his guests. To do this
successfully he often thought it necessary to murder the
guests. When his son grew up he wished to see the world and so
departed from the old home place and traveled over the country
for several years. Deciding to return home and wishing to
surprise his parents, he allowed his beard to grow and
otherwise disguised himself, expecting at the proper time to
reveal himself to the joy of his parents. Since he was riding
a fine horse, his father quickly formed a purpose to kill him,
not knowing, of course, who he was. As this unknown son bent
his bearded face down to the dark waters of a near-by spring
his father stealthily leaned over him and stabbed a long knife
into his heart from the back. The broken body of the helpless
stranger was buried in a secret and unhonored grave for
several days before associates of the father, talking over
their foul business, unintentionally apprised him of the fact
that the bearded young man was his own son. Then, of course,
the sorrow of the father was great, but there was no
This true story seems to have all the elements of a
parable: the father loved a certain idea of his son, held in
memory and formal respect. It's evident, however, that he did
not love the son in his own person because he killed his son.
So there are millions today who love God and Christ merely as
figments of the imagination; they love a form, an idea, a
theory of God. Kierkegaard calls this imaginative idea of God
simply a small "g" god. He says that a man must get rid of the
small "g" god in order to truly love God.
But suppose we admit that the father really loved the son
and didn't recognize him. Suppose he had injured the son badly
but not fatally, and that at that moment he had begun to
believe that it was his own son. Can we not see what a great
change this belief would bring over the man? Would he not at
once begin to weep and be sorry for having injured his beloved
son? Would he not ask his son's forgiveness piteously and
helplessly, and would he not likewise do everything within his
power to make the wrong right and repair the injury he had
done to his son? We can imagine the father tenderly carrying
the boy to his home and humbling himself in every conceivable
way in order to undo the wrong. This is the meaning of
repentance. Theological writers have put it into technical
form until the real heart emotion of the experience has been
obscured by the mechanics of the idea. The soul has injured
and offended God. Strange to say, it has done this both
knowingly and unknowingly, just as this robber knew he was
doing wrong when he stabbed the young man, but he did not know
how extremely evil that act was. Every sinner in the world
today knows more or less clearly that he's doing wrong, but no
one living in willful sin has any true conception of the
tragic enormity of his rebellion against God. Just as the
belief on the part of the father that the wounded corpse was
that of his own son produced sorrow and anguish in his own
mind, likewise the belief on the part of any sinner that he
has sinned against God will tend to produce sorrow,
compunction, and all the elements of true repentance; That is,
if the person who has begun to see all life in this world, and
God and eternity, by the eye of faith will continue to look
with this eye of faith he'll see his sins so enormous that
he'll have no rest until he's received the assurance of
forgiveness and salvation. The only other way he can deal with
this situation -- prevent this repentance from growing into a
complete forsaking of sin and acceptance of salvation -- is to
shut his eye of faith and turn his heart again unto unbelief,
thus rejecting Christ and salvation at the moment he rejects
sorrow for his sins.
Unbelief is such a terrible sin because it makes all other
sins possible. Thus we read:
"Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil
heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Heb.
Unbelief blinds the eyes to the vision of God and dims the
reality of those spiritual things which make repentance and
salvation real, objective experiences of life rather than
figments of the imagination, for
"he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he
is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (11:6).
Repentance, then, is the human response to the conviction
wrought by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the sinner.
"When he comes, he will convict the world, convincing men
of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because
they do not believe in me" (John 16:8-9, Moffatt).
When by faith the sinner sees the wounds he has made in the
body of his Beloved, if he continues his gaze of faith the
result must be (1) contrition:
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a
contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise" (Ps. 51:17).
Such an one has the humble and meek attitude described by
"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom
of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be
comforted" (Matt. 5:34). (2)
This contrition naturally induces a sense of sorrow towards
God. The Authorized Version calls it a "godly sorrow," but in
the original it is a "sorrow toward God." Moffatt translates
"the pain God is allowed to guide ends in a saving
repentance never to be regretted, whereas the world's pain
ends in death. See what this pain divine has done for you, how
serious it's made you, how keen to clear yourselves, how
indignant, how alarmed" (II Cor. 7:10-11).
Here's made very clear the distinction between genuine
repentance and mere remorse of conscience -- sorrow because
the offender has been caught and must suffer the penalty.
Sorrow towards God is a sorrow that sees sin as an offense
against God and is genuinely sorry that it ever happened.
This, of course, implies a sincere purpose of amendment of
"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso
confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Prov. 28:13).
To the lame man who was healed Christ said:
"Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee" (John
"If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had
robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing
iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his
sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him"
These few texts indicate the entire tenor of Scripture:
repentance has no meaning until it has developed into a
sincere, resolute purpose to amend the life by the grace of
God. This fact alone will show us the shallowness of much
modern religion. It's a popular belief that repentance means
being sorry with the understanding that, of course, sin is
inevitable and one is sure to drift back into it again.
According to Scripture, this is not true repentance. There is
never any true repentance until there is a sincere resolution
to give up sin by the grace of God. And this is a valid test
of the reality of repentance.
Sometimes penitents don't know whether their sorrow has
been deep enough, whether they've shed enough tears, whether
they have lingered in the shadows of godly sorrow long enough.
To these the answer is that there's a spiritual instrument
which gauges this process with finest accuracy. Any person
who's sorry enough to quit sin in general, including the
particular sin which troubles him, that person is truly
penitent and need have no fear regarding the depth of his
sorrow for sin.
While we have no sympathy with a purely mechanical,
mathematical conception of repentance, nevertheless it's wise
to form a clear picture of what's involved in repentance. One
of the most important of these elements is forgiving our
enemies and becoming reconciled to all mankind. This's an
implication of the very nature of the love commandment which
requires first, love to God, and then love to man. The Apostle
"He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can
he love God whom he hath not seen?" (I John 4:20).
The same writer says also:
"He that hateth his brother is in darkness" (2:11).
Jesus laid reconciliation with our fellow man at the very
beginning of the life of faith. Referring to the old Jewish
law regarding sacrificing for the forgiveness of sin, he
taught that when one brings his gift to the altar to pray for
"and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against
thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way;
first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer
thy gift" (Matt. 5:23-24).
Since the Jewish altar has long since passed away, it's not
necessary to take this literally, and it doesn't necessarily
mean that a man should postpone seeking salvation until the
has traversed the earth and come into physical contact with
his enemy for the purpose of reconciliation. The spirit of
this verse is carried out when a man at the altar seeking
salvation forms a resolute purpose in his heart that he will,
so far as lies within him, become reconciled to his enemy
regardless of whose fault may have caused that enmity.
Christ taught reconciliation in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive
us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," or in the other form
of the prayer: "As we forgive those who trespass against us."
In other words, that prayer is literally a prayer for
condemnation unless we are willing to forgive our enemies.
Christ repeated this lesson in the story of a debtor who owed
$10,000,000 (Goodspeed), but who after he was released
violently assailed a fellow servant who owed him only $20
(Matt. 18:23-35) . If God's willing to forgive us so much, we
must be willing to forgive the lesser offenses of our fellow
"If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your
Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:15).
This's the acid test of repentance. The man who's truly
brokenhearted over his sins will make every possible effort to
make his wrongs right. He'll restore what he's stolen and
robbed; he'll admit generously wherein he has acted against
love in his relations with his fellow men.
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive
us our sins" (I John 1:9).
Perhaps the first step in this confession is confession to
one's self. This is a step which is practically impossible to
the natural man. It can only be done by yielding to the
entreaty of the Spirit of God. It's as natural for men to
justify all of their actions and all of their wrong behavior
as it is to do these sinful things in the first place. It's
the preliminary work of the Spirit of God in convicting of sin
to enable the sinner to acknowledge to himself that he's done
wrong. Then he can and will confess it to God, and under
certain circumstances to his fellow men, particularly wherein
he's injured any person directly.
"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso
confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Prov.