I was pretty sick all day yesterday. I had a major headache, neck ache, and slight nausea throughout the entire day. Besides being greatly revived by my wife’s excellent minestrone soup (it could raise the dead), I was also greatly helped by various medicines.
As I looked at the bottle of one headache medicine I was taking, I noticed all the ingredients involved. As I read, I thought to myself that this medicine is only helpful to me because of all these very important ingredients. If one of these ingredients were missing, this medicine would (most likely) do me no good at all.
The same is true for repentance.
There are a lot of knock-offs of repentance being taught today. Some folks say it isn’t necessary if you want to follow Jesus. Others will define it in unbiblical ways. Many more simply have no category for it at all. With all these distortions or denials, it is important for us to know what true repentance is so we are actually helped by it. To help toward that end, allow Thomas Watson to offer what he believes to be the six necessary ingredients of true repentance.
Repentance is a spiritual medicine made of six special ingredients…
Sight of Sin. “Before a man come to Christ he must first come to himself…A man must first recognize and consider what his sin is, and know the plague of his heart before he can be duly humbled for it…The eye is made for both seeing and weeping. Sin must first be seen before it can be wept for…If there is no sigh of sin, there can be no repentance.”
Sorrow for Sin. “A woman may as well expect to have a child without pain as one can have repentance without sorrow…This sorrow for sin is not superficial: it is a holy agony. It is called in the scripture a breaking of the heart (Ps. 51:17); and a ripping of the heart (Joel 2:13). The expressions of striking on the thigh (Jer. 31:19), beating the breast (Lk. 18:13, putting on of sackcloth (Isaiah 22:12), pulling out the hair (Ezra 9:3), all these are but outward sign of inward sorrow…A broken heart and a broken Christ do well agree. The more bitterness we taste in sin, the more sweetness we shall taste in Christ.”
Confession for Sin. “Sorrow is such a vehement passion that it will have vent. It vents itself at the eyes by weeping and at the tongue by confession…The truth is that by this self-accusing we prevent Satan’s accusing. In our confessions we charge ourselves with pride, unfaithfulness, lust, so that when Satan, who is called ‘the accuser of the brothers’, shall lay these things to our charge, God will say, “They have accused themselves already; therefore Satan, you are too late. Throw out the poison of sin by confession, and this day is salvation come to your house.”
Shame for Sin. “Blushing is the color of virtue. When the heart has been made black with sin, grace makes the face red with blushing (Ezra 9:6)…If Christ’s blood were not at the sinners heart, there would not so much blood come in the face…Many have sinned away shame. It is a great shame not to be ashamed. ..Be assured, the more we are ashamed of sin now, the less we shall be ashamed at Christ’s coming.”
Hatred for Sin. “If a man hates that which makes his stomach sick, much more will he hate that which makes his conscience sick…Christ is never loved until sin is hated. Heaven is never longed for until sin is hated…We are never more precious in God’s eyes until we are lepers in our own…Sound repentance begins in the love of God and ends in the hatred of sin…A saved person hates sin not only for hell, but as hell.”
Turning from Sin. “The turning from sin implies a notable change. There is a change begun in the heart…In repentance, Jesus turns a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. There is a change begun in life. Turning from sin is so visible that others may see it…Repentance makes such a visible change in a person that it seems like we have become a completely different person altogether…
Before ending his list, Watson offers an extremely precious reminder of what repentance is: a gift that benefits us alone.
If we turn to God, he will turn to us. He will turn his anger from us, and his face to us…Turning to God makes for our profit. Our repentance is of no benefit to God, but to ourselves. If a man drinks of a fountain he benefits himself, not the fountain. If he beholds the light of the sun, he himself is refreshed by it, not the sun. If we turn from our sins to God, God is not advantaged by it. It is only we ourselves who reap the benefit. (Taken from The Doctrine of Repentance, p. 18-53)