Repentance and Faith

From The Repentance of Believers (ca. 1745)

As sin remains in our hearts, so it cleaves to all our words and actions. Indeed, it is to be feared that many of our words are more than mixed with sin, that they are sinful altogether. For such undoubtedly is all uncharitable conversation; all which does not spring from brotherly love… But let it be supposed that they continually “watch and pray,” and so do “not enter into” this “temptation” and they constantly set a watch before their mouth and keep the door of their lips. Suppose they exercise themselves that all their “conversation may be in grace, seasoned with salt, and meet to minister grace to the hearers:” yet do they not daily slide into useless discourse, notwithstanding all their caution? And even when they endeavor to speak for God, are their words pure, free from unholy mixtures? Do they find nothing wrong in their very intention? Do they speak merely to please God, and not partly to please themselves?…

How many sins of omission are they chargeable with?… Besides these outward omissions may they not find in themselves inward defects without number? Defects of every kind: they have not the love, the fear, the confidence they ought to have, toward God. They have not the love which is due to their neighbor, to every child of man; no, nor even that which is due to their brothers and sister, to every child of God, whether those that are at a distance from them or those with whom they are immediately connected…

For it is certain, “there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus,” that believe in him, and, in the power of that faith, “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Yet can they no more bear the strict justice of God now, than before they believed… the truth lies between: they still deserve, strictly speaking only the damnation of hell. But what they deserve does not come upon them, because they “have an Advocate with the Father.” His life, death, and intercession still interpose between them and condemnation.

A conviction of their utter helplessness is yet another branch of this repentance. I mean hereby two things: first, that they are no more able now of themselves to think one good thought, to form one good desire, to speak one good word, or do one good work, than before they were justified; that they have still no kind or degree of strength of their own; no power either to do good or resist evil; no ability to conquer or even withstand the world, the devil, or their own evil nature.

They can, it is certain, do all these things; but it is not by their own strength. They have power to overcome all these enemies; for “sin hath no more dominion over them;” but it is not from nature, either in whole or in part; it is the mere gift of God: nor is it given all at once, as if they had a stock laid up for many years; but from moment to moment…

By this helplessness I mean, secondly, an absolute inability to deliver ourselves from that guiltiness or desert of punishment whereof we are still conscious and an inability to remove, by all the grace we have (to say nothing of our natural powers,) either the pride, self-will, love of the world, anger, and general proneness to depart from God…

If any man is not satisfied of this, if any believes that whoever is justified is able to remove these sins out of his heart and life, let him make the experiment. Let him try whether, by the grace he has already received, he can expel pride, self-will, or inbred sin in general. Let him try whether he can cleanse his words and actions from all mixture of evil, whether he can avoid all uncharitable and unprofitable conversation, with all sins of omission.  And, lastly, see whether he can supply the numberless defects which he still finds in himself. Let him not be discouraged by one or two experiments but repeat the trial again and again; and the longer he tries, the more deeply will he be convinced of his utter helplessness in all these respects.

Continue to believe in him who loved you and gave himself for you; who bore all your sins in his own body on the tree; and he saves you from all condemnation, by his blood continually applied.

For, by that faith in his life, death, and intercession for us, renewed from moment to moment, we are every whit clean, and there is not only now no condemnation for us, but no such desert of punishment as was before, the Lord cleansing both our hearts and lives…

Thus it is, that in the children of God, repentance and faith exactly answer each other. By repentance we feel the sin remaining in our hearts and cleaving to our words and actions. By faith, we receive the power of God in Christ, purifying our hearts, and cleansing our hands. By repentance, we are still sensible that we deserve punishment for all our tempers, words, and actions. By faith, we are conscious that our advocate with the Father is continually pleading for us, and thereby continually turning aside all condemnation and punishment from us. By repentance we have an abiding conviction that there is no help in us. By faith we receive not only mercy “but grace to help in” every time of need. Repentance disclaims the very possibility of any other help. Faith accepts all the help we need from him who has all power in heaven and earth. Repentance says, “Without him I can do nothing:” Faith says, “I can do all things through Christ strengthening me.”

John Wesley (1703-1791) was an Anglican priest and evangelist, and the founder of the Methodist movement. After experiencing a profound conversion in 1738, he began a ministry of itinerant evangelistic preaching, travelling an average of 8000 miles a year and making thousands of converts. He sparked a renewal in preaching and discipleship that swept across the Anglo-American world and is one of the fathers of evangelicalism. He is commemorated on March 3 on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican churches. The text is adapted for contemporary readers.

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