John the Baptist
Table of Contents
Repentance Unto Life
by Charles H. Spurgeon
"Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." Acts 11:18
ONE of the greatest obstacles which the Christian religion ever overcame was the inveterate prejudice which possessed
the minds of its earliest followers. The Jewish believers, the twelve Apostles and those whom Jesus Christ had called
from the dispersed of Israel were totally attached to the idea that salvation was of the Jews. They believed that none but
the disciples of Abraham, or, at any rate, the circumcised ones could be saved. They could not bring themselves to the
thought that Jesus had come to be the Savior of all nations and that in Him should all the people of the earth be blessed.
It was with difficulty they could allow the supposition. It was so opposite to all their Jewish education that we find them
summoning Peter before a council of Christians and saying to him, "you went in to men uncircumcised and did eat with
Nor could Peter exonerate himself until he had rehearsed the matter fully and said that God had appeared unto him
in a vision, declaring, "What God has cleansed, that call not you common," and that the Lord had bidden him preach
the Gospel to Cornelius and his household inasmuch as they were believers. After this the power of grace was so mighty
that these Jews could no longer withstand it, and in the teeth of all their previous education they at once assumed the
broad principle of Christianity and glorified God, saying, "Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto
Let us bless God that now we are free from the chains of Judaism and that we are not under those of a Gentilism
which has in its turn excluded the Jew. Let us bless God that we live so near the blessed time that is coming, when Jew and
Gentile, bond and free shall feel themselves one in Jesus Christ our Head. I am not now, however, about to enlarge upon
this, my subject this morning is "Repentance unto life." May God give me grace so to speak to you that His Word may
be as a sharp sword, "piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow."
By "Repentance unto life," I think we are to understand that repentance which is accompanied by spiritual life in the
soul and ensures eternal life to everyone who possesses it. "Repentance unto life," I say, brings with it spiritual life, or
rather, is the first consequence thereof. There are repentances which are not signs of spiritual life but of natural life. They
are only effected by the power of the conscience and the voice of nature speaking in men. But the repentance here spoken
of is produced by the Author of life, and when it comes it begets such life in the soul that he who was "dead in trespasses
and sins," is quickened together with Christ.
He who had no spiritual susceptibilities now "receives with meekness the engrafted Word." He who slumbered in the
very center of corruption receives power to become one of the sons of God and to be near His Throne. This I think is "repentance
unto life" that which gives life unto a dead spirit. I have said also this repentance ensures eternal life. For
there are repentances of which you hear men speak which do not secure the salvation of the soul. Some preachers will affirm
that men may repent and may believe and yet may fall away and perish. We will not consume our time by stopping to
expose their error this morning. We have often considered it before and have refuted all that they could say in defense of
Let us think of an infinitely better repentance. The repentance of our text is not their repentance but it is a "repentance
unto life." It is a repentance which is a true sign of eternal salvation in Christ. A repentance which preserves us
through this temporary state in Jesus and which when we are passed into eternity gives us a bliss which cannot be destroyed.
"Repentance unto life" is the act of salvation of the soul, the germ which contains all the essentials of salvation,
which secures them to us and prepares us for them.
We are this morning to give a very careful and prayerful attention to the "repentance" which is "unto life." First, I
shall devote a few minutes to the consideration of false repentance. Secondly, I shall consider the signs that mark true repentance.
And after that, I shall extol the divine beneficence of which it is written, "Then has God also to the Gentiles
granted repentance unto life."
I. First, then, we will consider certain FALSE REPENTANCES.
I will begin with this remark, that trembling beneath
the sound of the Gospel is not "repentance." There are many men who when they hear a faithful Gospel sermon are
exceedingly stirred and moved by it. By a certain power which accompanies the Word God testifies that it is His own
Word and He causes those who hear it involuntarily to tremble. I have seen some men, while the Truths of Scripture have
been sounded from this pulpit, whose knees have knocked together, whose eyes have flowed with tears as if they had been
fountains of water. I have witnessed the deep dejection of their spirit, when, as some of them have told me, they have
been shaken until they knew not how to abide the sound of the voice for it seemed like the terrible trumpet of Sinai thundering
out their destruction.
Well, my Hearers, you may be very much disturbed under the preaching of the Gospel and yet you shall not have that
"repentance unto life." You may know what it is to be very seriously and very solemnly affected when you go to God's
house and yet you may be hardened sinners. Let me confirm the remark by an example, Paul stood before Felix with the
chains upon his hands and as he preached of "righteousness, temperance, and of judgment to come," it is written, "Felix
trembled." And yet procrastinating Felix is in Hell with the rest of those who have said, "Go your way for this time.
When I have a more convenient season I will call for you."
There are many of you who cannot attend the house of God without being alarmed. You know what it is to stand
aghast at the thought that God will punish you. You may often have been moved to sincere emotion under God's minister.
But let me tell you, you may be after all a castaway because you have not repented of your sins and neither have you
turned to God.
Further still. It is quite possible that you may not only tremble before God's Word but you may become a sort of
amiable Agrippa, and be "almost persuaded" to turn to Jesus Christ, and yet have no "repentance." You may go further
and even desire the Gospel. You may say, "Oh, this Gospel is such a good thing I would I had it! It ensures so much
happiness here and so much joy hereafter I wish I might call it mine." Oh, it is good, thus, to hear this voice of God! And
you may sit and while some powerful text is being well-handled you may say, "I think it is true." But it must enter the
heart before you can repent. You may even go upon your knees in prayer and you may ask with a terrified lip that this
may be blessed to your soul. And after all that you may still be no child of God.
You may say as Agrippa said unto Paul, "You almost persuaded me to be a Christian." Yet, like Agrippa, you may
never proceed beyond the "almost." He was "almost persuaded to be a Christian," but not "altogether." Now, how
many of you here have been "almost persuaded," and yet you are not really in the way of eternal life? How often has conviction
brought you on your knees and you have "almost" repented, but you have remained there without actually repenting?
See that corpse? It is lately dead. It has scarcely acquired the ghastliness of death. The color is still life-like. Its
hand is still warm. You may fancy it is alive and it seems almost to breathe. Everything is there, the worm has scarcely
touched it, dissolution has scarcely approached.
There is no offensive smell, yet life is gone, life is not there. So it is with you, you are almost alive. You have almost
every external organ of religion which the Christian has. But you have not life. You may have repentance, but not
sincere repentance. O hypocrite! I warn you this morning, you may not only tremble but feel a complacency towards the
Word of God, and yet after all not have "repentance unto life." You may sink down into the pit that is bottomless and
hear it said, "Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
Yet, again, it is possible for men to progress even further than this and positively to humble themselves under the
hand of God and still be total strangers to repentance. Their goodness is not like the morning cloud and the early dew that
passes away but when the sermon is heard they go home and commence what they conceive to be the work of repentance.
They renounce certain vices and follies, they clothe themselves in sack-cloth, their tears flow very freely on account of
what they have done. They weep before God. And yet with all that their repentance is but a temporary repentance and
they go back to their sins again.
Do you deny that such a penitence can exist? Let me tell you of a case. A certain man named Ahab coveted the vineyard
of his neighbor Naboth who would not sell it for a price nor make an exchange. He consulted with his wife Jezebel
who contrived to put Naboth to death and thus secure the vineyard to the king. After Naboth was put to death and Ahab
had taken possession of the vineyard, the servant of the Lord met Ahab, and said to him, "Have you killed, and also
taken possession? Thus says the Lord, in the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall the dogs lick your
blood, even yours. Behold, I will bring evil upon you, and will take away your prosperity."
We read that Ahab went away and humbled himself. And the Lord said, "Because Ahab humbles himself before Me I
will not bring evil in his days." He had granted him some kind of mercy. But we read in the very next chapter that Ahab
rebelled and in a battle in Ramoth-Gilead, according to the servant of the Lord, he was slain there so that "the dogs
licked his blood" in the very vineyard of Naboth. You, too, I tell you, may humble yourselves before God for a time and
yet remain the slaves of your transgressions. You are afraid of damnation but you are not afraid of sinning, you are
afraid of Hell, but you are not afraid of your iniquities. You are afraid of being cast into the pit, but not afraid to
harden your hearts against His commands.
Is it not true, O sinner, that you are trembling at Hell? It is not the soul's state that troubles you but Hell. If Hell
were extinguished your repentance would be extinguished. If the terrors awaiting you were withdrawn you would sin
with a higher hand than before and your soul would be hardened and would rebel against its Sovereign. Be not deceived,
my Brethren. Examine yourselves whether you are in the faith. Ask yourselves if you have that which is "repentance unto
life." For you may humble yourselves for a time and yet never repent before God.
Beyond this, many advance and yet fall short of grace. It is possible that you may confess your sins and yet may not repent.
You may approach God and tell Him you are a wretch, indeed. You may enumerate a long list of your transgressions
and of the sins that you have committed without a sense of the heinousness of your guilt, without a spark of real
hatred of your deeds. You may confess and acknowledge your transgressions and yet have no abhorrence of sin. And if
you do not in the strength of God resist sin, if you do not turn from it, this fancied repentance shall be but the gilding
which displays the paint which decorates. You may even, I say, confess your faults and yet have not repentance.
Once more, and then I have gone to the farthest thought I have to give on this point. You may do some work meet for
repentance and yet you may be impenitent. Let me give you a proof of this in a fact authenticated by Inspiration,
Judas betrayed his Master. And after having done so an overwhelming sense of the enormous evil he had committed
seized upon him. His guilt buried all hope of repentance and in the misery of desperation, not the grief of true regret, he
confessed his sin to the high priests, crying, "I have sinned, in that I have betrayed innocent blood." They said, "What is
that to us, see you to that." Whereupon he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple to show that he could not bear to
carry the price of guilt upon him and left them there. He went out, and was he saved? No. "He went out and hanged himself."
And even then the vengeance of God followed him, for when he had hanged himself he fell from the height where
he was suspended and was dashed to pieces.
He was lost, and his soul perished. Yet see what this man did. He had sinned. He confessed his wrong. He returned
the silver. Still after all that he was a castaway. Does not this make us tremble? You see how possible it is to be the shape
of the Christian so nearly that wisdom itself, if it be only mortal, may be deceived.