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“Repent: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” says Christ

Johann Gerhard

(Translated by Rev. C. W. Heisler, A.M.)

THE very foundation and principle of a holy life is godly sorrow for sin. For where there is true penitence there is forgiveness of sin; where there is forgiveness of sin there is the grace of God; where the grace of God is there is Christ; where Christ is there is Christ’s merit; where Christ’s merit is there is satisfaction for sin; where there is satisfaction there is justification; where there is justification there is a glad and quiet conscience; where there is peace of conscience there is the Holy Spirit; where the Holy Spirit is present there is the ever blessed Trinity; and where the Holy Trinity is there is life eternal. Therefore where there is true penitence there is life eternal. And hence where there is no true penitence there is neither forgiveness of sins, nor the grace of God, nor Christ, nor His merit, nor satisfaction for sin, nor justification, nor peace of conscience, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the blessed Trinity, nor eternal life. Why therefore do we delay repentance? Why put it off until to-morrow? Neither to-morrow nor true repentance is in our own power. For we must render an account at the final judgment not only for to-morrow, but for today as well. That to-morrow shall come is not certain, but that everlasting destruction shall overtake the impenitent is certain. God has promised grace to the penitent soul, but He does not promise a to-morrow.

Christ’s satisfaction is of no effect but in the heart of the truly contrite. Our iniquities separate between God and us, writes the prophet Isaiah (ix. 2); but through repentance we are again restored to His favor. Confess and bewail the guilt of thy sin; so shalt thou realize that God is reconciled to thee in Christ. “I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions” (Is. xliv. 22), says the Lord. Our sins were therefore recorded in the court of heaven. “Hide Thy face from my sins” (Ps. li. 9), prays the prophet. The Lord hath set our iniquities before Him (Ps. xc. 8). “Return unto us, O Lord” (Ps. xc. 13), was the prayer of Moses. Thus our sins separate us from God. “Our sins testify against us” (Is. lix. 12), complains the prophet Isaiah. They accuse us therefore at the bar of divine justice. “Cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. li. 12), pleads David; and thus sin is revealed as a foul defilement in the sight of God. “Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee,” again he prays. And thus sin is a disease of the soul. “Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book” (Ex. xxxii. 33), saith the Lord. Therefore on account of our sins we shall be blotted out of the book of life. “Cast me not away from Thy presence” (Ps. li. 11), was the Psalmist’s earnest prayer. Thus for our sins God casts us off. “Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. li. 11). Therefore by sin we drive the Holy Spirit of God from the temple of our hearts, just as bees are driven away by smoke, and doves by a foul odor. “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation” (Ps. li. 12). Therefore sin brings anguish of soul, and wastes the very powers of our hearts. “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof, because they have transgressed the laws,” exclaims the prophet Isaiah (xxiv. 5). Therefore sin is a sort of infectious poison. “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord” (Ps. cxxx. 1), says the Psalmist. Hence by our sins we are cast down even to hell. Formerly we “were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. ii. 1), according to the Apostle. Therefore sin is spiritual death to the soul. Through mortal sin man loses God. God is the infinite and incomprehensible Good; to lose God is therefore an infinite and inconceivable calamity. As God is the greatest Good, so sin is the greatest evil. Punishments and afflictions are not real evils, because much good may come out of them. On the other hand we should esteem them good because they come from God, the highest Good, from whom naught but good can come. Christ Himself, the highest Good, suffers such afflictions, and He could not be a partaker of what was really evil. They lead also to the highest Good, that is, eternal life. Through suffering Christ entered into His glory (Luke xxiv. 26); and through much tribulation must we Christians enter into eternal life (Acts xiv. 22). Sin is the greatest evil, because it draws us away from the highest Good; the nearer we approach God, the farther we get away from sin; the nearer we come to sin, the farther do we withdraw from God. How salutary then is true repentance, which releases us from sin and leads us back to God. Sin is so exceeding sinful, because of the greatness of God, whom we offend by our sin; and so great is He, that the heavens and the earth cannot contain Him. And on the other hand our repentance is so great because of the greatness of Him to whom through our repentance we return. The sinner’s conscience, which he has defiled through sin, the Creator whom he has offended, the very fault by which he transgressed, the blessings which he has thus abused, and the devil at whose impulse it was committed, all unite in accusations against him. How blessed is repentance which frees him from such an accusation!

Let us make haste, then, let us make haste to employ this sovereign remedy for our sinful malady. If thou shouldst repent even in the hour of death, thou wouldst not so much forsake thy sins, as thy sins would forsake thee. Thou wilt scarcely find one who has truly repented in the hour of death, except indeed the thief upon the cross. “Fourteen years have I served thee” (Gen. xxi. 41) said Jacob to Laban; “it is time now that I provide for mine own house,” and thou -– if thou hast been so careful for thy life in this world for so many years -- is it not reasonable and proper that thou shouldst now begin to provide for thine immortal soul? Day by day our fleshly nature leads us into new sins; let the Holy Spirit then wash them away by our daily sorrow and repentance. Christ died that sin might die in us; and can we willingly let it live and reign in our hearts, since the Son of God Himself gave up His life to destroy its power in us?

Christ does not enter the heart of a man unless a John the Baptist first prepare the way for Him by repentance. God does not pour the oil of His mercy except into the vessel of a truly contrite heart. God first puts the soul to death, as it were, through contrition, that He may afterwards quicken it through the consolation of the Holy Spirit (I Sam. ii. 6). He casts it down to hell in godly sorrow for sin, that He may bring it up again by the blessed power of His grace. Elijah first heard the great and strong wind rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks, and after the wind an earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire; and at length the still small voice (I Kings xix. 22); thus the terror of the law precedes the sweetness of divine love, and sorrow for sin the consolation of the Spirit. God does not bind up thy wounds until thou acknowledge and deplore thy sin. God does not cover thine iniquities, until thou first uncover them in humble penitence; He forgives them not until though hast confessed them; He does not justify thee until thou hast first condemned thyself; and He does not afford His rich consolations until thou hast first despaired of help in thyself. May God work true repentance in us through His Holy Spirit.

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