In The Doctrine of Repentance, Thomas Watson provides an overview of true biblical repentance. How important it is for the Christian to know what the Bible really says about this widely neglected doctrine! Repentance, says Watson “is a grace required under the gospel. Some think it legal; but the first sermon that Christ preached, indeed, the first word of his sermon, was ‘Repent’ (Matt. 4:17). And his farewell that he left when he was going to ascend was that ‘repentance should be preached in his name.’ (Luke 24:47). The apostles did all beat upon this string: They went out and preached that men should repent” (page 13). If we are to be victorious, we would do well to understand all that the Bible has to say about this necessary and beautiful grace.
In Chapter Seven, Watson discusses sixteen motivations to spur us on to repentance. I bear witness to all his motivators but one in particular resonated very loud. Watson discusses the Christian who relapses into the same sin after conversion. How easy it is to grow despondent and discouraged when we fall into the same areas of sin. Yet, for the one who solemnly and seriously turns to God, there is great hope! It is when we don’t return to the feet of Christ, where pardon and mercy await us, that our sins are made greater.
“Mary Magdalene, a great sinner, obtained pardon when she washed Christ’s feet with her tears. For some of the Jews who had a hand in crucifying Christ, upon their repentance, the very blood they shed was a sovereign balm to heal them! “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Scarlet in the Greek is called “dibasson”, because it is “twice dipped”, and the arts of man cannot wash out the dye again. But though our sins are of a scarlet color, God’s mercy can wash them away. This may comfort those whom the heinousness of their sin discourages, as if there were no hope for them. Yes, upon their serious turning to God, their sins shall be expunged and done away with!
“Oh—but my sins are sinful beyond measure!” Do not make them greater, by not repenting. Repentance unravels sin and makes it as if it had never been. “Oh—but I have relapsed into sin after pardon, and surely there is no mercy for me!” The children of God have relapsed into the same sin: Abraham did twice equivocate; Lot committed incest twice; Asa, a good king—yet sinned twice by creature-confidence, and Peter twice by carnal fear (Matt. 26:70; Gal. 2:12). But for the comfort of such as have relapsed into sin more than once, if they solemnly repent, a white flag of mercy shall be held forth to them.
Christ commands us to forgive our trespassing brother seventy times seven in one day, if he repents (Matt. 18:22). If the Lord bids us do it, will not he be much more ready to forgive upon our repentance? What is our forgiving mercy, compared to his? This I speak not to encourage any impenitent sinner—but to comfort a despondent sinner that thinks it is in vain for him to repent and that he is excluded from mercy” (pages 78-79).