GREAT WORDS OF SALVATION: REPENTANCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-27-61 12:00 p.m.
Welcome to the forty-second annual pre-Easter noonday services conducted by the pastor and the people of our First Baptist Church. Dr. Truett conducted these noonday hours for twenty-five years; and this is now the seventeenth consecutive year that I have had the privilege of sharing in these blessed services. All of us would express to the management of the theater, Mr. Cherry of the Interstate Chain, and Mr. Steinberg of the Palace Theater, our humble appreciation for offering to us these facilities. They are given to us free. Each year we come as the guest of these gracious and generous-hearted men; and all of us are humbly grateful.
For seventeen years, each day that I have come I have spoken to Mr. Bingham, the engineer who controls this stage. A few weeks ago, the family asked me to conduct the memorial service, the funeral service for Mr. Bingham. The family said he looked forward each year to my coming and listening to the sermons of the pastor. He did not belong to our church, but the family said he so eagerly looked forward to each year and these services that they wanted to know if I would preach the funeral service when the good man was laid to rest. So coming on the stage just now, I asked if the man who took his place was here. And I met him, and then I found out that Mr. Bingham’s boy is also associated with that engineer in controlling the stage. So I told that boy to listen, that I wanted to say words of appreciation for his father and bid him Godspeed in taking his father’s place.
Now, this year we are going to follow the theme, "What Must I Do to be Saved?" The sermon today on Repentance; tomorrow on Faith; the next day, Wednesday, on Confession; Thursday on Discipleship; and Friday, on Atonement – and as we have said each year in our coming, this is a busy lunch hour, and some of you haven’t long to stay in a service like this; and be at liberty to go anytime that you must. If you can come and stay with us for five minutes, come. Or if you can just stop by and bow your head in the prayer or listen to the song, you come. Come when you can and leave when you must. And all of us will understand. If you leave in the middle of a sentence or just before I come to the concluding paragraph of the sermon, we understand; you are at liberty to leave anytime. If you would like to come and bring a lunch with you and eat it here while I preach, fine. Just don’t bite too hard and smack too loud, and leave off the garlic and the onions, and everything will be just fine. These are our services, to minister to our hearts, and not for the preacher that he might be ministered unto. So you leave anytime, and it’s all right.
The sermon today, in this word on how to be saved, is Repentance.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written . . .
The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord . . .
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
And after John was cast in prison, Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
And saying, The time is at hand, and the kingdom of God is ready: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
[Mark 1:1-4, 14-15]
That’s the way Mark announces the coming of our Lord. And in the third chapter of Matthew, he does no other: "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent ye, repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" [Matthew 3:1-2].
What is repentance, metanoeō, repentance? It is not sorrow. Godly sorrow may lead to repentance. As Paul writes, in 2 Corinthians 7:10, "Godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation; the sorrow of the world worketh death." Godly sorrow can also degenerate into remorse, into despair; but the sorrow itself is not repentance.
Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know?
These for sin could not atone,
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
["Rock of Ages"; Augustus Toplady]
The confession of sin and the recognition of sin is not repentance. The fact of waking up in the morning at five o’clock is one thing; to get up at five o’clock in the morning is another thing. Practically all humanity has a sense and a conviction of shortcoming, and dereliction, and loss, and sin.
· Hardened Pharaoh said, "I have sinned" [Exodus 10:16]; but he continued in his frustration of the plans of Moses the man of God.
· Double-minded Balaam said, "I have sinned" [Numbers 22:34]; but he continued in his destruction of Israel.
· Remorseful Achan said, "I have sinned" [Joshua 7:20]; but he continued to love the wedge of gold and the Babylonish garment.
· Insincere Saul said, "I have sinned" [1 Samuel 26:21]; but he continued to seek the life of David.
· And remorseful Judas said, "I have sinned" [Matthew 27:3-4]; but he continued in the way of despair until finally he destroyed his own life.
Well, then what is repentance? If repentance is not sorrow for sin, if it is not the recognition and the confession of sin, then what is repentance? This is repentance. "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here" [Matthew 12:41].
Or again, "But what think ye? A man had two sons; and he came to the first and said, "Son, go work this day in my vineyard. And the son answered and said, "I will not"; but afterward he repented, and went" [Matthew 21:28-29].
Repentance then is a turn. Repentance is a change. Repentance is a new goal, and a new way, and a new destiny. A man may be sorrowful; that’s not repentance. He may be remorseful; that’s not repentance. He may confess his dereliction; that’s not repentance. But repentance is to turn, it’s to change, it’s a new direction, it’s a new dedication, it’s a new goal, it’s a new choice, it’s a new way, it’s a turn in a man’s heart, and a man’s life, and a man’s destiny.
I could not find a more effective way for us to see that than this unusual piece I found in an old yellow newspaper. While I was pastor in Muskogee, I often went to the public library in which they had a section dedicated to Indian history and Indian lore. And in one of those old musty volumes is an incident that happened in the history of the Choctaw nation. And in reporting it, a newspaper man turned it into verse. It’s the story of a preacher who went to a marshal’s prison, and there finding ninety men, black men, red men, white men, robbers and outlaws, preached the gospel to them. And as he did so, this thing happened. He starts off quoting the preacher.
"I’m going to preach
And I’ll try to teach
The ninety men in here –
in the midst of a violent storm raging outside –
Of the words of love
From the throne above,"
And his voice rang loud and clear.
"I preach to you
Of a Savior true,
In a happy home on high
Where the angels dwell
All saved from hell
And the righteous never die."
And he prayed a prayer
In the prison there
As the ninety bowed their heads
The bold Choctaw
And the Chickasaw
The whites, the blacks, and the reds.
He prayed for the chief,
With his unbelief,
For the dark highwayman bold,
For the robber, too,
And his bandit crew –
For the criminals, young and old.
Then he sang a hymn
In the prison grim.
He sang, "Turn, sinner turn.
It’s not too late
To reach God’s gate
While the lamp holds out to burn."
Then from his bed
Between the black and the red,
Up rose an outlaw bold.
With trembling step
To the parson crept,
All shivering as with cold.
And a vicious flash
Of the lightning crash
Showed his features
Pale and stern,
As he bowed his head
And slowly said,
"I am resolved to turn."
And it seemed to me
I shall never see,
A scene so great, so grand,
As the white and the red,
On their blanket bed,
‘Round the Christian one did stand,
While the night came down
Like a silvery crown,
And the promise gave to all.
For the ninety men
In the marshal’s den
Heard only the Savior’s call.
[from "The Criminal Convert," Clarence B. Douglas, 1919]
This is repentance:
And a vicious flash
Of the lightning’s crash,
Showed his features
Pale and stern,
As he bowed his head,
And slowly said,
"I am resolved to turn."
That is repentance. "Repent ye, turn ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" [Matthew 3:2]. As the great prophet Ezekiel cried, "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his evil way and live: turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?" [Ezekiel 33:11]
For they repented at the preaching of Jonah,
And Jonah came, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed.
And the king published a decree . . . .
Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them magnify God. Yea, let them turn every one from his evil way.
And God saw their works, that they turned; and God repented of the evil, that He declared to do.
[Jonah 3:4, 7-8, 10]
When Nineveh turned, God turned. When Nineveh changed, God changed. When Nineveh repented, God repented. Isn’t that strange? We so identify repentance with a confession of sin and sorrow for sin; we lose its meaning altogether. God repented. That is, God turned, God changed. And when a man repents, he turns, he changes; there’s a new destiny, there’s a new way, there’s a new choice, there’s a new avowal, there’s a new dedication, "I have changed; I have turned." That is repentance.
I know of a man who drank, a social drinker; and he looked over the heap and the refuse of his home, and he looked upon the fallen prostrate form of an alcoholic son, and the man said, "I used to drink, but I never drank again." There was a man who was a gambler; and he looked into the face, the pinched, wizened face of a ragged boy. And the night before he had won by gambling all the wages of that boy’s father. And as he looked on the lad, ragged and poor and half-starved, the man said, "I was a gambler; but I’ll never gamble again"; to turn!
In that same library in Muskogee where I said I used to enjoy sitting and reading back in those old dusty, musty histories of the Choctaw, and the Chickasaw, and the Seminole, and the Creek, and the Cherokee, I ran across this. After years of war, and bloodshed, and murder, and massacre, and rapine, the chief stood up in the council and said, "I will fight no more. I will live at peace with my white brother."
The identical thing that Saul of Tarsus, breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, meeting Jesus in the way, and the Lord said, "Saul, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks, to fight against God." And Saul fell at the feet of the Lord and said, "Master, what wilt Thou have me to do?" [Acts 9:1-6]. I’ll fight no longer. I surrender. I change. I turn. That is repentance.
I’ve spurned the Lord, but I’ve changed. I open my heart to Him now. I passed by the church, but I’ve changed. I love God’s house now. I’ve said no to the preacher and no to the evangelist and no to the Holy Spirit of God, but I’ve changed! Every time the preacher preaches a good sermon and gives an earnest appeal, I feel in my heart I’d like to go down the aisle and take his hand and give my life to Jesus all over again. I’ve changed. I’ve turned. That is repentance.
I’m not denying that sometimes it has great feeling in it. I’m just avowing, according to the Word of God, that the feeling is not the thing itself. The thing itself is to turn. The thing itself is to change. The thing itself is the new commitment, and the new dedication, and the new avowal, and the new purpose: I have turned. I have repented. I say, sometimes it has great feeling in it.
Just a few weeks ago, three weeks ago, in one of the cities in Florida, on a Sunday morning, I was preaching at the First Baptist Church in a revival meeting. And there is in that city a very, very famous man. He’s famous because of his size and his violent wickedness. He’s a mountain of a man. He’s famous also because he built the city, almost, by himself – vast developments all under the genius of that unusual man. And famous also because of the political influence he has over all that part of Florida. Well, to the amazement of my heart – for I wasn’t looking for it, and hardly knew – to the amazement of my heart, when I gave the invitation, down the aisle that big mountain of a man came.
And I could hardly describe the congregation. There were bankers and insurance executives, and the men of the city, all in that great audience, take off their glasses, pull out their handkerchief, wipe their eyes, and the women openly sobbed and cried, and the pastor was so happy he nearly shouted, and the choir almost could, almost forgot to sing, couldn’t look at the notes in the book through the tears in their eyes. It was like heaven. It was like glory.
But that has nothing to do with the fact; the feeling is not the thing. The thing is to turn, to change. It’s a new dedication. It’s a new avowal. It’s a new commitment. It’s a new life. It’s a new way. It’s a new destiny. "I turn, I change. My face is now toward God."
The Lord is ready to blot out our sins [Acts 3:19]. The Lord’s ready to regenerate our spirits. The Lord’s ready to write our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. The Lord is ready to cleanse us and to wash us from all of the stain of the sin of our lives [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]. But first we must turn. First we must look. First we must open our hearts. First we must, as the Book says, repent [Matthew 3:1-2; Mark 1:15].
May I close, once again seeking to illustrate and emphasize this thing in the Book? Naaman was a great man and a mighty soldier. He was captain of the host of the king of Syria. But he was a leper [2 Kings 5:1]. And a little maid, whom they had captured as a slave and who served Naaman’s wife, said, "O would God, my master were in the land of Israel! For there the prophet would cleanse him of his leprosy" [2 Kings 5:2-3]. And it came to the ears of the king, and he sent Naaman down into land of Israel. And Naaman came with six thousand pieces of gold, and ten thousand talents of silver, and changes of raiment, and a whole caravan of luxury and riches to wait upon the prophet that could cleanse him of his leprosy [2 Kings 5:4-9]. And Elisha the man of God did not even come out to see him, did not even count the pieces of gold or look on the silver. He just sent a messenger to him and said, "Tell Naaman to go down to the waters of the Jordan River, and dip himself seven times, and his flesh will come again, like unto the flesh of a little child; and he will be clean" [2 Kings 5:10]. And when Naaman heard that he was wroth, he was angry, he was violent itself. He said:
I thought surely the prophet would come out and stand before me, and with great histrionics and dramatics call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand dramatically over the place of the leprosy; and here he sends a messenger, just to tell me what to do. Are not Abana and Pharpar Rivers in Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean?
[2 Kings 5:11-12]
And he went away in a rage, going back to Damascus, a leper. And while he was driving furiously in his anger, the servants with him in the chariot said to him, "My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great and mighty thing, wouldst thou not have done it? How much rather then, when he says, Wash and be clean?" [2 Kings 5:13]. And Naaman pulled up those fiery steeds, and turned the chariot around, and went down in the muddy waters of the Jordan River, and dipped himself seven times according to the saying of the man of God. And when he came up the seventh time, his flesh was as the flesh of a little child, and he was clean [2 Kings 5:14].
Turn, turn, turn! "Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die" [Ezekiel 33:11], when the crimson flood is so nearby? Look, look, look!
There’s life for a look at the Crucified One,
There’s life at this moment for thee.
Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved,
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.
["There Is Life For a Look"; Amelia M. Hull]
First, I must turn. First, I must look. First, I must open my heart. And the rest, in the gift of faith, is life world without end [Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8]. "Repent ye, turn ye: for the kingdom of God is at hand" [Matthew 3:2]. May we pray?
O blessed, blessed Lord, that God would give us the gift to make known to listening hearts the meaning and the message of the Word of God. So oft times it is clouded, and in tomes of theology, and multiplication of words and language, hidden away. O God that the Lord will give us the gift to make it plain how a man can be saved. And our Master, bless Thou the message we’ve sought to bring this first morning. If we’re ever to be saved, we must turn [Isaiah 45:22]. If we’re ever to be saved, we must look [Hebrews 12:2]. If we’re ever to be saved, we must have the will of a new destiny, of a new hope, of a new dedication, of a new life [2 Corinthians 5:17]. And we find it when a man will turn and look to God [Jeremiah 29:13]. Bless Thou this holy, sacred service; and meet with us tomorrow in the power of Jesus, and in His saving name, amen.
And good day.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Mark 1:1-4, 14-15; Matthew 3:1-2
I. Meaning of the word metanoeo, "repentance"
A. Not a feeling of sorrow, remorse, regret (2 Corinthians 7:8-10, Matthew 27:3-5)
1. Hymn, "Rock of Ages"
B. Not a confession or recognition of sin
1. Recognition of sin universal (Exodus 10:16, Numbers 22:34, Joshua 7:20, 1 Samuel 26:21, Matthew 27:3-4)
C. It means to turn, to change (Matthew 3:2, 12:41, 21:28-29, Ezekiel 33:11, Jonah 3:4, 8, 10)
1. The criminal convert in history of Choctaw Nation
2. When a man repents there is a new destiny (Acts 9:1-6)
II. Repentance implied in the act of faith
A. We must first repent (Luke 13:1-5)
1. Naaman the leper (2 Kings 5:1-14)