Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-8-78 7:30 p.m.
And God be praised for you, dear fellow choir members and instrumentalists who help so mightily in the praise of the Lord in these services. And who no less enter into the appeal that is made when the sermon is done. It is a gladness for us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who share this hour with us on the radio station of the Southwest, KRLD, and on the radio station of our Bible Institute, KCBI. This is the pastor bringing one of the pivotal messages of the Christian faith, if God will stand by me and help me to deliver it plainly, powerfully, savingly, blessedly. It is in a text that you will find as you turn to the Book of Acts, chapter 17. It is the thirtieth verse [Acts 17:30], and we are going to read the context together, Commanded Repentance.
We shall read one of the tremendous addresses in human history. That of the apostle Paul as he stood on Mars’ Hill and spoke to the supreme court of the ancient Athenian cultural life, academic life, university life, civic life. Acts chapter 17:22-31; now let us read it all out loud together Acts 17 verses 22 through 31. All of us together:
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ Hill, and said,
Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you.
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed any thing, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us:
For in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring.
Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
Because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.
And the text: “but now God commandeth all men every where to repent” [Acts 17:30].
This is a command performance. It is something that God demands. No man shall enter the kingdom of God, who has not repented before the Lord. No man can stand before God in his own righteousness, in his own holiness, in his own goodness, but our approach to God, must always be in deepest contrition and humility and repentance [Acts 17:30]. It is a demand of the Lord, that we who are made of dust and ashes approach His holiness and His presence. This is the prophetic message to Israel. Always it is one of repentance, of turning, of confession, of getting right with God. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that He cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that He cannot hear . . . but your sins have hid His face from you” [Isaiah 59:1-2], that He cannot see and His, “And for our iniquities have come between us, that He does not hear.” Our Lord is separated from us by a veil of our iniquities. And for us to approach God is always, from our part, one of deepest humility and confession [James 4:6].
The call of the prophet Ezekiel was, “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked: but that the wicked would turn from his evil way and live”: then the appeal of the prophet: “Turn ye, turn ye,” or repent ye, repent ye . . .”for why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11]. This was the earnest message of the prophet Jeremiah to the nation, to turn, to repent:
- Jeremiah cried to the people, “Repent, turn, get right” [Jeremiah 3:12-14]. And the Babylonians came in 605 BC, and carried Daniel and some of the royal seed away [Daniel 1:1-6].
- Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried: “Repent, get right with God” [Jeremiah 3:12-14]. And the Babylonians came in 598 BC, and carried away Ezekiel and most of the priesthood and many of the royal family [2 Kings 24:11-14; Ezekiel 1:1].
- And Jeremiah cried: “Repent, repent, get right with God” [Jeremiah 3:12-14]. And the Babylonians came the third time in 587 BC, and they had no need to return. For this time, they carried away the people into captivity, and they destroyed Jerusalem, and broke down its walls, and burned the holy temple with fire [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30].
It is a command of God that we repent [Acts 17:30], and there is no life beyond it. Our non-repentance spells for us judgment and death [Ezekiel 18:30-32, 33:11]. God addresses that same word to the nation of America today.
I used to think of America as being a Christian nation. Our principles were godly. The background of our history was Christian. The founding fathers who came to this new world, and gave birth to this new nation, were steeped in the Bible. They were disciples of the Lord Jesus. And they came to build churches and Christian homes and finally, a Christian government. But in the days that have passed and the years that have multiplied, for us to call America a Christian nation today would be a gross misjudgment and misnomer. Our nation today is secular. It is worldly. It is material. And for the most part, our people live as though God did not exist. We have been led into that by a difference in our dependence upon the bread we eat, and the clothing that we wear, and the shelter under which we abide.
There was a time in these generations past, when the people looked up to God for the blessings of life. It was from His hands that the gentle rain fell, and that the seed germinated, and that the crops were harvested, and that our lives were blessed and kept. And we used to look up to God for all of those blessings that sustain and enrich our days.
Somehow, in our academic community and in the teaching of the younger generations, we have come no longer to depend upon God, but to depend upon science and machinery and gadgetry. And when we think of the food we eat, and of the clothing we wear, and the shelter under which we abide, no longer do we look in dependence upon God. But we look to government and we look to all of the scientific gadgetry by which we sow and cultivate and harvest. But we are still no less dependent upon the generous goodness of God for the blessings upon our nation than in any generation past or any century gone by. I saw that poignantly in a little poem that I read on the back of the church bulletin when I was preaching in London week before last. You catch its philosophy. It read:
We plow the fields with tractors.
With drills we sow the land.
But growth is still
The wondrous gift
Of God’s Almighty hand.
We add our fertilizers
To help the growing grain.
But from its full fruition
It needs God’s sun and rain.
With many new machines now
We do the work each day.
We reap the fields with combines.
We bale the new mown hay.
But it is God who gives us
Inventive skills and drives
Which lighten labor’s drudgery
And gives us fuller lives.
With all of our inventions
And our machines and
Our combines and our drills
And our gadgetry, our lives
Are still dependent upon
The generous remembrances of God.
[adapted from “We Plow the Fields, and Scatter,” Matthias Claudius, 1782]
And a nation that turns from the Lord, inevitably turns to judgment, and to death. The cry of the prophets is the cry of God’s true servants today. God commandeth all men everywhere to repent [Acts 17:30]. But how can a nation repent? How can a city repent? How can an audience repent? How can a great aggregate of people repent? There is no such thing as a nation repenting, as an audience repenting, as a convocation repenting, as a great aggregate of people repenting. We repent one by one, individually, as we appear before God. If a nation repents, it’s because its people, one by one, repent. If a city repents, it is because its citizens turn to the Lord, one by one. If an audience and a congregation repents, it is because one by one we repent. The nation cannot repent if I do not repent. The nation cannot turn to God if I do not turn. The nation cannot accept Christ if I do not accept Christ. And the nation cannot be baptized if I am not baptized. The call to repentance is always to the human heart, to the human soul, God commands us to repent [Acts 17:30]. And this is God’s way for our forgiveness and our deliverance and our salvation. For no man shall ever come into the presence of the Lord, except in deepest contrition and humility and confession [Romans 10:8-13; James 4:10]. This is what God leads us to see and to understand when He preaches to us the gospel of salvation and deliverance [Romans 1:16].
May I illustrate that? There was a man in the hospital who was terminally ill. And a Christian worker came by to see him. And in his kindness and prayerful interest, said to the man, “Sir, is there anything I can do for you?”
And the man replied, “No, sir, thank you. Nothing.”
And as the days passed, each time the worker would come by, and say to that dying man, “Is there something that I can do for you?”
And each time the man would reply, “No, sir. No, thank you. Nothing.”
The day came when the man finally faced that inevitable hour that all of us some day shall face. And he repeated his question to him. He said, “Sir, just once again, is there anything that I can do for you?”
And the man, looking up into the face of his Christian visitor replied, humbly, “No, thank you, there is nothing that you can do for me. But oh, sir, would to God there were some things you could undo for me.” That’s human life! What do you do when you come to the place of realization that we need Someone who can undo some things for us?
Well, I look at the human family as you do, at the human race, and I see them turn to many, many things, as they seek to hide the guilt, or the barrenness, or the frustration, or the disappointment, or the sin, or the loss in their lives. Some of them turn to drink, and they drown their lives and souls in drink. Some of them turn to drugs, and they seek a way out of the disappointments and frustrations of life in drugs. Some of them turn to all kinds of worldly endeavors, and seek to bury their lives in these worldly pursuits. In any event, and in each instance, the result is always one of ultimate and final despair. We will never find deliverance for our souls in drugs, or in drinks, or in promiscuity, or in worldly and earthly pursuits and pleasures. There is just one way that a man can find salvation and deliverance for his soul, and that is that he come before God, in deepest contrition and humility in repentance. “God commandeth all men every where to repent” [Acts 17:30]. Now if the Lord will help me, may I have His divine Spirit to make it plain what that is?
Pastor, if my life and my salvation and my deliverance is dependent upon my repentance, what is repentance? First: repentance is not remorse or sorrow or regret. You have a play on those words, in the Greek as it is used here in the New Testament, in the seventh chapter of 2 Corinthians, verses 8 through 10. Now we are going to read it—2 Corinthians 7:8-10. This is what Paul writes, and even in English you will see the play on the words:
For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season.
Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed unto repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
[2 Corinthians 7:8-10]
Now what that passage is, is a play on two Greek words, that vitally affect us. The two words are metamelomai, which in the Greek means “sorrow” or “regret” or “remorse”; and the other word metanoeō, which means “repentance, turning, a change of mind and attitude and way.” So Paul writes here, now let me translate those Greek words: metamelomai, which is sorrow or regret or remorse and metanoeō, which is repentance, without which no man can ever see God [Ezekiel 33:11]. Now, let me read it:
For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not regret it metamelomai, though I did, metamelomai regret it: for I perceive that the sorrow I caused you was just for a while.
But now I rejoice, not that you were made sorrow, but that ye sorrowed to metanoeō, to repentance, to a change of heart and mind . . .
For godly sorrow worketh metanoeō, to salvation not to be metamelomai, not to be regretted: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
[2 Corinthians 7:8-10]
There is a metamelomai: there is a regret, a remorse, but that is not repentance. Metamelomai is a word that is used to describe Judas. And Judas, when he saw what was done, repented and went and hanged himself [Matthew 27:5]. That is what the New Testament in the English says, but the word is metamelomai. When Judas saw what he had done and how it had issued in the crucifixion of our Lord, he metamelomai, filled with remorse and regret, he took his own life. He committed suicide [Matthew 27:3-5]. That is not metanoeō; that is not repentance. I have often thought, and I know you have also, had Judas as much as he had sinned in betraying innocent blood, had turned, had metanoeō had repented and come to Jesus, and bowed down in His presence and said, “Lord, Lord, forgive me of this awesome thing that I have done in betraying You with a kiss” [Matthew 26:47-49]; I know the heart of my Lord to know that, Judas would have been forgiven. And he would have been saved. But metamelomai regret for sin, remorse for sin, is not repentance. Repentance is turning. Repentance is confessing. Repentance is asking God for forgiveness [Luke 24:47].
All right, again, repentance is not only not remorse, it is not regret, but repentance is also not a catastrophic providence that overwhelms us and overtakes us; some great experience in, even religious life. Could I illustrate that? A man was talking to a preacher. And they just had in the town in which he lived, a great revival meeting. And the man said to the preacher, he said, “You know, it just never did strike me.”
And the preacher said, “What do you mean that it just never did strike you in the meeting?”
Well, he said, “You know, in the great revival we have just been through, there were many who were saved. Many women and many men who were saved, but it never did strike me, just never did strike me.”
What he was telling the preacher was, he had attended the services and he listened to the gospel. But, seated there, he expected God to do some marvelous and catastrophic thing for him. And as he sat there and no angel came and lifted him up to sit him in the kingdom, or no light from heaven blinded him in the way, or no ball of fire burst over his head, no marvelous and catastrophic thing overwhelmed him, struck him; therefore he was not saved.
Now that is not repentance. Repentance is not some tremendous, catastrophic experience that overwhelms you. I could pray that every one of us might have the experience of an apostle Paul [Acts 9:1-6]. But there is just one. All of the rest of those apostles were saved just as I was; every one of them, in a simple coming to the Lord Jesus. And as a Simon Peter said, “Lord, Lord, I am a sinful man” [Luke 5:8]. Repentance is not some tremendous striking down, some great catastrophic experience.
All right, again, a repentance is not a passive waiting for God to do something. We just wait. And we just sit. And we just abide, passively waiting for God to do something. That is not repentance.
There was a fellow who was a talking to an old boatman. And looking down there in the water by the pier, he said, “If I fell in that water, would I drown?”
And the old boatman said, “No.”
And then the fellow said to the old boatman said, “Well, what would it take for me to drown?”
And the man, the old boatman replied, “It isn’t falling in the water that drowns you. It is staying there that drowns you.”
That is exactly our passivity. It is doing nothing that damns us, that condemns us. You do not have to go out here and murder somebody to be condemned, to be lost, to be judged. You don’t have to go out here and commit some violent crime in order to face the judgment of God. You don’t have to be guilty of some tremendous act of desperation and iniquity in order to be judged. By nature, we are sinners. We don’t need to be taught to be sinners. We are sinners [Romans 3:23]. We are born with that black drop in our blood. And as the days pass, we are sensitive and become conscious of dereliction and mistake and iniquity and sin and loss in our lives. To be lost is a state. We are lost people. By nature, we are children of wrath, dead in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1]. And in passivity, I can finally face the judgment of God, still lost in my sin, just drift into eternity without God; just drift into the judgment without Christ [John 3:36], just die lost because of passivity. That is what is meant by repentance.
Repentance is a volitional conscious, deciding, turning toward the Lord [Proverbs 1:23]. That is repentance. I have been walking this way, but I have changed and I turn. That’s repentance. I am going to walk this way. I have been walking away from God. I have decided to turn. I am going to walk toward God. I have been walking away from the church and God’s people. I am turning. That’s repentance. That is exactly metanoeō. I have changed my heart and my mind and my direction and my attitude. I am going to walk toward the people of God. That is repentance.
Now sweet people, the rest of it is in God’s hand. When I turn, when I ask God to help me and to save me and to forgive me, if He doesn’t do it, if I am lost, then it is His fault. It is up to Him then. I can’t save myself. I can’t regenerate my soul. I can’t forgive myself. I can’t reborn myself. All I can do is turn, repent, ask God, and then it’s in His hands. And if I am lost, it’s because He doesn’t answer prayer, and He doesn’t see and He doesn’t hear and He doesn’t care, and He passed me by and let me down.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
He will never, no never, desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
He’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake!
[from “How Firm a Foundation,” John Rippon, 1787]
How do you know that? Because He said, “he that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out” [John 6:37]. That is repentance. It is coming. It is turning. It is asking. It is confessing. It is praying. It is bowing. It is seeking the forgiveness and the face of God. And that’s what it is to walk into the kingdom. God commandeth all men everywhere to turn, to come, to believe, to repent [Acts 17:30]. When I do it, when I come, when I turn, when I trust, when I commit my life to the blessed Jesus, it’s in His hands and He never fails [John 10:28].
And that is our appeal to you tonight. Come. Turn. Trust. Repent. Believe [Acts 16:30-31]. Accept. Bow down. Pray. Ask God to come into your heart, into your life, and to save you from death [Romans 10:9-10].
I will be standing here, right there to that side of our Lord’s Supper table. A family you to come, “Pastor, I and my wife and my children, we are all coming tonight.” Or a couple you, “Pastor, this is my young wife, we have just been married, and we are coming.” Or just one somebody you, in the balcony round, down one of those stairways, there is time and to spare. On this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor. I have decided to follow Jesus, and here I come.” It will be the greatest decision you will ever make in your life. Feeling has nothing to do with it. Regret, remorse has nothing to do with it. It is the decision, the volitional choice you make in your heart that is repentance. “I have decided, so help me God, here I am, and now I come.” As the Spirit shall whisper the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.