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Counterfeit Repentance

Watson begins at this point to direct his readers toward a definition of repentance, which he first defines in the negative.  Realizing this is no way to define something, I shall skip ahead to his positive thesis (which actually occurs in a subsequent chapter) and then circle back to deal with the material in Chapter Two.

“Repentance,” writes Watson, “is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.”  Seems an excellent definition.  This deals specifically with the inner presence of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life as well as sanctification which is brought about by the inner machinations of the Third Person of the Trinity.

Augustine says that “repentance damns many.”  He is, of course, talking about a counterfeit repentance, which Watson teases out in the following way:

  1. The first deceit of repentance is legal terror.  A man has persisted in sin for a long time and God finally makes him feel sorry.  When his conscience is quiet, when the storm is past, he goes back to his previous behavior and thoughts.  After such a storm, the man may well “conclude that he is a true penitent because he has felt some bitterness in sin.  Do not be deceived: this is not repentance. …It is one thing to be a terrified sinner and another to be a repenting sinner.  “Sense of guilt is enough to breed terror.  Infusion of grace breeds repentance.  If pain and trouble were sufficient to [bring about] repentance, then the damned in hell should be the most [repentant], for they are the most in anguish.  Repentance depends upon a change of heart.  There may be terror, yet with no change of heart.
  2. Another deceit of repentance is resolution against sin.  A person might make vows to stop sinning in any particular way, but still not repent.  Resolutions may arise from either a sin being too painful (but not because it’s sinful) or from fear of a future evil (ie, hell).  “Self-love raises a sick-bed vow, and love of sin will prevail against [that vow given in self-love].” Ouch, Thomas. Ouch.
  3. Leaving behind sinful ways is a third deceit of repentance.  “So dear is sin to a man that he will rather part with a child than with a lust: ‘Shall I give the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ (Micah 6:7).”

Watson concludes, “True leaving of sin is when the acts of sin cease [because of] the infusion of a principle of grace, as the air ceases to be dark from the infusion of light.”

Personal reflections to come.