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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

87. What is repentance unto life?

A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of and endeavour after, new obedience.

1. A lady being visited with a violent disorder, was under the necessity of applying for medical assistance. Her doctor being a gentleman of great latitude in his religious sentiments, endeavoured in the course of his attendance to persuade his patient to adopt his creed, as well as to take his medicines. He frequently insisted, with a considerable degree of dogmatism that repentance and reformation were all that either God or man could require of us, and that consequently there was no necessity for an atonement by the sufferings of the Son of God. As the lady did not share the doctor's sentiments she contented herself with following his medical prescriptions, without embracing his creed. On her recovery, she forwarded a note to the doctor, desiring the favour of his company to tea when it suited his convenience, and requesting him to make out his bill. In a short time he made his visit, and the teatable being removed, she addressed him as follows: 'My long illness has occasioned you a number of journeys; and I suppose, doctor, you have procured my medicines at considerable expense.' The doctor acknowledged that 'good drugs were not to be obtained but at a very high price.' Upon which she replied, 'I am extremely sorry that I have put you to much labour and expense, and also promise that, on any future indisposition, I will never trouble you again. So you see I both repent and reform.' The doctor, immediately shrugging his shoulders, exclaimed, 'That will not do for me.' 'The words of the wise are as goads.' (Eccles. 12.11).

2. 'I have heard,' says Daniel Wilcox in one of his sermons 'of a certain person whose name I could mention, who was tempted to conclude his day over, and himself lost; that, therefore, it was his best course to put an end to his life, which, if continued, would serve but to increase his sin, and consequently his misery, from which there was no escape; and seeing he must be in hell, the sooner he was there, the sooner he would know the worst, which was preferable to his being worn away with the tormenting expectation of what was to come. Under the influence of such suggestions as these, he went to a river, with a design to throw himself in; but as he was about to do it, he seemed to hear a voice saying to him. Who can tell? As deep an impression was made upon him, as if these words had been audibly delivered. By this, therefore, he was brought to a stand; his thoughts were arrested, and thus began to work on the passage mentioned—Who can tell? (Jonah 3.9) viz., what God can do when He will proclaim His grace glorious? Who can tell—how far God may suffer the tempter to prevail, and yet after all disappoint his malice? Who can tell—how long the Spirit may strive, and yet return with renewing efficacious grace? Who can tell—but such a one as I may find mercy? or what will be the issue of humble prayer to heaven for it? Who can tell—what purposes God will serve in my recovery? By such thoughts as these, it pleased God graciously to come in, and enable him, through all his doubts and fears, to throw himself, by faith, on Jesus Christ, as able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by Him, humbly desiring and expecting mercy for His sake, to his own soul. In this he was not disappointed, but afterwards became an eminent Christian and minister; and, from his own experience of the riches of grace, was greatly used to the conversion and comfort of others.'

3. In the second century, Celsus, a noted adversary of Christianity, distorting our Lord's expression (Matt. 9.13), complained that Jesus Christ came into the world to create the most horrible and dreadful society, 'for He calls sinners, and not the righteous; so that the body He came to assemble is a body of profligates, separated from good people, among whom they before were mixed. He has rejected all the good and collected all the bad.' 'True,' says Origen, in reply, 'our Jesus came to call sinners; but to repentance. He assembles the wicked; but to convert them into new men, or rather to change them into angels. We come to Him covetous, He makes us liberal; lascivious, He makes us chaste; violent, He makes us meek; impious, He makes us religious.' 'If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold all things are become new' (2 Cor. 5.17).

4. A woman who had once and again been guilty of a sin which incurred the censure of the church, and brought upon her public rebuke, presented herself before the parish session that she might be taken under discipline, expecting, as a thing of course, that she would have to stand in the church and that then she would be restored to church privileges. But appearing to the ministers and elders to be a person who had no just sense of the evil of her sin, and exhibiting no signs of repentance, she was told that she could not be admitted to the privilege of the discipline and censure, which could be properly applied only to the penitent, and could be of no use to the hardened and insensible, such as she appeared to be. She went away greatly disappointed, because she was not to be rebuked, as she expected. She was in effect, though not in form, excommunicated. But the matter did not rest here. The sinner could find no peace in her conscience. The action taken by the church haunted her by night and by day; she began to reflect on her own character and conduct; she thought she must be a wicked creature indeed, seeing she was not reckoned worthy so much as to give public satisfaction for her sin. She was, in short, brought to consideration and deep repentance, on evidence of which, she was restored to church communion, and she maintained a good character all the rest of her life. When she applied to the session, she was very ignorant, and could not read; but, when awakened to a sense of her guilt, she immediately learned to read, so as to be able to read her Bible, and make it appear that she had profited by the merciful discipline of the church.

5. The faithful and laborious clergyman of a very large and populous parish had been accustomed, for a long series of years, to preserve notes of his visits to the afflicted, with remarks on the issue of their affliction, whether life or death, and of the subsequent conduct of those who recovered. He stated that, during forty years, he had visited no fewer than two thousand persons apparently dying, and who manifested such signs of penitence as would have led him to indulge a good hope of their safety if they had died at that time; they were restored to health, when he expected that they should bring forth fruits meet for repentance; but, alas! of the two thousand, not more than two persons manifested an abiding and saving change; the rest, when the terrors of eternity ceased to be in immediate prospect, forgot their religious impressions and their solemn vows, and returned with new avidity to their former worldly-mindedness and sinful pursuits, as the dog returns to his vomit again, and as the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

This material is taken from THE SHORTER CATECHISM ILLUSTRATED by John Whitecross revised and republished by the Banner of Truth Trust edition 1968 and reproduced with their permission.

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