Written by, Thomas Watson.
Taken from, “THE DOCTRINE OF REPENTANCE.”
Published in 1668.
In this series we are looking at all the ingredients necessary for true repentance. In today’s thoughts, we are looking at “Turning From Sin.” Today, observe how Thomas Watson skillfully puts together the Biblical case. Now, let us look again at the sixth of these respective ingredients. –MWP]
REMEMBER: If any one ingredient is left out, repentance loses its virtue.
Ingredient 6: Turning from Sin
The sixth ingredient in repentance is a turning from sin. Reformation is left last to bring up the rear of repentance. True repentance, like aquafortis [nitric acid], eats asunder the iron chain of sin. Therefore, weeping and turning are put together (Joel 2:12). After the cloud of sorrow has dropped in tears, the firmament of the soul is clearer: ‘Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations’ (Ezek. 14:6).
This turning from sin is called a forsaking of sin (Is. 55:7)
as a man forsakes the company of a thief or sorcerer. It is called ‘a putting of sin far away’ (job 11:14), Paul Put away the viper and shook it into the fire (Acts 28:5). Dying to sin is the life of repentance. The very day a Christian turns from sin he must enjoin himself a perpetual fast. The eye must fast from impure glances. The ear must fast from hearing slanders. The tongue must fast from oaths. The hands must fast from bribes. The feet must fast from the path of the harlot. And the soul must fast from the love of wickedness.
This turning from sin implies a notable change.
There is a change wrought in the heart. The flinty heart has become fleshly. Satan would have Christ prove his deity by turning stones into bread. Christ has wrought a far greater miracle in making stones become flesh. In repentance, Christ turns a heart of stone into flesh. There is a change wrought in the life. Turning from sin is so visible that others may discern it. Therefore it is called a change from darkness to light (Eph. 5:8). Paul, after he had seen the heavenly vision, was so turned that all men wondered at the change (Acts 9:21).
Repentance turned the jailer into a nurse and physician (Acts 16:33).
He took the apostles and washed their wounds and set meat before them. A ship is going eastward; there comes a wind which turns it westward. Likewise, a man was turning hell-ward before the contrary wind of the Spirit blew, turned his course, and caused him to sail heavenward. Chrysostom, speaking of the Ninevites’ repentance, said that if a stranger who had seen Nineveh’s excess had gone into the city after they repented, he would scarce have believed it was the same city because it was so metamorphosed and reformed. Such a visible change does repentance make in a person, as if another soul did lodge in the same body.
That the turning from sin be rightly qualified, these few things are requisite:
It must be a turning from sin with the heart. The heart is the primum vivens, the first thing that lives, and it must be the primum vertens, the first thing that turns. The heart is that which the devil strives hardest for. Never did he so strive for the body of Moses as he does for the heart of man; In religion the heart is all. If the heart be not turned froirn sin, it is no better than a lie: ‘her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly’ (Jer. 3:10), or as in the Hebrew, ‘in a lie’. Judah did make a show of reformation; she was not so grossly idolatrous as the ten tribes. Yet Judah was worse than Israel: she is called ‘treacherous’ Judah. She pretended to a reformation, but it was not in truth. Her heart was not for God: she turned not with the whole heart.
It is odious to make a show of turning from sin while the heart is yet in league with it, I have read of one of our Saxon kings who was baptized, who in the same church had one altar for the Christian religion and another for the heathen. God will have the whole heart turned from sin.
True repentance must have no reserves or inmates.
It must be a turning from all sin ‘Let the wicked forsake his way’ (Isa. 55:7). A real penitent turns out of the road of sin. Every sin is abandoned: as Jehu would have all the priests of Baal slain (2 Kings 10:24) — not one must escape — so a true convert seeks the destruction of every lust. He knows how dangerous it is to entertain any one sin. He that hides one rebel in his house is a traitor to the Crown, and he that indulges one sin is a traitorous hypocrite.
A man may restrain the acts of sin, yet not turn from sin in a right manner. Acts of sin may be restrained out of fear or design, but a true penitent turns from sin out of a religious principle, namely, love to God. Even if sin did not bear such bitter fruit, if death did not grow on this tree, a gracious soul would forsake it out of love to God.
This is the most kindly turning from sin. When things are frozen and congealed, the best way to separate them is by fire. When men and their sins are congealed together, the best way to separate them is by the fire of love. Three men, asking one another what made them leave sin: one says, I think of the joys of heaven; another, I think of the torments of hell; but the third, I think of the love of God, and that makes me forsake it. How shall I offend the God of love?
It must be a turning from sin and a turning unto God. This is in the text, ‘that they should repent and turn to God’ (Acts 2 6.2 o). Turning from sin is like pulling the arrow out of the wound; turning to God is like pouring in the balm. We read in scripture of a repentance from dead works (Heb. 6:1), and a repentance toward God (Acts 20:21). Unsound hearts pretend to leave old sins, but they do not turn to God or embrace his service. It is not enough to forsake the devil’s quarters, but we must get under Christ’s banner and wear his colours. The repenting prodigal did not only leave his harlots, but he arose and went to his father. It was God’s complaint, ‘They return, but not to the most High’ (Hos. 7.16). In true repentance the heart points directly to God as the needle to the North Pole.
True turning from sin is such a turn that has has no return. ‘Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?’ (Hos. 14:8). Forsaking sin must be like forsaking one’s native soil, never more to return to it. Some have seemed to be converts and to have turned from sin, but they have returned to their sins again. This is a returning to folly (Ps. 85:8). It is a fearful sin, for it is against clear light.
It is to be supposed that he who did once leave his sin felt it bitter in the pangs of conscience. Yet he returned to it again; he therefore sins against the illuminations of the Spirit. Such a return to sin reproaches God: ‘What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me?’ (Jer. 2:5).
He that returns to sin by implication charges God with some evil. If a man puts away his wife, it implies he knows some fault by her. To leave God and return to sin is tacitly to asperse the Deity. God, who ‘hateth putting away’ (Mat. 2:16), hates that he himself should be put away.
To return to sin gives the devil more power over a man that ever. When a man turns from sin, the devil seems to be cast out of him, but when he returns to sin, the devil enters into his house again and takes possession, and ‘the last state of that man is worse than the first’ (Matt. 12:45). When a prisoner has broken prison, and the jailer gets him again, he will lay stronger irons upon him. He who leaves off a course of sinning, as it were, breaks the devil’s prison, but if Satan takes him returning to sin, he will hold him faster and take fuller possession of him than ever.
Oh take heed of this!
A true turning from sin is a divorcing of it, so that it will never to come near it any more. Whoever is thus turned from sin is a blessed person: ‘God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities’ (Acts 3:26).
Is turning from sin a necessary ingredient in repentance?
If so, then there is little repentance to be found. People are not turned from their sins; they are still the same as they were. They were proud, and so they are still. Like the beasts in Noah’s ark, they went into the ark unclean and came out unclean. Men comes to ordinances impure and go away impure. Though men have seen so many changes without, yet there is no change wrought within: ‘the people turneth not unto Him that smiteth’ (ha.9.13). How can they say they repent who do not turn? Are they washed in Jordan who still have their leprosy upon their forehead?
May not God say to the unreformed, as once to Ephraim, ‘Ephraim is joined to idols: l will leave him alone’(Hos. 4:17) Likewise, here is a man joined to his drunkenness and uncleanness, let him alone; let him go on in sin; but if there be either justice in heaven or vengeance in hell, he shall not go unpunished.
The conscience reproves those who are but half-turned.
And who are these? Such as turn in their judgment but not in their practice. They cannot but acknowledge that sin, has a bad aspect and influence and will weep for sin, yet they are so bewitched with it that they have no power to leave it. Their corruptions are stronger than their convictions. These are half-turned, ‘almost Christians’ (Acts 26:28). They are like Ephraim, who was a cake baked on one side and dough on the other (Hos. 7:8). They are but half-turned who turn only from gross sin but have no intrinsic work of grace. They do not prize Christ or love holiness.
It is with civil persons as with Jonah; he got a gourd to defend him from the heat of the sun, and thought that he was safe, but a worm presently arose and devoured the gourd. So men, when they are turned from gross sin, think their civility will be a gourd to defend them from the wrath of God, but at death there arises the worm of conscience, which smites this gourd, and then their hearts fail, and they begin to despair. They are but half-turned who turn from many sins but are unturned from some special sin. There is a harlot in the bosom they will not let go. As if a man should be cured of several diseases but has a cancer in his breast, which kills him.
It reproves those whose turning is as good as no turning…
…who expel one devil and welcome another. They turn from swearing to slandering, from profuseness to covetousness; such turning will turn men to hell.
Let us show ourselves penitents in turning from sin to God.
There are some persons I have little hope to prevail with. Let the trumpet of the word sound never so some flashes of hell-fire be thrown in their faces, yet they will have the other game at sin. These persons seem to be like the swine in the Gospel, carried down by the devil violently into the sea. They will rather damn than turn: they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return. But if there be any candour or sobriety in us, if conscience be not cast into a deep sleep, let us listen to the voice of the charmer, and turn to God our supreme good.
How often does God call upon us to turn to him? He swears, ‘As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways’ (Ezek. 33.11). God would rather have our repenting tears than our blood.
Turning to God makes for our profit.
Our repentance is of no benefit to God, but to ourselves. If a man drinks of a fountain he benefits himself, not the fountain. If he beholds the light of the sun, he himself is refreshed by it, not the sun. If we turn from our sins to God, God is not advantaged by it. It is only we ourselves who reap the benefit. In this case self-love should prevail with us: ‘If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself (Prof. 9.12).
If we turn to God, he will turn to us.
He will turn his anger from us, and his face to us. It was David’s prayer, turn unto me, and have mercy upon me’ (Ps. 86.16). Our turning will make God turn: ‘Turn yo unto me, saith the Lord, and I will turn unto you’ (Zech. 1.31). He who was an enemy will turn to be our friend. If God turns to us, the angels are turned to us. We shall have their tutelage and guardianship (Ps. 91.11). If God turns to us, all things shall turn to our good, both mercies and afflictions; we shall taste honey at the end of the rod.
Thus,we have seen the several ingredients of repentance.
Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: Thomas Watson (1620 – 1686) was an English, Nonconformist, Puritan preacher and author.
He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was noted for remarkably intense study. In 1646 he commenced a sixteen-year pastorate at St. Stephen’s, Walbrook. He showed strong Presbyterian views during the civil war, with, however, an attachment to the king, and in 1651 he was imprisoned briefly with some other ministers for his share in Christopher Love’s plot to recall Charles II of England. He was released on 30 June 1652, and was formally reinstated as vicar of St. Stephen’s Walbrook. He obtained great fame and popularity as a preacher until the Restoration, when he was ejected for Nonconformity. Notwithstanding the rigor of the acts against dissenters, Watson continued to exercise his ministry privately as he found opportunity. Upon the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672 he obtained a license to preach at the great hall in Crosby House. After preaching there for several years, his health gave way, and he retired to Barnston, Essex, where he died suddenly while praying in secret. He was buried on 28 July 1686