Vol. 27 New Series August, 1967 No. 4

In view of some of the correspondence that has come to us concerning the papers on "Repentance," it seems desirable to discuss the matter further. Some of the ground covered is traversed again, but only to ensure continuity.

Repentance is a first thing: it is something that has to take place before certain other things can follow. To repent is, literally, to after-mind, to reconsider. Such reconsideration may lead one to turn about for the erasure of sins (Acts 3:19), it may lead to doing the former works (Rev. 2:5); if it is the real repentance, it will produce fruits (Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20). In the last it is followed by turning back to God. The Lord Jesus opened His ministry as recorded by Mark with the words, "Repent, and believe in the Evangel" (Mark 1:15). He did not say, "Believe in the Evangel and then repent." For Him repentance was the essential first step to faith. When those who heard the Apostle Peter's first speech asked what they should be doing; his reply was, to start with, "Repent. . ." And what followed? Active response, literally: "... and be baptized—each of you—on the name of Jesus Christ into pardon of the sins of you" (Acts 2:38). And note particularly: nothing is said in this speech about faith, no order is given to believe, no word is there about evangel, and Peter says nothing about evangelizing. Throughout, it is a statement of fact, something which his brethren, Judeans and all dwelling in Jerusalem, and all the house of Israel, Israelites, were to know, to give ear to, to hear (2:14, 22, 26). After the speech we read of "those who believe" (2:44).

No evangel here. Nothing is said about evangel till Acts 15:7; 20:24, or about evangelizing till Acts 5:42; 8:4, etc. Similarly, when the Apostle Paul addressed the Athenians at the Areopagus (Mars Hill) he said nothing about these words either, though he had previously been "evangelizing Jesus and the resurrection" (Acts 17:18). Why was this? Simply because, as in Peter's first speech, what was being uttered was a plain statement of fact. On the basis of this statement Paul announced that God "now is charging all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). Why? Because of coming judgment in righteousness by One Whom He has raised out of dead ones—essentially the same basis as that set out by Peter. And, as previously, some of Paul's hearers believe (17:34). Plainly, they repented and then they believed. This fact implies that, for them, the evangelizing which took place before the speech bore fruit among some who had heard the speech; but the speech itself was not "evangel," good tidings, and it was obviously not intended to be, for judging is never so referred to.

A strange assertion about Paul is made in the pamphlet examined in our previous paper (Vol. 26, p. 29): "At Athens he could say, 'now chargeth He all men everywhere to repent.'" But the Apostle not only "could" say this, he DID say it! What, then, can be the reason for so serious an understatement? The answer appears at once. Realizing that repentance stands at the very portal of the Kingdom, and desiring to set aside the Kingdom as a matter with which Paul was concerned, those who had misled the author of the pamphlet had evidently perceived that the impact of Acts 17:30 must at all costs be cushioned and the address to the elders of Ephesus be blunted. So the lie which has wrought such havoc among us, that at some point of time the Apostle Paul ceased to proclaim the Kingdom, is here innocently asserted once again. Earlier in the pamphlet we even find: "Now we know that the Kingdom as proclaimed by the apostles was rejected once again" (Acts 28:26, 27).

What a wonderful blessing it would be if all who claimed to be "believers" were to believe God sufficiently to take the trouble to check such assertions instead of repeating them. This one is quite extraordinary, even outrageous; for neither verse mentions or even refers to any "kingdom," and the word itself is not to be found in Isaiah 6, from which these verses are a quotation, and the only king therein is Uzziah. This is not a matter of opinion but of FACT; for Acts 28:26 begins with the word "Saying," and v. 25 ends with the clear assertion that what Isaiah was saying was not to the people whom Paul was addressing at all, but to their fathers! The TRUTH is that the closing verses of Acts (vv. 23-31) refer to the Kingdom twice: Paul certifying to the Kingdom (v. 23), Paul proclaiming the Kingdom of God (v. 31). To try to read a rejection of the Kingdom into this passage is inexcusable. We must nevertheless continue to bear in mind that at the time the pamphlet was written few, if any, of those who read it had been made aware of the truth of the matter. Not very long after, A.E.K., to his great credit, himself began to abandon the erroneous teaching started by Coles. However, now that the truth is well known, there is no excuse for those among us who ignore it. These facts have been stated repeatedly, and were restated in Vol. 26, p. 29; nevertheless, many refuse to believe them, and yet they call themselves "believers." They would do well to ask themselves just who they believe and in what way do they differ from unbelievers!

For consider further. If we believe, as we surely should do, that the Sacred Scriptures are in the fullest sense the Word of God; is it too fanciful to regard the word basileia, kingdom, as a kind of signpost guiding us to a proper understanding of Acts? It is the specified item of the teaching of the Lord Jesus at the start (1:3) and of the Apostle Paul at the close (28:31) and in the middle (14:22). True, the Twelve Apostles at the start had in mind the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel (1:6); but the Lord Jesus instantly brushed aside the idea as any practical issue for the time being, and went on to consider what really mattered, then and now, the on-coming of the Holy Spirit. This is endorsed by the fact that no further reference to the Kingdom occurs until Luke writes (8:12) of the Samaritans: "When they believe Philip evangelizing concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, men as well as women." The remaining two references (19:8; 20:25) speak for themselves.

At first glance it is curious that in one way the Kingdom is prominent in Acts yet in another it is very much in the background. Yet, as one might expect, Matthew's, the Kingdom Gospel, clears up the problem. More than half the occurrences in it of the verb baptizO, baptize, occur within eleven verses; Matt. 3:6-16; and in the centre of the group is the prophecy :that the Lord Jesus would be baptizing in holy spirit and in fire (v. 11); which prophecy, "the promise of the Father which ye hear of Me," was reiterated by the Lord Jesus Himself in Acts 1:4, 5 and fulfilled by Pentecost and the events which flowed from it. Consequently, it was this aspect of the Kingdom which predominated in Acts and has continued to do so ever since, as, Rom. 6:1-7 with what follows testifies.

That in turn throws fresh light on the reply of his hearers to the Apostle Peter's speech in Acts 2:14-36: "Men, brethren, what should we be doing?" Peter's answer is: "Repent! and be baptized, each of you, on the name of Jesus Christ, into pardon of your sins; and you will be obtaining the gratuity of the Holy Spirit." "But," someone may perhaps object, "this says nothing about believing the Evangel." Indeed! Then we must suppose that "those who welcome the Word" (v. 41) and "those who were persevering in the teaching of the apostles" were able to do so without believing Peter; and so with the rest of their conduct (vv. 42-47). Certainly it is true that the word "evangelize" does not appear till Acts 5:42 and "evangel" till Acts 15:7. This is because, although what Peter said in 2:38, 39 was good tidings, it was not "evangel" in the fullest sense as used further on, but only the beginning of the Evangel, a harking back to what is recorded in Mark 1:1-5; which, quite likely, already existed in the original document approved by the Twelve. There is complete harmony between Acts 2:40 and Acts 17:30, 31. Furthermore, to ask when people at this time began to believe God so that their faith was reckoned as equivalent to righteousness, is to ask what is meaningless; for always, ever since Abraham so believed, there were, here and there, men described in Scripture as "righteous" and who therefore must have done as Abraham did in believing God in some matter of vital moment.

But did Abraham repent before he believed God? This question, too, is meaningless; for where in Scripture are we told that he ever did anything up to that time which called for repentance, change of mind? But are we not alleging, then, that Abraham had been sinless, that he had done nothing that called for penitence? By no means—yet this last question is altogether beside the point, for it implies the old and evil doctrine that repentance is penitence and calls for acts of penitence. When. John the Baptist, and the Lord Jesus and, later, Peter proclaimed "Repent!" it was a demand that Israel should undergo a change of mind, a turning away from the direction in which they had gone astray; and presently such a change was declared by Paul to be necessary for "all men, everywhere" (Acts 17:30); but nowhere is it written that such a change of mind was ever necessary for Abraham. This repetition may seem tedious, but it is needed.

Repentance is not an evangel; but, in general, it is necessary before an evangel can be received. In general, not necessarily always; for the issue is simply whether an immediate change of mind is required before an evangel can be received. One may already be prepared for it. Also it is possible to have a change of mind and yet have no evangel available. That has been the lot of some seekers after God; and no doubt He has shown or will show mercy to them. But why speculate about such matters, why confuse the issue with them? To accept God's Word as it is, is much simpler.

Some ninety years ago, Sir Robert Anderson, in "The Gospel and Its Ministry," pointed out the truth of this matter. Except in Rom. 2:4 the idea of repentance does not occur in that epistle, the great foundation treatise of the Evangel, and it is wholly absent from John's Gospel and his Epistles. He says: "Repentance is the turning of the mind or heart—the man himself." All these writings presuppose a mind turned towards God, otherwise they are pointless. Consequently, the idea of a change of mind having taken place lies behind much of what is written in them. Also it is in the background of what Paul writes from 1. Cor. 1:18 to 2:16. He concludes with, literally, "Yet we have Christ-mind." Nevertheless, in spite of that declaration, we learn at once that the Corinthians were fleshy, not spiritual, walking according to men. Yet they had had that essential change of mind, so that although they were yet minors, they were minors in Christ (3:1). This thought, too, though phrased in other terms, occupies an important section of Romans (6:1—7:24). The change of mind had occurred, they were entombed together with Christ Jesus through the baptism into the death, the death to sin in v. 2, that they should be walking in newness of life (6:4). It was now for them to go forward into full realization of that new life.

The fact that repentance is a first thing, a matter that is absolutely necessary now if one is to have Christ-mind, is made plain in Romans at the outset. Man is indefensible, in accord with his hardness and mind unable to repent; yet the kindness of God is leading him into repentance (Rom. 2:1-4). Definitely, he cannot bring about the change on his own account, but only through the leading of God's kindness.

But why kindness, rather than grace? The clue lies in the underlying ideas of the two words. Kindness has beneath it the thought of meeting a need, and thus benevolence and active beneficence in spite of ingratitude (Dr. Bullinger's Lexicon). Grace has, rather, the thought of producing happiness, a benefit, favour; something more than simply meeting a need out of goodness of heart, but joy and advantage bestowed as well. Kindness appears to refer to general goodwill, whereas grace is. special, bestowed on those selected for it. Scripture usage tends to confirm this. Rom. 3:12 is general. In Rom. 11:22, the kindness persisted in is general; but in Acts 13:43 the grace persisted in is elective. Eph. 2:7 seems crucial: the grace is displayed in the kindness. Those who will behold the kindness will thereby derive knowledge of the grace. Finally, Titus 3:4-7 begins with kindness and closes with Jesus Christ's grace and its effects.

All these things being so; once more we come up against the problem of the Christian who injures another and declines to repent. There arises distinct cause to ask whether such a person is, in fact, a Christian at all.

Such a question is bound to arouse bitter resentment in some quarters, yet it cannot be described as unfair; for otherwise we are left with a presumption that a Christian may properly behave in such a manner, and that to query his right to be called a Christian is itself an injury and a wicked act. Asking that question is by no means the same as judging such a person. It is no more than stating a case that the offender could and should judge for himself. Of the Apostle Paul's injunction in 1. Cor. 5:13: "Expel the wicked one from among yourselves," the 1930 C.V. Note very cogently says:

"Bringing him to repentance." Yes, indeed, but some will contend that there is no call anywhere for us, as believing Christians, to repent. Then what of 2. Cor. 7:10: "For the sorrow that is according to God is producing salvation unregrettable, yet the sorrow that is of the world is producing death"? Even if this be written off as out of date, that cannot be done to 2. Tim. 2:25, where the hope for those who are antagonizing is that "in time God may be giving them repentance into full knowledge of truth."

The trouble with such people is that they have partial knowledge of truth and do not wish to gain any more; so they injure and wrong those who do.

Their attention may well be drawn to the very pertinent: words of the Apostle Paul in this epistle, just before: "Howbeit, the solid foundation of God has stood, having this, the seal: 'The Lord knew those who are His' and 'Let everyone naming the Lord's name be standing aloof from unrighteousness'" (2. Tim. 2:19). Whether here the seal visualised was the two-sided affair embracing a ribbon or cord is not clear, but that idea makes the notion more vivid to us. The two aspects (let us say) are complementary. It is not for us to declare whether some individual is or is not one of the Lord's people; but it is for that individual to display the other side of the seal, and to be standing aloof from unrighteousness. If any brethren do not, they have no one but themselves to thank if others are inclined to stand aloof from them. It is easy to claim to be one of "the ninety nine persons who are having no need of repentance" (Luke 15:7), but can a person who is truly righteous ever dare to claim that he has no need ever to change his mind about what he does, in effect, that he is never at all a sinner? If anyone thinks he can he had better read 1. John 1:8-10, and ponder.

R.B.W. Last updated 6.4.2006