Vol. 25 New Series December, 1964 No. 6
FORGIVENESS WITHOUT REPENTANCE

Nearly twenty-five years have passed since Mr. Alexander Thomson had to publish his book, "Is the Concordant Version Reliable?" because he had been unable to get a hearing otherwise. As he cogently put it:

Nevertheless, in 1940, one man in the North of England thought fit to publish an attack on him. The attack, though unsupported by any evidence, was backed by eight others and a ninth "On behalf of The Sheffield Concordant Scripture Study Class"; and among other things it committed itself to the following assertion: "The faults which have any degree of seriousness can be reduced to half-a-dozen." Needless to say, this "half-a-dozen" was not specified! Indeed, one may well doubt if it ever existed; for that sort of talk is almost always mere bombast. To this day, its author has never (so far as I can discover) published a refutation of a single item of Mr. Thomson's case, not even one. It was a most cowardly attack, and the injury it has inflicted through the years cannot be measured yet.

Recently, this affair has been the subject of correspondence; and I have pointed out that the only possible measure of reparation for the wrong done would be for the offenders to admit it and ask forgiveness. To this I have received the reply that "demanding that our brethren in Christ come to us on our terms and ask forgiveness is hardly the best manifestation of grace that we can make."

That an earnest, well-meaning and otherwise intelligent Christian can assume such an attitude shows all too plainly how seriously we have, in general, misunderstood Scripture doctrine regarding forgiveness. This is largely due to one-sided "dispensational" doctrine, and it is high time that the truth were set out.

First, it is necessary to point out that no question of "our terms" arises. The issue is summed-up in one single question: "What are God's terms for forgiveness?" The point in my letter which brought forth the reply quoted above was that in Scripture forgiveness is always conditional on repentance. In fact, before turning to Scripture at all, we ought to be able to perceive that no one is eligible for forgiveness who does not wish to be forgiven. What is such a wish but repentance, metanoia, change-of-mind? One does a wrong, one realizes that a wrong has been done, one regrets having done the wrong—that last is a change of mind, repentance. If the second and third of these three do not happen, then one is still glad that the wrong has been done and ready even to do it again. Therefore, one is unrepentant; so how can one want, still less expect, to be forgiven? Such an idea does not make sense; and in such circumstances, to forgive does not make sense, either.

However, we do not need to reason this out, though such reasoning here is entirely sound, for Scripture bears the same testimony. The opening declaration of John the Baptist was, "Repent! For the Kingdom of the heavens has drawn near" (Matt. 3:2); and the Lord Jesus begins His ministry with exactly the same words (Matt. 4:17). Mark records that "Now, after the betrayal of John, came Jesus into Galilee proclaiming the Evangel of the Kingdom of God, saying that the era has become fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has neared, 'Repent and be believing in the Evangel.'" (Mark 1:15).

Many of us push this aside on the ground that here "the Kingdom" means the earthly kingdom promised to Israel. They might be more careful, and more modest, if they would pause to demand of themselves some proof of their confident assertion, but they never do.

As a matter of fact, the idea of repentance is by no means confined to the proclamation of the Evangel of the Kingdom. For the Apostle Peter exhorted all the house of Israel to repent, and to do so for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38); and he repeated the order to repent in Acts 3:19. Later (Acts 8:20-24) Peter reproved one Simon for trying to purchase the gratuity of holy spirit, telling him to repent that he might be forgiven. The Apostle Paul testifies, too, telling the Athenians: "God, in the present state of things, is charging all men, everywhere, to be repenting" (Acts 17:30). "All men," not simply Israel. And before King Agrippa he described his mission: "I did not become stubborn as to the heavenly apparition, but, first to those in Damascus, and in Jerusalem, as well as the entire province of Judea, and to the Gentiles, was I bearing the message that (they) should be repenting and, turning about on to God, practising works worthy of the repentance" (Acts 26:19, 20). In 2. Cor. 12:21 Paul says: "I shall be mourning for many who have sinned before and are not repentant of the uncleanness and prostitution and wantonness which they practise."

The word metanoia, repentance, conveys a similar message. Its first occurrence is where John the Baptist addresses the Pharisees and Sadducees and says to them (Matt. 3:8, 9): "Produce, then, fruit worthy of the repentance" (for which he was calling in v. 2). "And you should not be presuming to be saying among yourselves, 'For father we have Abraham'; for I am saying to you that God is able out of these stones to rouse children to Abraham." Here is a very broad hint indeed that if they did not repent, others would, in their place, and produce fruit worthy of it; and all this at the very outset of John the Baptist's ministry! If we had not been bemused by extreme dispensational theorizing, this would long ago have been evident to all of us, and the idea of repentance would not have been relegated to Israel. True, in Acts the exhortation to repent is first addressed to Israel (Acts 5:31); but after the unlocking of the Kingdom to the Gentiles, those who hear Peter's words "glorify God, saying, 'Consequently, to the Gentiles also God gives the repentance into life.'" (11:18). "The repentance" is what the Greek says, because Peter had just referred to John the Baptist and by implication the baptism he had proclaimed to Israel at first, but now extended to the Gentiles. So this verse adds its testimony to the other passages in Acts. The proclamation to Israel is again referred to in Acts 13:24 and 19:4 and that to both Jews as well as Greeks in Acts 20:21.

This association of Jews and Greeks is first found in Acts 18:4 when Paul had arrived in Corinth after his visit to Athens. Then comes Acts 19:10 and 17. Next in order comes Rom. 1:16; 2:9, 10 (both names singular in all three) and 3:9, where Jews and Greeks are charged to be all under sin. The next two, Rom. 10:12 and 1. Cor. 1:24, have been something of a puzzle to people who do not read Scripture with proper care and attention, for superficially they clash with Gal. 3:28 and Col. 3:11. Yet this occurs only when the context is ignored; for the subject of Rom. 10:12 is the righteousness which is of faith, and consequent salvation; and 1. Cor. 1:18-25 is also about the same thing, only in a rather different aspect. But Gal. 3:28 is about those who already have faith, who are already baptized into Christ and have put on Christ; and Col. 3:11 is about those who are stripping off the old humanity and putting on the young, "wherein there is no Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircurncision." This distinction of subject has been discussed before, and, unless it is understood and kept in mind, Scripture is bound to be a puzzle. For salvation, one must come to the Lord Jesus Christ as a Gentile; once that has happened, Jewishness and Gentileness disappear, and become wholly irrelevant in the young humanity which supersedes both in the church which is Christ's body.

So we see that repentance, and the forgiveness that follows on it, is not something now outworn, once offered to Israel and withdrawn when they rejected it. Let those who think that repentance is not necessary for forgiveness produce firm evidence from the Word of God.

The difficulty of forecasting how other people's minds may work is well known; but it would be as well here to consider a few passages that might perhaps be brought up in reply to this challenge.

The first is Matt. 6:14, 15. Here we are to act as our heavenly Father acts in the matter in question. If He forgives apart from repentance first, then we should do likewise; but the preceding paragraphs in this paper make it plain that He does not. Next, Matt. 18:21-35. Here repentance is not mentioned; but, surely, it or something very like it is implied in v. 26. At least, there is some recognition of a debt unpaid; though the fact that it turns out not to be a genuine repentance comes out plainly enough in vv. 28-30. The remission of the loan is really only provisional and dependant on the genuineness of the repentance. As it becomes plainly bogus, the remission lapses. We used to hear a good deal of doctrine about pardon being withdrawn; but Scripture is silent about any such idea, apart from this parable; and even here the withdrawal (if it can be so described) is not the result of a change of mind on the part of the one to whom the loan was owed, but of a further offence on the part of the debtor. Anyone who would seek to show that this passage enjoins on us forgiveness even where there is no repentance is on very shaky ground. Lastly, there is Luke 23:34: "Now Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they are not aware what they are doing.'" This is a passage which ought to be approached only with deepest awe and even trembling. To read our private ideas into any Scripture at all is a wrong and even evil thing; and we can hardly find any passage in which such an act is more wrong and irreverent. So, before adducing the passage, our hypothetical objector should observe most carefully what the passage avoids saying. First, it does not say that the Lord Jesus Himself forgave them or even could fittingly forgive them. Second, it does not say that the Father did forgive them. Third, it does not specify whether the forgiveness was intended for that actual moment, or ultimate forgiveness at some future time. Fourth, it does not rule out specifically the essential requirement of prior repentance.

To suit certain dispensational theories, many have assumed that the Father did forgive, then and there, and, after the ascension of the Lord Jesus, made a new proclamation of forgiveness, which was rejected; so that the Father's clemency and the Lord's appeal failed, and forgiveness had to be withdrawn. All we need to say here is that there is no evidence whatever for any such theory. It is a mere invention from start to finish. People who invent such theories always rejoice in them as brilliant new discoveries, without ever dwelling on the difficulties they create. Apart from the fact that this assumption has to be read into Scripture: there arises the difficulty that when Israel eventually are to be forgiven, they will begin by repenting. "All the tribes of the land shall be grieving over Him." Moreover, if the Father did forgive them despite the absence of any repentance, why did Peter have to exhort them to repent just as John the Baptist did? If the Father did on this occasion forgive, why is this the one and only instance of forgiveness apart from repentance? Such questions are extremely awkward, so they are not asked.

One passage remains for consideration: 2. Tim. 2:23-26. However, it would be a serious mistake to read it out of its context, which stretches from 2:15 to 3:15 at least. Before I proceeding, the reader should examine it for himself. The root of the evil referred to at the start of this paper is in 2:23. It was very stupid and crude to question Mr. Thomson's findings on the basis of "views and reactions" without regard to cold fact. The critic wrote: "I do not intend to answer the details, but simply to say that I have weighed every point. The faults which have any degree of seriousness can be reduced to half-a dozen." Thus, a carefully stated case, with full evidence supplied, is quietly dismissed. The critic did "not intend to answer the details." Of course not! It was sufficient for him that he had "weighed every point"; but, as always with such people, we were not to be permitted to check the weighing, perhaps lest we might find that the weights were dummies and the scales false; always supposing that the weighing was ever carried out at all. Neither were we permitted to know what that "half-a dozen" consisted of, perhaps lest we might discover the emptiness of the claim, and find it no more than mere rhetoric. No wonder that this critic has generated fightings!

Yet it would appear that the whole case alleged against Mr. Thomson is that it was he who did the fighting, that it was he who was not gentle at all. But, so far as I am aware, nobody has dared to deny that he was "apt to teach, bearing with evil, in meekness training those who are antagonizing, if perchance in time God may be giving them repentance, to be coming into full knowledge of truth."

He certainly tried his best to help them to that full knowledge; but few have been given the repentance. The rest have calmly ignored his prolonged and gentle and patient endeavours, before their fighting, their enmity, compelled him for that truth's sake to speak out plainly. The extent of the "fighting" Mr. Thomson did can be gauged from the closing paragraph of the Foreword to his book:

The attack launched in the pamphlet we have referred to was the reply from England to this appeal of grace. As always, grace can make no headway with those who harden their hearts against truth.

It is the old, old story! Those who support the utter integrity of God's Word must show "grace" to the point of surrender of principle, if not beyond. Those who oppose them do not regard themselves as being under any such obligation. In my younger days, one was expected to be "charitable" to the enemies of the Scriptures; now, one is expected to show "grace" and appeasement of the enemy, every time. The pamphlet conforms to this pattern. It shows no trace of the sort of "grace" expected by my correspondent, no hint of appreciation of Mr. Thomson's great services, not a trace of kindliness towards him. It is emotional in tone; but all the feeling is self-pity for the discomfiture caused by those services. Of positive, objective, examination of fact, there is none. An idol has been knocked off its pedestal; and its votaries became full of fury against the culprit, as were the worshippers of Artemis in Acts 19:28.

Some have a great deal to say about "grace," others about "rightly dividing"; but few base themselves on the real rock-bottom fact pointed out by the Lord Jesus Himself: "O foolish and tardy of heart to be believing on all which the prophets talk! Was it not needful for the Christ to be suffering these very things and to be entering into His glory? And, beginning from Moses, and from all the prophets, He interprets to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." (Luke 18:25-27). That word "ALL" is a knife, nay more, a guillotine, that severs off the mass of partial believers, who are in practise little if any better than unbelievers, from the small band of those who truly believe all that God says and work out in their lives that true belief of all, not regarding any errors as unimportant. For there is no firm resting place" between believing all and believing none.

Ecumenical thinking is the keyword among the churches nowadays. Yet it must fail to produce true unity because it fails utterly to get down to the ultimate issue in that word "ALL." Nevertheless, we ought to reflect that we are in no way better off; so long as the most influential of us support, directly or by implication, the teaching in the pamphlet discussed in this paper that the majority of the faults in the 1930 C.V. are without "any degree of seriousness." If these people are right, why is money being spent on revisions? The pamphlet says: "There ought to be peace and unity amongst brethren in the Lord"; but it fails to state how this can be achieved amongst such "brethren"!

God's terms for forgiveness are that those who have done wrong must first repent them of their deed. Those who stand by this fact, and insist that an offender must repent before he can be forgiven are not (as quoted early in this paper) "demanding that our brethren in Christ come to us on our terms and ask forgiveness." Such an allegation is most improper, as it amounts to open unbelief.

The reference to "grace" exposes the spirit of error that lies behind this allegation, for grace does not come into the matter. The words repent, repentance, forgive, forgiveness, hardly ever come in contact with the word grace, charis. In Acts, God giving repentance into life to the Gentiles also (11:18) is described as "the grace of God" in 11:23. There is a very indirect association of forgiveness and grace in Acts 13:38 and 43; and grace and repentance in Heb. 12:15 and 17. Eph. 1:7 says of Christ Jesus: "in Whom we are having the deliverance through His blood, the forgiveness of the fallings aside according to the riches of His grace." So, one must ask: is it, in Christ Jesus, forgiveness according to the riches of His grace to forgive one who has not repented of a sin or a falling aside and who has never shown even the smallest sign of repenting or desiring forgiveness? In fact, is it "grace" in any sense at all to "forgive" an unrepented sin or falling-aside? Even more bluntly, does not the forgiving of such a sin mean condoning it?

To put the issue with unmistakeable plainness: suppose that I had forgiven those who had so unjustly and meanly launched their attack on Mr. Thomson. Suppose I had sought fellowship with them while their attack was still doing its evil work. Would I not have been, in fact, siding with them against him, and thereby sharing their guilt? Could I possibly, with any decency at all, have said to them, "I strongly disapprove of your action, but because of grace I want your fellowship, whatever you have done"? And what about the grace due to Mr. Thomson? Could I have said to him: "You are absolutely right; but because of grace I intend to have fellowship with, and even give support to, those who have assailed you"? What sort of "grace" would that be?

Too long, far too long, have some of us made a practise of pandering to sin and evil, and using "grace" as the excuse for so doing. It is high time that someone spoke up clearly and plainly against this evil, which is simply moral cowardice. The Lord Jesus had the courage to speak out against sin and evil. So did His Apostles. Do we dare to claim to know better? If there are no Prophets now, surely the duty devolves on us to follow their example with boldness and sincerity? Paul told us to "rebuke, expose, entreat"; not to shirk hard facts in the name of a "grace" of which Scripture knows nothing.

Frankly, I am sick of that sort of hypocrisy, and I do not mind who knows it. Those who have wronged Mr. Thomson with that pamphlet have had ample time to repent—a full quarter of a century. I pray that God may bring them to repentance, even at this last hour.

The object of the Concordant Version "is to go to the very limits of fidelity in translating the word of God into English." The object of the pamphlet is to fix this limit to "half-a-dozen" out of the hundreds of errors listed by Mr. Thomson; yet its sponsors have had no public rebuke from the sponsors of the C.V., among whom they appear to number themselves. This fact speaks for itself, and is difficult to reconcile with the example of honesty and sincerity which Christians ought to display to the world. A new revision of the C.V. is in hand. Will it give due acknowledgment to Mr. Thomson for his outstanding services? That is, even by the most worldly standards, the least it ought to do. How wonderful it would be if those responsible could show real grace and humbly acknowledge the wrong that has been done to him and their indebtedness to him!

R.B.W. Last updated 2.6.2006