Not long after the paper "Forgiveness without Repentance" was finished and about to be published, my attention was drawn to a paper by A.E.K. in Unsearchable Riches, Vol. 10, 1919, pp. 267-276 which discussed "Repentance." As the conclusions reached then differ very widely from those in my paper, it is obviously necessary to examine them. This obligation is all the more pressing on account of the fact that A.E.K.'s paper is "reprinted by request" from his Vol. 1, undated, but published somewhere about the middle of 1910; so it must have been highly thought of. Apparently it is still considered valid.
For a start we were told that Christ Himself ceased to proclaim repentance after He was rejected. The relevance of this is not clear; for the original proclamation had been heard and obeyed by some, and not a word is said in the Gospels of it having been abrogated or even suspended or withdrawn. Yet it is a fact that after the boundary line of Matt. 13:14, 15 the direct command to repent does not appear again till Acts 2:38. But the word repent itself does not vanish; for it occurs in Mark 6:12, where the Twelve who have been despatched two by two proclaim to all they address that they should be repenting. Moreover, the verb repent occurs nine times in Luke's Gospel, everyone of which belongs to matters that took place after the proclamation of Isa. 6:9, 10 in Matt. 13:14, 15. In Luke, too, the word repentance, metanoia, occurs twice after this point of time, in Luke 15:7; 24:47. So the assertion we have quoted is highly misleading if it should be read as meaning that all idea of repentance ceased after the rejection of Christ by the nation as a whole.
Presently it is stated in the article: "Now we know that the Kingdom as proclaimed by the apostles was rejected once again (Acts 28:26, 27)." But this thing is, most plainly, not stated in this passage, which, taken as a whole, that is, vv. 25-28, refers to the great point of crisis set out in Matt. 13:11-17. And, to forestall any misunderstanding, Paul's declaration here began: "Ideally the Holy Spirit talks through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers." Yes, to their fathers, a generation earlier. That is what Scripture actually says; so why not believe it?
In writings like this article we read again and again that the Kingdom was rejected; but this assertion is so loose and vague as to be extremely misleading. In the Concordant Version Concordance, reject is given as the rendering of apodokimazO, which occurs nine times. This word is applied to the Lord Jesus Himself as "the stone which the builders reject" in Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; 1. Peter 2:7. In Mark 8:31 the Lord Jesus begins to teach "that the Son of Mankind must be suffering much, and must be rejected by the elders and by the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed," Luke 9 : 32 is parallel to this. In a prophecy, the Lord Jesus declares that the Son of Mankind "must be suffering much and be rejected by this generation" (Luke 17:25)—note how this harmonises with "your fathers" in Acts 28:25; it was that generation, not a later one. Esau was rejected (Heb. 12:17). Lastly, 1. Peter 2:4 speaks of the Lord as a "living stone, having been rejected indeed by men, yet with God, chosen, held in honour."
Scripture states plainly by whom the Lord Jesus, the Son of Mankind, was rejected; but the man-made formula simply says that "the Kingdom was rejected," without specifying by whom. Nevertheless, assuming that it was rejected we must ask, was it by every Jew? Certainly not, By every Gentile? Again, certainly not. The whole thing is altogether too vague and indefinite to be worth taking seriously at all; yet for fifty years and more it has been accepted by many of us as undoubted fact. How we could, nearly all of us, have allowed ourselves to be deceived and so utterly misled by an error which is not even, specious is hard indeed to understand.
The paper goes on to say: "If the Lord Himself stopped the proclamation of pardon and repentance when His message was rejected, it is certainly worth the enquiry: Has it been again withdrawn, now that the same message, proclaimed by His apostles, has once more been rejected?" First, it was not His message, but Himself, that was rejected. And as it was not proved that the Lord had "stopped the proclamation of pardon and repentance," the further matter, here suggested, cannot arise. Neither has it been shown that the proclamation was ever "withdrawn," let alone again withdrawn. Once more, we turn to the C.V. Concordance to find out what it has to say about the word withdraw, and we soon see that it is used for two Greek words, aphistEmi and metairO. The latter occurs only in Matt. 13:53; 19:1, and refers to the Lord Jesus withdrawing from the district He was in. The former really means stand away. Neither refers in any manner to the Kingdom. So we find ourselves once more at a dead end: the question has no point of contact with Scripture as it actually is. How does it come about that such nonsense could have been produced by a most sincere and able student?
The date when it was written gives us the clue to the answer. No more than three years had passed since J. J. B. Coles had promulgated his theory of the "dispensational boundary" at Acts 28:28. By that time, the error he had set out was reaching the peak of its power; and it is all too evident that A.E.K. had succumbed to it, and was writing in accord with it.
What I am saying here is in no sense an attack on A.E.K. on this account. Many great men, not least Dr. Bullinger, went astray over Coles' heresy. It appears that nearly everyone with whom we have been associated was taken by storm and succumbed to it, for a time at any rate. I did myself, at first. Then I began to have second thoughts. In 1915-16, while fighting in the trenches of Flanders, I found time to correspond with Mr. Alexander Thomson, defending my conviction of the essential unity of the Apostle Paul's Epistles. He was thinking along the same lines; and a friendship began which has lasted to this day.
Now, what is to me the strangest thing about all this is that, although his mind was working along the same lines as ours, A.E.K. nevertheless republished his paper "Repentance" in 1919. Yet, only two years before, he had published in "Unsearchable Riches, Vol. 8, pp. 194, 233 and 271 a really splendid study along the same lines as the ideas being worked out by A.T. and myself. These, if they had been carried through to their logical conclusion, would have overthrown Coles' heresies finally. Eventually, this was done through A.T. and myself.
For Coles and his followers, "the Kingdom" meant the earthly Kingdom, the "Millennial" Kingdom promised to Israel. This idea is tied up with the Acts 28:28 "dispensational boundary" theory. To ask which was invented first is like asking, "Which came first, the hen or the egg?" for the one implies the other. Perhaps the error about the Kingdom started first, for it logically leads up to the theory; yet it is also true that the Kingdom error follows logically from the Acts 28:28 "dispensational boundary." The question is unimportant. What does matter is the theory that the Kingdom proclamation ceased when (according to A.E.K.) "the Kingdom as proclaimed by the apostles was rejected once again (Acts 28: 26-27)."
Never yet have I been able to persuade any of the followers of this theory to produce a satisfactory explanation of the last two verses of Acts 28:30, 31. The nearest attempt I have seen so far has been the 1930 C.V. Note to v. 31:
Whether Paul had several ministries depends on what one means by the word "ministry," a point which calls for consideration in another paper. The simple believer would very much like to know, also, where Scripture tells us that Paul's secrets "could not be revealed until the kingdom had been finally rejected." By any juggling with words how can this be squared with Paul's statement that the Father" transports us into the Kingdom of the Son of His love" (Col. 1:13)? An attempt to do so is made in the 1930 C.V. Note to this verse, thus: "The kingdom of His Son is a figurative allusion to the kingdom of Christ." A person who will swallow that can swallow anything! It is all man's words, man's theories, and an open attempt to water down God's Word to suit them.
Paul refers to the Kingdom of God in Rom. 14:17; 1. Cor. 4:20; 6:9, 10; 15:24, 50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5; Col. 4:11; 1. Thess. 2:12; 2. Thess. 1:5; 2. Tim. 4:1; and the Lord's celestial Kingdom in 2. Tim. 4:18. How strange, indeed, when the Kingdom had been "finally rejected" according to this theory! Unscrupulous expositors have used the two references in the Thessalonian Epistles to prove (?) that these are not for us. All they have shown is that these epistles are not for them.
The trouble with A.E.K. then was that he had only partially shaken off the fetters imposed by Coles. Once more, I would not write a single word against him on this account, for most if not all of us have likewise been deceived to some extent in past times. All I would say, and it must be said, is that this deception imposed on him has rendered his teaching about repentance quite worthless. Nearly everything in his paper is coloured by it.
For instance, he wrote: "Repentance may accompany faith (Mark 1:15)"; but what the Lord Jesus said here was: "The era has reached fulfilment and the Kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent, and be believing in the Evangel," To the unbiassed mind this can only mean precisely what it says: First, repent; then, be believing.
Many will at first glance dissent violently from this; so I would ask them one plain question: How can one who does not believe the Evangel change his mind and come to believe it, if he does not change his mind? For repentance means change of mind; simply that, and no more nor less. Repentance "may accompany faith," indeed! What a thinning-down of the Lord's words! Once more, I do not blame A.E.K. for what he wrote here under the influence of Coles' system of deception—but I do greatly blame, after this disclosure, anyone who still persists in remaining under its influence.
Again he wrote: "To repent is, literally, to after-mind, to reconsider. Such reconsideration may lead one to turn about or be 'converted' (Acts 3:19), but it is quite distinct from conversion." Says the Apostle Peter here: "Repent, then, and turn about for the erasure of your sins." Why pretend that the two ideas can be separated, so that one can be done without the other?
"Likewise repentance may lead to work (Rev. 2:5)." But the Apostle John wrote: "Be remembering, then, . . . . and repent, and do the first works" a demand for three actions in sequence, not one and then possibly another.
Once more we are assured that "repentance is the key to the earthly kingdom"; but we are not told why, just when the (supposed) prospects of the earthly kingdom were most rapidly fading away, the Holy Spirit poured out on the Gentiles, and God gave the repentance into life to the Gentiles also (Acts 10:45; 11:18).
Of the Apostle Paul we are told: "At Athens he could say, 'now chargeth He all men everywhere to repent.' But Luke's account does not merely tell us that Paul "could" say this, but that he actually said it. Moreover, after writing this, A.E.K. asks "Why?" and gives the extraordinary answer: " Not on account of God's grace as made known in His glad message, but' Because He has appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man Whom He hath ordained. . . ..' These are the judgments which will usher in and sustain the kingdom." Yet, in fact, this quotation of Acts 17:30, 31 is broken off too soon, for, reading on, we find written, "tendering faith to all, raising Him out of dead ones."
If, now, we turn to the opening of the" account of God's grace as made known in His glad message," that is, to the Epistle to Romans, Rom. 1:18—3:20; we find God's righteousness (1:17) and judging (2:1, 3, 12, 16, 27; 3:4, 6, 7). In this passage the verb judge occurs more often than in any of comparable length in the Greek Scriptures, and the word judgment similarly, three times in all (2:2, 3; 3:8). In fact, Acts 17:30, 31 is a strikingly apt summary of one aspect of this section of Romans. So the alleged contrast vanishes, as such efforts of imagination must when challenged. How A.E.K. could have failed to perceive that he was talking nonsense in his explanation, quoted above, is a mystery. It only shows how easily even the best of men can be deceived, once they give ear to man's theories instead of what God declares in His Word.
Our attention is then directed to Heb. 6:6, and it is said that "no such dire apostasy is possible to those who believe God's glad message and the proclamation of the reconciliation as set forth in the Roman letter." Yes, no SUCH dire apostasy—but who shall assert that something not unlike it is disclosed in Phil. 3:17-19?
Certainly we should proclaim peace. Certainly we should point men, not to their feelings, but to Christ. But with the Apostle Paul's own speech to the pagan Athenians before our eyes, we have no right whatever to try to hide the fact of sin and of falling aside and of judgment thereof, to try to dispense with the absolute necessity of change of mind, of repentance, before true faith on the Lord Jesus is possible. The need for repentance is not of itself good news; but there is no good news left for those who hear the good news and still will not repent. The question of ultimate reconciliation does not arise here. The issue is simply whether or not one receives and believes the Evangel here and now.
R.B.W. Last updated 25.5.2006