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Doctrine of Repentance (Puritan Paperbacks) Paperback – January 1, 1988
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'In our 'tolerant' world, the one thing we can not bear to tolerate is the mention of sin. When someone out of such a culture comes to understand the gospel such words as repentance can still be difficult to swallow. We are often tempted to confuse feeling sorry or confession with repentance. Watson makes clear what repentance really is: 'True leaving of sin is when the acts of sin cease from the infusion of a principle of grace, as the air ceases to be dark from the infusion of light'. Watson writes in a clear, practical, and yet penetrating manner.' --Mike Leake
About the Author
Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686), the Puritan preacher and author, was probably born in Yorkshire, although the exact place and date of his birth are unknown. He studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (BA, 1639; MA, 1642), where he was apparently a diligent student. Certainly his intellect is apparent in his writings, which show a profound grasp of the English language, as well as a solid understanding of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. He quotes from the early church fathers, and his familiarity with the breadth of the scriptural canon is stunning. Cross-references from the entire biblical corpus are sprinkled throughout his sermons, revealing a deep understanding of many texts obscure to most modern day Bible students. A solid understanding of history, botany, medicine, physics, the classics, logic, and various trades are revealed in his sermons.
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The meat of this book is the nature of repentance that consists of sight, sorrow, confession, shame, hatred and turning from sin. Something that I thought interesting is when it is pointed out that though confession is directed primarily to God, there are occasions where it should be done to "some prudent, pious friends, who may advise him and speak a word in due season (James 5:16)." Then Watson adds, "It is a sinful modesty in Christians that they are not more free with their ministers and other spiritual friends in unburdening themselves and opening the sores and troubles of their souls to them. If there is a thorn sticking in the conscience, it is good to make use of those who may help to pluck it out" (p.37).
Sight, Sorrow, Shame, Hatred and Turning from sin are certainly some things we always need in an increasing degree everyday. Not only when discussing these, but also throughout the text, Watson uses some graphic and vulgar words that are both necessary and true. Something that should strike our conscience is when he points out that the sin committed by Christians is worse that that by unbelievers because Christians sin against clearer conviction. Not only are we worse than the unbelievers when we sin, but we are also worse than the devils, where Watson points out, "The lapsed angels never sinned against Christ's blood. But we have affronted and disparaged His blood by unbelief" (p.42).
While hammering relentlessly on the danger of sin, the assumption that there is no need of repentance, or that repentance is easy or it can be put-off to a later time, and hypocritical repentance, the hardening of heart which is the most dreadful state one can ever fall into, as well as an all-out commitment and action (Watson calls it endeavor) against sin, he balances it out with the hope of the gospel. What is done here is to prevent one to fall into either extreme of presumptuous cavalier antinomianism or despair. The former is cured and guarded against with the warnings of the hardening of heart and the threats of apostasy, while the latter is conquered by the hope and grace of the Gospel. Just as there is a grave danger in antinominanism, so there is also a mortal danger in despair in the sense that it "rejects mercy. It throws the cordial of Christ's blood on the ground. Judas was not damned only for his treason and murder, but it was his distrust of God's mercy [through Christ] that destroyed him." Therefore, it is critical to remember that God "has bowels of love to repenting sinners (Joel 2:13). Mercy rejoices over justice. God counts his mercy his glory (Ex 33:18-19). He is the God of tenderness and compassion No sooner do we mourn than God's heart melts. No sooner do our tears fall than God's repentings kindle (Hos 11:8). Do not say then that there is no hope" (p.103).
What I suggest is this. Get the book and after reading it, write a summary similar to what Prof. JI Packer suggested after or when reading John Owen's texts. Why? First, it is because there are indeed similarities between Watson and Owen. Both understand both theology and human heart and the corruption thereof at a depth only few ministers and theologians have. Second, though Watson is much more organized than Owen, throughout their texts, they teach so many incredibly striking truths that it is necessary to write them down on a separate note that we may be able recollect later without having to re-read the text and start all over again. Though Watson sometimes uses Scriptural references that are out of context and plenty of Latin words which the Banner of Truth thankfully translates to English, his study on repentance is a beautiful tasty bitter sweet cordial that I pray for myself and every reader, that by the grace of God, He may use to drive us into a genuine sense of bitterness and sincere forsaking of sin and the sweetness of Christ.
Watson begins with a brief discussion of the order of salvation. Which comes first, faith or repentance? After defending his conviction that faith is wrought in the heart prior to seeing the fruits of repentance, Watson moves on to an explanation of how the Spirit and the Word work together to bring about repentance.
Oftentimes, it is helpful for a teacher to show what a thing is not in order to effectively show what it truly is. Watson does this with repentance. Before he delves into the specifics of what repentance is, he first discusses what repentance is not. Watson gives several examples of how we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are repentant, such as a troubled mind regarding our sin, the making of resolutions against sin, realizing that sin and its consequences are painful, quitting sin for fear of future evil, and quitting one sin only to take up another. None of these equal biblical repentance.
True repentance is explained over two chapters. Watson defines gospel repentance as "a grace of God's Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed," and includes six ingredients:
1) Sight of sin
2) Sorrow over sin (which includes six qualifications)
3) Confession (including eight requisite qualifications and two ways it is used)
4) Shame (including nine considerations and two ways it is used)
5) Hatred of sin (including five ways we can know if we hate sin)
6) Turning from sin (including five requisite qualifications and three uses)
In these chapters, Watson gives special attention to those times when repentance is absolutely necessary, such as prior to participating in the Lord's Supper and upon one's death bed (if one is so fortunate to have a sound mind in his moments before death). He also expounds on sin's origin, nature, consequences, comparison to hell and affliction, and the coming judgment. Like many other protestants of his day, when writing about the need for confession, Watson takes issue with the catholic church and papacy. He explains that it is not only because of their obvious misapplication regarding confession to men, but because of their mishandling of gospel repentance. Watson, after giving his main points, asks and answers possible questions that may come to mind while reading, something he continues throughout the book.
In Chapter 5, Watson offers five reasons, centered on the nature of God, to enforce repentance. This chapter also includes an exposition of two kinds of people who will find it especially difficult to repent, and ends with a warning to the hard-hearted.
Chapter 6 is a many-faceted exhortation to repentance. Here Watson exhorts all kinds of people, the great and the small, the nation of England, those who are moral and think they have no need of repentance, hypocrites, and God's own people, "Christians indeed," to repent. Repentance is necessary for all people and for all sins.
In Chapter 7, Watson gives sixteen reasons for why we should be motivated to repent. And Chapter 8 includes all the reasons for why we should be motivated to repent posthaste.
In Chapter 9, Watson uses 2 Corinthians 7:11 to teach the reader how to test whether or not his repentance is sincere. According to Watson, there are seven fruits and products of repentance. Only when we know that our repentance is true can we then speak peace to ourselves with scriptures that tell us our sins are pardoned and passed into oblivion.
Chapters 10-12 deal with impediments to repentance and the means for repentance. Watson writes, "When you lack water, you search the cause, whether the pipes are broken or stopped, that the current of water is hindered. Likewise when no water of repentance comes (though we have the conduit-pipes of ordinances), see what the cause is." These ten impediments to repentance can be summarized as ignorance, presumption, laziness, love of the world and sin, the idea that one's sins are to great to be forgiven, fear, and the opinion that repentance means no more joy. Watson then takes two chapters to prescribe the means for getting passed the impediments. The means include, but are not limited to, an education in sin and its hellish effects, the coming judgment, and the mercies of God.
A few quotes:
Tomorrow may be our dying day; let this be our repenting day.
Spiritual sorrow will sink the heart if the pulley of faith does not raise it.
Repentance must be kept alive in the soul.
When the soul is going out of the body, it should swim to heaven in a sea of tears.
A wicked man acknowledges his is a sinner in general.
Christ is never loved till sin be loathed.
Loving sin is worse than committing it.
God has two places he dwells in, heaven and a humble heart, so the devil has two places he dwells in, hell and a hard heart.
The hypocrite feigns humility, but it is that he may rise in the world. He is a pretender to faith, but he makes use of it rather for a cloak than a shield.
A repenting person fears and sins not; a graceless person sins and fears not.
A true penitent pursues his sins with a holy malice.
Watson writes with sharp insight and understanding of our sinful condition. He knows how we will seek to deceive ourselves in order to assuage our consciences. We need to be aware of this human tendency and grow in our ability to discern our own hearts. I believe this book will help do that. Watson's biblical tests for proving our repentance will be invaluable to any believer. The Doctrine of Repentance is easy to follow and comprehend, however, it is best if the reader takes his time to deeply consider each point and see if there may be an immediate application to his life. I can attest to needing to stop and evaluate my own heart several times. In a religious culture where the words "sin" and "repent" have fallen out of vogue, I daresay many believers have never heard the truths presented here. Watson's treatise on repentance will be a helpful addition to any believer's library, especially those who have been granted the responsibility to teach others.