The Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson
4. THE WAY OF SALVATION
'Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto
life.' Acts xi 18.
Repentance seems to be a bitter pill to take, but it is to
purge out the bad humour of sin. By some Antinomian spirits it is
cried down as a legal doctrine; but Christ himself preached it.
'From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent,' &c. Matt
iv 17. In his last farewell, when he was ascending to heaven, he
commanded that 'Repentance should be preached in his name.' Luke xxiv
47. Repentance is a pure gospel grace. The covenant of works would
not admit of repentance; it cursed all that could not perform
perfect and personal obedience. Gal iii 10. Repentance comes in by
the gospel; it is the fruit of Christ's purchase that repenting
sinners shall be saved. It is wrought by the ministry of the gospel,
while it sets before our eyes Christ crucified. It is not arbitrary,
but necessary; there is no being saved without it. 'Except ye
repent, ye shall all likewise perish.' Luke xiii 3. We may be
thankful to God that he has left us this plank after shipwreck.
I. I shall show first the counterfeits of repentance.
 Natural softness and tenderness of spirit. Some have a
tender affection, arising from their constitution, whereby they are
apt to weep and relent when they see any object of pity. These are
not repenting tears: for many weep to see another's misery, who
cannot weep at their own sin.
 Legal terrors. A man who has lived in a course of sin, at
last is made sensible; he sees hell ready to devour him, and is
filled with anguish and horror; but after a while the tempest of
conscience is blown over, and he is quiet. He then concludes he is a
true penitent, because he has felt some bitterness in sin, but this
is not repentance. Judas had some trouble of mind. If anguish and
trouble were sufficient for repentance, then the damned would be
most penitent, for they are most in anguish of mind. There may be
trouble of mind where there is no grieving for the offence against
 A slight superficial sorrow. When God's hand lies heavy
upon a man, as when he is sick or lame, he may vent a sigh or tear,
and say, 'Lord, have mercy;' yet this is not true repentance. Ahab
did more than all this. 'He rent his clothes, and fasted, and lay in
sackcloth, and went softly.' I Kings xxi 27. His clothes were rent,
but not his heart. The eye may be watery, and the heart flinty. An
apricot may be soft without, but it has a hard stone within.
 God motions rising in the heart. Every good motion is not
repentance. Some think if they have motions in their hearts to break
off their sins, and become religious, it is repentance. As the devil
may stir up bad motions in the godly, so the Spirit of God may stir
up good motions in the wicked. Herod had many good thoughts and
inclinations stirred up in him by John Baptist's preaching, yet he
did not truly repent, for he still lived in incest.
 Vows and resolutions. What vows and solemn protestations do
some make in their sickness, that if God should recover them they
will be new men, but afterwards they are as bad as ever! 'Thou
saidst, I will not transgress;' here was a resolution: but for all
this, she ran after her idols. 'Under every green tree thou
wanderest, playing the harlot.' Jer ii 20.
 Leaving off some gross sin. (1) A man may leave off some
sins, and keep others. Herod reformed many things that were amiss,
but kept his Herodias. (2) An old sin may be left to entertain a new
one. A man may leave off riot and prodigality, and turn covetous;
which is merely to exchange one sin for another.
These are the counterfeits of repentance. Now, if you find that
yours is a counterfeit repentance, and you have not repented aright,
mend what you have done amiss. As in the body, if a bone be set
wrong, the surgeon has no way but to break it again, and set it
aright; so you must do by repentance; if you have not repented
aright, you must have your heart broken again in a godly manner, and
be more deeply afflicted for sin than ever.
II. This brings me to show wherein repentance consists. It
consists in two things: humiliation and transformation.
 Humiliation. 'If their uncircumcised hearts be humbled.'
Lev xxvi 4I. There is, as the schoolmen say, a twofold humiliation,
or breaking of the heart. (1) Attrition; as when a rock is broken in
pieces. This is done by the law, which is a hammer to break the
heart. (2) Contrition; as when ice is melted into water. This is
done by the gospel, which is as a fire to 'melt the heart.' Jer xxiii
9. The sense of abused kindness causes contrition.
 Transformation, or change. 'Be ye transformed by the
renewing of your mind.' Rom xii 2. Repentance works a change in the
whole man. As when wine is put into a glass of water, it runs into
every part of the water, and changes its colour and taste; so true
repentance does not rest in one part, but diffuses and spreads
itself into every part.
(1) Repentance causes a change in the mind. Before, a man liked
sin well, and said in defence of it, as Jonah, 'I do well to be
angry;' chap iv 9; or I did well to swear, and break the Sabbath.
When he becomes penitent, his judgement is changed, he looks upon
sin as the greatest evil. The Greek word for repentance signifies
after-wisdom; when, having seen how deformed and damnable a thing
sin is, we change our mind. Paul, before conversion, verily thought
he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus (Acts xxvi
9); but, when he became a penitent, he was of another mind. 'I count
all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ
Jesus.' Phil iii 8. Repentance causes a change of judgement.
(2) Repentance causes a change in the affections, which move
under the will as the commander-in-chief. It metamorphoses the
affections. It turns rejoicing in sin into sorrowing for sin; it
turns boldness in sin into holy shame; it turns the love of sin into
hatred. As Ammon hated Tamar more than ever he loved her (2 Sam xiii
15), so the true penitent hates sin more than ever he loved it. 'I
hate every false way.' Psa cxix 104.
(3) Repentance works a change in the life. Though repentance
begins at the heart, it does rest there, but goes into the life. It
begins at the heart. 'O Jerusalem, wash thy heart.' Jer iv 14. If
the spring be corrupt, no pure stream can run from it. But though
repentance begins at the heart, it does not rest there, but changes
the life. What a change did repentance make in Paul! It changed a
persecutor into a preacher. What a change did it make in the jailer!
Acts xvi 33. He took Paul and Silas, and washed their stripes, and
set meat before them. What a change did it make in Mary Magdalene!
She who before kissed her lovers with wanton embraces, now kisses
Christ's feet; she that used to curl her hair, and dress it with
costly jewels, now makes it a towel to wipe Christ's feet; her eyes
that used to sparkle with lust, and with impure glances to entice
her lovers, now become fountains of tears to wash her Saviour's
feet; her tongue that used to speak vainly and loosely, now is an
instrument set in tune to praise God. This change of life has two
things in it: -
 The terminus a quo, a breaking off sin. 'Break off thy sins
by righteousness.' Dan iv 27. This breaking off sin must have three
qualifications. (1) It must be universal, a breaking off all sin.
One disease may kill as well as more. One sin lived in, may damn as
well as more. The real penitent breaks off secret, gainful, habitual
sins; he takes the sacrificing knife of mortification, and runs it
through the heart of his dearest lusts. (2) Breaking off sin must be
sincere; it must not be out of fear, but upon spiritual grounds; as
from antipathy and disgust, and a principle of love to God. If sin
had not such evil effects, a true penitent would forsake it out of
love to God. The best way to separate things that are frozen, is by
fire. When sin and the heart are frozen together, the best way to
separate them is by the fire of love. Shall I sin against a gracious
Father, and abuse that love which pardons me? (3) The breaking off
sin must be perpetual, so as never to have to do with sin any more.
'What have I to do any more with idols?' Hos xiv 8. Repentance is a
spiritual divorce, which must be till death.
 Change of life has in it terminus ad quem, a returning unto
the Lord. It is called 'Repentance towards God.' Acts xx 21. It is
not enough, when we repent, to leave old sins; but we must engage in
God's service; as when the wind leaves the west, it turns into a
contrary corner. The repenting prodigal not only left his harlots,
but arose and went to his father. Luke xv 18. In true repentance
the heart points directly to God, as the needle to the north pole.
Let us all set upon this great work of repentance; let us
repent sincerely and speedily: let us repent of all our sins, our
pride, rash anger, and unbelief. 'Without repentance, no remission.'
It is not consistent with the holiness of God's nature to pardon a
sinner while he is in the act of rebellion. O meet God, not with
weapons, but tears in your eyes. To stir you up to a melting
penitent frame: -
(1) Consider what there is in sin, that you should continue in
the practice of it. It is the 'accursed thing.' Josh vii 11. It is
the spirits of mischief distilled. It defiles the soul's glory; it
is like a stain to beauty. It is compared to a plague-sore. I Kings
viii 38. Nothing so changes one's glory into shame as sin. Without
repentance sin tends to final damnation. Peccatum transit actu,
manet reatu [The moment of sin passes, the guilt remains]. Sin at
first shows its colour in the glass, but afterwards it bites like a
serpent. Those locusts in Rev ix 7, are an emblem of sin: 'On their
heads were crowns like gold, and they had hair as the hair of women,
and their teeth were as the teeth of lions, and there were stings in
their tails.' Sin unrepented of ends in a tragedy. It has the devil
for its father, shame for its companion, and death for its wages.
Rom vi 23. What is there in sin then, that men should continue in
it? Say not it is sweet. Who would desire the pleasure which kills?
(2) Repentance is very pleasing to God. No sacrifice like a
broken heart. 'A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not
despise.' Psa li 17. Augustine caused this sentence to be written
over his bed when he was sick. When the widow brought empty vessels
to Elisha, the oil was poured into them. 2 Kings iv 6. Bring God the
broken vessel of a contrite heart, and he will pour in the oil of
mercy. Repenting tears are the joy of God and of angels. Luke xv 7.
Doves delight to be about the waters; and surely God's Spirit, who
once descended in the likeness of a dove, takes great delight in the
waters of repentance. Mary stood at Jesus' feet weeping. Luke vii 38.
She brought two things to Christ, tears and ointment; but her tears
were more precious to Christ than her ointment.
(3) Repentance ushers in pardon. Therefore they are joined
together. 'Repentance and remission.' Luke xxiv 47. Pardon of sin is
the richest blessing; it is enough to make a sick man well. 'The
inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein
shall be forgiven their iniquity.' Isa xxxiii 24. Pardon settles upon
us the richer charter of the promises. Pardoning mercy is the sauce
that makes all other mercies relish the sweeter; it sweetens our
health, riches, and honour. David had a crown of pure gold set upon
his head. Psa xxi 3. That which David most blessed God for, was not
that God had set a crown of gold upon his head, but that he had set
a crown of mercy upon his head. 'Who crowneth thee with mercies.'
Psa ciii 4. What was this crown of mercy? You may see in ver 3: 'Who
forgiveth all thine iniquities.' David more rejoiced that he was
crowned with forgiveness than that he wore a crown of pure gold.
Now, what is it that makes way for pardon of sin but repentance?
When David's soul was humbled and broken, the prophet Nathan brought
him good news. 'The Lord has put away thy sin.' 2 Sam xii 13.
But my sins are so great, that if I should repent, God would
not pardon them!
God will not go from his promise. 'Return, thou backsliding
Israel, saith the Lord, and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon
you, for I am merciful.' Jer iii 12. If thy sins are as rocks, yet
upon thy repentance, the sea of God's mercy can drown them. 'Wash
you, make you clean.' Isa i 16. Wash in the lever of repentance.
'Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your
sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;' ver 18.
Manasseh was a crimson sinner; but when he humbled himself greatly,
the golden sceptre of mercy was held forth. When his head was a
fountain to weep for sin, Christ's side was a fountain to wash away
sin. It is not the greatness of sin, but impenitence, that destroys.
The Jews, who had a hand in crucifying Christ, upon their repentance
found the blood they had shed was a sovereign balm to heal them.
When the prodigal came home to his father, he had the robe and the
ring put upon him, and his 'father kissed him.' Luke xv 20, 22. If
you break off your sins, God will become a friend to you; all that
is in God shall be yours; his power shall be yours, to help you; his
wisdom shall be yours, to counsel you; his Spirit shall be yours, to
sanctify you; his promises shall be yours, to comfort you; his
angels shall be yours, to guard you; his mercy shall be yours, to
(4) There is much sweetness in repenting tears. The soul is
never more enlarged and inwardly delighted than when it can melt
kindly for sin. Weeping days are festival days. The Hebrew word to
repent, nicham, signifies consolari, 'to take comfort.' 'Your sorrow
shall be turned into joy.' John xvi 20. Christ turns the water of
tears into wine. David, who was the great mourner in Israel, was the
sweet singer. And the joy which a true penitent finds, is a
pre-libation and foretaste of the joy of paradise. The wicked man's
joy turns to sadness: the penitent's sadness turns to joy. Though
repentance seems at first to be thorny and bitter, yet of this thorn
a Christian gathers grapes. All which considerations may open a vein
of godly sorrow in our souls, that we may both weep for sin, and
turn from it. If ever God restores comfort, it is to his mourners.
Isa lvii 18. When we have wept, let us look up to Christ's blood for
pardon. Say, as that holy man, lava, Domine, lacrimas meas: 'Lord,
wash my tears in thy blood.' We drop sin with our tears, and need
Christ's blood to wash them. This repentance must be not for a few
days only, like the mourning for a friend, which is soon over, but
it must be the work of our lives; the issue of godly sorrow must not
be stopped till death. After sin is pardoned, we must repent. We run
afresh upon the score, 'we sin daily, therefore must repent daily.'
Some shed a few tears for sin; and when, like the widow's oil, they
have run awhile, they cease. Many, if the plaister of repentance
begin to smart a little, pluck it off; whereas the plaister of
repentance must still lie on, and not be plucked off till death,
when, as all other tears, so these of godly sorrow shall be wiped
What shall we do to obtain a penitential frame of heart?
Seek to God for it. It is his promise to give a 'heart of
flesh' (Ezek xxxvi 26); and to pour on us a spirit of mourning. Zech
xii 10. Beg God's 'Holy Spirit.' 'He causeth his wind to blow, and
the waters flow.' Psa cxlvii 18. When the wind of God's Spirit blows
upon us, then the waters of repentant tears will flow from us.