I’ve been reflecting a little recently on a question that is generated by Q.87 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism on ‘Repentance unto life’: what is it that produces a healthy holy hatred of sin?
“Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience.”
I’d like to put the question out there to see what answers people come up with – I’m sure some have read quite widely on the matter and will have well-considered answers.
Up to this point I’ve just jotted down a few answers: here’s what I’ve come up with in the brief time I’ve given to the answer.
1. The Holy Scriptures.
We learn about the hatefulness of sin in all its prevalence, deception, consequences, ugliness, impurity, rebellion and godlessness from many examples that are given in the bible. There are many clear doctrinal statements for example the catalogue of sins in the Psalms and the catena of Old Testament quotations in Romans 3 which help us see sin for what it really is. As we read the bible text that show how hateful evil is, this is God’s own means, by faith, to breed sin-hate in hearts.
2. The Adamic Lapse.
Moses paints the lapse of the First Adam, our Covenant Head, as base ingratitude and rebellion of the creature against his Creator. It is a despising of grace, goodness and glory. It is a spitting in the face of the kindness of God who made all things very good. It is a betrayal of the Covenant bond which was manifest in the fullness of the blessings of Creation.
3. A Spiritual Work.
God, by the means of the Scripture read and preached, uses the regular means of grace to put His finger on our sin: the aim is to unmask the monster that lurks in the rebel cave-complex of our hearts, that we might have a sight of our selves before a Holy God. This happens when preachers speak with power, clarity and unction, and the illumination of the Spirit awakens our minds to unmask, reveal, declare and condemn in us the sinfulness of our sin.
4. The Coming Wrath.
The bible everywhere, in equal measure to bliss and hope, speaks of the curse and doom, that God pronounces on sin. He declares His holy displeasure with sinners. He expresses His wrath every day against sin. His judgments are in all the earth against Sodom, Babel and Zion. The Day of Yahweh awaits hearers in Joel, Zephaniah, Gospels, Epistles, and, in glorious apocalyptic testimony, the bowls of wrath of Revelation. The Judgment seat of Christ is no less awe-inspiring and sin-hate generating, that the vile fratricidal act of Cain, or the flood that drowned the world. Israel behaved like a harlot so her skirts will be raised above high above her neck. The slain corpses scattered and their dung spread like offal present a terrifying sight of how the LORD God views our sin.
5. The Majestic Law.
Perhaps I’ll come back to the smoke, clouds, fire and the booming voice of Sinai (Exodus 19-20). The two tablets of stone with loud threatening attached. The way that Moses smashed them when He came down from the Mount (Exodus 32). The sentences attached in the Levitical priestly code, with the sacrificial system which demanded blood be shed. The language David uses in His broken-hearted songs in Psalms 32 and 51. All is designed to impress our heart with guilt. The rejection of its copy in natural revelation in Romans 1.19 on.
6. Rugged Cross.
It is at Calvary, above all, we see the foulness of sin. Here wicked evil men tried to snuff out this world’s Light. The barbarity and cruelty and the vileness of their insults. How sinners react to truth, in defense of sham religion, by irrationally baying for blood, to put the harmless Lamb to death. Nowhere in the universe does goodness, grace, greatness and glory shine so bright or find its focus as in the innocent, loving, kind expressive face of Jesus. Vile violence against love that hits and spits and mocks – this is our sin. But don’t forget displeasure – here we see what sin deserves – the intense, eternal, righteous outrage of the Father burns in the dereliction of the Son. Nails in hands and feet, thorns pressed upon His brow, ribs that Christ sees jut out, as his flesh is flayed to bone – demons gather round to mock him through the crowd. The darkness shows how dreadful was all the guilt he bore. We are meant to look at the Cross to see what our sin cost – has my repentance grown lukewarm: make me pause, kneel, gasp before the horrors on the Son for my offenses against God.
These are my opening thoughts – I’d like you to help me flesh it out. Are there any weighty works which you’ve discovered on this theme? Apart from prayerful humbling before the Word are there other things that you’ve found help? Have there been times in your ministry or experience that you’ve seen sinners broken under the preaching of the Word? Any other comments would be helpful as to the dangers of excess or false forms of repentance which are rather evanescent would be helpful.
Of course, it goes without saying that Prayer and Preaching have a key part in this – the prelude to, and potency of, Pentecost prove that – that unforgettable day, when sinners were cut to the heart.
Nevertheless, I’d be grateful readers if we could start some sort of discussion which would be helpful for us all, in our daily ongoing lifetime of repentance, and in our duty as preachers and pastors, by the grace of God, to call sinners to repentance – just some random thoughts after a restful Sabbath stroll.