Keyword Search

Table of Contents

Previous Chapter

Holy Living

by Jeremy Taylor





Of Repentance.


Repentance, of all things in the world, makes the greatest change: it changes things in heaven and earth; for it changes the whole man from sin to grace, from vicious habits to holy customs, from unchaste bodies to angelical souls, from swine to philosophers, from drunkenness to sober counsels, and God himself, ‘with whom is no variableness or shadow of change,’ is pleased, by descending to our weak understandings, to say, that he changes also upon man’s repentance, that he alters his decrees, revokes his sentence, cancels the bills of accusation, throws the records of shame and sorrow from the court of heaven, and lifts up the sinner from the grave to life, from his prison to a throne, from hell and the guilt of eternal torture, to heaven and to a title, to never-ceasing felicities. If we be bound on earth, we shall be bound in heaven; if we be absolved here, we shall be loosed there; if we repent; God will repent, and not send the evil upon us which we had deserved.

But repentance is a conjugation and society of many duties; and it contains in it all the parts of a holy life, from the time of our return to the day of our death inclusively; and it hath in it some things specially relating to the sins of our former days, which we now to be abolished by special arts, and have obliged us to special labours, and brought in many new necessities, and put us into a very great deal of danger. And, because it is a duty consisting of so many parts and so much employment, it also requires much time, and leaves a man in the same degree of hope of pardon, as is his restitution to the state of righteousness and holy living, for which we covenanted in baptism. For we must know, that there is but one repentance in a man’s whole life, if repentance be taken in the proper and strict evangelical covenant sense, and not after the ordinary understanding of the world: that is, we are but once to change our whole state of life, from the power of the devil and his entire possession, from the state of sin and death, from the body of corruption, to the life of grace, to the possession of Jesus, to the kingdom of the gospel; and this is done in the baptism of water, or in the baptism of the Spirit, when the first rite comes to be verified by God’s grace coming upon us, and by our obedience to the heavenly calling, we working together with God. After this change, if ever we fall into the contrary state, and he wholly estranged from God and religion, and profess ourselves servants of unrighteousness, God hath made no more covenant of restitution to us; there is no place left for any more repentance, or entire change of condition, or new birth: a man can be regenerated but once; and such are voluntary malicious apostates, witches, obstinate impenitent persons, and the life. But if we be overtaken by infirmity, or enter into the marches or borders of this estate and commit a grievous sin, or ten, or twenty, so we be not in the entire possession of the devil, we are, for the present, in a damnable condition if we die; but if we live, we are in a recoverable condition; for so we may repent often. We repent or rise from death but once - from sickness many times; and by the grace of God we shall be pardoned if so we repent. But our hopes of pardon are just as is the repentance; which, if it be timely, hearty, industrious, and effective, God accepts; not by weighing grains or scruples but by estimating the great proportions of our life. A hearty endeavour, and an effectual general change shall get the pardon; the unavoidable infirmities and past evils and present imperfections and short interruptions, against which we watch and pray and strive, being put upon the accounts of the cross, and paid for by the holy Jesus. This is the state and condition of repentance: its parts and actions must be valued according to the following rules:


Acts and Parts of Repentance.

1. He that repents truly, is greatly sorrowful for his past sins; not with a superficial sigh or tear, but a pungent, afflictive sorrow; such a sorrow as hates the sin so much, that the man would choose to die rather than act it any more. This sorrow is called in Scripture, ‘a weeping sorely; a weeping with bitterness of heart; a weeping day and night; a sorrow of heart; a breaking of the spirit; mourning like a dove, and chattering like a swallow;’[278] and we may read the degree and manner of it by the lamentations and sad accents of the prophet Jeremy, when he wept for the sins of the nation; by the heart-breaking of David, when he mourned for his murder and adultery; and the bitter weeping of St. Peter, after the shameful denying of his master. The expression of this sorrow differs according to the temper of the body, the sex, the age, and circumstances of action, and the motive of sorrow, and by many accidental tendernesses, or masculine hardnesses; and the repentance is not to be estimated by the tears, but by the grief; and the grief is to be valued not by the sensitive trouble, but by the cordial hatred of the sin, and ready actual dereliction of it, and a resolution and real resisting its consequent temptations. Some people can shed tears for nothing, some for anything; but the proper and true effects of a godly sorrow are, fear of the Divine judgments, apprehension of God’s displeasure, watchings and strivings against sin, patiently enduring the cross of sorrow (which God sends as their punishment) in accusation of ourselves, in perpetually begging pardon, in mean and base opinions of ourselves, and in all the natural productions from these, according to our temper and constitution. For if we be apt to weep in other accidents, it is ill if we weep not also in the sorrows of repentance; not that weeping is of itself a duty, but that the sorrow, if it be as great, will be still expressed in as great a manner.

2. Our sorrow for sins must retain the proportion of our sins, though not the equality. We have no particular measures of sins; we know not which is greater, of sacrilege or superstition, idolatry or covetousness, rebellion or witchcraft; and therefore God ties us not to nice measures of sorrow, but only that we keep the general rules of proportion; that is, that a great sin have a great grief, a smaller crime being to be washed off with a lesser shower.

3. Our sorrow for sins is then best accounted of for its degree, when it, together with all the penal and afflictive duties of repentance we had in commission of the sin.[279]

4. True repentance is a punishing duty, and acts its sorrow; and judges and condemns the sin by voluntarily submitting to such sadnesses as God sends on us, or (to prevent the judgment of God) by judging ourselves, and punishing our bodies and our spirits by such instruments of piety as are troublesome to the body; such as are fasting, watching, long prayers, troublesome postures in our prayers, expensive alms, and all outward acts of humiliation. For he that must judge himself, must condemn himself if he be guilty; and if he be condemned he must be punished; and if he be so judged, it will help to prevent the judgment of the Lord, St. Paul instructing us in this particular.[280] But I before intimated that the punishing actions of repentance are only actions of sorrow, and therefore are to make up the proportions of it. For our grief may be so full of trouble as to outweigh all the burdens of fasts and bodily afflictions, and then the other are the less necessary; and when they are used, the benefit of them is to obtain of God a remission or a lessening of such temporal judgments which God hath decreed against the sins, as it was in the case of Ahab; but the sinner is not, by anything of this, reconciled to the eternal favour of God; for, as yet, this is but the introduction to repentance.

5. Every true penitent is obliged to confess his sins, and to humble himself before God for ever. Confession of sins hath a special promise: ‘If we confess our sins;[281] he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins;’ meaning, that God hath bound himself to forgive us if we duly confess our sins, and do all that for which confession was appointed; that is, be ashamed of them, and own them no more. For confession of our sins to God can signify nothing of itself in its direct nature: he sees us when we act them, and keeps a record of them; and we forget them, unless he reminds us of them by his grace. So ‘that to confess them to God does not punish us, or make us ashames; but confession to him, if it proceeds from shame and sorrow, and is an act of humility and self-condemnation,’ and is a laying open our wounds for cure, then it is a duty God delights in. In all which circumstances, because we may very much be helped if we take in the assistance of a spiritual guide, therefore the church of God, in all ages, hath commended, and, in most ages, enjoined, that we confess our sins, and discover the state and condition of our souls, to such a person whom we or our superiors judge fit to help us in such needs. For so ‘if we confess our sins one to another,’ as St. James advises, we shall obtain the prayers of the holy man whom God and the church have appointed solemnly to pray for us; and when he knows our needs, he can best minister comfort or reproof, oil or caustics; he can more opportunely recommend your particular state to God; he can determine your cases of conscience, and judge better for you than you do for yourself; and the shame of opening such ulcers may restrain your forwardness to contract them; and all these circumstances of advantage will do very much towards the forgiveness. And this course was taken by the new converts in the days of the apostles; ‘For many that believed came and confessed and showed their deeds.[282] And it were well if this duty were practised prudently and innocently in order to public discipline, or private comfort and instruction; but that it be done to God is a duty not directly for itself, but for its adjuncts and the duties that go with it, or before it, or after it: which duties, because they are all to be helped and guided by our pastors and curates of souls, he is careful of his eternal interest, that will not lose the advantage of using a private guide and judge. ‘He that bideth his sins shall not prosper;’ Non dirigetur, saith the vulgar Latin, “he shall want a guide;” but who confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.[283] And to this purpose Climacus reports that divers holy persons in that age did use to carry table-books with them, and in them described an account of all their determinate thoughts, purposes, words, and actions, in which they had suffered infirmity; that by communicating the estate of their souls they might be instructed and guided, or corrected or encouraged.

6. True repentance must reduce to act all its holy purposes, and enter into and run through the state of holy living,[284] which is contrary to that state of darkness in which in times past we walked.[285] For to resolve to do it, and yet not to do it, is to break our resolution and our faith, to mock God, to falsify and evacuate all the preceding acts of repentance, ‘and to make our pardon hopeless and our hope fruitless. He that resolves to live well when a danger is upon him, or a violent fear, or when the appetites of lust are newly satisfied, or newly served, and yet when the temptation comes again, sins again, and then is sorrowful, and resolves once more against it, and yet falls when the temptation returns, is a vain man, but no true penitent, nor in the state of grace; and if he chance to die in one of these good moods is very far from salvation; for if it be necessary that we resolve to live well, it is necessary we should do so. For resolution is an imperfect act, a term of relation, and signifies nothing but in order to the actions; it is as a faculty is to the act, as spring is to the harvest, as eggs are to birds, as a relative to its correspondent, nothing without it. No man therefore can be in the state of grace and actual favour by resolutions and holy purposes; these are but the gate and portal towards pardon; a holy life is the only perfection of repentance, and the firm ground upon which we can cast the anchor of hope in the mercies of God, through Jesus Christ.

7. No man is to reckon his pardon immediately upon his returns from sin to the beginnings of good life, but it is to begin his hopes and degrees of confidence according as sin dies in him, and grace lives; as the habits of sin returns but seldom in smaller instances and without choice, and by surprise without deliberation; and is highly disrelished, and presently dashed against the rock Christ Jesus, by a holy sorrow and renewed care, and more strict watchfulness. For a holy life being the condition of the covenant on our part as we return to God, so God returns to us, and our state returns to the probabilities of pardon.

8. Every man is to work out his salvation with fear and trembling; and after the commission of sins his fears must multiply; because every new sin and every great declining from the ways of God is still a degree of new danger, and hath increased God’s anger, and hath made him more uneasy to grant pardon; and when he does grant it, it is upon harder terms both for doing and suffering; that is, we must do more for pardon, and, it may be, suffer much more. For we must know that God pardons our sins by parts; as our duty increases, and our care is more prudent and active, so God’s anger decreases: and yet, it may be, the last sin you committed made God unalterably resolve to send upon you some sad judgment. Of the particulars in all cases we are uncertain; and therefore we have reason always to mourn for our sins that have so provoked God, and made our condition so full of danger that, it may be, no prayers or tears of duty can alter his sentence concerning some sad judgment upon us. Thus God irrevocably decreed to punish the Israelites for idolatry, although Moses prayed for them, and God forgave them in some degree; that is, so that he would not cut them off from being a people; yet he would not forgive them so, but he would visit that their sin upon them; and he did so.

9. A true penitent must, all the days of his life[286] pray for pardon, and never thing the work completed till he dies; not by any act of his own, by no act of the church, by no forgiveness by the party injured, by no restitution. These are all instruments of great use and efficacy, and the means by which it is to be done at length; but still the sin lies at the door, ready to return upon us in judgment and damnation, if we return to it in choice or action. And whether God hath forgiven us or no, we know not,[287] and how far we know not; and all that we have done is not of sufficient worth to obtain pardon: therefore still pray, and still be sorrowful for ever having done it, and for ever watch against it; and then those beginnings of pardon, which are working all the way, will at last be perfected in the day of the Lord.

10. Defer not at all to repent; much less mayst thou put it off to thy death-bed. It is not an easy thing to root out the habits of sin[288] which a man’s whole life hath gathered and confirmed. We find work enough to mortify one beloved lust, in our very best advantage of strength and time, and before it is so deeply rooted, as it must needs be supposed to be at the end of a wicked life: and therefore it will prove impossible, when the work is so great and the strength so little, when sin is so strong and grace so weak; for they always keep the same proportion of increase and decrease, and as sin grows grace decays: so that the more need we have of grace, the less at that time we shall have; because the greatness of our sins, which makes the need, hath lessened the grace of God, which should help up, into nothing. To which add this consideration, that on a man’s death-bed the day of repentance is past; for repentance being the renewing of a holy life, a living the life of grace, it is a contradiction to say that a man can live a holy life upon his death-bed, especially if we consider, that for a sinner to live a holy life must first suppose him to have overcome all his evil habits, and then to have made a purchase of the contrary graces, by the labours of great prudence, watchfulness, self-denial and severity.[289] “Nothing that is excellent can be wrought suddenly.”

11. After the beginnings of thy recovery, be infinitely fearful of a relapse; and therefore, upon the stock of thy sad experience, observe where thy failings were, and by especial arts fortify that faculty, and arm against that temptation. For if all those arguments which God uses to us to preserve our innocence, and thy late danger, and thy fears, and the goodness of God making thee once to escape, and the shame of thy fall, and the sense of thy own weaknesses, will not make thee watchful against a fall, especially knowing how much it costs a man to be restored, it will be infinitely more dangerous if ever thou fallest again; not only for fear God should no more accept thee to pardon, but even thy own hopes will be made more desperate and thy impatience greater, and thy shame turn to impudence, and thy own will be more estranged, violent, and refractory, and thy latter end will be worse than thy beginning. To which add this consideration, that thy sin, which was formerly in a good way of being pardoned, will not only return upon thee with all its own loads, but with the baseness of unthankfulness, and thou wilt be set as far back from heaven as ever; and all thy former labours and fears and watchings and agonies will be reckoned for nothing, but as arguments to upbraid thy folly, who, when thou hadst set one foot in heaven didst pull that back, and carry both to hell.


Motives to Repentance.

I shall use no other arguments to move a sinner to repentance, but to tell him, unless he does he shall certainly perish; and if he does repent timely and entirely, that is, live a holy life, he shall be forgiven and be saved. But yet I desire, that this consideration be enlarged with some great circumstances; and let us remember,

1. That to admit mankind to repentance and pardon was a favour greater than ever God gave to the angels and devils; for they were never admitted to the condition of second thoughts: Christ never groaned one groan for them; he never suffered one stripe, nor one affront, nor shed one drop of blood, to restore them to hopes of blessedness after their first failings. But this he did for us: he paid the score of our sins, only that this repentance might be effectual to the great purposes of felicity and salvation.

2. Consider, that as it cost Christ many millions of prayers and groans and sighs, so he is now at this instant, and hath been for these sixteen hundred years, night and day, incessantly praying for grace to us, that we may repent; and for pardon when we do; and for degrees of pardon beyond the capacities of our infirmities, and the merit of our sorrows and amendment;[290] for he ever liveth to make intercession for us.’ And that we may know what it is in behalf of which he intercedes, St. Paul tells us his design; ‘We are ambassadors for Christ, as though he did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ’s stead to be reconciled to God.[291] And what Christ prays us to do, he prays to God that we may do; that which he desires of us as his servants, he desires of God, who is the fountain of the grace and powers unto us, and without whose assistance we can do nothing.

3. That ever we should repent, was so costly a purchase, and so great a concernment, and so high a favour, and the event is esteemed by God himself so great an excellency, that our blessed Saviour tells us, ‘there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth;’[292] meaning, that when Christ shall be glorified, and the right hand of his Father make intercession for us, praying for our repentance, the conversion and repentance of every sinner is part of Christ’s glorification, it is the answering of his prayers, it is a portion of his reward, in which he does essentially glory by the joys of his glorified humanity. This is the joy of our Lord himself directly, not of the angels, save only by reflection: the joy (said our blessed Saviour) shall be in the presence of the angels; they shall see the glory of the Lord, the answering of his prayers, the satisfaction of his desires, and the reward of his sufferings, in the repentance and consequent pardon of a sinner. For therefore be once suffered, and for that reason he rejoices for ever. And therefore, when a penitent sinner comes to receive the effect and full consummation of his pardon, it is called ‘an entering into the joy of our Lord;’ that is, a partaking of that joy which Christ received at our conversion and enjoyed ever since.

4. Add to this, that the rewards of heaven are so great and glorious, and Christ’s burden is so light, his yoke is so easy, that it is a shameless impudence to expect so great glories at a less rate than so little a service, at a lower rate than a holy life. It cost the heart-blood of the Son of God to obtain heaven for us upon that condition; and who shall die again to get heaven for us upon easier terms? What would you do, if God should command you to kill your eldest son, or to work in the mines for a thousand years together, or to fast all thy lifetime with bread and water? were not heaven a very great bargain even after all this? And when God requires nothing of us but to live soberly, justly, and godly, (which things themselves are to a man a very great felicity, and necessary to our present well-being,) shall we think this to be an intolerable burden, and that heaven is too little a purchase at that price; and that God, in mere justice, will take a death-bed sigh or groan, and a few unprofitable tears and promises in exchange for all our duty?

If these motives, joined together with our own interest, (even as much as felicity, and the sight of God, and the avoiding the intolerable pains of hell, and many intermedial judgments, come to,) will not move us to leave, 1. the filthiness, and, 2. the trouble, and, 3. the uneasiness, and, 4. the unreasonableness of sin, and turn to God, there is no more to be said: we must perish in our folly.




The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright ©2006.



Next Chapter

Table of Contents

Keyword Search