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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)



      Repentance is usually defined "sorrow for any thing past," and in the religious vocabulary it is simply "sorrow for sin." This is one, but it is only one of the natural effects of the belief of the testimony of God. The gospel facts, testimony and faith, contemplate more than this. But yet it is necessary that this point of faith should be distinctly apprehended, especially in this age, when it occupies so large a space in the systems of theology.

      Repentance, in our current acceptation, is sorrow for sin; and certainly there is no man who believes the revealed facts found in the testimony of God, who will not be sorry for his sins. But simple sorrow for the past, is but a feeling of the heart which, unless it excite to reformation, or the abandonment of sin, is of no more use than the regrets of Judas after he had sold his Master for fifteen dollars. Repentance must, however, precede reformation: for unless we are sorry for the past, and grieved with ourselves, we will not think of a change of conduct. Repentance is to reformation, what motive is to action, or resolution to any undertaking. It was well for David to resolve to build the temple; and so it is well to form any good design, but much better to execute it. To feel sorry for the poor and the afflicted, and to resolve to assist and comfort them, is well, but to go and do it is better: and, indeed, unless our sorrow for the past terminates in reformation for the future, it is useless in the estimation of heaven and earth; as useless as to say to the hungry, Be filled; or to the naked, Be clothed.

      Genuine repentance does not always issue in reformation. Judas was sorrowful even to death, but could not reform. Many have been [448] so genuinely sorry for their sins, as to become suicides. Speak we of "a godly sorrow"? No; this is not to be expected from unconverted and ungodly persons. Christians, Paul teaches, when they err may repent with a godly sorrow; but this is not to be expected from the unregenerate, or from those who have not reformed. It is, not, then, the genuineness of repentance that is to be appreciated, unless by genuine repentance is meant more than simple sorrow for the past--unless by genuine repentance is meant reformation. Yet without sincere or unfeigned repentance, there can not be real or genuine reformation.

      This leads us to observe, that the only unequivocal evidence of sincere repentance, is the actual redress of the injury done; not only a cessation from the sin, but a restitution for the sin, as far as restitution can possibly be made. No restitution, no repentance--provided restitution, can be made. And may I be permitted to add, that without repentance, and restitution when possible, there can be no remission.

      The preachers of repentance--of the necessity of repentance in order to remission, ought to set this matter fairly and fully before sinners. Do they represent repentance as sorrow for the past, and a determination to reform? How then will the sinner know that he is sorry for his sins against men, or how will the community know that he has repented of such sins, unless full restitution be made? It is impossible that either the sinner himself, or the community who know his sins against men, can have any certain evidence that he is penitent, unless by making all possible restitution.

      Peccator wounded the reputation of his neighbor Hermas, and on another occasion defrauded him of ten pounds. Some of the neighborhood were apprized that he had done both. Peccator was converted under the preaching of Paulinus, and on giving in a relation of his sorrow for his sins, spoke of the depth of his convictions, and of his abhorrence of his transgressions. He was received into the congregation, and sat down with the faithful to commemorate the great sin offering. Hermas and his neighbors were witnesses of all this. They saw that Peccator was penitent, and much reformed in his behaviour; but they could not believe him sincere, because that he had made no restitution. They regarded him as either a hypocrite, or self-deceived; because, having it in his power, he repaid not the ten pounds, nor once contradicted the slanders he had propagated. Peccator, however, felt little enjoyment in his profession, and soon fell back into his former habits. He became again penitent, and on examining the grounds of his falling off, discovered that he had never cordially turned away from his sins. Overwhelmed in sorrow for the past, he resolved on giving himself up to the Lord; and, reflecting on his past [449] life, set about the work of reformation in earnest. He called on Hermas, paid him his ten pounds and the interest for every day he had kept it back, went to all the persons to whom he had slandered him, told them what injustice he had done him, and begged them, if they had told it to any other persons, to contradict it. Several other persons whom he had wronged in his dealings with them, he also visited; and fully redressed all these wrongs against his neighbors. He also confessed them to the Lord, and asked him to forgive him. Peccator was then restored to the church, and better still, he enjoyed a. peace of mind and a confidence in God, which was a continual feast. His example, moreover, did more to enlarge the congregation at the Cross-roads, than did the preaching of Paulinus in a whole year. This was unequivocally sincere repentance.

      This is the repentance which Moses preached, and which Jesus approbated. Under the law, confession to the priest, and the presenting of a trespass offering, availed nothing to forgiveness without restitution. As the theory of repentance is much lost sight of in this our degenerate age, and as the practice is still more rare, we think it not amiss to be still more explicit on this topic. We shall therefore hear the law and the gospel both on this subject.

      In Leviticus, chap. vi. 1-7, we have the word of the Lord upon this subject:--"And the Lord spake to Moses, saying, If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the Lord, and lie to his neighbor in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, (i. e., dealing,) or in a thing taken away by violence, or has deceived his neighbor; or have found that which was lost and lies concerning it, and swears falsely; in any of these that a man does, sinning therein: then it shall be because he has sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he has deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he has found, or all that about which he has sworn falsely: he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it to him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering. And he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord, a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering to the priest. And the priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord; and it shall be forgiven him, for any thing of all that he has done, in trespassing therein."

      Thus spoke the Lord to Moses. From which we learn that, under the former economy, a trespass offering to the Lord without restitution to man, or restitution to man without a trespass offering to the Lord, availed not to forgiveness. Thus was repentance preached by Moses. But the law went into details still more minute than these; for provision is made for the case in which the sinner could not find the [450] person against whom he had sinned. In such a case, the penitent sinner was to seek out the kindred of the injured party, and if he could find any kinsman, he was to recompense this kinsman, but if he could not find a kinsman, he must recompense it to the Lord, besides offering his trespass offering. It was to go into the Lord's treasury. (See Num. v. 7, 8.) The principle uniformly, in all cases of sin against man, was, that the sinner "shall make amends for the harm he hath done, . . . and shall add the fifth part thereto" (Lev. v. 16).

      If any one suppose that repentance is to be less sincere or unequivocal under the gospel, let him remember that Zaccheus proposed more than adding a fifth, he would restore fourfold, and that Jesus approbated him for so doing. Indeed, John the Immerser demanded fruits worthy of repentance or of reformation, and Paul proclaimed that those who turn to God should do works meet or worthy of repentance. (Acts xxvi. 20.)

      "Works worthy of repentance" is a phrase which can be understood in no other sense than those works which make amends for the harm done to men, and the dishonor done to God, as far as both are possible. Can any man think that he is sorry for that sin or wrong which he has done, when he makes no effort to make amends to him who was injured in person, character, or property, by it? Works worthy of his professed repentance are wanting, so long as any being whom he has injured in person, property, or reputation, is unredressed to the utmost extent of his ability.

      One of our most popular commentators says--and with much truth--"No man should expect mercy at the hand of God, who having wronged his neighbor, refuses, when he has it in his power to make restitution. Were he to weep tears of blood, both the justice and mercy of God would shut out his prayer, if he make not his neighbor amends for the injury he has done him. He is a dishonest man, who illegally holds the property of another in his hands."--Adam Clarke on Gen. xl. 2.

      Every preacher of repentance should insist upon these evidences of sincerity, both for the satisfaction of the penitent himself, and for the good of the community. Acts xix. 18-20 is quite to the point: "Many that believed came and confessed, and showed their deeds--many of them also who used curious arts, bringing their books together, burnt them before all: and they computed the value of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver." This was making restitution, in their case, as far as possible; and the principle here evinced is applicable in every other case.

      But in pursuing this subject so far, we have passed over the boundaries of repentance, and sometimes confounded it with reformation. [451] This is owing to the licentious use of language to which modern theology has so richly contributed. We shall, however, redress this wrong as far as practicable, by a few remarks on [REFORMATION.]

[A. C.]      

      Alexander Campbell. "Repentance." The Millennial Harbinger Extra 4 (August 1833): 345-348.


[MHA1 448-452]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)