27 February, 2017

Argument: “Same repentance for both Elect and Reprobate?”


“Since the gospel in its saving aspect and also its promise is limited only to the elect, then in order to logically harmonize this with the general command of God for all to repent (Acts 17:30), does that necessarily mean that there are two kinds of repentance required by God?
a saving repentance (or a repentance unto salvation) demanded from the elect, and a non-saving (legal) repentance demanded from the reprobate?”


As to the promiscuity of the preaching of which you speak, I have no argument; the responsibility of the sinner, we both agree, is not reduced by virtue of his inability; nevertheless, whether the reprobate sinner is required to repent under a law which he cannot obey, rather than unto a gospel not designed to meet his needs as a reprobate, remains a question needing an answer. Taking into consideration your stance on logic and Scripture, that there are no irreconcilable contradictions and paradoxes in the word of God, and how the truths revealed therein must harmonize with each other, does it not therefore imply a contradiction between the idea that the repentance required by God from the elect and non-elect is identical … with the notion that the gospel, in its redemptive aspect, is limited to the elect alone who are not judged by that condemnatory law by reason of which the reprobate are found guilty, since even the elect cannot produce the gift of faith given to them, nor yet that repentance unto life the which they alone are granted. Surely, in light of this, the reprobate are therefore responsible to produce legal repentance and non-saving faith in God as revealed in the law, rather than a saving faith which even Adam in paradise could not have produced as an unfallen creature prior to the fall through perfect behaviour?




H. L. Williams

[Source: British Reformed Journal, issue 18, April-June, 1997, pp. 41-43]

First, [we both agree on] this: A sinner’s inability to repent in no way eviscerates his responsibility to do so. Such inability the sinner took on himself voluntarily in Adam’s first sin: “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. 2:17). Now, in the gospel, the repentance God requires of sinners is given to the Elect only through the Holy Spirit’s applying to us the benefits of the Redemption purchased by Christ. (Cf. Shorter Catech. 29-31). Thus in the case of the Elect, their inability is taken away by the work of the Spirit within. But what of the non-elect, are they required, by the Divine command, like the Elect, to produce the same repentance? Or does God only expect and demand of them a kind of “grade 2” repentance, and a “grade 2” faith, all non-saving of course, being a repentance of a legal kind with reference to the law, as something separate from the Gospel?

I have to say I see no evidence in Scripture for this. Scripture teaches that all men have sinned the same sin in Adam, which was the fundamental breach of what Westminster theologians call “the Covenant of Works.” All mankind, descending from Adam by ordinary generation, are under the same responsibility and liability. That is, to answer to the demands of this Covenant which they have broken in Adam. Hence, the repentance demanded of all men must be the same, for all men are all in the same condition. God cannot demand any less from anyoneto do so would entail Him in ignoring at least some sin. And He cannot demand any more from anyone, as there is no more to demandthat is, that a man’s debts to the Divine Jurisprudence be paid in full, and that means that every man must:

(a) Cease from sin immediately, perfectly and henceforth perpetually

(b) Pay immediately the whole penalty for all sins to date, including his Adamic guilt. Since his sin is an affront to an infinite, eternal God, the payment for sin to satisfy Divine Justice will take eternity for a finite creature to pay offthus eternal hell, the eternity thereof balancing the finitude of the sinner.

So when God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30) it must be the same repentance that is demanded of both elect and reprobate. And the Scriptures nowhere indicate any two-fold different levels of repentance in this respect. But the Scriptures do speak of a “legal repentance” such as that manifested by, for instance, Pharisees and others who think to justify themselves before God by works of the Law. Isaiah exposes such for what it is:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away (Isa. 64:6 KJV).

So how can God be only calling the reprobate to repentance on the level of “filthy rags”?

It is instructive at this juncture to look at what true repentance is, what the Divine demands are that are rightfully made of all men. True repentance proceeds from “godly sorrow” thus:

For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death (II Cor. 7:10 KJV).

True repentance arises from godly sorrow, i.e., it is the fruitage of grief concerning the individual’s vile and criminal state before God, to whom he is infinitely in debt. That is, the individual realises the righteous demands God makes on him concerning justification.

The “sorrow of the world” is altogether different. The repentance it would work in an individual altogether is unsatisfactory to God, and far from being the action of a sinner moving from a state of sin and misery into a state of salvation, it is in fact the activity of a sinner exchanging vulgar sins for what St. Augustine sagaciously denominated “splendid sins.”

Let us note now, the elements of true repentance, born of that godly sorrow of which the apostle speaks:

For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter (II Cor. 7:11 KJV).

Note: the “what clearing of yourselves.” Those impelled by godly sorrow must, absolutely must, and cannot rest, until, they have “cleared themselves” with God, and have escaped His wrath and curse due to them for sin, and entered fellowship with Him.

Now, it happens, that scripturally, there are two ways in which a man can clear himself with God, viz.:

(1) Give himself up for eternal damnation in Hell. (It will take him, as a finite creature, eternity to clear the record of his effrontery to the Infinite Majesty.)

(2) Give himself up to Jesus Christ, who will clear him with God by virtue of His own obedience, sacrifice and Priestly intercession.

To either (1) or (2) above, every man will be fitted in his place. But basic to the demand for “all men everywhere to repent” is God’s minimum demand, the minimum demand He can make without condoning or ignoring some sin, that the books of His Justice be balanced.

The argument that reprobate sinners cannot exercise godly sorrow in no way eviscerates their obligation to satisfy Divine justice.



More to come! (DV)

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