(Continuing with this sermon from the 17th Century from Zachery Crofton.)
That contrition and humiliation are required in repentance is admitted. But this raises the question of Why? Why would be important that one be contrite, that there be humiliation as part of repentance. The answer given by Crofton is that such humiliation/contrition makes us willing and able to change.
The first aspect of the change is that we will come to Christ.
Rearranging his argument somewhat, we see it as follows. If I am feeling content and without compunction for my sin, why would I do anything about it? We don’t change if we do not feel the need to change. While a cognitive appreciation is necessary to change, a cognitive appreciation is never sufficient. We will not act without an emotional push and pull.
Crofton writes this contrition suits us to “engage them to set an esteem on, Christ Jesus, and the remission of sin in him.” Only the seek a physician. Only those who see and feel their will seek mercy.
That seeing myself as being in need drives me to Christ. And it is precisely the person who is in such need who is offered welcome. “The weary and heavy-laden are the men invited to Christ for ease and refreshment; (Matt. 11:28;) for indeed such only seek him, and can be satisfied in him, and duly savour him.”
Another aspect of this contrition is that it gives us a deeper sense of the mercy received. “The deeper the sense of misery, the sweeter is the sense of mercy.” He then compares this to a one who is thirsty, “How acceptable is the fountain of living waters to the chased, panting heart! and the blood of Christ to the thirsty soul and conscience, scorched with the sense of God’s wrath!”
This is why, “The broken and the contrite heart is the only sacrifice acceptable to God. (Psalm 51:17.)”
The second element of the change is the movement away from sin. This is a necessary move, since sin comes to us by nature. We drink sin like water. It is only when the sin begins to “make us sick, [that we be] willing to be rid of it.”
Only one who is sick of sin will be willing to receive instruction which will make us fit to receive instruction. We may hate some knowledge of the sin, but until we hate the desire for the sin, until the sick makes us nauseous we will be unwilling to fully put it away. When we see our sin well, it makes us willing to undergo the training God will exert to reform our hearts: “Sense of sin is a principle of submission under affliction: “Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” (Lam. 3:39.)”
We will receive instruction in the way soft wax receives a seal. “A bruised heart is, like soft wax, prepared for divine impression; so that, to the end [that] Christ may be of esteem as a Lord and Saviour.” The one who has a sense of sin which he wishes to escape my be willing to accept Christ as Savior. But only the one who has profound contrition for his sin will accept Christ as Lord. That second move is perhaps the most critical in repentance. Lot’s wife was willing to flee the city, but she could not help but look back.
He ends this section with a caveat. Contrition is necessary for true repentance. But sometimes people may have contrition without repentance. Sometimes people are sorry, but they do not change. (An analogy here is the parent who loves her child, but will not get sober to care for her child.)
He ends with an eloquent expression of the work of preaching in bringing about repentance:
Preaching repentance is
the opening [of] the blind eye,
and the bringing [of] the prodigal into his right mind;
that, in the sense of his sad estate, he may go unto his father and seek mercy.
The work of the word is to make them sinners of sense, that shall come to Christ for cure; to cast down all proud imaginations, and every high thought which exalteth itself, and so to bring into obedience to Christ; (2 Cor. 10:5;)
to affect men with guilt and danger, that they may with fervency cry, “What shall we do to be saved?”
to convince, that the issues of death will be the end of the way in which they now walk, that they may flee with desire, and return without delay:
in a word, to affect the heart with the high transgressions of God’s holy law,
the disobedience of a gracious Father, and offence done to infiniteness;
that the soul may down on its knees, prostrate itself at the footstool of mercy,
fly to Jesus Christ as its Redeemer, Surety, and alone satisfaction,
and so sue out its pardon by a serious return to God.
James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 5 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 381–383.