SECOND PART OF CONVERSION
Conversion is a turning and a turning to: turn from sin and turn to God. Before we consider Crofton’s discussion, it must be noted that the sinner turning to God presents a strange situation: God is the judge of sin. What criminal comes to the judge for sentencing?
But there is another aspect to understand the subjective psychology of sin. Sin is by nature a revulsion toward. This is a point which can be lost when we think of sin as violating a law. The law and the governor are distinct entities in our thinking. We can separate the law from any person and conceptualize it as having its own force. We do this because the legitimacy of the law in our political system must be independent of any individual. Neither king nor president are above the law. The law has its own legitimacy. As Rutherford titled his book, “Lex Rex”, The Law is King.
But with God there is no such distinction. The legitimacy of the law is that the law is based in God. The person(s) gives the law its force and legitimacy.
Therefore, when the sinner who truly repents realizes his violation of the law he does not merely seek to cease violating the law, it must entail a cessation of fleeing the source of the law. The one who experiences merely “legal repentance” (as opposed to “gospel repentance”), divorces the law from God. In his book The Whole Christ, Sinclair Ferguson argues that legalism is understanding the law as somehow separate from God.
And so Crofton explains the second step in repentance as “Reversion to God.—A reception of God. God, and God only, becomes the adequate object of gospel-repentance: man by sin hath his back on God; by repentance he faceth about. All sin doth agree in this, that it is an aversion from God; and the cure of it by repentance must be conversion to God.”
This opens up another way to understand the horror of sin. We could ask, “Why would the failure to do or not do some particular act matter to God?” Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends asks the question this way:
Job 22:1–3 (ESV)
22 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:
2 “Can a man be profitable to God?
Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
3 Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right,
or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?
Considered in this manner, he is correct. Why should God care one way or the other when it comes to my sin or obedience. I can neither help nor hinder God.
But if the sin is not a bare violation of an external code, but rather is a personal rebellion against God – a refusal to be in right relationship to God—then the “size” of the sin is shown to be an irrelevant criteria. It is the lack of the right relating to God that is the issue.
Notice the language, quoted by Crofton, of repentance being a call of God for relationship: “When God calls for true repentance, it is with an “If thou wilt return, O Israel, return unto me.” (Jer. 4:1.) And when repentance is promised, it is promised that “the children of Israel shall return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and shall fear the Lord and his goodness.” (Hosea 3:5.) And when they provoke one another to repentance, it is with a “Come, let us return unto the Lord;” (Hosea 6:1;) and when provoked by others, it is to “return to the Lord their God.” (Hosea 14:1.)” The section from Jeremiah and the whole of Hosea conceptualize sin in Israel as adultery: the violation of a marriage vow.
There is a kind of cessation of sin which is not repentance. I heard the story of a man who fell into a violently racist crowd. Then, at some point he gave up his hatred and became civil and tolerant. Surely, giving up the violent hatred is good. But merely stopping his hatred did not constitute repentance. Not being a racist does not make one in right relationship with God.
As Crofton writes, “The gospel-penitent turneth not from sin to sin, as do the profane; not from sinful rudeness to common civility, or only moral honesty, as do the civil honest men; but unto piety, acts of religion, unto God. God is the sole object of his affection and adoration.”
Why then would one dare to come to the lawgiver and judge if guilty? Because God is merciful, “The true penitent is prostrate at the feet of God, as him only “that pardoneth iniquity, transgression, and sin;” and pliable to the pleasure of God, as him only that hath prerogative over him.”
That relationship of Creator and creature, which entails so many aspects, lies at the heart of the reconciliation. It is the undoing of the primeval fall: you shall be God knowing good and evil. With that we lost our position and became absurd. Repentance is then a return to that relationship, “The whole man, soul and body, is bent for God; and pursueth communion with and conformity to God.”
He then works out some implications of this turning to God. It is a return which entails the whole life, thought, affections, behavior. Behavior will entail an obedience which flows from love and willing to suffer loss of all things but God.
A return of the mind: “Not only doth repentance turn us from what is grievous and contrary to God; but unto that which is agreeable and acceptable to God. The mind returneth from the devising of evil, to the review of the mind and will of God.”
A return of the affections: “The will and affections return from all evil, unto a resolution, and ready acceptance of the good and acceptable will of God.” The will is easily and readily turned toward God, because love and desire are turned toward God, “His desires and affections run out to God, and God alone; there is nothing in all the earth to be compared with God, nor any in heaven acceptable to the soul beside God.”
A return of conduct; obedience which flows from love: “A gospel-penitent stands convinced, that “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him;” (1 John 2:15;) and if any man love any thing better than Christ, he is not worthy of him; (Matt. 10:37;) and so he accounteth all things dross and “dung” in comparison of Christ. (Phil. 3:8.)”
This love of God causes the truly repentant to give the will of God precedence over any competing rule or desire: “The command of God carrieth the truly penitent contrary to the commands of men; nay, corrupt dictates of their own soul.”
The command of God overrules my own soul. A common argument of our culture is “authenticity.” I should be conformed to my own present desires. To act otherwise would be to be dishonest and unauthentic. The true penitent will follow the command of God when it crosses his own desire.
A willingness to even suffer:
Not only doth he believe,
but is also ready to suffer for the sake of Christ:
he is contented to be at God’s carving, as unworthy any thing.
Under sharpest sorrows,
he is dumb, and openeth not his mouth; because God did it. (Psalm 39:9.)
In saddest disasters he complains not,
because he hath sinned against the Lord.
Let Shimei curse him, he is quiet; nay, grieved at the instigations of revenge;
for that God hath bid Shimei curse.
In all his actions and enjoyments, he is awed by, and argueth not against, God.
Conclusion: “So that true gospel-repentance doth not only convince and cast down, but change and convert, a sinner. Sense of and sorrow for sin as committed against God, are necessary and essential parts, but not the whole or formality, of repentance: no; that is a turning from sin, all sin, unto God, only unto God. It indulgeth not the least iniquity, nor taketh up short of the Lord. It stayeth not, with Jehu, at the extirpation of Baal; but, with Hezekiah and Josiah, restoreth the passover, the worship of the Lord.”
James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 5 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 387–390.