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1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 15: Of Repentance Unto Life and Salvation - Commentary

Chapter 15: Of Repentance Unto Life and Salvation

In this chapter, we will consider what repentance actually is. Is repentance a gift? Do we repent only when we become Christians? Does repentance always accompany faith? Is repentance necessary for salvation?

I find the division of the paragraphs a bit unhelpful. The Confession speaks of those who are aged repenting unto life (par. 1), Christians repenting of their sins (par. 2) and defines what repentance actually is in paragraph 3. It seems to me that it would have been more natural to begin by defining what repentance actually is and then proceeding with what are now paragraphs 1 and 2. Therefore, I will begin here by giving a definition of what repentance is and then I will try to defend that definition biblically in paragraph 3. Wayne Grudem says that:

Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ.[1]

Thus, repentance is not only a sorrow for our sins against God, it is not only us being sorry for doing what we did, but it the commitment to forsake our sins and instead obey Christ the Lord. But more on this in paragraph 3.

That the Baptist Confession depends and copies from the Savoy Declaration of 1658 can very clearly be seen especially in this chapter, which is wholly different in the Westminster, but almost identical in the Savoy. See the comparison here.


§1 God in their effectual calling giveth them repentance unto life

  1. Such of the elect as are converted at riper years, having sometime lived in the state of nature, 1 and therein served divers lusts and pleasures, God in their effectual calling giveth them repentance unto life. 2
    1. Titus 3:2-5[2]
    2. 2 Chron. 33:10-20; Acts 9:1-19; 16:29-30

In this paragraph, the Confession is speaking about the repentance of those who have lived manifestly wicked lives. The words of Dr. Waldron here are especially helpful:

The Confession makes this distinction out of a desire to distinguish repentance as a crisis experience from repentance as an ordinary grace. All believers are marked by the ordinary grace, but not all believers will know, or need to know, repentance as a crisis experience.

In this chapter two types of such a crisis experience are mentioned. The Confession first refers to ‘such of the elect as are converted at riper years having sometime lived in the state of nature’. Scriptural examples of this are Manasseh, Paul and the Philippian jailor. Secondly, it refers to ‘believers [who]…fall into great sins and provocations’. The scriptural examples here are David and Peter.[3]

We simply think of Saul of Tarsus and his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. In the sight of the religious Jews his way of life was blameless (Phil. 3:4-6), but in the sight of God, he was a wicked man who was persecuting Him (Acts 9:4). As a persecutor of the Church, it was understandable that the saints had difficulty in believing that the wicked persecutor has been saved and now is a saint. His wicked life was turned upside down by God and he was that his righteousness through the law was worthless. When the Lord saved him, He gave him “repentance unto life.” A beautiful phrase coming from Acts 11:18 which means that repentance is necessary, and in fact, it leads to true life in Christ.

The paragraph does not mean that only those who are “at riper years” and are manifestly wicked are granted repent...