Acts 20:21


Surely we have here an excellent summary of distinctive Christian doctrine. These two things are the essentials of Christian truth. Without repentance there can be no living faith; without faith there can be no real spiritual life; with both of these, a man is a recognized citizen of the kingdom of God, an inheritor of eternal life. There must be -

I. THE TURNING OF THE HEART AND LIFE UNTO GOD. This is what constitutes repentance. Repentance may include, but is not constituted by:

1. Strong feelings of sorrow and shame in view of past sin. It is possible and even common to produce very pungent and powerful feelings by means of energetic oratory; but these, if they are not real, profound convictions, will be temporary, if not even momentary; they are not the essential thing. Repentance will, at some time, include strong feeling of abhorrence of sin, but it may net commence with vivid and convulsive emotions, and is not to be identified with these.

2. Change of outward behavior. It is indeed true that, when really penitent, the idolater will abandon his idolatry, the thief his dishonesty, the drunkard his intemperance, the liar his falsehoods, the truculent man his violence, etc.; but it must be remembered that men sometimes change their habits for other reasons than those of religious conviction. Amendment in outward behavior, valuable and desirable as it is, does not constitute "repentance unto God;" it has also to be considered that there may be, and often is, the truest repentance where there is no alteration of conduct observable by man. The essence of repentance is the turning of the heart to God, and therefore of the life; it is that "change of mind" which consists in the soul turning from forgetfulness of God to thoughtfulness about him, from indifference to his claims to earnest consideration of them, from unwillingness to own his sway to a perfect readiness to yield everything to him, from the guilty retention of our powers for ourselves to a cheerful surrender of ourselves and our days to the living God, our Father and our Redeemer. Thence will follow all the compunction for sin and all the change of conduct which the past career of the soul will demand. Of this "Greek and Jew" alike have need: the Greek (the Gentile) has need to change his thought of God, and the Jew his also; whether from superstition, or from indifference, or from formality, all have to come into a different relation to God - that of humble subjection to his will and surrender to his service.

II. THE ACCEPTANCE OF JESUS CHRIST AS LORD AND SAVIOR. "And faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." The faith of which Paul testified to Greek and Jew was, we are sure, a living power. It was not a mere passive assent to a form of sound words. It was more than an intellectual acceptance of certain propositions. It was the cordial, hearty acceptance by the soul of a Divine Savior and Lord; it was the soul in all its need welcoming a Redeemer in all his strength to save and bless. It meant that acceptance of Jesus Christ in which the soul, conscious of sin and condemnation, flees to him as to the Rock in which it can hide; in which the heart, recognizing its rightful Lord, goes to him in glad self-surrender, and yields itself to him that he may

(1) guide it in his own paths,

(2) use it for his own glory, and

(3) conduct it to his own kingdom. - C.







And how I kept back nothing that was profitable.
The verb is one which belongs to the vocabulary of sailors, and was used for taking in or reefing sails. He, St. Paul seems to say of himself, had used no such reticence or reserve, but had gone on his course, as it were, before the wind, with all his canvas spread.

(Dean Plumptre.)

I. ITS NATURE — Testimony. He laid no claim to originality: he was simply a witness to tell just what he knew, no more, no less, and in such a way as to create conviction.

1. This testimony was —

(1)Complete — "I kept back nothing": "I shunned not to declare all," etc.

(2)Profitable. It is worth man's while to listen to it. "Godliness is profitable," etc.

(3)Clear — "Showed you."

(4)Educational — "Sought you."

2. This testimony was delivered —

(1)Publicly.

(2)Privately.

II. ITS OBJECTS — "Jews and Greeks."

1. To all men as generally typified by those two great races. The gospel is an universal remedy for an universal need.

2. To those whom Jews and Greeks specially represent.

(1)The Jews as representing the Pharisaism, Sadduceeism — the formalism and religious freethinking of all time.

(2)The Greeks as representing the culture, science, art and worldliness of every age.

III. ITS THEMES.

1. Repentance — the afterthought which is the result of the discovery and sense of sin. Hence it is —

(1)Self-knowledge — coming to one's self.

(2)Self-abhorrence.

(3)Hatred of that which has made self what it is.

(4)Penitential sorrow before God.

(5)Change of life.

2. Faith. Repentance is of no value in itself and cannot atone for sin nor avert sin's consequences. The object of faith is Christ who has borne our sins. The penitent sinner trusts Him and is saved.

(J. W. Burn.)

1. Paul considered his hearers; he acted as a wise physician; he studied each individual case and gave to each a portion of meat in due season. There are great public utterances to be made, and private individual messages to be attended to. The gospel is not to be delivered with want of discrimination; but is to speak to every soul as if it were the solitary occupant of the universe — the one creature in the presence of the Creator.

2. In recounting his ministry, Paul said, "I have taught you publicly, and from house to house." One would like a record of his house-to-house talk. To have heard Paul speak on great themes in a little sphere would have been an education. What child has not been fascinated by seeing what appeared to be the whole sun inside a frail dewdrop? And what traveller has not paused a moment to see some kind star condescending enough to hide itself in the depth of a crystal well, as if it were shining in two heavens at once? To have seen Paul at the fireside, or to have heard him talking to some little child, or to have watched him at some bedside near the dying sufferer — to have heard his voice when it was attuned to the hearing of one listener alone! Men are seen in little things, on small occasions. This great gospel will go anywhere, and be just the same whether drawn on a large scale or a little one. Do not be discouraged because you can only discharge a public ministry; and do not you be discouraged because you can only discharge the house-to-house ministry. Each man has his own gift of God. Happy he who works his own gift and not another man's, and wise the people who, recognising the one gift, do not bemoan the absence of other accomplishments.

3. What did the apostle say both "publicly and from house to house"? (ver. 21). The one thing that cannot be changed is the message which the gospel has to deliver to the human heart, and that message cannot be expressed in more significant terms than "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." If your religion rested upon other foundations, I wonder not that it has been much troubled by contemporary assault, but if your religion finds its foundations in ver. 21, it cannot be touched. Where is there a heart that can say in its most serious moments that it has no need of repentance? What man is there that does not feel, under the pressure of his own guilty memories, that he needs a help other than his own? If that man has to be delivered, he must be delivered by another hand than his own, and that action is best represented by the words "faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."

4. Having laid down some outline of his manner of life and doctrine, the apostle comes to a point of departure (vers. 22, 23). It was a dark outlook; how is the darkness relieved? In this case as in all others: by an immediate and definite reference to Divine providence. "I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem." When a man lives in this doctrine, he may go forward into darkness, but he goes forward with a solid and solemn step. Not one ray of hope in all the outlook! "In every city — bonds — afflictions." What a tribute to the sustaining power of the doctrine he had taught! The bonds were many, the afflictions were heavy; what outweighed them all? The sense of God's presence and God's favour. If one thing above another has been demonstrated by Christian history, it is that the Christian spirit may be so vital in a man as to make him forget all care and pain and labour and sorrow, and make him triumph and glory in tribulation also. What comforted Paul will comfort us. This is the eternal quantity of the gospel — never changing, never lessening. There are amongst us men who can rise in the Church today and say, "But for the grace of God, I would not have been a living man this day." The men who would render such testimonies are men whose intellectual sagacity has been tested and proved in the market place, in the realm of politics, along the lines of ordinary social life. I have buried the child of a man who had no consciousness of God, and I have seen that man reel back from his child's open grave mad with hopeless grief. I have also buried the child of parents who have lived in God, and as the little coffin has been let down, they have been enabled to say, "It is well with the child." In such extremities we find out the value of man's religion.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

Testifying to the Jews and also to the Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
From the nature of this testimony we see —

I. THE GENUINENESS OF PAUL'S CONVERSION.

II. THE IMPARTIALITY OF HIS MINISTRY. "Jews and also the Greeks."

III. THE PURELY EVANGELICAL NATURE OF HIS DOCTRINE. Repentance and faith.

IV. THE OBJECTS AND TWO-FOLD EXERCISE OF THE SINNER'S SALVATION.

1. Repentance toward God. Thus admitting that the law has been broken, and thereby expressing the need of a Saviour.

2. Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus accepting Him as a sufficient Redeemer from the curse of the broken law.

(T. Colclough.)

Here are mentioned two qualities, repentance and faith, which are requisite to the profitable entrance upon Christian life. We are not mere pieces of machinery, but responsible creatures, with a mind to think, a soul to feel, a heart to be susceptible, and a will to determine.

I. REPENTANCE TOWARD GOD. Take a glance, with your mind's eye, at the bearing of God toward us, and see whether it correspond with our bearing toward Him. Creation, preservation, redemption — these mark His mind and dealings: forgetfulness, neglect, sin — these things mark ours. What concord is there between his goodness and repulsive ingratitude? What agreement between acts of love, kindnesses promised; and, on the other hand, a distant dislike of that God's presence, an anxiety to keep away from Him, and an almost studied absence from His worship and service? Were it, then, on account of ingratitude alone, we have ample motive for repentance. Now, repentance is something more than a passing feeling. Unless we are doing our best to shake off the power of iniquity, it is useless to say that we repent. Our repentance needs to be repented of. Our sorrow is but skin deep.

II. The second element of the apostolic preaching remains to be considered, viz., FAITH. Repentance towards God was a feature of Old Testament holiness; but faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ is the eminent characteristic of the new. In the gospel the two are combined, and the due exercise of repentance gathers force and stimulus from its union with the process of faith. The Son of God is the object of faith. "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid; but let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon." Let us, therefore, cultivate such a faith as we believe in our hearts to be prescribed and enforced in holy writ — faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Reconciler and Author of peace.

(E. Jacox, B. A.)

Let us consider —

I. HOW THE APOSTLE PREACHED THE GOSPEL.

1. He always made a point of explaining the gospel. He knew that it would be preposterous to call upon men to embrace it before it had been made clear.

2. After he had explained the gospel, he taught them what it was to embrace it. In repentance, the sinner fixes his eye and his heart upon God, whose law he has broken, and whose displeasure he has incurred. In faith he fixes his eye and his heart upon Christ, and loves Him for doing that which renders it consistent with all the perfections of God to pardon and save the penitent.

3. He urged them to repent and believe immediately. As soon as he had taught sinners the nature, design, and terms of the gospel, he exhorted them to embrace it without delay.

II. THE PROPRIETY OF THE APOSTLE'S URGING SINNERS TO EMBRACE THE GOSPEL IMMEDIATELY.

1. Because sinners are capable of embracing the gospel as soon as they understand it. Though the moral depravity of sinners has weakened their intellectual powers, yet it has by no means destroyed them. All men act upon this principle in their common conduct. The legislator, the officer, the parent, the master first instructs, and then commands. After any person has instructed another in duty, there is a propriety in his exhorting him to an immediate compliance. This holds in regard to religious instruction as well as to any other.

2. Because it was agreeable to the directions which Christ had given to His ministers.

3. Because it was in conformity with the example of all the sacred instructors who went before him. He addressed sinners in the same manner in which the ancient prophets addressed them.

(N. Emmons, D. D.)

I. REPENTANCE. A ladder of sorrow, by which we descend into the depths of our own hearts: it has three steps.

1. Knowledge of sin.

2. Sorrow for it.

3. Desire of salvation from it.

II. FAITH. A heavenly ladder, on which we mount to God and eternity; it has also three steps.

1. Knowledge that the Redeemer has come.

2. Holy joy that He has taken up His abode with us.

3. Unshaken confidence in His saving grace.

(Lisco.)

The gospel of Jesus Christ began with the Baptist preaching repentance along with faith (Matthew 3:2). Jesus began His preaching with the same themes; and here we find them the staple doctrines of Paul's ministry (Matthew 4:17). These two are not the highest of the graces. Repentance was not required of man in paradise, nor is it enjoined upon angels and saints in heaven. There is a higher grace than faith, viz., charity. Repentance and faith are the lowest steps of the ladder by which we must ascend; the two-leaved gates by which we enter the temple. The teacher does not begin with science but with rudiments. The physician does not say to his patients, Be healthy; he requires them to submit to a course of medicine. It is after this manner that our Lord deals with man, and this in thorough accordance with our nature. As sinners we have to start from the low ground of repentance and faith, that we may rise to love, obedience, holiness, and heaven.

I. REPENTANCE TOWARDS GOD.

1. If men have sinned, it needs no argument to prove the necessity of repentance. Should some proud formalist or self-righteous Pharisee demur, I affirm that such have the greatest need to have their hearts melted.

2. As to the nature of repentance it is —(1) A true sense of sin; not a mere fear of the consequences of sin, as when a man gets himself into trouble by a wrong act, and is vexed with himself for being so foolish. One may do all this, and yet love the sin as much as ever. Cain was not a penitent when he said, "My punishment is greater than I can bear." The true penitent regards sin as disobedience to the law of love, and grieves over it as giving offence to God who has shown him such kindness. He sees it to be injurious to his own best interests and those of his fellow men. Sometimes the repentance begins in a sense of some particular sin; but it does not stop there. Show the physician an outward symptom, and he may have to follow it to its source in a deeply seated distemper. In other cases, penitence begins in a deep sense of the evil of sin generally, and the depravity of our nature.(2) An apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ. Despondency, or despair, is not repentance. The showers are always lightened by sunshine from heaven, and the tears run down the furrows made by smiles. The proper attitude of the penitent is that of the woman who was a sinner — not mourning in empty solitude, but seeking out Christ, coming to Him in holy boldness, pouring out his sorrows to Him, and laying his sins upon Him.(3) Earnest and determined purpose to give up sin. This is μετανοία — the change of mind in which true penitence is consummated. There are other and lower kinds of repentance, such as Pharaoh's, when the plagues were upon him; but when they passed away, his repentance also passed away. Such as Judas's, who returned the thirty pieces, but who went out and hanged himself. Genuine repentance always carries with it reformation. At this point faith joins on to penitence. We turn to God through faith, and obtain strength to accomplish our end.

II. FAITH TOWARD THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.

1. There is an idea that faith is a very mysterious exercise — visionary, unreal, inexpressible, and inexplicable. But there is no operation of mind more simple in itself, or which man is called on more frequently to employ. The boy believes in the love of his father, the pupil in the knowledge of his teacher, the youth in the trustworthiness of his friend, the farmer in the seasons, the patient in his physician, the merchant in the correspondence between demand and supply, and the scholar in the value of research. Now change the object: let it be a faith, not in an earthly but a heavenly Father; not in an erring human teacher, but a Divine and infallible one, etc., and it becomes the faith that saves.

2. What is faith as an exercise of the soul? Is it an act of the head, or the heart, or of both? I answer that these phrases need to be explained. "With the heart man believeth" (Romans 8:10), but in Scripture the word stands for inward thought and feeling of every kind, and includes all the purposing and sentiment which pass through the mind prior to action. The Old Testament word for faith is "trust" or "confide." The faith that saves is more than a mere intellectual judgment — it is trust, it is confidence, i.e., an exercise of the will, choice. So then faith consists of a consent of the will to the assent of the understanding — the two in combination raising feeling according to the nature of the truths apprehended and believed in.

3. It is the fundamental truth of the gospel and of all Scripture that the sinner is justified by faith. It is belief in Christ that brings relief to the soul of the sinner. The condemnation is felt to be lying upon it; the curse of God, revealed against all disobedience. But here in Christ is obedience, to meet our case as having no righteousness; here is suffering, to stand for the suffering which we have deserved: "There is therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." But it does more than deliver us from condemnation. What a power there is even in our earthly faiths — as when men sow in the assurance that they will reap after a long season, and labour in the confidence of a distant reward! What an efficacy in the trust which the child reposes in the parent, which the scholar puts in his teacher, which the soldier places in his general! As it walks on courageously, faith discovers an outlet where sense feared that the way was shut in and closed. To it we owe the greatest achievements which mankind have effected in art, in travel, in conquest. But how much more powerful is faith in God! It is no doubt weak, in that it leans; but it is strong, in that it leans on the arm of the Omnipotent. It is a creature impotency, which lays hold of the Creator's power. "We are justified by faith" (Romans 5:1); "It purifies the heart" (Acts 15:19); "It worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6); "It overcometh the world" (1 John 5:4). It is by it we are lifted above the trials of this world and prepared for death and heaven.

III. THE RELATION OF REPENTANCE AND FAITH TO EACH OTHER. Theologians have disputed as to whether faith or repentance comes first. It is urged that there can be no repentance till the soul has turned to God by faith, and, on the other hand, that there cannot be forgiveness, which implies faith, without repentance. Really the two come together; there is never faith without repentance, nor repentance without faith. Each tends to produce, and in fact implies, the other. The sinner will not be apt to have faith till he sees his sins; and, on the other hand, faith in the holy God will constrain him to repent. Sometimes the one of these is the stronger, and sometimes the other. There are cases in which the sense of sin is so deep that the person has difficulty in appropriating by faith the mercy of God — has only, as it were, a glimpse of the sun through a thick cloud. In other cases faith looks so intently on the light that it does not notice the darkness.

2. The difference between them is indicated in the text. Repentance is "toward God"; faith is "toward the Lord Jesus Christ." Both are toward God; but the one looks more toward God, whose law has been broken; the other toward God in Christ, who is reconciling the world unto Himself. Repentance looks primarily and mainly to the sin; faith to the salvation provided. The one looks down to the sins in the soul, like as Israel, when bitten by serpents, may have looked to the wounds in their prostrated bodies; the other looks to the Saviour lifted up, as Israel looked to the serpent of brass. The one looks back upon the past, mourns over it, and turns away from it; the other gazes forward into the future, and prompts us to go on in the path which leads to purity and to heaven.

3. Each serves a purpose. Faith brings us to the mercy seat; but it is to confess our sins and to find relief in consequence. Repentance acknowledges the guilt, and would break the hardness of the heart, which, however bruised, will not be melted except under the beams of the Sun of Righteousness. Repentance is the ploughing of the ground which needs to be torn up, while faith sows the living seed which strikes out roots and grows in the pulverised soil. If either were alone, it would not accomplish its intended end. Repentance by itself would be despair, and would prostrate the energies. Faith, if alone, might be tempted into vainglory, and land us in difficulties and inconsistencies, and we should fall into the mistake of the person mentioned in ancient fable, who in looking up to the stars fell into the ditch. Faith is the sail that catches the breath of heaven, while repentance is the ballast which gives us stability in the voyage; and by the two we are made to pursue the steady course. The Christian character is the strongest when the two are happily combined — when the firm and the flexible are united; when the bones are clothed with muscle and flesh. It is the most lovely when the darker hues of penitence run through the brighter colours of faith.

(J. M'Cosh, D. D.)

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