By James Durham
Copyright 1998 © Naphtali Press

[From James Durham, A Learned and Complete Commentary Upon the Book of the Revelation (Glasgow, 1788). The text in places has been compared with the last edition, A Learned, etc. vol. 1. (Falkirk, 1799), noted with a superscript 1799. Overall, the 1788 printing is the superior edition. The first point is only posted here; the full text of this article is posted at the Naphali Press web site. See also Durham on Preaching.]

See also Durham on Preaching.

Concerning Repentance

REPENTANCE is much called for in these epistles, and that with peremptory certification of coming wrath, if the same prevent it not, as we may see in the epistle to these of Ephesus (Rev. 2:5), who look like a people real in the work of God, though under some decay. It is also called for from Pergamos (v. 16). Yea, Jezebel has a door of mercy opened to her, upon supposition of repentance (vs. 21-22). This also is required of Sardis (3:3) and of Laodicea (v. 21). For clearing of which places, and other truths concerning repentance, it may be inquired once for all: I. If repentance is simply necessary for preventing of wrath, and obtaining of the pardon of sin? II. In what respect it is necessary, and how it concurs thereto? III. If to a believer's recovery after his sins the exercise of repentance be necessary? IV. If so, what kind of repentance.

For understanding of all, we would permit, that repentance may fall under a threefold consideration:

1. It may be considered as somewhat previous in time to the exercise of faith and pardon of sin. This is properly legal sorrow, and is a common work of the Spirit, which may be in one whose sins will never be pardoned. It is therefore not of itself gracious, although the Lord may sometimes make use thereof for a sinner's humbling and awakening before his conversion. This is not the repentance that is pressed here.

2. It may be considered, as it not only follows pardon, but also the intimation thereof; so it is a melting of heart, and a self-loathing that flows from felt love, as the promise of the covenant is (Ezek. 16:63; 36:31). This is the melting of heart spoken of in that woman, who loved much, because much was forgiven her (Luke 7:47). Neither is this that which is principally intended here.

We may consider repentance as a work of sanctifying grace, arising from the sense of bypast sin, and hope of future mercy, whereby the heart is both affected with indignation in respect of what is past, and warmed with desire and love in respect of what it expects. And so [it] differs from the first, which arises from apprehended future wrath; and from the second, which flows from felt-received mercy. This repentance goes along with faith and the exercise thereof, for the attaining of the hoped-for remission, which [with]1799 a thorough impression of the freeness thereof, in respect of the person's felt sinfulness. That is, the sorrow after a godly manner, which is spoken of [in] 2 Cor. 7:11. And it is that which is principally intended here, and in other places, where repentance is required in order to remission of sin.

I. In answer then to the first question, we say that repentance, understood in the last sense, is simply necessary for the obtaining of the pardon of sin, so that without it no unreconciled sinner can expect peace with God; which we thus make out: 1. From several places of scripture, and first, by these places where the command of repentance is prefixed to the obtaining of pardon, and preventing of wrath; and that by way of certification, that if it be not, remission is not to be expected. As Acts 3:19. Repent that your sins may be blotted out. Which implies that without this, the blotting out of sin is not to be expected. Otherwise the proposing of the blotting out of sin could be no great motive to press the exercise thereof, which is the apostle’s scope. As also [in] Acts 2:38 [and] Acts 8:22, and so in all other places where repentance is pressed as a mids [means] for attaining of that end.

2. We may add these places where the connection between repentance and pardon is more peremptorily enforced, as Luke 13:2-3. Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish -- than which nothing can be more clear -- and Prov. 28:13, He that covereth sin, shall not prosper: but he that confesseth and forsaketh (which is, upon the matter all one with repentance) shall find mercy.

3. It is confirmed from such places as ground the cause of peoples’ ruin upon their not repenting, as in Leviticus 26, Amos. 4, Ezek. 18, Rev. 16, etc., and many such places, is clear; where this, they repented not, is given as the cause of God's continued quarrel against them.

All these considerations we will find in these epistles, where the Lord not only requires the exercise of repentance by command; but threatens judgment, except repentance prevent (2:5, 16, 22). And it is particularly marked to be the ground of his continued controversy with Jezebel (ver. 21), that she did not repent, and so 3:21.

In the second place, this may be made out, if we consider the promises of God's covenant, in which remission of sins is subjoined to the exercise of repentance as necessarily antecedent, so that without it there is no access to any promise of pardon. See, first, Levit. 26:40-42. If they shall confess their iniquity, then will I remember my covenant. Which presupposes confession, and the exercise of repentance, and the humbling of the heart, to go before the application of the covenant. And lest it should be thought a legal covenant, it is expressly said to be the covenant with Isaac and Abraham, which cannot be denied to be of grace. The like also may be gathered from 1 Kings 8:47, where Solomon expressly covenants for pardon on these terms. And (2 Chron. 7:13) the Lord expressly assents to these articles. Yet this is a covenant of grace, being a covenant for obtaining of pardon through faith in Christ Jesus, whereof praying toward the temple and mercy seat, was a type. And it is expressly said to be, upon the matter, God's covenant with David. Which cannot be denied to be the same covenant of grace with that comprehended in the gospel, seeing the mercies sworn to the fathers Abraham and David, are the same mercies that are now conferred upon believers. And although there were some peculiar promises made to Abraham and David in respect of their own seed, and some other things; yet these peculiar promises were not the grounds of their own justification, much less are they to be pleaded by any other for that end. Now the covenant's end as it holds forth remission and its essential promises must be common to all. It may be confirmed also from 1 John 1:9. If we confess our sins, God is faithful to pardon, etc. Which suppones [supposes] that there is no engagement, to speak so, upon God's faithfulness to pardon any sinner but him who repents.

In the third and last place, the necessity of repentance may be confirmed, if we consider the qualifications of such persons as God pronounces pardon unto in his word. It is not to sinners as sinners simply, but to lost sinners (that is, lost in their own eyes). Such as are weary and loadened [ladened], such as are broken in heart, grieved, wounded, etc. As appears from Isa. 61:1-2, and elsewhere. All which qualifications show the necessity of repentance in a person that may expect pardon. It is true, both repentance and remission are Christ's gift, but in this method he gives first repentance, and then remission (Acts 5:31). And though he came to call sinners; yet he calls them to repentance, as that which makes way for their getting good of him.

From what is said, we may gather these two conclusions in opposition to the doctrine of the Antinomians. The first is that repentance is not legal duty unbecoming for a minister of the gospel to preach, or a professor thereof to exercise with respect to the obtaining of pardon. And that it is not only to be looked after and to be pressed upon the account of the faith of sins being already pardoned. Secondly, it follows from this that remission of sin is no immanent or eternal act of God; but is a transient act, and that after the committing of the sin. For if remission presupposes repentance, it must also presuppose the sin to be committed, because repentance presupposes that. And therefore it cannot be from eternity. This opinion of sin's being remitted from eternity, stands and falls with the former, viz. of the needlessness of repentance for the obtaining of pardon. And therefore the overturning of the one, is the overturning of both. It is true, God's purpose and decree of pardoning sin, is eternal, as all his decrees are. But this actual pardoning of a sinner is no more from eternity, than his creating or glorifying men; yea, in the same decree he has proposed the giving both of repentance and pardon, in the method laid down.

If it be said, that thus it will infer, 1. That there is no difference between the elect in respect of their estate before repentance, and reprobates. And, 2. That it will infer some change to be in God, if he should behold sin in a person immediately before his repentance, and not thereafter; both which, say they, are absurd. For answer to the first, we say that if we consider an elect person before conversion, with respect to himself, and to the law and covenant of works, without respect to God's purpose, there is indeed no difference between him and a reprobate; because they are both as impenitent unbelievers without the covenant; without hope, and dead in sins and trespasses, as is spoken even of the elect (Eph. 2:1, 2, 12). And both of them are under the curse, seeing the law does indifferently curse all that have sinned, and are not by faith in Christ. This is no absurdity; but contributes exceedingly to the humbling of the elect, and to the advancement of grace. Again, if we consider the Lord's purpose, there is a great difference, although, as it is his purpose, it makes no real change, except in the manner, time, and method in which he has purposed it to be.

To the second we answer, that this does not infer any change in God's will, as if he now willed that which he would not before, [any] more than to say his will changes when he glorifies a person which he did not actually glorify before, although he purposed indeed to do the same. It only proves that there is a change wrought upon the creature, who is glorified, by that same unchangeable will of God, which did, before the world, decree that in due time to be done. So it is here; in time he pardons and makes a change upon the creature's state, by that same will, and in the same manner as it was decreed. And this is no absurdity; because according to the rule, although God cannot change his will, yet he may will a change upon the creature -- et si deus non potest mutare voluntatem, potest tame velle mutationem [et Deus non potest mutare voluntatem, potest tamen velle mutationem]1799.

*Durham's first point has only been covered in this extract.