The Nature of True Repentance

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Catherine Booth

People generally are all at sea on this subject, as
though insisting that repentance is an arbitrary arrangement on the
part of God. I believe God has made human salvation as easy as the
almighty, infinite, mind could make it! But there is a necessity that
we “repent and turn to God” (Acts 26:20, KJV).

Since repentance is an indispensable condition of
salvation, let us glance at it for a moment and try to find out what
repentance really is. How full of confusion the world and the church
are on this subject!

Repentance is not merely conviction of sin. If it
were, what a different world we would have, for there are tens of
thousands on whose hearts God’s Spirit has done His office by
convincing them of sin. I cannot tell you the numbers of people who, in
our meetings, have grasped my hand and said, “Oh! What would I give to
feel as I once felt! There was a time 15, or 17, or 20 years ago when I
was so deeply convinced of sin that I could scarcely sleep or eat;
… but, instead of going on till I found peace, I got diverted, cooled
down, and now I feel as hard as a stone.” I am afraid there are tens of
thousands in this condition—once convinced of sin.

There are thousands of others who are convinced now. They
say, “Yes, it is true what the minister says. I know I ought to lay
down the weapons of my warfare against God.” They are convinced of sin,
but they go no further.

That is not repentance. They live this week as they did last. There is no response to the Spirit; they resist the Holy Ghost.

Neither is repentance mere sorrow for sin. I have
seen people weep bitterly and writhe and struggle, yet hug their idols,
and in vain you try to shake them from them. If Jesus Christ would only
have saved them with the idols, they would have had no objection at
all. If they could have got through the straight gate with this one
particular idol, they would have gone through long since; but to part
with that is another thing.

Such people will weep like your stubborn child when you
want him to do something he does not want to do. He will cry, and when
you apply the rod, he will cry harder, but he will not yield. When he
yields, he becomes a penitent; but until he does, he is merely a
convicted sinner.

When God applies the rod of His Spirit, the rod of His
providence, the rod of His Word, sinners will cry, and wince, and
whine, and make you believe they are praying and want to be saved, but
all the while they are holding their necks as stiff as iron. They will
not submit. The moment they submit they become true penitents and get

Neither is repentance a promise that you will forsake sin in the future.
If it were, there would be many penitents in our midst. There is
scarcely a poor drunkard that does not promise, in his own mind, or to
his poor wife, that he will forsake his cups—but he does not do it.

Then what is repentance? Repentance is simply renouncing
sin—turning from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God.
This is giving up sin in your heart, in purpose, in intention, in
desire, resolving that you will give up every evil thing, and doing it

Of course, this involves sorrow, for how will any sane
man turn himself around from a given course into another if he does not
repent having taken that course? It implies, also, hatred of sin. He
hates the course he formerly took and turns around from it.

He is like the prodigal, when he sat in the swine-yard
among the husks and the filth, he fully resolved, and at last he acted.
He went, and that was the test of his penitence.

He might have sat resolving and promising till now, if he
had lived that long, and he would never have got the father’s kiss, the
father’s welcome, if he had not started; but he went. He left the
filth, the swine-yard, the husks—he trampled them under his feet; he
left the citizens of that country and gave up all his excuses and went
to his father honestly, and said, “I have sinned!” That is repentance.

Have you done that? Have you forsaken the accursed thing?
Have you cut off that particular thing the Holy Spirit has revealed to
you? You know what it is, and you will never get saved until you
renounce it.

Submission is the test of penitence. My child may be
willing to do a hundred and fifty other things, but if he is not
willing to submit on the one point of controversy, he is a rebel, and
remains one until he yields.

Now, here is the difference between a spurious and a real
repentance. I am afraid we have thousands in our churches who had a
spurious repentance: They were convinced of sin, they were sorry for
it; they wanted to live a better life, to love God in a sort of general
way; but they skipped over the real point of controversy with God; they
hid it from their pastor, perhaps, and from the deacons, and from the
people who talked with them.

Now, I say, Abraham might have been willing to have given
up every other thing he possessed; but, if he had not been willing to
give up Isaac, all else would have been useless. It is your Isaac God

You have got an Isaac, just as the young ruler had his
possessions. You have got something you are holding on to that the Holy
Spirit says you must let go, and you say, “I can’t.”

Very well; then you must stop outside the kingdom.

My dear friends, let me persuade you to trample under
foot that idol, to tear down that refuge of lies, and to come to God
honestly, and say, “Lord, here I am to be a servant, to be nothing, to
do anything, to suffer anything. I know I shall be happier with Thy
smile and Thy blessing than all these evil things now make me without
Thee.” When you come to a full surrender, my friends, you will get what
you have been seeking, some of you, for years.

But then another difficulty comes in, and people say, “I
have not the power to repent.” There is a grand mistake. You have the
power, or God would not command it.

You can repent. You can this moment lift up your eyes to
heaven, and say, with the prodigal, “Father, I have sinned, and I
renounce my sin.”

You may not be able to weep—God nowhere requires or
commands that; but you are able, this very moment, to renounce sin in
purpose, in resolution, in intention. Mind, don’t confound the
renouncing of the sin with the power of saving yourself from it. If you
renounce it, Jesus will come and save you from it.

And do not say, “I do not feel enough.” Do you feel
enough to be willing to forsake your sin? That is the point. Any soul
who does not repent enough to forsake his sin is not a penitent at all!

When you repent enough to forsake your sin, that moment
your repentance is sincere, and you may take hold of Jesus with a firm
grasp. You have a right to appropriate the promise.

Then it is, look and live. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

Will you come to that point right now? Don’t begin making excuses. Now!

Oh! My friend, be persuaded now to repent. Let your sin
go away, and come to the feet of Jesus. For your own sake, be
persuaded. For the peace, the joy, the power, the glory, the gladness
of living a life of consecration to God and service to your fellowmen,
yield; but most of all, for the love He bears you, submit.

A great, rough man who was stricken down said to my
husband, when he looked up to the place where other people were being
saved, “Mr. Booth, I would not go there for a hundred pounds!”

My husband whispered, “Will you go there for love?” and,
after a minute’s hesitation, the man, brushing great tears away, rose
up and followed him.

Will you go there for love—the love of Jesus? The great
love wherewith He loved you and gave Himself for you? Will you, for the
great yearning with which your Father has been following you all these
years? For His love’s sake, will you come? Go down at His feet and
submit. The Lord help you! Amen.

Catherine Booth was the co-founder, with her husband,
William, of the Salvation Army. She was born in Ashbourne, Derbyshire,
England and was raised in a Christian home but was not truly converted
until age 16. The organization she and her husband founded began as a
mission in London’s East End, where Catherine played a prominent role.
She was committed to social reform and believed women had an equal
right to preach. Though initially timid herself, she gained a
reputation as a gifted speaker. The mother of eight natural children,
Catherine became known as “Mother” in the Army as well.

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