REPENT! Commentary by J. C. Ryle There were present at that season some that told him of the Gal ilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilxans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Luke 13.1-5
The murder of the Galilaeans, mentioned in the first verse of this passage, is ‘an event of which we know nothing certain. The motives of those who told our Lord of the event, we are left to conjecture. At any rate they gave Him an opportunity of speaking to them about their own souls, which He did not fail to employ. He seized the event, as His manner was, and made a practical use of it; He bade His informants look within, and think of their own state before God. He seems to say, `What though these Galilxans did die a sudden death’?
What is that to you’? Consider your own ways. Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’
Let us observe, for one thing, in these verses, how much more ready people are to talk of the deaths of others than their own. The death of the Galilaeans, mentioned here, was probably a common subject of conversation in Jerusalem and all Judaea: we can well believe that all the circumstances and particulars belonging to it were continually discussed by thousands who never thought of their own latter end. It is just the same in the present day.
A murder, a sudden death, a shipwreck or a railway accident, will completely occupy the minds of a neighbourhood, and be in the mouth of everyone you meet; and yet these very persons dislike talking of their own deaths, and their own prospects in the world beyond the grave. Such is human nature in every age. In religion, men are ready to talk of anybody’s business rather than their own.
The state of our own souls should always be our first concern. It is eminently true that real Christianity will always begin at home. The converted man will always think first of his own heart, his own life, his own deserts, and his own sins. Does he hear of a sudden death? He will say to himself, `Should I have been found ready, if this had happened to me?’ – Does he hear of some awful crime, or deed of wickedness? He will say to himself, `Are my sins forgiven’? and have I really repented of my own transgressions’?’ Does he hear of worldly men running into every excess of sin’? He will say to himself, `Who has made me to differ’? What has kept me from walking in the same road, except the free grace of God’?’ –
May we ever seek to be men of this frame of mind! Let us take a kind interest in all around us. Let us feel tender pity and compassion for all who suffer violence, or are removed by sudden death. But let us never forget to look at home, and to learn wisdom for ourselves from all that happens to others.
Let us observe, for another thing, in these verses, how strongly our Lord lays down the universal necessity of repentance. Twice He declares emphatically, `Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’
The truth here asserted is one of the foundations of Christianity. `All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ All of us are born in sin. We are fond of sin, and are naturally unfit for friendship with God. Two things are absolutely necessary to the salvation of every one of us: we must repent, and we must believe the Gospel. Without repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, no man can be saved.
The nature of true repentance is clearly and unmistakably laid down in Holy Scripture. It begins with knowledge of sin. It goes on to work sorrow for sin. It leads to confession of sin before God. It shows itself before man by a thorough breaking off from sin. It results in producing a habit of deep hatred for all sin. Above all it is inseparably connected with lively faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance like this is the characteristic of all true Christians.
The necessity of repentance to salvation will be evident to all who search the Scriptures, and consider the nature of the subject. Without it there is no forgiveness of sins. There never was a pardoned man who was not also a penitent. There never was one washed in the blood of Christ who did not feel, and mourn, and confess, and hate his own sins.
Without it there can be no meetness for heaven. We could not be happy if we reached the kingdom of glory with a heart loving sin. The company of saints and angels would give us no pleasure. Our minds would not be in tune for an eternity of holiness. Let these things sink down into our hearts. We must repent as well as believe, if we hope to be saved.
Let us leave the subject with the solemn inquiry, – Have we ourselves repented? We live in a Christian land; we belong to a Christian Church; we have Christian ordinances and means of grace; we have heard of repentance with the hearing of the ear, and that hundreds, of times: but have we ever repented? Do we really know our own sinfulness? Do our sins cause us any sorrow? Have we cried to God about our sins, and sought forgiveness at the throne of grace? Have we ceased to do evil, and broken off from our bad habits? Do we cordially and heartily hate everything that is evil? These are serious questions: they deserve serious consideration. The subject before us is no light matter. Nothing less than life – eternal life – is at stake! If we die impenitent, and without a new heart, we had better never have been born.
If we never yet repented, let us begin without delay. For this we are accountable. `Repent ye, and be converted,’ were the words of Peter to the Jews who had crucified our Lord (Acts 3.19). `Repent and pray,’ was the charge addressed to Simon Magus when he was in the `gall of
bitterness and bond of iniquity’ (Acts 8.22). There is everything to encourage us to begin. Christ invites us; promises of Scripture are held out to us; glorious declarations of God’s willingness to receive us abound throughout the Word. `There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.’ Then let us arise and call upon God. Let us repent without delay.
If we have already repented in time past, let us go on repenting to the end of our lives.
There will always be sins to confess and infirmities to deplore, so long as we are in the body. Let us repent more deeply, and humble ourselves more thoroughly, every year. Let every returning birthday find us hating sin more, and loving Christ more. He was a wise old saint who said, `I hope to carry my repentance to the very gate of heaven.’