Repentance & Faith: The Chicken or the Egg?

Acts 20:21
       Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): There was a question once asked by the old Puritan divines—Which was first in the soul, Faith or Repentance? Some said that a man could not truly repent of sin until he believed in God, and had some sense of a Saviour’s love. Others said a man could not have faith till he had repented of sin; for he must hate sin before he could trust Christ.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): “Are not the heart and lungs both equally necessary to the life of a man? Yes, surely. Well, then, tell me which of these began to play first?”

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): We must by repentance look towards God as our end; and by faith towards Christ as our way to God. Sin must by repentance be abandoned and forsaken, and then Christ must by faith be relied on for the pardon of sin. Our repentance towards God is not sufficient, we must have a true faith in Christ as our Redeemer and Saviour, consenting to him as our Lord and our God.

C. H. SPURGEON: To tell the sinner that he is to believe on Christ because of some warrant in himself, is legal, I dare to say it—legal…if I believe in Jesus Christ because I feel a genuine repentance of sin, and therefore have a warrant for my faith, do you not perceive that the first and true ground of my confidence is the fact that I have repented of sin? If I believe in Jesus because I have convictions and a spirit of prayer, then evidently the first and the most important fact is not Christ, but my possession of repentance, conviction, and prayer, so that really my hope hinges upon my having repented; and if this be not legal I do not know what is.

SAMUEL RUTHERFORD (1600-1661): To rely on Christ, and not to weary of sin, is presumption, not faith. Faith is ever neighbour to a contrite spirit, and it is impossible that faith can be where there is not a casten down and contrite heart in some measure for sin.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): This is carefully to be observed, for unless the sinner be dissatisfied with himself, detest his manner of life, and be thoroughly grieved from an apprehension of sin, he will never betake himself to the Lord. On the other hand, it is impossible for a man to experience sorrow of this kind, without its giving birth to a new heart.

J. A. ALEXANDER (1809-1860): The true disciple is disposed to part with his sins at the Cross. That is to say, he exercises not only faith but repentance. There is no true repentance which does not spring from faith. Some people think they will repent first, and then come to Christ. Vain thought! As if one should forsake darkness first, and then come to the light. Conviction there may be, prior to believing, or remorse, compunction, fear, legal sorrow, but true repentance is “a tear that glistens in the eye of faith.”

THOMAS BROOKS (1608-1680): All gospel mourning flows from believing; they shall first look, and then mourn.

THOMAS ADAMS (1583-1656): The repentance which precedes faith, consists chiefly of a sense of danger and fear of punishment: but when we come to have a lively apprehension of pardoning love, and our adoption in Christ, it is genuine, filial sorrow for having offended God.

JAMES DURHAM (1622-1658): The first work of the Spirit, is, by powerful convictions to beget evangelic repentance in the heart, and to make the soul sensible of by-past failings, Acts 2:37. This [repentance], although it be not in time before faith, nor in nature―for, seeing it proceeds from love, it supposeth faith―yet it is the first sensible effect that sinners surprised in a sinful condition are touched with, and it is never separate from, but always joined with, the exercise of faith, Zechariah 12:10.

WILLIAM GURNALL (1617-1679): Repentance, this is a sweet grace, but set on work by faith. Nineveh’s repentance is attributed unto their faith, Jonah 3:5: “the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth.” All is silence and quiet in an unbelieving soul: no news of repentance, no noise of any complaint made against sin, till faith begins to stir.

J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): Wherever faith is, there is repentance; wherever repentance is, there is always faith. I do not decide which comes first—whether repentance comes before faith, or faith before repentance. But I am bold to say that the two graces are never found separate, one from the other. Just as you cannot have the sun without light, or ice without cold, or fire without heat, or water without moisture—so long will you never find true faith without repentance, and you will never find true repentance without lively faith. The two things always go side by side.

C. H. SPURGEON: We endorse that opinion. I believe they are like the Siamese twins; they are born together, and they could not live asunder, but must die if you attempt to separate them. Faith always walks side by side with his weeping sister, true repentance―that is not true repentance which does not come of faith in Jesus, and that is not true faith in Jesus which is not tinctured with repentance―No man ever believed but what he repented at the same time. Faith and repentance go together. They must. If I trust Christ to save me from sin, I am at the same time repenting of sin, and my mind is changed in relation to sin, and everything else that has to do with its state. All the fruits meet for repentance are contained in faith itself. You will never find that a man who trusts Christ remains an enemy of God, or a lover of sin.

ROWLAND HILL (1744-1833): Faith and repentance are the effects of our salvation, they cannot, therefore, be the cause of it, any more than motion, which is the effect of life, can be said to be the cause why we live or move.

JOHN CALVIN: Christ calls us by way of free favour, but it is to repentance. God by way of free favour pardons our sins, but only when we renounce them. Nay, more, God accomplishes in us at one and the same time two things: being renewed by repentance, we are delivered from the bondage of our sins; and, being justified by faith, we are delivered from also from the curse of our sins. They are, therefore, inseparable fruits of grace.

C. H. SPURGEON: Old Mr. Dodd,* one of the quaintest of the Puritans, was called by some people, “Old Mr. Faith and Repentance,” because he was always insisting upon these two things.

PHILIP HENRY (1631–1696): As for Mr. Dodd’s abundant preaching of repentance and faith, I admire him for it; for if I die in the pulpit, I desire to die preaching repentance and faith; and if I die out of the pulpit, I desire to die practising repentance and faith.

*Editor’s Note: C. H. Spurgeon and Philip Henry (Matthew Henry’s father) are probably referring to John Dod (circa 1549-1645), a Puritan preacher who was also nicknamed “Decalogue Dod,” because of his considerable emphasis on preaching the Ten Commandments.


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