Repentance and Remission of Sins
by W.T.P. Wolston
Luke 24:44-53; Acts 10:39-44, 17:29-34
The last chapter of Luke’s Gospel gives us the Lord’s commission to His disciples. The two chapters in Acts show how two of His servants carried out the commission, and what the effect was of the preaching He bade them preach. Luke 24 is the Resurrection Day, and had we only Luke’s Gospel we should think there had been only one day that the Lord was on earth after He rose from the dead. In the morning He rose from the dead, and in the evening He went out as far as to Bethany, and lifted up His hands and blessed His own, and while blessing them He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. We know from other scriptures that He was forty days on earth after His resurrection. The great truth of Christianity is that everything is in resurrection. I know I live in an infidel day, and that men are now saying that resurrection is a delusion, and that Christ is not risen.
Well, I believe God; I also believe Peter and Paul. They both saw the Lord—Peter on earth, for forty days after He rose; Paul in glory, and He could tell very simply and distinctly what he had seen. Do you think those men were deceived? Do not you be deceived. They were not deceived. You may be deceived by men today, but God’s Word will never deceive you. What a grand thing is the truth of resurrection! Because when men die it is all over with them. What a crushing blow does death inflict, when the dearest object of your heart is removed by it; what an amazing comfort it is to have the truth of resurrection!
Luke 24 is emphatically a resurrection chapter. Resurrection is a divine reality. God has taken out of death the only man that death had no claim on. He was sinless, and perfect, and He went into death, in grace, for man, because man was under the sentence of death. And then, having glorified God about our sins, of which death and judgment were the direct consequences—having sustained the judgment and died the death—God raised Him from the dead.
And then He came in among His disciples and breathed peace, and said, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me” (v. 44). He had opened up the Scriptures in a wonderful way to the two going to Emmaus that day, and now He opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures. If you understand the Scriptures, you will find in the Old Testament the most beautiful testimony to the sufferings and death of Christ, and that He must rise from the dead. If you do not see this, it is because your understanding has not been opened. Multitudes do not understand Scripture today, because their understanding has not been opened to see that all blessing is in resurrection, i.e., in life the other side of death.
Now notice this statement: “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day” (v. 45). Have you thought of the meaning of that word “behoved”? Why should Christ go to death? You did not ask Him; I did not ask Him. No; He took the initiative in His own love and grace, and having risen from the dead, He commanded “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (v. 46). Why Jerusalem? Because it was the worst spot—it was where they clamoured for His blood, and got it; where the deadliest enmity was expressed against Him. God delights to break down and bless the most hardened opposers of His Son. This testimony to “repentance and remission of sins,” causes the light of God to break in upon men’s souls, and they are made conscious that things are wrong with them. And what is the next thing? They begin to repent; that is, to judge themselves. Repentance is not a stepping-stone to salvation, but you always find that when the truth of God gets hold of a man’s conscience it produces repentance. It is the result in the soul of the reception of a divine testimony. It may be a testimony of grace, or of coming judgment, as in the case of Jonah’s message to Nineveh. God’s testimony may be very varied, but it comes in and acts upon the conscience and heart of man. It brings him to book, and pulls him up. He cannot get away from the fact that sooner or later he must meet God. If he meet him now it is as a lost sinner, and he gets forgiveness and salvation. If he avoid God now, he will taste in eternity what it is to be a lost sinner, without hope of salvation.
The New Testament speaks much of repentance. John the Baptist said, “Repent.” His clarion note rang through the land from end to end, and moved multitudes. John was followed by his Master, who “began to preach, and to say, Repent! for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). Why does He press repentance? Because sin has come in, and you and I must face what we are before God. Repentance and remission go together. No man knows remission till he knows repentance. You may say, Peter did not preach repentance in the house of Cornelius. No, he did not; but Paul preached it at Athens. God’s Spirit led both men at the moment in their testimony. Repentance is the acknowledgment of my condition before God; and remission is God coming out and meeting that state—clearing, cleansing, and redeeming me and bringing me to His bosom. What a wonderful thing to know God in that way!
God’s gospel is connected with a risen Christ, and flows from the glorious fact of the resurrection. The devil is trying hard today to make out that there is no such thing as resurrection. It is the old leaven of the Sadducees. But notice this, please. If there be no resurrection, Christ did not rise; and if He did not rise, there is no redemption. Resurrection, redemption, repentance, and remission are all bound up together. You may have your “no resurrection” theory if you like, but by-and-by when you have missed redemption and remission of your sins, you will find that resurrection is a great fact; but you will find it out at an awkward moment—when you have risen from your grave, into which you have gone in your sins.
Do not make any mistake—there is a living man in glory, and that man is the One who died on Calvary’s tree, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was raised from the dead, and because of that which He wrought and accomplished on the cross, He can commission His servants to go out and proclaim these two cardinal truths—repentance and remission. The one is, I judge myself; and the other, God forgives me all that for which I judge myself.
In Luke 24 the Lord said to His disciples, “And ye are witnesses of these things” (v. 48). Now notice how His servants carried out their commission. In Acts 10:39 Peter says, “And we are witnesses of all things which he did.” He saw His life, he followed Him three and a half years as He opened blind eyes, cleansed lepers, bound up broken hearts, and comforted sorrowful sisters, for there was no misery or condition of man He did not meet; and yet men slew Him and hanged Him on a tree. That was man’s response to this presentation of absolute divine goodness in a man. “Whom they slew and hanged on a tree: him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly” (v. 40), are striking words. There is no mistake about it. Be sure of this—He is risen. Resurrection is the backbone of the gospel, for it is the proof of the value of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. More than that, it is the attestation on God’s part of His estimate of that work—a work that took Christ down into death, to secure God’s glory, and the redemption of man.
Hence we read that God “showed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead” (v. 41). Only His disciples saw then, but the day is coming when every eye shall see Him. You have not seen Him yet—you are going to. I can say I see Him by faith now. “We see not yet all things put under him; but we see Jesus . . . crowned with glory and honour” (Heb. 2:9). Faith sees Him. Every believer sees Jesus. Faith takes you to the spot where He is, and you see Him, know Him, and love Him, because you have learned that He has loved you. He has not been shown “openly” to the world yet, but that day is coming. The testimony to the reality of His resurrection is twelvefold in the New Testament, beginning with Mary Magdalene and ending with Saul of Tarsus. There was abundant confirmation that He was the same Jesus in resurrection whom they had known when they walked about with Him down here before His death. He had come to die in order that He might put away the sins of sinners; hence when risen from the dead, the forgiveness of sins could be preached in His name.
There is, however, another point to be noted in Peter’s preaching at Caesarea; Jesus will yet be a Judge. “And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead” (v. 42). He is going to be Judge of the living and dead, and that day is at hand. The living will be judged before the millennial reign of Christ, the dead at the end of the millennium. Forget not that God has appointed Him. My careless, trifling friend, you that have made light of the gospel, do not forget this—the Judge is ordained. Peter does not here go so far as Paul, who says at Athens that not only is the Judge ordained, but the day is appointed. The very day in which this must take place is fixed. This fact is intensely solemn: you cannot get away from it; and I should like, before that day comes when Christ must deal with men in judgment, that you should know Him as the Saviour. Taste His saving grace now, I implore you.
Why should you not taste it? Hear the lovely gospel which Peter gives Cornelius and his household: “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (v. 43). Observe that on that company he did not press repentance. He preached first the solemn fact that there is a moment coming when He is going to judge, but ere He comes to judge He is remitting sins. That is the word which faith seizes, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The name of Jesus is preached now to you. In it only is salvation. As to this the testimony is overwhelming. Peter says I can put every Old Testament prophet into the witness-box, and their united testimony would be that the person who believes in the name of that blessed One shall receive remission of sins. Blessed tidings for anxious souls.
But why did Peter not preach repentance? Because they were repentant. They were an interested, anxious company. He had a delightful audience to preach to—they came thirsty and anxious, really desiring the truth. Cornelius was the leader. He had been looking for light and blessing, he had been fasting, he had gone to God in prayer and got a message to send for Peter. He sends immediately, and waits four days for the preacher. He was a downright anxious man, not yet saved, but very keen to get salvation himself, and also get his neighbours saved. How many did he gather in? I do not know; but when Peter came he “found many that were come together” (v. 27), and that does not mean half a dozen. Cornelius had swept in all he knew, and when Peter saw a company, all with open ear and heart, and wanting to get saved, he did not need to press repentance upon them—what he said was, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” And then we read, “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.” They not only received forgiveness of sins, but the Spirit of God likewise, the seal of forgiveness. That is how and where first the gospel came to the Gentiles. They had no link with God, no claim on God, had never heard the gospel; but God’s Spirit had wrought in them—possibly Philip’s preaching may have been used to awaken them—but there they were, seeking Christ, and they were all blessed and saved.
In Acts 17 Paul preaches to the men of Athens, who were full of learning, and given up to desiring novelties. Man must have something of a novel nature—he is restless. Paul unfolds who Jesus is, and preaches Jesus and the resurrection. There is only One who can reveal God, and that is His blessed Son. Peter had only one class of hearers; Paul had three. At the close of the meeting that day his audience had split into three classes. His testimony is very solemn and searching, as he declares that God “now commandeth all men to repent: because he hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained: whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised. him from the dead” (v. 31). Peter could say that the Judge was ordained; Paul adds that the judgment day is appointed. You say, “When will it be?” It might be tomorrow for aught I know; and how would it fare with you if that day of judgment set in tomorrow? Are you ready? The resurrection of Christ is God’s way of attesting to man that there is a day of judgment, which is fixed and appointed; and that the One who died to deliver and save man is the very One who will be the Judge in that day.
“And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked” (v. 32)—that is one class, the mockers. “And others said, We will hear thee again of this matter”—these were procrastinators. “Howbeit certain men came unto him, and believed” (v. 31)—believers. Mockers, procrastinators, and believers were the results of that preaching. All Peter’s audience were believers—would that all my readers were.
You say, “I am not a mocker.” Are you sure? It is a bad company to be among. What are mockers? Those that make light of God’s message of mercy. You say, “I do not do that.” Have you bowed to God’s blessed Son as your Saviour? “No; I could not do it in a hurry: I will think about it.” Ah, you are joining the company of the procrastinators. It is easy to say, “We will hear thee again of this matter.” They never did, for we read in chapter 18:1, “After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth.” Those people counted upon another opportunity of hearing the gospel, which they never got. Procrastinators, beware! Mockers, be warned!
“Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed” (v. 34). That is very fine. What a thrill of joy went through Paul’s heart when Dionysius said to him, “Paul, I am a believer;” and timid sister Damaris likewise came boldly out, and owned herself as on the Lord’s side. I shall meet them by-and-by, and shall congratulate them on the stand they took that day, in the teeth of the multitude of mockers and procrastinators. May I similarly congratulate you? Will you say to me, “By the grace of God, your Lord shall be my Lord, your Saviour my Saviour—I believe”? It is a blessed thing to be a believer, because a believer receives the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Ghost. How blessed if you can say from this day forth, simply and truly, “Now I have found a Friend, Jesus is mine.”
This year of grace 1904 is rolling rapidly away. If you began it without Christ, do not so close it. Come to Him just now. He will receive, pardon, and bless you. Could you have a better opportunity of turning to the Lord than just now? Impossible! Seize your opportunity. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Then go and boldly confess His name.
The Gospel Messenger 1904, p. 321