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Posts Tagged ‘repentance’

Confession of Sin, Illustrated from Court Cases

May 17, 2016 3 comments

Understanding the Christian worldview through looking at contemporary events is often helpful, providing good application of Bible truth to the “real world”– as observed from time to time in Christian blog topics.  While reading a recent Spurgeon sermon, number 641 (from July 1865), I was reminded of a Pyromaniacs blog post on this same topic a few years ago:  relating “real world” news events to Christian doctrine, through a look at high profile news cases of criminals and their confessions.  The Pyromaniacs post considered a few issues in reference to the rape/murder confession of John Gardner III in California a few years ago.  Spurgeon in 1865 included two news events of criminal cases in a sermon that contrasted the two very different confessions as “types” of two types of people in their attitude of repentance and confession before God.

The first example noted by Spurgeon is the type we usually see (how human nature is the same in every age!), the criminal that — in spite of the overwhelming evidence and strong case for the charges (and popular opinion, from following the news events, also generally affirms that the person did this crime) — puts forth the plea of “not guilty” and shows no repentance or remorse for his or her actions.  Spurgeon well noted this type of confession in reference to unbelievers, the damned who refuse to repent and refuse to confess their sins before God (though as scripture tells us, one day every knee will bow and confess that Christ is Lord, and this includes the ungodly).

The second part of the sermon, about a young woman named Constance Kent, featured the relatively rare event of someone who freely confesses to a crime, with no reservations, exceptions or excuses for the deed.  As Spurgeon related the story then still in progress, we can note one key difference in our criminal justice system as compared to Spurgeon’s day.  At that time even criminals who confessed to a crime did not automatically get a change in sentence, a reprieve from the death penalty of hanging in the gallows — a stark contrast from the current day confession of John Gardner, where entering a guilty plea meant saving his life, accepting a life-term prison sentence instead of death row.  Yet Constance’s case, as Spurgeon describes, does (and did then) bring forth sympathy from others for her honesty and willingness to suffer the consequences of her action.  The full story of the crime is now available in our online encyclopedias, such as this article about Constance Kent:  she was not executed after all, but served twenty years in prison, later moved to Australia, and lived to be 100 years old, dying in 1944.

Spurgeon’s focus was a point-by-point type correspondence between aspects of Constance’s confession and the repentant sinner before God.  A sampling of Spurgeon’s teaching here:

though the question is repeated and time is given her to retract, her reply is still the one self-condemning word, “GUILTY!” Even so before the Lord, whenever we come to confess, we must approach Him with this cry, “Guilty. Guilty!  Lord, I cannot say anything else. If hell is my eternal portion for it, I dare say no other. The stones in the streets would cry out against me if I denied my guilt.  . . .

Constance Kent was anxious to free all others from the blame of her sin.  … This is well spoken. I know nothing of this young woman’s heart, but using her as an illustration rather than an example, we are safe in saying that it is a very blessed sign of true repentance when the sinner cries out with David, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight.” There will be, in a gracious penitent, no attempt to lay the blame upon the tempter, or upon providence; no dwelling upon circumstances, the suddenness of the temptation, or the hastiness of one’s temper.  . . .

The unhappy young woman now condemned to die needed no witness to come forward to prove her guilt and assure her conviction. No one saw the deed; it was done so secretly that the most expert detectives were not able to find a satisfactory clue to the mystery. … It will never suffice for us merely to confess to the Lord what other people have seen, and to feel guilty because we know that the case is reported in the neighborhood. Many people who have fallen into sin, have felt very penitent because they knew they would damage their names, or lose their employment; but to have your private sin brought before you by conscience, and voluntarily, without any pressure but the burden of sin itself and the work of the Holy Spirit, to come before God and say, “Lord, You know in this matter I have offended, and though none saw me except Your eyes and mine; yet Your eyes might well flash with anger at me, while mine shall be wet with many a tear of penitence on account of it”—that is what you need.  . . .

She confessed all. It was a solemn moment when the judge said, “I must repeat to you, that you are charged with having willfully, intentionally, and with malice killed and murdered your brother. Are you guilty or not guilty?” Yes, she was guilty, just as the judge had put it. She did not object to those words which made the case come out so black. The willfulness?—yes, she acknowledged that. The intention, the malice?—yes, all that. The killing, the murdering—was it just murder?—was it nothing less? No, nothing else. Not a word of extenuation. She acknowledges all, just as the judge puts it. She is guilty in very deed of the whole charge. Sinner, will you confess sin as God puts it? Many will confess sin after their own fashion, but will you confess it as God puts it? Are you brought to see sin as God sees it? As far as mortal eye could bear that dreadful sight, and do you confess now just what God lays at your door—that you have been His enemy, a traitor, full of evil, covered with iniquity? Will you confess that you have crucified His dear Son, and have in all ways deserved His hottest wrath and displeasure—will you plead guilty to that? If not, you shall have no pardon; but if you will do this, He is merciful and just to forgive you your sins through Jesus the great atoning sacrifice.  . . .

She had not, nor had her counsel for her, a single word to say by way of excuse. … Her counsel might have said she was very young—it was hoped that her youth might plead for her. Being young, she might be readily led astray by an evil passion—might not that excuse her? It was long ago, and her confession was her own; she had brought herself there into that dock—might not this be a reason for mercy? Nothing of the kind; the judge might think so if he pleased, but there was nothing said for her about that, nor did she desire that it should be suggested. She might secretly hope, but her confession was so thorough, that there was not a single word to sully its clear stream. So, sinner, if you come before God, you must not say, “Lord, I am to be excused because of my position—I was in poverty, and I was tempted to steal.” Or, “I had been in bad company, and so I learned to blaspheme.” Or, “I had a hard employer, and so I was driven to sin to find some pleasure there.” No; if you are really penitent, you will find no reason whatever why you should have sinned, except the evil of your own heart—and that you will plead as an aggravation, not as an excuse. “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! I am, O God, before Your face, guilty; I offer no excuse, no extenuation. You must deal with me upon pure mercy, if You do save me, for justice can only award me my well-deserved doom.”

 

 

1689 Confession Study: The Crisis-Conversion in Riper Years

February 5, 2016 Leave a comment

Continuing in the 1689 Baptist Confession study, chapter 15 on repentance includes a look at the meaning of the first paragraph:

Those of the elect who are converted in riper years, having lived some time in the state of nature, and in this state served various lusts and pleasures, God gives repentance which leads to life, through an effectual call.

From this study I learned some new terminology: the sudden experience of adult conversions, of those who know the date when they were saved (as with my own experience), is referred to as a “crisis conversion,” as contrasted with the gradual conversion experience of children brought up in Christian homes, who cannot pinpoint a sudden, specific time of their conversion.

The audio lesson spends a great deal of time in emphasizing the point–to listeners who are of the second (gradual conversion) type–that all people who are converted experience repentance.  By mentioning the first type, the confession’s authors here were not saying that only the first type of conversion experience is a true experience. The important point is that we have continuing faith and repentance in our lives, now–and to recognize that everyone’s conversion experience is unique and so we should not expect everyone else’s experience to be like ours—or for our own experience to be like that of others. For the latter, Hodgins gave the example of reading David Brainerd’s diary– one who was extremely aware of his wretchedness – and comparing his own conversion experience to that and thinking “I must be lost, since I didn’t have such awareness of my sinful condition.” Each type of conversion has its advantages and disadvantages; the adult with “crisis conversion” lived more years in an unsaved condition, more sins (and perhaps more “baggage” of problems, less common grace than those who were saved at a younger age, a point similarly made during the chapter 13 Sanctification study). The point is well-made, for both groups. I recall from early Christian experience, that at first I assumed that all other Christians likewise had a sudden conversion experience—and only later learned that at least some Christians do not have this.

As quoted from Sam Waldron  (at this person’s 1689 Confession Commentary on chapter 15):

The Confession makes this out of a desire to distinguish repentance as a crisis experience from repentance as an ordinary grace.  All believers are marked by ordinary grace, but not all believers will know, or need to know, repentance as a crisis experience. …The practical applications of this are various and important.  Do not doubt your salvation merely because you lack a crisis experience like that of some respected brother or sister in the Lord.  Do not demand of others a certain type of conversion experience as a necessary mark of true grace.  An emotional earthquake, radical, external changes in one’s life-style, knowing the exact time of one’s rebirth, an extended work of conviction by the law, immediate sudden joy–all of these may accompany conversion, but none are necessary marks of true repentance.”

From further online reading, (courtesy of Google books) I came across a few pages of “Saved by Grace” by Anthony Hoekema, which provides further information on this topic — Variations in the Pattern of Conversion – along with Hoekema’s quotes from Herman Bavinck. The Reformers’ own conversions can be further classified in terms of contrasts: from deep feelings of guilt to the joyful awareness of forgiveness in Christ (Luther), being set free from the bondage of the law, to happiness of being a child of God (Zwingli), or “deliverance from error into truth, from doubt into certainty” in John Calvin’s conversion. The pattern of conversion thus may be predominantly intellectual, or volitional, or emotional, and Hoekema noted examples from Church History of all three: C.S. Lewis the intellectual conversion, Augustine as volitional, and John Bunyan’s as emotional.

The type of conversion experience, for Hoekema, raises the question–from the paedo-baptist covenantal perspective—of whether “covenant children” need to be converted. What he says makes sense, regardless of one’s view of covenant theology and baptism (of the paedobaptist or believer’s Baptist), in the general observation that many who are raised in Christian homes have a gradual conversion experience—yet they still need their own personal conversion, to realize their own sin, their own commitment to Christ, to personally appropriate the blessings of salvation. What Hoekema describes, I can certainly relate to:

Much variation is possible in the way in which those born of Christian parents later come to conversion. Some are led gently, with no earthshaking upheavals, growing steadily from childhood to young manhood, and from young manhood to full maturity… Others, however, who for a time lived openly sinful lives, or became alienated from their Christian upbringing, are suddenly brought to conversion, through some gripping word of arresting circumstance, often by means of a violent emotional struggle.