Monday, June 17, 2013

God's Pardon the Fruit of Repentance

To all sins, then, committed whether by flesh or spirit, whether by deed or will, the same God who has appointed penalty by means of judgment has also promised to grant pardon by means of repentance, saying to the people, "Repent, and I will save you;"[1] and again, "as I live," says the Lord, "I will have repentance rather than death."[2]  Repentance, then, is life, since it is preferred to death.  That repentance, O sinner,… so hasten to, so embrace, as a shipwrecked man the protection of some plank.  This will draw you forth when sunk in the waves of sins, and will bear you forward into the port of the divine mercy.  Seize the opportunity of unexpected blessing: that you, who sometime were in God’s sight nothing but "a drop of a bucket,"[3] and "dust of the threshing-floor,"[4] and "a potter’s vessel,"[5] may henceforth become that "tree which is sown beside the waters, is perennial in leaves, bears fruit at its own time,"[6] and shall not see fire nor axe.[7]  Having found the truth, repent of errors; repent of having loved what God loves not: even we ourselves do not permit our servant lads not to hate the things which are offensive to us; for the principle of voluntary obedience consists in union of wills.

The good of repentance is a vast subject-matter to consider, and therefore should be committed to great eloquence.  Let us, however, in proportion to our narrow abilities, insist on one point: God's command is good and best.  I hold it audacious to dispute about the "good" of a divine precept, for, indeed, it is not the fact that it is good which binds us to obey, but the fact that God has commanded it.  To exact the rendering of obedience the majesty of divine power has the inherent right: the authority of him who commands is greater than the usefulness to him who serves.  Why do you ponder, "Is it good to repent, or not?"  God commands—no, not merely commands, but likewise exhorts.  He invites by offering salvation as its reward.  Even by an oath, saying "as I live," he desires that credence may be given Him.

Oh blessed are we, for whose sake God swears!  Oh most miserable, if we do not believe the Lord even when He swears!  What, therefore, God so highly commends, what He even, in human fashion, guarantees on oath, we are bound of course to approach and to guard with the utmost seriousness, that, abiding permanently in the solemn pledge of divine grace, we may be able also to persevere in like manner in its fruit and its benefit.

Tertullian, On Repentance 4

[1]  Ezekiel 18:21-23
[2]  Ezekiel 18:30-32; 33:11
[3]  Isaiah 40:15
[4]  Hosea 13:3.  Comp. Daniel 2:35; Matthew 3:12
[5]  Jeremiah 19:11.  Comp. Romans 9:21; Psalm 2:9; Revelation 2:27
[6]  Psalm 1:3; Jeremiah 17:8
[7]  Matthew 3:10

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