The Nature of True Repentance

This excerpt below is from Paul Washer’s Heart Cry publication January – February 1998 Volume 3, Page 8 with lots of thanks to Manuela for forwarding the periodical to me. Who was Thomas Watson?

Thomas Watson (c. 1620 – 1686) was an English, NonconformistPuritan preacher and author. Watson’s depth of doctrine, clarity of expression, warmth of spirituality, love of application, and gift of illustration enhanced his reputation as a preacher and writer. His books are still widely read today.You can read more about Watson and also browse through a list of his books which are still available (published) today, here at Monergism- Their short biography is excerpted from Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson’s book  Meet the Puritans which is also available at

The Nature of True Repentance by Thomas Watson.

Edited and Abridged by Randy Lowe

I shall show what gospel repentance is. Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed. For a further amplification, know that repentance is a spiritual medicine made up of six special ingredients. If any one is left out it loses its virtue.

Ingredient 1: Recognition of Sin

The first part of Christ’s healing work is to apply eye>salve. It is the great thing noted in the prodigal’s repentance: „he came to himself” (Luke 15:17). He saw himself a sinner and nothing but a sinner. Before a man can come to Christ he must first come to himself. He must first recog- nize and consider what his sin is, and know the plague of his heart before he can be duly humbled for it. The first thing God made was light. The first thing God gives the sinner is illumination. The eye is made both for seeing and weeping. Sin must be seen before it can be wept for. Hence I infer that where there is no sight of sin, there can be no repentance. Many who can spy faults in others see none in themselves. They say that they have good hearts. Is it not strange that two should live together, yet not know each other? Such is the case of a sinner. His body and soul live together, yet he is unacquainted with himself. He knows not his own heart. Under a veil, a deformed face is hid. Persons are veiled over with ignorance and self>love; therefore they see not what deformed souls they have.

Ingredient 2: Sorrow for Sin

Ambrose calls sorrow the embit- tering of the soul. The Hebrew word „to be sorrowful” signifies „to have the soul, as it were, crucified”. This must be in true repentance: „They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn” (Zech. 12:10), as if they did feel the nails of the cross sticking in their own sides. A woman may as well expect to have a child without pain as one can have repentance without sorrow. He that can believe without doubting, should be suspicious of his faith; and he that can repent without sorrowing, should be suspicious of his repentance. True sorrow for sin is not superficial: it is a holy agony. It is called in Scripture a breaking of the heart (Psalm 51:17); and a rending of the heart (Joel 2:13).

Ingredient 3: Confession of Sin

Sorrow is such a vehement pas- sion that it will have vent. It vents itself at the eyes by weeping and at the tongue by confession: „The children of Israel stood and confessed their sins (Neh. 9:2). „I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence” (Hosea 5:15).

Confession is self>accusing: „Lo, I have sinned” (2 Sam. 24:17). This is not common among men. Men never want to accuse themselves, but when we come be- fore God, we must accuse ourselves. In fact, the humble sinner does more than accuse himself; he sits in judgment and passes sentence upon himself. He con- fesses that he has deserved to be bound over to the wrath of God.

Ingredient 4: Shame for Sin

The fourth ingredient in repen- tance is shame: „that they may be ashamed of their iniquities” (Ezek. 43:10). Blushing is the color of virtue. When the heart has been made black with sin, grace makes the face red with blushing: „I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face” (Ezra 9:6). The repenting prodigal was so ashamed of his excess that he thought himself not worthy to be called a son any more (Luke 15:21). Repentance caused a holy bashfulness.

Ingredient 5: Hatred of Sin

The fifth ingredient in repen- tance is hatred of sin. There is a hatred or loathing of abominations: „Ye shall loathe yourselves for your iniquities” (Ezek. 36:31). A true penitent is a sin>loather. If a man loathes that which makes his stom- ach sick, much more will he loathe that which makes his conscience sick. It is more to loathe sin than to leave it. One may leave sin for fear, but the nauseating and loathing of sin is a detestation of it. Christ is never loved till sin is loathed. Heaven is never longed for till sin is loathed. Sound repentance begins in the love of God and ends in the hatred of sin.

Ingredient 6: Turning from Sin

The sixth ingredient in repentance is a turning from sin. True repen- tance, like nitric acid, eats asunder the iron chain of sin. „Repent, and turn your- selves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations” (Ezek. 14:6). This turning from sin is called a forsaking of sin (Isa. 55:7). It is called „a putting of sin far away” (Job 11:14). Dying to sin is the life of repentance. The very day a Christian turns from sin he must begin a perpetual fast. The eye must fast from impure glances. The ear must fast from hearing slanders. The tongue must fast from oaths. The hands must fast from bribes. The feet must fast from the path of the harlot. And the soul must fast from the love of wickedness. This turning from sin implies a notable change.

There is a change wrought in the heart. In repentance Christ turns a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. There is a change wrought in the life. Turning from sin is so visible that others may dis- cern it. It is called a change from dark- ness to light (Eph. 5:8). A ship is going eastward; there comes a wind which turns it westward. Likewise, a man was going hell>ward before the contrary wind of the Spirit blew, turned his course, and caused him to sail heaven>ward. Repentance makes such a visible change in a person, it appears as if another soul has taken up lodging in the same body.

The full text of „The Nature of True Repen- tance” can be found in The Doctrine of Repen- tance (pages 18>58) by Thomas Watson. It is published by Banner of Truth in the „Puritan Paperbacks” series. Watson lived from 1620>1686 and first published this work in 1668. Watson was a spiritual giant of his day and is perhaps the most popular of all the En- glish Puritans. During the years of his ministry in London he earned a reputation as a man who was mighty in prayer. He masterfully ap- plied the Scriptures to the human heart. His directness is much needed in the modern pulpit.

Randy Lowe is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Williams Lake in Williams Lake, British Columbia.

If you would like to further read some writings by and about Thomas Watson, here are some links:

Build Your Library – Books on the Puritans

For the beginner wanting to build a Classic library, or for someone who has not yet encountered any Puritanical writings here come some recommendation as to where to start from The Banner of Truth Trust, UK:

When thinking ‘Puritan,’ we will limit ourselves to the period 1600–1688 (alas, no Ryle!). In addition to the evangelical party of the Church of England (‘the Puritans’ proper), we ought also to consider the works of Independents, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc. My goal here is to whet your appetite from each of three areas: the praying Puritan, the contented Puritan, and the frowning Puritan. Then I’ll suggest a Puritan companion. Perhaps you’ll want to read more from the Puritans to learn better how to live the pilgrim life in this hostile world, for the alien life wasn’t just the lot of the patriarchs of Genesis or the saints of the New Testament church — it will ever be the life of Christ’s people until he comes. No one has produced better reflections upon the pilgrim life than the Puritans.

1. A wonderful introduction to the Puritan at prayer is the collection edited by AArthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision. Meditate on a prayer each day upon first waking, and allow a great saint to lead you into God’s presence. Get the little leather edition, if you can.

2. The Puritans were pre-eminently preachers of the heart. And they could warm a right stony heart at that. Try this little gem: Thomas Watson, All Things for Good. He preached these messages on Romans 8:28 in 1663, the year after two thousand pulpits were vacated by order of the Crown.

3. The Puritans carried the rod to the pulpit as well. Prepare to be quite stunned upon reading Joseph Alleine, A Sure Guide to Heaven (sometimes entitled Alarm to the Unconverted). Am I really a Christian after all?

4. Lastly, what sort of companion do you want? Frequently chosen over the years have been John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (you can’t go wrong if you get the story of your life from the pen of the tinker, for we are all pilgrims on our way to the heavenly city), William Guthrie’s The Christian’s Great Interest, Samuel Rutherford’s Letters, William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armour, Henry Scudder’s The Christian’s Daily Walk, Thomas Brooks’s Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices, and John Owen’s The Glory of Christ.

Most of these books have been reprinted by Banner of Truth and are extremely reasonably priced.


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