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Continual Repentance

If something new and wonderful is to happen at the 214th General Assembly it will certainly involve repentance — lots of it — a commodity that has been in very short supply for a very long time in our church.

Repentance involves sincere confession and a turning around — a turning from ourselves and our own interests to God and God’s interests.

Well, we say, isn’t that for which we constantly strive — God’s interest, the church’s interest, the world’s interest, the other’s interest? Well, no. Most often we are seeking our own SELF-interest.

Most often we are attempting to justify ourselves, our way of thinking, our way of acting, our priorities, what we think ought to happen if God’s world is going to become what God wants it to be.

It is so easy — and so human — to wrap ourselves in the Christian flag and to present ourselves as the embodiment of Righteousness. How often we forget that we are most at risk when we think we are at our very best — for God. That’s when the devil has the greatest opportunity. And, in recent years, the devil has had a field day in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — enough, for the caring person to say: Whose church is this anyway?

Repentance — continual repentance — for a long time; that’s what we need: of our grievous personal sins; of our group sins; of our churchly sins; of our secular sins. We are profoundly, first of all, sinners, fallen creatures, lost and beyond hope apart from God’s grand initiative in the Incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our Puritan forebears understood all about repentance. A wonderful prayer recently came into these hands titled “Continual Repentance” (in The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions [The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975], p. 76). Listen to these heart-rending words:

O GOD OF GRACE,

Thou hast imputed my sin to my substitute,
and has imputed his righteousness to my soul,
clothing me with a bridegroom’s robe,
decking me with jewels
of holiness.
But in my Christian walk I am still in rags;
my best prayers are stained with sin;
my penitential tears are so much impurity;
my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin;
my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.
I need to repent of my repentance;
I need my tears to be washed;
I have no robe to bring to cover my sins,
no loom to weave my own
righteousness;
I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,
and by grace am always receiving change of raiment,
for thou dost always justify the ungodly;
I am always going into the far country,
and always returning home
as a prodigal,
always saying, Father, forgive me,
and thou art always bringing forth the best robe.
Every morning let me wear it,
every evening return in it,
go out to the day’s work in it,
be married in it,
be wound in death in it,
stand before the great white throne in it,
enter heaven in it shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight of
the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness
the exceeding wonder of grace.

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