Sorry, is all that you can’t say

Book 3 Chapter 3 Section 1-25

How hard it is to say sorry. How many of us would do anything to justify ourselves, avoid people or deny our wrong doing rather than asking for forgiveness. Tracey Chapman hit the nail on the head with her song:

“Sorry, Is all that you can’t say
Years gone by and still, Words don’t come easily
Like sorry, like sorry”

Repentance is the theme of Chapter 3, following logically from our meditations on faith in the previous chapter. Calvin describes how some teachers see that the term is used in different senses in scripture and have set down two forms of repentance – legal and evangelical repentance. In the former the sinner is stung with a “sense of his sin, and overwhelmed with fear of the divine anger.” Examples given of legal repentance are Cain, Saul and Judas, who only saw God as a judge and avenger and rather than being drawn to Him for forgiveness drew back from Him in terror.

In Evangelical repentance, although the sinner is downcast in himself he or she “yet looks up and sees in Christ the cure of his wound, the solace of his terror, the haven of rest from his misery.”  Examples of this repentance include Hezekiah, David and Peter, who, “first stung with a sense of sin, but afterwards raised and revived by confidence in the divine mercy, turned unto the Lord.”

Calvin adds to these categories his own description of repentance, which he says consists in three parts: 1) a transformation of the soul itself, not only external works; 2) a sincere fear of God, aroused by the thought of divine judgement and 3) a mortifying of the flesh and a quickening of the Spirit. He sums it up by defining repentance as “a real conversion of our life unto God, proceeding from sincere and serious fear of God; and consisting in the mortification of our flesh and the old man, and the quickening of the Spirit.” He quotes the church fathers who held mortification to mean our “grief of soul and terror, produced by a conviction of sin and a sense of the divine judgement.”

Response

This chapter reminded me how important it is to have a continual attitude of repentance toward God. We should not rely on only being repent when we feel remorseful (although this is definitely a good time to start!). Our feelings of remorse are useful in getting us to realise that there is a problem, but we need to have just as penitent a heart when we don’t “feel” as sinful. It should be part of the way we approach God throughout every day. That in a mysterious and glorious way He sees both the real depth of our sin (that we are often unaware of), and the spotless righteousness that we possess (but often don’t recognise) because of Christ.

But it is more than that, for our contrite attitude toward God should enable us to ask forgiveness more readily from each other. How can we hold grudges and hurts against each other when we have been shown such kindness in our deepest failures? Indeed, if we are unable to forgive others then it is a sign that we have never understood the depths of what God has done for us. As a father, husband, friend and colleague I need to hear this and be ready to say the hardest words more easily.

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive us our debtors…For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6.12+14

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