As, in the matter of salvation, it has pleased God to treat with man by the method of a covenant, that is, by a stipulation, or a demand and a promise, and as even vocation has regard to a participation in the covenant; it is instituted on both sides and separately, that man may perform the requisition or command of God, by which he may obtain [the fulfillment of] his promise. But this is the mutual relation between these two - the promise is tantamount to an argument, which God employs, that he may obtain from man that which he demands; and the compliance with the demand, on the other hand, is the condition, without which man cannot obtain what has been promised by God, and through [the performance of] which he most assuredly obtains the promise.
Hence, it is apparent that the first of all which accepts this vocation is the faith, by which a man believes that, if he complies with the requisition, he will enjoy the promise, but that if he does not comply with it, he will not be put in possession of the things promised, nay, that the contrary evils will be inflicted on him, according to the nature of the divine covenant, in which there is no promise without a punishment opposed to it. This faith is the foundation on which rests the obedience that is to be yielded to God; and it is, therefore, the foundation of religion.
But divines generally place three parts in this obedience. The first is repentance, for it is the calling of sinners to righteousness. The second is faith in Christ, and in God through Christ; for vocation is made through the gospel, which is the word of faith. The third is the observance of God's commands, in which consists holiness of life, to which believers are called, and without which no man shall see God.
Repentance is grief or sorrow on account of sins known and acknowledged, the debt of death contracted by sin, and on account of the slavery of sin, with a desire to be delivered. Hence, it is evident, that three things concur in penitence - - the first as an antecedent, the second as a consequence, and the third as properly and most fully comprising its nature.
That which is tantamount to an antecedent is the knowledge or acknowledgment of sin. This consists of a two-fold knowledge: A general knowledge by which is known what is sin universally and according to the prescript of the law; [and a] particular knowledge, by which it is acknowledged that sin had been committed, both from a recollection of the bad deeds perpetrated and of the good omitted, and from the examination of them according to the law. This acknowledgment, has, united with it, a consciousness of a two-fold demerit, of damnation or death, and of the slavery of sin; "for the wages of sin is death;" and "he who sins is the slave of sin." This acknowledgment is either internal, and made in the mind, or it is external, and receives the appellation of "confession."
That which intimately comprises the nature of repentance is, sorrow on account of sin committed, and of its demerit, which is so much the deeper, as the acknowledgment of sin is clearer, and more copious. It is also produced from this acknowledgment by means of a two-fold fear of punishment: A fear not only of bodily and temporal punishment, but likewise of that which is spiritual and eternal; [and the] fear of God, by which men are afraid of the judgment of such a good and just being, whom they have offended by their sins. This fear may be correctly called "initial;" and we believe that it has some hope annexed to it.
That which follows as a consequence, is the desire of deliverance from sin, that is, from the condemnation of sin and from its dominion, which desire is so much the more intense, by how much the greater is the acknowledgment of misery and sorrow on account of sin. VIII. The cause of this repentance is, God by his word and Spirit in Christ. For it is a repentance tending not to despair, but to salvation; but such it cannot be, except with respect to Christ, in whom, alone, the sinner can obtain deliverance from the condemnation and dominion of sin. But the word which he uses at the beginning is the word of the law, yet not under the legal condition peculiar to the law, but under that which is annexed to the preaching of the gospel, of which the first word is, that deliverance is declared to penitents. The Spirit of God may, not improperly, be denominated "the Spirit of Christ," as he is Mediator; and it first urges a man by the word of the law, and then shows him the grace of the gospel. The connection of the word of the law and that of the gospel, which is thus skillfully made, removes all self-security, and forbids despair, which are the two pests of religion and of souls.
We do not acknowledge satisfaction, which the papists make to be the third part of repentance, though we do not deny that the man who is a real penitent will endeavour to make satisfaction to his neighbour against whom he owns that he has sinned, and to the church that he has injured by the offense. But satisfaction can by no means be rendered to God, on the part of man, by repentance, sorrow, contrition, almsgiving, or by the voluntary susception and infliction of punishments. If such a course were prescribed by God, the consciences of men must necessarily be tormented with the continual anguish of a threatening hell, not less than if no promise of grace had been made to sinners. But God considers this repentance, which we have described, if it be true, to be worthy of a gracious deliverance from sin and misery; and it has faith as a consequence, on which we will treat in the subsequent disputation.
COROLLARY Repentance is not a sacrament, either with regard to itself, or with regard to its external tokens.