In a sermon preached during the First Great Awakening, George Whitefield laid bare the four archaeological layers always uncovered in true repentance.  Preaching on “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14), Whitefield said that before we can speak peace to our hearts:

One, “You must be made to see, made to feel, made to weep over, made to bewail, your actual transgressions against the law of God.”  The dawning of realism.  Honesty.  Brokenhearted self-awareness.  “Was ever the remembrance of your sins grievous to you?  Was the burden of your sins intolerable to your thoughts?  Did ever any such thing as this pass between God and your soul?  If not, for Jesus Christ’s sake, do not call yourselves Christians.”

Two, “You must be convinced of the foundation of all your transgressions.  And what is that? I mean original sin.”  We realize that, even when we haven’t acted on our impulses, the very fact that our hearts rise up against God is itself damning.  All self-hope stripped away.  “When the sinner is first awakened, he begins to wonder, ‘How came I to be so wicked?’  The Spirit of God then strikes in and shows that he has no good thing in him by nature.”

Three, “You must be troubled for the sins of your best duties and performances.”  Our righteous self-images start to unravel, our excuses, our rationalizations, our entitlements.  Every self-invented refuge collapses.  “You must be brought to see that God may damn you for the best prayer you ever put up.  Our best duties are so many splendid sins.  There must be a deep conviction before you can be brought out of your self-righteousness; it is the last idol taken out of the heart.”

Four, “There is one particular sin you must be greatly troubled for, and yet I fear there are few of you think what it is.  It is the reigning, the damning sin of the Christian world, and yet the Christian world seldom or never thinks of it.  And pray what is that?  It is what most of you think you are not guilty of, and that is the sin of unbelief.”  Treating God as unreal at a functional level in our hearts and lives and churches and strategies.  “Most of you have not so much faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the devil himself.  I am persuaded the devil believes more of the Bible than most of you do.”

“One more then.  Before you can speak peace to your heart, you must not only be convinced of your actual and original sin, the sins of your own righteousness, the sin of unbelief, but you must be enabled to lay hold upon the perfect righteousness, the all-sufficient righteousness, of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Then you shall have peace.”

Select Sermons of George Whitefield, pages 75-95.

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4 thoughts on “The archaeology of repentance”

  1. Amazing post. Ultimately all sins boil down to pride (self-righteousness) in thinking we are better and more deserving than someone else, or unbelief (including fear and worry). Without faith, it is impossible to please God.

  2. joan kirk says:

    Wow..incredible post! How often in evangelicalism do we offer premature comfort to a convert before we talk to them about their depravity and need. I just commented on a post that seemed to indicate that when we become a Christian, something good is planted in our soul. A quote from Jonathan Edwards was used to show this: “A true convert, the moment he is converted, is possessed not of one or two, but of all holy principles, and all gracious dispositions. They may be feeble, indeed, like the faculties and powers of an infant child, but they are all truly there, and will be seen flowing out progressively in every kind of holy feeling and behavior toward both God and man. In every real convert there are as many graces as there were in Jesus Christ himself.” (Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, p.279).

    Do you agree with that last sentence? Granted this is taken out of the context but that last sentence would lead us to believe that we are somehow bestowed these same holy graces that Jesus possessed so as to change our depraved nature. I don’t believe this to be true and could diminish the reality of the war of sin that still persists until the day. If anything the Christian is graced in that the veil hiding the reality of our depravity is slightly pulled back so that we see our need. Sanctification is a continual pulling back of that veil and reisting the tendency toward spiritual blindness until the day of glory. We aren’t glorified yet. That is our future hope.

    1. Andy says:

      Joan, you make some very good points. I would agree with Edwards last sentence. Those graces are there. They are not fully developed or perfect, but they are there just the same. By God’s grace we have entered into the life of Jesus Christ and His life has entered into us. This does not mean we are not still sinful; but it does mean there is a new dynamic present, and that dynamic changes the entire landscape of the life.

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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