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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part III: Repentance Applicable to All the Kinds of Sin. To Be Practised Not Only, Nor Chiefly, for the Good It Brings, But Because God Commands It.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter IV.—Repentance Applicable to All the Kinds of Sin. To Be Practised Not Only, Nor Chiefly, for the Good It Brings, But Because God Commands It.

To all sins, then, committed whether by flesh or spirit, whether by deed or will, the same God who has destined penalty by means of judgment, has withal engaged to grant pardon by means of repentance, saying to the people, “Repent thee, and I will save thee;” 8440 and again, “I live, saith the Lord, and I will (have) repentance rather than death.” 8441 Repentance, then, is “life,” since it is preferred to “death.” That repentance, O sinner, like myself (nay, rather, less than myself, for pre-eminence in sins I acknowledge to be mine 8442 ), do you so hasten to, so embrace, as a shipwrecked man the protection 8443 of some plank. This will draw you forth when sunk in the waves of sins, and will bear you forward into the port of the divine clemency. Seize the opportunity of unexpected felicity: that you, who sometime were in God’s sight nothing but “a drop of a bucket,” 8444 and “dust of the threshing-floor,” 8445 and “a potter’s vessel,” 8446 may thenceforward become that “tree which is sown beside 8447 the waters, is perennial in leaves, bears fruit at its own time,” 8448 and shall not see “fire,” 8449 nor “axe.” 8450 Having found “the truth,” 8451 repent of errors; repent of having loved what God loves not: even we ourselves do not permit our slave-lads not to hate the things which p. 660 are offensive to us; for the principle of voluntary obedience 8452 consists in similarity of minds.

To reckon up the good, of repentance, the subject-matter is copious, and therefore should be committed to great eloquence. Let us, however, in proportion to our narrow abilities, inculcate one point,—that what God enjoins is good and best. I hold it audacity to dispute about the “good” of a divine precept; for, indeed, it is not the fact that it is good which binds us to obey, but the fact that God has enjoined it. To exact the rendering of obedience the majesty of divine power has the prior 8453 right; the authority of Him who commands is prior to the utility of him who serves. “Is it good to repent, or no?” Why do you ponder? God enjoins; nay, He not merely enjoins, but likewise exhorts. He invites by (offering) reward—salvation, to wit; even by an oath, saying “I live,” 8454 He desires that credence may be given Him.  Oh blessed we, for whose sake God swears! Oh most miserable, if we believe not the Lord even when He swears! What, therefore, God so highly commends, what He even (after human fashion) attests on oath, we are bound of course to approach, and to guard with the utmost seriousness; that, abiding permanently in (the faith of) the solemn pledge 8455 of divine grace, we may be able also to persevere in like manner in its fruit 8456 and its benefit.


Footnotes

659:8440

Comp. Ezek. 18:30, 32.

659:8441

The substance of this is found in Ezek. xxxiii. 11.

659:8442

Compare 1 Tim. i. 16.

659:8443

Comp. c. xii. sub fin.  [Ut naufragus alicuius tabulæ fidem; this expression soon passed into Theological technology, and as “the plank after shipwreck” is universally known.]

659:8444

Isa. xl. 15.

659:8445

Dan. 2:35, Matt. 3:12.

659:8446

Ps. 2:9, Rev. 2:27.

659:8447

Penes.

659:8448

Ps. 1:3, Jer. 17:8. Compare Luke xxiii. 31.

659:8449

Jer. 17:8, Matt. 3:10.

659:8450

Matt. iii. 10.

659:8451

John xiv. 6.

660:8452

Obsequii.

660:8453

Or, “paramount.”

660:8454

See ref. 1 on the preceding page. The phrase is “as I live” in the English version.

660:8455

“Asseveratione:” apparently a play on the word, as compared with “perseverare,” which follows.

660:8456

Or, “enjoyment.”


Next: Sin Never to Be Returned to After Repentance.

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