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Repentance: What is It?

February 19th, 2013
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The following is a small section from the “Corpus Doctrinae” (Body of Doctrine) of the Braunschweig-Woelfenbuettel Church Order 1569, largely written by Martin Chemnitz.

“The little word repentance [busse] is used in many places in the scriptures for the first part of conversion, which has otherwise been called contrition, sorrow and sadness, when repentance, faith and the fruits of repentance are distinguished, Mark 1[15]; Acts 20[21] and 26[18]-20]. In certain places it is used for the whole of conversion: Jer. 18[8]; Ezek. 18[21] and 33[11]; Matt. 4[17]; Luke 13[5] and 15[10]. And thus it is used in the common language of the church in both ways, according to the circumstances of the material [under consideration]. The preacher shall not cause any quarrel over words in this matter, rather simply and clearly explain the sense and meaning. So also, when repentance is named and by it is understood the entire conversion of man, it is common to say that repentance has three parts or pieces : first, sorrow and sadness or terrors of conscience on account of sin; second, faith which in the gospel seeks and lays hold of forgiveness of sins out of grace for the sake of Christ; third, the fruits of repentance, that is, the beginning of a new life or new obedience. And the preacher shall cause no unnecessary quarrel regarding such distinction or recounting of the parts of repentance, rather follow the Apology as it speaks of this matter with fine discretion. If new obedience is numbered and reckoned with sorrow and faith in the doctrine of repentance, we would not have any great opposition to this, provided the matter itself is taught with the proper distinctions, namely that godly sorrow, which works a sorrow unto blessedness which no man regrets, II Cor. 7[10], consists of two parts, contritio et fides, contrition and faith; but new obedience does not belong to it. And thus the question is of how and by what means one may obtain the forgiveness of sin and eternal life. When it is taught that sin is first forgiven through faith, then the fruit follow, good works as God commands, and the suffering of the cross, which God lays upon the old Adam, this is a destructive error which is taught in Papacy that people merit grace by their sorrow and regret. The sorrow must rather come first. For the sick need the doctor, not the healthy, Matt 9[12]. But grace, forgiveness of sin and eternal life have been earned by Christ alone and are laid hold of and received through faith alone. Thereafter, on this basis, and from this source, good fruits then follow. Thus the threefold — repentance, faith and new obedience — are to be truthfully explained and taught. For where there is no repentance, there can be no upright faith. And where no good fruits follow, there is a certain indication that neither true repentance nor upright faith are present. But these three must be taught with due distinction regarding which precede, which follow, which are the office and characteristics of each, and especially, which is the means by which forgiveness of sins, earned and attained by Christ, is obtained, laid hold of, and received.”

— Translation by M.C. Harrison and Jacob Corzine; Unpublished.

 

Blessed Martin Chemnitz; From the memorial epitaph in St. Martini Church, Braunschweig, Germany. Photo copyright P.T. McCain.

 

 

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Categories: Lutheranism
  1. May 16th, 2010 at 22:11 | #1

    I want to thank you for this and also the new LSB, the new readers version of the confessions and Walthers “God Grant it”. As you know those resources- and some others from CPH give the cure for todays antinomianism and the ditch of legalism on the other side. Even though many laugh at the issue and dismiss the words of the Confessions which simply repeat this.

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