III. OF REPENTANCE.
This office of the law the New Testament retains, and enforces, as Paul does, Rom. 1, 18, saying: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." Again, chap. 3, verses 19 and 20: "That all the world may become guilty before God." And Christ, John 16, 9, says: "The Holy Ghost will reprove the world of sin."
This is, then, the thunder-bolt of God, by which he prostrates both open sinners and pretended saints, and pronounces none of them just, but drives all of them into fear and desperation. This is the hammer, as Jeremiah 23, 29, says: "Is not my word like a hammer that breaketh the rock into pieces." This is not activa contritio, an affected contrition, but passiva contritio, true sorrow of the heart, a passion and feeling of death.
And this is then a commencement of true repentance; and here man must hear such a sentence as this: Your claims are nothing, whether you be notorious sinners, or saints in your own opinion; you must all become otherwise and act otherwise than you now are and act, no matter who and how great, how wise, how powerful, or how holy you may be; here no one is pious.
But to this office the New Testament instantly subjoins the consolatory promises of grace through the Gospel, which we should believe, as Christ, Mark 1, 15, says: "Repent ye, and believe the Gospel;" that is, become and act otherwise, and believe my promises. And before Christ, John was called a preacher of repentance, but for remission of sins; that is, he should reprove all of them, and convict them of sin, so that they might know what they were in the sight of God, and recognize themselves as lost persons, and thus be prepared unto the Lord to receive his grace, and to await and accept remission of sins from him. Thus Christ himself also, Luke 24, 47, says: "That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations."
But wherever the law exercises this office alone, without an annexation of the Gospel, there is death and hell, and man must despair, as Saul and Judas did, as Paul says, that the law puts to death through sin, Rom. 7, 10. On the contrary, the Gospel offers consolation and forgiveness, not only in one way, but through the Word, the sacraments, and the like, as we shall hear; so that the redemption is indeed abundant with God,– as the 130th Psalm, verse 7, says,– against the great oppression of sins.
But now we must contrast the false repentance of the sophists with true repentance, in order that both may be the better understood.