Watson’s Recipe for Repentance

R. A. Miller


“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” —2 Corinthians 7:10

Thomas Watson was a seventeenth-century Puritan pastor whose works are still read today. His books include The Great Gain of GodlinessThe Godly Man’s Picture, and A Body of Practical Divinity to name a few. In this article, we will journey into the pharmacy of the soul, as Watson has prepared a recipe for repentance—”a spiritual medicine made up of six special ingredients.” What are these necessary components of repentance? Read on as we consider Watson’s thoughts from The Doctrine of Repentance.1 https://banneroftruth.org/us/store/christian-living/the-doctrine-of-repentance/

To begin, Watson says that someone who repents must have “sight of sin.” If you are familiar with the parable of the prodigal son, you will know that the son squandered his inheritance by living recklessly. What sent him back to his father? Luke 15:17 says that “he came to himself,” but what does that mean? Watson explains “Before a man can come to Christ he must first come to himself. . . . A man must first recognize and consider what his sin is, and know the plague of his heart, before he can be duly humbled for it.” This element of repentance is necessary, as none will repent unless they see that they have sin of which to repent.

Second, a repentant person must feel sorrow over sin. 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “godly sorrow worketh repentance.” This shows that godly sorrow is the parent of repentance. If repentance isn’t felt in the heart, it doesn’t truly exist in the soul. Watson says, “A woman may as well expect to have a child without pangs as one can have repentance without sorrow. Someone who can believe without doubting, should suspect his faith; and someone who can repent without sorrowing, should suspect his repentance.” Therefore, repentance cannot be a mere mental acknowledgment of wrongdoing but must be an authentic affection of the heart.

The third ingredient in this spiritual medicine is the confession of sin. The sorrow that one feels about his sin must be expressed. “Sorrow is such a vehement passion that it must vent. It vents itself at the eyes by weeping, and at the tongue by confession,” says Watson. Additionally, the confessor of sin recognizes that he deserves to suffer from the repercussions of their actions. “The humble sinner does more than accuse himself; as it were, he sits in judgment and passes sentence upon himself. He confesses that he deserves to be bound over to the wrath of God,” remarks the Puritan theologian.

The next two ingredients are shame and hatred for sin. In addition to having great anguish over his iniquity, shame brings feelings of unworthiness to the penitent soul. The prodigal son said to his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Watson comments, “Blushing is the color of virtue. When the heart has been made black with sin, grace makes the face red with blushing.” He continues, “Sin has made us naked, and that may breed shame. Sin has stripped us of our white linen of holiness.” If our law-breaking does not make us feel unworthy, then we are not ready to repent.

This shame over breaking God’s law should lead to hatred. If someone has sorrow and shame over sin but fails to loathe it, they will continue to sin. Watson quips, “Sound repentance begins in the love of God, and it ends in the hatred of sin.” Our hatred of sin is a great benefit to us. Romans 8:13 tells us to kill the deeds of the body, and one’s hatred toward sin will make it easier to dispose of.

Finally, turning from sin is the final step of repentance. All of the preceding aspects of repentance build into a crescendo that compels us to forsake our wickedness. This results in a noticeable difference for the person who repents. Watson writes, “There is a change worked in the life. Turning from sin is so visible that others may discern it. Therefore, it is called a change from darkness to light (Eph 5:8). Paul, after he had seen the heavenly vision, was so turned that all men wondered at the change (Acts 9:21). Repentance turned the jailer into a nurse and physician (Act 16:33).” 

All of these elements must be found in true repentance. They are all vital. Watson explains, “If any one of these is left out, repentance loses its virtue.” It would be a worthwhile practice to consider these six aspects of repentance the next time we find ourselves asking God for forgiveness. If we find our repentance lacking, we should consider Watson’s words so that our “godly sorrow worketh repentance.”

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1 https://banneroftruth.org/us/store/christian-living/the-doctrine-of-repentance/
Author Repentance-Prayer

R. A. Miller

R. A. Miller writes articles and speaks about church history and theology. He also runs a website called Church History Database (ChurchHistoryDB.com).