“God will not pardon for repentance, nor yet without it.” Thomas Watson
This is an amazing statement. Few authors match Watson for his ability to convey so much meaning in so few words.
Surely Watson is right. For most of my life I have heard about repentance. After all, I grew up in a Christian home. I was a missionary kid. I served as a missionary and pastor. I find it interesting though that I never heard that repentance was not meritorious. I never cease to be amazed at people who say that salvation is “not by works” then slip some work in the back door.
Our salvation is, as the Reformers put it, sola fide, - by faith alone. But it is important to point out that even this faith is a gift from God. It is not a work which we do that then enables us to be saved. Salvation is of the Lord. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. Another Puritan, Thomas Taylor, put it this way, “We are not saved for believing but by believing.”
Taylor’s point is exactly the same as Watson’s. God saves us by faith and we exhibit our saving faith when we repent. He does not save us because we have repented, as if that earned us some points with Him. Neither does He save us because we believe. It is by faith, not because of it that we are saved.
In the classic, Cur Deus Homo, Anselm warns his audience, “You have not as yet estimated the great burden of sin.” To think that sin is something that can be atoned for by repentance is to underestimate the sinfulness of sin. God requires repentance, but salvation isn’t earned by it.