Christian Perfection – 19: A Repentant Spirit
By: Frank L. Hoffman
Jesus said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
(Wesley’s writings are in bold)
One of the obvious signs that God’s love is being perfected in us is that we develop a repentant spirit. If we truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and might, then we will earnestly try to do whatever is pleasing to God. In essence, we put God first. The same conditions should apply to our human relationships, too. If by accident we do something that is displeasing, then we should instantly feel a sense of sorrow for having done it, and be bold enough to say, “I’m sorry! Please forgive me.” If we are truly sorry for what we have done, then we will strive with all our heart to never make the same mistake again. This is having a repentant spirit.
A repentant spirit is not something we learn, nor is repentance something we do. Having a repentant spirit is a state of being in which we are tuned into the prompting of the in-dwelling Holy Spirit. During my years in prison ministry, I had the opportunity to ask approximately 500 inmates a question concerning this prompting by the Holy Spirit. I asked, “Before you did whatever you did to be sent here, did you hear that inner voice telling you not to do it?” Every single one of the men said they had heard this inner voice, and instead of listening, they had rejected it.
The reason these inmates rejected the voice of the Holy Spirit was because God’s love was not perfected in them. Nevertheless, God’s prevenient grace, which is all around us, gives each of us these promptings, regardless of whether we are born again or not. The acts these inmates committed were acts of pleasing one’s self or of pleasing other people. They were not acts of pleasing God. They were not acts of love.
The words that John and Charles Wesley wrote and published in their hymnals, and the portions that John selected for Part 16 of his A Plain Account of Christian Perfection are prayerful hymns that reflect the state of being of having God’s love perfected in us and of having a repentant spirit.
John Wesley wrote:
The hymns concerning it in this volume [those mentioned in the previous Chapter] are too numerous to transcribe. I shall only cite a part of three:
Saviour from sin, I wait to prove
That Jesus is Thy healing name;
To lose, when perfected in love,
Whate’er I have, or can, or am;
I stay me on Thy faithful word,
“The servant shall be as his Lord.”
This first verse expresses our desire to no longer be a pleaser of self, but a willing servant of God; one who truly desires to be like his master and do as He does.
Answer that gracious end in me
For which Thy precious life was given;
Redeem from all iniquity,
Restore, and make me meet for heaven.
Unless Thou purge my every stain,
Thy suffering and my faith is vain.
This second verse expresses not only our desire to be forgiven for our past sins but, more importantly, to have all our sinful desire removed from our being, for this is the reason that Christ died for us.
Didst Thou not die that I might live
No longer to myself but Thee?
Might body, soul, and spirit give
To Him who gave Himself for me?
Come, then, my Master and my God,
Take the dear purchase of Thy blood.
This third verse repeats the thoughts of the previous two verses.
Thy own peculiar servant claim,
For Thine own truth and mercy’s sake:
Hallow in me Thy glorious name;
Me for Thine own this moment take;
And change and thoroughly purify;
Thine only may I live and die. (P. 80.)
This first hymn expresses similar thoughts to those expressed in the more modern so-called “sinners prayer”: a recognition of our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, a recognition of our sinful state, an expression of our sorrow for what we have done, a desire to be forgiven, and a desire to be restored back into the image of God (the people God desires us to be).
The next hymn is a prayerful song of having this repentant spirit perfected in us to the extent that we don’t even think of sinful things any more: as if we were back in pre-disobedient Eden. For without those sinful desires within us, there is nothing to hinder God’s love from being fully perfected in us.
Chose from the world, if now I stand,
Adorn’d with righteousness divine;
If brought into the promised land,
I justly call the Saviour mine:
The sanctifying Spirit pour,
To quench my thirst and wash me clean.
Now, Saviour, let the gracious shower
Descend, and make me pure from sin.
Purge me from every sinful blot:
My idols all be cast aside;
Cleanse me from every evil thought,
From all the filth of self and pride.
The hatred of the carnal mind
Out of my flesh at once remove;
Give me a tender heart, resign’d,
And pure, and full of faith and love.
O that I now, from sin released,
Thy word might to the utmost prove,
Enter into Thy promised rest;
The Canaan of Thy perfect love!
Now let me gain perfection’s height!
Now let me into nothing fall:
Be less than nothing in my sight,
And feel that Christ is all in all. (P. 258)
The thoughts expressed are not those of “working” ones way into perfection, but those of first being perfected by the grace of God. Then, as a result of this change by God’s grace, we would lovingly and totally desire to do the things that are pleasing to God. This belief leads us into the last hymn in this part.
Lord, I believe, Thy work of grace
Is perfect in the soul:
His heart is pure who sees Thy face,
His spirit is made whole.
From every sickness, by Thy word,
From every foul disease,
Saved, and to perfect health restored,
To perfect holiness:
He walks in glorious liberty,
To sin entirely dead:
The Truth, the Son hath made him free,
And he is free indeed.
Throughout his soul Thy glories shine,
His soul is all renew’d,
And deck’d in righteousness divine,
And clothed and fill’d with God.
This is the rest, the life, the peace,
Which all Thy people prove;
Love is the bond of perfectness,
And all their soul is love
O joyful sound of gospel grace!
Christ shall in me appear:
I, even I, shall see His face,
I shall be holy here!
He visits now the house of clay,
He shakes His future home;
O wouldst Thou, Lord, on this glad day
Into Thy temple come!
Come, O my God, Thyself reveal,
Fill all this mighty void;
Thou only canst my spirit fill:
Come, O my God, my God !
Fulfill, fulfill my large desires,
Large as infinity!
Give, give me all my soul requires,
All, all that is in Thee! (P. 298)
Each and every one of us needs to ask ourselves a question. Are all the words expressed in these three hymns the true desire of my heart, without any reservations, and without trying to make any excuses for anything past or present? If it is, then God’s love is perfected in us. It is from here that we can continually mature into the image of God, an image that sees and feels the suffering of the whole of creation, and desires to free it from its corruption as peacemakers and children of God (Matthew 5:9 and Romans 8:18-25).