Thomas Watson’s Ten Barriers to True Repentance

dgbfgbfWhat impedes true repentance? In his book The Doctrine of Repentance, Puritan-writer Thomas Watson listed the following issues that prevent true repentance from flowing out of our hearts:

1-“Men do not apprehend that they need repentance.” If people do not know that they have done wrong, they cannot repent. If people do not think they are wrong for what they do, repentance will seem pointless.

2- “People conceive it an easy thing to repent.” We believe it is as easy to repent as it is easy to sin. This is not so. Why? Sin traps and ensnares us. It deceives us (Heb. 3:13). Watson writes, “A sinner will rather lose Christ and heaven than his lusts. Death, which parts man and wife, will not part a wicked man and his sins….The angel rolled away the stone from the tomb, but no angel, only God himself, can roll away the stone from the heart.”

3- “Presuming thoughts of God’s mercy.” Men treat God as a cosmic vending machine that has to forgive. We secretly think that “God owes us grace because of Jesus.” Shall we test the Lord (1 Cor. 10:22)? Should we sin because we know that grace will inevitably flow to us (Rom. 6:1-2, 15)? The psalmist writes, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, THAT you may be feared. (Psa. 130:3-4)”

4- “A supine sluggish temper.” We have a hard time repenting because it is a hard task. Repentance is not easy because we are repenting to a person, albeit the greatest possible being. Sluggishness keeps us away from God (Prov. 19:24, 15). Watson says, “They had rather go sleeping to hell than weeping into heaven.” Ain’t that the truth?

5- “The tickling pleasure of sin: ‘who had pleasure in unrighteousness’ (2 Thess. 2:12)” We have a hard time repenting because we have so much pleasure in sin. We cannot hate or repent of that which we love. Watson again notes, “Sin is a sugared draught, mixed with poison. The sinner thinks there is danger in sin, but there is also delight, and the danger does not terrify him as much as the delight bewitches him.”

6- “An opinion that repentance will take away our joy.” We don’t want to repent because we think that repenting of our sin will lead us to unhappiness. Watson rebukes this notion saying, “Repentance does not crucify but clarifies our joy…Repentance does not take away a Christian’s music, but raises it a note higher and makes it sweeter.” Repentance cannot take away our joy. It maximizes it because it gives us access to the presence of the most joyful being in all of existence. God is the wellspring of all beauty and delight (Psa. 27:4; Psa. 16:11; Psa. 73:25; Psa. 84:1-2,4,10). Sin is but a tattered, pornographic substitute for the Mona Lisa of God’s excellence.

7- “Another obstacle to repentance is despondency of mind.” We cry that “our sins are too great” so there’s no need to repent. God surely will not and cannot forgive us. Despair is a form of unbelief because God counts his mercy as his glory (Exo. 33:18-19). “God’s anger is not so hot that mercy cannot cool it, nor so sharp that mercy cannot sweeten it…No sooner do we mourn than God’s heart melts…Disband the army of your sins, and God will sound a retreat to his judgments…Remember, great sins have been swallowed up in the sea of God’s infinite compassion.” We cannot out-sin the grace of God.

8- “Hope of impunity.” People think because God has been so patient with them in the past, surely he will be patient with them in the future. “C’mon…God doesn’t care who you sleep with.” Watson quips, “The longer God’s arrow is drawing, the deeper it will wound. Sins against patience will make a man’s hell so much hotter.” God’s kindness leads to repentance (Rom. 2:5) and his patience is for your repentance—not your sin (2 Pet. 3:9).

9- “The next impediment of repentance is fear of reproach.” People are afraid to repent because they are afraid of what their neighbor will say. We care more about what the world will think than what the Creator of the world thinks. “Luther said, ‘A Christian is as if a crucified one.’ Suffering is a saint’s livery. And alas, what are the reproaches? They are but chips off the cross, which are rather to be despised than laid to heart.”

10- “The last impediment of repentance is immoderate love of the world.” Love of worldliness is hatred for godliness. Watson writes, “The world so engrosses men’s time and bewitches their affections that they cannot repent. They had rather put gold in their bag than tears in God’s bottle…Instead of dying repenting, they will die laughing.” We are taken by our daily tasks so much that repentance seems pointless. Why repent when other gods are more important than God? Our souls shrivel up to the size of a thirty minute TV show and we wonder why our religious affections are in the gutter.



One response to “Thomas Watson’s Ten Barriers to True Repentance

  1. The first barrier seems to becoming more common. Early in my life I walked a friend through the idea of sin, necessity for repentance, confession, believe in Christ, and she responded, “That is really interesting and it makes sense, BUT I am not a sinner!” Thank you for sharing this work!

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