Repentance (נֹחִם, μετάνοια) signifies a change of the mind from a rebellious and disaffected state to that submission and thorough separation from iniquity by which converted sinners are distinguished (Mt 3:2-8). Repentance is sometimes used generally for a mere change of sentiment, and an earnest wishing that something were undone that has been done. In a sense analogous to this, God himself is said to repent; but this can only be understood of his altering his conduct towards his creatures, either in the bestowing of good or infliction of evil — which change in the divine conduct is founded on a change in his creatures; and thus speaking after the manner of men, God is said to repent. In this generic sense also Esau "found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears;" that is, he could not move his father Isaac to repent of what he had done, or to recall the blessing from Jacob and confer it on himself (Heb 12:17; Ro 11:29; 2Co 7:10). There are various kinds of repentance, as
(1) a natural repentance, or what is merely the effect of natural conscience;
(2) a national repentance, such as the Jews in Babylon were called unto, to which temporal blessings were promised (Eze 18:30);
(3) an external repentance, or an outward humiliation for sin, as in the case of Ahab;
(4) a hypocritical repentance, as represented in Ephraim (Ho 7:16);
(5) a legal repentance, which is a mere work of the law and the effect of convictions of sin by it, which in time wear off and come to nothing;
(6) an evangelical repentance, which consists in conviction of sin, accompanied by sorrow for it, confession of it, hatred to it, and renunciation of it.
A legal and an evangelical repentance are distinguished thus:
1. A legal repentance flows only from a sense of danger and fear of wrath, but an evangelical repentance produces a true mourning for sin and an earnest desire of deliverance from it.
2. A legal repentance flows from unbelief, but evangelical is always the fruit and consequence of a saving faith.
3. A legal repentance consists of an aversion to God and to his holy law, but an evangelical flows from love to both.
4. A legal repentance ordinarily flows from discouragement and despondency, but evangelical from encouraging hope.
5. A legal repentance is temporary, but evangelical is the daily exercise of the true Christian.
6. A legal repentance does at most produce only a partial and external reformation, but an evangelical is a total change of heart and life.
The author as well as object of true repentance is God (Ac 5:31). The subjects of it are sinners, since none but those who have sinned can repent. The means of repentance is the Word and the ministers of it; yet sometimes private consideration, sanctified afflictions, conversation, etc., have been the instruments of repentance. The blessings connected with repentance are pardon, peace, and everlasting life (11:18). The time of repentance is the present life (Isa 55:6; Ec 9:18). The evidences of repentance are faith, humility, prayer, and obedience (Zec 12:10). The necessity of repentance appears evident from the evil of sin; the misery it involves us in here; the commands given us to repent in God's Word; the promises made to the penitent; and the absolute incapability of enjoying God here or hereafter without it. See Dickinson, Letters, let. 9; Owen, On the 130th Psalm; Gill, Body of Divinity, s.v. "Repentance;" Ridgley, Body of Divinity, quest. 76; Davies, Sermons, vol. 3:serm. 44; Case, Sermons, serm. 4; Whitefield, Sermons; Saurin, Sermons (Robinson's transl.), vol. iii; Scott, Treatise on Repentance. SEE PENANCE; SEE PENITENCE.