Blood on Our Hands
The greatest judgment in these times is that the largest and most influential churches in our land do not preach repentance. I read this week the most heart-wrenching account of the complete lack of repentance preaching at our nation’s largest and most influential churches. After listening to 18 hours of the nation’s preachers at the nine largest churches, Colton Corter wrote that there was not one reference to repentance and only one, very brief explanation of why we need the person and work of Jesus Christ (see “4 Reflections after Listening to 18 Hours of Sermons in America’s Biggest Churches,” Colton Corter, The Aquila Report, 4/21/20). At one level, men are clamoring for comfort and understanding. They want to know why this has happened, be told that “everything is going to be all right,” and given principles for coping with their sorrows, frustrations, and dwindling resources. What we must instead hear in these times is “unless you repent, you will perish” (Luke 13:3). Anything else is a false gospel, but this is what is preached in our land. Having lost any sense of God’s holiness, we have lost all conviction of sin, and therefore have rejected the only gospel that will save us from temporal judgment and everlasting hell.
Instead of repentance, pride, perversity, and stubbornness are our national gospel. “Do not be afraid” “We Can Do It,” and “God has nothing to do with this” have become our national creeds. It is a false gospel, and the church may not preach it without having more blood upon her hands. “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we must persuade men” to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:11). We should be very afraid of the Lord at all times – trusting and adoring and loving him but also reverencing him. “Who will not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name” (Rev. 15:4). Especially when the arm of Lord is revealed in judgment, we must tremble at his works and word (Isa. 66:2). “When God’s judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isa. 26:9).
Learning righteousness is not learning how to cope with my feelings about what is going on. Learning righteousness is being confronted with one’s sinfulness before the holy God, seeing something of the hideousness and horror of sinning against him, and then casting oneself upon his promise of mercy through the saving work of the God-man, Jesus Christ. There is salvation and righteousness in no other name. There is no escape from the wrath to come except by believing upon the name of the righteous Lamb of God who came to take away its sins. That the West has turned away from this gospel should make us very afraid. The true church will preach repentance, and God will honor her for doing so.
Isaiah’s next verse should make us gulp: “Let favor be showed to the wicked, yet he will not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness he will deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord” (Isa. 26:10). This is our land, the United States of America. God has shown us favor and dealt very leniently with us, but we have not learned righteousness. We continue to deal unjustly, with a “false weight and balance” economically, theft by income and wealth redistribution, continuing to kill unborn babies, and these are only the “lesser” Second Table offenses. Coming to the First Table of God’s law, we are offenders of his majesty and will not consider his glory. We call idolatry tolerance; we worship him as we please; we take his name in vain in flippant conversation; we do not keep his Lord’s Day.
A virus will not teach us righteousness, even though redeemed men and women vividly see the Lord’s hand in the deaths and even more in the fearful and totalitarian human response. Sinners must be warned. Preachers are sent to warn them, but the preachers who have the largest audiences preach a different gospel – no repentance, no clear gospel message of the person and work of Jesus Christ, no explaining to men that the wrath of God lies upon this land. Ezekiel’s stark warning is pertinent to them: “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul” (Ezek. 3:18-19).
This is the great failure of the modern American church, and judgment waiting false shepherds who do not warn sinners to repent. The church’s mission in the world is not to provide therapy to make men feel better about their lives or to pretend that everything will get back to normal soon. He calls his church to repent (1 Pet. 4:17). He calls his church to warn the sinner from the error of his way. It is through the preaching of God’s word that saving faith is born and that men are warned to flee to Jesus Christ from the wrath to come (Rom. 10:14-17; Matt. 3:7). Men will not repent unless God opens the womb of regeneration and grants repentance unto life (Acts 11:18). He does this through the quickening word of our resurrected Savior, wielded by the life-giving Spirit. When that word is muted, when our Savior’s call to repentance is not clearly sounded, souls perish. And their blood is upon the hands of those who would not warn them.
Is repentance so much needed at the present hour? Yes, for what is going on in our nation and world is a bloody war between two very different religions. The one is the religion of atheistic materialism, with its faith in government and strange twists of the old paganism thrown in for good measure. It is the religion that says, “We can beat this virus, with our projections, medicines, and quarantines.” All that matters is the body, for the body is all that there is – profit and pleasure are its creed. Its gospel is, “We will release you when you can live risk-free once again. Trust us. We’ll beat this together.” Have we ever lived risk-free? This is the dream of atheists and utopians, who have imbibed the religion that this life is what counts, that there is no God who sends calamity and before whom we must repent, and that the worst thing that can happen to you is to get sick and die. Christians must remember that for unbelievers, death is the great enemy that has not been defeated. In the dark recesses of their heart, they know it. Death is the gate to everlasting destruction, and it must be delayed at all costs. The fear of death and the desire to avoid coming judgment oppresses and drives the unbelieving world.
The other is the old religion of faith in God, trust in his promise of mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and reliance upon his providential protection of our lives. There are many things worse than sickness and death, according to this old faith. Death has already been defeated in the person and work of Jesus Christ. While we should never throw away our lives or think that God’s providence ignores secondary causes and common sense, we do not huddle in fear but serve God and trust him to take care of us. The old religion does not put confidence in princes. It rejects human claims that sound like God-claims – omniscience, prosperity through the printing press, salvation through science. It sees government as a useful tool and servant when properly restrained, but a very dangerous master when released from these constraints. There is no peace between these two religions, for the true religion is constantly telling the false to repent and turn back to the Lord – like Abel pleading with Cain. But Cain killed his brother, and the religion of man and the state wants to kill its truth-telling brother.
Many have been praying for the Lord to make these two sides clearer, to bring his church more out of the world, or the world more out of the church. The preaching of faith and repentance does this. It is the dividing line between the true and the false gospel (Luke 24:27; Acts 5:31; 20:21). The true church and divine gospel takes blood seriously, for it takes God and sin seriously. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). The believer in Jesus fled to him because God opened his heart to this truth – it is either my blood in hell forever, or God’s merciful provision of another blood in his pure Son. And believing in Jesus, we are thankful for God’s sparing mercy, but we do not forget that there is a day of reckoning coming. We must warn men, praying and trusting that God will open their hearts to see their sins and his holiness, and then flee to Jesus Christ.
What we may not do is stop speaking and preaching repentance. How quickly the final reckoning approaches! Do you not feel it more in this unsettled time? Imagine how unsettled men will be when the silver trumpet blows announcing the return of the King. Imagine the sudden conviction that your hands are dripping with the blood of your own sins that have offended God’s majesty. Imagine facing the Judge without any covering or cleansing. Think about this carefully. Then, think about the church in our day. Have we discharged our duty to our generation? Have we warned them to flee from the wrath to come? What we are experiencing is but a small taste of the horror men will feel when they stand before God without having believed in the only remedy for the contagion of their sins, the cleansing blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. May God draw multitudes to his Son, his elect to repentance, and his true pastors to proclaim the everlasting gospel of faith and repentance.