The following article of faith appears in many Baptist Church Manuals as a declaration of what Baptists believe concerning these matters:
"We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God; whereby being deeply convinced of our guilt, danger and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contribution, confession, and supplication for mercy; at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King, and relying on him alone as the all sufficient Saviour." (See: Pendleton's Church Manual, p.51; Hiscox's Standard Manual for Baptist Churches, p. 64; and Cobb's New Manual for Baptist Churches, pp. 91-92.)
I would find no fault and offer no criticism concerning the teaching that repentance and faith are necessary conditions of salvation. Certainly, this is abundantly taught in the word of the Lord. But the order in the plan of salvation in which by Baptist Manuals and Baptist preachers is not sustained by reason or the Bible. As you may know, in harmony with the article quoted above, Baptists place repentance before faith in that plan. The following scriptures are offered, by them as proof that they should be so arranged:
"And ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him" (Matthew 21:32). "Repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). "Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).
In all these passages repentance Is mentioned before faith, and it is concluded by Baptist preachers that repentance must precede faith in the plan of redemption. Let us, therefore, make a little study of these matters In the light of God's word.
The Order of Mention Is Not Always the Order of Occurrence
The contention of Baptist to repentance and faith in this respect is based purely upon as assumption—they assume that the order of mention is the order of occurrence. Without this assumption there is no basis for the theory that repentance precedes faith. But this assumption is absolutely not true. Of course, when God promises a blessing on a certain condition, the condition must always precede the blessing. Salvation is based upon the conditions of faith and repentance. Necessarily, the conditions must precede the salvation. Likewise, baptism is made a condition of salvation (Mark 16:16), and, as such, It must precede salvation. But when salvation is offered on a number of conditions, the order in which the conditions are mentioned may not be the order of occurrence. To prove this just look at Paul's statement in Romans 10:9: "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." In this verse salvation is offered on the conditions of faith and confession, but confession is mentioned before faith. Must we say this is the order of occurrence? Can a man "Confess with his mouth" something he has "believed in his heart" before he has believed it? This would be impossible. So the order of mention in this passage cannot be the order of occurrence. Besides, the very next verse reverses it and mentions faith before confession. The order of mention could not be made the order of occurrence in both verses. The mere fact then that repentance is mentioned before faith does not necessarily prove that it comes before faith in the plan of salvation on.
The Significance of the Passages Investigated
Matthew 21:32 and Mark 1:15 are both addressed to the Jews who lived during the personal ministry of Christ on the earth. They were already believers in God. According to Matthew John the Baptist "came In the way of righteousness" but the Jews "believed him not," that is, they did not believe what he preached. "But the publicans and the harlots believed him." But the Jews addressed, after they "had seen it," did not afterward repent that they "might believe him." Since they were already believers in God, they could have repented toward God that they might believe the preaching of John. While this would be "repentance toward God" before "faith in John," It would not be repentance toward God before faith in God. Faith in God had to come first. The same can be said of the statement in Mark 1:15: "Repent ye, and believe the gospel." Again the Jews were addressed in this passage. They were already believers in God and could therefore repent toward Him that they might believe the gospel. This would be repentance before they believed the gospel, but it would be repentance toward Him in whom they already believed. Consequently, faith in God came before repentance toward God, and there is no comfort here for Baptist preachers in the proclamation of their doctrine.
While the language of Acts 20:21 is spoken concerning both Jews and Greeks, the principle involved is the same. Paul testified "repentance toward God" and "faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." The repentance and the faith were not directed toward the same person. It was not "repentance toward God" and "faith toward God." Neither was it "repentance toward Christ" and "faith toward Christ." But it was "Repentance toward God" and "faith toward Christ." When the repentance and faith are directed toward the same person, the repentance is never mentioned before faith.
It Is Impossible to Make A Practical Application of the Theory
Some theories are like some men—they won't work. And this is one of them. Men may preach long and loudly that sinners must repent before they can have faith, but getting some one to do the impossible is quite another thing. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 7:10 that "Godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation." Repentance must follow "godly sorrow" as a result of it. But what produces the "godly sorrow"? Do you think it would be possible to produce godly sorrow in a man who has no sign of faith in God? Without some degree of faith in God no man could ever be led to "godly sorrow" or to "repentance toward God." And unless a man, to some extent, believes in Jesus Christ, he could never be led to "repentance toward Christ." Some degree of faith is absolutely indispensable in leading one to repent of his sins. It is contrary to all reason as well as to revelation for a man to insist that it is otherwise.
If It could Be Worked; It Would Be Displeasing To God
I have had Baptist debaters, while engaged in discussion with me, make the claim that everything that an alien sinner does is displeasing to God and is a sin. They have based such contention on the statement of Paul in Hebrews 11:6. He says: "Without faith it is impossible to please him." All the acts of a man before he is saved, according to Baptist debaters, Is without faith, for just as soon as he has faith they say he is saved. Hence, they conclude that such a sinner cannot do anything that pleases God—everything is without faith and is therefore a sin. But in view of this, either it is Impossible for men to repent before faith, or if they should do so, it would not be pleasing to God, for "repentance before faith" is "repentance without faith." According to their doctrine, as outlined in Article VIII of their creed, it becomes a sin to repent of sin. This is but the absurdity of Baptist teaching.
They Say They Are Inseparable Graces
When faced with the consequences of their doctrine, they will then begin to hedge and say that you cannot say that repentance comes first for they are "inseparable graces." The very instant one occurs the other occurs. This has been illustrated by some of them by referring to a man's firing a bullet through a plank wall. They ask the question: "Which goes through the wall first — the hole or the bullet?" And they reason that there is no difference — they go through at the same time. Well, if this is a correct representation of repentance and faith in the plan of salvation, they should quit preaching that repentance precedes faith and revise their creed accordingly. If they occur at the same instant, one does not precede the other, and their creeds and their doctrines are wrong. They cannot have it both ways—-either repentance comes before faith or it dues not. Let them take their choice and Stick with it.