The “Contrition” That Is Nowadays Said to Precede Faith and to Be Followed by the Consolation of the Gospel Is Not Repentance (Continued)

The third step in these considerations is, Apart from repentance does this contrition really exist?

In the spiritual world I have approached a number of people who had convinced themselves that faith assigns us Christ’s merit; I have asked them whether they had ever felt any contrition.

“Why should we feel contrition?” they replied. “Since our childhood we have believed as a certainty that Christ through his suffering took away all our sins. Feeling contrition is out of alignment with this belief. Feeling contrition is to throw ourselves into hell and torment our own consciences, when in fact we know that we have been redeemed and are therefore exempt from and immune to hell.”

They added that the prescribed feeling of contrition is simply a figment of the imagination now accepted as a replacement for the repentance that is so often mentioned in the Word and in fact commanded there. Yes, perhaps there is some such emotion felt by people who are simple and ignorant of the Gospel, when they hear or think about the torments of hell.

They also said that the consolation of the Gospel, which had been impressed upon them from their earliest youth, so thoroughly took away that feeling of contrition that whenever it was mentioned they would laugh to themselves about it. They felt that hell had no more power to terrify them than the fires of Vesuvius and Aetna would have over people living in Warsaw and Vienna. It scared them no more than vipers and poisonous snakes in the deserts of Arabia or tigers and lions in the forests of Tartary would scare people who live in some European city in safety, rest, and tranquillity. Indeed, the wrath of God had no more power to terrify or crush them than the wrath of the king of Persia would have over those who live in Pennsylvania.

From these conversations and by my own reasoning about church traditions I have become convinced that this feeling of contrition—unless it is the type of repentance described in the following pages—is a mere piece of imaginative theater. The Protestant churches substituted the feeling of contrition for repentance in order to move away from the Roman Catholics, who urge both repentance and goodwill. After the Protestants established their notion of justification by faith alone, they cited as a reason for this substitution the concern that both repentance and goodwill would introduce into their faith something that smacks of the desire to earn merit, which would defile it.

from True Christianity, Section 515

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