Divine Judgment Never Produces Repentance

Rev. 16:8-11

Don Fortner


     I do not say that God never uses providential acts of judgment to arouse, impress, subdue and humble his elect and bring them to repentance. He often uses outward, temporal acts of judgment to graciously bring sinners to Christ (Psa. 107:1-31; Luke 15:11-20). But I do say that Divine judgment, in and of itself, will never produce repentance in the heart of a man.


     Many who live in poverty, with sickness and disease, and suffer earthly hardships of every kind, are hardened against God rather than helped by his judgments of providence. The heart of man is so obstinate, proud and hard that even the torments of hell will never cause the damned to repent. They gnaw their tongues for pain. But they will not shed a tear for the cause of their pain. And if there is no repentance in hell, where God's greatest judgments are executed, the lesser judgments of providence certainly will not change the sinner's heart and produce repentance. Judgment does not soften the sinner's heart, it hardens it. Wrath will never convert a man. It is grace that saves.


     Any repentance that is produced by God's acts of providential judgment, or by legal fear is a false repentance. Cain, Pharoah, Herod and Judas all repented of the evil they had done, because they saw the judgment of God upon them. But they were not saved. They all perished under the wrath of God.


     Only the revelation of Christ in the heart can produce true repentance (Zech. 12:10). Repentance is the tear that drops from faith's eye (Job 42:5-6). No one will ever truly repent until he is converted by the grace of God, looks to and sees Christ crucified as his only, all-sufficient, sin-atoning Substitute. Repentance is the response of faith to the promises of God in the gospel (Isa. 55:7; Jer. 3:11-13). Repentance is the result, not the cause, of God's converting grace. It is the fruit, not the root, of faith in Christ (Jer. 31:19).