John Owen, the well-known Puritan preacher and theologian, had a way of bringing the great truths of God’s Word to life. His writings preach for themselves with conviction and vibrancy. Though largely addressing the apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church in his book, Apostasy from the Gospel, Owen nevertheless deals a strong blow to any who would defy the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. In this excerpt, Owen discusses the necessity of understanding true repentance for what it is, a gracious gift from God:
The unconverted person is ignorant of the true way of coming to the Lord Christ for the grace and the help of the Spirit to keep him in a state of gospel holiness. So he has to fend for himself and soon is satisfied with that holiness which the flesh can produce. But a true Christian is not satisfied with a holiness that can be produced and that can exist without Christ and his Spirit. The Christian knows that without Christ he can do nothing, much less produce a holiness acceptable to God (John 15:5).
As ignorance of Christ’s righteousness is the reason why men go about trying to establish their own righteousness, so ignorance of how to live continually by the grace and strength of Christ is the reason why many turn to a lower standard of holiness, which is no holiness at all.
The unconverted person does not know and cannot produce a true evangelical repentance. Repentance is the gift of God (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). It is this grace of true repentance that carries believers through all their failings, weaknesses and sins. It is the doorway to holiness and the guardian that keeps true believers in holiness. Repentance does this by keeping believers in humble self-abasement, arising from a sense of the majesty and holiness of God and a recognition of how far short of his glory are their best duties. He that is not aware of the gracious sweetness in and the great usefulness of true repentance does not know what it is to walk with God. Whoever can taste no spiritual comfort in his sorrows from this grace of repentance, who thinks that repentance has to do only with the law and the fear of judgment, will not easily live in the practice of repentance every day of his life.
John Owen, Apostasy from the Gospel, (The Banner of Truth Trust: 2003), 112–113.