Chapter 12- The Penitence of Faith

“Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Luke 5: 8.

The Savior had unveiled His glory to Peter. He had wonderfully blessed His work of faith, “At Thy word I will let down the net,” and at the same time made Himself known as the mighty Ruler over nature, the beneficent Friend of His disciples. Of all this grace, the fruit and the result was that Peter cast Himself before the Lord with the prayer: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man.” The glory of the Lord appeared to him so clearly in that light of faith, and his own sinfulness became to him so manifest, that out of dread and self-abasement he uttered this cry: a clear proof that true faith has as its fruit a deeper humiliation for sin and knowledge of it, sincere and inward penitence.

And this lesson is of great importance for many who are in the way of faith. They think that they cannot be believing, because they are not yet deeply enough convinced of sin. And they do not observe that this word has not yet defined how deeply one must feel sin before one may come to Jesus: it has fixed no measure. The first sense of need must bring us to Him. They do not understand that this remaining apart from Jesus is just the way to make their sense of sin less, and, what is especially of importance, that, on the other hand, an incipient faith may become the means of increasing this sense of sin. Always the closer to the light, the more visible the impurity; the nearer to the Holy One, the stronger the sense of unworthiness; the more blessed with grace, the deeper the conviction of sin.

As with Peter, so with all believers. The hour of the revelation ,of Jesus’ grace and love are the times of the deepest abasement. And these times are for the most part not at the beginning, but in the later progress of the life of faith. Consider the case of Peter: he has to attain his true knowledge of sin at his denial of the Lord, well-nigh three years after he had already said: “We have believed and known that Thou art the Christ.” Think also of Jacob: how the Lord made with him at Bethel the covenant of His grace, and yet first brought him to the recognition of his sinfulness twenty years later, in the crisis of the wrestling by night, in which the Lord came to meet him as an antagonist, to break down the old nature and the power of the flesh. Think also of David and the glorious experiences of God’s help and friendship which he as a youth tasted when he was a shepherd and fought against Goliath: it was much later in life that he had to enter into the path of suffering, ere he could see sin unveiled. And so there are still ever so many, in whose case it is manifest that the Lord first leads their souls to faith, and then later on, through faith, to the full knowledge of sin, to genuine penitence.

Accordingly, let the soul who desires to become more humble and to turn back to God as one that is guilty understand that doubt and unbelief will not help him in this but rather hinder him; but that on the contrary faith can bring on the way to obtain all this fruit. Let the soul who doubts if he indeed has faith, and may have it, consider that, while his feeling of unworthiness and guilt causes so much darkness and anxiety in the depths of his spirit, it is only in this poverty of the soul that faith can flourish, and that it is by this means that he will be driven to his Lord. And let the soul who believes never forget that this must be one of the indispensable fruits and proofs of the sincerity of his faith, namely, a constantly growing self-abhorrence and a becoming less in his own eyes, according to the word of the Lord to His people: “I will establish my covenant with you, that ye may be ashamed, when I shall make atonement for you, for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord.” (Ezek. 16: 61-63). (Note: Dutch version.)

Reader, why do you not believe? Surely it is not that you will still wait for more penitence and contrition of heart. Ah, no: this last grace, too, is always a fruit of faith. Believe today in the grace of Him who conies to you. All that is lacking in you must stir you up to this. With Him you receive everything that you are going to seek elsewhere in vain .