On Repentance by Tertullian
Chapter VI.--Baptism Not to Be Presumptously Received It Requires Preceding Repentance, Manifested by Amendment of Life.
Whatever, then, our poor ability has attempted to suggest with reference to laying hold of repentance once for all, and perpetually retaining it, does indeed bear upon all who are given up to the Lord, as being all competitors for salvation in earning the favour of God; but is chiefly urgent in the case of those young novices who are only just beginning to bedew their ears with divine discourses, and who, as whelps in yet early infancy, and with eyes not yet perfect, creep about uncertainly, and say indeed that they renounce their former deed, and assume (the profession of) repentance, but neglect to complete it. For the very end of desiring importunes them to desire somewhat of their former deeds; just as fruits, when they are already beginning to turn into the sourness or bitterness of age, do yet still in some part flatter their own loveliness. Moreover, a presumptuous confidence in baptism introduces all kind of vicious delay and tergiversation with regard to repentance; for, feeling sure of undoubted pardon of their sins, men meanwhile steal the intervening time, and make it for themselves into a holiday-time for sinning, rather than a time for learning not to sin. Further, how inconsistent is it to expect pardon of sins (to be granted) to a repentance which they have not fulfilled! This is to hold out your hand for merchandise, but not produce the price. For repentance is the price at which the Lord has determined to award pardon: He proposes the redemption of release from penalty at this compensating exchange of repentance. If, then, sellers first examine the coin with which they make their bargains, to see whether it be cut, or scraped, or adulterated, we believe likewise that the Lord, when about to make us the grant of so costly merchandise, even of eternal life, first institutes a probation of our repentance. |But meanwhile let us defer the reality of our repentance: it will then, I suppose, be clear that we are amended when we are absolved.| By no means; (but our amendment should be manifested) while, pardon being in abeyance, there is still a prospect of penalty; while the penitent does not yet merit -- so far as merit we can -- his liberation; while God is threatening, not while He is forgiving. For what slave, after his position has been changed by reception of freedom, charges himself with his (past) thefts and desertions? What soldier, after his discharge, makes satisfaction for his (former) brands? A sinner is bound to bemoan himself before receiving pardon, because the time of repentance is coincident with that of peril and of fear. Not that I deny that the divine benefit -- the putting away of sins, I mean -- is in every way sure to such as are on the point of entering the (baptismal) water; but what we have to labour for is, that it may be granted us to attain that blessing. For who will grant to you, a man of so faithless repentance, one single sprinkling of any water whatever? To approach it by stealth, indeed, and to get the minister appointed over this business misled by your asseverations, is easy; but God takes foresight for His own treasure, and suffers not the unworthy to steal a march upon it. What, in fact, does He say? |Nothing hid which shall not be revealed.| Draw whatever (veil of) darkness you please over your deeds, |God is light.| But some think as if God were under a necessity of bestowing even on the unworthy, what He has engaged (to give); and they turn His liberality into slavery. But if it is of necessity that God grants us the symbol of death, then He does so unwillingly. But who permits a gift to be permanently retained which he has granted unwillingly? For do not many afterward fall out of (grace)? is not this gift taken away from many? These, no doubt, are they who do steal a march upon (the treasure), who, after approaching to the faith of repentance, set up on the sands a house doomed to ruin. Let no one, then, flatter himself on the ground of being assigned to the |recruit-classes| of learners, as if on that account he have a licence even now to sin. As soon as you |know the Lord,| you should fear Him; as soon as you have gazed on Him, you should reverence Him. But what difference does your |knowing| Him make, while you rest in the same practises as in days bygone, when you knew Him not? What, moreover, is it which distinguishes you from a perfected servant of God? Is there one Christ for the baptized, another for the learners? Have they some different hope or reward? some different dread of judgment? some different necessity for repentance? That baptismal washing is a sealing of faith, which faith is begun and is commended by the faith of repentance. We are not washed in order that we may cease sinning, but because we have ceased, since in heart we have been bathed already. For the first baptism of a learner is this, a perfect fear; thenceforward, in so far as you have understanding of the Lord faith is sound, the conscience having once for all embraced repentance. Otherwise, if it is (only) after the baptismal waters that we cease sinning, it is of necessity, not of free-will, that we put on innocence. Who, then, is pre-eminent in goodness? he who is not allowed, or he whom it displeases, to be evil? he who is bidden, or he whose pleasure it is, to be free from crime? Let us, then, neither keep our hands from theft unless the hardness of bars withstand us, nor refrain our eyes from the concupiscence of fornication unless we be withdrawn by guardians of our persons, if no one who has surrendered himself to the Lord is to cease sinning unless he be bound thereto by baptism. But if any entertain this sentiment, I know not whether he, after baptism, do not feel more sadness to think that he has ceased from sinning, than gladness that he hath escaped from it. And so it is becoming that learners desire baptism, but do not hastily receive it: for he who desires it, honours it; he who hastily receives it, disdains it: in the one appears modesty, in the other arrogance; the former satisfies, the latter neglects it; the former covets to merit it, but the latter promises it to himself as a due return; the former takes, the latter usurps it. Whom would you judge worthier, except one who is more amended? whom more amended, except one who is more timid, and on that account has fulfilled the duty of true repentance? for he has feared to continue still in sin, lest he should not merit the reception of baptism. But the hasty receiver, inasmuch as he promised it himself (as his due), being forsooth secure (of obtaining it), could not fear: thus he fulfilled not repentance either, because he lacked the instrumental agent of repentance, that is, fear. Hasty reception is the portion of irreverence; it inflates the seeker, it despises the Giver. And thus it sometimes deceives, for it promises to itself the gift before it be due; whereby He who is to furnish the gift is ever offended.