This repentance, in the nature and kind of it, is a duty to be continued the whole course of our lives. It ceaseth as unto those especial acts which belong unto our initiation into a gospel state, but it abides as to our orderly preservation therein. There must be no end of repentance until there is a full end of sin. All tears will not be wiped from our eyes until all sin is perfectly removed from our souls. Now repentance, in this sense, may be considered two ways: 1. As it is a stated, constant duty of the gospel; 2. As it is occasional.
1. As it is stated, it is our humble, mournful walking with God, under a sense of sin continually manifesting itself in our natures and infirmities. And the acts of this repentance in us are of two sorts: (1.) Direct and immediate; (2.) Consequential and dependent. The former may be referred unto two heads: [1.] Confession, [2.] Humiliation. These a truly penitent soul will be continually exercised in. He whose heart is so lifted up, on any pretence, as not to abide in the constant exercise of these acts of repentance, is one whom the soul of God hath no delight in. The other, which are immediate acts of faith, but inseparable from these, are: [1.] Supplications for the pardon of sin; [2.] Diligent watchfulness against sin. It is evident how great a share of our walking with God consists in these things, which yet I must not enlarge upon.
2. This continued repentance is occasional, when it is heightened unto a singular solemnity. And these occasions may be referred unto three heads:
(1.) A personal surprisal into any great actual sin. Such an occasion is not to be passed over with the ordinary actings of repentance. David, upon his fall, brings his renewed repentance into that solemnity as if it had been his first conversion to God. On that account he deduceth his personal sins from the sin of his nature (Ps 51:5), besides many other circumstances whereby he gave it an extraordinary solemnity. So Peter, upon the denial of his Master, “wept bitterly”; which, with his following humiliation and the renovation of his faith, our Saviour calls his conversion (Luke 22:32) – a new conversion of him who was before really converted. There is nothing more dangerous unto our spiritual state than to pass by particular instances of sin with the general duties of repentance.
(2.) The sin or sins of the family or church whereunto we are related calls unto us to give a solemnity unto this duty (2 Cor 7:11). The church, having failed in the business of the incestuous offender, most solemnly renewed their repentance towards God when they were convinced by the apostle of their sinful miscarriage therein.
(3.) Afflictions and sore trials call for this duty, as we may see in the issue of all things between God and Job (42:6).
1. Taken from Owen’s Works, vol 22, part of his Exposition of Hebrews. Earlier (p 25) Owen says, when referring to occasions when the soul falls into great sins: “Such sins, when anyone is overtaken with them, ought, first, to put the sinner upon a severe inquiry whether his repentance were sincere and saving; for where it is, usually the soul is preserved from such falls (1 Peter 1:10). And, secondly, put him upon renewing his repentance with same care, diligence, sorrow and humiliation as at the first.