There are many who will half-way repent. They come across--almost, not wholly. Something rouses them out of their sinful slumber--they are troubled--they feel the pangs of conscience and become alarmed--they make good resolutions; then relapse into their old ways. Now repentance, to be worth anything, must be real. God's call is to "break up your fallow ground, sow not among thorns." Your salvation is at stake in this matter. When you really turn, when you really come, your God stands ready to receive you. Yea, He will see you when you are yet a great way off, and run to meet you.
The marks of a true repentance are simple and unmistakable. 1. As, to purpose of heart--there is a clean returning from sin and idols unto God; without if or but, without compromise or mental reservation. There may or may not be a show of tears or sorrow for "godly sorrow worketh repentance not to be repented of"; but the essence of true repentance lies in the turning. All the sorrow in the world is worthless if it does not lead to turning; and if a man turns he need not worry about the sorrow.
2. Repentance is always humble; so much so that the two things (repentance and humbling) are spoken of interchangeably. "Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me; I will not bring the evil upon him in his days." It is pride that prevents men from acknowledging their sins, and from turning openly and wholeheartedly to God. And pride and repentance cannot be in the same heart. But a broken and a contrite heart the Lord will not despise.
3. A truly repenting man never makes excuses or tries to justify himself. If there are mitigating circumstances God will plead them for you. But your confession must be excuseless. In the parable of the Prodigal Son we have a wonderful picture of simple and genuine repentance. When the Prodigal in the far country "came to himself" he said, "How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish here with hunger: I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight; I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants." And thus, with that honest and excuseless confession upon his lips he came to his father. Imagine what it would have been if he had said, "Father, you know how young folks are--you were young yourself once; and like most young fellows I was rash and foolish, but I didn't mean any harm," etc. That would have been the best proof of a false and insincere repentance. But he came not so. He told the simple truth (and God is ever looking for truth in the inward parts) and stated the case as it was. And there was a welcome for him, and the best robe, and a joyful feast in the father's home--for "there is joy in heaven among the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."
4. True repentance will make full restoration, where restoration can be made. "Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor," said Zaccheus the publican, overcome by Christ's loving condescension toward him--"and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man I restore fourfold." Instantly the Lord Jesus acknowledged the man's action and attitude, and said, "Today is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which is lost." (Luke 19:9, 10.) There are, alas, many sins and wrongs for which no reparation can be made. But where it is possible true repentance will always make it. If you have slandered your fellow-man, fear not to correct the false statement you have made about him, lest you should be looked on as a liar in the sight of men. It is better to save your soul than to save your face. If you have stolen or defrauded, return what you have wrongfully taken; and don't stand back on what people will think. There are far worse things than man's reproach. And those who have done so will tell you how greatly it pays in joy and inward peace and deep satisfaction.
5. True repentance, moreover, is always unto God. Paul preached "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Since all sin is sin against God, repentance must be toward God. It will not do to say, "I am going to turn over a new leaf--I will quit my evil habits, and be a better man," as often we hear people say. That is not repentance. If the Prodigal Son in the far country had said--"I see I have made a mess of things; I will now try to retrieve myself, and go here or there or yonder, and start life over again"--that would not have been a picture of repentance. Some of the proudest self-will and fiercest rebellion against God wears the guise of moral reform. But it was from his father that he had departed; against his father's love he had sinned; back to his father he must go with humble confession. Says the prophet of God, "Seek ye Jehovah while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto Jehovah, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:6, 7.) It is not only that to God you must return, but with Him only can you find mercy, forgiveness, help, sustenance, and the enabling to a new and worthy life.