Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.




The Advent call to repentance carries through to the Eve of Christmas. "Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

The word repentance has suffered misuse. It has come to convey something less, and sometimes something other, than its true meaning. To many it seems to mean transient and violent emotional experience. To others it seems to mean an irrational and undesirable excitement.

It is said that the world nowadays is not moved by calls to repentance. I do not expect that the world will be so moved, until the meaning of the word, at least, is understood.

It is said that the world would not be interested in the meaning of repentance, because nowadays no one is troubled about sin. That is nonsense. Sin is the cause of all the trouble there is in the world. Sin means the missing of the mark of happiness. It means other things, but it means that. Sin ends in disillusionment and despondency, and unless some remedy is found, it ends in despair. Each generation finds that out, sooner or later. It does not have to be argued. It just happens.

Repentance means first of all an after thought. It means a change of mind. But if that were all, it would not amount to anything more than remorse. Remorse is fruitless. It is fruitless because it is self regarding. Remorse leads a person to fix attention on self. This is what drives people to despair.

Repentance leads men to look from self to God. It moves the soul to say, "I will arise and go to my Father." "I will leave this God-forsaken place. My whole philosophy of life has been wrong. I will say, `I have sinned.' "

When the soul arrives at this stage, it begins to see that sin is more than a personal misfortune. It is an unpaid debt to others. It demands satisfaction. The desire to make satisfaction for sin supersedes the desire to escape from its painful consequences.

The soul discovers that sin is a positive trespass. It trespasses against God. To think that one is free to live one's own life is a hideous mistake. That is sheer lawlessness. This new point of view presses amendment of life as the only obvious duty.

The first fruits of repentance are confession, satisfaction and amendment. The true penitent will cry, not "What must I do to be saved, but what may I do?" The generous penitent seeks not the least that it can do, but the most. And it will be content with nothing less. In the new light the mind begins to think straight. The penitent becomes right minded. Repentance is right mindedness. It is healthy mindedness. It is sanity. The penitent has arrived at his real self, which is his best self.

It is this real self which arises. And at this point the emotions, whatever part they have played, have done their work. From this point on, it is the will that matters. The will to arise. The will to go to the Father. The will to confess, and make satisfaction, and to amend, and to patiently suffer the pains of purgation.

Then it comes to pass that as the soul goes, it is cleansed. It becomes healed and whole. The former things pass away. The old self ceases to exist. All things become new. It forgets the things that are past, and presses joyously on to the mark, which this time it will not miss. This is the mystery of the forgiveness of sins.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury