Conference Report
Prepentance
Elder Sterling W. Sill
Assistant to the Council of the Twelve Apostles

Sterling W. Sill, Conference Report, October 1964, pp. 110-113

There is an ancient Greek myth about a giant race called Titans that once plotted an assault on heaven. Armed with missiles and firebrands, they hurled themselves against the gods, seeking their overthrow. But the thunderbolts of Zeus and the arrows of Hercules were too much for the attackers, and the Titans were finally destroyed.

From this story we get the word titanism. This is a word intended to represent our unfortunate human inclination to fight against righteousness. Following the example of the ancient giants, our world is presently conducting an all-out war against God and his purposes.

Conflict With God

Jesus prayed, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). And from the very beginning Deity has been trying to raise our standards to this level for which the Redeemer prayed. He has failed only because of the opposition of those he has been trying to help. Our human history is made up of a long unpleasant record of antagonism toward God.

Disobedience brought about the expulsion from Eden. The spirit that caused Cain to murder his brother Abel in order to possess his flocks spread quickly over the earth. Human society was not very old before it was necessary for God to invoke the flood in order to cleanse the earth of its sin. This watery devastation was closely followed by the confusion of tongues and the dispersion of the sinners of Babel. In the Meridian of Time rebellion against God led to the rejection and crucifixion of the Savior of the world, and this tragedy was followed by that long black night of apostasy that we call the Dark Ages.

Leading Rebel

The scripture reminds us that Satan himself became what he is because of his sin of titanism. In the great antemortal council described in the scriptures, Satan sought the overthrow of God himself and succeeded in drawing away from God one third of all of the heavenly host. Since that time, Satan's fight has continued with increasing power to reach its pinnacle of evil in our own day.

Elements of the Conflict

Certainly the greatest problem of our generation is its titanism, as shown by our enmity toward the Almighty. Every unrighteous act, no matter how small, tends to put evil upon the throne of the universe. The Apostle John says that sin is the transgression of law (see 1 Jn. 3:4), and that is the distinguishing characteristic of our day.

Jesus made his own appraisal of our situation when nineteen hundred years ago he looked down to our day and compared it to the time immediately preceding the flood (see (Matt. 24:37). In spite of the fact that in fighting against God we are sinning against ourselves, yet we have been completely unable to stop the great upsurge in crime and delinquency that each year reaches a new high in devastating our lives. We are training ourselves to love sin. We pay money to see it being committed on the screen; we read about it in books, magazines, and newspapers; and quite naturally we absorb it into our lives.

Against the direct command of God, we sin against our health; we sin against our happiness; we sin against our success; and we sin against Deity himself. But no one can practice evil with impunity. The incidence of psychiatric disease is increasing among us with giant strides. The rate of bankruptcy is growing by leaps and bounds. Business organizations are reporting unheard-of increases in theft and other evidences of moral breakdown. Every day the newspapers report new occupational scandals as well as scandals in government itself. The Kinsey report of a few years ago is a personal testimony of a widespread decadence in morality that is strangely reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah.

When we build bars in our homes instead of altars, we are fighting against God. In our violations of the Sabbath day we are motivating a greater interest in horse races and baseball games than in the celestial kingdom. We employ some of our best advertising brains and use our finest communication media to persuade ourselves and others to take a greater part in the very evils that God has specifically forbidden. As a result of our titanism, our great enlightened Christian nation is noted for its drunkenness, lung cancer, immorality, and the violation of its own laws.

So far as all practical purposes are concerned, we have largely excluded God from our lives. Recently a nationwide religious poll asked whether or not those being interviewed believed in God; ninety-five percent answered yes. When asked whether or not they tried to lead a good life as a result, only twenty-five percent seemed to think that there was any connection between the two, and fifty-four percent said that religion did not influence their conduct in politics or business affairs. Because we seem to keep our creeds and our deeds in separate compartments, one is powerless to help the other. Church membership in the United States is now at an all-time high, and so are our indicators of crime and sin.

One of the reasons for our problem is that so many people have depersonalized God and think of him only in impersonal terms. We call him by such names as "the first great cause," or we refer to him as "an eternal principle." Then because an eternal principle can neither love nor punish us, we feel an increased liberty to indulge our titanism.

But our time is growing short; and if we do not give up the assault, we must surely share the fate of the titans and the antediluvians in losing the war. In his vision of the judgment, John the Revelator says, "And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.

"And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him . . .

"And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more" (Rev. 20:1-3). And certainly those who continue to follow Satan must share his fate.

Repentance, the Saving Principle

Because sin is the basic problem of our world, repentance has been made one of the first and one of the most important of the principles of the gospel of Christ. A universal, genuine, and permanent repentance would close up our jails, do away with our reform schools, prevent our nervous breakdowns, fill our churches, redeem our souls, and restore harmony, peace, and happiness to the world. From any point of view, repentance is one of the most praiseworthy actions in life. Through it we abandon unworthy objectives and turn our lives upward toward more worthwhile things. The dispensation of Jesus opened with the declaration of John the Baptist, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2). And in our own day the Lord has said, "Say nothing but repentance unto this generation" (D&C 6:9).

Repentance is God's cure for every disease that plagues our lives. As repentance is postponed, the sinner becomes more willful, and any upward change becomes more difficult. If this Godly gift is not used, it may lapse into impotence, and the soul may be lost.

Through Noah the Lord said, "My spirit shall not always strive with man" (Gen. 6:3). And someday when it may be too late, we may discover that repentance is the most thrilling, exciting, uplifting of all possible activities.

Some time ago while visiting the Northern States Mission I found myself one sultry August afternoon in southern Illinois in what was probably the most unpleasant weather I have ever experienced. It was very hot and humid, and I was sweaty, sticky, dirty, and generally uncomfortable. But after the day's work had been finished, I went to my room in an air-conditioned hotel. I took a hot, soapy bath and put on fresh, clean clothing. A little later I got into a bed between cool, white, clean sheets. And for a few minutes before dropping off to sleep, I lay there and thought about repentance. And I thought that if it were this pleasant to cleanse the body of a little sticky perspiration, what a delight it would be to cleanse the mind and soul of guilt and stand clean and free before God.

Repentance is Good

Even as late as the cross, repentance is good. One of the thieves crucified with Jesus was sorry for what he had done. When he acknowledged his sins, Jesus gave him credit (Luke 23:42-43). Certainly he was far ahead of his dishonest companion who remained bitter and rebellious to the very end. But the repentance of the thief came too late to undo the evil that his life had caused.

There is an old fable about a horse that once ran away from his master. Finally the horse repented and returned to his master and said, "I have come back." The master said. "Yes, you have come back, but the field is unplowed." How can one repent of unplowed ground or of lessons unlearned or of character qualities undeveloped? The governor can pardon the murderer, but who can restore life to the victim or the father to his orphaned children.

Repentance is one of the greatest of all ideas, but we should understand that it also has some serious limitations. To begin with it takes time to reform one's life and make restitution for his wrongs, and sometimes an atonement must be made through the personal suffering of the wrongdoer.

"Prepentance"

But there is one kind of repentance that has no limitations, that is a kind of repentance in advance, which someone has called "prepentance." Prepentance is a repentance that takes place before the offense is committed. Prepentance is the equivalent of prevention. It is a repentance that requires no restitution and demands no payment of penalties. We know that in God's eyes prevention is greatly superior to cure, as he has said, "For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance;

"Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven" (D&C 1:31-32).

To live a life of prepentance requires us to develop the kind of faith that destroys sin before it is indulged. This was "the way of life" of Jesus. The scriptures say that Christ, "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). Repentance for him was unnecessary because he lived the higher law of prevention.

Discipline for the Will

The greatest miracle ever performed by Jesus was not in controlling the angry sea but in disciplining his own will. His sinless life is the highest manifestation of excellence ever known in the world. Jesus did not need to do a single evil thing in order to find out that it was wrong. The life of Christ was pure, good. His ledger showed all gains and no losses. There were no destructive injuries to be repaired and no restitutions to be made.

Declare Peace with God

What a tremendous benefit we could bestow upon ourselves by calling off the war and learning to live at peace with God, not only in obeying him but also in agreeing with him. If we fully followed him, we could eliminate all of the tragic casualties that are presently strewing themselves along the highway of life.

Recently a man came to see me who felt that he needed to talk to someone about his problems. He was very sorry about his dishonesties, his cheating, and his immoralities. He bitterly regretted the unkindnesses that had caused his wife to die of a broken heart. But although he had repented a thousand times, yet he was powerless to undo his evil. He was unemployed because his past weaknesses had made future confidence impossible. His children were still suffering the disgrace of his bad example, and after having set all of these evils in motion, he could only say, "I wish I could live my life over again." But how ridiculous can we be. No one can live his life over again. There are no rehearsals in life. We can't rehearse birth or life or death. To feel sorry for our sins does not erase the injuries or heal up the wounds. And how can one repent of a bad example or a damaged soul? Sin is the most dangerous and the most destructive of all human experiences, and God has commanded that it should be avoided. "When we are hungry, sin offers us only poisoned bread; when we are thirsty, it invites us to drink at a deadly fountain." It causes all of the trouble, pain, and unhappiness in the world.

Certainly we should never think of sin as a plaything, but as our most deadly enemy. God hates sin, and the Psalmist speaks of our hating evil with a perfect hatred (Ps. 139:22). Prepentance is God's highest law. And what a thrilling and profitable way of life is the religion of doing good, of worshiping God, of hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Jesus demonstrated life's perfect pattern and then said, "Follow me" (Matt. 9:9). And every individual life must finally be judged by how well it carries out that single directive.

May God help us to follow him with our whole souls, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.