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And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
WE have now done with the supplications of this prayer, and are come to the deprecations. The supplications are those petitions which we make to God for obtaining of that which is good. The deprecations are those petitions we make to God for removing of that which is evil. Now of this latter sort there are two:—(1.) We pray for the remission of evil that is already committed; (2.) We pray for the prevention of the evil which may be inflicted. The first of these is the petition we have now in hand. Here,
1. The petition is proposed, ‘Forgive us our debts.’
2. It is confirmed by an argument, ‘As we forgive our debtors.’ In the first, take notice:—
I. Of the object, or matter of this petition, and that is, debts.
II. The subject or persons praying, us.
III. The person to whom we pray, our heavenly Father, who alone can forgive our sins.
IV. The act of God about this object, forgive.
Then the petition is confirmed by an argument, which is taken from our forgiving of others.
In which there is an argument.
1. A simili, from a like disposition in us. Thus, what is good in us was first in God, for he is the pattern of all perfection. If we have such a disposition planted in our hearts, and if it be a virtue in us, surely the same disposition is in God, for the first being wanteth no perfection.
2. The argument may be taken à dispari, or à minori ad majus, from the less to the greater. If we, that have but a drop of mercy, can forgive the offences done to us, surely the infinite God, that is mercy itself, he hath more bowels and more pity: ‘For his ways are above our ways, as high as the heaven is above the earth.’ Isa. lv. 9. So it seems the argument is propounded: Luke xi. 4, ‘Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.’
3. The argument may be taken from the condition or the qualification of those that are to expect pardon. They are such that, out of a sense of God’s mercy to them, and the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, are inclined and disposed to show mercy to others. So Christ explains it, ver. 14, making it a condition or qualification on our part: ‘If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.’ But this will be more abundantly clear when I come to examine that clause.
Before we come to the petition itself, the connexion is to be considered, for the particle and links it to the former petition. After ‘Hallowed be thy name,’ he doth not say, ‘And thy kingdom come;’ they are propounded as distinct sentences: but, ‘Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts,’ for three reasons:—
[1.] Without pardon all the good things of this life will do us no good. They are but as a full diet, or as a rich suit, to a condemned person; they will not comfort him and allay his present fears. Until we are pardoned, we are under a sentence, ready for execution and 168therefore we cannot have that comfort in outward things until we have some interest in God’s fatherly mercy. A man that is condemned hath the king’s allowance until execution. So it is the indulgence of God to a wicked man to give him many outward things, though he is condemned already. We should not satisfy ourselves with daily bread without a sense of some interest in pardoning mercy.
[2.] To show us our unworthiness. Our sins are so many and grievous that we are not worthy of one morsel of bread to put in our mouths. When we say, ‘Give us this day,’ &c. , we need presently to say, ‘Forgive us our sins.’ There is a forfeiture even of these common blessings: Gen. xxxii. 10, ‘I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant.’ All that we have we have from mercy, and it is mercy undeserved. As we are creatures, there can be no common right between God and us to engage him to give temporal blessings, for we owe ourselves wholly to him, as being created out of nothing. Children cannot oblige their parents. But much more, as we are guilty creatures, it is merely of the mercy of the Lord.
[3.] These are joined together because sin is the great obstacle and hindrance of all the blessings which we expect from God: Jer. v. 25, ‘Your sins have withheld good things from you.’ When mercy comes to us, sin stands in the way and turns it back again, so that it cannot have so clear a passage to us. Therefore God must forgive before he can give, that is, bestow these outward things as a blessing on us.
Having spoken of this connexion, let me observe something from the petition itself.
The first thing I shall observe is the notion by which sin is set out, ‘Forgive us our debts.’ The point is:—
Doct. 1. That sins come under the notion of debts.
In Luke xi. 4, it is, ‘Forgive us our sins.’ There is a twofold debt which man oweth to God.
1. A debt of duty.
2. A debt of punishment.
[1.] A debt of duty, worship, and obedience; this is a debt we owe to God. In this sense it is said, Rom. viii. 12, ‘We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.’ In which negative the affirmative is clearly implied, that we are debtors to God, to live to God; debtors to the Spirit, to live after the Spirit. By the law of creation, we were not appointed to serve and please the flesh, but to serve God: Luke xvii. 10, ‘When you have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants, we have done that which was our debt or duty to do.’ Obedience, worship, and service, is a debt we owe to God, by virtue of that interest which he hath in us, and command he hath over us. And so you have that speech, Gal. v. 3, that we are debtors to the whole law, as we come under the obedience of it.
[2.] A debt of punishment, which we are fallen into through the neglect of our duty. Punishment is due to us as wages: Rom. vi. 23, ‘The wages of sin is death.’ God hath, as it were, made a contract with us, that if we will sin we must take our wages; we must take what it comes to.169
Now in this petition, when we say, ‘Forgive us our debts,’ we do not desire to be discharged of the duty we owe to God, but to be acquitted of the guilt and punishment. The faults or sins that we are guilty of oblige us and bind us to the punishment; and therefore sins are called debts. The original debt we owe is obedience; and in case of default, the next debt we owe is punishment. Look, as in a contract and bond, if the party observe not the condition, then he is liable to the forfeiture: so God dealt with man by way of covenant, and the tenor of it was exact obedience; and this covenant had a sanction or an obligation annexed: in case obedience was not exactly performed, we should be accursed, and suffer all manner of misery in this life and the next. Now, by the fall, we incurred this penalty; and therefore, as lost and undone creatures, we run to God’s mercy, and beg him to forgive the debt, or the forfeiture of that bond of obedience wherein man standeth bound to God by the law.
A little to make it good, before I come to the body of the petition, let me show how sin is a debt, wherein it agrees. That will appear if you can consider:—
1. Our danger by sin.
2. Our remedy from sin.
In both the parts you will find sin is considered as a debt.
First, If you consider our danger by sin.
[1.] There is a creditor to whom the debt is due, and that is God: Luke vii. 41, when he would set out God’s mercy he saith, ‘There was a certain creditor which had two debtors,’ &c. God is there set forth under the notion and similitude of a creditor. God is a creditor, partly as our creator, and partly as a lawgiver, and partly as a judge. As our creator and benefactor, from whom we have received all that we have: it was the Lord that gave to every man his talents to trade withal; to some more, to some less: Mat. xxv. Thus God hath trusted us with life, and all other blessings. But then, as a lawgiver: if God had given us life, strength, parts, wealth, that we should do with them what we would, though the gift would oblige us, in point of gratitude, to serve our benefactor, yet we had not been so responsible for our defaults. But we are under a law to serve him and honour him that made us and gave us what we have. God did not dispossess himself of an interest in them. He did not give them to us as owners and proprietors, to do with them what we would; but he gave them to us as stewards: our life and employment here is a stewardship. Nay, God is not only a lawgiver, but also a judge; he will call us to an account. He doth oblige us as a creator, but imposeth a necessity upon us of obeying and serving him as a lawgiver; and not only makes a law, but will take an account of men, how they observe the law of their creation. There will a time come when the lord of those servants will come and reckon with them, and require his own with usury: Luke xix. 23. He will require this debt and service at our hands, else we must endure the penalty. Well, this is the connexion: he that abuseth God’s mercy as a creator offends him as a lawgiver, and is justly punished by him as a judge. There are many never think of this, therefore are not sensible of these great relations, nor that they shall answer for all their talents, strength, 170and time, and advantages they have in the world. Thus there is a creditor.
[2.] As a debtor is bound to make satisfaction to the creditor, or else is liable to the process of the law, which may be commenced against him, so are we all to God, bodies and souls; we are become ὑπόδικος τῷ Θεῶ, ‘guilty before the Lord:’ Rom. iii. 19. So we translate it. We are under the sentence of the law, liable to the process of his revenging justice, and one day God will pursue his righteous law against us. All the fallen creatures are quite become bankrupt; we can never pay the original debt of obedience, therefore must be left to lie under the debt of punishment.
[3.] Look, as debts stand upon record, and are charged upon some book of account, that they may not be forgot, so God hath his book of account—a book of remembrance, as it is called: Mal. iii. 16. All our words, speeches, actions, they are all upon record; what means we have enjoyed, what mercies, what opportunities, what calls, and what messages of his love and grace: Job xiv. 17, ‘My iniquity is sealed up in a bag.’ As men’s writings or bonds, which they have to show for their debts owing to them, are sealed up in a bag, so Job useth that similitude. Thus is sin represented as a thing that is upon record, and cannot be forgotten. Many times we lose the memory of what we have done in childhood and infancy, but all is upon record; and your iniquities will one day find you out, though you have for gotten, and think never to hear of them more.
[4.] A day of reckoning will come, when God will put the bond in suit, and all shall be called to an account. Sometimes God reckoneth with sinners, in part, in this world, but surely in the next. Death is but the summons to come to an account with God: Luke xvi. 2, ‘Give an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward.’ That passage of the parable is applicable to death: ‘That when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations,’ ver. 9. When the soul is turned out of doors, when it is cited to appear before the tribunal of God, then we give up our account. But especially at the great day: Rev. xx. 12, ‘And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened;’ that is, the book of conscience and the book of God’s remembrance. There are two books, that are written within and without, upon which all our actions are stamped: they are now closed in a great measure; we know not what is in these great books. One of the books (that of conscience) is in our own keeping, yet we cannot deface and blot it out. These books at that day will be opened; conscience, by the power of God, shall be extended to the recognition of all our ways. Conscience writes when it speaks not: many times it doth not smite for sins we are guilty of; but there stands the debt charged, upon which we shall be responsible.
[5.] After this reckoning there is execution. A bankrupt that cannot satisfy his creditor is cast into prison; so God hath his prison for impenitent, disobedient, and obstinate sinners: 1 Pet. iii. 19, ‘He went and preached unto the spirits in prison.’ It is a dismal prison, where poor captive prisoners are held in chains of darkness; that is, under the horrors of their own despairing fears, looking for the 171judgment of the Lord, when they shall be cast into this prison, and no getting out again, until they have paid the utmost farthing: Luke xii. 50. And that will never be as to the sinner: he is, as it were, always satisfying, and can never be said to have satisfied, the justice of God.
Thus you see how sin is a debt, and what correspondence there is between them—the obligation of punishment that ariseth from sin. But now it differeth from all other debts.
(1.) No debt to man can be so great as our debt to God, both for number and weight. Mat. xviii. 24, compared with ver. 28: you shall see there the parable of the lord forgiving ‘ten thousand talents;’ and the servant goes and takes his brother by the throat, and requireth from him a debt of ‘an hundred pence.’ Mark, offences done to God are greater than offences done to us; for there is as much difference and disproportion as between an hundred and ten thousand. And then the debt of the fellow-servant was but pence, an hundred pence; but the debt due to the lord, that was talents; and a talent is reckoned to be one hundred and eighty-seven pounds ten shillings. Our sins against God are more and more heavy than any which our brethren can commit against us. Pence, talents; one hundred and ten thousand: there is the difference and disproportion. Oh that we had a due sense of what it is to sin against God, against an infinite majesty! To strike a private person is not so much as to strike an officer of justice; and that is not so much as to strike the supreme magistrate. What is it to sin against God? and how often do we? All our imaginations are only evil, and that continually; and therefore all our sins against God will arise to a vast and heavy debt, because of the infiniteness of the object against whom sin is committed.
(2.) In other debts there is a day of payment set them; in this debt there is none. God doth not tell us when he will put the bond in suit against us; he may surprise us ere we are aware. Luke xii. 20: when he dreamed of many years, ‘Thou fool, this night.’ The spirits now in prison did as little think of that doleful place as those sinners which are alive. It may be to-day, to-morrow, the next hour: Gen. iv. 7, ‘Sin lieth at the door.’ There is a sentence and curse that waylays him. Sin, for the punishment of sin; it is ready to seize upon him, and pluck him by the throat, and bring him into God’s presence. Still the curse hovers over the head of obstinate and impenitent sinners.
(3.) In other debts, if the goods are taken by way of execution, and suffice, the person is free; but here God aims at the person, and the whole person. ‘Body and soul are cast into hell fire.’ Mat. x. 28.
(4.) Here there can be no shifting, no avoiding the danger. If you fly from God, you do but fly to God; from God, as willing to be a friend; to God, who is sure to be revenged. ‘Whither shall I fly from thy Spirit? If I go into the depths, thou art there.’ Ps. cxxxix. God is here, there, and everywhere.
(5.) All other debts cease at death; when a man dieth, we say his debts are paid: but here execution begins, then the law takes the sinner by the throat, and drags him to everlasting punishment, and doth 172in effect say, Pay me what thou owest. Death is God’s arrest. As soon as the soul steps out of the world, presently it is attached and seized, and forfeited into the hands of God’s justice. How many are there that lie under this danger and never think of it! Spiritual debts they are not so sensible of as literal. A man that is deeply in debt, and in danger of an arrest, cannot sleep, eat, walk abroad, but his fears are upon him. Augustus bought his quilt or bed, that could sleep soundly when he owed so many thousand sesterces. But poor senseless sinners never think of danger until they are plunged into it, and then there is no escape.
Secondly, The metaphor will also hold good as to our remedy and recovery, how we come out of this debt. A debtor that is insolvent is undone, unless there be some means found out to satisfy the creditor: so we must altogether lie under the wrath of God, unless satisfaction be made. Therefore, Jesus Christ, in the
[1.] Place, comes under the notion of a surety. Because he took the debt of man upon himself, therefore, Heb. vii. 22, he is called, ‘the surety of a better testament.’ When Christ undertook the business of our salvation, he did in effect say, as Paul to Philemon, ver. 18, ‘If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on mine account:’ so did Jesus Christ in effect say to God, Let me be made a sin, and made a curse for them. He that was a judge, was willing to become a party, and to pay what he owed. David, in the type of Christ, saith, Ps. lxix. 4, ‘I restored that which I took not away.’ He did not take away any honour from God: it was we that robbed God of the glory of his justice, authority, and truth; that trampled them under our feet: but Christ made restitution and amends to God.
[2J Having condescended to become our surety, he made full satisfaction, by suffering the punishment which was due to us: Isa. liii. 4, ‘Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.’ That which we should have borne upon our own backs, and would have crushed us for ever, that he hath borne, and he hath carried. Christ was to be the sinner in law, and was to suffer in our stead. Solomon hath a passage concerning suretyship: Prov. xi. 15, ‘He that is surety for a stranger, shall smart for it;’ or, as the Hebrew will bear it, ‘sore bruised;’ or, as it is in the margin, ‘shall be bruised and sore broken.’ And the same word is used concerning Christ, that was our surety: Isa. liii. 10, ‘It pleased the Father to bruise him.’ Christ is our surety, therefore he was bruised and broken, he suffered what we should have suffered. It is true, there are some circumstances of our punishment which Christ suffered not, as a great part of our punishment in hell; there is the worm of conscience and despair, and the eternity of torments; but this was not essential to the punishment, but did only arise from the guilt and from the weakness of the party that is punished, because we cannot work through it otherwise. Christ paid the full price which divine justice demanded, and so made satisfaction for us.
[3.] Christ satisfying as our surety, all those which had an interest in his death, they are set free from the wrath of God, they have a release from this great debt owed. As when the ram was taken. Isaac was let go; so when Christ was taken, the sinner is released and discharged: 173Job xxxiii. 24, ‘Deliver him from going down to the pit; 1 have found a ransom.’ Certainly God will not exact the debt twice, of the surety and of the principal person; our surety having paid the debt for us, therefore we go free. And, therefore, if our consciences should pursue us at law, we may answer, Christ was taken for us, ‘He was bruised for our iniquities, and he bore the chastisement of our peace.’
[4.] Christ hath not only satisfied for the punishment, but he hath procured favour for us; wherein he differeth from an ordinary and common surety. Christ does not only free us from bonds, but also hath brought us into grace and favour with the creator, lawgiver, and judge. There is a double notion of Christ’s death; that of a ransom for the delivery of a captive, and as a merit and price which was given for eternal life. The death of Christ did not only dissolve the obligation which lay upon us to suffer the penalty for the breach of the law, and so deliver us from the wrath to come; but it was a price that was given to purchase grace, favour, and heaven for us, which is called, Eph. i. 14, ‘The purchased possession.’ Now, why must our surety instate us thus into favour? Because Christ was such a surety as did not only pay the forfeiture, but also the principal; that is, he did not only make satisfaction for the trespass and offence (which is the payment of the forfeiture), but also he established a righteousness answerable to the law (which is the payment of the principal), and of that original debt which God first required of the creature; for there is a debt of duty and service which Christ performeth and establisheth as a righteousness for us.
[5.] From hence in his name there is proclaimed redemption to the captives, freedom to poor prisoners that were in debt, and weak, and could not acquit themselves. And therefore the publication of the gospel is compared to the year of jubilee: Luke iv. 19, Christ came ‘to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.’ It relates to .the year of jubilee, wherein all debts were cancelled; it was a year of general releasement, proclaimed by sound of trumpet, that every man should return to his inheritance, and all debts dissolved and done away: Lev. xxv. 9, 10. So Jesus Christ saith, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord;’ that is, to proclaim to poor captives a release of all debts, and all bonds which are upon them.
[6.] All those that come to God by Christ are interested in the comfort of this offer and proclamation of grace, and may plead with God about their discharge from this great and heavy debt. I put it mainly in that notion (those that come to God by Christ), because you will find that is the description of those whom Christ means to save: Heb. vii. 25, ‘He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him.’ Who are those that come unto God by him? Those that in Christ’s name do seriously, and with brokenness of heart, deal with him about a release and a discharge. To come to God by him, it is to come in his name, to plead his propitiation, or his satisfaction, as the only meritorious cause; and the promise of God in Christ to blot out our offences, as the only ground of hope; and as to ourselves, acknowledging the debt; that is, in confessing our sins, and our desert of punishment, with a purpose to forsake them.174
(1 ) There is required an acknowledgment of the debt. God stands upon it that his justice may be owned with a due sense, according to the tenor of the first covenant: for though the satisfaction be made by another, and that by a surety of God’s providing; yet God will have the creature know they are under so heavy a debt, that he will have them feel it in brokenness of heart; not know it only in a general conviction, but confess their sins: 1 John i. 9, ‘If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.’ When we come with true remorse, and confess we have offended so just, so holy, so merciful a Father, it must be grievous to us in the remembrance of it You must not only confess sin as a wrong, but as a debt: sin hath wronged God, and it is also a debt binding you over to a punishment we could never endure, nor make God any satisfaction for. Therefore David, when he would have God’s bond crossed and can celled see how he pleads: Ps. li. 2, 3, ‘O Lord, blot out mine offences, for I acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me.’ Blot it out, for I acknowledge it; that is, I submit to thy instituted course; I submit to the justice of the first covenant.
(2.) The satisfaction of Christ must be pleaded also by a sinner in the court of heaven, in a believing manner, that there may be an owning of the surety. All parties that are interested in this business must consent Now God and Christ they are agreed about the business of salvation: God hath agreed to take satisfaction from Christ, and Christ hath agreed to make this satisfaction to God: all the business now is about the sinner’s consent, or about his ready acceptation of Jesus Christ and we never heartily indeed consent to this, that Christ shall be our surety, and he the person that must release and discharge this debt, until we look upon him by an eye of faith, as one that tore the bond and handwriting that was against us. The law is called ‘the handwriting that was against us;’ there is the bond which was to be put in suit: now, Col. ii. 14, He hath torn, or ‘blotted out the handwriting of ordinances, that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.’ He hath disannulled the law, which binds to suffer the wrath of God. The law was the bond by which our death was ratified.
(3 ) There is required an unfeigned purpose to forsake sin. that hath been released of his debt, must not still run into new arrears.
Christ never blotted out our debts that we might renew them, and go on upon a new score of offending God again; this is to dally with God, to run into the snare when he hath broken it for us and given us an escape, to plunge ourselves into new debts again.
In this prayer, ‘Forgive us our debts,’ then presently, ‘Lead us not into temptation.’ Therefore we must purpose to forsake sin other wise we do not draw nigh to God with a true heart: Heb. x. 22. We do but deal falsely with God in all the confessions we make, and m all the pleas of faith, unless there be an unfeigned purpose to renounce all sin and cast it off as a thing that will undo our souls. Thus, Christians, must you sue out your release and discharge in your surety’s name.
Use 1. The use is, first, to show us the misery of an impenitent, 175unpardoned sinner; he. hath a vast debt upon him, that will surely undo him unless he doth in time get a discharge. He is bound over to suffer the wrath of God for evermore, and no hand can loose him but God’s. Many times they think of no such matter, and cry, ‘Peace, peace.’ to themselves; but it is not the debtor which must cancel the book, but the creditor. Have you a discharge from God? where is your legal qualification? poor creatures, what will you do? Many take care that they may owe nothing to any man; oh! but what do you owe to God? To live in doubt and in fear of an arrest, oh, what misery is that! But when sin lieth at the door, ready to attack you every moment and hale you to the prison of hell, that is most dreadful. Therefore think of it seriously; how do accounts stand between God and you? Sinners are loth to think of it. When the lord came to reckon with his servants, Mat. xviii. 24, it is said, ‘One was brought to him which owed him ten thousand talents:’ he was loth to come to an account, he would fain keep out of the way, but he was brought to him. So we are unwilling to be called to account, we shift and delay, and will not think of our misery: but the putting off sin will not put it away; our not thinking of our misery will not help us out, and will not be a release and discharge.
2. If sins be debts, and an increasing debt, so that man is ever treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath; it presseth us to be more careful to get out of this condition. Saith Solomon, Prov. vi. 3-5: If thou beest in debt, ‘flee as a swift roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.’ Oh, it is a sad thing to lie in our sins! If you be under this debt, ‘give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids; get away like the swift roe from the hand of the hunter,’ &c. And what I say concerning a state of sin, I say concerning daily failings; make your peace with God betimes; if you have contracted a new debt, make all even between God and your souls, that you may not sleep in your sins.
3. This should make us more cautious that we do not commit sin: why? it is a debt that will render you obnoxious to the wrath of God; in itself it merits eternal death: oh, therefore, sin no more, do not run again into the snare! When you give way to sin, you hazard the comfort of your acquittance by Christ: Ps. lxxxv. 8, ‘The Lord will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints; but let them not turn again to folly.’ If the Lord hath given you your peace, and some hope of your being discharged of this heavy debt, take heed of meddling with forbidden fruit, and running into debt again.
II. From the subject or persons which make this prayer, ‘Forgive us,’ observe,
Doct. Even those that call God Father, ought to beg, daily and humbly, pardon of their sins.
Forgive us; who is that us that can say in faith, Our Father, daily? For this is a pattern for daily prayer, as the word σήμερον in the former petition noteth. We need beg, for Christ hath taught us here to sue out our discharge: in which begging there is an exercise of faith eyeing Christ: Rom. iii. 25, ‘God hath set forth him to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.’ And there is an exercise also of repentance, as to mourning for sin: 1 John i. 9, and Prov. xxviii. 13, ‘He 176that confesseth and forsaketh his sin, shall have mercy:’ and as to loathing of sin, Acts iii. 19, ‘Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins maybe blotted out.’ And certainly it must be humbly begged; for if we seek pardon we must seek it in God’s way. We do not beg God to rescind and, make void his laws, and those wise constitutions he hath appointed whereby the creature shall receive this grace; and the manner wherein he will deal and transact this business with the offending creature: but we seek it as exercising our renewed repentance; that is, mourning for sin, and loathing of sin. But of this more hereafter.
Now, that the best of God’s children should be dealing with God about a pardon of their sins, I shall argue it:—
1. From the necessity.
2. The utility and profit of such a course.
First, The necessity of this will appear two ways:—
[1.] From the condition of God’s children here in the world.
[2.] From the way wherein God will give out a pardon.
[1.] From the condition of God’s children here in this world. The best are not so fully sanctified in this life but there is some sin found in them; not only they who walk with no care, but even they that set the most narrow watch over their ways, they are not so sanctified but they need daily to go to God.
(1.) They have original sin which remaineth with them to the last, they have the sinning sin which the apostle speaks of. Paul complains of the body of death: Rom. vii. 23, 24, ‘Who shall deliver me from it?’ The Hebrews were wont to propound their wishes by way of question; as, ‘Oh that salvation were come out of Zion!’ It is in the Hebrew, ‘Who shall bring salvation out of Zion?’ So, ‘Who will lead me into Edom?’ that is, ‘Oh that I were led into Edom,’ that I might display the banner there, because of God’s truth. So, ‘Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ that is, ‘Oh that I were delivered!’ Where the reign of sin is broken, yet there it remains; though it be cast down in regard of regency, yet it is not cast out in regard of inherency. As the ivy that is gotten into the wall, cut away the boughs, branches, stubs, yet still there will be some sproutings out again until the wall be pulled down; so until these earthly tabernacles of ours be tumbled in the dust, though we are mortifying and subduing of sin, yet there will be a budding and sprouting out again.
(2.) There are many actual sins: James iii. 2, ‘In many things we offend all;’ and Eccles. vii. 20, ‘There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not:’ that is, that sins not either in omitting of good or committing of evil: our offences are either total or partial. Partial offences; though a child of God loves God, fears God, trusts in God, yet not in that purity and perfection that he hath required of him; though he serves God and obeys him, yet not with that liberty, delight, reverence, which he hath required. There is an omission in part in every act: there is not that perfection which God deserveth, who is to be served with all our might, with all our strength. Our principles are divided; there is flesh and spirit; there is a mixture in all our actions. Sometimes there is a total omission, the spiritual life is at a stand, many times all acts of respect 177are intermitted. Then for commissions, sometimes, out of ignorance, they do not see what is to be done. Though they have a general resolution to do the whole will of God, yet many times they mistake. Our light is but in part: And ‘who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret sins:’ Ps. xix. 12. We sin out of ignorance, as a man in the dark may jostle against his friend. Sometimes by imprudence and inconsideration, as a man that is not heedful, though he knows it, he may mistake his way. Many are overtaken in a fault: Gal. vi. 1; that is, unawares, and besides their intention. Sometimes, out of incogitancy and sudden incursion, they may not only be overtaken but overborne, ‘drawn away by their own lusts,’ James i. 14: overcome by the prevalency of passion and corrupt affection; so sin gets the upper hand. Thus it is with the children of God. Look, as it was said of the Romans, that in battle they were overcome, but never in war; though a child of God hath the best of it at last, yet in many particular conflicts he is overborne by the violence of temptation and his own corrupt lusts. Thus there is a necessity of begging daily pardon, if we consider the condition of the saints while they are here in the world, who carry a sinning nature about them, a corrupt issue that will never be dried up while they are in the world; and also they are guilty of many actual sins, both of omission and commission.
Secondly, The necessity of it will appear from the way wherein God gives a pardon, which is upon the creature’s humble submission, and seeking of terms of grace; so that whatsoever right we have to remission in Christ, though we have a general right to remission and pardon of sin, yet we must seek to apply that right, and beg the use of it for our daily pardon and acceptance with God. This will appear by considering—(1.) The nature of this request; (2.) The right that a justified person hath to the pardon of his daily sins.
1. What we beg for when we say, Forgive us our sins. Five things we ask of God:—
[1.] The grant of a pardon.
[2.] The continuance of this privilege.
[3.] The sense and comfort of it.
[4.] The increase of that sense.
[5.] The effects of pardon, or a freedom from those penal evils that are fruits of sin.
(1.) The grant of a pardon, that God would accept the satisfaction of Christ for our sins, and look upon us as righteous in him. Jesus Christ himself was to sue out the fruits of his purchase: Ps. ii. 8, ‘Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.’ Though he had a right to be received into heaven, to sit down at the right hand of God, and administer the kingdom for the comfort of his elect ones, yet ‘ask of me.’ And so we are to sue out our right: Ps. xxxii. 5, ‘I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.’ What then? ‘For this cause shall every one that is godly pray unto thee.’ Though God be so ready to forgive as soon as we conceive a purpose he gives out a pardon—yet we are to call upon God. God will have us to sue out the grant of a pardon. Why? Because he would deal with us as a sovereign, therefore 178doth he require the submission of our faith. It was of grace that he would appoint a satisfaction for us, which he did not for the fallen angels; and it was much more grace that he would give that satisfaction, give that price, out of his own treasury. Christ was not a mediator of our choosing, but God’s; and therefore, though justice be fully satisfied, yet the debt is humbly to be acknowledged by the creature, and we are to sue out terms of grace. And again, the application to us is merely grace, when so many thousands perish in their sins; therefore we are to beg, to sue out this grace, that we may have the benefit of Christ’s death. God doth it, that in begging we may acknowledge our own misery, and how unable we are to make satisfaction: Ps. cxliii. 2, ‘In thy sight no flesh can be justified;’ and Ps. cxxx. 3, 4, ‘If thou shouldest mark iniquities, Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.’ Before God will give us an interest in this forgiveness, we are to come and confess ourselves utterly to be insolvent, and also to own Jesus Christ as the means, that we may solemnly and explicitly own our Redeemer, who was appointed by God, and procured this benefit for us: 1 John ii. 1, ‘And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ God hath required we should sue it out, and own our advocate, as well as confess ourselves unable to satisfy, that we might know who is our advocate. In the type of the brazen serpent, Num. xxi. 8, ‘And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.’ Mark, though God set up a sign of salvation (as it is called elsewhere), yet when you shall look upon him you shall live. So God would have us sue out the grant by looking to Christ, that so our interest may be established: John iii. 14, 15, ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.’ That whosoever ‘believeth in him,’ that was the intent of looking upon it, that we might fix our faith on Christ, and come tinder the shelter of his wing. We beg, upon a sense of our own unworthiness, the acceptance of Christ’s satisfaction for us.
(2.) We pray for the continuance of pardon; though we are already justified, yet ‘Forgive us our sins.’ As in daily bread, though we have it by us, and God hath stored us with blessings in our houses, yet we beg the continuance and use of it; so whatever right we have to pardoning mercy, yet we beg the continuance of it, for two reasons:—Partly because justification is not complete until the day of judgment, but mercy is still in fieri, that is, God is still a-doing: Acts iii. 19, ‘That your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.’ Then are our sins blotted out, then is this privilege complete. We read of forgiveness in this world, and forgiveness in the world to come, Mat. xii. 32. Forgiven in this world, when accepted to grace and favour with God; and forgiven in the world to come, when this privilege is complete, and fully made up to the elect. Some effects of sin remain till then; as death, which came into the world by sin, remains upon the body till then—then our sin is blotted out, when all the fruits of it 179are vanished and done away. So that whilst any penal evils that are introduced by sin remain, we ought to pray for pardon, that God would not repent of his mercy. Look, as when we are in a state of sanctification, we pray for the continuance of sanctification, as well as the increase of it, because of the relics of sin, though our perseverance in grace and sanctification be as much secured by God’s promise as our perseverance in God’s favour, and the gift of justification; so we pray for the continuance of pardon, because the evils of sin yet remain in part. And partly, because God, for our exercise, will make us feel the smart of old sins, which are already pardoned; as an old bruise, though it be healed, yet ever and anon we may feel it upon change of weather. Accusations of conscience may return for sins already pardoned; as Job xiii. 26, ‘Thou makest me possess the iniquities of my youth.’ Though a man be reconciled to God, and in favour with him, yet the sins of his youth will trouble him after he hath obtained the pardon of them. God may make these return with a horrible and frightful appearance upon the conscience; their visage may be terrible to look upon. Though these sins are blotted out, Satan may make the remembrance of them very frightful; and God, in his holy, wise dispensation, may permit it for our humiliation. Though this be no intrenching of the pardon already past, yet it may exceedingly terrify the soul, and overcloud our comfort, and therefore we must beg the continuance of this benefit. Go to God as David did: Ps. xxv. 6, 7, ‘Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy loving-kindness, for they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions.’ He begs God’s ancient mercies would continue with him. He acknowledged he had received mercy of old; he could run up to eternity, that had been for ever of old; yet, Lord, remember not against me the sins of my youth. When the sense of old sins are renewed, we must renew petitions for the pardon of them. It is usual with God, when we are negligent, to permit the devil to make use of affliction to revive old sins, that they may stare afresh in the view of the eye of conscience; therefore we had need to beg the continuance of this privilege, for it is not complete. Though the pardon itself be not abrogated, yet the comfort of it may be much intrenched upon, and old sins may come and terrify the soul with a very hideous aspect.
(3.) We beg here the sense and manifestation of pardon, though it be not the only thing we pray for. ‘Forgive us our sins,’ that is, let us know it. God may blot sins out of his book, when he doth not blot them out of our consciences. There is the book of conscience, and the book of God’s remembrance. The book of God’s remembrance may be cancelled (to speak after the manner of men); as soon as we believe and repent, then the handwriting which was against us is torn; but he blots it out of our consciences when the worm of conscience is killed by the application of the blood of Christ through the Spirit, when we are ‘sprinkled from an evil conscience,’ as the expression is, Heb. x. 22. And David is earnest with God for this benefit, the sense of his pardon: Ps. li. 8, 12, ‘Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice; and restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.’ Nathan had told him his sins were 180pardoned, yet he wanted the joy of God’s salvation, that ancient free spirit, that comforting, enlarging spirit he was wont to have. God may forgive in heaven, when he does not forgive in our sense and feeling; therefore we beg the manifestation of it by the comforts of the gospel.
(4.) We beg the increase of that sense, for this sense is given out in a different latitude. Spiritual sense is not in all alike quick and lively; many have only a probable certainty, but have many doubts—some have comfort, but never arrive to peace. Comfort, you know, is that thing which holds up itself against encounters when we are confronted; so there may be many doubts when the preponderating part of the soul inclineth to comfort. Some have peace for the present, rest from trouble of conscience; others have joy, which is a degree above peace and comfort.
(5.) We beg the effects of pardon, or freedom from those penal evils which are continued upon God’s children, and are the fruits ^of sin. Clearly this is intended, for we beg of God to pardon us as we pardon others; that is, fully, entirely to forgive, forget. We beg of God to for give us our sins; that is, to mitigate those troubles, evils, and afflictions, which are the fruits of sin. It is true, when a man is justified, the state of his person is altered; yet sin is the same in itself, it deserves all manner of evils; therefore we beg not only a release from wrath to come, but from those other temporal evils that dog us at the heels. Sin is the same still, though the person is not the same. It is still the violation of a holy law, an affront done to a holy God, an inconvenience upon the precious soul; it brings a blot upon us, an inclination to sin again; nay, it brings eternal death. Though it do not bring eternal death upon pardoned persons, yet it may occasion temporal trouble. God hath still reserved this liberty in the covenant: that he will ‘visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes; nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from, him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail,’ Ps. lxxxix. 32, 33. And Prov. xi. 31, ‘The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth;’ that is, he shall smart for his evil-doings. A child of God, when he sinneth against him, though he be not executed, yet he may be branded, he may have a mark of shame put upon him, his pilgrimage may be made uncomfortable, and these may be fully consistent with God’s grace and love. Therefore we beg a release from these penal evils, that as the guilt, so the punishment also may be abolished.
2. The right that a justified person hath to the pardon of his daily sins.
Pardon of sin is to be considered: (1.) in. the impetration of it; (2.) the offer; (3.) the judicial application, or legal absolution of the sinner.
[1.] In the impetration and purchase of it. So when, Heb. x. 14, ‘By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified,’ there needed no more to expiate them to satisfy justice.
[2.] In the offer of it. So God hath proclaimed pardon upon the condition of repentance: Ezek. xxxiii. 11, ‘Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?’181
[3.] In the judicial application, or legal absolution of a sinner. God in his word hath pronounced the legal absolution of every one that believeth in Christ. As soon as we repent and believe, a threefold benefit we have:—
(1.) The state of the person is altered; he is a child of God: John i. 12, ‘To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.’ He hath full leave to call God Father, a kind of fatherly dealing from him. Translated from a state of wrath to the state of grace, from a child of the devil he is made a child of God, never to be cast out of his family.
(2.) The actual remission of all past sins: Rom. iii. 25, ‘To declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.’ It would be a license to sin if his sins were remitted before committed.
(3.) A right to the remission of daily sins, or free leave to make use of the fountain of mercy, that is always running, and is opened in the house of God for the comfort of believers: Zech. xiii. 1, ‘In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.’
Use. The use is to press us to be often dealing with God about the pardon of our sins, by a general and daily humiliation; none are exempted from bewailing the evil of sin. The death of Christ doth not put less evil into sin; it is still damning in its own nature; it is still the violation of a holy law, an affront to a holy God, an inconvenience to thy precious soul. When Christ paid the price for our sins, it was upon this condition: that we should renew our faith and repentance; that we should sue out our discharge in his name; that when we sin we may come and humble ourselves before the Lord. Under the law, if a man were unclean, he was to wash his clothes before evening; he was not to sleep in his uncleanness. So if you have defiled yourselves, you should go wash in the laver that God hath appointed. The Lord taught his people under the law the repeating a daily sacrifice, morning and evening. If one be fallen out with another, God hath advised us, before the sun be set, to go and be reconciled to our brother; and wilt thou lie under the wrath of God for one night? If we would oftener use this course, the work of repentance would not be so hard. Wounds are best cured at first, before they are suffered to fester and rankle into a sore; so are sins before they grow longer upon us. And if we did oftener thus reckon with ourselves, we should have less to do when we come to die. Therefore do as wise merchants; at the foot of every page draw up the account, so help it forward; so it will not be hard to sum up a long account, and reckon up our whole lives, and beg a release of all our debts; therefore daily come and humble yourselves before the Lord. The oftener you do this, the sooner you will have the comfort of pardon; but when you keep off from God, and delay, you suffer the loss of peace, and the loss of God’s favour; and hardness of heart, and atheism, and carnal security increase upon you.182
As we forgive our debtors.
I come to the last branch. Hence observe:—
Doct. 3. Those that would rightly pray to be forgiven of God, they must forgive others.
First, I shall give you the explication; Secondly, The reasons.
For explication, I shall speak to three things:—
1. Who are debtors.
2. What respect our forgiving of others hath to God’s forgiving of us.
3. In what manner we must forgive others.
First, Who are our debtors. It is not meant in a vulgar sense, of those only which stand engaged for a sum of money due to us; but of all such as have offended us in word or deed. There is a duty we owe to one another, which, when we omit, or act contrary unto it, we are not only debtors to God, but to one another; and the doers of the injury are bound to repair the wrong, and to make restitution. In this large sense is the word debtors here taken, with respect to the person that hath done the injury. He becomes a debtor, is to make satisfaction, and suffer the punishment which the wrong deserves.
Secondly, What respect hath our forgiving of others to God’s for giving us?
I shall speak to it negatively and positively.
[1.] It is not a meritorious cause, or a merit and price given to God, why he should pardon us, for that is only the blood of Christ. Every act of ours is due, it is imperfect, and no way proportionate to the mercies we expect; and therefore it cannot be meritorious before God. It is due, it is a duty we are bound to do, and paying off new debts doth not quit old scores. God hath laid such a law upon us, that we are to forgive others. That cannot expiate former offences. And it is imperfect too. The remembrance of injuries sticks too close to us. When we do most heartily and entirely forgive others, even then we have too great a sense of the injury and wrong that is offered to us. Now that which needs pardon cannot deserve pardon. And it is disproportionate to the mercy which we expect. What a vast disparity and difference is there between God’s pardoning of us and our pardoning of others, whether we respect the persons that are interested in this action, or the subject-matter, or manner and way of doing, or the fruit and issue of the action.
First, In the persons pardoning. What proportion can there be between God and man, the Creator and the creature? God he is most free, and bound to none, of infinite dignity and perfection, which can neither be increased nor lessened by any act of ours, for him or against him; but we live in perfect dependence upon God’s pleasure, are subject to his command, and bound to do his will; and therefore what is our forgiving our fellow-creatures, made out of the same dust, animated by the same soul, and every way equal with us by nature, when they wrong us in our petty interests? What proportion is there between this forgiving and God’s forgiving? he that is of so infinite a majesty, his forgiving the violations of his holy law?183
And secondly, To the subject-matter, that which is forgiven, there is no proportion. When we compare the multitude or magnitude, the greatness, and the number of offences forgiven of the one side and the other, we see there is a mighty disproportion. We forgive pence, and God talents; we an hundred pence, he ten thousand talents: Mat. xviii.
So, thirdly, The manner of forgiving: on God’s part, by discharging us freely, and exacting a full satisfaction from Christ; therefore our forgiving can hold no comparison with it, which is an act of duty, and conformity t6 God’s law.
And fourthly, As to the fruit and issue of the action. Our good and evil doth not reach to God. Though our forgiving of others be an action of profit to ourselves, yet no fruit redounds to God. And therefore there being no proportion between finite and infinite, there can be no such proportion between our forgiving and God’s forgiving, as that this act may be meritorious before God. Thus it is not brought here as merit, as that which doth oblige and bind God meritoriously to forgive us.
[2.] It is not a pattern or rule. We do not mean our forgiving should be a pattern of forgiving to God. So as is taken, indeed, ver. 10, ‘Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven;’ there it implies a conformity to the pattern. But when we say, ‘Forgive us, as we forgive,’ it doth not mean here a pattern or rule. We imitate God, but God doth not imitate us, in forgiving offences; and it would be ill with us if God should forgive us no better than we forgive one another. God is matchless in all his perfections; there is no work like his: Ps. lxxxvi. 8. As God is matchless in other things, so in pardoning mercy. ‘As the heavens are above the earth, so are his ways above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts:’ Isa. lv. 9. And upon this very occasion the Lord will multiply to pardon: ‘As far as the heavens,’ &c. This is the greatest distance we can conceive. The heavens, they are at such a vast distance from the earth, that the stars, though they be great and glorious luminaries, yet they seem to be but like so many spangles and sparks. This is the distance and disproportion which is made between God’s mercy and ours: Hosea xi. 9, ‘I will not return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God, and not man.’ If God should forgive but only as man doth, it would be ill for Ephraim if he had to do with revengeful man. God acteth according to the infiniteness of his own nature, far above the law and manner of all created beings. Therefore it is not put here as a pattern and rule.
[3.] It doth not import priority of order, as if our acts had the precedency of God’s; or as if we did or could heartily forgive others before God hath shown any mercy to us. No; in all acts of love, God is first; his mercy to us is the cause of our mercy to others. As the wall reflects and casts back the heat upon the stander-by when first warmed with the beams of the sun, so, when our hearts are melted with a sense of God’s mercy, his love to us is the cause of our love and kindness to others: 1 John iv. 19, ‘We love him, because he first loved us;’ that is, we love him, and others for his sake; for love to God implies that. Why? Because he hath been first with us. And then it is the motive and pattern of it. In that parable, Mat. xviii. 32, 33, God’s forgiving is the motive to our forgiving: ‘I forgave thee all thy debt; and shouldest not thou have compassion on thy fellow-servant?’ In those that have true pardon it causeth them to forgive others out of a sense of God’s mercy; that is, they are disposed and inclined to show mercy to others. But in others that think themselves pardoned, and have only a temporary pardon and reprieve (such as is there spoken of), it is a motive which should prevail with them, though it doth not. Nay, it is the pattern of our love to others: Eph. iv. 32, ‘Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you;’ in that manner, and according to that example.
[4.] It doth not import an exact equality, but some kind of resemblance. As, it is a note of similitude, not equality, either of measure or manner; it only implieth that there is some correspondent action, something like done on our part. So, Luke vi. 36, ‘Be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful.’ As, notes the certainty of the truth, though not the exact proportion; there will be something answerable to God.
2. But positively to show what respect it hath.
[1.] It is a condition or moral qualification which is found in persons pardoned: Mat. vi. 14, ‘For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:’ but, ver. 15, ‘If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ These two are inseparably conjoined, God’s pardoning of us, and our pardoning of others. The grant of a pardon, that is given out at the same time when this disposition is wrought in us; but the sense of a pardon, that is a thing subsequent to this disposition. And when we find this disposition in us, we come to understand how we are pardoned of God.
[2.] It is an evidence, a sign or note of a pardoned sinner. When a man’s heart is entendered by the Lord’s grace, and inclined to show mercy, here is his evidence: Mat. v. 7, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ The stamp or impression shows that the seal hath been there; so this is an evidence to us whereby we may make out our title to the Lord’s mercy, that we have received mercy from the Lord.
[3.] It is a necessary effect of God’s pardoning mercy shed abroad in our hearts; for mercy begets mercy, as heat doth heat: Titus iii. 2, 3, ‘Show meekness to all men; for we ourselves also were some times foolish, disobedient,’ &c. There is none so tender to others as they which have received mercy themselves; that know how gently God hath dealt with them, and did not take the advantage of their iniquity.
[4.] It is put here to show that it is a duty incumbent upon them that are pardoned. God hath laid this necessity upon men. And that may be one reason why this clause is inserted, that every time we come to pray and beg pardon, we may bind ourselves to this practice, and warn ourselves more solemnly of our duty, and undertake it in the sight of God. So that when we say, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,’ it is a certain undertaking or solemn promise we make to God, if he will show mercy to us, this will incline us to 185show mercy to others. In earnest requests, we are wont to bind ourselves to necessary duties.
[5.] It is an argument breeding confidence in God’s pardoning mercy. When we, that have so much of the old leaven, that sour, revengeful nature, in us, yet when we have received but a spark of grace, it makes us ready to forgive others; then what may we imagine in God! What is our drop, to that infinite sea of fulness that is in him! Clearly thus it is urged in that clause, Luke xi. 4, ‘And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.’ There is a special emphasis upon that, for we also; that is, we that have so little grace, we that are so revengeful and passionate by nature, we also forgive those that are indebted to us. Therefore the gracious God, in all goodness, and in all moral perfections, doth far exceed the creature; and if this be in us, what is there in God? This kind of reasoning is often used in scripture; as Mat. vii. 11, ‘If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?’ If evil men hath such bowels and affections towards their children, certainly there is more of this goodness and kindness in God.
Thirdly, Wherein this forgiving of others doth consist?
1. In forbearing others.
2. In acquitting others.
3. In doing good to them.
[1.] In forbearing one another and withholding ourselves from revenge. This is a thing that is distant from forgiving, and accordingly we shall find it so propounded by the apostle: Col. iii. 13, ‘Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.’ Mark, there is first forbearing and then forgiving. What is forbearing? A ceasing from acts of revenge, which, though they be sweet to nature, yet they are contrary to grace. Some men will say, We will do to him as he hath done to us: Prov. xxiv. 29, ‘Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me; I will render to the man according to his work.’ Corrupt nature thirsteth for revenge, and hath a strong inclination this way; but grace should give check to it: ‘Say not,’ &c. Men think it is a base thing, and argueth a low, pusillanimous spirit, to put up with wrongs and injuries: oh, it argueth a stupid baseness. But this is that which giveth a man a victory over himself; nay, it gives a man the truest victory over his enemy, when he forbears to revenge. It gives a man a victory over himself, which is better than the most noble actions amongst the sons of men: Prov. xvi. 32, ‘He that overcometh his own spirit is more than he that taketh a city.’ There is a spirit in us that is boisterous, turbulent, and revengeful, apt to retaliate and return injury for injury. Now, when we can bridle this, this is an overcoming of our own spirits. But that is the true weakness of spirit, when a man is easily overcome by his own passion. And then hath our enemy a true victory over us, when his injuries overcome us so far as we can break God’s laws to be quit with him. Therefore the apostle saith: Rom. xii. 21, ‘Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.’ Then is grace victorious, and then 186hath a man a noble and brave spirit, not when he . is overcome by evil (for that argueth weakness), but when he can overcome evil. And it is God’s way to shame the party that did the wrong and to overcome him too: it is the best way to get the victory over him. When David had Saul at an advantage in the cave, and cut off the lap of his garment, and did forbear any act of revenge against him, Saul was melted, and said to David, ‘Thou art more righteous than I,’ 1 Sam. xxiv. 17. Though he had such a hostile mind against him, and chased and ‘pursued him up and down, yet when David forebore revenge when it was in his power, it overcame him, and he falls a-weeping. So the captains of the Syrians, when the prophet had blinded them, and led them from Dothan to Samaria, what saith the king of Israel? is he ready to kill them presently? No: 2 Kings vi. 22, ‘Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master.’ He was kind to them; and what followeth? ‘They did no more annoy Israel.’ This wrought upon the hearts of the Syrians, so that they would not come and trouble them any more.
[2.] In forgiving, it is not only required of Christians to forbear the avenging of themselves, but also actually to forgive and pardon those that have done them wrongs. They must not only forbear acts of revenge, but all desires of revenge must be rooted out of their hearts. Men may tolerate or forbear others for want of a handsome opportunity of executing their purposes; but the scripture saith, ‘Forbearing one another, forgiving one another.’ This forgiving implieth the laying down of all anger, and hatred, and all desire of revenge. Now this should be done, not only in word, but sincerely and universally.
(1.) Sincerely, and with the heart. In the conclusion of that parable, Christ doth not say, If ye do not forgive, thus it shall be done to you; but, ‘If ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses, so also shall my heavenly Father do to you.’ We must not only do this, but do it from the heart. Joseph, when his brethren came to him and submitted themselves, did not only remit the offence, but his bowels yearned towards them, and his heart was towards them: Gen. l. 17. Then,
(2.) It must be done universally, whatever the wrong be, be it to our persons, names, or estates. To our persons: Acts vii. 60, Stephen, when they stoned him, he said, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’ Though they had done him so great an injury as to deprive him of his life and service, yet, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’ So to our names: When Shimei came barking against David the poor man was driven out of Jerusalem by a rebellious son, and this wicked wretch takes advantage against David and rails at him—yet David forgives him when restored to his crown: ‘He shall not die,’ 2 Sam. xix. 23. Nay, he sware to him. So his estate: When a debtor is not able to pay, and yet submits. So Paul bids Philemon to forgive the wrongs of Onesimus: ‘Put it on my score,’ Philem. 18, that is, for my sake forgive this wrong.
[3.] We must be ready to perform all offices of love to them: Luke vi. 27, ‘Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you.’ Mark, 187do not only forbear to execute your wrath and revenge upon them, but do good to them; yea, though they be enemies upon a religious ground; though religion be made a party in the quarrel, and so engage us to the greater fury, when that which should bridle our passions is the fuel to them: ‘Pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you,’ Mat. v. 44. Miriam, when she had wronged Moses, yet he falls a-praying for her, Num. xii. 13, that the Lord would forgive the sin and heal her.
For the reasons why those that would rightly pray to be forgiven of God must forgive others—it should be so, it will be so—there is a congruency and a necessity.
1. The congruency, it should be so. It is fit that he that beggeth mercy should show mercy; it is exceedingly congruous. For this is a general rule: that we should do as we would be done unto; and, therefore, if we need mercy from God, we should show mercy to others, and without it we can never pray in faith. He that doth not exercise love can never pray in faith. Why? His own revengeful disposition will still prejudice his mind, and make him conclude against the audience of his prayers; for certainly we muse on others as we use ourselves. And that is one reason of our unbelief, why we are so hardly brought to believe all that tender mercy which is in God; because it is so irksome to us to forgive seven times a day, we are apt to frame our conclusions according to the disposition of our own heart. Can we think God will forgive when we ourselves will not forgive? A man’s own prayers will be confuted. What is more equal than to do as we would be done unto? And therefore it is but equal, if he entreat mercy for himself, he should show it unto others. Look, as the centurion reasoned of God’s power, from the command that he had over his soldiers: Mat, viii. 9, ‘I am a man under authority, and I say to one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh.’ Those things we are accustomed to, they are apt to run in our minds when we come to think of God. Now he that kept his soldiers under discipline that if he said, Go, they go, he reasons thus of God: Surely God hath power to chase away diseases. So accordingly should we reason of God’s mercy according to the mercy that we find in ourselves. Therefore it is very notable that when Christ had spoken of forgiving our brethren, ‘not only seven times, but seventy times seven,’ the disciples said unto the Lord, ‘Increase our faith,’ Luke xvii. 5. How doth this come in? In the 4th verse Christ had spoken that they should forgive not only seven times, but seventy times seven; and they do not say, Lord, increase our charity, but our faith; implying that we cannot have such large thoughts of God when our own hearts are so straitened by revenge and our private passions.
2. In point of necessity; as it should be so, so it will be so; for God’s mercy will have an influence upon us to make us merciful. All God’s actions to us imprint their stamp in us. His election of us makes us to choose him and his ways; his love to us makes us love him again, who hath loved us first; so his forgiving of us makes us to forgive our brethren. There is an answerable impression left upon the soul to every act of God. Why? For a true believer is God’s image: ‘The new man is created after God.’ Eph. iv. 24; and therefore he acts as 188God. Certainly, if there be such a disposition in our heavenly Father, it will be in us if we have an interest in him. Look, as a child hath part for part, and limb for limb, answerable to his father, though not so big in stature and bulk; so hath a child of God, which is created after God, he hath all the divine perfections in some measure in his soul. And this consideration is of more force, be cause the new creature cannot be maimed and defective in every2626 That is, ‘any.’—ED. part, but is entire, lacking nothing. And therefore, if God forgive others, certainly the godly will be inclinable to forgive too.
Use 1. Here is a ground of trial whether we are pardoned or no: Is our revengeful disposition, that is so natural and so pleasing to us, mortified? That is one trial or evidence whether we are forgiven of God; can we freely from the heart forgive others?
Object. But it may be objected against this: Do you place so much in this property of forgiving others? It doth not agree only to pardoned sinners, because we see some carnal men are of a weak and stupid spirit, not sensible of injuries. And, on the other side, many of God’s children find it hard to obtain2727 Qu. ‘attain’?—ED. to the perfect oblivion of injuries that is required of them.
Ans. As to the first part, I. answer: We do not speak of this disposition as proceeding from an easy temper, but as it proceedeth from grace; when, in conscience towards God, and out of a sense of his love to us in Christ, our hearts, being tendered and melted towards others, to show them such mercy as we ourselves have received from the Lord; that is the evidence. And again, we do not press to judge by this evidence single and alone, but in conjunction with others; when they are humbly penitent, and confessing their sins, and turn to the Lord, which is the great evangelical condition: Job xxxiii. 27, ‘If any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not,’ then will he restore light to him. When a man is soundly touched with remorse, and seeth the folly of his former courses, and asketh pardon of God, then is God gracious to him. But this is that we say, that this disposition of pardon, in conjunction with the great evangelical condition of faith and repentance, it helpeth to make the evidence more clear.
2. As to the other part of the objection, which was this: it will be a great weakening of the confidence of God’s children who cannot get such a perfect oblivion of injuries they have received, but find their minds working too much this way:
I answer: As long as we live in the world there will be flesh and spirit, corruption as well as grace; there will be an intermixture of the operations of each. Carnal nature is prone to revenge, but grace prevaileth and inclineth to a pardon. Well, then, if this be the prevalent inclination of the soul, and that which we strive by all good means to cherish in us, this meek disposition, passing by of wrongs we receive by others, then we may take comfort by this evidence, though there be some reluctances and regrudgings of the old nature.
Use 2. To press us to this ready inclination to forgive wrongs and injuries. We are not so perfect but we all need it from one another. There will be mutual offences while we are in the world, especially in 189a time when religious differences are on foot; therefore it concerns us to look after this disposition of forgiving others, as we would be for given of God. Human society cannot well be upheld without this mutual forbearance and forgiving. Now imitate your heavenly Father. No man can wrong us so much as we daily trespass against him, and yet God pardoneth us. He doth not only pardon the lesser failings, some venial errors, and sins of incogitancy and sudden surreption, which creep upon us we know not how; but he pardons the greatest sins, though they be as scarlet: Isa. i. 18. Those that are of a crimson hue, God can wash them out in the blood of Christ. And mark, what is it then that you will stand upon? Is it the greatness of the offence? God pardons great sins. Or is it the baseness of those that injure you—(this is the circumstance)—when we, have received wrong from those which are our inferiors, that owe us more reverence and respect? What are we to God? Notwithstanding the baseness of those which affront him daily, all men to him are but ‘as the drop of the bucket, and the small dust of the balance,’ Isa. xl. 15; yet God pardons them. And then again, cast in the consideration of God’s omnipotency. He is able to right himself of the wrongs done to him, and no man can call him to an account. Many times it is not in our power: ‘He can cast body and soul into hell,’ Mat. x. 28. God is thus offended, and by saucy dust that is ready to fly in his face, in considerable man; and yet the Lord pardons, and this he doth freely: Luke vii. 42, ‘He frankly forgave them both.’ And he pardons fully, as if it were never committed: Micah vii. 19, ‘He casts all our sins into the depths of the sea.’ Then he pardons frequently: His ‘free gift is of many offences unto justification.’ Rom. v. 16. And he ‘multiplies to pardon,’ Isa. lv. 7. And mark, he pardons too (in some sense) before they repent; there is a purpose; he provided Christ before we were born. And he gives us grace to repent, or else we could never humble ourselves at his feet, the offended God; he gives them the grace whereby they shall acknowledge the offence. Christ prayed for his persecutors when they had no sense of the injury they had done him; they were converted by that prayer afterwards: Luke xxiii. 34, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do;’ therefore certainly much more when they repent and submit. Oh, therefore, let us not be drawn hardly to this duty; or, at least, we should not upon every petty offence cherish hatred and rancour against our brethren.
But here are certain cases that would come into debate.
First Case. Whether it be consistent with this temper, forgiving of others, to seek reparation of wrongs in a way of justice, and pursue men at law for offences they have committed against us?
Ans. Yes. For,
1. Certainly one law doth not cross another. By the law of charity the law of justice is not made void. A magistrate, though he be a Christian, and bound to forgive others, is not bound up from executing his office against public offenders. Nor yet are private men tied from having recourse to the magistrate for restoration to their right, or reparation of their wrong. For to demand one’s right is not contrary to love, nor to seek to amend and humble the party nocent by the magistrate’s authority, who is ‘the minister of God for good.’ Rom. xiii. 4; and that others may ‘hear and fear.’ Deut. xix. 20; and the party damnified may for the future live in peace. Forgiving is an act of private jurisdiction. The offence, as far as it is private to us, it may be forgiven; but there are many such offences as are not only an offence to us, but to the public order, and that must be left to the process of the law.
2. Whosoever useth this remedy must look to his own heart, that he be not acted with private revenge, nor with a spirit of rigour or rancour against the party offending; but that he be carried out with zeal to justice, with pity to the person, that he and others may not be hardened in sin. For this is the general law of Christ, that ‘all things should be done in love.’ 1 Cor. xvi. 14. Therefore when we are acted by our private passion and secret desires of revenge, we abuse God’s ordinance of magistracy, and make it to lacquey upon our lusts. And therefore there must be a taking heed to the frame of our own hearts, that they be upright in these things. Though it seem hard to flesh and blood, yet remember flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Grace must frame your hearts to the obedience of God’s will.
3. These remedies from authority must be in weighty cases, and in matters of moment and importance. Their contending in law one with another about the smallest matters is that which the apostle taxeth: 1 Cor. vi. 7. Not upon every trifling occasion. It must be after other means are tried and used; as the help of friends to compound the matter, for charity trieth all things: 1 Cor. xiii. 4. And the apostle saith, 1 Cor. vi. 5, ‘Is there none to judge between you?’ that is, none to decide and arbitrate the difference, for the refuge to authority should be our last remedy. And it must be too when the party wronging is able to make satisfaction, otherwise it is rigour and inhumanity: 2 Kings iv. 1. As when the creditors came to take the sons of the widow for bondmen. When you are rigorous with those that come to poverty, not by their own default, but by the discharge of their duty brought poverty upon themselves, it is contrary to Christianity. Look, as physicians deal with quicksilver, after many distillations they make it useful in medicines; so, after many preparations is this course to be taken.
Second Case. Whether, in forgiving injuries, we are bound to tarry for the repentance of the party? The ground of doubting is, because Christ saith, Luke xvii. 3, ‘If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and, if he repent, forgive him;’ and because of God’s example, who doth not forgive an obstinate sinner, but him that repents. Certainly, even before repentance, we are bound to lay aside revenge, and in many cases to go and reconcile ourselves with others. Saith our Saviour, ‘If thou hast aught against any one,2828 This seems to be inaccurate.—ED. go reconcile thyself to him, and then come and offer thy gift.’ It is not said, If any have aught against thee, but, If thou hast aught against any one*. 1 I confess, in some cases, it is enough to lay it aside before the Lord. But at other times, we are to seek reconciliation with the party which hath wronged us. But this case is mightily to be guided by spiritual prudence. As for God’s example, God is superior, bound to none, he acts 191freely; it is his mercy that pardons any; and yet God gives us a heart to repent of his good pleasure,—he begins with a sinner. But this is nothing to our case who are under law, who are bound to forgive others.
III. The person to whom we pray, Our heavenly Father.
The note is, that God doth alone forgive sin.
There is a double forgiveness of sin—in heaven and in a man’s own conscience; and therefore sometimes compared to the blotting out of something out of a book, sometimes to the blotting out of a cloud. To the blotting out of a book: Isa. xliii. 25, ‘I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions, for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins;’ that it may be no more remembered or charged upon us. To the blotting out of a cloud: Isa. xliv. 22, ‘I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins;’ as the sun when it breaketh forth in its strength dispelleth the mists and clouds. Sin interposeth as a cloud, hindering the light of God’s countenance from shining forth upon us. Both these are God’s work; to blot the book and to blot out the cloud.
1. Pardoning of sin in the court of heaven, it belongeth to God peculiarly: Dan. ix. 9, ‘To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses,’ &c. It is God alone can do it, for two reasons:—
[1.] He is the wronged party.
[2.] He is the supreme judge.
(1.) He is the wronged party, against whom the offence is committed: Ps. li. 4, ‘Against thee, against thee only, have I sinned.’ He had sinned against Bathsheba, against Uriah, whose death he projected. How is it said ‘against thee only’? There may be wrong and hurt done to a creature, but the sin is against God, as it is a breach of his law, and a despising of his sovereign authority; the injury done to the creature is nothing in comparison of the offence done to God, against so many obligations wherein we stand bound to him. Amongst men, we distinguish between the crime and the wrong. And a criminal action is one thing, and an action of wrong and trespass is another. If a man steal from another, it is not enough to make him restitution, but he must satisfy the law.
(2.) He is the supreme judge. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as one God, are the judge of all the earth, to whom they must be accountable for the offence: Gen. xviii. 25, ‘Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?’ But in the mystery of redemption, the Father, as first in order of the persons, is represented as the judge, to whom the satisfaction is tendered, and who doth authoritatively pass a sentence of absolution. And therefore it is said, 1 John ii. 1, ‘We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ He is to deal with him as the supreme judge; and ‘it is God that justifieth.’ Rom. viii. 33. The whole business of our acquitment is carried on by the Father, who is to receive the satisfaction, and our humble addresses for pardon.
But to answer some objections that may arise.
Object. 1. It is said, Mat. ix. 6, ‘The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.’
I answer: That is brought there as an argument of his Godhead. He that was the Son of man was also very God; and therefore upon earth, in the time of his humiliation, he had power to forgive sins, for 192he ceased not to be God when incarnate. And it became him to discover himself, as by his divine power in the work of miracles, so his divine authority in the forgiveness of sins.
Object. 2. Is taken from the text, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we for give those that trespass against us.’
I answer: In sin, there is the obliquity or fault in it, and the hurt or detriment that redounds to man by it. As it is a breach of the law of God, or an offence to his infinite majesty, God can only pardon it, or dispense with it. As it is a hurt to us, so restitution is to be made to man, and man can pardon or forgive it.
Object. 3. It is said, John xx. 23, ‘Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.’ So that it seemeth man hath a power to remit sins.
I answer: They do it declaratively, and by commission from God. The officers of the church have the keys of the kingdom of heaven committed to them; the key of knowledge or doctrine, and the key of order and discipline. Accordingly this power is called, ‘The keys of the kingdom of heaven.’ Mat. xvi. 19. And the use of them is to open or shut the doors of God’s house, and to ‘bind or loose,’ as the expression is, Mat. xviii. 18. That is, to pronounce guilty and liable to judgment, or to absolve and set free declaratively and in God’s name; or, as it is literally expressed in the place alleged, to remit or retain. The key of doctrine is exercised about all sin as sin, were it never so secret and inward; and the key of order and discipline about sin only as it is scandalous and infectious. Now what they act ministerially, according to their commission, it is ratified in heaven, for it is a declaration or intimation of the sentence already passed there. So that a declarative and ministerial power is given to the church; but the authoritative power of forgiving sins, that God hath reserved to himself. Man can remit doctrinally, and by way of judicial procedure, but that is only by way of commission and ministerial deputation. Such as are penitent, and feel the bonds of their sins, they do declaratively absolve and loose them, or take off the censure judicially inflicted for their scandalous carriage. This ministerial forgiving, however carnal hearts may slight it, both in doctrine and discipline, yet being according to the rules of the word, is owned by God, and the penitent shall feel it to their encouragement, and the obstinate to their terror.
2. As he pardoneth sin in the conscience; and there God alone can forgive sin, or speak peace to the soul upon a double account:—
[1.] Because of his authority.
[2.] Because of his power.
(1.) Because of his authority. Conscience is God’s deputy, and till God be pacified, conscience is not pacified upon sound and solid terms. Therefore it is said, where conscience doth its office, 1 John iii. 20, 21 , ‘If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things; if our hearts condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.’ God is greater than our consciences. His authority is greater, for God is supreme, whose sentence is decisive. Now, though conscience should not do its office, 1 Cor. iv. 4, ‘For I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.’ All depends upon God’s testimony.193
(2.) Because of his power, who only can still the conscience: Isa. lvii. 19, ‘I create the fruit of the lips to be, peace, peace;’ that is, the lips of his ministers or messengers, who bring the glad tidings of peace, or the reconcilement of God to his people: and therefore it is called ‘the peace of God,’ Phil. iv. 7, as wrought by him. The gospel is a sovereign plaster, but it is God’s hand that must make it stick upon the soul, otherwise we hear words and return words: it is by the lively operation of his Spirit that our hearts are settled. God cometh in with a sovereign powerful act upon the soul, otherwise one grief or sad thought doth but awaken another. Till he ‘command loving-kindness,’ Ps. xlii. 8, we are still followed with temptation; as the rain swells the rivers, and rivers the sea, and in the sea one wave impelleth another, so doth one temptation raise another.
Use 1. It reproveth those that do not deal with God about the pardon of their sins. If God alone pardon sins, then God must be sought to about it. For though there be none in earth to call us to an account, yet God may call us to an account; and then what shall we do? Many, if they escape the judgment of man, think they are safe; but alas! your iniquities will find you out. You think they are past, and never more to be remembered; but they will find you out in this world or the next; our business lieth not with man so much as with God. Therefore this should be the question of your souls: Job xxxi. 14, ‘What then shall I do when God riseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him?’ Which way shall I turn myself when God calleth me to an account? He will come and inquire into our ways; are you provided of an answer? David’s sin was secret; his plot for the destruction of Uriah closely carried. Nathan tells him, 2 Sam. xii. 12, ‘Thou didst it secretly.’ But, ‘against thee have I sinned.’ Many escape blame with men, but God’s wrath maketh inquisition for sinners. You cannot escape his search and vengeance if you do not treat with him about a pardon.
Use 2. It shows the folly of those that have nothing to show for the pardon of their sins, but their own secure presumptions; it is God’s act to pardon sin. Man may forget his sin, but if God remember it he is miserable. Man may hide his sin, but if God bring it to light; man may put off the thoughts, but if God doth not put away; man may excuse his sin, but if God aggravate it; the debtor may deny the debt, but if the book be not crossed, he is responsible: Ps. xxxii. 1, 2, ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity,’ &c. We must have God’s act to show for our discharge, then we may triumph: ‘It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?’ &c., Rom. viii. 33, 34. God is the offended party, and the supreme judge. Then conscience hath nothing to do with us, nor Satan, neither as accuser or executioner. Not as an accuser, for then he is but a slanderer; not as an executioner, for he is turned out of office: Heb. ii. 14, ‘That he might destroy him that had the power of death, even the devil.’ Have you your pardon from God? Is your discharge from him? When have it we from God?
1. Have it you from his mouth, in the word, or prayer, upon suing 194to him in Christ’s name, and earnest waiting upon him? If men would consider how they come by their peace, they would sooner be undeceived. You were praying and wrestling with God, and so your comfort came. God speaketh peace. But when it groweth upon you, you know not how; it was a thing you never laboured for; like Jonah’s gourd, it grew up in a night; it is but a fond dream.
2. Have it you under his hand? Is it a peace upon scripture terms?—of faith: Rom. v. 1, ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:’—repentance: Luke xxiv. 47, ‘That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations,’ &c.;—and the exercise of holiness,—then have you God’s word to show for it. But if it be not a peace consistent with scripture rules, nay, you are afraid of the word, John iii. 20, you are loth to be tried,—it is a naughty heart.
3. Have it you under his seal? 2 Cor. i. 22, ‘Who hath also sealed us, and given us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.’ Have you the impress of God upon you, God’s seal, his image? Doth the Spirit of promise assure your hearts before God, that you can live in the strength of this comfort and go about duties cheerfully? Then it is God’s pardon; otherwise it is but your own absolution, which is worth nothing.
Use 3. It showeth that we need not fear the censures of men, nor the hatred of the ungodly; for it is God pardoneth, and who can condemn? God will not ask their vote and suffrage who shall be accepted to life and who not: 1 Cor. iv. 3, ‘But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment,’ &c. A man must expect censure that will be faithful to God; but if he acquit us, it is no matter what our guilty fellow-creatures say.
Use 4. Is comfort to broken-hearted sinners; to those that need and desire pardon. It is well for them that God doth not put them off to others, but reserveth this power of pardoning sins to himself.
1. It is his glory to forgive sins: Exod. xxxiii. 18, ‘And he said, I beseech thee show me thy glory;’ compared with Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7, ‘And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin,’ &c. It is not only the glory of a man, who is so offensive himself and so passionate, that this passion will draw him to what is unseemly, but of God.
2. It is his glory, not only above the creatures, but above all that is called god in the world: Micah vii. 18, ‘Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.’ The heathen gods were known by their terrors rather than their benefits, and feared rather for their revenges than their mercies. We may boast of him above all idol gods upon this account. He is known among his people, not so much by acts of power, as acts of grace, and the greatness of his mercy, in pardoning sins for Christ’s sake.
3. He is willing to dispense a pardon: Micah vii. 18, ‘He delighteth in mercy.’ God delighteth in himself, and all his attributes, and 195the manifestation of them in the world; but above all in his mercy. Justice is ‘his strange act,’ Isa. xxviii. 21. There is not anything more pleasing to him. It is the mercy of God that he hath drawn up a petition for us; he would never have taught us to have asked mercy by prayer, if he had not been willing to show us mercy.
4. God will do it for his own sake, and not for any foreign reasons: Isa. xliii. 25, ‘I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake,’ and out of a respect to his own honour. See how God casts up his accounts. It is mercy: Jer. iii. 12, ‘I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever.’ So his truth: Ps. cvi. 45, ‘He remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies.’ Not from any desert of theirs, who do so neglect him and wrong him; God will do it upon his own reasons.
5. He will do it in such a way as man doth not, in a way of infinite mercy: Hosea xi. 9, ‘I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger; for I am God, and not. man.’ It is the great advantage of us sinners that we have to do with God and not man in our miscarriages; for man’s pity and mercy may be exhausted, be it never so great. What! seven times a day? But God is infinite. Man may think it dishonourable to agree with an inferior when he stoops not to him; but God is so far above the creature that we are below his indignation. Man is soon wearied, but not God: Isa. lv. 8, 9, ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’
I now come to the fourth and last consideration.
IV. That forgiveness of sins is one great benefit that we must ask of God in prayer. Here it will be needful to show:—
First, The necessity of treating with God about forgiveness.
Secondly, The nature of this benefit
Thirdly, The terms how God dispenseth it.
First, The necessity will appear in these propositions:—
1. Man hath a conscience: Rom. ii. 15, ‘Thoughts accusing or excusing,’ &c. A beast cannot reflect.
2. A conscience inferreth a law.
3. A law inferreth a sanction.
4. A sanction inferreth a judgment.
5. A judgment inferreth a condemnation to the fallen creature.
6. There is no avoiding this condemnation, unless God set up a chancery, or another court of grace.
7. If God set up another court, our plea must be grace. Of this see more at large, ‘Twenty Sermons,’ Sermon 1 on Ps. xxxii. 1, 2.
Secondly, The nature of this benefit, or manner how God forgiveth.
[1.] Freely, and merely upon the impulsions of his own grace: Isa. xliii. 25, ‘I, even I, am he that forgiveth your iniquities for my name’s sake.’ Nothing else could move him to it but his own mercy; and he could have chosen whether he would have done so, yea or no—for he 196spared not the angels, but offereth pardon to man, and all men are not actually pardoned. And, therefore, the only reason why he showeth us mercy and not others, is merely his own grace. The intervention of Christ’s merit doth not hinder the freedom of it, though dearly purchased by Christ, yet freely bestowed on us. For it is said, Rom. iii. 24, ‘Justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ.’ Why? Partly because it was mercy that he would not prosecute his right against us. Partly because he found out the way how to recompense the wrong done by sin unto his majesty, and out of his love sent his Son to make this recompense for us: John iii. 16. It was love set all a-work. And lastly, not excited hereunto by any worth on our parts, but the external moving cause was only our misery, and the internal moving cause his own grace. Nor is the freedom of this act infringed by requiring faith and repentance on our part, because that only showeth the way and order wherein this grace is dispensed, not the cause why. It is not for the worth of our repentance, or as if there were any merit in it. A malefactor, that beggeth his pardon on his knees, doth not deserve a pardon; only the majesty of the prince requireth that it should be submissively asked. These are not conditions of merit, but order; not the cause, but the way of grace’s working. And these conditions are wrought in us by grace: Acts v. 31; not required only, but given. In all other covenants, the party contracting is bound to perform what he promiseth by his own strength. But in the covenant of grace, God doth not only require that we should believe and repent, but causeth it in us. Conditions of the covenant are conditions in the covenant. God requireth faith and repentance, and giveth faith and repentance. Compare Isa. lix. 20, with Rom. xi. 26. It is Christ’s gift as well as his precept; so that when we come about pardon of sin, we have only to do with grace. We beg pardon, and a heart to receive it. It is a free pardon.
[2.] It is a full pardon. It is full in several respects. (1.) Because where the party is forgiven, he is accepted with God as if he had never sinned: Ps. ciii. 12, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.’ And Micah vii. 19, ‘Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depth of the sea;’ Isa. xxxviii. 17, ‘Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.’ It shall not be remembered nor laid to their charge any more. It is true, for a while after they may trouble the conscience, as when the storm ceaseth, the waves roll for a while afterwards; so may sin in the consciences of God’s children work trouble, after the fiducial application of the blood of Christ. But the storm ceaseth by degrees; and it is possible that the commitment of new sins may revive old guilt, as a new strain may make us sensible of an old bruise. Yet we must distinguish between the full grant of a pardon, from the full sense of it. When we are not thankful, humble, fruitful, former sins may come into remembrance, and God may permit it, as matter of humiliation to us, and to quicken us to seek after new confirmation of our right and interest. Yet God’s pardon is never reversed, nor will the sin be charged again, or put in suit against him, to the final condemnation of the person so pardoned. Once more: though the sins of the justified 197should be remembered at the day of judgment, it will not be to the confusion of their faces, but the exaltation and praise of the Lord’s grace. Then is this acquittance in all respects full. (2.) It is full, because where God forgiveth one sin, he will forgive all: Ps. ciii. 3, ‘Who pardoneth all thy sins;’ and Micah vii. 19, ‘Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depth of the sea.’ Sins original, actual; of omission, commission; small, great; secret, open; lust that boileth in the heart, and breaketh out in the life; sins of worship, of ordinary conversation. Look in the bill—what owest thou? A Christian is amazed when he cometh to a serious account with God; but the self-judging sinner needeth not be discouraged when he cometh to God. For where God pardoneth all that is past, the fountain stands daily open for him to flee unto, with all his faults as they are committed; and upon the renewing of his faith and repentance, he shall obtain his pardon. All sins are mortal, all of them damnable. Therefore if all sins be not pardoned, he remaineth in danger of the curse, and one sin let alone is sufficient to exclude us out of heaven. Therefore all is pardoned, first or last. Justice hath no more to seek of Christ. And we have all leave to sue out our pardon in Christ’s name. He is under that covenant that will pardon all.
[3.] It is full; because where God forgiveth the sin, he also forgiveth the punishment. It will not stand with God’s mercy to forgive the debt, and yet to require the payment. It is a mocking to say, I for give you the debt, and yet cast the man into prison; and to pardon the malefactor, and yet leave him liable to execution. Here in the text, God forgiveth us, as we are bound to forgive our brother, not in part, but in whole. Guilt is nothing but an obligation to punishment (1.) As to eternal punishment, it is clear: Rom. v. 9. The eternal promises and threatenings, being of things absolutely good and evil, are therefore absolute and peremptory, that is certain. (2.) But now as to temporal afflictions, there is some difficulty, for where the whole punishment is done away, such grace and payment of any part of the debt cannot stand together. That pardon which is given upon valuable and sufficient price is full and perfect. Jesus Christ satisfied the justice of God for all our sins. How is it, then, that the saints are subject to so many afflictions? (1.) So far as sin remains, so far some penal evil remains: when the dominion of it is broken, there remains no condemnation, but yet some affliction, and when it is wholly gone, there is no evil at all. We are not yet purged from all sin; and, therefore, (2.) these afflictions are not satisfactory punishments, and need not, as to the completing of our justification, but are helps to us, as the furtherance of our sanctification; and so are of great use—[1.] To make us hate sin more. If we only knew the sweetness of it, and not the bitterness, we would not be so shy of it. Now the bitterness of it is seen by the effects: Jer. ii. 19, ‘Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee; know therefore, and see, that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts.’ [2.] It will cause us to prize our deliverance by Christ. If affliction be so grievous, what would hell be? 1 Cor. xi. 32, ‘But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not 198be condemned with the world.’ It is a gentle remembrance of hell-pains, or a fair warning to avoid them, when scorched or singed a little. [3.J To make us walk more humbly. We forget ourselves, and are apt to be puffed up. Paul saith, 2 Cor. xii. 7, ‘Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.’
[4.] It is full, because where God forgiveth sin, there are many consequent benefits.
(1.) God is reconciled: Rom. v. 1, ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ This is the great blessing, and our great work is to make and keep peace with God; to have no cloud between us and his face. Light is pleasant: what then is the light of his countenance, that filleth us with a peace that passes understanding? We would have a powerful friend, especially if we need him: Acts xii. 20; they sought peace with Herod, ‘because their country was nourished by the king’s country;’ so should we do: we cannot live without God. If sin be pardoned, then we are at peace with God, and may have free access to him, with a free use of all that is his.
(2.) A heart sanctified is a connexed benefit: 1 Cor. vi. 11, ‘And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus;’ and 1 John i. 9. Sin is considerable in the guilt and filth of it, as it rendereth us obnoxious to God’s justice, or as it tainteth our faculties and actions. According to this double respect, Christ destroyeth sin, and no man hath benefit by him that is not freed from the guilt and filth thereof. Christ was sent into the world to restore God’s image in us. But the image of God consisteth in the participation of holiness, as well as the participation of blessedness; for God, that is happy and blessed, is also holy and good. The filthiness of sin is opposite to holiness, and the guilt of it to blessedness; so that either Christ must restore but half the image of God, or he must give us this double benefit. If he should give us one without the other, many inconveniences would follow; therefore both are given: he justifieth that he may sanctify, and he sanctifieth that he may glorify.
(3.) Providence is blessed: the curse is taken out of our blessings, and the sting out of our afflictions. As long as sin remains unpardoned our blessings are cursed: Mal. ii. 2, ‘If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name, saith the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings; yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart.’ There will be a worm in our manna, our ‘table will become a snare,’ Ps. lxix. 22. But when once sin is pardoned, the sting of misery is taken away: 1 Cor. xv. 56, ‘The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law: but thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Crosses are not curses.
(4.) We have a right to heaven, which is the great ground of hope: Rom. v. 10, ‘For it, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.’199
Thirdly, The terms upon which it is dispensed are faith and repentance.
1. Faith: Acts x. 43, ‘To him give all the prophets witness, that, through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.’ Faith is necessary to honour the mercy of God, to own the surety, to consent to his undertaking, to encourage the creature to look after this benefit.
2. Repentance, which implieth a sorrow for sin, with a serious purpose of forsaking it. Sorrow for sin: no man can seriously desire a pardon but he that is touched with a sense of his sin, moved and troubled at it. And then, for purpose of forsaking: Ezek. xxxiii. 12, ‘As for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness.’ Sin pardoned must be left; otherwise, a pardon given to a wicked man would be a confirmation of his sin, or a concession of leave to sin. Well, then, let us seek pardon of God in this way.
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