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Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile—Ps. XXXII. 1, 2.
THE title of this psalm is ‘A psalm of instruction,’ and so called be cause David was willing to show them the way to happiness from his own experience. Surely no lesson is so needful to be learned as this. We all would be happy: the good and bad, that do so seldom agree in anything, yet agree in this, a desire to be happy. Now, happy we cannot be but in God, who is the only, immutable, eternal, and all-sufficient good, which satisfies and fills up all the capacities and desires of our souls. And we are debarred from access to him by sin, which hath made a breach and separation between him and us, and till that be taken away there can be no converse, and sin can only be taken away by God’s pardon upon Christ’s satisfaction. God’s pardon is clearly asserted in my text, but Christ’s satisfaction and righteousness must be supplied out of other scriptures, as that 2 Cor. v. 19, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.’ Where the apostle clearly shows that not imputing transgressions is the effect of God’s grace in Christ. And we do no wrong to this text to take it in here; for the apostle, citing this scripture Rom. iv. 6, 7, tells us, that ‘David describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom the Lord imputeth righteousness without works, when he saith, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sin is covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.’
In the words you have:—
1. An emphatical setting forth of a great and blessed privilege; that is, pardon of sin.
2. A description of the persons who shall enjoy it: in whose spirit there is no guile.
The privilege is that I shall confine my thoughts to; it is set forth in three expressions: forgiving transgression, covering of sin, and not imputing iniquity. The manner of speech is warm and vehement, and it is repeated over again: blessed is the man.
I shall show what these three expressions import, and why the prophet doth use such vehemency and emphatical inculcation in setting forth this privilege.
1. Whose transgression is forgiven, or who is eased of his transgression; where sin is compared to a burden too heavy for us to bear, as also it is in other scriptures: Mat. xi. 28, ‘Come to me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden.’
2. Whose sin is covered; alluding to the covering of filth, or the 178removing of that which is offensive out of sight. As the Israelites were to inarch with a paddle tied to their arms, that when they went to ease themselves they might dig, and cover that which came from them: Deut. xxiii., you have the law there, and the reason of it, ver. 14, ‘For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp; therefore shall thy camp be holy, that he see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee.’
And then the third expression is, to whom the Lord imputeth no sin; that is, doth not put sin to their account. Where sin is compared to a debt, as it is also in the Lord’s Prayer: Mat. vi. 12, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.’ Thus is the act set forth.
The object of pardon about which it is conversant is set forth under divers expressions—iniquity, transgression, and sin; as in law many words of like import and signification are heaped up and put together, to make the deed and legal instrument more comprehensive and effectual. I observe it the rather because, when God proclaims his name, the same words are used: Exod. xxxiv. 7, ‘Taking away iniquity, transgression, and sin.’ Well, we have seen the meaning of the expression. Why doth the holy man of God use such vigour and vehemency of inculcation—‘Blessed is the man,’ and again ‘Blessed is the man’? Partly with respect to his own case. David knew how sweet it was to have sin pardoned; he had felt the bitterness of sin in his own soul, to the drying up of his blood, and therefore he doth express his sense of pardon in the most lively terms—‘Blessed is the man whose iniquity is forgiven.’ And then partly too with respect to those for whose use this instruction was written, that they might not look upon it as a light and trivial thing, but be thoroughly apprehensive of the worth of so great a privilege. Blessed, happy, thrice happy, they who have obtained pardon of their sins, and justification by Jesus Christ.
The doctrine, then, which I shall insist upon is this: That it is a great degree and step towards, yea, a considerable part of our blessedness, to obtain the pardon of our sins by Christ Jesus. I shall evidence it to you by these three considerations:—
1. I shall show what necessity lies upon us to seek after this pardon.
2. Our misery without it.
3. I shall speak of the annexed benefits, and our happiness if once we attain it.
1. The necessity that lies upon us, being all guilty before God, to seek after our justification, and the pardon of our sins by Christ. That it may sink the deeper into your minds, I shall do it in this scheme or method:—First, A reasonable nature implies a conscience; a conscience implies a law; a law implies a sanction; a sanction implies a judge, and a judgment-day (when all shall be called to account for breaking the law); and this judgment-day infers a condemnation upon all man kind unavoidably, unless the Lord will compromise the matter, and find out some way in the chancery of the gospel wherein we may be relieved. This way God hath found out in Christ, and being brought about by such a mysterious contrivance, we ought to be deeply and thankfully apprehensive of it, and humbly and broken-heartedly to 179quit the one covenant, and accept of the grace provided for us in the other.
[1.] A reasonable nature implies a conscience; for man can reflect upon his own actions, and hath that in him to acquit or condemn him accordingly as he doth good or evil, 1 John iii. 20, 21. Conscience is nothing but the judgment a man makes upon his actions morally considered, the good or the evil, the rectitude or obliquity, that is in them with respect to rewards or punishment. As a man acts, so he is a party; but as he reviews and censures his actions, so he is a judge. Let us take notice only of the condemning part, for that is proper to our case. After the fact, the force of conscience is usually felt more than before or in the fact; because before, through the treachery of the senses, and the revolt of the passions, the judgment of reason is not so clear. I say, our passions and affections raise clouds and mists which darken the mind, and do incline the will by a pleasing violence; but after the evil action is done, when the affection ceaseth, then guilt flasheth in the face of conscience. As Judas, whose heart lay asleep all the while he was going on in his villainy, but afterwards it fell upon him. Thou hast ‘sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ When the affections are satisfied, and give place to reason, that was before condemned, and reason takes the throne again, it hath the more force to affect us with grief and fear, whilst it strikes through the heart of a man with a sharp sentence of reproof for obeying appetite before reason. Now this conscience of sin may be choked and smothered for a while, but the flame will break forth, and our hidden fears are easily revived and awakened, except we get our pardon and discharge. A reasonable nature implies a conscience.
[2.] A conscience implies a law, by which good and evil are distinguished; for if we make conscience of anything, it must be by virtue of some law or obligation from God, who is our maker and governor, and unto whom we are accountable, and whose authority giveth a force and warrant to the warnings and checks of conscience, without which they would be weak and ineffectual, and all the hopes and fears they stir up in us would be vain fancies and fond surmises. I need not insist upon this, a conscience implies a law. The heathens had a law, because they had a conscience: Rom. ii. 15, ‘Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing, or else excusing one another.’ They have a conscience doth accuse or excuse, doth require according to the tenor of the law. So when the apostle speaks of those stings of conscience that are revived in us by the approach of death, he saith, 1 Cor. xv. 56, ‘The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.’ Those stings which men feel in a death-threatening sickness, are not the fruits of their disease, but, justified by the highest reason; they come from a sense of sin y and this sense is strengthened and increased in us by the law of God, from whence conscience receives all its force.
[3.] A law implies a sanction, or a confirmation by penalties and rewards; for otherwise it is but an arbitrary rule or direction, which we might slight or disregard without any great loss or danger. No; the law is armed with a dreadful curse against all those that disobey 180it. There is no dallying with God, he hath set life and death before us; life and good, death and evil, Deut. xxx. 15. Now the precept, that is the rule of our duty, and the sanction is the rule of God’s process, what God will do, or might do, and what we have deserved should be done to us. The one shows what is due from us to God, and the other what may justly be expected at God’s hands; therefore, before the penalty be executed, it concerns us to get a pardon. The scripture represents God as ‘angry with the wicked every day,’ standing continually with his bow ready, with his arrow upon the string, as ready to let fly, with his sword not only drawn but whetted, as if he were just about to strike, if we turn not, Ps. vii. 11-13.
[4.] A sanction implies a judge, who will take cognisance of the keeping or breaking of this law; for otherwise the sanction or penalty were but a vain scarecrow, if there were no person to look after it. God, that is our maker and governor, is our judge. Would he appoint penalties for the breach of his law, and never reckon with us for our offences, is a thought so unreasonable, so much against the sense of conscience, against God’s daily providence, against scripture, which everywhere (in order to this, to quicken us to seek forgiveness of sins) represents God as a judge. Conscience is afraid of an invisible judge, who will call us to account for what we have done. The apostle tells us, Rom. i. 32, the heathen ‘knew the judgment of God, and that they that have done such things as they have done are worthy of death.’ And providence shows us there is such a judge that looks after the keeping and breaking of his law, hath owned every part of it from heaven by the judgments he executes: Rom. i. 18, ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men;’ hath owned either table, by punishing sometimes the ungodliness, and some times the unrighteousness of the world; nay, every notable breach by way of omission or commission. The apostle saith, ‘every transgression,’ and ‘every disobedience.’ These two words signify sins of omission or commission: it hath been punished, and God hath owned his law, that it is a firm authentic rule. And the scripture also usually makes use of this notion or argument of a judge to quicken us to look after the pardon of our sins: Acts x. 42, 43, ‘And he hath commanded us to preach and testify to the people, that it is he that was ordained of God to be the judge of the quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.’ So Acts iii. 19-21. Surely we that are to appear before the bar of an impartial judge, being so obnoxious to him for the breach of his holy law, what have we to do but to make supplication to our judge, and prevent execution by a submissive asking of a pardon, and accepting the grace God hath provided?
[5.] A judge implies a judgment-day, or some time when his justice must have a solemn trial, when he will reckon with the lapsed world. He reckons sometimes with nations now, for ungodliness and unrighteousness, by wars, and pestilence, and famine. He reckons with particular persons at their death, and when their work is done he pays them their wages: Heb. ix. 27, ‘It is appointed for all men once to die, and after that the judgment.’ But there is a more general and final judgment, when his justice must have a solemn trial, which is in 181part evident in nature; for the apostles did slide in the Christian doctrine mostly by this means into the hearts of those to whom they preached: Acts xxiv. 25, ‘He reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.’ The particularity of it belongs to the gospel revelation, but nature hath some kind of sense of it in itself, and they are urged to repent, ‘because God hath appointed a day wherein he will judge the world in righteousness, by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead,’ Acts xvii. 31. God judgeth the world in patience now, but then in righteousness, when all things shall be reviewed, and everything restored; virtue to its public honour, and vice to its due shame.
[6.] If there be a solemn judgment-day, when every one must receive his final doom, this judgment certainly infers a condemnation to a fallen creature, unless God set up another court for his relief; for now man is utterly disenabled by sin to fulfil the law, and can by no means avoid the punishment that is due to his transgression. I shall prove this by three reasons:—The law to fallen man is impossible; the penalty is intolerable; and the punishment, for aught that yet appears, if God do not take another course, is unavoidable.
(1.) The duty of the law is impossible. The apostle tells us ‘what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the weakness of our flesh.’ It could not justify us before God, it could not furnish us with any answer to his demands, when he shall call us to an account. Man is mightily addicted to the legal covenant, therefore it is one part of a gospel minister’s work to represent the impossibility of ever obtaining grace or life by that covenant. Man would stick to the law as long as he can, and will patch up a sorry righteousness of his own, some few superficial things. He makes a short exposition of the law, that he may cherish a large opinion of his own righteousness; and curtails the law of God, that the ell may be no longer than the cloth, and brings it down to a poor contemptible thing, requiring a few external superficial duties of men. We read often of being ‘dead to sin,’ and ‘to the world;’ it is as certainly true we must be ‘dead to the law.’ Now how are we dead to the law? The scripture tells us in one place, that ‘through the law we are dead to the law;’ and in another place, that we are ‘dead to the law through the body of Christ.’ The first place is Gal. ii. 19, ‘Through the law I am dead to the law.’ Men are apt to stand to the legal covenant, and have their confidence in the flesh, to place their hopes of acceptance with God in some few external things, which they make their false righteousness. For the carnal world, as it cries up a false happiness as its God, so men have a false righteousness which is their Christ. Now through the law they are dead to it. How? The law supposeth us as innocent, and requires us to continue so: ‘Cursed is every one that continues not in every thing.’ Suppose a man should exactly fulfil it afterwards, yet the paying of new debts will not quit old scores. And then we are ‘dead to the law by the body of Christ,’ Rom. vii. 4; by the crucified body of Christ, by which he hath merited and purchased a better hope and grace for us. Well, the duty is impossible.
(2.) The penalty is intolerable, for who can stand when God is 182angry? Ezek. xxii. 14, ‘Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the day that I shall deal with thee?’ We that cannot endure the pain of the gout or stone, how shall we endure the eternal wrath of God? It is surely a very ‘dreadful thing to fall into the hands of that living God,’ that lives for ever to punish the transgressors of his law.
(3.) The punishment is unavoidable, unless sin be pardoned, and you submit to God’s way: for I would ask you, what hope can you have in Go4, whose nature engageth him to hate sin, and whose justice obligeth him to punish it?
(1st.) Whose nature engageth him to hate sin and sinners: Hab. i. 13, ‘He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.’ I urge this for a double reason: partly because I have observed that all the security of sinners, and their neglect of seeking after pardon by Jesus Christ, it comes from their lessening thoughts of God’s holiness; and if their hearts were sufficiently possessed with an awe of God’s unspotted purity and holiness, they would more look after the terms of grace God hath provided: Ps. l. 21, ‘Thou thoughtest I was altogether such an one as thyself.’ Why do men live securely in their sins, and do not break off their evil course? They think God is not so severe and harsh, and so .all their confidence is grounded upon a mistake of God’s nature, and such a dreadful mistake as amounts to a blasphemy: ‘Thou thoughtest I was altogether such an one as thyself.’ The other reason is this, particularly because I observe the bottom reason of all the fear that is in the hearts of men is God’s holiness: 1 Sam. vi. 20, ‘Who is able to stand before this holy God?’ and ‘Who would not fear thee? for thou art holy,’ Rev. xv. 4. We fear his power; why? because it is .set on work by his wrath. We fear his wrath; why? because it is kindled by his justice and righteousness. We fear his righteousness, because it is bottomed and grounded upon his holiness, and upon the purity of his nature.
(2dly.) His justice obligeth him to punish sin, that the law might not seem to be made in vain. It concerns the universal judge to maintain the reputation of his justice in reference to men, and to appear to them still as a righteous God: Gen. xviii. 25, ‘Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?’ and Rom. iii. 5, 6, ‘Is God unrighteous to take vengeance? how then shall he judge the world?’ These scriptures imply, that if there were the least blemish, if you could suppose he should fail in point of righteousness, this were to be denied, that God should be the judge of the world. Therefore God’s righteousness and justice, which gives to every one their due, must shine in its proper place; he will give vengeance to whom vengeance is due, and blessing to whom blessing belongs. In our case punishment belongs to us, and what can we expect from this God but wrath and eternal destruction? Therefore if all this be so, if a conscience suppose a law, a law a sanction, a sanction a judge—a judge some time when his justice must have a solemn trial, and this will necessarily infer condemnation to a fallen creature—what then shall we do?
[7.] From this condemnation there is no escape, unless God set up another court and chancery of the gospel, where condemned sinners may be taken to mercy, and their sins forgiven, and they justified and 183accepted unto grace and life, Upon terms that may salve God’s honour and government over mankind. There is a great deal of difference between the forgiving private wrongs and injuries, and the pardoning of public offences; between the pardon of a magistrate, and the pardon of a private person. When equals fall out among themselves, they may end their differences in charity, and in such ways as best please themselves, by a mere forgiving, by acquitting the sense of the wrong done, or a bare submission of the party offending. But the case is different here: God is not reconciled to us merely as the party offended, but as the governor of the world; the case lies between the judge of the world and sinning mankind; therefore it must not be ended by mere compromise and agreement, but by satisfaction, that his law may be satisfied, and the honour of his justice secured. Therefore to make the pardon of man a thing convenient to the righteous and holy judge to bestow, without any impeachment to the honour of his justice and authority of his law, the Lord finds out this great mystery, ‘God manifested in our flesh,’ Jesus Christ is ‘made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,’ Gal. iv. 5; and is ‘become a propitiation to satisfy God’s justice,’ Rom. iii. 25, 26. And so God shows mercy to his creatures, and yet the awe of his government is kept up, and a full demonstration of his righteousness is given to the world.
[8.] This being done conveniently to God’s honour, we must sue out our pardon with respect to both the covenants, both that which we have broken, the law of nature, and that which is made in Christ, and is to be accepted by us as our sanctuary and sure refuge.
(1.) We must have a broken-hearted sense of sin, and of the curse due to the first covenant; for it is the disease brings us to the physician; the curse drives us to the promise, and the tribunal of justice to the throne of grace; and the avenger of blood at our heels, that causeth us to fly to our proper city of refuge, and to take sanctuary at the Lord’s grace, Heb. vi. 18. So that if you mince and extenuate sin, you seem to hold to the first covenant, and had rather plead innocent than guilty. No; if you would have this favour, you must confess your sins: 1 John i. 9, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ You must confess your sins, and with that remorse that will become offences done to so great a God. And there must not only be a sense of sin, but of the curse and merit of sin also; for we must not only accuse, but judge ourselves, that God may not judge and condemn us, 1 Cor. xi. 31. Self-accusing respects sin, and is acted in confession; self-judging respects the curse or punishment that is due to us for sin, and it is a person’s pronouncing upon himself according to the tenor of the law what is his due, acknowledging his guilt, and this with much brokenness of heart before God, when he hath involved himself in God’s eternal wrath and displeasure. I observe, that the law-covenant is in the scripture compared to a prison, wherein God hath shut up guilty souls, Rom. xi. 32, ‘He hath concluded or shut them up, that he may have mercy upon them;’ Gal. iii. 21, ‘He hath shut them up under sin.’ The law is God’s prison, and no offenders can get out of it till they have God’s leave; and from him they have none, till they are sensible of the justice and righteousness of that first dispensation, 184confess their sins with brokenness of heart, and that it may be just with God to condemn them for ever.
(2.) We must thankfully accept the Lord’s grace, that offers pardon to us. For since God is pleased to try us a second time, and set us up with a new stock of grace, and that brought about in such a wonderful way, that he may recover the lost creation to himself, surely if we shall despise our remedy, after we have rendered ourselves incapable of our duty, no condemnation is bad enough for us, John iii. 18, 19. Therefore we should admire the mercy of God in Christ, and have such a deep sense of it, that it may check our sinful self-love, which hath been our bane and ruin. And since God showed himself willing to be reconciled, we must enter into his peace, not look upon ourselves in a hopeless and desperate condition, but depend upon the merit, sacrifice, and intercession of Christ, and be encouraged by his gracious promise and covenant to ‘come with boldness, that we may find grace and mercy to help in a time of need,’ Heb. iv. 16. Thus you see the need we have to look after this pardon of sin.
2. Secondly, I must show our misery without this; and this will be best done by considering the notions here in the text. Here is filth to be covered, a burden of which we must be eased; and here is a debt that must be cancelled: and unless this be, what a miserable condition are we in!
[1.] What a heavy burden is sin, where it is not pardoned! Carnal men feel it not for the present: elements are not burdensome in their own place; but how soon may they feel it! Two sorts of consciences feel the burden of sin—a tender conscience, and a wounded conscience. It is grievous to a tender heart, that values the love of God, to lie under the guilt of sin, and to be obnoxious to his wrath and displeasure: Ps. xxxviii. 4, ‘Mine iniquities are gone over mine head, as a burden too heavy for me.’ Broken bones are sensible of the least weight; certainly a broken heart cannot make light of sin. What kind of hearts are those that sin securely, and without remorse, and are never troubled? Go to wounded consciences, and ask of them what sin is: Gen. iv. 13, ‘Mine iniquity is greater than I can bear;’ Prov. xviii. 14, ‘A wounded spirit, who can bear?’ As long as the evil lies without us, it is tolerable, the natural courage of a man may bear up under it; but when the spirit itself is wounded with the sense of sin, who can bear it? If a spark of God’s wrath light upon the conscience, how soon do men become a burden to themselves; and some have chosen strangling rather than life. Ask Cain, ask Judas, what it is to feel the burden of sin. Sinners are ‘all their lifetime subject to this bondage;’ it is not always felt, but soon awakened: it may be done by a pressing exhortation at a sermon; it may be done by some notable misery that befalls us in the world; it may be done by a scandalous sin; it may be done by a grievous sickness, or worldly disappointment. All these things and many more may easily revive it in us. There needs not much ado to put a sinner in the stocks of conscience. Therefore do but consider to be eased of this burden; oh the blessedness of it!
[2.] It is filth to be covered, which renders us odious in the sight of God. It is said, Prov. xiii. 5, that ‘a sinner is loathsome.’ To 185whom? To God. Certainly he is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. To good men. ‘The wicked is an abomination to the righteous;’ the new nature hath an aversion to it. Lot’s righteous soul was vexed from day to day with the conversation of the wicked. A wicked man hates a godly man with a hatred of enmity and abomination; but a godly man doth not hate a wicked man with a hatred of enmity—that is opposite to good-will—but with that of abomination, which is opposite to complacence. It is loathsome to an indifferent man, for holiness darts an awe and reverence into the conscience. ‘The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour,’ and a wicked person is a vile person in the common esteem of the world: horrible profaneness will not easily down. Nay, it is loath some to other wicked men. I do not know whether I expound that scripture rightly, but it looks somewhat so, ‘Hateful and hating one another.’ We hate sin in another, though we will not take notice of it in ourselves. The sensuality and pride and vanity of one wicked man is hated by another; nay, he is loathsome to himself. Why? because he cannot endure to look into himself. We cannot endure ourselves when we are serious. ‘They will not come to the light, lest their deeds should be reproved.’ And we are shy of God’s presence; we are sensible we have something makes us offensive to him, and we hang off from him when we have sinned against him; as it was David’s experience, Ps. xxxii. 3. That was the cause of his silence: he kept off from God, having sinned against him, and had not a heart to go home and sue out his pardon. Oh, what a mercy is it, then, to have this filth covered, that we may be freed from this bashful inconfidence, and not be ashamed to look God in the face, and may come with a holy boldness into the presence of the blessed God! Oh, the blessedness of the man whose sin is covered!
[3.] It is a debt that binds the soul to everlasting punishment; and if it be not pardoned, the judge will give us over to the jailer, and the jailer cast us into prison, ‘till we have paid the uttermost farthing,’ Luke xii. 59. To have so vast a debt lying upon us, what a misery is that! Augustus bought that man’s bed who could sleep soundly when he was in debt so many hundred of sesterces. Certainly it is a strange security that possesseth the hearts of men, when we are obliged to suffer the vengeance of the wrath of the eternal God by our many sins, and yet can sleep quietly. Body and soul will be taken away in execution; the day of payment is set, and may come much sooner than you think for; you must get a discharge, or else you are undone for ever. Our debt comes to millions of millions; well, if the Lord will forgive so great a debt, oh, the blessedness of that man. Put altogether now; certainly if you have ever been in bondage, if you have felt the sting of death and curse of the law, or been scorched by the wrath of God, or knew the horror of those upon whom God hath exacted this debt in hell, certainly you would be more and more affected with this wonderful grace. ‘Oh, the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord imputeth not his transgressions!’
Thirdly, The consequent benefits. I will name three:—
[1.] It restores the creature to God, and puts us in joint again, in a capacity to serve, and please, and glorify God: Ps. cxxx. 4, ‘There is 186forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.’ Forgiveness invites us to return to God, obliges us to return to God, and take it as God dispenseth it; it inclines us to return to God, and encourages us to live in a state of amity and holy friendship with God, pleasing and serving him in righteousness and holiness all our days. Certainly it invites us to return to God. Man stands aloof from a condemning God, but may be induced to submit to a pardoning God. And it obligeth us to return to God, to serve, and love, and please him who will forgive so great a debt, and discharge us from all our sins; for she loved much to whom much was forgiven. It inclines us to serve and please God; for where God pardons he renews, he puts a new life into us that inclines us to God: Col. ii. 13, ‘He hath quickened you together with Christ, having forgiven all your trespasses.’ And it encourages us to serve and please God: Heb. ix. 14, ‘How much more shall the blood of Christ cleanse your consciences from dead works, that ye may serve the living God?’ and that in a suitable manner, that you may serve God in a lively, cheerful manner. A poor creature bound to his law, and conscious of his own disobedience, and obnoxious to wrath and punishment, is mightily clogged, and drives on heavily; but when the conscience is purged from dead works, we serve the living God in a lively manner; and this begets a holy cheerfulness in the soul, and we are freed from that bondage that otherwise would clog us in our duty to God.
[2.] It lays the foundation for solid comfort and peace in our own souls, for till sin be pardoned you have no true comfort; because the justice of the supreme governor of the world will still be dreadful to us, whose laws we have broken, whose wrath we have justly deserved, and whom we still apprehend as offended with us, and provoked by us. We may lull the soul asleep with carnal delights, but the virtue of that opium will be soon spent. All those joys are but stolen waters, and bread eaten in secret, a poor, sorry peace, that dares not come to the light and endure the trial,—a sorry peace, that is soon disturbed by a few serious and sober thoughts of God and the world to come; but when once sin is pardoned, then you have true joy indeed’ Be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee,’ Mat. ix. 2. Then misery is plucked up by the roots: ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.’ Why? ‘Her iniquity is forgiven,’ Isa. xl. 1, 2; ‘And we joy in God as those that have received the atonement,’ Rom. v. 11. The Lord Jesus hath made the atonement; but when we have received the atonement, then we joy in God, then there is matter for abundant delight, when ‘the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us.’
[3.] When we are pardoned, then we are capable of eternal happiness. Pardon of sin is gratia removens prohibens, that grace that removes the impediment, that takes the make-bate out of the way, removes that that hinders our entrance into heaven. Sanctification is the beginning; but till we are pardoned, there can be no entrance into heaven: now this removes the incapacity. I observe remission of sins is but for all the privilege part, as repentance for the duties: Acts v. 31, ‘Him hath God exalted to give repentance and remission of sins.’ There are two initial benefits—repentance, as the foundation 187of the new life; and remission of sins, as the foundation of all our future mercies. There are two chief blessings offered in the new covenant, pardon and life, reconciliation with God, and the everlasting fruition of him in glory; and the one makes way for the other: Acts xxvi. 18, ‘To open their eyes, and to turn them from Satan to God, that they may receive remission of sins, and an inheritance among the saints.’ When we are pardoned, then we are capable to look for the blessed inheritance; the impediment is taken out of the way that excludes from it.
And thus you see ‘the blessedness of the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose filth is covered, and unto whom the Lord will not impute his sin.’
A WORD OF APPLICATION.
1. Let us bless God for the Christian religion, where this privilege is discovered to us in all its glory, and that upon very commodious terms, fit to gain the heart of man, and to reduce him to God: Micah vii. 18, ‘Who is a God like unto thee among all the gods, pardoning the transgressions of thine heritage?’ The business of religion is to provide sufficiently for two things, which have much troubled the considering part of the world;—a suitable happiness for mankind, and suitable means for the expiation of sin. Happiness is our great desire, and sin is our great burden and trouble. Now these are fully made known and discovered to us by the Christian faith. The last is that we are upon,—the way how the grand scruple of the world may be satisfied, and their guilty fears appeased; and that we may see the excellency of the Christian religion above all religions in the world, it offers pardon upon such terms as are most commodious to the honour of God, and most satisfactory to our souls; that is, upon the account of Christ’s satisfaction and our own repentance, without which our case is not compassionable. The first I will chiefly insist on. The heathens were mightily perplexed about the way how God could dispense with the honour of his justice in the pardon of sin. That man is God’s creature, and therefore his subject; that he hath exceedingly failed and faulted in his duty and subjection to him, and is therefore obnoxious to God’s just wrath and vengeance, are truths evident in the light of nature and common experience; and therefore the heathens had some convictions of this, and saw a need that God should be atoned and propitiated by some sacrifices of expiation; and the nearer they lived to the original of this tradition and institution, the more burdened and pressing were their conceits and apprehensions thereof. But in all their cruel superstitions there was no rest of soul; they knew not the true God, nor the proper ransom, nor had any sure way to convey pardon to them, but were still left to the puzzle and distraction of their own thoughts, and could not make God merciful without some diminution of his holiness and justice, nor make him just without some diminution of his mercy. Somewhat they conceived of the goodness of God by his continuing forfeited benefits so long: ‘God left them not without a witness;’ but yet they could not reconcile it to his justice or will to punish sinners; and all their apprehensions of the pardon of sin were but probabilities, and what was 188wrought to procure merit was ridiculous, or else barbarous and unnatural, giving ‘their first-born for the sin of their soul,’ Micah vi. 7. And all those notions they had about this apprehended expiation were too weak to change the heart or life of man, or to reduce him to God. Come we now to the Jews. The Jews had many sacrifices of God’s own institution, but such as ‘did not make the comers thereunto perfect, as pertaining to the conscience,’ Heb. ix. 9; and the ransom that was to be given to provoked justice was known but to a few. They saw much of the patience and forbearance of God, but little of the righteousness of God, and which was the great propitiation. Till ‘God set forth Jesus Christ to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time, his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus,’ Rom. iii. 25, 26. Their ordinances and sacrifices were rather a bond acknowledging the debt, or pre-signifying the ransom that was to be paid, and their sacrifices did rather breed bondage; and their ordinances were called ‘an handwriting of ordinances that were against them.’ The redemption of souls was then spoken of as a great mystery, but sparingly revealed: Ps. xlix. 3, 4, ‘My mouth shall speak of wisdom, and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding. I will incline mine ear to a parable, I will open my dark sayings upon the harp.’ What was that wisdom? What was that dark saying? ‘The redemption of souls is precious; it ceaseth for ever.’ As it lies upon mere man’s hand, ‘none can give a ransom for his brother.’ Eternal redemption by Christ was a dark saying in those days, only they knew no mere man could do it. And in more early times, in Job’s time, he was ‘an interpreter, one of a thousand,’ that could bring this message to a distressed sinner, that God had found out a ransom. This atonement, then, that lies at the bottom of pardon of sin, was a rare thing in those days. Let us bless God for the clear and open discovery of this truth, and free offer of grace by Jesus Christ.
The second use is to quicken us to put in for a share in this blessed privilege. I have spent my time in presenting to you what a blessed thing it is to have our sins pardoned. Christians, a man that flows in wealth and honour, till he be pardoned, is not a happy man. A man that lives afflicted, contemned, not taken notice of in the world, if he be a pardoned sinner, oh, the blessedness of that man! They are not happy that have least trouble, but they that have least cause; not they that have a benumbed conscience, but they that have a conscience sound, established, and settled in the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, and bottomed upon his holy covenant, and that peace and grace he offers to us; this is the happy man. By these and such like arguments I would have you put in for a share of this privilege. But what must be required? I would fain send you away with some directions.
Let me entreat you, if this be such a blessed thing, to make it your daily, your earnest, your hearty prayer to God, that your sins may be pardoned, Mat. vi. 12. Our Lord hath taught us to pray (for we make but too much work for pardoning mercy every day), ‘Every day forgive us our trespasses.’ To-day, in one of the petitions, is common 189to all that follow; as we beg daily bread, we must beg daily pardon, daily grace against temptations, tinder the law, they had a lamb every morning and every evening offered to God for a daily sacrifice, Num. xxviii. 4-6. We are all invited to look to the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world. Surely we have as much need as they more cause than they; because now all is clear, and openly made known unto us. God came to Adam in the cool of the day; he would not let him sleep in his sins: before night came, he comes and rouseth his conscience, and then gives out the promise of the seed of the woman that should break the serpent’s head. In reconciliation with God, let not the sun go down upon God’s wrath, Eph. iv. 26. A man should not sleep in his anger, nor out of charity with man; surely we should make our peace with God every day. If a man, under the law, had contracted any uncleanness, he was to wash his clothes before evening, that he might not lie a night in his uncleanness. We should daily earnestly come to God with this request, Lord, pardon our sins. But what! must those that are already adopted into God’s family, and taken into his grace and favour, daily pray for pardon of sin? Though upon our first faith our state be changed, and we are indeed made children of God, and heirs of eternal life by faith in Christ Jesus; yet he that is clean, need wash his feet. We contract a great deal of sinful defilement and pollution by walking up and down here in a dirty world; and we must 1 every day be cleansing our consciences before God, and begging that we may be made partakers of this benefit. The Lord may, for our unthankfulness, our negligence, our stupid security, revive the memory of old sins, and make us look into the debt-book (that hath been cancelled) with horror, and make us ‘possess the sins of our youth.’ An old bruise is felt upon every change of weather. When we prove unthankful, and careless, and stupid, and negligent, and do not keep our watch, the Lord may suffer these things to return upon our consciences with great amazement. Guilt raked out of its grave is more frightful than a ghost, or one risen from the dead. Few believers have, upon right terms, the assurance of their own sincerity; and though God may blot sins out of the book of his remembrance, yet he will not blot them out of our consciences. The worm of conscience is killed still by the application of the blood of Christ and the Spirit. This short exhortation I would give you, the other would take up too much time.
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