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Discovery of forgiveness in the first promise — The evidence of the truth that lies therein — And by the institution of sacrifices — Their use and end — Also by the prescription of repentance unto sinners.
I. The first discovery of forgiveness in God (and which I place as the first evidence of it) was made in his dealing with our first parents after their shameful sin and fall. Now, to make it appear that this is an evidence that carries along with it a great conviction, and is such as faith may securely rest upon and close withal, the ensuing observations are to be considered:—
1. The first sin in the world was, on many accounts, the greatest sin that ever was in the world. It was the sin, as it were, of human nature, wherein there was a conspiracy of all individuals: “Omnes eramus unus ille homo;” — “In that one man, or that one sin, ‘we all sinned,’ Rom. v. 12. It left not God one subject, as to moral obedience, on the earth, nor the least ground for any such to be unto eternity. When the angels sinned, the whole race or kind did not prevaricate. “Thousand thousands” of them, and “ten thousand times ten thousand,” continued in their obedience, Dan. vii. 10. But here all and every individual of mankind (He only excepted which was not then in Adam) were embarked in the same crime and guilt. Besides, it disturbed the government of God in and over the whole creation. God had made all things, in number, weight, and measure, in order and beauty; pronouncing himself concerning his whole work that it was טוֹב מְאֹד, “exceeding beautiful and good,” Gen. i. 31. Much of this beauty lay in the subordination of one thing to another, and of all to himself by the mediation and interposition of man, through whose praises and obedience the rest of the creation, being made subject unto him, was to return their tribute of honour and glory unto God. But all this order was destroyed by this sin, and the very “creation made subject to vanity,” Rom. viii. 20; on which and the like accounts, it might be easily made to appear that it was the greatest sin that ever was in the world.
2. Man, who had sinned, subscribed in his heart and conscience unto the righteous sentence of the law. He knew what he had deserved, and looked for nothing but the immediate execution of the sentence of death upon him. Hence he meditates not a defence, expects no pardon, stays not for a trial, but flies and hides, and attempts an escape: Gen. iii. 10, “I was afraid,” saith he, “and hid myself;” than which never were there words of greater horror in the world, nor shall be until the day of judgment. Poor creature! he was full of expectation of the vengeance due for a broken covenant.
3. God had newly declared in the sinning angels what his justice 434required, and how he could deal with sinning man, without the least impeachment of his government, holiness, or goodness. See 2 Pet. ii. 4.
4. There was nothing without God himself that should move him in the least, so much as to suspend the execution of his wrath for one moment. He had not done so with the angels. All things lay now under wrath, curse, confusion, and disorder; nothing was left good, lovely, or desirable in his eye. As in the first creation, that which was first brought forth from nothing was תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, “without form, and void,” empty of all order and beauty, — nothing was in it to induce or move God to bring forth all things in the glory that ensued, but the whole design of it proceeded from his own infinite goodness and wisdom, — so was it now again. There was an emptiness and vanity brought by sin upon the whole creation. Nothing remained that might be a motive unto a merciful restoration, but all is again devolved on his sovereignty. All things being in this state and condition, wherein all doors stood open to the Glow of God’s justice in the punishing of sin, nothing remaining without him to hold his hand in the least, the whole creation, and especially the sinner himself, lying trembling in expectation of a dreadful doom, what now cometh forth from him? The blessed word which we have, Gen. iii. 15, “The seed of the woman shall break the serpent’s head.” It is full well known that the whole mystery of forgiveness is wrapped up in this one word of promise. And the great way of its coming forth from God, by the blood of the Messiah, whose heel was to be bruised, is also intimated. And this was the first discovery that ever was made of forgiveness in God. By a word of pure revelation it was made, and so faith must take it up and receive it. Now, this revelation of forgiveness with God in this one promise was the bottom of all that worship that was yielded unto him by sinners for many ages; for we have showed before, that without this no sinner can have the least encouragement to approach unto him. And this will continue to the end of the world as a notable evidence of the truth in hand, a firm foundation for faith to rest and build upon. Let a sinner seriously consider the state of things as they were then in the world, laid down before, and then view God coming forth with a word of pardon and forgiveness, merely from his own love and those counsels of peace that were between the Father and the Son, and he cannot but conclude, under his greatest difficulties, that yet “there is forgiveness with God, that he may be feared.” Let now the law and conscience, let sin and Satan, stand forth and except against his evidence. Enough may be spoken from it, whatever the particular case be about which the soul hath a contest with them, to put them all to silence.
435II. God revealed this sacred truth by his institution of sacrifices. Sacrifices by blood do all of them respect atonement, expiation, and consequently forgiveness. It is true, indeed, they could not themselves take away sin, nor make them perfect who came unto God by them, Heb. x. 1; but yet they undeniably evince the taking away of sin, or the forgiveness of it, by what they did denote and typify. I shall, therefore, look back into their rise and intendment:—
1. The original and first spring of sacrifices is not in the Scripture expressly mentioned, only the practice of the saints is recorded. But it is certain, from infallible Scripture evidences, that they were of God’s immediate institution and appointment. God never allowed that the will or wisdom of man should be the spring and rule of his worship. That solemn word wherewith he fronts the command that is the rule of his worship, לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה לְךְ, — “Thou shalt not make to thyself,” which is the life of the command (that which follows being an explanation and confirmation of the law itself by instances), cuts off all such pretences, and is as a flaming sword, turning every way to prevent men’s arbitrary approaches to God’s institutions. God will not part with his glory of being the only lawgiver, as to the whole concernment of his worship, or any part of it, unto any of the sons of men.
2. Neither is the time of their institution mentioned. Some of the Papists dispute (as there are a generation of philosophical disputers amongst them, by whom their tottering cause is supported) that there should have been sacrifices in paradise, if a man had not sinned. But as, in all their opinions, our first inquiry ought to be, What do they get by this or that? their whole religion being pointed unto their carnal interest, so we, may in particular do it upon this uncouth assertion, which is perfectly contradictious to the very nature and end of most sacrifices, — namely, that they should be offered where there is no sin. Why, they hope to establish hence a general rule, that there can be no true worship of God, in any state or condition, without a sacrifice. What, then, I pray? Why, then it is evident that the continual sacrifice of the mass is necessary in the church, and that without it there is no true worship of God; and so they are quickly come home to their advantage and profit, — the mass being that inexhaustible spring of revenue which feeds their pride and lust throughout the world. But there is in the church of Christ an altar still, and a sacrifice still, which they have rejected for the abominable figment of their mass, — namely, Christ himself, as the apostle informs us, Heb. xiii. 10. But as the sacrifices of beasts could not have been before the entrance of sin, so it may be evidenced that they were instituted from the foundation of the world, — that is, 436presently after the entrance of sin. Christ is called “The Lamb of God,” John i. 29, which he was in reference unto the sacrifices of old, as 1 Pet. i. 18, 19; whence he is represented in the church as a “Lamb slain,” Rev. v. 6, or giving out the efficacy of all sacrifices to his church. Now, he is said to be a “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” Rev. xiii. 8, which could not be unless some sacrifice, prefiguring his being slain, had been then offered; for it denotes not only the efficacy of his mediation, but the way. Besides, the apostle tells us that “without shedding of blood there was no remission,” Heb. ix. 22, — that is, God, to demonstrate that all pardon and forgiveness related to the blood of Christ from the foundation of the world, gave out no word of pardon but by and with blood. Now, I have showed before that he revealed pardon in the first promise; and therefore there ensued thereon the shedding of blood and sacrifices; and thereby that testament or covenant “was dedicated with blood” also, verse 18. Some think that the beasts, of whose skins God made garments for Adam, were offered in sacrifices. Nor is the conjecture vain; yea, it seems not to want a shadow of a gospel mystery, that their nakedness, which became their shame upon their sin (whence the pollution and shame of sin is frequently so termed), should be covered with the skins of their sacrifices: for in the true sacrifice there is somewhat answerable thereunto; and the righteousness of Him whose sacrifice takes away the guilt of our sin is called our clothing, that hides our pollution and shame.
3. That after the giving of the law, the greatest, most noble, and solemn part of the worship of God consisted in sacrifices. And this kind of worship continued, with the approbation of God, in the world about four thousand years; that is, from the entrance of sin until the death of the Messiah, the true sacrifice, which put an end unto all that was typical
These things being premised, we may consider what was the mind I and aim of God in the institution of this worship. One instance, and that of the most solemn of the whole kind, will resolve us in this inquiry. Lev. xvi. 5, “Two kids of the goats” are taken for “an offering for sin.” Consider only (that we do not enlarge on particulars) how one of them was dealt withal: Verses 20–22, “He shall bring the live goat: and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited.”
Let us see to what end is all this solemnity, and what is declared thereby. Wherefore should God appoint poor sinful men to come 437together, to take a goat or a lamb, and to confess over his head all their sins and transgressions, and to devote him to destruction under that confession? Had men invented this themselves, it had been a matter of no moment; but it was an institution of God, which he bound his church to the observation of upon the penalty of his highest displeasure. Certainly this was a solemn declaration that there is forgiveness with him. Would that God who is infinitely good, and so will not, who is infinitely true, holy, and faithful, and so cannot deceive, call men out, whom he loved, to a solemn representation of a thing wherein their chiefest, their eternal concernment doth lie, and suffer them to feed upon ashes? Let men take heed that they mock not God; for of a truth God mocketh not man until he be finally rejected by him. For four thousand years together, then, did God declare by sacrifices that there is forgiveness with him, and led his people by them to make a public representation of it in the face of the world. This is a second uncontrollable evidence of the truth asserted, which may possibly be of use to souls that come indeed deeply and seriously to deal with God; for though the practice be ceased, yet the instruction intended in them continues.
III. God’s appointment of repentance unto sinners doth reveal that there is forgiveness in himself. I say, the prescription of repentance is a revelation of forgiveness. After the angels had sinned, God never once called them to repentance. He would not deceive them, but let them know what they were to look for at his hands; he hath no forgiveness for them, and therefore would require no repentance of them. It is not, nor ever was, a duty incumbent on them to repent. Nor is it so unto the damned in hell. God requires it not of them, nor is it their duty. There being no forgiveness for them, what should move them to repent? Why should it be their duty so to do? Their eternal anguish about sin committed hath nothing of repentance in it. Assignation then, of repentance is a revelation of forgiveness. God would not call upon a sinful creature to humble itself and bewail its sin if there were no way of recovery or relief; and the only way of recovery from the guilt of sin is pardon. So Job xxxiii. 27, 28, “He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; he will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light.” In the foregoing verses he declares the various ways that God used to bring men unto repentance. He did it by dreams, verses 15, 16; by afflictions, verse 19; by the preaching of the word, verse 23. What, then, doth God aim at in and by all these various ways of teaching? It is to cause man to say, “I have sinned, and perverted that which was right.” It is to bring him to repentance. What now if he obtain his end, and cometh to that 438which is aimed at? Why, then, there is forgiveness for him, as is declared, verse 28.
To improve this evidence, I shall confirm, by some few obvious considerations, these two things:— 1. That the prescription of repentance doth indeed evince that there is forgiveness with God. 2. That every one in whom there is repentance wrought towards God, may certainly conclude that there is forgiveness with God for him.
1. No repentance is acceptable with God but what is built or leans on the faith of forgiveness. We have a cloud of witnesses unto this truth in the Scripture. Many there have been, many are recorded who have been convinced of sin, perplexed about it, sorry for it, that have made open confession and acknowledgment of it, that, under the pressing sense of it, have cried out even to God for deliverance, and yet have come short of mercy, pardon, and acceptance with God. The cases of Cain, Pharaoh, Saul, Ahab, Judas, and others, might be insisted on. What was wanting, that made all that they did abominable? Consider one instance for all. It is said of Judas that he repented: Matt. xxvii. 3, Μεταμεληθείς, “He repented himself.” But wherein did this repentance consist? (1.) He was convinced of his sin in general: Ἥμαρτον, saith he, — “I have sinned,” verse 4. (2.) He was sensible of the particular sin whereof he stood charged in conscience before God. “I have,” saith he, “betrayed innocent blood;” — “I am guilty of blood, innocent blood, and that in the vilest manner, by treachery.” So that he comes, — (3.) To a full and open confession of his sin. (4.) He makes restitution of what he was advantaged by his sin, “He brought again the thirty pieces of silver,” verse 3; — all testifying a hearty sorrow that spirited the whole. Methinks now Judas’ repentance looks like the young man’s obedience, who cried out, “All these things have I done; is there any thing yet lacking?” Yea, one thing was wanting to that young man, — he had no true faith nor love to God all this while; which vitiated and spoiled all the rest of his performances. One thing also is wanting to this repentance of Judas, — he had no faith of forgiveness in God; that he could not believe; and, therefore, after all this sorrow, instead of coming to him, he bids him the utmost defiance, and goes away and hangs himself.
Indeed, faith of forgiveness, as hath been showed, hath many degrees. There is of them that which is indispensably necessary to render repentance acceptable. What it is in particular I do not dispute. It is not an assurance of the acceptance of our persons in general. It is not that the particular sin wherewith, it may he, the soul is perplexed, is forgiven. A general, so it be a gospel discovery that there is forgiveness in God, will suffice. The church expresseth 439it, Hos. xiv. 3, “In thee the fatherless findeth mercy;” and Joel ii. 14, “Who knoweth but he will return and repent?” “I have this ground,” saith the soul, “God is in himself gracious and merciful; the fatherless, the destitute and helpless, that come to him by Christ, find mercy in him. None in heaven and earth can evince but that he may return to me also.” Now, let a man’s convictions be never so great, sharp, wounding; his sorrow never so abundant, overflowing, abiding; his confession never so full, free, or open, — if this one thing be wanting, all is nothing but what tends to death.
2. To prescribe repentance as a duty unto sinners, without a foundation of pardon and forgiveness in himself, is inconsistent with the wisdom, holiness, goodness, faithfulness, and all other glorious excellencies and perfections of the nature of God; for, —
(1.) The apostle lays this as the great foundation of all consolation, that God cannot lie or deceive, Heb. vi. 18. And again, he engageth the faithfulness and veracity of God to the same purpose: Tit. i. 2, “God, who cannot lie, hath promised it.” Now, there is a lie, a deceit, in things as well as in words, He that doth a thing which in its own nature is apt to deceive them that consider it, with an intention of deceiving them, is no less a liar than he which affirms that to be true which he knows to be false. There is a lie in actions as well as in words. The whole life of a hypocrite is a lie; so saith the prophet of idolaters, there is “a lie in their right hand,” Isa. xliv. 20.
(2.) The proposal of repentance is a thing fitted and suited in its own nature to beget thoughts in the mind of a sinner that there is forgiveness with God. Repenting is for sinners only. “I come not,” saith our Saviour, “to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” It is for them, and them only. It was no duty for Adam in Eden, it is none for the angels in heaven, nor for the damned in hell. What, then, may be the language of this appointment? “O sinners, come and deal with God by repentance.” Doth it not openly speak forgiveness in God? and, if it were otherwise, could men possibly be more frustrated or deceived? would not the institution of repentance be a lie? Such a delusion may proceed from Satan, but not from Him who is the fountain of goodness, holiness, and truth. His call to repentance is a full demonstration of his readiness to forgive, Acts xvii. 30, 31. It is true, many do thus deceive themselves: they raise themselves unto an expectation of immunity, not on gospel grounds; and their disappointment is a great part of their punishment. But God deceives none; whoever comes to him on his proposal of repentance shall find forgiveness. It is said of some, indeed, that “he will laugh at their calamity, and mock when their fear cometh,” Prov. i. 26. He will aggravate their misery, by giving them 440to see what their pride and folly hath brought them unto. But who are they? Only such as refuse his call to repentance, with the promises of the acceptation annexed.
(3.) There is, then, no cause why those who are under a call to repentance should question whether there be forgiveness in God or no. This concerns my second proposition. “Come,” saith the Lord unto the souls of men, “leave your sinful ways, turn unto me; humble yourselves with broken and contrite heart.” “Alas!” say poor convinced sinners, “we are poor, dark, and ignorant creatures; or we are old in sin, or greater sinners or backsliders, or have fallen often into the same sins; — can we expect there should be forgiveness for us?” Why, you are under God’s invitation to repentance; and to disbelieve forgiveness is to call the truth, holiness, and faithfulness of God into question. If you will not believe forgiveness, pretend what you please, it is in truth because you hate repentance. You do but deceive your souls, when you pretend you come not up to repentance because you cannot believe forgiveness; for in the very institution of this duty God engageth all his properties to make it good that he hath pardon and mercy for sinners.
(4.) Much less cause is there to doubt of forgiveness where sincere repentance is in any measure wrought. No soul comes to repentance but upon God’s call; God calls none but whom he hath mercy for upon their coming. And as for those who sin against the Holy Ghost, as they shut themselves out from forgiveness, so they are not called to repentance.
(5.) God expressly declares in the Scripture that the forgiveness that is with him is the foundation of his prescribing repentance unto man. One instance may suffice: Isa. lv. 7, “Let the wicked forsake his way” (רָשָׁע, “a perverse wicked one,” וְאִישׁ אָוֶן, “and the man of iniquity his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy; and to our God, for יַרְבֶּה לִסְלוֹח, he will multiply to pardon.” You see to whom he speaks, — to men perversely wicked, and such as make a trade of sinning. What doth he call them unto? Plainly, to repentance, to the duty we have insisted on. But what is the ground of such an invitation unto such profligate sinners? Why, the abundant forgiveness and pardon that is with him, superabounding unto what the worst of them can stand in need of; as Rom. v. 20.
And this is another way whereby God hath revealed that there is forgiveness with him; and an infallible bottom for faith to build upon in its approaches unto God it is. Nor can the certainty of this evidence be called into question but on such grounds as are derogatory to the glory and honour of God. And this connection of repentance and forgiveness is that principle from whence God convinces a stubborn, unbelieving people that all his ways and dealings with sinners 441are just and equal, Ezek. xviii. 25. And should there be any failure in it, they could not be so. Every soul, then, that is under a call to repentance, whether out of his natural condition or from any backsliding into folly after conversion, hath a sufficient foundation to rest on as to the pardon he inquires after. God is ready to deal with him on terms of mercy. If, out of love to sin or the power of unbelief, he refuse to close with him on these terms, his condemnation is just. And it will be well that this consideration be well imprinted on the minds of men. I say, notwithstanding the general presumptions that men seem to have of this matter, yet these principles of it ought to be inculcated; for, —
[1.] Such is the atheism that lies lurking in the hearts of men by nature, that, notwithstanding their pretences and professions, we have need to be pressing upon them evidences of the very being and essential properties of God. In so doing, we have the assistance of inbred notions in their own minds, which they cannot eject, to help to carry on the work. How much more is this necessary in reference unto the free acts of the will of God, which are to be known only by mere revelation! Our word had need to be “line upon line;” and yet, when we have done, we have cause enough to cry out, as was said, “Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
[2.] What was spoken before of the obstacles that lie in the way, hindering souls from a saving reception of this truth, ought to be remembered. Those who have no experience of them between God and their souls seem to be ignorant of the true nature of conscience, law, gospel, grace, sin, and forgiveness.
[3.] Many who are come to a saving persuasion of it, yet having not received it upon clear and unquestionable grounds, and so not knowing how to resolve their faith of it into its proper principles, are not able to answer the objections that lie against it in their own consciences, and so do miserably fluctuate about it all their days. These had need to have these principles inculcated on them. Were they pondered aright, some might have cause to say, with the Samaritans, who first gave credit to the report of the woman, John iv. they had but a report before, but now they find all things to be according unto it, yea, to exceed it. A little experience of a man’s own unbelief, with the observation that may easily be made of the uncertain progresses and fluctuations of the spirits of others, will be a sufficient conviction of the necessity of the work we are engaged in.
But it will yet be said, that it is needless to multiply arguments and evidences in this case, the truth insisted on being granted as one of the’ fundamental principles of religion. As it is not, then, by 442any called in question, so it doth not appear that so much time and pains is needful for the confirmation of it; for what is granted and plain needs little confirmation. But several things may be returned in answer hereunto; all which may at once be here pleaded for the multiplication of our arguments in this matter:—
1. That it is generally granted by all is no argument that it is effectually believed by many. Sundry things are taken for granted in point of opinion that are not so believed as to be improved in practice. We have in part showed before, and shall afterward undeniably evince, that there are very few that believe this truth with that faith that will interest them in it and give them the benefit of it. And what will it avail any of us that there is forgiveness of sin with God, if our sins be not forgiven? No more than that such or such a king is rich, whilst we are poor and starving. My aim is not to prove it as an opinion or a mere speculative truth, but so to evidence it in the principles of its being and revelation as that it may be believed; whereon all our blessedness depends.
2. It needs never the less confirmation because it is a plain fundamental truth, but rather the more; and that because both of the worth and weight of it. “This is a faithful saying,” saith the apostle, “worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” So I say of this, which, for the substance of it, is the same with that. It is worthy of all acceptation, namely, that there is forgiveness with God; and therefore ought it to be fully confirmed, especially whilst we make use of no other demonstrations of it but those only which God hath furnished us withal to that purpose: and this he would not have done, but that he knew them needful for us. And for the plainness of this truth, it is well if it be so unto us. This I know, nothing but the Spirit of God can make it so. Men may please themselves and others sometimes with curious notions, and make them seem to be things of great search and attainment, which, when they are well examined, it may be they are not true; or if they are, are yet of a very little consequence or importance. It is these fundamental truths that have the mysteries of the wisdom and grace of God inwrapped in them; which whoso can unfold aright, will show himself “a workman that needs not be ashamed.” These still waters are deep; and the farther we dive into them, the greater discovery shall we make of their depths. And many other sacred truths there are whose mention is common, but whose depths are little searched and whose efficacy is little known.
3. We multiply these evidences, because they are multitudes that are concerned in them. All that do believe, and all that do not believe, are so, — those that do believe, that they may be established; and those that do not believe, that they may be encouraged so to do. 443Among both these sorts, some evidences may he more profitable and useful, one to one, some to another. It may be, amongst all, all will be gathered up, that no fragments be lost. They are all, I hope, instruments provided by the Holy Ghost for this end; and by this ordinance do we endeavour to put them into his hand, to be made effectual as he Will. One may reach one soul, another another, according to his pleasure. One may be of use to establishment, another to consolation, a third to encouragement, according as the necessities of poor souls do require. However, God, who hath provided them, knows them all to he needful
4. They are so, also, upon the account of the various conditions wherein the spirits of believers themselves may be. One may give help to the same soul at one season, another at another; one may secure the soul against a temptation, another stir it up to thankfulness and obedience,
These things have I spoken, that you may not think we dwell too long on this consideration. And I pray God that your consolation and establishment may abound in the reading of these meditations, as I hope they have not been altogether without their fruit in their preparation.
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