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The true nature of gospel forgiveness — Its relation to the goodness, grace, and will of God; to the blood of Christ; to the promise of the gospel — The considerations of faith about it.
The difficulties that lie in the way of faith’s discovery of forgiveness, whence it appears to be a matter of greater weight and importance than it is commonly apprehended to be, have been insisted on in the foregoing discourse. There is yet remaining another ground of the same truth. Now, this is taken from the nature and greatness of the thing itself discovered, — that is, of forgiveness. To this end I shall show what it is, wherein it doth consist, what it comprises and relates unto, according to the importance of the second proposition before laid down.
I do not in this place take forgiveness, strictly and precisely, for the act of pardoning; nor shall I dispute what that is, and wherein it doth consist. Consciences that come with sin-entanglements unto God know nothing of such disputes. Nor will this expression, “There is forgiveness with God,” bear any such restriction as that it should regard only actual condonation or pardon. That which I have to do is to inquire into the nature of that pardon which poor, convinced, troubled souls seek after, and which the Scripture proposeth to them for their relief and rest. And I shall not handle this absolutely neither, but in relation to the truth under consideration, — namely, that it is a great thing to attain unto a true gospel discovery of forgiveness.
First, As was showed in the opening of the words, the forgiveness 399inquired after hath relation unto the gracious heart of the Father. Two things I understand hereby:— 1. The infinite goodness and graciousness of his nature. 2. The sovereign purpose of his will and grace.
1. There is considerable in it the infinite goodness of his nature. Sin stands in a contrariety unto God. It is a rebellion against his sovereignty, an opposition to his holiness, a provocation to his justice, a rejection of his yoke, a casting off, what lies in the sinner, of that dependence which a creature hath on its Creator. That God, then, should have pity and compassion on sinners, in every one of whose sins there is all this evil, and inconceivably more than we can comprehend, it argues an infinitely gracious, good, and loving heart and nature in him; for God doth nothing but suitably to the properties of his nature, and from them. All the acts of his will are the effects of his nature.
Now, whatever God proposeth as an encouragement for sinners to come to him, that is of, or hath a special influence into, the forgiveness that is with him; for nothing can encourage a sinner as such, but under this consideration, that it is, or it respects, forgiveness. That this graciousness of God’s nature lies at the head or spring, and is the root from whence forgiveness doth grow, is manifest from that solemn proclamation which he made of old of his name, and the revelation of his nature therein (for God assuredly is what by himself he is called): Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7, “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” His forgiving of iniquity flows from hence, that in his nature he is merciful, gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness. Were he not so, infinite in all these, it were in vain to look for forgiveness from him. Having made this known to be his name, and thereby declared his nature, he in many places proposeth it as a relief, a refuge for sinners, an encouragement to come unto him, and to wait for mercy from him: Ps. ix. 10, “They that know thy name will put their trust in thee.” It will encourage them so to do; others have no foundation of their confidence. But if this name of God be indeed made known unto us by the Holy Ghost, what can hinder why we should not repair unto him and rest upon him? So Isa. l. 10, “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.” Not only sinners, but sinners in great distress are here spoken unto. Darkness of state or condition, in the Scripture, denotes every thing of disconsolation and trouble. To be, then, in darkness, where yet there is some light, some relief, though darkness be predominant, is 400sad and disconsolate; but now, not only to be, but also to walk, that is, to continue a course in darkness, and that with no light, no discovery of help or relief, — this seems an overwhelming condition: yet sinners in this estate are called “to trust in the name of the Lord.” I have showed before that nothing but forgiveness, or that which influenceth it and encourageth to an expectation of it, is of any use unto a sinner, much more one in so great distress upon the account of sin; yet is such a one here sent only to the name of the Lord, wherein his gracious heart and nature is revealed. That, then, is the very fountain and spring of forgiveness. And this is that which John would work a sense of upon our souls where he tells us that “God is love,” 1 Epist. iv. 8, or one of an infinitely gracious, tender, good, compassionate, loving nature. Infinite goodness and grace is the soil wherein forgiveness grows. It is impossible this flower should spring from any other root. Unless this be revealed to the soul, forgiveness is not revealed. To consider pardon merely as it is terminated on ourselves, not as it flows from God, will bring neither profit to us nor glory to God.
And this also (which is our design in hand) will make it appear that this discovery of forgiveness whereof we speak is indeed no common thing, — is a great discovery. Let men come, with a sense of the guilt of sin, to have deep and serious thoughts of God, they will find it no such easy and light matter to have their hearts truly and thoroughly apprehensive of this loving and gracious nature of God in reference unto pardon. It is an easy matter to say so in common; but the soul will not find it so easy to believe it for itself. What hath been spoken before concerning the ingrafted notions that are in the minds of men about the justice, holiness, and severity of God, will here take place. Though men profess that God is gracious, yet that aversation which they have unto him and communion with him doth abundantly manifest that they do not believe what they say and profess: if they did, they could not but delight and trust in him, which they do not; for “They that know his name will put their trust in him.” So said the slothful servant in the gospel, “I knew that thou wast austere, and not for me to deal withal.” It may be he professed otherwise before, but that lay in his heart when it came to the trial. But this, I say, is necessary to them unto whom this discovery is to be made, even a spiritual apprehension of the gracious, loving heart and nature of God. This is the spring of all that follows; and the fountain must needs be infinitely sweet from whence such streams do flow. He that considers the glorious fabric of heaven and earth, with the things in them contained, must needs conclude that they were the product of infinite wisdom and power; nothing less or under them could have brought forth such an effect. And he 401that really considereth forgiveness, and looks on it with a spiritual eye, must conclude that it comes from infinite goodness and grace. And this is that which the hearts of sinners are exercised about when they come to deal for pardon: Ps. lxxxvi. 5, “Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive;” Neh. ix. 17, “Thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness;” and Micah vii. 18, “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity? … because he delighteth in mercy.” And God encourageth them hereunto wherever he says that he forgives sins and blots out iniquities for his own sake or his name’s sake; that is, he will deal with sinners according to the goodness of his own gracious nature. So Hos. xi. 9, “I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man.” Were there no more mercy, grace, compassion to be showed in this case than it is possible should be treasured up in the heart of a man, it would be impossible that Ephraim should be spared; but saith he, “I am God, and not man.” Consider the infinite largeness, bounty, and goodness of the heart of God, and there is yet hope. When a sinner is in good earnest seeking after forgiveness, there is nothing he is more solicitous about than the heart of God towards him, — nothing that he more labours to have a discovery of; there is nothing that sin and Satan labour more to hide from him. This he rolls in his mind, and exercises his thoughts about; and if ever that voice of God, Isa. xxvii. 4, “Fury is not in me,” sound in his heart, he is relieved from his great distresses. And the fear of our hearts in this matter our Saviour seems to intend the prevention or a removal of: John xvi. 26, 27, “I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loveth you.” They had good thoughts of the tender heart and care of Christ himself, the mediator, towards them; but what is the heart of the Father? what acceptance shall they find with him? Will Christ pray that they may find favour with him? Why, saith he, as to the love of his heart, “There is no need of it; ‘for the Father himself loveth you.’ If this, then, belongeth to forgiveness, as whoever bath sought for it knoweth that it doth, it is certainly no common discovery to have it revealed unto us.
To have all the clouds and darkness that are raised by sin between us and the throne of God dispelled; to have the fire, and storms, and tempests, that are kindled and stirred up about him by the law removed; to have his glorious face unvailed, and his holy heart laid open, and a view given of those infinite treasures and stores of goodness, mercy, love, and kindness which have had an unchangeable habitation therein from all eternity; to have a discovery of these eternal springs of forbearance and forgiveness, — is that which none but Christ can accomplish and bring about, John xvii. 6.
4022. This is not all. This eternal ocean, that is infinitely satisfied with its own fulness and perfection, doth not naturally yield forth streams for our refreshment. Mercy and pardon do not come forth from God as light doth from the sun or water from the sea, by a necessary consequence of their natures, whether they will or no. It doth not necessarily follow that any one must be made partaker of forgiveness because God is infinitely gracious; for may he not do what he will with his own? “Who hath first given unto him, that it should be recompensed unto him again.?” Rom. xi. 35. All the fruits of God’s goodness and grace are in the sole keeping of his own sovereign will and pleasure. This is his great glory: Exod. xxxiii. 18, 19, “Show me thy glory,” saith Moses. “And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Load before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious.” Upon that proclamation of the name of God, that he is merciful, gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness, some might conclude that it could not be otherwise with any but well; — he is such a one as that men need scarce be beholding to him for mercy. “Nay,” saith he; “but this is my great glory, that ‘I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious.’ There must be an interposition of a free act of the will of God to deal with us according to this his abundant goodness, or we can have no interest therein. This I call the purpose of his grace, or “The good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself,” Eph. i. 9; or, as it is termed, verses 5, 6, “The good pleasure of his will,” that he hath purposed “to the praise of his glorious grace.” This free and gracious pleasure of God, or purpose of his will to act towards sinners according to his own abundant goodness, is another thing that influences the forgiveness of which we treat. Pardon flows immediately from a sovereign act of free grace. This free purpose of God’s will and grace for the pardoning of sinners is indeed that which is principally intended when we say, “There is forgiveness with him;” that is, he is pleased to forgive, and so to do is agreeable unto his nature. Now, the mystery of this grace is deep; it is eternal, and therefore incomprehensible. Few there are whose hearts are raised to a contemplation of it. Men rest and content themselves in a general notion of mercy, which will not be advantageous to their souls. Freed they would be from punishment, but what it is to be forgiven they inquire not. So what they know of it they come easily by, but will find in the issue it will stand them in little stead. But these fountains of God’s actings are revealed, that they may be the fountains of our comforts.
Now, of this purpose of God’s grace there are several acts, all of them relating unto gospel forgiveness:—
(1.) There is his purpose of sending his Son to be the great means 403of procuring, of purchasing forgiveness. Though God be infinitely and incomprehensibly gracious, though he purpose to exert his grace and goodness toward sinners, yet he will so do it, do it in such a way, as shall not be prejudicial to his own holiness and righteousness. His justice must be satisfied, and his holy indignation against sin made known. Wherefore he purposeth to send his Son, and hath sent him, to make way for the exercise of mercy; so as no way to eclipse the glory of his justice, holiness, and hatred of sin. Better we should all eternally come short of forgiveness than that God should lose any thing of his glory. This we have, Rom. iii. 25, “God set him forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past.” The remission of sins is the thing aimed at; but this must be so brought about as that therein not only the mercy but the righteousness of God may be declared, and therefore must it be brought forth by a propitiation, or making of an atonement in the blood of Christ: so John iii 16; 1 John iv. 9; Rom. v. 8. This, I say, also lies in the mystery of that forgiveness that is administered in the gospel, — it comes forth from this eternal purpose of making way by the blood of Christ to the dispensation of pardon. And this greatly heightens the excellency of this discovery. Men who have slight thoughts of God, whose hearts were never awed with his dread or greatness, who never seriously considered his purity and holiness, may think it no great matter that God should pardon sin, But do they consider the way whereby it is to be brought about? — even by the sending of his only Son, and that to die, as we shall see afterward. Neither was there any other way whereby it might be done. Let us now lay aside common thoughts, assent upon reports and tradition, and rightly weigh this matter. Doubtless we shall find it to be a great thing, that forgiveness should be so with God as to be made out unto us (we know somewhat what we are) by sending his only Son to die. Oh, how little is this really believed, even by them who make a profession of it! and what mean thoughts are entertained about it when men seek for pardon! Immunity from punishment is the utmost that lies in the alms and desires of most, and is all that they are exercised in the consideration of, when they deal with God about sin. Such men think, and will do so, that we have an easy task in hand, — namely, to prove that there is forgiveness in God; but this ease lies in their own ignorance and darkness. If ever they come to search after it indeed, to inquire into the nature, reasons, causes, fountains, and springs of it, they will be able to give another account of these things. Christ is the centre of the mystery of the gospel, and forgiveness is laid up in the heart of Christ, from the love of the Father; in him are all the treasures of it hid. And surely it is no small 404thing to have the heart of Christ revealed unto us. When believers deal about pardon, their faith exercises itself about this, that God, with whom the soul hath to do, hath sent the Lord Christ to die for this end, that it may be freely given out. General notions of impunity they dwell not on, they pass [press?] not for; they have a closer converse with God than to be satisfied with such thoughts. They inquire into the graciousness of his nature, and the good pleasure of his will, the purpose of his grace; they ponder and look into the mystery of his wisdom and love in sending his Son. If these springs be not clear unto them, the streams will yield them but little refreshment. It is not enough that we seek after salvation, but we are to inquire and search diligently into the nature and manner of it. These are the things that “the angels desire to” how down and “look into,” 1 Pet. i. 11, 12. And some think if they have got a form of words about them, they have gotten a sufficient comprehension of them! It is doubtless one reason why many who truly believe do yet so fluctuate about forgiveness all their days, that they never exercised faith to look into the springs of it, its eternal fountains, but have merely dwelt on actual condonation. However, I say, these things lie utterly out of the consideration of the common pretenders to an acquaintance with the truth we have in hand.
(2.) There is another sovereign act, of God’s will to be considered in this matter, and that is his eternal designation of the persons who shall be made partakers of this mercy. He hath not left this thing to hazard and uncertainties, that it should, as it were, be unknown to him who should be pardoned and who not. Nay, none ever are made partakers of forgiveness but those whom he hath eternally and graciously designed thereunto: so the apostle declares it, Eph. i. 5–7. The rise is his eternal predestination; the end, the glory of his grace; the means, redemption in the blood of Christ; the thing itself, forgiveness of sins. None ever are or can be made partakers thereof but by virtue of this act of God’s will and grace; which thereupon hath a peculiar influence into it, and is to be respected in the consideration of it. I know this may be abused by pride, profaneness, and unbelief, and so may the whole work of God’s grace, — and so it is, even the blood of Christ in an especial manner; but in its proper place and use it hath a signal influence into the glory of God and the consolation of the souls of men.
There are also other acts of this purpose of God’s grace, as of giving sinners unto Christ and giving sinners an interest in Christ, which I shall not insist upon, because the nature of them is sufficiently discovered in that one explained already.
Secondly, Forgiveness hath respect unto the propitiation made 405in and by the blood of Christ the Son of God. This was declared in the opening of the words. Indeed, here lies the knot and centre of gospel forgiveness. It flows from the cross, and springs out of the grave of Christ.
Thus Elihu describes it, Job xxxiii. 24, “God is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom.” The whole of what is aimed at lies in these words:— 1. There is God’s gracious and merciful heart towards a sinner: “He is gracious unto him.” 2. There is actual condonation itself, of which we shall treat afterward: “He saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit.” And, — 3. There is the centre of the whole, wherein God’s gracious heart and actual pardon do meet; and that is the ransom, the propitiation or atonement that is in the blood of Christ, of which we speak: “I have found a ransom.”
The same is expressed, Isa. liii. 11, “My righteous servant shall justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” Of the justification of sinners, absolution or pardon is the first part. This ariseth from Christ’s bearing their iniquities Therein he “finished the transgression, made an end of sins, and made reconciliation for iniquity,” Dan. ix. 24. Even all the sacrifices, and so consequently the whole worship of the Old Testament, evinced this relation between forgiveness and blood-shedding; whence the apostle concludes that “without shedding of blood is no remission,” Heb. ix. 22; — that is, all pardon ariseth from blood-shedding, even of the blood of the Son of God; so that we are said “in him to have redemption, even the forgiveness of sins,” Eph. i. 7. Our redemption in his blood is our forgiveness: not that we are all actually pardoned in the blood of his cross, for thereunto must be added gospel condonation, of which afterward; but thereby it is procured, the grant of pardon is therein sealed, and security given that it shall in due time be made out unto us. To which purpose is that discourse of the apostle, Rom. iii. 24–26. The work there mentioned proceeds from grace, is managed to the interest of righteousness, is carried on by the blood of Christ, and issues in forgiveness. Now, the blood of Christ relates variously to the pardon of sin:—
1. Pardon is purchased and procured by it. Our redemption is our forgiveness, as the cause contains the effect. No soul is pardoned but with respect unto the blood of Christ as the procuring cause of that pardon. Hence he is said to have “washed us in his blood,” Rev. i. 5; “by himself to have purged our sins,” Heb. i. 3; “by one offering” to have taken away sin, and to have “perfected for ever them that are sanctified,” Heb. x. 14; to be the ransom and “propitiation for our sins,” 1 John ii. 2; to have “made an end of sins,” Dan. ix. 24; and to have “made reconciliation for the sins of the 406people,” Heb. ii. 17. God hath enclosed his rich stores of pardon and mercy in the blood of Jesus.
2. Because in his blood the promise of pardon is ratified and confirmed, so that nothing is wanting to our complete forgiveness but our pleading the promise by faith in him: 2 Cor. i. 20, “All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen;” that is, faithfully, and irrevocably, and immutably established. And therefore the apostle having told us that this is the covenant of God, that he would be “merciful to our sins and iniquities,” Heb. viii. 12, he informs us that in the undertaking of Christ this covenant is become a testament, chap. ix. 15–17; so ratified in his blood, that mercy and forgiveness of sin is irrevocably confirmed unto us therein.
3. Because he hath in his own person, as the head of the church, received an acquitment for the whole body. His personal discharge, upon the accomplishment of his work, was a pledge of the discharge which was in due time to be given to his whole mystical body. Peter tells us, Acts ii. 24, that it was impossible he should be detained by death. And why so? Because death being penally inflicted on him, when he had paid the debt he was legally to be acquitted. Now, for whom and in whose name and stead he suffered, for them and in their name and stead he received this acquitment.
4. Because upon his death, God the Father hath committed unto him the whole management of the business of forgiveness: Acts v. 31, he now gives “repentance” and the “forgiveness of sins.” It is Christ that forgives us, Col. iii. 13. All forgiveness is now at his disposal, and he pardoneth whom he will, even all that are given unto him of the Father, not casting out any that come to God by him. He is intrusted with all the stores of his Father’s purpose and his own purchase; and thence tells us that “all things that the Father hath are his,” John xvi. 15.
In all these respects doth forgiveness relate to the blood of Christ. Mercy, pardon, and grace could find no other way to issue forth from the heart of the Father but by the heart-blood of the Son; and so do they stream unto the heart of the sinner.
Two things are principally to be considered in the respect that forgiveness hath to the blood of Christ — (1.) The way of its procurement; (2.) The way of its administration by him. The first is deep, mysterious, dreadful. It was by his blood, the blood of the cross, the travail of his soul, his undergoing wrath and curse. The other is gracious, merciful, and tender; whence so many things are spoken of his mercifulness and faithfulness, to encourage us to expect forgiveness from him.
This also adds to the mysterious depths of forgiveness, and makes its discovery a great matter. The soul that looks after it in earnest 407must consider what it cost. How light do most men make of pardon! What an easy thing is it to be acquainted with it! and no very hard matter to obtain it! But to hold communion with God, in the blood of his Son, is a thing of another nature than is once dreamed of by many who think they know well enough what it is to be pardoned. “God be merciful,” is a common saying; and as common to desire he would be so “for Christ’s sake.” Poor creatures are east into the mould of such expressions, who know neither God, nor mercy, nor Christ, nor any thing of the mystery of the gospel. Others look on the outside of the cross. To see into the mystery of the love of the Father, working in the Mood of the Mediator; to consider by faith the great transaction of divine wisdom, justice, and mercy therein, — how few attain unto it! To come unto God by Christ for forgiveness, and therein to behold the law issuing all its threats and curses in his Mood, and losing its sting, putting an end to its obligation unto punishment, in the cross; to see all sins gathered up in the hands of God’s justice, and made to meet on the Mediator, and eternal love springing forth triumphantly from his Mood, flourishing into pardon, grace, mercy, forgiveness, — this the heart of a sinner can be enlarged unto only by the Spirit of God.
Thirdly, There is in forgiveness free condonation, discharge, or pardon, according to the tenor of the gospel; and this may be considered two ways:—
1. As it lies in the promise itself; and so it is God’s gracious declaration of pardon to sinners, in and by the blood of Christ, his covenant to that end and purpose, which is variously proposed, according as he knew [to be] needful for all the ends and purposes of ingenerating faith, and communicating that consolation which he intends therein.
This is the law of his grace, the declaration of the mystery of his love, before insisted on.
2. There is the bringing home and application of all this mercy to the soul of a sinner by the Holy Ghost, wherein we are freely forgiven all our trespasses, Col. ii. 13.
Gospel forgiveness I say, respects all these things, these principles; they have all an influence into it. And that which makes this more evident (wherewith I shall close this consideration of the nature of it), is, that faith, in its application of itself unto God about and for forgiveness, doth distinctly apply itself unto and close with sometimes one of these severally and singly, sometimes another, and sometimes jointly takes in the consideration of them all expressly. Not that at any time it fixes on any or either of them exclusively to the others, but that eminently it finds some special encouragement at some season, and some peculiar attractive, from some one of them, more than from the rest; and then that proves an inlet, a door of entrance, 408unto the treasures that are laid up in the rest of them. Let us go over the severals by instances:—
(1.) Sometimes faith fixes upon the name and infinite goodness of the nature of God, and draws out forgiveness from thence. So doth the psalmist: Ps. lxxxvi. 5, “Thou, Lord, art good and ready to forgive.” He rolls himself, in the pursuit and expectation of pardon, on the infinite goodness of the nature of God. So Neh. ix. 17, “Thou art a God of pardons,” or ready to forgive, — of an infinite gracious, loving nature, — not severe and wrathful; and this is that which we are encouraged unto, Isa. l. 10, to stay on the name of God, as in innumerable other places.
And thus faith oftentimes finds a peculiar sweetness and encouragement in and from the consideration of God’s gracious nature. Sometimes this is the first thing it fixes on, and sometimes the last that it rests in. And ofttimes it makes a stay here, when it is driven from all other holds; it can say, however it be, “Yet God is gracious;” and at least make that conclusion which we have from it, Joel ii. 13, 14, “God is gracious and merciful; who knoweth but he will returns.” And when faith hath well laid hold on this consideration, it will not easily be driven from its expectation of relief and forgiveness even from hence.
(2.) Sometimes the soul by faith addresseth itself in a peculiar manner to the sovereignty of God’s will, whereby he is gracious to whom he will be gracious, and merciful to whom he will be merciful; which, as was showed, is another considerable spring or principle of forgiveness. This way David’s faith steered him in his great strait and perplexity: 2 Sam. xv. 25, 26, “If I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again. But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him.” That which he hath in consideration is whether God hath any delight in him or no; that is, whether God would graciously remit and pardon the great sin against which at that time he manifesteth his indignation. Here he lays himself down before the sovereign grace of God, and awaits patiently the discovery of the free act of his will concerning him; and at this door, as it were, enters into the consideration of those other springs of pardon which faith inquires after and closeth withal. This sometimes is all the cloud that appears to a distressed soul, which after a while fills the heavens by the addition of the other considerations mentioned, and yields plentiful refreshing showers. And this condition is a sin-entangled soul ofttimes reduced unto in looking out for relief, — it can discover nothing but this, that God is able, and can, if he graciously please, relieve and acquit him. All other supportments, all springs of relief, are shut up or hid from him. The springs, indeed, may be nigh, as 409that was to Hagar, but their eyes are withheld that they cannot see them. Wherefore they cast themselves on God’s sovereign pleasure, and say with Job,” ‘Though he slay us, yet will we trust in him;’ we will not let him go. In ourselves we are lost, that is unquestionable. How the Lord will deal with us we know not; we see not our signs and tokens any more. Evidences of God’s grace in us, or of his love and favour unto us, are all out of sight. To a present special interest in Christ we are strangers; and we lie every moment at the door of eternity. What course shall we take? what way shall we proceed? If we abide at a distance from God, we shall assuredly perish. ‘Who ever hardened himself against him and prospered?’ Nor is there the least relief to be had but from and by him, ‘for who can forgive sins but God?’ We will, then, bring our guilty souls into his presence, and attend the pleasure of his grace; what he speaks concerning us, we will willingly submit unto.” And this sometimes proves an anchor to a tossed soul, which, though it gives it not rest and peace, yet it saves it from the rock of despair. Here it abides until light do more and more break forth upon it.
(3.) Faith dealing about forgiveness doth commonly eye, in a particular manner, its relation to the mediation and blood of Christ. So the apostle directs, 1 John ii. 1, 2, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins.” If any one hath sinned, and is in depths and entanglements about it, what course shall he take, how shall he proceed, to obtain deliverance? Why, he must unto God for pardon. But what shall he rely upon to encourage him in his so doing? Saith the apostle, “Consider by faith the atonement and propitiation made for sin by the blood of Christ, and that he is still pursuing the work of love to the suing out of pardon for us; and rest thy soul thereon.” This, I say, most commonly is that which faith in the first place immediately fixes on.
(4.) Faith eyes actual pardon or condonation. So God proposeth it as a motive to farther believing: Isa. xliv. 22, “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.” Actual pardon of sin is proposed to faith as an encouragement unto a full returning unto God in all things, 2 Sam. xxiii. 5. And the like may be said of all the other particulars which we have insisted on. There is not any of them But will yield peculiar relief unto a soul dealing with God about forgiveness, as having some one special concernment or other of forgiveness inwrapped in them; — only, as I said, they do it not exclusively, but axe the special doors whereby believing enters into the whole. And these things must be spoken unto afterward.
Let us now take along with us the end for which all these considerations 410have been insisted on. It is to manifest that a real discovery of gospel forgiveness is a matter of greater consequence and importance than at first proposal, it may be, it appeared unto some to be. Who is not in hopes, in expectation of pardon? Who think not that they know well enough at least what it is, if they might but obtain it? But men may have general thoughts of impunity, and yet be far enough from any saving acquaintance with gospel mercy.
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