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I come to do thy will, o God.” Upon this consent of the Father and the Son, the whole fabric of our redemption is built. It is the resultance from it, that the execution of justice on Christ is the expiation of our sins, and by his sufferings the full price is paid for our redemption. There is a judicial exchange of persons between Christ and believers, their guilt is transferred to him, and his righteousness is imputed to them. “He made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 2 Cor. 5. His active and passive obedience, his doing and dying are as truly accounted to believers for their acceptance and pardon, as if they had meritoriously wrought out their own salvațion.
The sinner must give his consent to be saved by the death of Christ upon the terms of the gospel. This constitution is grounded upon the eternal articles between the Father and the Son in the covenant of redemption. Our Saviour declares, that “ God gave his Son, that whosoever believes in hiin, should not perish, but have eternal life.” Notwitstanding the full satisfaction made for our sins, yet without our consent, that is, an applicative faith, no benefit could accrue to us, “ He dwells in our hearts by faith :" and by that vital band of our union we have communion with him in his death, and as entire an interest in all the blessed benefits purchased by it, as if whatsoever he did and suffered had been for us alone. “ He is a propitiation by faith in his blood.” Of this full consent of the sinner, there is an excellent example in the apostle: he expresses it with the greatest ardency of affection ; “I count all things but dung that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ.” Phil. 3. 9. Like as a poor insolvent debtor, ready to be cast into a perpetual prison, longs for a surety rich and liberal, to make payment for him : thus St. Paul desired to be found in Christ, as an all-sufficient surety, that he might obtain a freedom from the charge of the law.
The establishment of the gospel, that faith be the condition of our pardon, so that none can be justified without it, is from pure grace. The apostle assigns this reason why all works are excluded, those performed in the state of nature, or by a princi, ple of grace, from being the procuring cause of our salvation, that it is to prevent vain-glory in men that would result from it. “ You are saved by grace, through faith, and that not of your selves: it is the gift of God." Ephes. 2. The pardon of sin is a principal part of our salvation. He positively declares, that justification “is therefore of faith, that it might be by grace. Rom. 4. If justification were to be obtained by a condition of impossible performance, it were no favour to offer that blessed benefit to us : but it being assured to a believer that humbly and thankfully accepts of it, the grace of God is exceedingly glorified, To make this more clear, faith may be considered as a productive grace, or a receptive: as a productive, it purifies the heart, works by love; and in this consideration we are not justified by it. Faith hath no efficiency in our justification, it is the sole act of God: but faith as a receptive grace, that embraces Christ with his precious merits offered to us in the promise, entitles us to pardon. And in this way divine grace is exalted: for he that entirely relies upon the righteousness of Christ, absolutely renounces his own righteousness, and ascribes in solidum the obtaining of his pardon to the clemency and favour of God, for the sake of the Mediator.
3dly. That God is ready to forgive, is fully proved by many gracious declarations in his word, the infallible expression of his will. We are commanded to seek his face for ever,” his favour and love : for the countenance is the crystal wherein the affections appear.
Now all the commands of God assure us of his approving and acceptance of our obedience to them: it follows therefore, that it is very pleasing to him, that we pray for the pardon of our sins, and that he will dispense it, if we pray in a due manner. When he forbad the prophet to pray for Israel, it was an argument of decreed ruin against them: “Pray not for this people, for I will not hear thee.” Jer. 7. 16. To encourage our hope, God is pleased to direct us how to address our requests for his mercy: he directs" Israel, that had fallen by iniquity, to take words, and turn to the Lord, and say unto him, take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously; so will we render the praise of our lips.” Hos. 14. To this is added a solemn renouncing of those sins that provoked him to anger. His gracious answer follows, “I will heal their backslidings, I will love them freely.” If a prince draws a petition for an humble suppliant to himself, it is a strong indication that he will grant it.
God joins entreaties to his commands, to induce men to accept this mercy. The apostle declares, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ : as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ's stead be reconciled to God.” 2 Cor. 5. Astonishing goodness! how condescending, how compassionate! The provocation began on man's part, the reconciliation is first on God's. That the King of heaven, whose indignation was incensed by our rebellions, and might justly send executioners to destroy us, should send ambassadors to offer peace, and beseech us to be reconciled to him, as if it were his interest and not ours, is a mercy above what we could ask or think. With commands and entreaties he mixes promises of pardon to encourage us to come to the throne of grace : “ Whoever confesses and forsakes his sins, shall find mercy.” This promise is ratified by the strongest assurance : “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1. The pardon of a repenting sinner is the effect of most free mercy, but it is dispensed to the honour of God's faithfulness and justice, who is pleased to engage
himself by his promise to do it. And though the word of God be as sacred and certain as his oath, for it is impossible for him to change his will, or to deceive us in the one as we as the other : yet to overcome the fears, to allay the sorrows, and satisfy the desires of repenting sinners, he was pleased to annex his oath to the promise, Heb. 6. 18. which is the most infallible character and note, that the blessing promised is unchangeable.
He adds threatenings to his invitations, that fear which is an active and strong passion, may constrain us to seek for his mercy. Our Saviour said to the Jews who did blind and harden themselves in their infidelity, “If ye believe not that I am he," the promised Messiah, “and come to me to obtain life, ye shall die in your sins.” John 8. 24. The threatening implies a state final and fearful, beyond all expression ; for they who die in their sins, shall die for them to eternity. Hell is the sad mansion of lost souls, filled with extreme wrath and extreme despair : and where despair is without remedy, sorrow is without mitigation for ever. From hence we may be convinced, how willing God is to pardon and save us, in that knowing how we are entangled with pleasant sins, he reveals to us what will be the eternal con
sequence of sins unrepented and unforgiven, a punishment above all the evils that are felt or feared here, and above all the patience and strength of sinners to endure.
If men yield themselves to the call of his word without, and of his spirit within, and humbly accept of the terms of mercy, it is very pleasing to him. We are assured by Jesus Christ, who is truth, that there is “ Joy in heaven over one sinner that
repents, more than over ninety and nine persons that need no repentance.” God himself declares with a solemn oath, “that he delights not in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn and live.” The holiness and mercy of God are two of his most divine perfections, his peculiar glory and delight. Now what can be more pleasing to that most pure and compassionate being, than to see a sinful creature conformed to his holiness, and saved by his mercy? If the internal joy of God, wherein he is infinitely blessed, were capable of new degrees, it would rise higher in the exercise of his forgiving mercy. There is a clear representation of this in the parable of the prodigal : at his return his father received him, with a robe and a ring, with music and a feast, the signs of joy in its exaltation. But if sinners are hardened in obstinacy, and notwithstanding God is so willing to pardon them, are wilful to be damned, with what variety of passions does he express his resentment ? He incarnates himself in the language of men, to make them understand his affection to them.
Sometimes he expostulates with a tender sympathy, “Why will ye die ?” as if they were immediately falling into the bottomless pit. He expresses pity, mixed with indignation, at their chosen folly and ruin; “ How long ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity, and fools hate knowledge ? What reluctancy and regret does he express against proceeding to exterminating judgments?“How shall I give thee up, Ephraim ? How shall shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah ? How shall I set thee as Zeboim ? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.” Hos. il. 8. With what a melting passion does the Son of God foretęł the decreed destruction of Jerusalem, for rejecting their Saviour and salvation! “When he came near he beheld the city and wept over it, saying, if thou hadst known, at least in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. Like a mild judge that pities the man, when he condemns the malefactor. Those who interpret some expressions of scripture, that “God laughs at the calamity of the wicked, and mocks when their fear comes,” Prov. I. and is inexorable to their prayers, in such a sense as evacuates most gracious declarations of God, to induce sinners to repent and believe for their salvation, they draw darkness out of light: for those threatenings are directed against obstinate rebels that frustrate the most powerful methods of mercy, and reject the call of God, in the day of his grace; and by way of retaliation, their prayers are ineffectual, and rejected in the day of his wrath. And that he is so highly and irreconcileably provoked for their despising his mercy, is a certain indication how highly he would have been pleased with their humbly accepting of it. Let none then by a vile and wretched suspicion, that God's repeated calls to sinners to return and live, do not signify his serious will, detract from the glory of his goodness, and blaspheme his unspotted holiness. His excellent greatness assures us of his sincerity. Why should the glorious majesty of heaven court despicable creatures to be reconciled ? We are infinite descents below him, and no advantage can accrue to hini from us. Temporal princes may be swayed by interest to send false declarations to rebels in arms, to reduce them to obedience: but what can the Most High gain by our submission or lose by our obstinacy? Counterfeit kindness proceeds either from the hope of some good, or the fear of some evil: and of both God is absolutely incapable. We are all obnoxious to his severe justice : there is no occasion that he should intend by the gracious offer of pardon, to aggravate the sin and sentence of those who refuse it. Whosoever with heart breaking sorrow, and unfeigned hatred of his sins, seeks for pardon by the Mediator, he shall find his experience of sparing mercy equal to the highest expressions of it in scripture, and exceeding all his thoughts.
4ly. It appears, that God is ready to pardon, in that he is so slow to punish. Though all the divine attributes are equal in God, and there is an entire agreement between them, yet there is a difference in their external operations. St. John declares, “ God is love;" that signifies his communicative goodness, the exercise whereof is more free and pleasing to him than the acts of revenging justice.“ He does not afflict willingly the children of men." Lam. 3. His mercy in giving and forgiving flows as water from a fountain: acts of justice are forced from him (like wine from the