« PreviousContinue »
gagements; sins committed habitually and presumptuously, as if God were ignorant, or indifferent and unconcerned, or impotent and without power to punish offenders : these sins derive a greater guilt, and expose to a more terrible punishment. Now a gracious pardon is offered in the gospel to all sinners, whatever the quality and circumstances of their sins be, if they apply and address themselves to the father of mercy through the compassionate Meiliator, and forsake their sins. Of this we are assured from the most solemn declaration of God to Moses, “ the Lord is merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin.” The promise is comprehensive of all sorts of sins, how manifold and mighty soever. Besides, to encourage us to repent and believe, God promises pardon for sins of the fiercest provocation. Judah had violated the marriage-covenant with God by their impure idolatries, yet he offers to receive them. “ Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, yet return again to me, saith the Lord.” Relapses into rebellious sins argue a strong propensity to them, and exceedingly aggravate their guilt; yet God promises pardon for them: “ Return ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." There are eminent instances of God's pardoning mercy recorded in the scripture. The apostle having enumerated many sorts of sinners guilty of enormous crimes, idolaters, adulterers, abusers of themselves with mankind, tells the Corinthians, “and such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the spirit of our God. There is one sort of sinners excepted from the general promise of mercy, those who sin against the Holy Ghost. The reason of the exception is not, that the Holy Spirit is superior in dignity to the Father and the Son, for they are all coeternal and coequal, but from his operations, that is, the revealing the truth and grace of God in the gospel. Now the obstinate malicious contradicting the truth of the gospel shining in the minds of men, and the perverse despising the grace of the gospel, is unpardonable to infinite mercy. Those who are guilty of that sin, have transformed themselves into the image of the devil, and salvation cannot save them. But no others are excluded from repentance and pardon.
2. As the extent, so the entireness of pardon offered to sinners declares God's abundant mercy.
Ist. The pardon is as full as free, according to his excellent goodness: the imputation of the fault ceases, and the obligation to punishment is abolished. We have clear evidence of this from the scripture. God assures those who repent and reform, “ though your sins be as scarlet,, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Pardon is more than a reprieve or suspension of judgment, it is a perfect freedom from it : a repenting believer is as clear from the charge of the law as an innocent angel. “There is no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.” Rom. 8. Our cleansing from the defilements of sin is imperfect, therefore we must be always purifying ourselves, till we attain to absolute purity: but our pardon is perfect. It is irrevocable; we are assured, that as far as the east is from the west, God removes our transgressions from us. As soon those distant points may be united, as guilt may be fastened upon those whom God has pardoned. The prophet declares, that “ God will subdue our iniquities, and cast them into the bottom of the sea :" Psal. 103. from whence they can never rise. God promises, “I will forgive their iniquities, and remember them no more.” Mich. 7. Pardon is complete and final. It is the misery of the wicked, " they are condemned already; Jer. 31. 34. they live by a reprieve and suspension of judgment : it is the blessed security of believers, they “ shall not fall under condemnation.” There is such an inconstancy in the nature of men, that they often repent and revoke the favours and privileges they have bestowed; they like to day, and loath to-morrow the same persons : but the blessed God is not subject to change or contingency. His love, his purpose, his promise to his people, are unalterable.
From the sense of God's pardoning mercy, conscience is freed from those just terrors that are the consequents of guilt. blood of Christ purges our conscience from dead works :" Heb. 9. 14. from the deadly guilt of sin that cleaves to the conscience. A temporal prince may pardon a murderer; and conscience with a countenance of despair may summon him to appear and be accountable for his bloody crime before the high and everlasting Judge: but those who are “ justified by faith, have peace with God.” When the original bond is cancelled, the counter-part has no force; conscience is subordinate to God, and when he justifies, has no authority to condemn. When God “blots out the iniquities of his people as a thick cloud,” there is a clear sky, a divine calm and serenity in conscience. It may be enquired how the complete pardon of sin is consistent with the temporal evils inflicted upon the children of God for their sins. The answer is obvious and easy. Temporal evils inflicted on the children of God, are declarative of his holy displeasure against sin, but are not for satisfaction to vindictive justice: this would be derogatory to the love of God, and the meritorious sufferings of our Saviour, who did not compound with God, but made full and absolute satisfaction for our sins. In the 12th chapter to the Hebrews, where the apostle so divinely and accurately treats of this argument, there is a clear account of the cause, the nature, and the product of the temporal sufferings of God's children. The cause of them is the love of their heavenly Father displeased for their sins : “ whom the lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives,” Earthly parents in their various fits of folly, sometimes“ chasten their children only for their pleasure," and sometimes spare the rod to their ruin : but our heavenly Father is equally wise and compassionate, and uses such discipline as is requisite for their profit, to prevent their continuance in sin, that would be destructive to them. Believers are chastened of the Lord, that they may not be condemned with the world.” 1 Cor. 11. 32. And the wisdom and love of our Father and physician mixes such bitter ingredients, and in that proportion, as are requisite for the quality of the disease, and the strength of the patient. “He corrects them in measure;" he will not suffer them “to be tempted above what they are able.” Their afflictions are deliberate dispensations. The nature of them is signified in the word chastisement: the correction of a child is in order to his amendment : they are medicinal, and have a main relation and prospect to the future, to make us more fearful to offend God, and careful to please him. They are more lively and sensible lessons of our duty, than the instructions of the word, and are of the same order.
The product of the chastisements of God's children, “ is the pleasant fruit of righteousness to them who are exercised thereby:" Heb. 12. that is, the sanctifying graces of the Spirit, repentance, faith, hope, patience, self-denial, contempt of the
world, resignation to the divine will, are exercised, illustrated, and increased in those christians who with unfainting perseverance endure affliction.
In short, death that was the penal effect of sin, (for the first man while innocent was immortal) though continued, yet the sting is taken away, the quality of it is changed: the issues of it are vastly different to the saints and the wicked: to the saints it is the period of their fears and sorrows, the final remedy of all their miseries; to the wicked it is the beginning of their woe. The saints pass through the darkness and corruption of the grave into the kingdom of glory: the wicked pass to the blackness of darkness for ever.
2dly. The entireness of this great benefit is evident in that God restores his love and forfeited favour to all that are pardoned. Princes sometimes pardon offenders, but never receive them into their favour. Absalom was recalled from banishment, but for two years was not admitted to see the king's face. But God does magnify and manifest his love to those whom he pardons. He does not distinguish them from the angels that always obeyed him. He forgives our sins as entirely as if they had never been committed, and is reconciled as if he had never been offended. We have the most clear discovery of this in the parable of the prodigal. It might have been expected, that his father should have reproached him for his obstinate deserting his house, his wasting his portion in lewdness and luxury, and that bitter constraint forced him to return: no, he dearly embraces him, and cancels all the debt of his past offences with a most affectionate kiss : and whereas the poor penitent presumed only to be received as a servant, he was restored in the most affectionate manner to the dignity and relation of a son; and universal joy was diffused through all the family for his return. If our Saviour had not made this relation with all its endearing circumstances, our narrow hearts durst never presume and promise to us such compassionate love of God to repenting sinners. But whoever imitates the prodigal in his return, shall find the reality to exceed the representation. I shall add some examples of this love of God to those who repent. Mary Magadalen had been guilty of foul sins, yet our Saviour graciously received the tender expressions of her grief and love, to the astonishment of Simon: « She washed his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed them :" and after his resurrection appeared first unto her as his endeared favourite. It is recorded by the evangelist, with an infinite emphasis of his love, that “he first appeared to Mary Magdalen, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” Peter, in whose denial of Christ there was such a mixture of infidelity, ingratitude, and impiety, he promised 'he would die with him or for him; yet being questioned not with terror by an armed magistrate, not surprised by a subtle examiner, but at the question of a maid renounced him, yet he was restored to the honour of his office, and the affection of his master. It is very observable, that when he appeared to Mary Magdalen, he directs her to tell his disciples and Peter of his resurrection; he particularly mentions Peter, to raise his drooping spirit by this new assurance of his love.
This happy privilege belongs to all penitent believers, for whomsoever God pardons he prefers, and adopts into his family, and makes them heirs of heaven. The first beam of mercy shines in the pardon of our sins, which is an infallible assurance of freeing us from the punishment of sin in hell, and of our obtaining the joys of heaven. Our Saviour has by his meritorious and voluntary sufferings paid our ransom from eternal death, and purchased for us a right to eternal life : accordingly “whom God justifies he glorifies. The formal effect of justification is the restoring us to the forfeited favour of God, and from that fountain all blessed benefits flow. God declares concerning his people : “ They shall be mine in the day that I make up my jewels, and I will spare them as a man spares his son that serves him :" Mal. 3. which two acts of the divine mercy are inseparable.
1. Use of caution. The first use shall be of caution, lest men abuse carelessly and contemptuously the doctrine of divine forgiveness. Many sin freely, as if they believed the permission of sins, or presumed upon a ready remedy, and are without fear of judgment to come. This is the language of their actions, though not of their tongues. There is not a worse sort of sinners out of hell. If that which should soften and reclaim sinners hardens them, the case is desperate and incurable. To correct the vile conceits men have of obtaining an easy pardon of their sins,