"But the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him."--Daniel 9:9
To the forgiveness of sins attention now reverts. The subject justly claims large share of pious thought. This mercy showers saving blessings from its wings; it blots out transgression and hides all iniquity in its sheltering arms. Hence no words can fully tell its worth.
Angels may gaze and marvel, but they have no experience of its joys; for none of that pure company exult in pardon. It is solely the heart-felt property of the redeemed. It will be the hymn of heaven; but its first notes must be learned on earth. To learn it well, there must be commencement in the rudimentary volume of its need. Portions of this dark book have been perused--sin's essence and its main developments have passed in review; and at frequent pauses the dreadful need was solemnly deduced. This need is prelude to the tidings--"But the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him."
The subject pursued leads to (1) sin's guilt; (2) sin's final doom.
I. SIN'S GUILT. Guilt is that property of sin which links it to God's wrath. It constitutes its criminality, and forbids immunity. That sin has this property is clear--it stands confessedly a convict. It is undeniably a transgressor of the law of heaven. It cannot plead that it is guiltless; therefore avowedly it merits punishment.
Thus in reference to GOD it has been proved to be alienation, hatred, contempt, defiance, robbery, treason, rebellion. Can such be its guilty state--can it evidently work havoc throughout all creation, and shall God sit indifferent, as though He saw no evil? The very thought strips Him of the glories of His holiness, and misrepresents Him as erecting a platform on which sin shall have free scope to act rebellion, and then be spared as innocent. Holiness ceases to be holy, except it inflict on sin the penalties of its guilt. Righteousness is no more righteous, if it withholds the righteous condemnation. Truth lies low in ignominious shame, if the words be not fulfilled, "The wages of sin is death." (Rom. 6:23.) "Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." (Gal. 3:10.) The arm of Omnipotence is a broken reed, if it wield no sword to vindicate the honor and the majesty of God's kingdom. Thus the guilty cannot be screened as guiltless.
Doubtless God is rich in mercy--His mercy endures forever--His mercy reaches unto the heavens. "To the Lord our God belong mercies." If compassion were not a bright beam in heaven, there could be no remission of offence, no substitutionary offering, no transfer of guilt to a Surety, no Gospel, no Christ, no cross, no reconciling blood.
But mercy cannot annihilate the attributes which sit as compeers on the glorious throne. It lives co-equal with them. Its delight is to exalt, to magnify, to glorify them. Patience may wait long, until settled purposes are fully ripe; forbearance may forbear, until the cup of wrath at last overflows; patience may endure, until the extremest limit be attained; but their honor must be maintained, and guilt not screened in Christ must encounter the just woe. The interceding voice, "Let it alone" at last will cease. God can by no means clear the guilty. Guilt then must receive its penal wages, unless some scheme be found to intercept the terrible result. Who now can fail to feel that the guilty sinner needs mercies and forgivenesses?
Let the page of EXPERIENCE be next read. It is written throughout with testimony that tremendous indications of divine displeasure pursue guilt. Amid sweet rays of mercy striving to break forth, big drops of wrath often descend. The present appearance of earth is mournfully significant--the whole creation groans and travails together. What is inscribed on all the tears and travail? These dark evidences proclaim that sin has polluted earth, and that guilt is the accompaniment of sin, and that penalty adheres to guilt.
Tears and sighs and anguish in multiform misery tell what sin has brought into this earth--sufferings and agony point to their prolific parent. Mourners ever mourning, the afflicted ever wailing, the bereaved ever disconsolate, sickness ever weakening, pains ever torturing, death ever doing its relentless work, graves insatiable, loudly tell that God has a controversy with earth. Thus the wide spread of misery proves that the guilt of sin awakens just displeasure.
Mark, next, the terrors of CONSCIENCE when aroused from apathetic slumber by the Spirit. See the man awakened to the real perils of his guilty state. He is brought into a new world, where all is dismay. He perceives that his feet totter on the brink of a terrific precipice. He sees an abyss yawning in his path. He trembles, lest the next step may plunge him into bottomless perdition. He looks back, and shudders at his past career--he looks above; the sight is blackness of darkness--he looks onward, and hopelessness affrights him. All within stirs up remorse--all around is terror. The past cannot be recalled--the present must move onward--the future cannot be escaped.
In what mirror are these terrors seen? Surely in the mirror of sin's guilt. Conscience, in the Spirit's light, convicts of sin. Guilt is its inseparable companion--vengeance from heaven closely follows. The awakened conscience knows this and quakes.
Annals of the past confirm this statement--they exhibit terrific outbreaks of divine wrath. Let the old world tell its dreadful tale. Its wickedness exceeded all that is denounced as wicked--its trespass grew up unto the heavens. Enormity of evil cried aloud, and enormity of vengeance slumbered not. God opened the sluices above, and called the waters from their lowest caverns; billows upon billows swelled; one vast flood cleared the polluted earth, with the exception of one family. Each drop of that overwhelming deluge proves that sinful earth is guilty earth; and guilty earth cannot but call down wrath.
Let another instance lend corroborating aid. Omitting the cities of the plain--a smoking furnace, a flood of flame--let the miseries of Jerusalem in her final siege be pondered. Where can horrors be found like unto those horrors! The sword, the pestilence, the famine, the fire, the signs in the heavens, the wails of earth, surpassed all former prophetic indications. Vengeance sharpened its every fang to mangle and to torture. Jerusalem drank a brimful cup, and drank it to the very dregs. Whence comes this unparalleled anguish? Sin stands out as the guilty cause. Enormous guilt brought down enormous wrath.
Here let a shuddering glance look INWARD. Is not every child of man deeply immersed in guilt? "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way." (Isaiah 53:6.) "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23.) How then shall the guilty escape, if no forgiveness hold back the arm of wrath! How precious now are the tidings--"To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against Him."
Thus far the guilt of sin has been viewed, as exhibited in time, and as endured on the little space of this passing scene. But sin's results end not with earth's brief moment. Here is only the opening of the sluice--the stream flows onward into the ocean of eternity, and there the billows find no shore, no bottom.
It requires no small effort to proceed; but to pause here would leave the subject only on the threshold of its magnitude. Progress must be made--time's flimsy veil must be withdrawn; realities beyond must be distinctly faced.
II. SIN'S FINAL DOOM now meets us. Scripture abounds in warnings--their plainness is only equaled by their awe; their terrors are all faithfulness and truth. They speak loudly that men may ponder and escape. Blessed be the Holy Spirit for this arresting voice! He uncloaks the approaching day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God--"when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ--who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power." (2 Thess. 1:7-9.) Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, are denounced on every soul of man that does evil. (Rom. 2:8, 9.)
There is no negative in this catalogue of woes. It is the aggregate of every form of positive endurance. Who can gaze with firm eye on the pictures of the Apocalypse! But they are portrayed for our admonition. Behold! He who is announced as the Word of God appears treading "the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." (Rev. 19:15.) Here the omnipotence of God is exhibited not only mighty in wrath, but fierce in wrath, infuriate to execute vengeance. What must that vengeance be!
Tremendous terms exhaust the powers of imagination. The voice thunders, "Depart from Me, you cursed ones, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Again the sound is heard of "blackness of darkness forever;" "weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth;" "the worm that dies not, the fire that is not quenched." No drop of water cools the parched tongue, and these torments are to endure forever and forever. No hope of deliverance sustains the lost. No respite ever relieves. Intermission never brings a momentary ease. No glimpse of dawn gives prospect of a better day. What was, still is, and forever shall be. It is all pain without release, all misery for everlasting ages. It is the woe of an eternal night.
Such is the endless end of sin. Such are the penalties to which its guilt is righteously consistent. Such is its sure condemnation.
This picture is no fable; no fiction; no hyperbole. No color is inscribed too darkly. These are the true sayings of Him who is the Truth. But pictures, however vivid, fail to give exact idea. The painted flame shows not the sting and biting pungency of fire. They know little of the angry ocean's swell--of the agonies of a wrecked crew--of the strength of the infuriate lion--of the devastation of the volcano, who only see these images portrayed on canvas. As heaven to be really known must be attained, so sin's wages must be received before the fruit of its guilt can be conceived.
It will be happy if through this dreary passage a glorious prospect is attained. It will be so to all who now clasp to grateful hearts the good news--"To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against Him." Let then the reviving truth now have free course and be glorified. A remedy is provided. A refuge is erected. A fortress of escape is near. A rescue is at the door. "God is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." (2 Cor. 5:19.) Christ comes to the blessed work in obedience to the heavenly call, and the dictates of His love. He vicariously endures all these penalties. Hence "repentance and remission of sins are preached in His name among all nations."
Let the tidings be devoutly prized, "Christ has suffered the just for the unjust." In Him all manner of sin is forgiven to the children of men. This forgiveness of sins is the corner stone and glory of His Gospel. Gaining validity through Christ's blood, it remits all penalties to the believer, abrogates all demands, relaxes all bonds, cancels all debts, blots out every accusing charge, silences all threats, blunts every weapon of wrath, extracts the sting of vengeance, averts all miseries, removes all apprehensions, opens the prison-doors, loosens all chains, closes hell, makes a straight path to heaven, and crowns an innumerable multitude with blessings of celestial favor.
Let men be wise to seek in an accepted time this inestimable gift. Let them, the Spirit helping, secure this prize, and turn not from the Father of all mercies, heaping on Christ the outpourings of His wrath, that He may heap infinities of bliss and glory on pardoned guilt.
Let not the only hope be slighted. It shines in Christ and in Christ alone. He is the treasure-house in which forgiveness is stored. Let not the multitude, or magnitude, or heinousness of transgressions deter. "A fountain is opened for all sin and uncleanness." They who cast themselves therein are whiter than the whitest snow. Their blessed experience may truly testify, "But the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him." "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1.)