"Who forgives all your iniquities."--Psalm 103:3
Forgiveness of sins has been reviewed in relation to its NEED, its SOURCE, and its PROCURING CAUSE. Attention now rests on its COMPLETENESS. At the outset let it be stated, that here it eludes full grasp and exhausts description. It presents itself as a boundless ocean without shore--as a depth unfathomable by human line--as a sky without horizon--as an expanse ever widening as steps advance. He who has fled for refuge to a Savior's wounds, looks out from his high watch-tower, and limitless forgiveness spreads before him. He who washes in the fountain opened in the Redeemer's side, retains not the shadow of speck. His career, once so black, now vies with the whitest snow in purity. The rapturous song is on his lips, "Who forgives all my iniquities."
It is a charming exercise to traverse the path which leads to this conclusion.
The completeness of the forgiving act is apparent from the essence and character of Him who forgives. This grace proceeds alone from God. All His acts are steeped in heavenly infinity. When then He forgives, He forgives like a God--fully, without measure, without restraining boundary. When forgiveness smiles from heaven, it smiles forever and never darkens into avenging frown.
The procuring price, also, proclaims complete forgiveness. Payments demand equivalent remission but this payment is infinitely worthy; therefore there can be no bounds to the recompense obtained. It must be entire--perfect.
Let it be granted that sins overtop the heights of heaven; forgiveness soars unspeakably above their summit. Let sins exceed the sea's innumerable sands; forgiveness outnumbers the total mass.
Moreover, the payment is made to secure heaven for a multitude which no man can number. But heaven can receive no inhabitant stained with one speck of evil. If one dark spot remains, its shining portals refuse admission. Hence, if forgiveness be only partial, the gracious purpose of the Savior's death is frustrate--heaven could not receive a white-robed multitude. But the many mansions will be all filled. The corollary is sure--forgiveness is complete.
But in the believer's journey to his heavenly home many sad days darken. Trials in various forms assail him; languor, disease, weakness, and pain, bring him into the gloomy chambers of depression; the spirit faints; the pillars of strength totter; the mind is feeble to grasp inferential proofs; mental vision will scarcely read aright the largest letters of argumentative conclusion. Our wily adversary is skilled at these seasons to infuse a train of fears and doubts.
Hence the Spirit in His tender love has provided abundant support to counteract. He presents strong consolation for the heirs of faith. He has erected secure fortresses into which they may flee and rejoice. These fortresses are the positive assurances of God's Word--that glorious testimony of His mind and will--that seal of His faithfulness--that record of His immutable decrees--that treasure-house of delights--that garden of most sweet refreshments. In frequent phase, in diversified forms, in copious images, the announcement re-echoes that the believer's forgiveness is forever complete. The glorious theme is, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." God forgives all their iniquities.
Minds are well garrisoned which have these precious declarations prominent in memory, and ever ready for relief. Let it then be a glad task to meditate on some sayings of our God, planted by the Spirit in the paradise of truth. Their purpose is eternal consolation. Their power keeps the heart from sinking amid billows of despondency. They strike the key-note of unending hallelujahs. They present a cup overflowing with true joys.
I. Here the Scripture which introduces this section of the subject stands foremost. It is an assertion so simple, that none can misapprehend; so large, that it defies addition. David in rapture of devotion is ardent to enumerate His mercies. He chides his flagging soul--he strives to rouse his inner man. He exclaims, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all His benefits." When he proceeds to unfold the catalogue, what mercy outstrips others in claiming primary praise? What heavenly dealing takes the topmost place? It is forgiveness--forgiveness godlike and complete. Hear the announcement--"Who forgives all your iniquities."
Let believers learn the happy art of using this word expertly, intelligently, with undoubting faith. Satan will often strive to bring our sins to remembrance. They readily appear in frightful mass, in vast accumulation. They swarm in all periods of life--in childhood's dawn--in blooming youth--in the prime of manhood--when the shades of declining age cast gloom. Offences crowd to light, openly committed or allowed in secret--acted in every condition and relationship of life--at home, in the family, abroad, in solitude, in the busy haunts of men, in the sanctuary, in the closet, in prayer uttered or neglected, in ignorance, in clear intelligence, when conscience slumbered, and when its voice gave warning, amid misgiving and in daring audacity, in defiance of convictions, in disregard of resolves and vows! Who can count the hideous spectres which are ready to revive and terrify the conscience? But when all sins in all their aggravations threaten, the multitudinous array may be confronted with this relieving word--"Who forgives all your iniquities."
Let the emphatic monosyllable "all" be prized. It is not said some, or few, or many--but "all." God so completely pardons that not one iniquity remains unpardoned. Thus forgiveness gloriously shines in splendor of completeness. Let believers beseech the Spirit so to increase their faith that they may clearly see and clasp to the heart this blessed article of salvation.
Sometimes the idea occurs that Bible-statements fail in general and universal design--that they are the peculiar property of the special speaker. Thus the doubt may arise whether the word of David extends beyond his own persuasion. Paul appears to dissipate misapprehension; he gives this comfort to the Church--"You, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, has He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses." (Col. 2:13.)
Thus the assertion of David is adopted by Paul--what the patriarch states the Apostle re-echoes. Let all believers admit the wide assurance, and place the foot of faith on all their sins obliterated by the Redeemer's work. Let them embody among their chief joys the truth so strikingly repeated, and shout--David's word and Paul's repetition are alike from heaven--"Who forgives all your iniquities." He has "forgiven you all trespasses."
Paul in this Scripture not only proclaims the completeness of forgiveness--he enforces it by illustration. He thus continues--"He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross." (Col. 2:14.)
First, the guilt is significantly portrayed--there is the record in antagonistic force. It is against to us as a fearful adversary. This record is the law's inexorable decree. But vain is this opposition--it is blotted out, canceled, thoroughly expunged, completely wiped away. Let the condemning record of ordinances be searched for--it cannot be seen--it is blotted out. To the believer, then, the law is no more an opponent fierce in threats--it is decked with smiles, as a calm and sweet rule of life.
The next announcement adds, "He took it and destroyed it." He has so removed it that it can no more obstruct the road to heaven. The gracious mode of removal is also expressed. Consolations are multiplied.
Christ took it and destroyed it, "having nailed it to His cross." That which is nailed to the cross cannot but expire. When Christ is thus nailed the condemnatory power of the law is also transfixed. By the flowing blood the penalties are completely paid--therefore the claim against us is completely abrogated, annulled, extinguished, death-stricken, crucified. In Christ uplifted on the accursed tree judicial wrath receives extinction. Let these expressive terms be duly weighed. They witness that forgiveness is complete--they swell the note, "Who forgives all your iniquities."
II. The pregnant meaning of the term, "blot out," demands still further thought. The Holy Spirit again and again selects it to express COMPLETE ERASURE. Isaiah gives confirming witness--he sweetly sings, "Pay attention, O Israel, for you are my servant. I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget to help you. I have swept away your sins like the morning mists. I have scattered your offenses like the clouds. Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free." (Isaiah 44:21, 22.)
Here is the same expression heard from Paul's lips. The interpretation changes only to enlarge and deepen the assurance of complete forgiveness. In the mind of the Apostle sins appear as a debt registered in a book of reckoning; in the mind of the Prophet they are represented as thick clouds hanging in black folds in the skies. In each case they are blotted out. Let the Prophet's image be considered. Suppose the skies to be overcast; let the canopy above be as the curtain of night; then let the sun dart forth its piercing rays--where now is the obscuring mass? It is dissipated--dispersed--scattered--obliterated. Evanescence has absorbed it--no trace is left--the vault above is fair in brightness. In like manner, when the hand of grace exhibits the blood of Christ, the darkness disappears--appalling shade is chased away--the believer realizes complete forgiveness, and rightfully adopts the strain, "Who forgives all your iniquities."
The Holy Spirit deepening this truth adds line to line, and multiplies reduplication. In the catalogue of prophecies the same image had before occurred--"I even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins." (Isaiah 43:25.) The fact of complete extinction is thus again announced, and free grace shines brightly as the originating cause. Let faith be acted on the glorious word, and let joy have free course.
III. David presents another image worthy to be cherished. A grand note sounds in verse 12 of this Psalm--"As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." The figure pictures immeasurable distance--it represents space too vast for step to traverse or for eye to scan. Let a traveler move from the west striving to reach the east--the distance mocks the effort; as advance is made, the horizon continues as quickly to recede. In this picture is seen the infinite removal of transgressions. Legal vengeance never again can overtake offence--it disappears in undiscoverable regions. This blessing is the achievement of redeeming blood. It places impassable expanse between the offender and avenging pursuit--it completely, entirely, everlastingly liberates, relieves, rescues. They who believe the record may sing aloud, "Who forgives all your iniquities."
IV. Other images display the truth. Hezekiah in the joy of pardon pours forth his soul in praise. His words are worthy to be often and deeply pondered. Let his ecstatic utterance be heard--"You have in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption--for You have cast all my sins behind Your back." (Isaiah 38:17.) Expressive is this picture. It is obvious, that objects "behind the back" cannot be before the face. The eye no longer can discern them--they are as completely hidden as if their existence had ceased. Thus our gracious God no longer fixes an avenging look on sins forgiven. Omniscience is His attribute; but omniscience fails to view them. Let this glad assurance be among the believer's treasures. Let him renew the strain, "You have cast all my sins behind Your back." "He forgives all my iniquities."
V. The mind of the Spirit which pervades Scripture again appears in Jeremiah's proclamation--"In those days and in that time, says the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare." (Jer. 50:20.)
It is here supposed that search for sin is made but the investigation fails. Sin is declared, in reference to wrath against God's people, to be a nonentity. They who prosecute the scrutiny are constrained to confess they "cannot be found." Let this grand comfort be fully embraced. Let the song be prolonged, "He forgives all your iniquities."
VI. Again--when Micah ends his prophecy, in high glow of rapture he exclaims, "Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:18-19.)
The whole passage is bright as the mid-day sun in tidings of complete forgiveness. Let the last words only be noted. Where will all our sins be cast? Not on the surface of the waves--then they might float, be grasped, and brought again to land. No! they shall be deeply buried in ocean's lowest caverns, in the abyss of mighty waters, in the profundities of unfathomable depths. No more can any line extend to their concealing grave--no toil or skill can any more upraise them. They lie utterly beyond recovery--extrication is impossible. Thus the Apocalypse describes utter destruction--"A mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all." (Rev. 18:21.)
Is all the fruit now gathered from Scripture's tree of complete forgiveness? No--abundance yet remains. Laden branches still drop their golden treasures--but at present enough has been said to awaken the full flow of gratitude.
Are there any who feel that they cannot sing, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, who forgives all your iniquities"? The warning against such is fearful. They claim no portion in forgiveness! If they are unforgiven, what is their present condition--what their future doom? Let not the warning be unheeded. There is a broad path leading downwards to a prison-house where forgiveness never comes.