"Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered."--Psalm 32:1
Scripture exhibits many portraits of the blessed man--each abounds in lovely charms, and claims devout attention. In all there is a common feature--amid much diversity one similitude prevails. None rank among the blessed ones, who have not received forgiveness of sin. Apart from realizing views of pardon, there is no blessedness; for there is no abiding joy in the heart--no glowing beauty in the life--no solid hope in the future prospect. Let forgiveness be withdrawn, and what is man? A brand blighted by curse--a withered branch fit only for the burning--a wretched outcast in a wilderness of woe--a convict awaiting just execution. Scripture rejects such from its worthies. Blessed only is he "whose transgression is forgiven."
The subject has now advanced to this point of blessedness. But what expanded thoughts can grasp this glorious theme! What fervent words can adequately paint the bliss! Can temporal mercies be named in comparison? Their whole assemblage multiplied and magnified to all excess, is dim before this treasure. Without this adjunct their fullness is utter emptiness--their satisfaction is a mere blank--their sweetest cup holds no refreshment.
The sun may brightly shine--the breezes softly fan--wealth may fill the coffers--domestic joys may happily abound--friends may caress, health may be in firmest vigor; but amid these, and more than these delights, the unpardoned soul is empty, downcast, and forlorn. Such benefits in themselves are shadows with no substance. They cannot command continuance--a trembling hand holds them insecurely. Separation is near--soon, very soon, they may depart. An angry God looks angrily on all; and in His anger there is disconsolation, apprehension, dismay, misery. Nothing really smiles beneath God's frown; and this frown looks sternly on the unforgiven.
Can angelic blessedness compete with this enjoyment? Doubtless angels live and shine in supreme happiness forever--their wings expand in heaven's sunshine; but they come short of the ecstatic joy of reading reconciliation in a Father's face. They cannot sing, "Jesus loved us, and gave Himself for us, and bought us with the most precious price of His most precious blood." They cannot extol forgiveness springing from the heart of God, and flowing to them through the pierced side of the Lamb of God. There is, then, a blessedness which exceeds theirs--it is the blessedness of the man "whose transgression is thus forgiven."
This blessedness now invites review. It comes with two-fold aspect. It has an EXCLUDING hand, driving away all misery--it has an ADMITTING hand, bringing in all joys. It firmly banishes all affrighting foes; it erects a strong barrier against heart-trouble; it releases from the grasp of threatened woe; it slays disquietudes; it stands conqueror over tormenting apprehensions; it spoils all terrors of their sting; it sits in triumph over all causes of soul-anxiety. Collect all the enemies which terrify the heart--their weapons are blunted by forgiveness. In this fearful group the most prominent are, (1) the wrath of God, (2) the curse of the Law, (3) an accusing conscience, (4) the fear of death, (5) the dreadfulness of eternity. Let the several links of this appalling chain be marked in order.
I. GOD'S WRATH appears. Its form is DREADFUL; it justly comes to execute just vengeance. It is RIGHTEOUS; it is righteously aroused to vindicate His outraged rule. It is MIGHTY; it has unlimited command of every instrument by which misery can be inflicted. No human arm can resist. Where can the guilty hide from it? Let now the sinner meet it with forgiveness in his hand--instantly the avenging sword is sheathed, the thunderbolts of fury fall harmless! Why? The provoking cause is gone; therefore anger ceases--it dies at the feet of the forgiven man. The shipwrecked mariner on a rock of safety smiles upon the waves, the tempest, and the winds--their fury is escaped. Thus the forgiven survey the threats of wrath, and tremble not--no commission goes forth against them. "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven."
II. Next, the CURSE OF THE LAW rolls terrifically. Its voice is indeed the thunder's inexorable roar. It has no heart to melt into relentings--its stern frown cannot relax into compassion. It is charged to fall with all its weight upon each violator of its decrees--it must do this work unsparingly. An immitigable proclamation precedes it--"Cursed is every one that continues not in all things that are written in the Book of the Law to do them." Nothing but forgiveness can defy this curse. But the forgiven man calmly meets the uplifted arm--with thwarting plea he arrests its fury. He can truly say, "I am no more subject to such penalty--I hold absolute immunity. Christ, on Calvary's cross, endured my total curse--for me my Surety has exhausted this vengeance." In the Ark the rescued family marked unmoved the swellings of the engulfing deep; in Zoar's shelter Lot looked upon the fiery deluge, and felt that he was safe--so the sinner, sheltered in forgiveness, hears undismayed the blasts of legal threats. "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven."
III. Next, CONSCIENCE is a restless troubler. Conscience is privy to the most secret movements of the mind; its eye is keen to mark all deviations from right course--its hand fails not to record; its memory refuses to forget. It cannot but be an adversary to sin; its voice is active in recital of past deeds--it shows in fearful array long trains of thoughts, and words and acts which no oblivion can bury. These are ready to re-appear at the judgment-bar; and they are justly liable to wrath.
This conscience, as a cruel tormentor, often haunts the terrified offender. How can it be shaken off? Where can escape be found? Let now 'forgiveness' appear. It meekly confesses the truth of every charge--it extenuates no guilt; but it points to the book of remembrance, and shows every transgression erased--all iniquity blotted out. Then the conscience is lulled into sweet peace. The debtor no more turns pale at the creditor's approach, if he holds a discharge earned by the payment of a sufficient surety. The rebel flees not from the officer, if he can show the royal seal of pardon. So the sinner, who has received obliteration of every offence in the vicarious blood, peacefully produces his acquittal, and silences all threats of this accusing monitor. "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven."
IV. DEATH to the unpardoned is an enemy clad in armor of terrors. Death comes on with step which never pauses; with hand outstretched, and ever nearing, to bear its victim from this short-lived scene. Its touch will soon extinguish mortal life, and perhaps most suddenly. Then reprieves are ended--the last sand of God's forbearance falls through; the worn-out thread snaps. Hiding-places no more can shelter--all fabricated refuges crumble away. Death is commissioned to dissipate all groundless hopes. Death bears the sinner from earth to meet the judgment-bar, at which delusions vanish, and all is the reality of solemn truth. Hence life-long apprehensions torment. But 'forgiveness of sins' changes the whole prospect--it deadens death's sting. This sting is sin--but forgiveness expunges sin, and so destroys the sting, and leaves the foe spoiled of his destroying weapon. The captive fears not the jailer's step, when he knows that he comes only to release. The forgiven can deliberately say, Jesus is my Friend, who purchased pardon for me; and death is my friend, who bears me to His arms. "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven."
V. But to the unforgiven man ETERNITY is the most terrifying prospect. He cannot extricate himself from everlasting existence; he cannot extinguish the torch of never-dying consciousness--he must drag on a never-ending day. He may sigh, "Will no night come?" The answer is, "Time is no more." Millions of years bring no end nearer--millions upon millions of ages, do not change the unchangeable expanse. Misery must be misery forever. The worm ever gnaws--the furnace never cools. Oh! what a marvel is it, that a sinner not delivered from eternal wrath can be free from agonizing fear! But forgiveness dispels all these forebodings. What shall he fear whose sins are all washed out? Eternity's long day will not revoke forgiveness. It is as ever living as its Author, "I am that I am."
Such the blessedness of him "whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered," when viewed from the negative position of excluded terrors. It is high ground of happiness, and truly blessed are they whose feet stand firmly on it.
But the whole is not yet told. The hill of forgiveness has a more SUNNY side--the lips of the forgiven sing a sweeter song; pardon brings yet more ecstatic joys. Into the deeper flood, the Lord willing, our barks shall shortly launch.
But here a pause is made, with an appeal to shivering souls, strangers to this precious blessedness. Such is a sad condition--and it is voluntary, self-bound misery. Can more have been done by our gracious God to encourage sinners to enter upon this region of blessedness? Let the workings of His love be pondered--let Him be seen from all eternity arranging counsels of peace, sending His well-beloved Son to shame and agony, accepting His blood as full satisfaction for iniquity--and doubts must vanish as to His readiness to pardon. Let His long forbearance and His patient tarrying be marked. Is it not proof that He desires not the sinner's death, but rather is waiting to give welcome in the blood and mediation of His Son?
All out of hell, are within reach of pardon. Witness His faithful volume, so full of assurances, promises, calls. Could He have written more clearly, more largely, more lovingly to testify His delight in mercy? In His Gospel-ordinances forgiveness is the foundation-stone. They all are nothingness and mockery, unless God abounds in pardons. Is there no truth in the testimony of saints in all ages, who have tasted and found this gift of gifts? Are inviting calls a cheat? They surely testify that all who draw near to Him in Christ undoubtedly obtain forgiveness. Clinging to Him in prayer, in Scripture, in ordinances, in holy, watchful, self-denying, God-fearing walk, they exclaim--His forgiving goodness and pardoning grace exceed all thought. Glad experience confirms, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered."