"There is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared."--Psalm 130:4
In the train of feelings which issue from the forgiveness of sins, filial fear now claims a place. A brief introduction will pertinently bring out this point.
Gospel-truth is ever armed with mighty power. It is an instrument of wondrous force--it enters the heart, as leaven into dough. It cannot be otherwise; for it is nothing less than an all-conquering weapon, framed and wielded by the Holy Spirit. It is a voice from heaven, and cannot speak in vain.
As it proceeds from God, so to God it tends. It stirs the soul to fly aloft--it detaches it from debasing commerce with mere earthly matters; it reveals celestial objects. This sight always transforms--"We all, with open face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18.) It wins to that communion which by sure process restores the heavenly likeness, and establishes the predestined conformity to the Son of God.
When the Apostle, in burning fervor, speaks of Christ loving the Church and giving Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water, he emphatically adds that the accomplishment is "by the Word." (Eph. 5:26.)
It cannot be too frequently enforced that this Word thus triumphs because it is not of earthly origin. Its birthplace is not the human mind; it owns not human reason as its parent--it springs directly from the courts above. It is like the stream of the Apocalypse--"He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." (Rev. 22:1.) And as water mounts to its own level, so Zion's streams seek Zion's heights; as rivers rest not until they reach the ocean's bed, so God's own truth rolls surely to the upward home.
Happy are they who delight to breathe the atmosphere of revelation--souls thrive which are invigorated in this immortal climate!
It is folly to spend money on that which is not bread, and labor on that which profits not--rather let the enriching nutriment of this food be sought. One result instantly follows--such students advance in faith, in holiness, and every godly grace. If this were fit opportunity, how easily might the dark converse be exhibited. Who are they who stray and guide into vicious and licentious life? These misleaders are the pupils of the school of ignorance--the proud despisers, or bold impugners, of the Bible. It must be so. If truth be banished, the Holy Spirit has no sphere; and if He be absent, Satan undisturbed rules his benighted captives. When light is excluded, darkness has unmitigated sway; then steps stumble in paths of peril. Hence exclusion of truth is the sure parent of a blind progeny, who show the lineaments of their father the devil.
This position might be largely amplified. The connection of ignorance with floods of sin is traced with ease. Similarly a patent link connects spiritual intelligence and true nobility of life.
But the subject directs to one exemplification. The Scriptural sense of forgiveness creates filial fear of God.
I. To help elucidation, let an unreal hypothesis be made. Let it be supposed, in opposition to all fact, that forgiveness exists not. Let God be placed in a character immeasurably alien; for a moment let Him be imagined, as stripped of His inseparable attribute, and known only as an unreality.
It is painful to fabricate such position--the pious mind shrinks from its sight.
It is supposed, then, for the sake of clearer reasoning, that forgiveness is an imaginary notion; that unmixed wrath is God's one feeling towards all sinners; that His heart is one abode of vengeance; that His look darkens with unvaried frowns; that His hands wield only weapons of destruction; that His breath fans no flames but torment; that He knows no relentings; that tender compassion is a stranger to His heart; that mercy is not seated on His throne; that His illimitable resources only act to vindicate His honor, and to pour down impartial requital upon transgressors. For a moment let this supposition be admitted, remembering always that it is untrue.
What would be the frightful result? What feeling would surely rage within the conscious sinner's breast? He is not ignorant of his countless provocations; he knows that Omnipotence is justly his enemy; he sighs, 'Can mercy give no aid!' But on this hypothesis mercy has no existence. There is no forgiveness in the courts of heaven--therefore hope instantly withers. There can be nothing in prospect "but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." There is no door of escape, no refuge, no covert from the impending storm, no hiding-place from the near tempest. The sinner is doomed to brood over utter hopelessness.
In apprehension of inevitable woe, the heart would harden into very stone. Every feeling would be frozen into ice; every affection would congeal. If there is no loving Father in the world above, there can be no child-like reverence on earth. God would only be dreaded as an inexorable Potentate, reigning to inflict misery. Hence there would be one wide-spread feeling of SLAVISH HATRED. The hopeless sinner would reason, "What profit can arise from seeking to please Him? No devoted service can melt or turn--there is no ear open to receive cries; there is no eye to regard devoted efforts. Why should man seek favor, when all study would be vain?"
Thus malignant rancor would hold unchecked dominion; every evil passion would riot unrestrained; all barriers would be removed, and defiance would unfurl its standard--bold and reckless rebellion would savagely prevail. Hence, if there be no forgiving God, sullen hardness would make earth a foretaste of hell.
II. Let a curtain drop on this unreal scene. "There is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared." What proclamation can be louder? "To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against Him." Let His voice be heard--"I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against Me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against Me." (Jer. 33:8.) And again--"None of his sins that he has committed shall be mentioned unto him." (Ezek. 33:16.)
Our God is a God ready to pardon. He multiplies to pardon. Forgivenesses, in ever-flowing streams, roll down from the deep springs of His eternal love. His treasure-house is full of pardoning grace--the sinner, pleading the name of Christ, may enter in, and revel in the abundance of forgiveness. These mercies never fail--they never can be exhausted. They are large as Deity itself--they extend to every form and mode of iniquity. No mountain of transgression is so lofty that forgiveness cannot over-top it; no ocean of iniquity is so vast that forgiveness cannot exceed it. The heart of God, in Christ, ever beats with this forgiving love--His hands are ever open largely to dispense it. From everlasting His wisdom formed the scheme which gives free scope to this overflowing mercy.
Mighty hindrances opposed this grace. These obstacles have already had much thought; but Scripture teaches to add line upon line. Let summation then proceed. The majesty of the holy kingdom must be kept inviolate--it must be magnified, exalted, and raised very high. This result is gloriously secured. Sin is punished; wrath is inflicted; vengeance receives all dues. But the person of the sinner is exempt--a Surety, a Substitute is found. This Surety is strong, no almighty, to endure, and wholly qualified to represent. God's well-beloved Son--His Fellow by eternal generation, man's brother by the assumption of man's nature--undertakes to expiate--"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins." In Him every hindrance is swept to immeasurable distance; in Him every plea for pardon is supplied. The contrite sinner may fly to the mercy-seat, and bewailing his iniquities, may plead, 'Jesus died for these transgressions.'
In the garden, on the cross, He presented Himself a full, and perfect, and sufficient atonement. In testimony that every debt is paid, He rises again, and shows Himself infallibly alive. To perfect salvation He enters as triumphant Conqueror into the courts of heaven, and sits as unceasing Intercessor on the right hand of the Majesty on high. Thus pardon may be humbly craved as a blessing purchased, earned, merited, deserved, decreed. Forgiveness thus implored knows no delay--it descends, filling the heart with joy and the lips with praise. A loving voice thrills through the soul--"Son, be of good cheer; your sins, which are many, are forgiven." "Go in peace. Your faith has saved you."
Sweet is the result. The joy is so real, that even the reality of heaven can scarcely augment. Let the happy recipient be viewed. He tightly grasps forgiveness as his own--a deep conviction fills him that iniquity shall not be his ruin; that his many transgressions shall not sweep him to perdition; that no condemnation threatens him; that he stands before God spotless and clean, through the sprinkling blood, and bright and beauteous in the robe of undecaying righteousness. He realizes that--God is his reconciled Father; Jesus his complete Savior; the Holy Spirit his indwelling light, and guide, and consolation; heaven his promised abode; psalms of victory and songs of triumph his heritage forever.
Can a happier change be felt! Darkness is gone, and the true light shines; tumultuous passions calm into the reign of holy peace; tremblings have ceased; dread of God has fled. "The desert rejoices, and blossoms as the rose." "Instead of the thorn, comes up the fir tree; and instead of the brier, comes up the myrtle tree." "The ransomed of the Lord return and come to Zion, with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads--they obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away."
Filial fear has banished slavish trembling. The pardoned believer realizes his adoption into the household of faith and family of God. He is no more afar off--his desolation as an outcast is exchanged for citizenship with heaven, and fellow-heirdom with all saints. He exclaims, "This God is my God forever and ever!" This God is my Father while eternity rolls on! "I love Him because He has so loved me." With every faculty of mind and body I will serve Him, and show forth His praise. I will shun, as a viper, departure from His ways; I will reject offence as a poisoned cup; I will watch my every thought, lest any root of bitterness should arise; I will guard the portal of my lips, lest any evil sound should issue forth; I will strive to walk even as Jesus walked, and to abound with fruits of righteousness to the praise and glory of His name. Thus he who lately trembled as a slave, warms into the loving child; and the criminal who sought concealment, now craves closer union. His ear is ever listening for directions; his lips continually cry, "Lord, what will You have me to do?" His loins are girt for daily service; his feet are shod with preparedness for work; his one pathway is sincere obedience.
Thus the sense of forgiveness melts, and softens, and converts. The sweet captivity of love prevails. A reconciled Father is adored, whose guiding eye is always sought. Others may abstain from evil, through selfish fear. The disgrace, the reproach, the loss of fame and friends may deter; but the pardoned soul sees a loving Father in every command, and vile ingratitude in each transgression. He feels with David--"Against You, You only have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight." He reasons with holy Joseph--"How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" He realizes His amazing mercy, and love constrains him to make God's will his chief delight. He knows that grace purchased pardon for him; so he lives as one bought by a price, and bound to glorify God with his body, soul, and spirit, which are no more his own.
The truth is thus incontrovertible--that the full reception of the Gospel leads to filial fear of offending his Savior. He is the saintliest man who most entirely embraces the glad tidings of complete remission.
Hence the wisdom of constantly striving "to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." The continuous charm of life should be to gaze on Jesus, and to study the full achievements of His work; the daily position should be beside His cross. Increasing knowledge of the purpose, aim, end, fruits of His dying love, should be the mind's pursuit.
Thus assurance would flow like a river through the soul. The first voice from the cross should be ever resounding in enraptured ears--"Father, forgive them," bestow the mercy which this blood procures.
Blessed, indeed, are they who rejoice in evidence that their iniquities are forgiven and their sins covered. They go from grace to grace; they enter on paths of joyous service. Theirs is the fear that loves, and the love that fears.