The Lord's Prayer
By Thomas Watson
The Fifth Petition in the Lord's Prayer
"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."
Before I speak strictly to the words, I shall notice:
 That in this prayer there is but one petition for the
body, "Give us our daily bread," but two petitions for the soul,
"Forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation—but deliver us from
evil." Observe hence, that we are to be more careful for our souls than for
our bodies, more careful for grace than for daily bread; and more desirous
to have our souls saved than our bodies fed. In the law, the weight of the
sanctuary was twice as big as the common weight, to typify that spiritual
things must be of far greater weight with us than earthly. The excellency of
the soul may challenge our chief care about it.
(1) The soul is an immaterial substance; it is a heavenly
spark, lighted by the breath of God. It is the more refined and spiritual
part of man; it is of an angelic nature; it has some faint resemblance to
God. The body is the more humble part, it is the cabinet only, though
curiously wrought—but the soul is the jewel; it is near akin to angels; it
is capable of communion with God in glory.
(2) The soul is immortal; it never expires. It can act
without the body. Though the body dissolve into dust, the soul lives. Luke
12:4. The essence of the soul is eternal; it has a beginning but no end.
Surely, then, if the soul is so ennobled and dignified, more care should be
taken about it than the body. Hence, we make but one petition for the
body—but two petitions for the soul.
Use 1. They are reproved who take more care for their
bodies than their souls. The body is but the brutish part—yet they take more
care, (1) About dressing their bodies than their souls. They put on
the best clothes, are dressed in the richest garb; but care not how naked or
undressed their souls are. They do not get the jewels of grace to adorn the
inner man. (2) About feeding their bodies than their souls. They are
caterers for the flesh, they make provision for the flesh, they have the
best diet—but let their souls starve; as if one should feed his dog—but let
his child starve. The body must sit in the chair of state—but the soul, that
princely thing, is made a lackey to run on the devil's errands!
Use 2. Let us be more careful for our souls. If it is
well with the soul, it shall be well with the body. If the soul is gracious,
the body shall be glorious, for it shall shine like Christ's body.
Therefore, it is wisdom to look chiefly to the soul, because in saving the
soul we secure the happiness of the body. And we cannot show our care for
our souls more than by improving all seasons for their good; as reading,
praying, hearing, and meditating. Oh, look to the main thing; let the soul
be chiefly tended! The loss of the soul would be fatal. Other losses may be
made up again. If one loses his health, he may recover it again; if he loses
his estate, he may make it up again; but if he loses his soul, the loss is
irreparable. The merchant who ventures all he has in one ship, if that be
lost, is quite ruined.
 As soon as Christ had said, "Give us daily bread," he
adds, "and forgive us." He joins the petition of forgiveness of
sin immediately to the other of daily bread, to show us that though we have
daily bread—yet all is nothing without forgiveness. If our sins are not
pardoned, we can take but little comfort in our food. As a man who is
condemned takes little comfort from the food you bring him in prison; so,
though we have daily bread—yet it will do us no good unless sin is forgiven.
What though we should have manna, which was called angels' food, though the
rock should pour out rivers of oil—all is nothing unless sin is taken away.
When Christ had said, "Give us our daily bread," he presently added, and
"forgive us our trespasses." Daily bread may satisfy the appetite—but
forgiveness of sin satisfies the conscience.
Use 1. It condemns the folly of most people, who, if they
have daily bread, the delicious things of this life, look no further; they
are not solicitous for the pardon of sin. If they have that which feeds
them, they look not after that which should crown them. Alas! you
may have daily bread, and yet perish. The rich man in the gospel had daily
bread, nay, he had dainties, he fared 'sumptuously every day;" but "in hell
he lift up his eyes." Luke 16:19, 23.
Use 2. Let us pray that God would not give us our portion
in this life, that he would not put us off with daily bread—but that he
would give forgiveness. This is the sauce that would make our bread relish
the sweeter. Do not be content with that which is common to the brute
creatures, the dog or rat—to have your hunger satisfied; but, besides daily
bread, get pardon of sin. A drop of Christ's blood, or a grain of forgiving
mercy, is infinitely more valuable than all the delights under the sun.
Daily bread may make us live comfortably—but forgiveness of sins will make
us die comfortably. I come now to the words of the petition, "Forgive us our
Here is a term given to sin, it is a debt; the confession
of the debt, "our debts;" a prayer, "forgive us;" and a condition on which
we desire forgiveness, "as we forgive our debtors."
1. The first thing is the term given to sin—it is a debt.
That which is here called a debt is called sin. "Forgive us our
sins." Luke 11:4. So, then, sin is a debt, and every sinner is a debtor. Sin
is compared to a debt of ten thousand talents. Matthew 18:24.
Why is sin called a debt?
Because it fitly resembles it. (1) A debt arises upon
non-payment of money, or the not paying that which is one's due. We owe to
God exact obedience, and not paying what is due, we are in debt. (2) In case
of non-payment, the debtor goes to prison; so, by our sin, we become guilty,
and are exposed to God's curse of damnation. Though he grants a sinner a
reprieve for a time—yet he remains bound to eternal death if the debt is not
In what sense is sin the worst debt?
(1) Because we have nothing to pay. If we
could pay the debt, what need to pray, "forgive us"? We cannot say, as he in
the gospel, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you all;" we can pay
neither principal nor interest. Adam made us all bankrupts. In innocence
Adam had a stock of original righteousness to begin the world with, he could
give God personal and perfect obedience; but, by his sin, he was quite
broken, and beggared all his posterity. We have nothing to pay; all our
duties are mixed with sin, and so we cannot pay God in current coin.
(2) Sin is the worst debt, because it is against an
infinite majesty. An offence against the person of a king, is the
crime of high treason, it enhances and aggravates the crime. Sin wrongs God,
and so is an infinite offence. The schoolmen say, "every sin strikes at the
Godhead." The sinner would not only unthrone God—but ungod him, which makes
the debt infinite.
(3) Sin is the worst debt, because it is not a single—but
a multiplied debt. Forgive us "our debts;" we have debt upon
debt. "Innumerable evils have compassed me about." Psalm 40:12. We may as
well reckon all the drops in the sea, as reckon all our spiritual debts; we
cannot fathom how much we owe. A man may know his other debts—but he cannot
number his spiritual debts. Every vain thought is a sin. "The thought of
foolishness is sin." Proverbs 24:9. And what swarms of vain thoughts have
we! The first rising of corruption, though it never blossom into outward
act, is a sin; then, "who can understand his errors?" We do not know how
much we owe to God.
(4) Sin is the worst debt; because it is an inexcusable
debt in two respects:
 There is no denying the debt. Other debts men may
deny. If the money be not paid before witnesses, or if the creditor lose the
bond, the debtor may say he owes him nothing; but there is no denying the
debt of sin. If we say we have no sin, God can prove the debt. "I will set
your sins in order before your eyes." Psalm 50:21. God writes down our debts
in his book of remembrance, and his book, and the book of conscience exactly
agree: so that the debt cannot be denied.
 There is no shifting off the debt. Other debts may be
shifted off. We may get friends to pay them—but neither man nor angel can
pay this debt for us. If all the angels in heaven should make a purse, they
cannot pay one of our debts. In other debts men may get a protection—so that
none can touch their persons, or sue them for it; but who shall give us a
protection from God's justice? "There is none that can deliver out of your
hand." Job 10:7. Indeed, the Pope pretends that his pardon shall be men's
protection, and God's justice shall not sue them: but that is a forgery, and
cannot be pleaded at God's tribunal.
Other debts, if the debtor dies in prison, cannot be
recovered: death frees him from debt; but if we die in debt to God, he knows
how to recover it. As long as we have souls to seize upon, God will not lose
his debt. Not the death of the debtor—but the death of the Surety, pays a
sinner's debt. In other debts men may flee from their creditor, leave their
country, and go into foreign parts, and the creditor cannot find them; but
we cannot flee from God. He knows where to find all his debtors. "Where
shall I flee from your presence? If I take the wings of the morning, and
dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your right hand shall
hold me." Psalm 139:7, 9, 10.
(5) Sin is the worst debt, because it carries men, in
case of non-payment, to a worse prison than any upon earth, even to a fiery
prison; and the sinner is laid in worse chains, chains of
darkness, where he is bound under wrath forever.
Wherein have we the character of bad debtors?
(1) A bad debtor does not love to be called to account.
There is a day coming when God will call his debtors to account. "So then,
everyone shall give an account of himself to God." Romans 14:12. But we play
away the time, and do not love to hear of the day of judgment; we do not
like that ministers should put us in mind of our debts, or speak of the day
of reckoning. What a confounding word will that be to a self-secure sinner,
"give an account of your stewardship!"
(2) A bad debtor is unwilling to confess his debt, he
will put it off, or make less of it. Just so, we are more willing
to excuse sin than confess it. How hardly was Saul brought to confession. "I
have obeyed the voice of the Lord—but the people took of the spoil." 1 Sam
15:20, 21. He rather excuses his sin than confesses it.
(3) A bad debtor is apt to hate his creditor.
Debtors wish their creditors dead. Just so, wicked men naturally hate God,
because they think he is a just judge, and will call them to account. They
are called God-haters. A debtor does not love to see his creditor.
Use 1. They are reproved who are reluctant to
be in debt—but make no reckoning of sin, which is the greatest debt; they
use no means to get out of it—but run further in debt to God. We would think
it strange, if writs or warrants were out against a man, or a judgment
granted to seize his body and estate, and yet he was wholly regardless and
unconcerned. God has a writ out against a sinner, nay, many writs, for
swearing, drunkenness, Sabbath-breaking, and yet the sinner eats and drinks,
and is quiet, as if he were not in debt! What an opiate has Satan given
Use 2. If sin is a debt, let us be humbled.
"Debt," says Ambrose, "is grievous." Men in debt are full of shame, they lie
hid, and do not care to be seen. A debtor is ever in fear of arrest. A dog
barks—and his heart pounds. Oh! let us blush and tremble, who are so deeply
indebted to God. A Roman dying in debt, Augustus the emperor sent to buy his
pillow, because, said he, I hope that will have some virtue to make me
sleep, on which a man so much in debt could take his ease. We that have so
many spiritual debts lying upon us, how can we be at rest until we have some
hope that they are discharged?
II. The second thing in this petition is confession.
Let us confess our debt. Let us acknowledge that we are in arrears
with God, and deserve that he should enforce the law upon us, and throw us
into hell-prison. By confession we give glory to God. "My son, give glory to
the God of Israel, and make confession unto him." Josh 7:19. If we confess
the debt, God will forgive it. "If we confess our sins, he is just to
forgive." 1 John 1:9. Do but confess the debt, and God will cross it out
from the book. "I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and
you forgave the iniquity of my sin." Psalm 32:5.
Let us not confess merely—but labor to get our spiritual
debts paid, by Christ the Surety. Say, "Lord, have patience with me, and
Christ shall pay you all. He has laid down an infinite price." The covenant
of works would not admit of a surety; it demanded personal obedience: but
this privilege we have by the gospel. If we have nothing to pay, God will
accept a surety. Believe in Christ's blood, and the debt is paid.
We have next to consider in these words the petition,
"Forgive us our sins," and the condition, "For we also forgive everyone that
is indebted to us." Our forgiving others is not a cause of God's
forgiving us—but it is a condition without which he will not forgive
III. We shall now consider the petition, "Forgive us our
sins." This is a blessed petition. The ignorant would say, "Who
will show us any good?" (Psalm 4:6) meaning a good purchase; but the Savior
teaches us to pray for that which is more noble, and will stand us in more
stead, which is the pardon of sin. Forgiveness of sins is a primary
blessing, it is one of the first mercies God bestows. "Then will I sprinkle
clean water upon you;" that is, forgiveness. Ezek 36:25. When God pardons,
there is nothing he will stick at, to do for the soul; he will adopt,
What is forgiveness of sin?
It is God's passing by sin, wiping off the score and
giving us a discharge. Micah 7:18.
 The nature of forgiveness will more clearly appear,
by opening some Scripture phrases; and by laying down some propositions.
(1) To forgive sin, is for God to take away iniquity.
"Why do you not take away my iniquity?" Job 7:21. Hebrew, lift off. It is a
metaphor taken from a man who carries a heavy burden which is ready to sink
him, and another comes, and lifts it off—so when the heavy burden of sin is
on us, God in pardoning, lifts it off from the conscience, and lays it upon
Christ. "He has laid on him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53:6.
(2) To forgive sin, is for God to cover it. "You have
covered all their sin." Psalm 85:2. This was typified by the mercy-seat
covering the ark, to show God's covering of sin through Christ. God does not
cover sin in the Antinomian sense—so as he sees it not—but he so covers it,
that he will not impute it.
(3) To forgive sin, is for God to blot it out. "I am
he who blots out your transgressions." Isaiah 43:25. The Hebrew word, to
blot out, alludes to a creditor who, when his debtor has paid him, blots out
the debt, and gives him an acquittance. Just so, when God forgives sin, he
blots out the debt, he draws the red lines of Christ's blood over it, and so
crosses the debt-book.
(4) To forgive sin is for God to scatter our sins as a
cloud. "I have blotted out as a thick cloud your transgressions." Isaiah
44:22. Sin is the cloud, an interposing cloud, which disperses, that the
light of his countenance may break forth.
(5) To forgive sin, is for God to cast our sins into the
depths of the sea, which implies burying them out of sight, that they
shall not rise up in judgment against us. "You will cast all their sins into
the depths of the sea." Micah 7:19. God will throw them in, not as cork
which rises again—but as lead which sinks to the bottom.
 The nature of forgiveness will further appear by
laying down some propositions respecting it.
(1) Every sin deserves death, and therefore needs
forgiveness. The Papists distinguish between mortal sins and
venial sins. Some creep unawares into the mind, as vain thoughts, sudden
motions of anger and revenge, which Bellarmine says, are in their own nature
venial. It is true that the greatest sins are in one sense venial, that is,
God is able to forgive them; but the least sin is not in its own nature
venial—but deserves damnation. We read of the lusts of the flesh, and the
works of the flesh. Romans 13:14; Gal 5:19. The lusts of the flesh are
sinful, as well as the works of the flesh. That which is a transgression of
the law merits damnation; but the first stirrings of corruption are a breach
of the royal law, and therefore merit damnation. Romans 7:7, Proverbs 24:9.
So that the least sin is mortal, and needs forgiveness.
(2) It is God alone, who forgives sin. To pardon sin
is one of the royal prerogatives; one of the flowers of God's crown. "Who
can forgive sins, but God alone?" Mark 2:7. It is most proper for God to
pardon sin; only the creditor can remit the debt. Sin is an infinite
offence, and no finite power can discharge an infinite offence. No man can
take away sin, unless he is able to infuse grace; for, as Aquinas says, with
forgiveness is always infusion of grace; but no man can infuse grace,
therefore no man can forgive sin. He alone can forgive sin, who can remit
the penalty—but it is God's prerogative only to forgive sin.
But a Christian is charged to forgive his brother.
"Forgiving one another." Col 3:13.
In all second-table sins, there are two distinct things;
disobedience against God, and injury to man. That which man is required to
forgive, is the wrong done to himself—but the wrong done to God, he cannot
forgive. Man may remit a trespass against himself—but not a transgression
The Scripture speaks of a power committed to ministers to
forgive sin: "Whose sins you remit, they are remitted unto them." John
Ministers cannot remit sin authoritatively and
effectually—but only declaratively. They have a special office
and authority to apply the promises of pardon to broken hearts. When a
minister sees one humbled for sin—but afraid God has not pardoned him, and
is ready to be swallowed up of sorrow—for the easing of this man's
conscience, he may, in the name of Christ, declare to him, that he is
pardoned. He does not forgive sin by his own authority—but as a herald, in
Christ's name, pronounces a man's pardon. As under the law, God
cleansed the leper, and the priest pronounced him clean—so God, by his
prerogative, forgives sin, and the minister pronounces forgiveness to the
penitent sinner. Power to forgive sin authoritatively in his own name, was
never granted to any mortal man. A king may spare a man's life—but cannot
pardon his sin. Popes' pardons are insignificant, like blanks in a lottery,
good for nothing but to be torn.
(3) Forgiveness of sin is purely an act of God's free
grace. There are some acts of God which declare his power, as
making and governing the world; others that declare his justice, as
punishing the guilty; others that declare his free-grace, as pardoning
sinners. "I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake."
Isaiah 43:25. He forgives as when a creditor freely forgives a debtor. "I
obtained mercy." 1 Tim 1:16. I was all over besprinkled with mercy. When God
pardons a sin, he does not pay a debt—but gives a legacy. Forgiveness is
spun out of the affections of God's mercy; there is nothing we can do, that
can deserve it; not our prayers, or tears, or good deeds can purchase
pardon. When Simon Magus would have bought the gift of the Holy Spirit with
money, "May your money," said Peter, "perish with you." Acts 8:20. So if men
think they can buy pardon of sin with their duties and alms, let their money
perish with them. Forgiveness is an act of God's free grace, in which he
displays the banner of love. This will raise trophies of God's glory, and
cause the saints' triumph in heaven, that when there was no worthiness in
them, when they lay in their blood—God took pity on them, and held forth the
golden scepter of love in forgiving. Forgiveness is a golden thread spun
out of the affections of free-grace!
(4) Forgiveness is through the blood of Christ. Free
grace is the inward moving cause. Christ's blood is the outward cause of
meriting pardon. "In whom we have redemption through his blood." Eph 1:7.
All pardons are sealed in Christ's blood. The guilt of sin was infinite—and
nothing but that blood which was of infinite value, could procure
But if Christ laid down his blood as the price of our
pardon, how can we say God freely forgives sin? If it is by purchase, how is
it by grace?
It was God's free grace that found out a way of
redemption through a Mediator. Nay, God's love appeared more in letting
Christ die for us, than if he had forgiven us without exacting any
satisfaction. It was free grace which moved God to accept of the price paid
for our sins. That God should accept a surety; that one should sin, and
another suffer, was free grace. So that forgiveness of sin, though purchased
by Christ's blood, is by free grace.
(5) In forgiveness of sin, God remits the guilt and
penalty. On remission of guilt, the punishment is also remitted. Guilt
is an obligation to punishment, it cries for justice. God in forgiving,
indulges the sinner as to the penalty. He seems to say to him, "Though you
have fallen into the hands of my justice, and deserve to die—yet I will take
off the penalty; whatever is charged upon you shall be discharged." When God
pardons a soul, he will not reckon with him in a purely vindictive way; he
stops the execution of justice.
(6) By virtue of this pardon, God will no more call sin
to remembrance. "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." Heb
8:12. He will pass an act of oblivion, he will not upbraid with former
unkindnesses. When you fear that God will call your sins again to
remembrance after pardon, look into this act of indemnity, "Their iniquities
will I remember no more." God is said therefore to "blot out our sin." A man
does not call for a debt when he has crossed it out of the book. When God
pardons a man, his former displeasure ceases. "My anger is turned away." Hos
But is God angry with his pardoned ones?
Though a child of God, after pardon, may incur his
fatherly displeasure yet his judicial wrath is removed. Though he
may lay on the rod—yet he has taken away the curse.
Correction may befall the saints—but not destruction. "My
loving-kindness will I not take from him." Psalm 89:33.
(7) Sin is not forgiven until it be repented of.
Therefore they are put together: "Repentance and remission." Luke 24:47.
[Grant repentance, Lord, and afterwards pardon.] Fulgentius. In
REPENTANCE there are three main ingredients, all which must be, before
forgiveness. They are contrition, confession, and conversion.
CONTRITION, or brokenness of heart. "They shall be like
doves of the valleys, all of them mourning, everyone for his iniquity." Ezek
7:16. This contrition or rending of the heart, is expressed sometimes by
smiting on the breast; Luke 18:13; sometimes by plucking off the hair; Ezra
9:3; and sometimes by watering the couch; Psalm 6:6.
But all humiliation is not contrition; some have only
pretended sorrow for sin, and so have missed forgiveness; as Ahab humbled
himself, whose garments were rent—but not his heart. What is
that remorse and sorrow which goes before forgiveness of sin?
It is a holy sorrow; it is a grieving for sin, as it is
sin, and as it is dishonoring God, and defiling the soul. Though there were
no sufferings to follow—yet the true penitent would grieve for sin. "My sin
is ever before me." Psalm 51:3. This contrition goes before remission. "I
repented; I smote upon my thigh. Is Ephraim my dear son? my affections are
troubled for him. I will surely have mercy upon him." Jer 31:19, 20. Ephraim
was troubled for sinning, and God's affections were troubled for Ephraim.
The woman in the gospel stood at Jesus' feet weeping, and a pardon followed.
"Therefore, I say, her sins which are many, are forgiven." Luke 7:47. The
seal is set upon the wax when it melts; God seals his pardon upon melting
The second ingredient in repentance is CONFESSION.
"Against you, you only, have I sinned." Psalm 51:4. This is not auricular
confession; which the Papists make a sacrament, and affirm that without
confession of all sins in the ears of the priest, no man can receive
forgiveness. The Scripture is ignorant of this, nor do we read that any
general Council, until the Lateran Council, which was about twelve hundred
years after Christ, ever decreed auricular confession.
But does not the Scripture say, "Confess your sins one to
another"? James 5:16. This is absurdly brought for auricular confession;
for, by this reasoning, the priest must confess to the people, as well as
the people to the priest. The sense of that verse, is that in case of public
scandals, or private wrongs, confession is to be made to others; but
chiefly, confession is to be made to God, who is the party offended.
"Against you, you only, have I sinned."
Confession gives vent to sorrow; it must be free
without compulsion, sincere without reserve, cordial without
hypocrisy; the heart must go along with it. This makes way for forgiveness.
"I said I will confess my transgressions, and you forgave." Psalm 32:5. When
the publican and thief confessed, they had pardon. The publican smote upon
his breast with contrition, and said, "God be merciful to me a sinner,"
there was confession; he went away justified, there was forgiveness. The
thief said, "We indeed suffer justly," there was confession; and Christ
absolved him before he died, "Today shall you be with me in paradise." Luke
23:43. These words of Christ may have occasioned that saying of Augustine:
"Confession shuts the mouth of hell, and opens the gate of paradise!"
The third ingredient in repentance is CONVERSION, or
turning from sin. "We have sinned;" there was confession. "They put away
the strange gods;" there was conversion. Judges 10:15, 16. It must be a
universal turning from sin. "Cast away from you, all your
transgressions." Ezek 18:31. You would be reluctant that God should forgive
some of your sins only. Would you have him forgive all, and
will you not forsake all? He who hides one rebel, is a traitor to the
crown; he who lives in one known sin, is a traitorous hypocrite.
There must not only be a turning from sin—but a
turning to God. Therefore it is called "Repentance toward God." Acts
20:21. The heart points towards God as the needle to the north pole. The
prodigal not only left his harlots—but arose and went to his father. Luke
15:18. This repentance is the ready way to pardon. "Let the wicked forsake
his way, and return unto the Lord, and he will abundantly pardon." Isaiah
55:7. A king will not pardon a rebel, while he continues in open hostility.
Thus repentance goes before remission of sin. Those who never repented, have
no ground to hope that their sins are pardoned.
Not that repentance merits the forgiveness of sin.
To make repentance to satisfy God's justice—is Popish. By repentance we
please God—but we do not satisfy him. "Christ's blood must wash
our tears." Repentance is a condition, not a cause. God will not pardon
for repentance—nor yet without it. He seals his pardons on
melting hearts. Repentance makes us prize pardon the more. He who cries
out of his broken bones, will the more prize the mercy of having them set
again; so, when there is nothing in the soul but clouds of sorrow, and God
brings pardon, which is setting a rainbow in the cloud to tell the soul the
flood of God's wrath shall not overflow, Oh! what joy is there at the sight
of this rainbow! The soul burns in love to God.
(8) The greatest sins come within the compass of
forgiveness. Sins of the first magnitude, such as incest, sodomy, adultery,
theft, murder—are are pardonable. Paul was a blasphemer, and so sinned
against the first table; a persecutor, and so sinned against the second
table; and yet he obtained mercy. 1 Tim 1:13. Zaccheus, was an extortioner;
Mary Magdalene, was an unchaste woman, out of whom seven devils were cast;
Manasseh, who made the streets run with blood, had pardon. Some of the Jews,
who had a hand in crucifying Christ, were forgiven. God blots out not only
the cloud—but the thick cloud; enormities as well as
infirmities. Isaiah 44:22. The king, in the parable, forgave his debtor
who owed him ten thousand talents. Matthew 28:27. A talent weighed three
thousand shekels, ten thousand talents contained almost twelve tons of gold.
This was an emblem of God's forgiving great sins.
"Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white
as snow." Isaiah 1:18. Scarlet, in the Greek, is called twice dipped, and
the art of man cannot wash out the dye again. Though your sins are of a
scarlet dye, God's mercy can wash them way, as the sea covers great rocks
as well as little sands. This I mention that sinners may not
despair. God counts it a glory to him to forgive great sins: in which mercy
and love ride in triumph. "The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant," it
was exuberant, it overflowed, as the Nile River. 1 Tim 1:14. We must not
measure God by ourselves. His mercy excels our sins as much as heaven does
the earth. Isaiah 55:9. If great sins could not be forgiven, great sinners
should not be preached to; but the gospel is to be preached to all. If they
could not be forgiven, it were a dishonor to Christ's blood; as if the wound
were broader than the plaster.
God has first made great sinners "broken vessels;"
he has broken their hearts for sin, and then he has made them "golden
vessels;" he has filled them with the golden oil of pardoning mercy. This
may encourage great sinners to come in and repent. The sin against the
Holy Spirit is unpardonable, not but that there is mercy enough in God
to forgive it—but because he who has committed it will not have pardon. He
despises God, scorns his mercy, spills the cordial of Christ's blood, and
tramples it under foot; he puts away salvation from him.
But when a poor sinner looks upon himself and sees his
guilt, and then looks on God's justice and holiness, he falls down
confounded; but here is that which may be as a cork to the net, to keep him
from despair—if he will leave his sins and come to Christ, mercy can seal
(9) When God pardons a sinner, he forgives all sins.
"I will pardon all their iniquities." Jer 33:8. "Having forgiven you all
trespasses." Col 2:13. The mercy-seat, which was a type of forgiveness,
covered the whole ark, to show that God covers all our transgressions. He
does not leave one sin upon the score; he does not take his pen and for
fourscore sins write down fifty—but blots out all sin. "Who forgives all
your iniquities." Psalm 103:3. When I say, God forgives all sins, I
understand it of sins past, for sins to come are not forgiven until
they are repented of. Indeed God has decreed to pardon them; and when he
forgives one sin, he will in time forgive all; but sins future are
not actually pardoned until they are repented of. It is absurd to think sin
should be forgiven before it is committed.
If all sins past and to come are at once forgiven, then
what need to pray for the pardon of sin? It is a vain thing to pray for the
pardon of that which is already forgiven. The opinion that sins to come, as
well as past, are forgiven, takes away and makes void Christ's intercession.
He is an advocate to intercede for daily sins. 1 John 2:1. But if sin is
forgiven before it be committed, what need is there of his daily
intercession? What need have I of an advocate, if sin be pardoned before it
be committed? So that, though God forgives all sins past to a believer—yet
sins to come are not forgiven until repentance be renewed.
(10) Faith necessarily precedes forgiveness. There
must be believing on our part, before there is forgiving on God's part. "To
him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whoever believes in
him shall receive remission of sins." Acts 10:43. So that faith is a
necessary antecedent to forgiveness. There are two acts of faith, to accept
Christ and to trust in Christ; to accept of his terms, to trust in his
merits; and he who does neither of these, can have no forgiveness. He who
does not accept Christ, cannot have his person; he who does not trust in
him, cannot have benefit by his blood. So that, without faith, there is no
remission of sin.
(11) Though justification and sanctification are not the
same—yet God never pardons a sinner without sanctifying him.
Justification and sanctification are not the same. Justification is without
us, sanctification is within us. The one is by righteousness imputed, the
other is by righteousness imparted. Justification is once and for all,
sanctification is gradual. One person is sanctified more than another—but
one cannot be more justified than another. One has more grace than
another—but he is not more justified than another. The matter of our
justification is perfect, namely, Christ's righteousness; but our
sanctification is imperfect, there are the spots of God's children. Deut
32:5. Our graces are mixed, our duties are defiled.
Thus justification and sanctification are not the same.
Yet, for all that, they are never separated. God never pardons
and justifies a sinner—but he also sanctifies him. "You were sanctified, you
were justified." 1 Cor 6:11. "This is he who came by water and blood, even
Jesus Christ." 1 John 5:6. Christ comes to the soul by blood, which
denotes remission; and by water, which denotes sanctification. Let no
man say he is pardoned, who is not made holy. This I urge against the
Antinomians, who talk of their sin being forgiven, and having a part in
Christ—and yet remain unconverted, and live in the grossest sins! Pardon and
healing go together. "I create the fruit of the lips, peace." Isaiah 57:19.
Peace is the fruit of pardon, and then it follows, "I will heal him." Where
God pardons, he purifies. "I will place My Spirit within you and cause you
to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances." Ezekiel 36:27.
As in the inauguration of kings, with the crown, there is the oil to
anoint. Just so, when God crowns a man with forgiveness, he gives the
anointing oil of grace to sanctify. "I will give him a white stone, and in
the stone a new name." Rev 2:17. A "white stone," that is absolution; and a
"new name" in the stone, that is sanctification.
If God should pardon a man, and not sanctify him, it
would be a reproach to him. He would love and be well pleased with men in
their sins, which is diametrically contrary to his holy nature.
If God should pardon and not sanctify, he could have no
glory from us. God's people are formed to show forth his praise; but if he
should pardon and not sanctify us, how could we show forth his praise?
Isaiah 43:21. How could we glorify him? What glory can God have from a
proud, ignorant, profane heart?
If God should pardon and not sanctify, there would enter
heaven, that which defiles; but nothing shall enter that defiles. Rev 21:27.
God would then settle the inheritance upon men before they were fit for it.
"Which has made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance." Col 1:12. How is
that but by the divine unction? So that whoever God forgives, he transforms.
Let no man say his sins are forgiven who does not find an inherent work of
holiness in his heart.
(12) Where God remits sin, he imputes righteousness.
This righteousness of Christ imputed is a fulfillment of God's law, and
makes full satisfaction for breaches of it. This righteousness procures
God's favor. God cannot but love us—when he sees us in his Son's robe, which
both covers and adorns us. In this spotless robe of Christ, we outshine the
angels. Theirs is but the righteousness of creatures, this is the
righteousness of God himself "That we might be made the righteousness
of God in him." 2 Cor 5:21. How great a blessing then is forgiveness? With
remission of sin is joined imputation of righteousness.
(13) Those whose sins are forgiven must not omit praying
for forgiveness. "Forgive us our trespasses." Believers who are pardoned
must be continual suitors for pardon. When Nathan told David, "The Lord has
put away your sin," David composed a penitential psalm for the pardon of his
sin. 2 Samuel 12:13. Sin, after pardon, rebels. Like Samson's hair, though
it be cut, it will grow again. We sin daily, and must ask for daily pardon,
as well as for daily bread. Besides, a Christian's pardon is not so sure,
but he may desire to have a clearer evidence of it.
(14) A full absolution from all sin is not pronounced
until the day of judgment. The day of judgment is called a time of
refreshing, when sin shall be completely blotted out. Acts 3:19. Now God
blots out sin truly—but then it shall be done in a more public
way. God will openly pronounce the saints' absolution before men and angels.
Their happiness is not completed until the day of judgment, because their
pardon shall be solemnly pronounced, and there shall be the triumphs of the
heavenly multitude. At that day it will be true indeed that God sees no sin
in his children; they shall be as pure as the angels; then the church shall
be presented without wrinkle. Eph 5:27. She shall be as free from stain as
guilt, Satan shall no more accuse. Christ will show the debt-book, crossed
in his blood. Therefore the church prays for Christ's coming to judgment.
The bride says, "Come, Lord Jesus!"
Use 1. For information.
(1) From this word, "Forgive," we learn that if the debt
of sin is no other way discharged but by being forgiven, we cannot satisfy
for it. Among other damnable opinions of the church of Rome, one
is—man's power to satisfy God for his sin. The Council of Trent holds that
God is satisfied by our undergoing the penalty imposed by the censure of
priests; and again, that we have works of our own by which we may satisfy
for our wrongs done to God. By these opinions we judge what the Popish
religion is. They intend to pay the debt they owe to God of themselves,
to pay it in part, and do not look to have it all forgiven. But why did
Christ teach us to pray, "Forgive us our sins," if we can of ourselves
satisfy God for the wrong we have done him? This false doctrine robs God of
his glory—Christ of his merit—and the soul of salvation! Alas! is not the
lock cut where the strength lay? Are not all our best works fly-blown with
sin—and can our sinful works satisfy for sin? This doctrine makes men their
own saviors, which is most absurd to hold, for can the obedience of a finite
creature satisfy for an infinite offence? Sin being forgiven, clearly
implies we cannot satisfy for it!
(2) From this word "us", "Forgive US," we learn that
pardon is chiefly to be sought for ourselves; for though we are to pray
for the pardon of others, "Pray one for another," yet in the first place, we
are to beg pardon for ourselves. James 5:16. What! will another's pardon do
us good? Everyone is to endeavor to have his own name in the pardon. A son
cannot be pardoned by his father's pardon—he must have a pardon for himself.
In this sense selfishness is lawful, everyone must be for himself and
get a pardon for his own sins. "Forgive us."
(3) From this word "our", "our sins," we learn how just
God is in punishing us. The text says "our sins;" we are not punished
for other men's sins—but our own. "No one has anything of his own, except
his sin." Augustine. There is nothing we can call so properly ours, as sin.
Our daily bread we have from God; our daily sins we have from
ourselves. Sin is our own act, a web of our own spinning. How righteous
therefore is God in punishing us! We sow the seed, and God makes us reap
what we sow. "I give every man according to the fruit of his doings." Jer
17:10. When we are punished, we but taste the fruit of our own grafting.
(4) From this word "sins", see from hence the multitude
of sin we stand guilty of. We pray not, forgive us our sin, as if
it were only a single debt—but sins, in the plural. So vast is the
catalogue of our sins that David cries out, "Who can understand his errors?"
Psalm 19:12. Our sins are like the drops of the sea, like the atoms in the
sun—they exceed all arithmetic. The debts we owe to God we can no more
number, than we can satisfy God's justice for; which, as it should humble us
to consider how full of black spots our souls are—so it should put us upon
seeking after the pardon of our sins.
Use 2. For exhortation.
Let us labor for the forgiveness of sin, which is a main
branch of the charter or covenant of grace. "I will be merciful to their
unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no
more." Heb 8:12. It is mercy to feed us—but it is rich mercy
to pardon us. Earthly things are no signs of God's love—he may give the
venison—but not the blessing; but when he seals up forgiveness,
he gives his love and heaven with it. "You set a crown of pure
gold on his head." Psalm 21:3. A crown of gold was a mercy; but if you look
into Psalm 103 you shall find a greater mercy: "Who forgives all shine
iniquities, who crowns you with loving-kindness;" ver 3, 4. To be crowned
with forgiveness and loving-kindness is afar greater mercy than be have a
crown of pure gold set upon the head. It was a mercy when Christ cured the
palsied man; but when Christ said to him, "Your sins are forgiven," it was
more than to have his palsy healed. Mark 2:5. Forgiveness of sin is the
chief thing to be sought after; and surely, if conscience is once touched
with a sense of sin, there is nothing a man will thirst after more than
forgiveness. "My sin is ever before me." Psalm 51:3. This made David so
earnest for pardon. "Have mercy upon me, O God; blot out my transgressions."
Psalm 51:1. If anyone should have come to David and asked him, "Where is
your pain? What is it troubles you? Is it the fear of shame which shall come
upon you? Is it the fear of the sword which God has threatened shall not
depart from your house?" He would have said, "No, it is only my sin which
pains me. My sin is ever before me." Were this removed by forgiveness,
though the sword rode in circuit in my family, I would be well enough
content. When the arrow of guilt sticks in the conscience, nothing is
so desirable as to have it plucked out by forgiveness.
O therefore seek after forgiveness of sin. You may make a
shift to live without it; but how will you die without it?
Will not death have a sting to an unpardoned sinner? How do you think to get
to heaven without forgiveness? As at some festivals there is no being
admitted unless you bring a ticket. Just so, unless you have this ticket to
show, "Forgiveness of sin", there is no being admitted into the holy place
of heaven. Will God ever crown those that he will not forgive?
O be ambitious of pardoning grace.
When God had made Abraham great and large promises,
Abraham replied, "Lord, what will you give me, seeing I go childless!" Gen
15:2. So, when God has given you riches, and all your heart can wish, say to
him, Lord, what is all this, seeing I lack forgiveness? Let my pardon be
sealed in Christ's blood. A prisoner in the jail is in an ill case,
notwithstanding his brave diet, great attendance, soft bed to lie on,
because, being impeached, he looks every day for his arraignment, and is
afraid of the sentence of death. In such a case and worse—is he who swims in
the pleasures of the world—but his sins are not forgiven. A guilty
conscience impeaches him, and he is in fear of being arraigned and condemned
at God's judgment-seat. Give not then sleep to your eyes, or slumber to your
eyelids, until you have gotten some well-grounded hope that your sins are
blotted out. Before I come to press the exhortation to seek after
forgiveness of sin, I shall propound one question.
If pardon of sin is so absolutely necessary, what is the
reason why so few in the world seek after it? If they lack
health, they go to the physician; but if they lack forgiveness of sin, they
seem to be unconcerned, and do not seek after it. Why is this?
Men do not seek after forgiveness of sin, for
lack of consideration. They do not look
into their spiritual estate, or cast up their accounts to see how matters
stand between God and their souls. "My people do not consider;" they do not
consider they are indebted to God in a debt of ten thousand talents, and
that God will, before long, call them to account. "So, then, everyone of us
shall give account of himself to God." Isaiah 1:3; Romans 14:12. But people
shun serious thoughts: "My people do not consider." Hence it is they do not
look after pardon.
Men do not seek after forgiveness of sin,
for lack of conviction. Few are
convinced what a deadly evil sin is--that it is distillation of all evil,
that it brings all plagues on the body, and curses on the soul. Unless a
man's sins are forgiven, there is not the vilest creature alive--the rat,
serpent, or toad—which is in a worse condition than the sinner! For when
they die they go but to the earth; but he, dying without pardon, goes into
hell torments forever. Men are not convinced of this—but play with the viper
Men do not seek earnestly after forgiveness,
because they are seeking other things.
They seek the world immoderately. When Saul was seeking after the donkeys,
he did not think of a kingdom. The world is a golden snare. "The riches of
the world are the snares of the devil," Bernard. The wedge of gold hinders
many from seeking after pardon. Ministers cry to the people, "Get your
pardon sealed;" but if you call to a man who is in a mill, the noise of the
mill drowns the voice, that he cannot hear. Just so, when the mill of a
trade is going, it makes such a noise, that the people cannot hear the
minister when he lifts up his voice like a trumpet and cries to them to look
after the sealing of their pardon. He who spends all his time about the
world and does not mind forgiveness, will accuse himself of folly at last.
You would judge that prisoner very unwise that should spend all his time
with the cook to get his dinner ready, and should never mind getting a
Men seek not after forgiveness of sin,
through a bold presumption of mercy.
They conceive God to be made up all of mercy; and that he will indulge them,
though they take little or no pains to sue for their pardon. True, God is
merciful—but he is also just, he will not wrong his justice by showing
mercy. Read the proclamation: "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and
gracious; and who will by no means clear the guilty." Exod 34:6, 7. Such as
go on in sin, and are so slothful or willful that they will not seek after
forgiveness, though there be a whole ocean of mercy in the Lord, not one
drop shall fall to their share. He "will by no means clear the guilty."
Men seek not earnestly after forgiveness,
out of hope of impunity. They flatter
themselves in sin, and because they have been spared so long, therefore
think God never intends to reckon with them. "He has said in his heart—God
has forgotten; He hides His face and will never see it." Psalm 10:11. They
think that God is either blind or forgetful. But let sinners know--that long
forbearance is not forgiveness. God bore with Sodom a long time—but at last
rained down fire and brimstone upon them. The adjourning of the trial does
not acquit the prisoner. The longer God is taking the blow, the heavier it
will be at last, if sinners repent not.
Men do not seek earnestly after forgiveness,
through mistake. They think getting a
pardon is easy, it is but repenting at the last hour, a sigh, or a "Lord,
have mercy," and a pardon will drop into their mouths. But is it so easy to
repent, and have a pardon? Tell me, O sinner, is regeneration easy? Are
there no pangs in the new birth? Is mortification of sin easy? Is it nothing
to pluck out the right eye? Is it easy to leap out of Delilah's lap into
Abraham's bosom? This is the draw-net by which the devil drags millions to
Men do not look after forgiveness,
through despair. Oh, says the desponding soul, it is a vain
thing for me to expect pardon; my sins are so many and heinous that
surely God will not forgive me. "And they said, There is no hope." Jer
38:12. My sins are huge mountains, and can they ever be cast into the sea?
Despair cuts the sinews of endeavor. Who will use means that despairs of
success? The devil shows some men their sins at the little end of the
telescope, and they seem little or none at all; but he shows others their
sins at the great end of the telescope, and they fright them into despair.
This is a soul-damning sin. Judas's despair was worse than his treason.
Despair spills the cordial of Christ's blood. The voice of despair is,
"Christ's blood cannot pardon me." Thus you see whence it is that men seek
no more earnestly after the forgiveness of sin.
Having answered this question, I shall now come to press
the exhortation upon everyone of us, to seek earnestly after the forgiveness
of our sins.
(1) Our very life lies in getting pardon. It
is called the "justification of life." Romans 5:18. Now, if our life lies in
our pardon, and we are dead and damned without it, does it not concern us
above all things to labor after forgiveness of sin? "For it is not a vain
thing for you, because it is your life." Deut 32:47. If a man is under a
sentence of death, he will set his wits to work, and make use of all his
friends to get the king to grant his pardon, because his life lies upon it.
Just so, we by reason of sin are under a sentence of damnation. There is one
friend at court we may make use of to procure our pardon, namely, the Lord
Jesus. How earnest then should we be with him to be our Advocate to the
Father for us, that he would present the merit of his blood to the Father,
as the price of our pardon!
(2) There is that in sin which should make us desire
forgiveness. Sin is the only thing that disquiets the soul. It is
a burden, it burdens the creation, it burdens the conscience. Romans 8:22;
Psalm 38:4. A wicked man is not sensible of sin, he is dead in sin; and if
you lay a thousand pound weight upon a dead man he feels it not. But to an
awakened conscience sin is a burden. When a man seriously weighs with
himself the glory and purity of that Majesty which sin has offended, the
preciousness of that soul which sin has polluted, the loss of that happiness
which sin has endangered, the greatness of that torment which sin has
deserved, to lay all this together, surely must make sin burdensome! And
should not we labor to have this burden removed by pardoning mercy?
Sin is a debt, "Forgive us our debts." Matthew 6:12.
Every debt we owe, God has written down in his book. "Behold, it is written
before me," and one day God's debt-book will be opened. "The books were
opened." Isaiah 65:6; Rev 20:12. And should not this make us look after
forgiveness? Sin being such a debt as we must eternally lie in the prison of
hell for, if it is not discharged, should we not be earnest with God to
cross out the debt-book with the blood of his Son? There is no way to look
God in the face with comfort—but by having our debts either paid or
(3) Nothing but forgiveness can give ease to a troubled
conscience. There is a great difference between having the fancy
pleased, and having the conscience eased. Worldly things may please the
fancy—but not ease the conscience. Nothing but pardon, can relieve a
troubled soul. It is strange what shifts men will make for ease when
conscience is pained, and how many false medicines they will use before they
will take the right way for a cure. When conscience is troubled, they will
try if merry company will help. They may perhaps drink away trouble of
conscience; perhaps they may play it away at cards; perhaps multitude of
business will so take up their time, that they shall have no leisure to hear
the clamors and accusations of conscience; but how vain are all these
attempts! Still the wound bleeds inwardly, their heart trembles, their
conscience roars, and they can have no peace. Why is it? The reason is, they
go not to the mercy of God, and the blood of Christ, for the pardon of their
sins; and hence they have no ease.
Suppose a man has a thorn in his foot, which puts him to
pain; let him anoint it, or wrap it up, and keep it warm; but until the
thorn is plucked out—it aches and swells, and he has no ease. Just so, when
the thorn of sin is in a man's conscience, there is no ease until it be
pulled out. When God removes iniquity, the thorn is plucked out. How was
David's heart finely quieted, when Nathan the prophet told him, "The Lord
has put away your sin!" 2 Samuel 12:13. How should we therefore labor for
forgiveness! Until then we can have no ease in the mind. Nothing but
pardon, sealed with the blood of the Redeemer, can ease a wounded spirit.
(4) Forgiveness of sin is feasible, and may be obtained.
Impossibility destroys endeavor; but, "There is hope in Israel concerning
this." Ezra 10:2. The devils are past hope; a sentence of death is upon
them, which is irrevocable; but there is hope for us of obtaining
pardon. "There is forgiveness with you." Psalm 130:4. If pardon of sin were
not possible, it were not to be prayed for; but it has been prayed for. "I
beseech you, O Lord, take away the iniquity of your servant." 2 Samuel
24:10. And Christ bids us pray for it "Forgive us our trespasses." That is
possible which God has promised—but God has promised pardon upon repentance.
"Let the wicked forsake his way and return unto the Lord, and he will have
mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." Isaiah 55:7.
Hebrew, "He will multiply pardon." That is possible, which others have
obtained; but others have arrived at forgiveness, therefore it is
obtainable. Psalm 32:5. "You have cast all my sins behind your back." Isaiah
(5) Forgiveness of sin is a choice and eminent blessing.
To have the book cancelled, and God appeased, is worth obtaining,
which may whet our endeavor after it. That it is a rare transcendent
blessing, appears by three demonstrations:
First, if we consider how this
blessing is purchased, namely, by the Lord Jesus. There are three
things in reference to Christ which set forth the choiceness and
preciousness of forgiveness:
 No mere created power in heaven or earth could
expiate one sin, or procure a pardon—but Jesus Christ alone. "He is the
atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 2:2. No creature merit can buy a
pardon of sin. Paul had as much to boast of as any man—his high birth, his
learning, his legal righteousness; but he disclaims all in point of
justification, and lays them under Christ's feet to tread upon. No angel,
with all his holiness, could lay down a price for the pardon of one sin. "If
a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him?" 1 Sam 2:25. What
angel dared be so bold as to open his mouth to God for a delinquent sinner?
Only Jesus Christ, who is God-man, could deal with God's justice, and
 Christ himself could not procure a pardon without
dying. Every pardon is the price of Christ's blood. Christ's life was a
rule of holiness, and a pattern of obedience. He fulfilled all
righteousness. Matthew 3:15. Certainly his active obedience was of great
value and merit; but that which raises the worth of forgiveness, is that his
active obedience would not have fully procured a pardon for us, without the
shedding of his blood. Our justification therefore is ascribed to his blood.
"Being justified by his blood." Romans 5:9. Christ bled out our pardon.
There is much ascribed to his intercession—but his intercession would not
have prevailed with God for the forgiveness of one sin, had he not shed his
blood. It is worthy of notice, that when Christ is described to John as an
intercessor for his church, he is represented in the likeness of a slain
Lamb, to show that Christ must die and be slain before he can be an
intercessor. Rev 5:6.
 Christ, by dying, had not purchased forgiveness for
us if he had not died an accursed death. He endured the curse. Gal 3:13.
All the agonies Christ endured in his soul, all the torments in his body,
could not purchase a pardon—unless he had been made a curse for us. He must
be cursed before we could be blessed with a pardon.
Secondly, forgiveness of sin is a choice blessing, if we
consider what glorious attributes God puts forth in
it. He puts forth infinite power. When Moses was pleading with
God for the pardon of Israel's sin, he spoke thus: "Let the power of my Lord
be great." Numb 14:17. For God, forgiving sin is a work of as great power as
to make heaven and earth—nay, a greater work! When he made the world, he met
with no opposition; but, when he pardons, Satan opposes, and the heart
opposes. A sinner is desperate, and slights, yes, defies pardon—until God,
by his mighty power, convinces him of his sin and danger, and makes him
willing to accept of pardon. God, in forgiving sins, puts forth infinite
mercy. "Pardon, I beseech you, the iniquity of this people, according unto
the greatness of your mercy." Numb 14:19. It is mercy to have a reprieve;
and if there is mercy in sparing a sinner, what mercy is there in
pardoning him! This is the the cream of mercy. For God to put up
with so many injuries, to wipe so many debts off the score, is infinite
Thirdly, forgiveness of sin is a choice blessing, as
it lays a foundation for other mercies.
It is a leading mercy. It makes way for temporal good things. It brings
health. When Christ said to the palsied man, "Your sins are forgiven,"
he made way for a bodily cure. "Arise, take up your bed and walk." Matthew
9:6. The pardon of his sin made way for the healing of his palsy. It brings
prosperity. Jer 33:8, 9. It makes way for spiritual good things.
Forgiveness of sin never comes alone—but has other spiritual blessings
attending it. Those whom God pardons—he sanctifies, adopts, and crowns!
It is a voluminous mercy, it draws the silver link of grace, and the
golden link of glory after it. God seals the sinner's pardon with a
kiss. And should not we, above all things, seek after so great a blessing as
forgiveness? "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins
are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against
him!" Psalm 32:1-2
(6) That which may make us seek after forgiveness of sin
is God's inclinableness to pardon. "You are a God ready to
pardon." Neh 9:17. In the Hebrew it is, "A God of pardons." We are apt to
entertain wrong conceits of God, that he is inexorable, and will not
forgive. "I knew you that you are an hard man!" Matthew 25:24. But God is a
sin-pardoning God. "The Lord merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity and
transgression and sin." Exod 34:6, 7. Here is my name, says God, if you
would know how I am called, I tell you my name, "The Lord, the Lord God,
merciful, forgiving iniquity." A pirate or rebel, that knows there is a
proclamation out against him, will never come in; but, if he hears that the
prince is full of clemency and there is a proclamation of pardon if he
submits—it will be a great incentive to him to lay down his weapons and
become loyal to his prince. See God's proclamation to repenting sinners, in
Jer 3:12: "Go and proclaim these words, and say, Return, you backsliding
Israel, says the Lord, and I will not cause my anger to fall upon you, for I
am merciful." God's mercy is a tender mercy. The Hebrew word for
mercy signifies affections. God's mercy is full of sympathy, he is of
a most sweet, indulgent nature. "You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive."
Psalm 86:1. The bee does not more naturally give honey, than God shows
But does not God seem to delight in punitive acts, or
acts of severity? "I will laugh at your calamity." Proverbs 1:26.
To whom does God say this? See verse 24, 25. "Since you
rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand,
since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke." God
delights in the destruction of those who despise his instruction; but a
humble penitent breaking off sin, and suing for pardon, he delights in. "He
delights in mercy." Mic 7:18.
"But though God is so full of mercy, and ready to
forgive—yet his mercy reaches not to all; he forgives such only as are
elected, and I question my election."
No man can say he is not elected. God has not revealed to
any particular man, that he is a reprobate, excepting him only, who has
sinned the sin against the Holy Spirit; which you are far enough from—who
mourn for sin, and seek after forgiveness.
The thought that we are not elected, and that there is no
pardon for us, comes from Satan, and is the poisoned arrow he shoots. He is
the accuser: he accuses us to God that we are great sinners; and he accuses
God to us as if he were a tyrant, one that watches to destroy his creatures.
These are diabolical suggestions; say, "Get you behind me, Satan."
It is sinful for any to hold that he is not elected. It
would take him off from the use of means, from praying and repenting; it
would harden him, and make him desperate. Therefore, do not pry into the
secrets of heaven. Remember what befell the men of Bethshemesh, for looking
into the ark. 1 Sam 6:19. Know that we are not to go by God's secret
will—but by his revealed will. Let us look into God's revealed will,
and there we shall find enough to nourish hope, and encourage us to go to
God for the pardon of our sins. He has said in his Word, that he is "rich in
mercy," and that he does not delight in the destruction of a sinner. Eph
2:4; Ezek 18:32. He swears by his essence. "As I live, says the Lord God I
have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." Ezek 33:11. Hence he waits
long, and puts off the judgement from time to time, to see if sinners will
repent and seek to him for pardon. Therefore, let God's tender mercies and
precious promises encourage us to seek him for the forgiveness of our sins.
(7) Not to seek earnestly for pardon, is unspeakable
misery to such as need forgiveness. It must needs be ill with
that malefactor, who has not pardon.
The unpardoned sinner, who lives and dies such, is under
the greatest loss and privation. Is there any happiness like the
enjoyment of God in glory? This is the joy of angels, the crown of glorified
saints—but the unforgiven sinner shall not behold God's smiling face; he
shall see God as an enemy, not as a friend; he shall have an affrighting
sight of God, not the beatific vision; he shall see the black rod of
vengeance, not the mercy-seat of forgiveness. Sins unpardoned, are like the
angel with a flaming sword, who stopped the passage to paradise. They stop
the way to the heavenly paradise. How doleful is the condition of that soul,
which is banished from the place of bliss, where the King of Glory keeps his
The unpardoned sinner has nothing to do with any
promise. The promises are the breasts which hold the sincere milk of
the Word, which fill the soul with precious sweetness. They are the
royal charter: but what has a stranger to do to meddle with the charter? It
was the dove which plucked the olive branch; it is only the believer who
plucks the tree of the promise. Until the condition of the promise is
performed, no man can have right to the comfort of it; and how sad is it not
to have one promise to show for heaven!
An unpardoned sinner is continually in danger of the
outcry of an accusing conscience. An accusing conscience is a little
hell. We tremble to hear a lion roar: how terrible are the roarings of
conscience! Judas hanged himself to quiet his conscience. A sinner's
conscience at present is either asleep or seared; but when God
shall awaken it, either by affliction or at death, how will the unpardoned
sinner be affrighted! When a man shall have all his sins set before his
eyes, and drawn out in their bloody colors, and the worm of conscience
begins to gnaw, oh, what a trembling at heart will the sinner have!
All the curses of God stand in full force against
an unpardoned sinner. His very blessings are cursed. "I will curse your
blessings." Mal 2:2. His table is a snare; he eats and drinks a curse. What
comfort could Dionysius have at his feast, when he imagined he saw a naked
sword hanging by a thread over his head? It is enough to spoil a sinner's
banquet, that a curse like a naked sword, hangs over his head. Caesar
wondered to see one of his soldiers who was in debt so merry. It is
astonishing, that an unpardoned man could be merry, who is heir to all God's
curses! He does not see these curses—but is blinder than Balaam's donkey,
who saw the angel's drawn sword.
The unpardoned sinner is in a dreadful case at death.
Luther professed there were three things which he dared not think of without
Christ—of his sins, of death, and of the day of judgment. Death to a
Christless soul is the "king of terrors." As the prophet Ahijah said to
Jeroboam's wife, "I am sent to you with heavy tidings" (1 Kings 14:6). Just
so, death is sent to the unpardoned soul with heavy tidings. Death is
God's jailer to arrest him. Death is a prologue to damnation. It takes
away all earthly comforts, it takes away sugared morsels; no more drinking
wine in bowls, no more mirth or music. "The music of harpists and musicians,
flute players and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again." Rev 18:22.
The sinner shall never more taste of luscious delights, for all eternity;
his honey shall be turned into the "gall of asps." Job 20:14.
At death, an end shall be put to all reprieves. Now God
reprieves a sinner, he spares him such a fit of sickness; he respites him
many years. The sinner should have died at such a drinking bout—but God
granted him a reprieve; he lengthened out the silver thread of patience to a
miracle; but when the sinner dies without repentance, and unpardoned, the
lease of God's patience is run out, and he must appear in person before the
righteous God to receive his sentence; after which, there shall be none to
bail him, nor shall he hear of a reprieve any more.
(6) The sinner dying unpardoned, must go into damnation!
This is the second death—an undying death. The unpardoned soul
must forever bear the anger of a sin-revenging God. As long as God is God—so
long the vial of his wrath shall be dropping upon the damned soul. This is a
helpless condition. There is a time when a sinner will not be helped; Christ
and salvation are offered to him—but he slights them, he will not be helped;
and there is a time shortly coming when he cannot be helped; he calls out
for mercy, "Oh! a pardon, a pardon! but it is too late, the date of mercy is
expired!" Oh! how sad, then, is it to live and die unpardoned! You may lay a
grave-stone upon that man, and write this epitaph upon it, "It would have
been good for that man--if he had never been born!" Now, if the misery of an
unpardoned state is so inexpressible, how should we labor for forgiveness,
that we may not be engulfed in so dreadful a labyrinth of fire and brimstone
to all eternity!
(7) Such as are unpardoned, must needs lead uncomfortable
lives. "Your life shall hang in doubt before you, and you shall
fear day and night." Deut 28:66. Thus the unpardoned sinner must needs have
a palpitation and trembling at the heart. "Fear has torment." 1 John 4:18.
The Greek word for torment, kolasis, is used sometimes for hell; fear has
hell in it. A man in debt fears, every step he goes, lest he should be
arrested. Just so, the unpardoned sinner fears, what if this night death,
death which is God's sergeant, should arrest him! "Why do you not pardon my
transgression? For now shall I sleep in the dust;" as if Job had said,
"Lord, I shall shortly die, I shall sleep in the dust; and what shall I do
if my sins be not pardoned?" Job 7:21. What comfort can an unpardoned soul
take in anything? Surely no more than a prisoner can take in food or
music—who lacks his pardon. Therefore, by all these powerful motives, let us
labor for the forgiveness of sins.
But I am discouraged from going to God for pardon, for I
am unworthy of forgiveness; what am I, that God should show such a favor to
God forgives—not because we are worthy—but
because he is gracious. "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and
gracious." Exod 34:6. He forgives out of his mercy; acts of pardon
are acts of grace. What worthiness was there in Paul before
conversion? He was a blasphemer, and so he sinned against the first table of
the law; he was a persecutor, and so he sinned against the second table of
the law; but free grace sealed his pardon. "I obtained mercy;" I was all
bestrewed with mercy. 1 Tim 1:13. What worthiness was in the woman of
Samaria? She was ignorant. John 4:22. She was immoral; ver 18. She was
morose and churlish, she would not give Christ so much as a cup of cold
water; ver 9. "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me
for a drink?" What worthiness was here? Yet Christ overlooked all, and
pardoned her ingratitude; and though she denied him water out of the
well—yet he gave her the water of life. Free grace does not find us
worthy—but makes us worthy! Therefore, notwithstanding unworthiness,
seek to God, that your sins may be pardoned.
"But I hare been a great sinner—and surely God will not
David brings it as an argument for pardon. "Pardon my
iniquity, for it is great." Psalm 25:11. When God forgives great
sins, he does a work like himself. The greater the desperateness of the
wound—the more it sets forth the virtue of Christ's blood in curing it. Mary
Magdalene, out of whom seven devils were cast, was a great sinner—yet she
had her pardon! When some of the Jews, who had a hand in crucifying Christ,
repented—the very blood they shed sealed their pardon! Consider sins either
for their number as the sands of the sea, or for their weight as the rocks
of the sea—yet there is mercy enough in God to forgive them! "Though your
sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." Isaiah 1:18. Scarlet
signifies twice dipped, which no art of man can get out—yet God
can wash out this scarlet dye! There is no sin exempted from pardon—but that
sin which despises pardon, the sin against the Holy Spirit. Matthew 12:31.
Therefore, O sinner, do not cast away your anchor of hope—but go to God for
forgiveness. The vast ocean has bounds set to it—but God's
pardoning mercy is boundless! He can as easily forgive great sins as
little sins; as the sea can cover great rocks and little sands. Nothing
hinders pardon—but the sinner's not asking it!
That a great sinner should not despair of forgiveness, we
may learn from this Scripture: "I, even I, am he who blots out your
transgressions." If you look on the foregoing words, you would wonder how
this verse comes in. "You have burdened me with your sins and wearied me
with your offenses;" and then it follows, "I, even I, am he who blots out
your transgressions." Isaiah 43:24, 25. One would have thought it
should have run thus, "You have burdened me with your sins and wearied me
with your offenses; I, even I, am he who will punish your
iniquities;" but God comes in a mild loving strain, "You have burdened me
with your sins and wearied me with your offenses; I am he who blots out your
So that the greatness of our sins should not discourage
us from going to God for forgiveness. Though you have committed acts of
impiety—yet God can come with an act of forgiveness, and say, "I, even I, am
he who blots out your transgressions." God counts it his glory to display
free grace in its most brilliant colors. "Where sin abounded, grace did
much more abound." Romans 5:20. When sin becomes exceeding sinful, free
grace becomes exceeding glorious! God's pardoning love can conquer the
sinner, and triumph over the sin! Consider, you almost despairing
soul, there is not so much sin in man—as there is mercy in
God. Man's sin in comparison to God's mercy—is but as a spark in the ocean;
and who would doubt whether a spark could be quenched in an ocean?
"But I have relapsed into the same sins, and how can I
have the face to come to God for pardon of those sins into which I have more
than once fallen?"
Abraham twice equivocated; Lot committed incest twice;
Peter sinned thrice by carnal fear; but they repented, and they had
There is a twofold relapse:
(1) There is a willful relapse, when, after a man
has solemnly vowed himself to God, he falls into a league with sin, and
returns back to it. "I have loved strangers, and after them will I
go" (Jer 2:25); and
(2) There is a relapse through infirmity, when the
bent and resolution of a man's heart is against sin—but, through the
violence of temptation, and withdrawing of God's grace—he is carried down
the stream against his will. Now, though willful and continued relapses are
desperate, and tend to waste the conscience, and run men upon the precipice
of damnation—yet if they are through infirmity, and we mourn for them, we
may obtain forgiveness. A godly man does not march after sin as his
general—but is led captive by it; and the Lord will pity a captive
prisoner. Christ commands us to forgive a trespassing brother seventy times
seven. Matthew 18:22. If he bids us do it, much more will he
forgive a relapsing sinner in case he repent. "Return, O backsliding Israel,
for I am merciful, says the Lord." Jer 3:12. It is not falling once or twice
into the mire which drowns—but lying there. Just so, it is not once
relapsing into sin—but lying in sin impenitently which damns.
"But God requires so much sorrow and humiliation before
remission, that I fear I shall never arrive at it!"
He requires no more humiliation than may fit a soul for
mercy. Many a Christian thinks, because he has not filled God's bottle so
full of tears as others, he is not humbled enough to receive pardon. But
God's dealings are various; all have not the like pangs in the new birth.
Some are won with love; the sense of God's mercy abused causes ingenuous
tears to flow. Others are more flagitious and hardened, and God deals with
them more roughly. That soul is humbled enough to receive a pardon which is
brought to a thorough sense of sin, and sees the need of a Savior, and loves
him as the fairest of ten thousand. Therefore be not discouraged, for if
your heart is bruised from sin and broken off from it, your sin shall be
blotted out. No sooner did Ephraim weep, than God's affections were working.
"My affections are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him." Jer
Having answered these objections, let me beseech you,
above all things—labor for the forgiveness of sin! Think with yourselves how
great a mercy it is: it is one of the richest jewels in the cabinet of the
new covenant. "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven." Psalm 32:1:
In the Hebrew it is "blessednesses". And think of the unparalleled misery
of those whose sins are not forgiven! Such as did not have the blood of
the paschal lamb sprinkled upon their door-posts, were destroyed by the
angel. Exod 12. Just so, those who do not have Christ's blood sprinkled on
them, to wash away the guilt of sin, will fall into the gulf of perdition!
If you resolve to seek after forgiveness, do not delay!
Many say they will get their pardon—but they
procrastinate and put it off so long that it is too late. When the shadows
of the evening are stretched forth, and the night of death approaches, they
begin to look after their pardon. This has been the undoing of millions.
They purpose to look after their souls—but they wait so long, until the
lease of mercy has run out. Oh, therefore, hasten to get pardon! Think of
the uncertainty of life. What security have you, that you shall live
another day? [The fleeting hour flies on fickle wings.] Our life is a
candle, which is soon blown out; it is made up of a few flying
minutes. O you dust and ashes! You may fear every hour, to be blown into
your grave! And what if death comes to arrest you before your pardon is
Plutarch reports of one Archias, who being among his cups
when a letter was delivered to him, and he was requested to read it, as it
was about serious business, he said, "I will mind serious things tomorrow."
But that night he was slain! You who say, "Tomorrow I will repent, I will
get my pardon," you may suddenly be slain; therefore today, while it is
called today, look after the forgiveness of sin. After awhile, all the
fountains of mercy will be stopped, there will not be one drop of Christ's
blood to be had! There are no pardons after death!
Use 3. Let us labor to have the evidence that
our sins are forgiven. A man may have his sins forgiven and not know it; he
may have a pardon in the court of heaven when he has it not in the
court of conscience. David's sin was forgiven as soon as he repented.
God sent Nathan the prophet to tell him so. 2 Samuel 12:13. But David did
not feel the comfort of it at once, as appears by the penitential Psalm
composed afterwards. "Make me to hear joy;" and "Cast me not away from your
presence." Psalm 51:8, 11. It is one thing to be pardoned; and
another to feel it. The evidence of pardon may not appear for a time,
and this may be:
(1) From the weakness of faith.
Forgiveness of sin is so strange and infinite a blessing, that a Christian
can hardly persuade himself that God will extend such a favor to him. As it
is said of the apostles when Christ first appeared to them, "They did not
believe it because of joy and amazement," (Luke 24:41)—so the soul may be so
stricken with admiration, that the wonder of pardon staggers its
(2) A man may be pardoned and not know it from the
strength of temptation. Satan accuses
the godly of sin, and tells them, that God does not love them; and should
such sinners think of pardon? Believers are compared to bruised reeds; and
temptations to winds. Matthew 12:20; chap 7:25. Now, a reed is easily shaken
with the wind. Temptations shake the godly; and though they are pardoned—yet
they know it not. Job in a temptation thought God was his enemy, and yet he
was then in a pardoned condition. Job 16:9.
"Why does God sometimes conceal the evidence of pardon?"
(1) Though he pardons, he may withhold the sense of it
for a time, because he would lay us lower in contrition. He would have us
see what an evil and bitter thing it is to offend him. Therefore we must lie
longer in the briny tears of repentance before we have the sense of
pardon. It was long before David's broken bones were set, and his pardon
sealed—that his heart might be more contrite; and this was a sacrifice which
God delighted in.
(2) Though God has forgiven sin, he may deny the
manifestation of it for a time, to make us prize pardon, and make it sweeter
to us when it comes. The difficulty of obtaining a mercy enhances its
value. When we have been a long time tugging at prayer for a pardon of sin,
and still God withholds—but at last, after many sighs and tears, it comes—we
esteem it the more, and it is sweeter. [The longer the delay—the sweeter the
rejoicing.] The longer mercy is in the birth—the more welcome will the
Let us not be content however, without the evidence and
sense of pardon. He who is pardoned and knows it not, is like one who has a
wealthy estate bequeathed to him—but knows it not. Our comfort
consists in the knowledge of forgiveness. "Make me to hear joy." Psalm 51:8.
There is a jubilee in the soul when we are able to read our pardon. To the
witness of conscience, God adds the witness of his Spirit; and in the mouth
of these two witnesses our joy is confirmed. O labor for the evidence of
"How shall we know that our sins are forgiven?"
We must not be our own judges in this case. "He who
trusts in his own heart is a fool." Proverbs 28:26. "The heart is
deceitful." Jer 17:9. It is folly to trust a deceiver. The Lord only by his
Word must judge whether we are pardoned or not. As under the law no leper
might judge himself to be clean—but the priest was to pronounce him clean,
(Lev 13:37). Just so, we are not to judge ourselves to be clean from the
guilt of sin—until we are such as the Word of God pronounces to be clean.
"How shall we know by the Word that our sins are
(1) The pardoned sinner is a great weeper. The
pardoned sinner is a great weeper. The sense of God's love melts his heart.
"That free grace should ever look upon me--that such crimson sins as
mine should be washed away in Christ's blood--makes my heart melt and my
eyes drop with tears!" Never did any man read his pardon with dry eyes. "She
stood at his feet weeping." Luke 7:38. Mary's tears were more precious to
Christ than her ointment; her eyes, which before sparkled with lust, now
became a fountain, and washed Christ's feet with her tears. She was a true
penitent, and had her pardon. "Therefore, I say, her sins, which are many,
are forgiven;" ver 47. Pardon of sin, will make the hardest heart soften,
and cause the stony heart to bleed. Is it thus with us? Have we been
dissolved into tears for sin? God seals his pardons upon melting
(2) We may know our sins are forgiven by having the grace
of faith. "To him give all the prophets witness, that whoever
believes in him shall receive remission of sins." Acts 10:43. In saving
faith there are two things—renunciation and recumbency:
 Renunciation. A man renounces all opinion of himself;
and he is quite taken off from himself. Phil 3:9. He sees all his duties are
but broken reeds; though he could weep a sea of tears; though he had all the
grace of men and angels, it could not purchase his pardon.
 Recumbency. The soul gets hold of Christ as Adonijah
did of the horns of the altar. 1 Kings 1:51. Faith casts itself into the
stream of Christ's blood, and says, "If I perish, I perish!" If we have
but the least grain of this precious faith, we have something to show for
pardon. This faith is acceptable to God—it pleases him more than
offering up ten thousand rivers of oil, than working miracles, than
martyrdom, or the highest acts of obedience. This faith is profitable to
us; it is our best certificate to show for pardon. No sooner does faith
reach forth its hand to receive Christ, than Christ sets his hand to our
(3) The pardoned soul is an admirer of God.
"Who is a God like unto you—who pardons iniquity!" Micah 7:18. "Oh, that God
should ever look upon me! I was a sinner, and nothing but a sinner—yet I
obtained mercy! Who is a God like unto you! Mercy has been despised, and yet
that mercy saves me! Christ has been crucified by me—yet his cross crowns
me! God has displayed the ensigns of free grace, he has set up his mercy
above my sin, nay, in spite of it. This causes admiration. Who is a God like
A man who goes over a narrow bridge in the night, and
next morning sees the danger he was in, how miraculously he escaped, is
filled with admiration. Just so, when God shows a man how near he was
falling into hell, how that gulf is passed, and all his sins are pardoned,
he is amazed, and cries out, "Who is a God like unto you, who pardons my
iniquity! That God should pardon me and pass by others—that I should be
taken and others left—fills my soul with wonder and astonishment!"
(4) Wherever God pardons sin—he subdues it.
"He will have compassion on us, he will subdue our iniquities." Mic 7:19.
Where men's persons are justified, their lusts are mortified. There is in
sin, a commanding and a condemning power. The condemning
power of sin is taken away, when its commanding power is taken
away. We know our sins are forgiven, when they are subdued. If a malefactor
is in prison, how shall he know that his prince has pardoned him? If the
jailor comes and knocks off his chains and fetters, and lets him out of
prison; then he knows he is pardoned. Just so, we know God has pardoned us,
when the fetters of sin are broken off, and we walk at liberty in the ways
of God. "I will walk at liberty;" this is a blessed sign that we are
pardoned. Psalm 119:45. Such as are washed in Christ's blood from guilt, are
made kings to God. Rev 1:6. As kings, they rule over their sins.
(5) He whose sins are forgiven—is full of love to God.
Mary Magdalene's heart was fired with love. "Her sins, which are
many, are forgiven; for she loved much." Luke 7:47. Her love was not the
cause of her remission—but a sign of it. A pardoned soul is a
monument of mercy, and he thinks he can never love God enough. He wishes he
had a coal from God's altar to inflame his heart in love, he wishes he could
borrow the wings of the cherubim that he might fly swifter in obedience; a
pardoned soul is sick with love. He whose heart is like marble, locked up in
impenitence, which does not melt in love, gives evidence that his pardon is
(6) Where sin is pardoned—the nature is purified.
"I will heal their backslidings, I will love them." Hos 14:4. Every man, by
nature, is both guilty and diseased. When God remits the
guilt, he cures the disease. "Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals
all your diseases." Psalm 103:3. Herein God's pardon goes beyond the king's
pardon; the king may forgive a malefactor—but he cannot change his heart,
which may be a thievish heart still; but when God pardons, he changes the
heart. "A new heart also will I give you." Ezek 36:26. A pardoned soul is
adorned and embellished with holiness. "This is he who came by water and
blood." 1 John 5:6. When Christ comes with blood to justify, he comes
with water to cleanse. "I have caused your iniquity to pass from you,
and I will clothe you with change of raiment." Zech 3:4. I will cause your
iniquity to pass from you—there is pardoning grace; and I will clothe you
with change of raiment—there is sanctifying grace. Let no one say he has
pardon, who has not grace. Many tell us they hope they are
pardoned, who were never sanctified. They believe in Christ; but what faith
is it? A swearing faith, a whoring faith; the faith of devils is as good!
(7) Such as are in the number of God's people have
forgiveness of sin. "Comfort my people, cry unto her, that her
iniquity is pardoned." Isaiah 40:1, 2.
How shall we know that we are God's elect people?
By three characters.
God's people are a HUMBLE people. The clothing
which all Christ's people wear, is humility. "Be clothed with humility." 1
Peter 5:5. A sight of God's glory humbles. Elijah wrapped his face in
a mantle when God's glory passed by. "Now my eye sees you, therefore I abhor
myself." Job 13:5, 6. The stars vanish when the sun appears. A
sight of sin humbles. In the glass of the Word the godly see their
spots, and they are humbling spots. "Lo," says the soul, "I can call nothing
my own but sins and needs!" A humble sinner is in a better condition than a
God's people are a WILLING people. "A people of
willingness;" love constrains them; they serve God freely, and out of
choice. Psalm 110:3. They stick at no service; they will run through a sea,
and a wilderness; they will follow the Lamb whithersoever he goes.
God's people are a HEAVENLY people. "They are not
of the world." John 17:16. God's people have a heavenly motion of the soul,
contrary to the men of the world. They use the world as their servant—but
do not follow the world as their master. "Our citizenship is in
heaven." Phil 3:20. Such as have these three characters of God's people,
have a good certificate to show that they are pardoned. Forgiveness of sin
belongs to them. "Comfort my people," tell them their iniquity is forgiven.
(8) We are pardoned, if, after many storms, we have a
sweet calm and peace within. "Being justified, we have peace."
Romans 5:1. After many a bitter tear shed, and heart-breaking, the mind has
been more sedate, and a sweet serenity or still music has followed; which
brings the tidings that God is appeased. Before conscience accused, now it
secretly whispers comforts, which is a blessed evidence that a man's sins
are pardoned. If the bailiffs do not trouble and arrest the debtor—it is a
sign his debt is forgiven. Just so, if conscience does not vex or accuse—but
upon good grounds whispers consolation—it is a sign that the debt is
discharged, and the sin is forgiven.
(9) Sin is forgiven when we have hearts sincere.
"Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in
whose spirit is no deceit." Psalm 32:1-2.
What is it to be sincere?
He who is sincere, has plainness of heart. He is without
collusion, he has not a double heart; his heart is right with God. A man may
do a right action—but not with a right heart. "Amaziah did that which was
right in the sight of the Lord—but not with a perfect heart." 2 Chron 25:2.
To have the heart right with God, is to serve him from a right principle—which
is love; by a right rule—the Word; to a right end—the glory of
He who has a sincere heart—dares not allow itself in the
least sin; it avoids secret sins. The man dares not hide any sin, as
Rachel did her father's idols, under her. Gen 31:34. He knows God sees him,
which is more than if men and angels beheld him. He avoids besetting
sins. "I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from my
iniquity." Psalm 18:23. As in the hive there is a master-bee—so in the heart
there is a master-sin. A sincere heart sincere takes the sacrificing
knife of mortification, and runs it through its beloved sin!
He who has a sincere heart—desires to know the whole mind
and will of God. An unsound heart is afraid of the light, it is not willing
to know its duty. A sincere soul says (as Job 34:32), "That which I see not,
teach me." "Lord, show me what is my duty, and wherein I offend; let me not
sin for lack of light; what I know not, teach me."
He who has a sincere heart—is uniform in religion. The
man has an equal eye to all God's commands. He makes conscience of private
duties; he worships God in his closet as well as in the temple. When Jacob
was alone, he wrestled with the angel. Gen 32:23, 24. So a Christian, when
alone, wrestles with God in prayer, and will not let him go until he has
blessed him. He performs difficult duties, wherein the heart and spirit of
religion lie, and which cross flesh and blood; he is much in self-humbling
and self-examining. He rather uses the looking-glass of the Word to look
into his own heart—than the broad spectacles of censure to spy the faults of
He who has a sincere heart—is true to God's interest. He
grieves to see it go ill with the church. Nehemiah, though the king's
cupbearer, and wine so near, was sad when Zion's glory was eclipsed. Neh
2:3. Like the tree of which I have read, if any of the leaves of which are
cut, the rest shrink up of themselves, and for a time hang down. Just so,
when God's church suffers, a sincere soul feels himself touched in his own
person. He rejoices to see the cause of God get ground—to see truth triumph,
piety lift up her head, and the flowers of Christ's crown flourish. This is
a sincere heart—it is loyal and true to God's interest.
He who has a sincere heart—is just in his dealings. As he
is upright in his words—so he is in his weights. He makes conscience of the
second table of the law, as well as the first table; he is for equity
as well as piety. "See that no man go beyond and defraud his brother
in any matter." 1 Thess 4:6. A sincere person thinks he may as well rob as
defraud; his rule is to do to others what he would have them do to him.
He who has a sincere heart—is true in his promises; his
word is as good as his bond. If he has made a promise, though it be to his
harm, and entrenches upon his profit, he will not go back. The hypocrite
plays fast and loose, flees from his word; there is no more binding him with
oaths and promises, than Samson could be bound with green withs. Judges
16:7. A sincere soul says as Jephthah, "I have opened my mouth unto the
Lord—and I cannot go back." Judges 11:35.
He who has a sincere heart—is faithful in his friendship;
he is what he appears; his heart goes along with his tongue, as a well-made
dial goes with the sun. He cannot flatter and hate, commend and censure.
Counterfeiting of love is hypocrisy. It is too usual to betray with a kiss.
Joab took Abner by the beard to kiss him, and smote him in the fifth rib
that he died. 2 Samuel 20:9, 10. Many deceive with sugar words. Physicians
judge of the health of the body by the tongue; if that looks well, the body
is in health; but we cannot judge of friendship by the tongue. The words may
be full of honey, when the heart has the gall of malice! His heart is not
true to God, who is treacherous to his friend. Thus you see what a sincere
heart is; and that to have such a heart is a sign that sin is pardoned.
"Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in
whose spirit is no deceit." Psalm 32:2. What a blessed thing is it
not to have sin imputed! If our sins are not imputed, it is as if we had no
sin; sins remitted are as if they had not been committed. This
blessing belongs to a sincere soul. God imputes not iniquity to him a
(10) He whose sins are forgiven is willing to forgive
others who have offended him. "Forgiving one another, even as God
for Christ's sake has forgiven you." Eph 4:32. A hypocrite will read, come
to church, give alms, build hospitals—but cannot forgive wrongs; he will
rather lack forgiveness from God than he will forgive his enemies. A
pardoned soul argues thus: "Has God been so good to me to forgive me my
sins—and shall I not imitate him in this? Has he forgiven me pounds,
and shall I not forgive pence?" It is noted of Cranmer, that he was
of a forgiving spirit, and would do deeds of love to all who had injured
him. The Christian is like the sun, which having drawn up black vapors from
the earth, returns them back in sweet showers.
By this touchstone, we may try whether our sins are
pardoned. We need not climb up to heaven to see whether our sins are
forgiven—but only look into our hearts. Are we of forgiving spirits? Can we
bury injuries, requite good for evil? This would be a good sign that we are
forgiven of God. If we can find all these things wrought in our souls, they
are happy signs that our sins are pardoned, and are good letters testimonial
to show for heaven.
Use 4. For consolation. I shall open a box of
cordials, and show you some of the glorious privileges of a pardoned
condition. This is a peculiar favor, it is a spring shut up, and unsealed
for none but the elect. The wicked may have forbearing mercy—but only
an elect person has forgiving mercy. Forgiveness of sin makes way for
solid joy. "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak comfortably to
Jerusalem;" or, as in the Hebrew, "speak to her heart." Isaiah 40:1, 2. What
was to cheer her heart? "Cry unto her, that her iniquity is pardoned!" If
anything would comfort her, the Lord knew it was this. When Christ would
cheer the palsied man, he said, "Son, be of good cheer, your sins are
forgiven." Matthew 9:2. It was a greater comfort to have his sins forgiven
than to have his palsy healed. This made David put on his best clothes, and
anoint himself 2 Samuel 12:20. His child had just died, and God had told him
"the sword shall never depart from your house;" yet now he spruces up
himself, puts on his best clothes, and anoints himself; why was this? He had
heard good news, God sent him pardon by Nathan the prophet. "The Lord has
put away your sin." 2 Samuel 12:13. This could not but revive his heart,
and, in token of joy, he anointed himself. Surely he who is pardoned has
such a divine melody in his soul as replenishes him with infinite delight.
When Christ said to Mary Magdalene, "Your sins are forgiven," he soon added,
"go in peace." Luke 7:50. More particularly:
(1) God looks upon a pardoned soul as if he had never
sinned. As cancelling a bond nulls the bond, and makes it as if
the money had never been owing—so forgiving sin makes it not to be. Where
sin is remitted, it is as if it had not been committed. So that, as Rachel
wept because her children were not—so a child of God may rejoice because his
sins are not. Jer 50:20. God looks upon him as if he had never offended.
Though sin remains in him after pardon—yet God does not look upon him as a
sinner—but as a just man.
(2) God having pardoned sin, will pass an act of
oblivion. "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember
their sin no more." Jer 31:34. When a creditor has crossed off the book, he
does not call for the debt again. God will not reckon with the sinner in a
judicial way. When our sins are laid upon the head of Christ, our scapegoat,
they are carried into a land of forgetfulness.
(3) The pardoned soul is forever secured from the wrath
of God. How terrible is God's wrath! "Who knows the power of your
anger?" Psalm 90:11. If a spark of God's wrath lighting upon a man's
conscience fills it with horror, what is it to be always scorched in that
torrid zone, to lie upon beds of flames! Now, from this avenging wrath of
God every pardoned soul is freed. Though he may taste the bitter cup of
affliction, he shall never drink of the sea of God's wrath. "Being justified
by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." Romans 5:9.
Christ's blood quenches the flames of hell.
(4) Sin being pardoned, conscience has no more authority
to accuse. Conscience roars against the unpardoned sinner—but it
cannot terrify or accuse him who is pardoned. God has discharged the sinner,
and if the creditor discharges the debtor, what right has the sergeant to
arrest him? The truth is, if God absolves, conscience if rightly informed,
absolves. If once God says, "Your sins are pardoned," conscience says, "Go
in peace." If the sky is clear, and no storms blow there, the sea is calm;
so, if all is clear above, and God shines with pardoning mercy upon the
soul, conscience is calm and serene.
(5) Nothing which befalls a pardoned soul shall hurt him.
"There shall no evil befall you;" that is, no destructive evil.
Psalm 91:10. Everything to a wicked man is hurtful. Good things are
for his hurt. His very blessings are turned into a curse. "I will curse your
blessings." Mal 2:2. Riches and prosperity do him hurt. They are not
favors—but snares. "Gold snares." "Riches kept for the owners thereof to
their hurt." Eccl 5:13. Like Haman's banquet, which ushered in his funeral.
Ordinances do a sinner hurt; they are a "savor of death." 2 Cor 2:16.
Cordials themselves kill. The best things hurt the wicked.
But the worst things which befall a pardoned soul shall
do him no hurt. The sting, the poison, the curse is gone. His soul is no
more hurt, than David hurt Saul, when he cut off the lap of his garment.
(6) To a pardoned soul, everything has a commission to do
him good. Afflictions do him good; as do poverty, reproach, and
persecution. "You thought evil against me—but God meant it for good." Gen
50:20. As the elements, though of contrary qualities, are so tempered that
they work for the good of the universe—so the most cross providences work
for good to a pardoned soul. Correction as a corrosive eats out sin; it
cures the swelling of pride, the fever of lust, and the cancer of avarice.
It is a refining fire to purify grace, and make it sparkle as gold. Every
cross providence, to a pardoned soul, is like Paul's storm, which, though it
broke the ship—yet Paul was brought to shore upon the broken pieces. Acts
(7) A pardoned soul is not only exempted from wrath—but
invested with dignity; as Joseph was not only freed from
prison—but advanced to be second man in the kingdom.
(8) A pardoned soul is made a favorite of heaven.
A king may pardon a traitor—but will not make him one of his privy council;
but those whom God pardons, he receives into favor. I may say to him as the
angel to the virgin Mary, "You have found favor with God." Luke 1:30. Hence,
such as are forgiven, are said to be crowned with loving-kindness. Psalm
103:3, 4. Those whom God pardons—he crowns. Those whom God
absolves—he marries to himself. "I am merciful, and I will not keep anger
forever;" Jer 3:12; there is forgiveness; and in the fourteenth verse, "I am
married to you;" and he who is matched into the crown of heaven, is as rich
as the angels, as rich as heaven can make him!
(9) Sin being pardoned, we may come with humble boldness
to God in prayer. Guilt makes us afraid to go to God. Adam having
sinned, "was afraid, and hid" himself. Gen 3:10. Guilt clips the wings of
prayer, it fills the face with blushing; but forgiveness breeds confidence.
We may look upon God as a Father of mercy, holding forth a golden scepter.
He who has his pardon, can look upon his prince with comfort.
(10) Forgiveness of sin makes our services acceptable.
God takes all we do in good part. A guilty person does nothing
that is pleasing to God. Even his prayers are "turned into sin." But when
sin is pardoned, God accepts his offering. We read of Joshua standing before
the angel of the Lord: "Joshua was clothed with filthy garments," that is,
he was guilty of divers sins; now, says the Lord, "Take away the filthy
garments, I have caused your iniquity to pass from you;" and then he stood
and ministered before the Lord, and his services were accepted. Zech 3:3, 4.
(11) Forgiveness of sin is the sauce which sweetens all
the comforts of this life. As guilt embitters our
comforts, and puts wormwood into our cup—so pardon sweetens all, and
is like sugar to wine. Health and pardon, estate and pardon, relish well.
Pardon of sin gives a sanctified title and a delicious taste to every
comfort. As Naaman said to Gehazi, "Take two talents," so says God to the
pardoned soul, "Take two talents; take the venison, and take a blessing with
it; take the oil in the cruse, and take my love with it. Take two talents."
2 Kings 5:23. It is observable that Christ joins these two together, "Give
us our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses," as if Christ would teach us
there is little comfort in daily bread, unless sin be forgiven. Forgiveness
of sin, perfumes and drops sweetness into every earthly enjoyment.
(12) If sin be forgiven, God will never upbraid us with
former sins. When the prodigal came home to his father, the
father received him into his loving embraces, and never mentioned his former
ingratitude, or spending his estate among harlots. Just so, God will not
upbraid us with former sins—nay, he will entirely love us; we shall be his
jewels, and he will put us in his bosom. After Christ arose, he first
appeared to Mary Magdalene, a pardoned penitent. Mark 16:9. So far was he
from upbraiding her, that he brought her the first news of his resurrection.
(13) Pardoned sin is a pillar of support in the loss of
friends. God has taken away your child, your husband; but he has
also taken away your sins. He has given you more than he has taken away; he
has taken away a flower, and given you a jewel. He has given
you Christ and the Spirit, and the pledge of glory. He has given you more
than he has taken away.
(14) Where God pardons sins, he bestows righteousness.
With remission of sin, goes imputation of righteousness. "He has
covered me with the robe of righteousness." Isaiah 61:10. If a Christian can
take any comfort in his inherent righteousness, which is so stained
and mixed with sin, oh, what comfort may he take in Christ's righteousness,
which is a better righteousness than that of Adam! Adam's righteousness was
mutable; but suppose it had been unchangeable, it was but the righteousness
of a man; but that which is imputed is the righteousness of him who is God.
"That we might be made the righteousness of God in him." 2 Cor 5:21. Oh,
blessed privilege, to be reputed in the sight of God—as righteous as Christ,
having his embroidered robe put upon the soul! This is the comfort of
everyone who is pardoned, he has a perfect righteousness; and now God says
of him, "You are all fair, my love; there is no spot in you!" Canticles 4:7.
(15) A pardoned soul needs not fear death. He
may look on death with joy—who can look on forgiveness with faith! To a
pardoned soul, death has lost his sting. Death, to a pardoned sinner, is
like arresting a man after the debt is paid; it may arrest—but Christ will
show the debt-book crossed out in his blood! A pardoned soul may triumph
over death, "O death! where is your sting? O grave! where is your victory?"
He who is pardoned need not fear death—it is not to him a destruction—but a
deliverance! Death is a day of jubilee or release—it releases him from all
his sins. Death comes to a pardoned soul as the angel did to Peter—and beat
off his chains, and carried him out of prison. Death smites his body—and the
chains of sin fall off. Death gives a pardoned soul a rest, it frees from
all his labors. Rev 14:13. "Happy is the passage from toil to rest,"
Bernard. As death will wipe off our tears—so it will wipe off our
sweat. It will do a pardoned Christian a good turn, therefore it is made
a part of the inventory in 1 Cor 3:22; even death is yours.
Death is like the wagon which was sent for old Jacob,
that came rattling with its wheels—but it was to carry Jacob to his son
Joseph. Just so, the wheels of death's chariot may rattle and make a
noise—but they are to carry a believer to Christ. While a believer is here,
he is absent from the Lord. 2 Cor 5:6. He lives far from court, and cannot
see him whom his soul loves; but death gives him a sight of the King of
Glory, in whose presence is fullness of joy! To a pardoned soul, death is a
passage to the heavenly kingdom; it brings him to the place of bliss, where
he shall hear the triumphs and anthems of praise sung in the choir of
No cause has a pardoned soul to fear death; what needs he
fear to have his body buried in the earth—who has his sins buried in
Christ's wounds? What hurt can death do to him? It is but his ferryman to
ferry him over to the land of promise! The day of death to a pardoned soul
is his ascension-day to heaven, his coronation-day, when he shall be crowned
with those delights of paradise which are unspeakable and full of glory!
These are the rich consolations which belong to a pardoned sinner. Well
might David proclaim him blessed. "Blessed is he whose transgression is
forgiven;" in the Hebrew it is in the plural, blessednesses. Psalm 32:1.
Here is a plurality of blessings. Forgiveness of sin is like the first link
of a chain which draws all the links after it; it draws these fifteen
privileges after it; it crowns with grace and glory. Who then
would not labor to have his sins forgiven? "Blessed is he whose
transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered."
Use 5. Now follow the DUTIES of those who have their sins
(1) Be much in praise and doxology for God's pardoning
love. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, who forgives all your
iniquities." Has God crowned you with pardoning mercy? Set the crown of your
praise upon the head of free grace! Pardon of sin is a sovereign mercy, a
jewel hung only upon the elect, which calls for acclamations of praise. You
give thanks for "daily bread," and will you not much more for pardon? You
give thanks for deliverance from sickness—and will you not for deliverance
from hell? God has done more for you in forgiving your sin—than if he had
given you a kingdom! That you may be more thankful, do but set the
unpardoned condition before your eyes. How sad is it to lack a pardon!
All the curses of the law stand in full force against such a one. When
the unpardoned sinner dies—he drops into the grave and hell at the same
time! He must life among the damned! Will it not make you thankful that
this is not your condition—but that you are "delivered from the wrath to
(2) Let God's pardoning love to you, inflame your hearts
with love to God. For God to pardon freely without any desert of
yours; to pardon so many offences; to pardon you and pass by others; to take
you out of the ruins of mankind, of a clod of dust and sin, and make you a
jewel sparkling with heavenly glory—will not this make you love God much? If
of three prisoners that deserve to die, the king pardons one, and leaves the
other two to the severity of the law, will not he who is pardoned love the
prince who has been so full of mercy to him? How should your hearts be
endeared in love to God! The schoolmen distinguish a twofold love, amor
gratuitus, a love of bounty—that is, God's love to us in forgiving; and
amor debitus, a love of duty—that is, our love to God by way of
return. We should show our love by admiring God, by sweetly solacing
ourselves in him, and binding ourselves to him in a perpetual covenant.
(3) Let the sense of God's love in forgiving you, make
you more cautious and fearful of sin for the future. "There is
forgiveness with you—that you may be feared." Psalm 130:4. Oh, fear to
offend the God who has been so forgiving to you. If a friend has done us a
kindness, we shall not trouble him or abuse his love. After Nathan had told
David, "The Lord has put away your sin," how tender was his conscience! When
men commit gross sins after pardon, God changes his demeanor towards them,
he turns his smile into a frown; they lie, as Jonah, in the "belly of hell;"
God's wrath falls into their conscience as a drop of scalding lead into the
eye; the promises are as a fountain sealed, not a drop of comfort comes from
them. O Christians, do you not remember what it cost before you got your
pardon? how long it was before your "broken bones" were set? And will you
again venture to sin? You may be in such a condition that you may question
whether you belong to God or not. Though God does not damn you—he may give
you a taste of hell in this life.
(4) If God has given you good hope that you are pardoned,
walk cheerfully. "We rejoice in God, through our Lord Jesus
Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement." Romans 5:11. Who should
rejoice, if not he who has his pardon? God rejoices when he shows us mercy;
and should not we rejoice when we receive mercy? In the saddest times, a
pardoned soul may rejoice. Afflictions have a commission to do him good;
every cross wind of providence shall blow him nearer to the haven of glory.
Christian, God has pulled off your prison-fetters, and clothed you with the
robe of righteousness, and crowned you with loving-kindness, and yet are you
sad? "We rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Romans 5:2. Can the wicked
rejoice, who have only a short reprieve from hell, and not those who have a
full pardon sealed?
(5) Has God pardoned you? Do all the service you can for
God. "Always abounding in the work of the Lord." 1 Cor 15:58. Let
your head study for God; let your hands work for him; let your
tongue be the organ of his praise. When Paul got his pardon, and
could say, "I obtained mercy," it was as oil to the wheels, it made him move
faster in obedience. 1 Tim 1:16. "I labored more abundantly than they all."
1 Cor 15:10. The pardoned soul thinks he can never love God enough—or
serve him enough.
Use 6. Some RULES or directions, how we may obtain
forgiveness of sin.
(1) We must take heed of mistakes about pardon of sin;
as the mistake that our sins are pardoned when they are not.
Whence is this mistake? From two grounds.
 Many think that their sins are pardoned—merely
because God is merciful. God's being merciful shows that man's sins are
pardonable. But there is a great deal of difference between sins
pardonable and sins pardoned. Your sins may be pardonable—yet not
pardoned. Though God be merciful—yet whom is God's mercy for? Not for the
presuming sinner—but the repenting sinner. Such as go on in sin,
cannot lay claim to it. God's mercy is like the ark, which none but the
priests might touch; none but such as are spiritual priests, sacrificing
their sins, may touch the ark of God's mercy.
 Many think that their sins are pardoned—merely
because Christ died for sins. That Christ died for remission of sin is true;
but that all have remission is false, for then Judas would be forgiven.
Remission of sin, is limited to believers. "By him all who believe are
justified;" but all do not believe; some slight and trample Christ's blood
under foot. Acts 13:39; Heb 10:29. Notwithstanding Christ's death, all are
not pardoned. Take heed of this dangerous mistake. Who will seek after
pardon—that thinks he has it already?
Another mistake is, that pardon is easy to be had; it is
but a sigh, or, "Lord, have mercy." But how dearly has pardon cost those who
have obtained it? How long was it before David's broken bones were set!
Happy are we if we have the pardon of sin sealed, though at the very last
hour; but why do men think pardon of sin so easy to be obtained? They assume
that their sins are but small, therefore venial. The devil holds the small
end of the telescope before their eyes. But there is no small sin against
Deity. Why is he punished with death, who clips the king's coin or defaces
his statue—but because it is an abuse offered to the person of the king?
Little sins, when multiplied, become great, as a
little sum when multiplied, comes to millions. What is less than a grain of
sand—but when the sand is multiplied, what heavier? Your sins cost no small
price. View them in the glass of Christ's sufferings, who veiled his glory,
lost his joy, and poured out his soul as an offering for the least sin.
Little sins, unrepented of, will damn you, as well as greater. Not only
great rivers fall into the sea—but little brooks; not only greater sins
carry men to hell—but lesser sins; therefore do not think pardon easy,
because sin is small. Beware of mistakes.
(2) The second means for pardon of sin is to see
yourselves guilty. Come to God as condemned men. "They put ropes
on their heads and came to the king of Israel." 1 Kings 20:32. Let us come
to God in profound humility. Do not say, "Lord, my heart is good, and my
life blameless." God hates this. Lie in the dust, be covered with sackcloth,
and say as the centurion, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under
my roof! I deserve not the least smile from heaven!" Matthew 8:8. This is
the way for pardon.
(3) The third means for pardon is, hearty confession of
sin. "I said, I will confess my transgressions, and you forgave
the iniquity of my sin." Psalm 32:5. Would we have God cover our
sins? We must uncover them. "He who covers his sins does not prosper,
but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." Proverbs 28:13. "If
we confess our sins, he is just to forgive us our sins." 1 John 1:9. One
would have thought it should have run thus, "If we confess our sins, he is
merciful to forgive them." Nay—but he is just to forgive them. Why
just? Because he has bound himself by a promise to forgive humble confessors
of sin. When we accuse ourselves, God absolves us. We are apt
to hide our sins, which is as great a folly as for one to hide his
disease from the physician; but when we open our sins to God by
confessing, he opens his mercy to us by forgiving.
(4) Another means for pardon is sound repentance.
Repentance and remission of sin are put together. Luke 24:47.
There is a promise of a fountain opened for washing away the guilt of sin.
Zech 13:1. But see what goes before: "They shall look upon me whom they have
pierced—and they shall mourn for him." Zech 12:10. "Wash, make you clean;"
that is, wash in the waters of repentance; and then follows a promise of
forgiveness, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as
snow." Isaiah 1:16, 18. It is easy to turn white into scarlet—but not so
easy to turn scarlet into white; yet, upon repentance, God has promised to
make the scarlet sinner of a milk-like whiteness!
Think not, however, that repentance merits
pardon—but it prepares for it. We set our seal on the wax when it melts.
Just so, God seals his pardons on melting hearts.
(5) The next means for pardon is faith in the blood of
Christ. It is Christ's blood alone, which washes away sin. Rev
1:5. But this blood will not wash away sin, unless it be applied by faith.
The apostle speaks of the sprinkling of the blood of Christ. 1 Peter 1:2.
Many are not pardoned, though Christ's blood be shed, because it is not
sprinkled; now it is faith which sprinkles Christ's blood on the soul, for
the remission of sin. As Thomas put his hands into Christ's sides—so faith
puts its hands into Christ's wounds, and takes of the blood and sprinkles it
upon the conscience, for the washing away of guilt. John 20:27. Hence in
Scripture, we are said to obtain pardon through faith. "By him all who
believe are justified." Acts 13:39. "Your sins are forgiven." Luke 7:48.
Whence was this? "Your faith has saved you." 7:50. O let us labor for faith.
Christ is an atonement to take away sin; but how? "Through faith in his
blood." Romans 3:25.
(6) The last means is to pray much for pardon.
"Take away all iniquity." Hos 14:2. "The publican smote upon his
breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." Luke 18:13. And the text
says that he went away justified. Many pray for health, riches, children;
but Christ has taught us to pray, "Forgive us our sins." Be earnest suitors
for pardon; consider what guilt of sin is; it binds one over to the wrath of
God. Better your house were haunted with devils—than your soul with guilt!
He who is in the bond of iniquity, must needs be in the gall of bitterness.
Acts 8:23. A guilty soul wears Cain's mark, which was a trembling at the
heart, and a shaking in his flesh. Guilt makes the sinner afraid—lest every
trouble he meets with should arrest him and bring him to judgment! If guilt
is so dismal, and breeds such convulsion fits in the conscience, how earnest
should we be in prayer, that God would remove it, and so earnest as to
resolve to take no denial! Plead hard with God for pardon, as a man would
plead with a judge for his life. Fall upon your knees, say, "Lord, hear one
word!" God may say, "What can you say for yourself, that you should not
die?" "Lord, I can say but little—but I put in my Surety, Christ shall
answer for me; O look upon that blood which speaks better things than that
of Abel; Christ is my priest, his blood is my sacrifice, his divine nature
is my altar!"
As Rahab was to show the scarlet thread in the window,
that when Joshua saw it he might not destroy her—so show the Lord the
scarlet thread of Christ's blood—for that is the way to have mercy. Josh
2:18, 21; 6:22, 23. God may say, "Why should I pardon you? You have never
served me." "But, Lord, pardon me, because you have promised it; I urge your
covenant!" When a man is about to die by the law, he calls for his book.
Just so, say, "Lord, let me have the benefit of my book, your Word says,
'Let the wicked forsake his way and our God will abundantly pardon.' Isaiah
55:7. Lord, I have forsaken my sins, let me therefore have mercy; I plead
the benefit of the book!" "But, for whose sake should I pardon? You can not
deserve it." "Lord, for your own name's sake; you have said, you will blot
out sin, for your own name's sake. Isaiah 43:25. It will not eclipse your
crown; your mercy will shine forth, and all your other attributes ride in
triumph, if you shall pardon me!"
Thus plead with God in prayer, and resolve not to give
over until your pardon is sealed. God cannot deny importunity; he delights
in mercy. As the mother, says Chrysostom, delights to have her breasts
milked—so God delights to milk out the breast of mercy to the sinner. These
means being used will procure this great blessedness, the forgiveness of
IV. The last part of this petition is the CONDITION.
"As we forgive those who trespass against us." This word, AS, is not
a note of equality—but similitude; not that we equal God in
forgiving—but must imitate him in forgiving. The great duty of
forgiving others, is contrary to flesh and blood. Men forget kindnesses—but
remember injuries. But it is an indispensable duty to forgive; we are
not bound to trust an enemy; but we are bound to forgive him.
We are naturally prone to revenge. "Revenge," says Homer, "is sweet as
dropping honey." The heathen philosophers held revenge to be lawful. But we
learn better things from the oracles of Scripture. "When you stand praying,
forgive." Mark 11:25. "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances
you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Col
How can we forgive others, when God only can forgive sin?
In every breach of the second table, there are two
things: an offence against God, and a trespass against man. So far as it is
an offence against God, he only can forgive; but so far as it is a trespass
against man, we may forgive.
When do we forgive others?
When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we
will not do our enemies harm—but wish well to them, grieve at their
calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves
ready on all occasions to relieve them. This is gospel-forgiving.
But I have been much injured and abused, and to put up
with it will be a stain to my reputation.
(1) To pass by an injury without revenge, is not
eclipsing our honor. The Scripture says of a man, "It is his glory to pass
over a transgression." Proverbs 19:11. It is more honor to bury an
injury, than to revenge it. Anger and revenge denote weakness; a
noble heroic spirit overlooks a petty offence.
(2) Suppose a man's credit should be impaired with those
whose censure is not to be regarded; consider the folly of challenging
another to a duel. It is little wisdom for a man to redeem his credit
by losing his life, and to run to hell to be counted valorous.
But the wrong he has done me is great.
But your not forgiving him is a greater wrong. In
injuring you he has offended against man—but in not forgiving him you offend
But if I forgive vile injury, I shall occasion more.
If the more injuries you forgive, the more you meet
with--it will only increase your grace the more. Often forgiving will add
more to the weight of your glory. If any say, "I strive to excel in other
graces—but as for this forgiving, I cannot do it." The graces are
inter-linked and chained together; when there is one, there is all. He who
cannot forgive, his grace is counterfeit, his faith is false,
his devotion is hypocrisy.
But suppose another has wronged me in my estate, may I
not go to law for my debt?
Yes, else of what use were law courts? God has set judges
to decide cases in law, and to give everyone his right. It is with going to
law, as it is with going to war; when the just rights of a nation are
invaded, it is lawful to go to war. Just so, when a man's estate is
trespassed upon by another, he may go to law to recover it. But the law must
be used in the last place; when no entreaties or arbitrations will prevail,
then the courts must decide it. Yet this is no revenge, it is not so much to
injure another, as to right one's self; which may be, and yet we may live in
Use 1. Here is a bill of indictment against
such as study revenge, and cannot put up with the least discourtesy. They
would have God forgive them—but they will not forgive others. They will
pray, come to church, give alms—but, as Christ said, "One thing you lack."
Mark 10:21. They lack a forgiving spirit, they will rather lack forgiveness
from God--than they will forgive their brother. How sad is it, that, for
every slight wrong, or disgraceful word--men should let malice boil in their
hearts! would there be so many duels, arrests, and murders--if men had the
art of forgiving?
Revenge is the proper sin of the devil; he is no drunkard
or adulterer—but this old serpent is full of the poison of malice. What
shall we say to those who make a profession of religion—but instead of
forgiving, pursue others malevolently? It was prophesied, the "wolf shall
dwell with the lamb." Isaiah 11:6. But what shall we say, when such as
profess to be lambs--become wolves! They open the mouths of the profane
against religion who will say these are as full of bitterness as any. O
where has love and mercy fled? If the son of man comes--will he find charity
on the earth? I fear but little. How can those who nourish anger and malice
in their hearts, and will not forgive, pray, "Forgive us, as we forgive
others"? Either they must omit this petition, as Chrysostom says some did in
his time, or they pray against themselves!
Use 2. Let us all be persuaded, if ever we
hope for salvation, to pass by petty injuries and discourtesies, and labor
to be of forgiving spirits. "Bear with each other and forgive whatever
grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave
you." Col 3:13.
(1) Herein we resemble God. He is ready to
forgive. Psalm 86:5. He befriends his enemies; he opens his hands to relieve
those who open their mouths against him. It was Adam's pride to resemble God
in omniscience; but it is lawful to resemble God in forgiving enemies; this
is a God-like disposition; and what is godliness—but God-likeness?
(2) To forgive is one of the highest evidences of grace.
When grace comes into the heart, it makes a man, as Caleb, of another
spirit. Numb 14:24. It makes a great metamorphosis, it sweetens the heart,
and fills it with love and sincerity. As a scion grafted into a stock,
partakes of the nature and sap of the tree, and brings forth the same
fruit—so he who was once of a sour crabby disposition, given to revenge,
when ingrafted into Christ, partakes of the sap of the heavenly olive tree,
and bears sweet and generous fruit; he is full of love to his enemies, and
requites good for evil. As the sun draws up many thick noxious vapors from
the earth, and returns them in sweet showers—so a gracious heart returns the
unkindnesses of others with the sweet influences of love and mercifulness.
"They repay me with evil for the good I do. Yet when they were ill, I
grieved for them. I even fasted and prayed for them." Psalm 35:12, 13. This
is a good certificate to show for heaven.
(3) The blessed example of our Lord Jesus teaches this.
He was of a forgiving spirit; his enemies reviled him—but he
pitied them; their words were more bitter than the gall and vinegar
which they gave him—but his words were smoother than oil. They spat upon
him, pierced him with the spear and nails—but he prayed for them, "Father,
forgive them." He wept over his enemies, he shed tears for those that
shed his blood. Never was there such a pattern of amazing kindness.
Christ bids us learn of him. Matthew 11:29. He does not bid us learn of him
to work miracles—but he would have us learn of him to forgive our enemies.
If we do not imitate Christ's life--we cannot be saved by his
(4) The danger of an implacable unforgiving spirit.
It hinders the efficacy of ordinances; it is like an obstruction in the
body, which keeps it from thriving. A revengeful spirit poisons our
sacrifice; our prayers are turned into sin. Will God receive prayer mingled
with this strange fire? Our coming to the sacrament is sin--if we come not
in charity—so that ordinances are turned into sin. It were sad if all the
food we eat should turn to poison; but malice poisons the sacramental cup,
men eat and drink their own damnation. Judas came to the Passover in malice,
and after the sop, Satan entered into him. John 13:27.
(5) God has tied his mercy to the condition, that if we
do not forgive, neither will he forgive us. "If you forgive not
men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Matthew 6:15. A man may as well go to hell for not forgiving--as for
not believing. How can they expect mercy from God, whose affections
are shut up and are merciless to their trespassing brethren? "He shall have
judgment without mercy--who has showed no mercy." James 2:13. "I cannot
forgive," said one, "though I go to hell."
(6) The examples of the saints who have been of forgiving
spirits. Joseph forgave his brethren, though they put him
into a pit and sold him. "Fear not; I will nourish you and your little
ones." Gen 50:21. Stephen prayed for his persecutors. Moses
was of a forgiving spirit. How many injuries and affronts did he put up
with! The people of Israel dealt unkindly with him; they murmured
against him at the waters of Marah—but he prayed for them. Exod
15:25. "He cried unto the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree, which when
he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet." When they lacked
water, they chided with him. "Why have you brought us out of Egypt to kill
us with thirst?" Exod 17:3. As if they had said, "If we die, we will lay our
death to your charge." This was enough to have made Moses call for fire from
heaven upon them; but he passes by this injury, and, to show he forgave
them, he became an intercessor for them, and drew water from the rock for
them; ver 4, 5, 6.
The prophet Elisha feasted his enemies: he
prepared a table for those who would have prepared his grave. 2 Kings 6:23.
Cranmer was famous for forgiving injuries. When Luther had reviled Calvin,
Calvin said, "Though he calls me a devil a thousand times—yet I will love
and honor him as a precious servant of Christ." When one who had abused and
wronged a Christian asked him what wonders his Master Christ had wrought, he
said, "He has wrought this wonder, that though you have so injured me, I can
forgive you and pray for you."
(7) Forgiving and requiting good for evil is the best way
to conquer and melt the heart of an enemy. When Saul had pursued
David with malice and hunted him as a partridge upon the mountains, David
would not do him harm when it was in his power. David's kindness melted
Saul's heart. "Saul lifted up his voice and wept, and said--You are a better
man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil." 1 Sam 24:16, 17. Such
forgiving is heaping coals which melt the enemy's heart. Romans 12:20. It
is the most noble victory to overcome an enemy without striking a blow, to
conquer him with love. When Philip of Macedon was told that one Nicanor
openly railed against him, instead of putting him to death, he sent him a
rich present, which so overcame the man, and made his heart relent, that he
went up and down to recant what he had said against the king, and highly
extolled the king's mercy.
(8) Forgiving others is the way to have forgiveness from
God, and is a sign of that forgiveness.
 It is the way to have forgiveness. "If you
forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."
Matthew 6:14. But one would think other things would sooner procure
forgiveness from God, than our forgiving others. No, surely nothing like
this to procure forgiveness; for all other acts of religion may have leaven
in them. God forbade leaven in the sacrifice. Exod 34:25. One may give alms,
and there may be the leaven of vainglory in it. The Pharisees sounded a
trumpet, when they gave alms, to gain applause. Matthew 6:2. One may give
his body to be burned—yet there may be the leaven of false zeal in this; but
to forgive others who have offended us can have no leaven in it, no sinister
aim. It is a duty wholly spiritual, and is done purely out of love to God;
hence God annexes forgiveness to this, rather than to the highest and most
renowned works of charity which are cried up in the world.
 It is a sign of God's forgiving us.
It is not a cause of God's forgiving us—but a sign. We
need not climb up into heaven to see whether our sins are forgiven. Let us
look into our hearts, and see if we can forgive others. If we can, we need
not doubt but God has forgiven us. Our loving others, is the reflection of
God's love to us. Oh, therefore, by all these arguments, let us be persuaded
to forgive others. Christians, how many offences has God passed by in us!
Our sins are innumerable and heinous. Is God willing to forgive us so many
offences--and cannot we forgive a few? No man can do so much wrong to us all
our life--as we do to God in one day!
But HOW must we forgive? As God forgives us.
(1) God forgives SINCERELY. God not only makes
a show of forgiveness--but he really forgives, he passes our sins into
oblivion. Jer 31:34. So we must not only say we forgive—but do it
with the heart. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you,
unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Matthew 18:35.
(2) God forgives FULLY. He forgives all our
sins. "Who forgives all your iniquities." Psalm 103:3. Hypocrites pass by
some offences—but retain others. Would we have God so deal with us as to
remit only some trespasses, and call us to account for the rest?
(3) God forgives OFTEN. God multiplies pardon.
Isaiah 55:7. Peter asks the question, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive
my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I
tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." Matthew 18:21, 22. If
he say, "I repent," you must say, "I remit."
But this is one of the highest acts of religion; flesh
and blood cannot do it. HOW shall I attain to it?
(1) Let us consider how many wrongs and injuries we have
done against God. What volume can hold our errata? Our sins are
more than the sparks in a furnace.
(2) If we would forgive, let us see God's hand in all
that men do or say against us. Did we look higher than
instruments, our hearts would grow calm, and we would not meditate
revenge. Shimei reproached David and cursed; but David looked higher. "Let
him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has bidden him." 2 Samuel
16:11. What made Christ, when he was reviled, revile not again? He looked
beyond Judas and Pilate, he saw his Father putting the bitter cup into his
hand. As we must see God's hand in all the affronts and incivilities we
receive from men—so we must believe God will do us good by all, if we belong
to him. "It may be the Lord will requite me good, for his cursing this day."
2 Samuel 16:12. He who injures me shall add to my reward; he who clips my
name to make it weigh lighter, shall make my crown weigh heavier. Well might
Stephen pray for his enemies, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Acts
7:60. He knew they did but increase his glory in heaven; every stone his
enemies threw at him, added a pearl to his crown!
(3) Lay up a stock of faith. "If your brother
sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again
to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him." Luke 17:3, 4. The
apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith," as if they had said, "We
can never do this without a great deal of faith; Lord, increase our faith."
Believe God has pardoned you--and you will pardon others! Only faith can
throw dust upon injuries--and bury them in the grave of forgetfulness!
(4) Think how you have often wronged others;
and may it not be just with God that the same measure you mete to others,
should be measured to you again? Have you not wronged others, if not in
their goods—yet in their name? If you have not borne false witness against
them—yet perhaps you have spoken falsely of them; the consideration of which
may make Christians bury injuries in silence.
(5) Get humble hearts. A proud man thinks it a
disgrace to forgive an injury. What causes so many fights and murders, but
pride? "Be clothed with humility." 1 Peter 5:5. He who is low in his own
eyes--will not be much troubled, though others lay him low; he knows there
is a day coming when there shall be a resurrection of names, as well as
bodies, and God will avenge him of his adversaries. "And shall not God
avenge his own elect?" Luke 18:7. The humble soul leaves all his wrongs to
God to requite. "Vengeance belongs to Me--I will repay, says the Lord."
Use 3. For comfort. Such as forgive, God will
forgive them. You have a good argument to plead with God for forgiveness.
"Lo, I am willing to forgive him who harms me. Will not God forgive me, who
has received forgiveness in Christ my surety?"