Forgiveness: January 2006

Table of Contents

1. Forgiven
2. Forgiveness
3. Self-Judgment, Confession and Forgiveness
4. Administrative Forgiveness
5. Forgiveness Is…
6. Forgiveness of Persons and of Sins
7. Brotherly Forgiveness
8. Governmental Forgiveness
9. Forgiveness: Rightly Dividing Truth
10. No Forgiveness Until…
11. Forgiveness of Sins


“Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation” (Psa. 51:12).
“I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).
I stand before Him forgiven!
His blood has made me clean;
But at times in daily living
A cloud comes in between:
And fellowship is broken,
Communion sweet no more —
Oh! How to restore the sweetness
Enjoyed the day before.
In His presence I seek forgiveness,
I own my fault with shame;
Long before by blood it was covered
When I first confessed His name;
But the joy that follows confession!
Freedom again to look up;
To open the door to His knocking
And invite Him in to sup.
“The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).


One man said to another, “I will forgive you, but I will not forget.” How sad! How unlike God, who forgives and then says, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 10:17). Forgiveness must be more than a statement by one who has been wronged to the one who has done him wrong; it is an expression of the heart.
Man is the great debtor to God, against whom every sin is a great offence. God is the great forgiver through Christ, “in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).
To help us understand this subject, those who have gone before have labeled the different types of forgiveness under the headings of judicial, administrative, restorative and governmental, and brotherly. The first article outlines the different types, and then the others look at each type in more detail.
As we reflect on God’s forgiveness of us, the great debtors, may our hearts always bear a forgiving spirit to everyone. May we never lay our heads on our pillows at night with an unkind thought or an unforgiving spirit toward anyone. If we do, we shall fail of the grace of God, develop a spirit of bitterness and defile many.

Self-Judgment, Confession and Forgiveness

“When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.
“I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah” (Psa. 32:35).
Where can a guilty conscience find relief? The very effort at concealment only aggravates the burden. How many broken hearts there are, and how many heavy spirits, who dare not tell their sorrows to another! How many have found bitter disappointments in everything and in themselves also, and yet are ignorant of the real cause, because they are ignorant of their condition as lost. They do not know that God has looked upon their case and provided the remedy. They keep silence, although it only aggravates the raging fever within. In this they are realizing what the constitution of man is as a moral creature. He is insufficient for his own happiness, and other creatures too are insufficient to make him happy. Although he may not normally feel this attitude as sin, yet this is perhaps the deepest principle of sin, because it is, in fact, “[worshipping] and [serving] the creature more than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25).
No Relief Until ...
There is no relief until the soul can tell out its sorrow to God. Even if the hand of God is felt and acknowledged, God Himself is often regarded as inaccessible. The soul goes on bearing its own burden, the whole spirit is gone, and the individual utterly miserable. The hand of God may touch some idol or something in which the soul was seeking rest, but this intervention may itself produce fretfulness against God.
The first thing under all circumstances of misery is the acknowledgement of God. Then he finds that God meets him where he is, and with the message, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The gospel brings a message of forgiveness — eternal forgiveness, but also brings man to God to make him happy in God. Then the sinner finds that “blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psa. 32:1).
Silence and Misery
However, there are certain principles which apply with equal truth to man as a sinner and to one born of God. The verse quoted at the beginning of the article is one of these. If keeping silence brings misery to the sinner, how much more to the saint who knows God in grace, yet does not use the truth properly to deepen his knowledge of himself! Such a one has really forgotten his standing before God, and having guile in his spirit, is not being open with God. We need to come to the point where we say, practically as well as positionally, “O wretched man that I am!” (Rom. 7:24).
When God is really known as the One who imputes righteousness without works, any concealment of sin from Him must necessarily produce heaviness of spirit. We cannot come near Him because of the concealment, and then coldness comes in. How often in such a case do we lay the fault anywhere, even on God Himself, rather than on ourselves for keeping silence! When we have been restless in spirit, or downcast and unhappy, has it not often arisen from mortified pride? Our self-esteem has been lowered on discovering some unsuspected sin, as if our blessedness consisted in our character, instead of having our righteousness imputed without works. God will not allow us to have confidence in our character or in our faithfulness to Him, but in His own revealed character and His faithfulness to us. This tendency in the believer to self-righteousness accounts in a great measure for the misery found in Christians. When they entertain it even in a subtle form, they have departed from the real and only ground of their blessedness. If sin is unconfessed, made light of in confession, or only generally and not specifically confessed, it brings on misery.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
What relief — immediate relief — accompanies confession! Silence is broken by confession, and no longer is any effort made to conceal the sin! We are brought into God’s presence and have to do with God. God is justified by confession and the sin brought out in its deepest character in His presence. But then we realize that His love has already provided the remedy, and the sin for the believer is forgiven because of Christ’s work on the cross. The believer experiences restorative forgiveness and once again has happy fellowship with God.
Much of the trial of spirit experienced by saints arises from their not exercising themselves in self-judgment. The right understanding of the truth of righteousness without works puts me in the place of self-judgment — a high and wonderful place. We are in the light, and the light detects what is inconsistent with that place. What a privilege to be able to judge it in that light! However, a saint may become too solicitous about his own character in the eyes of his fellow-saints or even of the world, and thus he unconsciously may be led to act a part instead of getting his life strengthened from the spring and source of life. Our character becomes our object instead of Christ. But let the exercise of soul in self-judgment be ever so humbling, yet it leads to Christ, and we really are strengthened. If saints only knew what a toilsome process self-vindication is! If they were to justify God instead of justifying themselves, what sorrow they would avoid!
In 1 Corinthians 11:31 we read, “If we would judge [discern] ourselves, we should not be judged.” I think we see the design of Paul in using the word “discern,” not simply “judge.” Self-discernment, getting a positive insight into the real moving springs of the activity of the flesh, cannot be done unless we know the blessed truth that God has judged the flesh at the cross. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we discern ourselves, and this in the immediate presence of God. The new evil, which we discern in ourselves, God has already seen from the beginning and now allows us to see that we may justify Him in His total condemnation of it.
It is indeed a blessed encouragement to the soul to be assured that there is nothing we may not tell God. He has done everything to win our confidence! It is because of the connection between confession and forgiveness that we may come to God, even in the knowledge of some freshly discovered sin. Let us remember that, for the believer, there is no hindrance to our fellowship with God except ourselves. Let us not keep silence when we sin, but come to Him in confession, and enjoy forgiveness, fellowship and happiness once more!
Adapted from “Righteousness Without Works,”
The Present Testimony, Vol. 1

Administrative Forgiveness

Scripture regards the assembly as administering forgiveness in this world towards those that are without, and this forgiveness is administered on the reception of persons into the professing church. This character of forgiveness is connected with baptism. Paul was told to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins. Peter, to whom the keys of the kingdom of heaven were entrusted and the authority of binding and loosing on earth was given, admitted Jews to the kingdom in Acts 2 and Gentiles in Acts 10. The authority given to the disciples in John 20:23 appears likewise to be connected with their mission and ministry in the world. “As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you” (John 20:21).
The binding and loosing in Matthew 18:18 stands more in connection with church discipline, but a distinction must be made between the assembly or the disciples administering forgiveness towards those without, on their reception into the house, and the discipline of the house of God, under the authority of Christ, for the maintenance of holiness among those that are within.
Christians in the house have already received administrative forgiveness and stand in a place of responsibility, where all the privileges of the dispensation are to be found and enjoyed. Now what do we learn from the epistles to the Corinthians as to discipline, or the responsibility of the assembly in relation to sins committed by those within? In 1 Corinthians 5:1213, the Apostle states, “Do ye not judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth.” Unjudged evil in the assembly constituted the leaven with which the Corinthians were keeping the feast, and the course of the assembly in relation to this is clearly laid down: “Purge out  .  .  .  the old leaven”; “put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” The saints were identified with the sin and should have mourned and humbled themselves about it, which they did subsequently (see 2 Cor. 7:711). But God’s house was no place for such sin. “With such a one no not to eat” marks the social separation, as putting out from among those “within” marks the ecclesiastical separation to be made between the saints and the evildoer. Now it is perfectly clear that if the assembly had bound sin, or put away and judged an evildoer, on his repentance the assembly should have rejoiced to restore, to comfort and to forgive. Hence in 2 Corinthians 2 the Apostle instructs the Corinthians to act in grace, to comfort and forgive, on the ground of the sufficiency of the punishment which had been inflicted.
Scripture abounds with exhortations to saints to deal with each other in faithfulness and love. We are to wash one another’s feet; to love one another with a pure heart fervently; to be kindly affectioned one to another in brotherly love, in honor preferring one another; to exhort one another daily; to comfort one another; to be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another; to warn the unruly, to comfort the feeble-minded, to support the weak, and to be patient toward all; to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. All this comes under the head of individual activity in the power of the grace of God. If there were only an increase of these holy and healthy activities of love in private life, there would be far less public sorrow or need for bringing cases before the assembly.
Adapted from The Christian Friend, 1882

Forgiveness Is…

In general, forgiveness is the release of one in fault from the judgment of one in authority—who has title to release him, and this includes all wrong — and takes place in the mind of him who has authority, who ceases to hold him in the aspect of judgment.
J. N. Darby, from Notes and Comments, Vol. 1

Forgiveness of Persons and of Sins

Forgiveness implies the release from the penal liability to which the judgment of the mind of the forgiver rightly holds it. It may be applied to the person or the faults. God was satisfied, and so forgave; the sin was removed from God’s sight, and so forgiven.
J. N. Darby, from Notes and Comments, Vol. 1

Brotherly Forgiveness

Ten Thousand-Talent Debtors
The ten thousand-talent debtor in Matthew 18 instructs us in the way we are forgiven and received into the kingdom of heaven. All of us have been forgiven more than we could ever, in our responsibility, repay. For this reason, it is our place always to forgive in our hearts those that offend us.
The question of Peter, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” prompted a response of the Lord in the form of a parable. The parable teaches us why we should forgive and how often. “Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Seven is the number of perfection, and seventy (ten times seven) is perfection in responsibility. The real meaning of the Lord’s answer is not just until 490 times, but the perfect number of times, which is always.
“Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants” (vs. 23). The parable is a general description of all who are in the kingdom of heaven; it was not just an answer for Peter and the disciples.
A Parable of Wide Application
The parable has a wide application. All who profess to know the King in heaven are a part of the kingdom of heaven. Everyone who enters the kingdom of heaven is received there on the basis of being forgiven. All those in the kingdom of heaven are like the debtor who was forgiven. None enter on the basis of merit. Reception into the kingdom includes those who are real believers and those who are mere professors. Both are in the place of having received governmental forgiveness. Those that are true believers and have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them also have eternal forgiveness. But here He is speaking of the forgiveness which all receive from the King in heaven. They are all like the debtor that owed ten thousand talents.
“And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents” (vs. 24). One person serves as an example of all, because “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We are all reduced to the same level. And God offers forgiveness to all through the Lord Jesus, who died for all.
When the king demanded the payment, “the servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all” (vs. 26). The consequences of not paying the debt and his inability to repay such a great debt forced the debtor to beg for time. This was at least an acknowledgment of what he owed. The king forgave the debtor because he was “moved with compassion,” not because the debtor could repay the debt. This made him debtor to the mercy and forgiveness of the king instead of the ten thousand talents. He still owed very much to the king. The realization of this teaches us why we should forgive. Although Peter found it hard to consider forgiving many offenses, this would make him conscious of how much God had forgiven him and of his obligation to forgive others for God’s sake.
An Unforgiving Attitude
The seriousness of holding an unforgiving attitude towards others is brought out in the following verses, where the servant would not forgive his fellow-servant a much smaller debt. The same words pleading for mercy were now addressed to him: “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all” (vs. 29), yet he would not forgive. He “cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.” Such an attitude was unbecoming even though the one hundred pence was rightly owed. It misappropriated the forgiveness he had received from the king and thus misrepresented him to his fellow-servant.
“So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?” (vss. 3133). The Lord desires that those in His kingdom show the same compassion and forgiveness to others that they have received from Him. If we do not forgive, we are counterproductive to the character and purpose of His will.
The Remedy for an Unforgiving Spirit
The following verse describes the remedy for those who are unforgiving toward their fellow-servants. “And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him” (vs. 34). This is the governmental dealing of God, allowing “tormentors” to discipline those who are not forgiving to others. This can be done in many different ways, such as sickness, loss of property, loss of work or even being taken away in death. It is not a question of whether they are true believers or not. The sovereign King controls all things and can bring about chastening to cause His servants to cease to misuse His compassion and forgiveness.
The Lord Jesus terminates the parable with the admonition, “So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (vs. 35). This word is directed to our heart. While it is true that it is inappropriate to show forgiveness until a wrong is confessed, yet this verse speaks of the forgiveness from the heart regardless of the attitude of the offender. When the time comes that the offender recognizes his wrong, then forgiveness can be extended publicly. We are to forgive from the heart, as expressed in Ephesians 4:32, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
D.C. Buchanan

Governmental Forgiveness

All forgiveness is founded on the blessed work of the Lord Jesus. But it is important to distinguish between the pardon which clears us once and forever from all our sins before God, by which we are justified and have peace with God, and the pardon which we may receive on the way as under God’s government, supposing we are pardoned and saved.
I have a perfect and eternal forgiveness and redemption according to the glory of God. “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). “By His own blood, He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). There is, then, for faith, a present but eternal forgiveness, founded on Christ’s bearing our sins in a work which can never be repeated, its value never diminished, nor anything added to it. God has proved His value of its worth in setting Him who did it at His right hand in glory, where He was with Him as Son of God before the world was.
But there is a government of God in this world over those who are thus redeemed, and ever has been. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” And when God exercises this discipline, which is always for our good in love, when a soul is truly humbled, He in His wisdom often takes it away, forgiving, as to His present government and ways, the sin which made it necessary. Not that all such visitations are because of sins. The world is in a state of misery through sin, and all are liable to be subject to this servitude of corruption. This the Lord states in John 9:3.
Nor even, when they are sent of God in reference to the state of the soul, are they always because of sins committed; they may be to prevent them, break the will, or humble us as to our state. Thus Paul had a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be puffed up through the abundance of revelations. Thrice he asked the Lord to take it away, but the Lord had sent it for his good, so He would not.
This government of God, and pardon as to the present inflictions of His hand, we find both in the Old Testament and in the New.
Old Testament Examples
Thus, when God had pronounced a terrible judgment on Ahab for his wickedness, Ahab humbled himself, and God said to Elijah, who had carried the message to him, “Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before Me? I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house.” This had nothing to do with the saving of his soul; indeed, as far as this history informs us, he died in his sins. But he was forgiven as to that particular judgment on the earth.
So with David: When he had acted very wickedly in a particular case, though in the main he was one beloved of God and glorifying Him in his walk, Nathan the prophet declares to him, “Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised Me.” Yet in his general walk he was a man after God’s own heart. Very many such instances could be adduced from the Old Testament. There was pardon of the sin as to present chastisement. David was spared and not cut off, but the child of this sin was taken from him.
It is just what is taught us in the Book of Job, where Elihu interprets God’s ways in chapter 33:1730, and in chapter 36:7 he speaks expressly of a righteous man, saying, “He withdraweth not His eyes from the righteous,” but He chastens them for their sins, and he warns Job not to fight against God. If he had bowed in heart, he would have been delivered from his affliction (vs. 16), and he is warned, as God was thus dealing with him, to take care he was not cut off from the earth (vs. 12).
New Testament Examples
In the New Testament we have the same chastisement and forgiveness as a present dealing of God with man on the earth for their good. See 1 Corinthians 11:3032. They took the Lord’s supper as if it were a common meal, and the poor had not enough to eat, and the rich indulged in gluttony and wine, and many were sick in consequence and even “slept,” that is, died. But all this was present chastening in this world, for the Apostle says, “When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”
So we read in 1 John 5:16. And this makes us understand what mortal sin so-called is. It is a sin that brings the death of the body as a chastisement and is such that Christians cannot pray that the life of their brother may be spared, whereas in other cases they could, and their prayers were heard, and the man’s life was spared who had sinned: He was pardoned in this sense. Thus Peter’s indignation arose against Ananias and Sapphira, not his compassion, and they died, through their sin, as a present judgment.
So in James 5:1416, “The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” The man recovered from his sickness, being pardoned as a present thing, as to God’s government in dealing with him in this world.
We must not confound this pardon, which refers to God’s dealing with us here, and the chastisements His love may inflict upon us or deliver us from if we humble ourselves, and the eternal pardon of our souls which belongs to us through the redemption that the blood of Christ has wrought for us, the value of which nothing can alter or take away. We can easily understand that, if God chastens a man for his good when he is His child, He can take off the chastisement and, in this sense, pardon the particular fault if a man humbles himself, without the salvation of his soul being in question.
J. N. Darby, extracted from
Collected Writings, Vol. 31:357365

Forgiveness: Rightly Dividing Truth

We have seen that there are different ways in which forgiveness is presented to us in the Word of God. As with every subject taken up in Scripture, it is most important that we rightly divide the Word of truth — that is, that we understand the scope of Scripture as God presents it to us. Recently it has come to our attention that some, no doubt with the best of intentions, are perverting Scripture on the subject of forgiveness.
Truth Wrongly Divided
It is being taught that since 1 John 1:9 is the only verse in the New Testament that directly mentions confession of sin, it must apply to an unbeliever and not to a believer. It is asserted that there is no such thing as a break in fellowship between the believer and God when the believer sins. The question is asked, “Where, pray tell me, is there a Scripture that declares we can be in and out of fellowship with our great God, depending on our faulty walk?” Then it is said that since the believer has once been cleansed by the blood of Christ and has been called “unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9), he can never lose that fellowship again. It is claimed that such teaching brings believers out of bondage into true liberty.
This perversion of the truth results from failing to see the difference between judicial and restorative forgiveness. To mix the two is not rightly dividing the Word of truth and eventually will bring the believer back into the very bondage out of which he is supposedly being led. It is truly wonderful to realize that the believer, once cleansed from his sins by the blood of Christ, can never be lost again. He is just as fit for heaven as he will ever be, for he is indeed seen as “in Christ.” However, God loves us too much to be satisfied simply with making us fit for heaven and then leaving us to continue in sin in our lives. He wants us to enjoy His company and fellowship, and God cannot have fellowship with sin. Surely He does remind us (through the writings of Paul and others) of our high calling, for all the exhortations of Scripture are based on what we already possess. But then He makes provision for us if we fail, in order that we may be restored to happy fellowship with Him. Thus it is not true to say that a believer cannot be in and out of fellowship with God, for this is exactly what happens when we sin. This false teaching claims, “If John [in his first epistle] was addressing born again believers, they too would be ‘called [by God] unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord’ (1 Cor. 1:9).” Then it is asserted that 1 John 1:9 must apply to an unbeliever who needs to confess his sins in order to be saved. However, in 1 John 1:7, John states, “If [or since] we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Thus it is evident that believers are in view, for what the light reveals, the blood cleanses. Those addressed are indeed looked upon as having fellowship, not only with one another, but also “with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (vs. 3).
Confession and Fellowship
The truth of the loss of fellowship with God through sin, and subsequent restoration, does not depend on the presence or absence of the word “confession” in the Word of God. Rather, 1 John 1:9 summarizes a truth that is not only in Paul’s writings, but is found throughout the whole of Scripture. Space does not permit us to go into a detailed examination of the various occasions of this, but we see it in the Old Testament particularly in the case of David. When he sinned with Bathsheba, he clearly confesses his sin to God. In Psalm 51:34, he says, “I acknowledge my sin unto Thee.  .  .  .  Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight.” Then his request is, “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation” (Psa. 51:12). His salvation was secure, for he had already been judicially pardoned, but he had lost the joy of it through his sin. When the sin was confessed, he experienced restorative forgiveness and again enjoyed happy fellowship with God.
In the New Testament, we see a similar situation in the assembly in Corinth. There they had a man —a brother — who had fallen into serious moral sin. It was serious enough that Paul had to tell them to put him away from among themselves — away from the Lord’s table and away from Christian fellowship. They were not even to keep company or eat with him. Can one pretend — as the false teaching implies—that this man was still enjoying the Lord’s fellowship while he was denied that of his fellow-believers? No, he was in a bad state of soul, and Paul calls him a “wicked person” (1 Cor. 5:13). Only when he had really judged that serious sin in the Lord’s presence did Paul tell the Corinthians to “forgive him, and comfort him” (2 Cor. 2:7). God could act in restorative forgiveness and restore him to happy fellowship, while the assembly was encouraged to act in administrative forgiveness and restore him to happy fellowship with them.
Paul further states in 1 Cor. 11:31, “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” This means simply that if we would confess and turn away from the smaller sins in our lives, we would not fall into bigger sins for which the Lord must chasten us. Thus it is not correct to say that Paul and other New Testament writers do not speak of confession of sin, for the word “judge” used here has the same force. We cannot walk with God without self-judgment constantly in our lives.
Followed to its logical conclusion, this false system will lead the believer into bondage, not out of it. Sin on the conscience either brings misery (because of lost fellowship with God) or leads to a seared conscience (1 Tim. 4:2) that is not sensitive to sin as it should be. In both cases fellowship with God is lost, and regrettably many dear believers are living in such a state.
May we be given the grace to see, on the one hand, the fullness of the finished work of Christ, but, on the other hand, the need to engage in self-judgment constantly in order to walk in happy fellowship with God!
W. J. Prost

No Forgiveness Until…

Until there is confession of sin, and not merely of a sin, there is no forgiveness. When our hearts are brought to recognize God’s hand, it is not merely, then, a question of what particular sin or of what particular iniquity may need forgiveness; God has brought down the soul, through the working of His Spirit on it, to detect the principle of sin, and so there is confession of that, and not merely of a particular sin. There is then positive restoration of soul.
J.N. Darby, from The Bible Treasury, Vol.N7

Forgiveness of Sins

Forgiveness of sins is brought before us in different ways in Scripture, for there are different kinds of forgiveness of sins. We may divide them into at least four, perhaps five, categories. The first we may call judicial forgiveness; the next, administrative forgiveness; then restorative and governmental forgiveness, which are linked together. Finally, we have brotherly forgiveness. All have their distinct place in Scripture, but sometimes they are sadly mixed up in the minds of God’s people.
Judicial Forgiveness
Judicial forgiveness is that eternal, absolute and complete forgiveness that we have once and forever when we receive Christ as our Saviour. For example, we read in Ephesians 1:7, “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” When we receive judicial forgiveness from the hand of God, we never have to meet God again about the question of our sins. When that absolute forgiveness is ours, we cease to be sinners in His sight. We are children of God, and nothing can change this. The ground of our forgiveness is the blood of Christ, and the measure of that forgiveness is the riches of His grace. How blessed that this is our eternal standing before God! For the believer, God has judged sins once according to His own estimate in the person of His Son, and on that ground He preaches forgiveness. “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 13:38).
Administrative Forgiveness
Now let us consider a few scriptures that bring before us administrative forgiveness — a forgiveness that is placed in the hands of man. God in His wisdom has not committed into man’s hands anything that is vital. He knows him too well for that. In administrative forgiveness there is nothing vital.
However, we see clearly that God has committed this type of forgiveness into the hands of man on the basis of John 20:23: “Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” The Jews, who stood guilty of crucifying the Lord Jesus, were admitted in this way into the kingdom in Acts 2:3841. They had to repent and be baptized to save themselves from that “untoward generation” which put the Christ to death.
In like manner Ananias told Saul of Tarsus, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins” (Acts 22:16). Saul was identified with those who had crucified the Lord Jesus and who were persecuting believers. Now that he had repented and received judicial forgiveness, he needed to be outwardly identified with those who loved the Lord Jesus. This was administrative forgiveness — administered through baptism by Ananias.
In 2 Corinthians 2, there is a company of people that have forgiveness of sins in their hands. The assembly there had had to bind the sin of one upon him. He was a saved man — judicially forgiven —but he had fallen into sin, and they had bound that sin upon him. After there was real repentance in that man, Paul beseeches them to exercise this forgiveness. “If any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (2 Cor. 2:57).
Again, there is nothing vital in this. There will be those in hell who have been baptized and who also have partaken of the Lord’s supper, while there will be those in heaven who have never been baptized nor taken the Lord’s supper. We will be in heaven only on the basis of God’s judicial forgiveness.
Restorative and Governmental Forgiveness
Now let us consider restorative and governmental forgiveness. Both of these are in the hands of God, not man, and are connected, although not exactly the same. Restorative forgiveness is the restoration to fellowship with God when we confess a particular sin into which we have fallen. This is based on 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The believer can never lose his eternal salvation, but he can lose his joy and communion with God through sin. How thankful we are that God has made provision for our restoration, through repentance and confession.
Governmental forgiveness comes in when we have fallen under the governmental hand of God in our lives on earth. As God’s children and as being in the house of God, we come under His government if we sin. We read in James 5:1415, “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” In these verses we have governmental forgiveness. The one in question has fallen under God’s government, perhaps because of sin. It may be illness or perhaps other adverse circumstances allowed in one’s life. In this example, God’s government on the man through sickness was removed.
Sometimes God uses others who have not sinned in that way to act in intercession, and so we read, “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death” (1 John 5:16). Another prayed for the sinning one, just as elders came and prayed for the one who was sick.
In the so-called “Lord’s prayer” it says, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). It is not judicial forgiveness here, but rather governmental forgiveness based on our forgiveness of others.
Brotherly Forgiveness
Finally, we come to brotherly forgiveness, and this is illustrated in the following verses:
“When ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). “Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” (Matt. 18:21).
We are to have a forgiving spirit towards one another, for if we harbor an unforgiving spirit, we lose the sense of the Father’s forgiveness in the soul. Even if we have a forgiving spirit, we cannot really extend that forgiveness to another until there is repentance and confession. However, if there is true repentance and confession, we are to forgive one another. If we hold on to an unforgiving spirit, God cannot governmentally forgive us, and we are the ones “delivered ... to the tormentors” (Matt. 18:34) until we exercise forgiveness.
What a lack there is of brotherly forgiveness! We should cultivate that attitude of “forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). May we enjoy God’s forgiveness in our own hearts and be ready to act in the same way toward others!
W.Potter, adapted from
Gathering Up the Fragments