Governmental Forgiveness

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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. 1:77In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; (Ephesians 1:7)). “By His own blood, He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:1212Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (Hebrews 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 9:33Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. (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 5:1616And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day. (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