Simple Christian Truths: Forgiveness of Sins

 •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The first anxiety of the awakened soul-a soul convicted of guilt before God-is to know the way of forgiveness. Every other consideration is subordinated to the pressing and all-absorbing question of its relationships with God, of the method of obtaining pardon and peace. Coming to the Scriptures, and listening to its teachings, there is really but little, if any, difficulty; but unhappily at such a time the eye is so often directed within, in the vain hope of discovering there some ground of approach to God, that the soul becomes self-occupied, and consequently the prey of every passing emotion; and Satan, who is no uninterested spectator of the conflict, watches for and seizes his opportunity of entangling such a soul in hopeless perplexity. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the clear and simple teaching of Scripture should be presented to any in this state of mind, as nothing else will defeat the subtleties of the evil one, or guide the feet of the anxious to the immutable and immovable rock, and put into their lips the song of salvation. What then-for this is the question proposed for our consideration-has the word of God to say on the subject of forgiveness of sins?*
(* We purpose in this paper to confine ourselves to the relationships of the soul with God, and to the way in which forgiveness is to be had with Him. The announcement of this forgiveness by the apostles and others-as, for example, in Acts 2:38,3938Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. (Acts 2:38‑39); Acts 22:1616And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (Acts 22:16), &c. (see also John 20:22,2322And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (John 20:22‑23))-sometimes termed administrative forgiveness (that is, forgiveness authoritatively announced or administered by others), is another and distinct branch of the subject, and would only confuse the reader if introduced here; besides the fact that it is in no wise necessary to be understood by the inquiring soul)
The most simple and concise statement on the subject is found perhaps in one of the addresses of the apostle Paul. Speaking in the synagogue at Antioch, he says, " Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." (Acts 13:3838Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: (Acts 13:38)) There is another quite as simple, though it takes its form from the audience he, was addressing, by the apostle Peter: "Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." (Acts 5:3131Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:31)) Now, taking the first of these scriptures, and examining the context, it will be readily perceived that "this Man" is Christ. The apostle had been showing that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, and proving that His resurrection had been foretold by David. The death and resurrection of Christ had been his theme; and, as soon as he had proclaimed a risen Christ, he turned to them and said, " Through this Man the risen Christ] is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." Bearing this in mind, the reader will easily apprehend the truth on the subject, if he will but carefully, and looking up for guidance, follow what is written.
First, then, forgiveness of sins is founded upon the death of Christ, upon His finished work, That is, changing the form of the expression, the foundation on which God is able, righteously able-able in consistency with all that He is- freely and fully to forgive the sinner, is the work of atonement, which was accomplished on Calvary. In the Old Testament it was taught in every possible way-by type and figure, by constant sacrifices ever repeated- that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission. (Heb. 9:2222And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. (Hebrews 9:22)) The reason was that sin had entered the world, and death by sin; and so death had passed upon all men, for that all had sinned. (Rom. 5:1212Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Romans 5:12)) The life of every sinner was, and is, therefore forfeited to God; and hence it is written, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." (Heb. 9:2727And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: (Hebrews 9:27)) Mark well these two things-death, and afterward judgment, for the sins committed during life. Such is the awful prospect before every unsaved soul. Both these things were shadowed out in the olden sacrifices. It will amazingly help the reader if he will give his earnest attention to this. Look then for a moment at what was done when a Jew brought a sacrifice for sin. First, he laid his hand upon the head of the animal about to be slain, which signified the transfer of his sin to the animal; so that the animal from that moment stood before God charged with the offerer's sin, in the place and stead of the sinner. Observe what followed. The animal was slain-death, the penalty of sin, was brought in upon it- and the blood was sprinkled (for the life is in the blood) in the appointed place before God, in token of life rendered up in answer to His claims: afterward, passing over details, the carcass was totally consumed by fire. And what did this signify, dear reader? It told of the judgment after death; of that lake of fire in which all the unsaved, alas I will find their portion throughout eternity.
If my reader has understood so far he may now accompany us to the cross of Christ; for we shall discover there that the sacrifices of which we have spoken were but outlines of the character of the death of Christ as the great sacrifice-the sacrifice for sin of God's own providing, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:2929The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)) It should, however, be observed, first, that He alone could be this sacrifice, that He alone possessed the necessary qualifications, whether to meet the claims of God or the needs of sinners. He only amongst men was "without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:1919But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: (1 Peter 1:19); Heb. 9:1414How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14)); and He only, being what He was, both God and man, could stand for men, stand in the breach which sin had made between God and man, and offer a sacrifice of such infinite value as could avail for the whole world. God alone knew what was requisite for His glory in making atonement for sin, and hence it was, acting from the love and pity of His own heart, that He gave His only begotten Son. Wondrous grace! adorable love! We may now inquire what it was in the death of Christ that constituted the atonement. Reserving details for another occasion, we call the reader's attention to two points, the two essential points. As in the sacrifices in the old dispensation, so on the cross there was the yielding up of life (and this was testified to by the blood and water that flowed out of the Savior's side when pierced by the soldier's spear); only it must be carefully remembered that He yielded up His own life, "He gave up" (or delivered up) "His spirit" (John 19:30; 10:1730When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. (John 19:30)
17Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. (John 10:17)
); and there was the bearing the whole weight of the judgment due to our sins, bearing from Gods what His glory demanded as an atonement. In other words, He suffered death, and He passed through (in His case before death) what answered to the fire that consumed the carcass of the sin-offering; viz., the wrath of God against sin. But passing through the holy fire of judgment was a transaction between God and His own soul. (2 Cor. 5:2121For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21); Isa. 53:66All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6))-a transaction veiled from all mortal eyes by the darkness which descended on the cross and on the earth, and of which the only outward expression was that agonizing cry, " My God, my God, why hest thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:4646And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)) For it was then that God in His holiness was dealing with that holy Victim instead of sinners for whom He died, when all God's waves and all His billows rolled in upon and over the holy soul of Jesus. Thus, dear reader, our blessed Lord met both death and judgment, and wrought out that finished work in which God can rest in satisfaction (for indeed He was abundantly glorified in it), and on which too, blessed be His name, sinners can rest in unshaken confidence and security in the presence of God and the prospect of eternity.
There is another thing to be remarked. The reader may perceive that the apostle Paul took great pains to prove from the Scriptures, and from the testimony of eyewitnesses, that God had raised Christ from the dead. (Acts 13:30-3730But God raised him from the dead: 31And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. 32And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, 33God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. 34And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. 35Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. 36For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: 37But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. (Acts 13:30‑37)) And with reason; for the resurrection of Christ was the evidence of the completion of His work of atonement to the satisfaction of God; nay, it was God's own demonstration that He had been glorified in the death of His Son, and that the question of sin had been once and for all settled. For it was God Himself that stepped in- stepped in in the abounding joy of His own heart -and lifted out of the grave the One that died upon the cross; and, moreover, He set Him down at His own right hand in heaven, as the expression of His estimation of the' value of the work which had been finished on the cross. The resurrection of Christ fist is therefore of the highest value, It proclaims, on the one hand, what God's thought is of Christ, of the crucified One; and it assures the sinner, on the other, that Christ is the only Savior, that the burden which He bore on the cross has been left forever behind in His grave. Hence the apostle says, "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins" (1 Cor. 15: 17); for the clear proof that the sins of believers are gone is the fact that He who bore them on the cross is now seated in the glory of God.
Let us advance a step further. The reader will now apprehend, we trust, without difficulty (at least if he has understood the foregoing remarks) the meaning, of the apostle when he says, "Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." We may, however, examine it a little more closely. Two things are contained in the statement. First, that God proclaimed, and still proclaims, or announces, in, the gospel the forgiveness of sins, and that this forgiveness is declared through Christ. It means, in other words, that through the death and resurrection of Christ, He having satisfied all God's claims concerning sin on the cross, and vindicated His name and glory, God is now able, in consistency with all that He is-His holiness, His righteousness, His majesty, His truth, as well as His tenderness, mercy, and love -to satisfy His own heart, in freely- freely, without money and without price, without any demand whatsoever-offering the forgiveness of sins to any and all who come to Him in the name of His beloved Son. Forgiveness of sins is thus offered through Christ-offered gratuitously to sinners anywhere and everywhere throughout the wide world. This is God's message in the gospel, that forgiveness of sins is His free gift, on the ground of what Christ has done and is, to all who will have it.
The reader, however, may say, Is there no condition whatever annexed to such a gift? The words of Scripture are plain- "Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." This much will be noticed by all, that no one will be disposed to accept the gift unless he first believes that he needs forgiveness. The announcement is made to sinners; that lies on the surface. Does my reader therefore, if he should be one who knows nothing of this blessed gift, place himself before God amongst this class as a sinner? Does he acknowledge 'that he is verily one that needs forgiveness? If he can answer these questions in the affirmative, there remains but one other, and it is this, Does he believe God's testimony to the death and resurrection of Christ? Does he receive the truth that God preaches forgiveness by the mouth of His servants through the risen and glorified Savior? If he does there remains nothing more, nothing whatever; for as the apostle Peter also says, "To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins." This is God's own word, and on it we may rest both for time and eternity. Forgiveness of sins is thus freely presented to every poor sinner who comes to God as a sinner in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.
There remains but one point more, which concerns the character of the forgiveness. Does it relate only to the past or the present? What has Scripture to say on this subject? It teaches in plain and unmistakable language that the benefits resulting to the believer from the death of Christ are eternal, that his sins are removed forever from the sight of God. It says that by His own blood Christ has entered once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption; that, having offered one sacrifice for sins, He forever sat down on the right hand of God, in token that His sacrificial work was finished forever; that by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified; that the Holy, Ghost has borne this testimony—"Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." (Heb. 9: 10) If the 'reader ponders these statements, and asks himself what God intends them to convey, he must see that they have but one voice-that they unite to declare that when God forgives He forgives once and for all, on the ground of the eternal value and abiding efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ.
Does any one still object, But what of my sins since conversion? Let such a one consider for a moment that he had not been born when Christ died on the cross. How then could it be our past sins only that were there laid on Him? No, blessed be His name, He bore our sins, all our sins, made atonement for all, the sins of our whole lives; so that the forgiveness God bestows is an eternal forgiveness. It should be remembered, moreover, that if Christ had not endured the judgment due to all our sins, if one single sin had been excepted, He must have returned to the earth and died a second time before that sin could be forgiven. But the word says, " Where remission of sins is there is no more offering for sin." As enduring, therefore, as is the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ before God, so enduring is the forgiveness which God presents to the sinner who comes to Him through Him who was delivered, for our offenses, and raised again for our justification. Let the reader then rejoice, if he is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the assurance that God has forgiven his sins absolutely and forever, and that never more can a single sin be imputed to him as guilt; for he has been brought, in the mercy of God, under the everlasting value of the one offering of Christ.*
E. D.
(* We do not enter upon the question in this paper of God's pro. vision for the sins of believers after conversion. These are never imputed as guilt, as we have shown above; but when, through the advocacy of Christ (1 John 2) and the action of the Holy Spirit through the Word, they are brought home to the conscience and confessed, they are forgiven. (1 John 1:99If 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)) The sins of the sinner are cleansed by the blood of Christ; the sins of the believer are put away through the washing of water by the Word)