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solicit his attention, while any doubt exists in his mind respecting the willingness of the Most High to forgive.
But how is satisfactory information in reference to this subject to be obtained ? The hopes which reason suggests rest on too slender a foundation to pacify the anxious mind. We know that benevolence is an essential element in the divine character, and that this benevolence has been manifested, not only in the provision made for the happiness of creatures, but also in the exercise of patience and forbearance toward the guilty : and we are prone to infer from these facts, that God will not visit the transgressions of his law with punishment in a future state, or at least, that repentance and reformation will furnish a complete security from it. The conclusion, however, is unwarranted. is one thing to form a creature for the enjoyment of happiness, and another, to restore happiness to those who have forfeited it by their offences. It is one thing to forbear the infliction of deserved wrath for a time, and another, to withhold it for ever. And he who argues from the first of these things to the second, builds a superstructure with out a foundation. A careful review of the procedure of God presents much to induce a persuasion that he will punish iniquity, and render a reward to the evil-doer, and that the course of his justice cannot be turned aside merely by penitence and amendment. We might appeal to the suffering and wretchedness which so universally prevail throughout the earth, and to the fearful judgments with which it has frequently been visited; but it will be sufficient to bear in mind that the vices of individuals are always followed by consequences more or less detrimental to their present happiness, and that the sorrow which they may feel, and the resolutions of abstinence from their former iniquities which they really make, do not avail to remove these consequences. Intemperance and voluptuousness have a tendency to induce bodily disease and mental imbecility, as well as poverty and its attendant miseries ; and he who has indulged in them does not find himself instantly restored to the full enjoyment of the blessings he has lost on repenting of his past misconduct, and determining on future amendment. Now these facts in the divine administration prove that the benevolence of God, infinite as it is, does not necessarily forbid the infliction of punishment on the guilty; and indicate, not obscurely, that the patience and long-suffering which he displays toward them in this world, proceed upon the principle of full retribution in a future state. Human reason is thus insufficient to ascertain God's willingness to forgive. The information, however, which reason cannot give, is fur
nished in the sacred Scriptures. They assure us that God is both able and willing to forgive, nay, that he actually has forgiven an innumerable multitude of guilty men ; and this assurance is given us on authority which precludes dispute and doubt,-on the testimony of God himself. Nothing but his own promise and declaration could furnish a basis for faith and hope in reference to this subject; and these he has been graciously pleased to afford. While he declares that he will not clear the (impenitent) guilty, he proclaims his name to be “the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, and forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin.” While he reproves the children of men for their offences, he addresses to them the gracious invitation, “Come now, and let us reason together ; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” And while he complains that they “have made him to serve with their sịns, and have wearied him with their iniquities,” he adds the delightful promise, “ I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” But not only has he declared his willingness to forgive, he has actually conferred forgiveness. Heaven is not the residence exclusively of creatures who kept their first estate, nor is the fulness of joy which is at God's right hand possessed by these alone. While the innumerable hosts of the holy angels stand around his throne as the monuments of his goodness and benevolence, a vast company of the human family appear as trophies of his mercy and grace; and while the foriner celebrate the kindness which has preserved them from sin and misery, the latter exhibit the triumphs of that compassion which has forgiven thein all their iniquities.
Although, therefore, a conviction of guilt and demerit must constrain us to cry with the Psalmist, “ If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquity, O Lord, who shall stand ?”—the revelation of divine mercy contained in scripture encourages us to add, “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” There is forgiveness with God! The statement is so familiar to our minds, that we listen to it without emotion. But oh! who can describe the mingled feelings of admiration, and gratitude, and joy, which the first perception of this truth excites in the bosom of the awakened and desponding sinner. The emotions that kindle in the heart of the traveller who has been wandering encompassed with perils during a long and dreary night, when the first ray of morning breaks on his gaze,-or of the mariner, who, wrecked on a desolate coast, has looked in vain for many a tedious day on the wide expanse of water around him, when the welcome sight of the distant but approaching ship bursts upon his view, are weak compared with those which fill the breast of the convinced sinner, who was awaiting, in utter helplessness, the day of God's terrible retribution, and looking forward to an eterna, residence in that place where sin and despair, and the second death, have an undisturbed dominion, when the declaration, that there is forgiveness with God, is brought home with a full conviction of its truth to his mind. Unable to express the relief which it furnishes, and the thankfulness which it produces, he can only exclaim,“ Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage ? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.”
It has already been stated, that the divine benevolence does not necessarily forbid the infliction of punishment on the guilty, or necessarily require the extension of forgiveness to them: and it must now be further noticed, that forgiveness cannot be exercised in the way of dispensing with the claims of justice. God is willing to bestow pardon, but He cannot grant it as a mere act of mercy; He is “ ready to forgive," but He will not forgive except on right principle, and without a reason satisfactory to his moral government. Before the sentence which protects the guilty from retribution can be pronounced by the Judge of all, something must be done to manifest His faithfulness, and justice, and abhorrence of sin,—to prove the inviolability of His law, and to demonstrate the firmness and equity of His administration. To release the criminal from the consequences of his crimes, simply on the ground of compassion, would be to falsify the repeated and solemn declarations with which His law has been sanctioned, to exhibit sin and holiness, transgression and obedience, as alike acceptable to Him—to render nugatory every motive to compliance with His will, and to expose not only His law and government, but His character as the ruler of the world, to derision and contempt. In asserting, therefore, that the idea of blind and indiscriminate forgiveness must be excluded from our estimate of His procedure, we do not represent Him as a tyrant, who delights in the misery of his subjects, or takes pleasure in the infliction of punishment; but as a wise and righteous Judge, who, if he does exempt the guilty from final retribution, must confer this exemption in some way that will leave no stain either upon the principles or upon the administration of his government.
The necessity of some kind of satisfaction to justice. as a pre-requisite to the exercise of mercy, has been felt by all nations. We see evidence of this in the numerous and varied devices to which the heathen had recourse for the purpose of propitiating their deities. The inefficiency of all these devices, of the costly oblations presented in their temples, and the blood shed upon their altars, demands no proof. We can at once return an answer in the negative to the inquiries, “ Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil ? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of
soul ?" But all that we can do or suffer is as inadequate to satisfy the claims of justice as the gifts and sacrifices of the heathen. Our good works can never transcend that amount of obedience which is constantly due to God, so as to compensate for former deficiencies; and our sufferings, though lengthened out for years, and numerous as the drops of water in the ocean, or the particles of sand on its shore, could never exhaust the penalty we have incurred. If we believe the doctrine of Scripture respecting man's fallen condition, we must be convinced that our very character as sinners prevents us from performing duties in such a manner, and from enduring punishment in such a spirit, as would be necessary to render them acceptable to Him who is just and holy; and that the enmity to God which characterizes all the actings of the unrenewed, renders them incompetent either to magnify His law by obedience, or to glorify Him in the fires. Far, therefore, from being able to satisfy His justice for the guilt with which we are chargeable, we are daily adding to the number of those sins which need forgiveness. The holy Scripture, accordingly, represents pardon as bestowed neither simply on the ground of compassion, nor because of any thing done by those who are the recipients of it,—but for Christ's sake.
Men often confer benefits on those whom they deem unworthy, at the request of one whom they esteem and love, and are desirous to oblige; and these benefits may be said to be granted “ for his sake." This, however, is not all that is implied in the declaration, that God for Christ's sake forgives the sinner. It is not simply because Jesus intercedes on their behalf that pardon is extended to them, but because His intercession is founded on that work by which He glorified God on the earth;—it is not simply from respect to His present excellence that they are pardoned, but from a regard to what He did and suffered as their substitute. It is for the sake of the ransom which He paid, of the perfect and accepted atonement which He made, that they receive the inestimable blessing of forgiveness.
66 We have redemption, even the forgiveness of sins, through His blood.” He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross ; and in His obedience we behold the penalty by which the law is enforced ; not merely threatened, but actually executed; and not partially carried into effect, but inflicted to its utmost extent, and completely exhausted. As the immaculate purity of His human nature, His absolute freedom from personal guilt, qualified Him to officiate as the substitute of others; so the union of His divine nature with humanity, while it did not render Him less susceptible of personal suffering, sustained Him in enduring all that it was necessary He should bear, in order to render the sinner's free pardon consistent with the honour of God, as that honour was concerned in the maintenance and exercise of his holiness, truth, and regard to his law; imparting, at the same time, to His obedience and sufferings an incalculable value, which rendered them sufficient to atone for the sin of the whole world. By His actings in the room of the guilty, the truth and righteousness of the Most High, the abhorrence with which he regards iniquity, the inviolability of his law, and his inflexible adherence to moral order, have been more strikingly attested than they could have been by even the endless punishment of transgressors. In pardoning sinners, therefore, on this ground, no stain is left, either on the character or on the administration of God. “ We are justified freely by the grace of God, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past; to declare, I say, at this time, his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.”
Many have supposed that the atonement of Christ was intended merely to compensate for the deficiencies of their personal obedience, and to induce God to accept of what they offer, though not all that justice might have demanded; that its only object was to obtain a relaxation of the terms on which life was offered to man in the covenant of works; and that its only effect is to give weight to their sorrows, or to render their repentance and good works efficacious. But these views are inconsistent with the statement of Scripture, which affirms that we are forgiven for Christ's sake; and who does not see that if His obedience to the death has only procured an abatement of the claims of justice in our favour, it is not forgiveness itself, but only an opportunity of meriting it that is granted for His sake? There is no mention of our penitence or obedience as the ground of pardon ; and that these must be excluded, as derogatory from the perfection of the Saviour's work, is proved from the Scriptures, which speak of pardon as wholly gratuitous and free,