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The Fifth Petition in the Lord’s Prayer
‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’ Matt 6: 12.
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 capax beatitudinis, capable of communion with God in glory.
(2) It 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 be 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 hawk, 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. Omnia si perdas, animam servare memento [If you lose everything, remember to keep your soul]. If it be well with the soul, it shall be well with the body. If the soul be 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 chance; 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 lose 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 be not pardoned, we can take but little comfort in our food. As a man that is condemned takes little comfort from the meat you bring him in prison, without a pardon; so, though we have daily bread, yet it will do us no good unless sin be 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 be done 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. A speech of Luther, valde protestatussum me nolle sic satiari ab illo. I did solemnly protest that God should not put me off with outward things. Be not content with that which is common to the brute creatures, the dog or elephant, to have your hunger satisfied; but, besides daily bread, get pardon of sin. A drop of Christ’s blood, or a dram 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 debts,’ etc.
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. Matt 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 be not forgiven.
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 thee 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 crimen laesae majestatis [the crime of high treason], it enhances and aggravates the crime. Sin wrongs God, and so is an infinite offence. The schoolmen say, omne peccatum contra conscientiam est quasi deicidium, i.e., every known 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.’ Psa 40: 12. We may as well reckon all the drops in the sea, as reckon all our spiritual debts; we cannot tell 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.’ Prov 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 [thy sins] in order before thine eyes.’ Psa 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 thine 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 distrain on, 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. ‘Whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy right hand shall hold me.’ Psa 139: 7, 9, 10.
(3) 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 for ever.
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, every one shall give an account of himself to God.’ Rom 14: 12. But we play away the time, and do not love to hear of the day of judgement; we love not 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, redde rationem, 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; 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; so wicked men naturally hate God, because they think he is a just judge, and will call them to account. In the Greek they are called God haters. A debtor does not love to see his creditor.
Use 1. They are reproved who are loath 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 should think it strange, if writs or warrants were out against a man, or a judgement 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 men!
Use 2. If sin be a debt, let us be humbled. The name of debt, says Ambrose, is grave vocabulum, 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. Canis latrat et cor palpitat [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 till 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. Say that God would be righteous if he should distrain upon all we have. 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 thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.’ Psa 32: 5.
Let us not confess merely, but labour to get our spiritual debts paid, by Christ the Surety. Say, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and Christ shall pay thee 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, which is a court of chancery to relieve us. 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 us.
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?’ (Psa 4: 6) meaning a good lease, a good purchase; but the Saviour 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, sanctify, crown.
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 to take away iniquity. ‘Why dost thou not take away mine iniquity?’ Job 7: 21. Hebrew, lift off. It is a metaphor taken from a man that 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.’ Isa 53: 6.
(2) To forgive sin, is to cover it. ‘Thou hast covered all their sin.’ Psa 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 to blot it out. ‘I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions.’ Isa 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; 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 thy transgressions.’ Isa 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 judgement against us. ‘Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.’ Micah 7: 19. God will throw them in, not as cork that rises again, but as lead that 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 are ex surreptione [surreptitious], they 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. Rom 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. Rom 7: 7, Prov 24: 9. So that the least sin is mortal, and needs forgiveness.
(2) It is God only that forgives sin. To pardon sin is one of the jura regalia [royal prerogatives], the flowers of God’s crown. ‘Who can forgive sins but God only?’ 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 only 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 against God.
The Scripture speaks of a power committed to ministers to forgive sin: ‘Whose-soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them.’ John 20: 23.
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 that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake.’ Isa 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 bowels 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 Ghost with money, ‘Thy money,’ said Peter, ‘perish with thee.’ 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 sceptre of love in forgiving. Forgiveness is a golden thread spun out of the bowels 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 forgiveness.
But if Christ laid down his blood as the price of our pardon, how can we say God freely forgives sin? If it be 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 that 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. Remissa culpa, remittitur poena [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 thou art fallen into the hands of my justice, and deserves” to die, yet I will take off the penalty; whatever is charged upon thee 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 the book. When God pardons a man, his former displeasure ceases. ‘Mine anger is turned away.’ Hos 14: 4.
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 lovingkindness will I not take from him.’ Psa 89: 33.
(7) Sin is not forgiven till it be repented of. Therefore they are put together: ‘Repentance and remission.’ Luke 24: 47. Domine, da poenitentiam, et postea indulgentiam [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, every one 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; Psa 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, quatenus sin, as it is sin, and as it is dishonouring 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.’ Psa 51: 3. This contrition goes before remission. ‘I repented; I smote upon my thigh. Is Ephraim my dear son? my bowels are troubled for him. I will surely have mercy upon him.’ Jer 31: 19, 20. Ephraim was troubled for sinning, and God’s bowels were troubled for Ephraim. The woman in the gospel stood at Jesus’ feet weeping, and a pardon followed. ‘Wherefore, 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 hearts.
The second ingredient in repentance is confession. ‘Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.’ Psa 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, till the Lateran Council, which was about twelve hundred years after Christ, ever decreed auricular confession.
But does not the Scripture say, ‘Confess your faults one to another’? James 5: 16.
This is absurdly brought for auricular confession; for, by this, the priest must confess to the people, as well as the people to the priest. The sense of that place 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 thee, thee only, have I sinned.’ Confession gives vent to sorrow; it must be free without compulsion, ingenuous 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 thou forgavest.’ Psa 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 shalt thou 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 loath that God should forgive some of your sins only. Would you have him forgive all, and will you not forsake all? He that hides one rebel, is a traitor to the crown; he that 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.’ Isa 55: 7. A king will not pardon a rebel whilst he continues in open hostility. Thus repentance goes before remission. They who never repented can have no ground to hope that their sins are pardoned.
Not that repentance merits the forgiveness of sin. To make repentance satisfy 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. Incest, sodomy, adultery, theft, murder, which are sins of the first magnitude 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, an extortioner, Mary Magdalene, 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. Isa 44: 22. The king, in the parable, forgave his debtor that owed him ten thousand talents. Matt 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.’ Isa 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 Mile. 1 Tim 1: 14. We must not measure God by ourselves. His mercy excels our sins as much as heaven does the earth. Isa 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 dishonour to Christ’s blood; as if the wound were broader than the plaister. 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 indeed against the Holy Ghost 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. 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 his pardon.
(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 forgiveth all shine iniquities.’ Psa 103: 3. When I say, God forgives all sins, I understand it of sins past, for sins to come are not forgiven till 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 till 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 be 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 till 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 whosoever believeth 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.
(11) Though justification and sanctification are not the same, yet God never pardons a sinner but he sanctifies 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 equal, sanctification is gradual. Sanctification is recipere magis et minus [to receive more and yet less]. One is sanctified more than another, but one is not justified more than another; one has more grace than another, but he is not more a believer than another. The matter of our justification is perfect, viz., 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 not separated. God never pardons and justifies a sinner but he sanctifies him. ‘But ye are sanctified, but ye are justified.’ 1 Cor 6: 11. ‘This is he that 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.’ Isa 57: 19. Peace is the fruit of pardon, and then it follows, ‘I will heal him.’ Where God pardons, he purifies. As in the inauguration of kings, with the crown there is the oil to anoint; 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? Isa 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, that would enter heaven which defileth; but nothing shall enter that defileth. Rev 21: 27. God should then settle the inheritance upon men before they were fit for it. ‘Which hath made us meet 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 salvo to God’s law, and makes full satisfaction for breaches of it. This righteousness procures God’s favour. God cannot 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) They 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 hath put away thy 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 till the day of judgement. The day of judgement 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 till the day of judgement, because their pardon shall be solemnly pronounced, and there shall be the triumphs of the heavenly host. 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 judgement. The bride says, ‘Come, Lord Jesus:’ light the lamps, then burn the incense. Rev 22: 20.
Use 1. For information.
(1) From this word, ‘Forgive,’ we learn that if the debt of sin be 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 for 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 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 works fly-blown with sin, and can sin satisfy for sin? This doctrine makes men their own saviours, 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 endeavour to have his own name in the pardon. A son may be made free by his father’s freedom, but he 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. Nemo habet de proprio, nisi peccatum [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?’ Psa 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; 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 labour 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. ‘Thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head.’ Psa 21: 3. A crown of gold was a mercy; but if you look into Psa 103 you shall find a greater mercy: ‘Who forgiveth all shine iniquities, who crowneth thee with lovingkindness;’ ver 3, 4. To be crowned with forgiveness and lovingkindness 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, ‘Thy sins be 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 be once touched with a sense of sin, there is nothing a man will thirst after more than forgiveness. ‘My sin is ever before me.’ Psa 51: 3. This made David so earnest for pardon. ‘Have mercy upon me, O God; blot out my transgressions.’ Psa 51: 1. If anyone should have come to David and asked him, Where is thy pain? What is it troubles thee? Is it the fear of shame which shall come upon thee and thy wives? Is it the fear of the sword which God has threatened shall not depart from thy house? He would have said, No, it is only my sin 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; 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 wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless!’ Gen 15: 2. So, when God has given thee riches, and all thy heart can wish, say to him, Lord, what is all this, seeing I want forgiveness? Let my pardon be sealed in Christ’s blood. A prisoner in the Tower 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 judgement-seat. Give not then sleep to your eyes, or slumber to your eyelids, till 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 he so absolutely necessary, what is the reason that so few in the world seek after it? If they want health, they repair to the physician; if they want riches, they take a voyage to the Indies; but if they want forgiveness of sin, they seem to be unconcerned, and do not seek after it: whence is this?
Inadvertency, or want 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 doth not consider:’ they do not consider they are indebted to God in a debt often thousand talents, and that God will, ere long, call them to account. ‘So, then, every one of us shall give account of himself to God.’ Isa 1: 3; Rom 14: 12. But people shun serious thoughts: ‘My people doth not consider.’ Hence it is they do not look after pardon.
Men do not seek after forgiveness of sin for want of conviction. Few are convinced what a deadly evil sin is, that it is the spirits of mischief distilled, it turns a man’s glory into shame, it brings all plagues on the body, and curses on the soul. Unless a man’s sin be forgiven, there is not the vilest creature alive, the dog, serpent, or toad, but is in a better condition than the sinner; for when they die they go but to the earth; but he, dying without pardon, goes into hell torments for ever. Men are not convinced of this, but play with the viper of sin.
Men do not seek earnestly after forgiveness, because they are seeking other things. They seek the world immoderately. When Saul was seeking after the asses, he did not think of a kingdom. The world is a golden snare. Divitiae saeculi sunt laquei diaboli [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 that is in a mill, the noise of the mill drowns the voice, that he cannot hear; 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 pardon.
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 withal he is just, he will not wrong his justice by showing mercy. Read the proclamation: ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious; and that will by no means clear the guilty.’ Exod 34: 6, 7. Such as go on in sin, and are so slothful or wilful 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 hath said in his heart, God has forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it.’ Psa 10: 11. Atheists think either the judge is blind or forgetful; but let sinners know that long forbearance is no forgiveness. God bore with Sodom a long time, but at last rained down fire and brimstone upon them. The adjourning of the assizes 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 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 hell, the facility of repenting and getting a pardon.
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 endeavour. Who will use means that despairs of success? The devil shows some men their sins at the little end of the perspective-glass, and they seem little or none at all; but he shows others their sins at the great end of the perspective, 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 every one 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.’ Rom 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 labour after forgiveness of sin? ‘For it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life.’ Deut 32: 47. If a man be 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; 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 that 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. Rom 8: 22; Psa 38: 4. A wicked man is not sensible of sin, he is dead in sin; and if you lay a thousand 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 labour to have this burden removed by pardoning mercy? Sin is a debt, ‘Forgive us our debts.’ Matt 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.’ Isa 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 be not discharged, should we not be earnest with God to cross 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 pardoned.
(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 what merry company can do. They may perhaps drink away trouble of conscience; perhaps they may play it away at cards; perhaps a Lent-whipping will do the deed; perhaps multitude of business will so take up their time, that they shall have no leisure to hear the clamours 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. Whence 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 till the thorn be plucked out, it aches and swells, and he has no ease; so when the thorn of sin is in a man’s conscience, there is no ease till 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 hath put away thy sin’! 2 Samuel 12: 13. How should we therefore labour for forgiveness! Till 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 endeavour; 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 thee.’ Psa 130: 4. If pardon of sin were not possible, it were not to be prayed for; but it has been prayed for. ‘I beseech thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy 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.’ Isa 55: 7. Hebrew, ‘He will multiply to pardon.’ That is possible which others have obtained; but others have arrived at forgiveness, therefore it is obtainable. Psa 32: 5. ‘Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.’ Isa 38: 17.
(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 endeavour 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 only. ‘He is the propitiation for our sins.’ 1 John 2: 2. No merit can buy out a pardon. 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 intreat for him?’ 1 Sam 2: 25. What angel durst 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 purchase forgiveness.
 Christ himself could not procure a pardon without dying. Every pardon is the price of blood. Christ’s life was a rule of holiness, and a pattern of obedience. He fulfilled all righteousness. Matt 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 had not 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.’ Rom 5: 9. Christ did bleed out our pardon. There is much ascribed to his intercession, but his intercession had not 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 Lamb slain, 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 except 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. 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, yea, defies pardon, till 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 thee, the iniquity of this people, according unto the greatness of thy mercy.’ Numb 14: 19. It is mercy to have a reprieve; and if there be mercy in sparing a sinner, what mercy is there in pardoning him! This is the flos lactis, the cream of mercy. For God to put up with so many injuries, to wipe so many debts off the score, is infinite favour.
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, ‘Thy sins are forgiven,’ he made way for a bodily cure. ‘Arise, take up thy bed and walk.’ Matt 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. Whom God pardons, he sanctifies, adopts, crowns. It is a voluminous mercy, it draws the silver link of grace, and the golden link of glory after it. It is a high act of indulgence. God seals the sinner’s pardon with a kiss. And should not we, above all things, seek after so great a blessing as forgiveness?
(6) That which may make us seek after forgiveness of sin is God’s inclinableness to pardon. ‘Thou art 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 thee that thou art an hard man.’ Matt 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 submit, it will be a great incentive to him to lay down his arms 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, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord, and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you, for I am merciful.’ God’s mercy is a tender mercy. The Hebrew word for mercy signifies bowels. God’s mercy is full of sympathy, he is of a most sweet, indulgent nature. ‘Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive.’ Psa 86: 1. The bee does not more naturally give honey, than God shows mercy.
But does not God seem to delight in punitive acts, or acts of severity? ‘I will laugh at your calamity.’ Prov 1: 26.
To whom does God say this? See verse 25. ‘Ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof’ 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 delighteth in mercy.’ Mic 7: 18.
But though God be 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 Ghost; which thou art far enough from who mournest for sin, and seekest 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 thee 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 pry not into the arcana coeli, 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 cherish 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.‘ Jurat per essentiam. Musculus. He swears by his essence. ‘As I live, saith the Lord God I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.’ Ezek 33: 11. Hence he waits long, and puts off the sessions 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 that 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 saints glorified, 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 beatific; he shall see the black rod, not the mercy-seat. 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 court!
The unpardoned sinner has nothing to do with any promise. The promises are mulctralia evangelii, the breasts that 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 that plucked the olive branch; it is only the believer who plucks the tree of the promise. Till the condition of the promise be 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. Siculi non invenere tyranni tormentum majus [The Sicilian tyrants devised no worse a torture]. 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 colours, 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 twine-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. One would wonder that man could be merry who is heir to all God’s curses. He does not see these curses, but is blinder than Balaam’s ass, who saw the angel’s sword drawn.
The unpardoned sinner is in an ill case at death. Luther professed there were three things which he durst not think of without Christ; of his sins, of death, and of the day of judgement. Death to a Christless soul is the ‘king of terrors.’ As the prophet Ahijah said to Jeroboam’s wife, ‘I am sent to thee with heavy tidings’ (1 Kings 14: 6); so death is sent to the unpardoned soul with heavy tidings; it 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 voice of harpers and musicians shall be heard no more at all in thee.’ Rev 18: 22. The sinner shall never taste of luscious delights more to 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, mors sine morte [an undying death]. The unpardoned soul must for ever 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 had been good for that man that he had never been born.’ Now, if the misery of an unpardoned state be so inexpressible, how should we labour 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. ‘Thy life shall hang in doubt before thee, and thou shalt fear day and night.’ Deut 28: 66. Thus the unpardoned sinner must needs have a palpitation and trembling at the heart; he fears every bush he sees. ‘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; so the unpardoned sinner fears, what if this night death, death which is God’s sergeant, should arrest him! ‘Why dost thou 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 meat or music, that wants his pardon. Therefore, by all these powerful motives, let us labour 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 favour to me?
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 clemency; 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; he was a persecutor, and so he sinned against the second table; 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 unclean; ver 18. She was morose and churlish, she would not give Christ so much as a cup of cold water; ver 9. How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me which am a woman of Samaria? 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. Gratia non invenit dignos, sed facit. 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 pardon me?
David brings it as an argument for pardon. ‘Pardon mine iniquity, for it is great.’ Psa 25: 11. When God forgives great sins, he does a work like himself. The desperateness of the wound the more 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.’ Isa 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 Ghost. Matt 12: 31. Therefore, O sinner, do not cast away thy 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 well forgive great sins as little, 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 that blotteth out thy transgressions.’ If you look on the foregoing words, you would wonder how this verse comes in. ‘Thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou has wearied me with thine iniquities;’ and then it follows, ‘I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions.’ Isa 43: 24, 25. One would have thought it should have run thus, ‘Thou hast wearied me with shine iniquities; I, even I, am he that will punish thy iniquities;’ but God comes in a mild loving strain, ‘Thou hast wearied me with shine iniquities; I am he that blotteth out thy iniquities.’ So that the greatness of our sins should not discourage us from going to God for forgiveness. Though thou hast committed acts of impiety, yet God can come with an act of indemnity, and say, ‘I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions.’ God counts it his glory to display free grace in its most brilliant colours. ‘Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.’ Rom 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, thou almost despairing soul, there is not so much sin in man as there is mercy in God. Man’s sin in comparison of God’s mercy is but as a spark to 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?
I know the Novatians held that after a relapse there is no forgiveness by the church. But doubtless that was an error. Abraham twice equivocated; Lot committed incest twice; Peter sinned thrice by carnal fear; but they repented, and they had absolution.
There is a twofold relapse, (1) A wilful 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 wilful and continued relapses are desperate, and tend vastare conscientiam (as Tertullian), 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. Matt 18: 22. If he bids us do it, much more will he forgive a relapsing sinner in case he repent. ‘Return, thou backsliding Israel, for I am merciful, saith the Lord.’ Jer 3: 12. It is not falling once or twice into the mire that drowns, but lying there; it is not once relapsing into sin, but lying in sin impenitently that 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 Saviour, and loves him as the fairest of ten thousand. Therefore be not discouraged, for if thy heart be bruised from sin and broken off from it, thy sin shall be blotted out. No sooner did Ephraim weep than God’s bowels were working. ‘My bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him.’ Jer 31: 20.
Having answered these objections, let me beseech you, above all things, labour 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.’ Psa 32: 1: In the Hebrew it is ‘blessednesses’. And think of the unparalleled misery of those whose sins are not forgiven! Such as had not the blood of the paschal lamb sprinkled upon their door-posts, were destroyed by the angel. Exod 12: So they who have not 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 stay so long till the lease of mercy is run out. Oh, therefore, hasten to get pardon! Think of the uncertainty of life. What security have you that you shall live another day? Volat ambiguis mobilis alis hora [The fleeting hour flies on fickle wings]. Our life is a taper soon blown out; it is made up of a few flying minutes. O thou dust and ashes! thou mayest fear every hour to be blown into thy grave; and what if death come to arrest thee before thy pardon be sealed? Plutarch reports of one Archias, who being among his cups when a letter was delivered to him, and he was desired to read it, as it was about serious business, Seria cras, he said, ‘I will mind serious things to-morrow;’ and that night he was slain. Thou that sayest, ‘To-morrow I will repent, I will get my pardon,’ thou mayest suddenly be slain; therefore to-day, while it is called to-day, 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 labour 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 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 thy presence.’ Psa 51: 8, 11. It is one thing to be pardoned and another to feel it. The evidence of pardon may hot appear for a time, and this may be:
(1) From the imbecility and 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 favour to him. As it is said of the apostles when Christ first appeared to them, ‘They believed not for joy, and wondered,’ (Luke 24: 41), so the soul may be so stricken with admiration that the wonder of pardon staggers its faith.
(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. Matt 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 his enemy, and yet he was then in a pardoned condition. Job 16: 9.
Why does God sometimes conceal the evidence of pardon?
Though he pardons, he may withhold the sense of it for a time: (1) 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. Quo longius defertur eo suavius laetatur [The longer the delay, the sweeter the rejoicing]. The longer mercy is in the birth the more welcome will the deliverance be.
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 an estate bequeathed to him, but knows it not. Our comfort consists in the knowledge of forgiveness. ‘Make me to hear joy.’ Psa 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 labour for the evidence of forgiveness!
How shall we know that our sins are forgiven?
We must not be our own judges in this case. ‘He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.’ Prov 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); so we are not to judge ourselves to be clean from the guilt of sin till we are such as the word of God pronounces to be clean.
How shall we know by the word that our sins are pardoned?
(1) 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 should be washed away in Christ’s blood, makes the heart melt and the 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. ‘Wherefore, I say, her sins, which are many, are forgiven;’ ver 47. A pardon will make the hardest heart relent 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 hearts.
(2) We may know our sins are forgiven by having the grace of faith. ‘To him give all the prophets witness, that whosoever believeth 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; is digged out of his own burrow, 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. Faith is an assent with affiance. 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 minimum quod sic, the least drachm 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 pardon.
(3) The pardoned soul is an admirer of God. ‘Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity?’ Mic 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 thee?’ 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 thee?’ A man that 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; 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 thee, that pardoneth iniquity?’ That God should pardon one and pass by another — one should be taken and another left — fills the 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 vis imperatoria et damnatoria, a commanding and a condemning power. The condemning power of sin is taken away when the commanding power of it is taken away. We know our sins are forgiven when they are subdued. If a malefactor be in prison, how shall he know that his prince has pardoned him? If the jailor come and knock off his chains and fetters, and lets him out of prison, then he knows he is pardoned: 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. Psa 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 cherubims that he might fly swifter in obedience; a pardoned soul is sick of love. He whose heart is like marble, locked up in impenitence, that does not melt in love, gives evidence that his pardon is yet unsealed.
(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 forgiveth all shine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases.’ Psa 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 that 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 thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.’ Zech 3: 4. I will cause thy iniquity to pass from thee, there is pardoning grace; and I will clothe thee 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 ye my people, cry unto her that her iniquity is pardoned.’ Isa 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 livery which all Christ’s people wear is humility. ‘Be clothed with humility.’ 1 Pet 5: 5. A sight of God’s glory humbles. Elijah wrapped his face in a mantle when God’s glory passed by. ‘Now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore 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 wants. A humble sinner is in a better condition than a proud angel.
God’s people are a willing people. ‘A people of willingness;’ love constrains them; they serve God freely, and out of choice. Psa 110: 3. They stick at no service; they will run through a sea, and a wilderness; they will follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.
God’s people are a heavenly people. ‘They are not of the world.’ John 17: 16. As the primum mobile in the heavens has a motion of its own, contrary to the other orbs, so 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 conversation 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 ye 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.’ Rom 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 compounded or forgiven; 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 without guile. ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.’ Psa 32: 1, 2.
What is it to be without guile?
He who is without guile has plainness of heart. He is without collusion, he has not cor duplex, 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 God.
A heart without guile 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 images, 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 mine iniquity.’ Psa 18: 23. As in the hive there is a master-bee, so in the heart there is a master-sin. A heart without guile takes the sacrificing knife of mortification, and runs it through its beloved sin.
A heart without guile 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 thou me:’ Lord, show me what is my duty, and wherein I offend; let me not sin for want of light; what I know not, teach thou me.
A heart without guile 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 till 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. Utitur speculis magis quam perspecillis. Seneca. 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 others.
He who has a heart without guile 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; 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 heart without guile, it is loyal and true to God’s interest.
He who has a heart without guile 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 as well as the first; he is for equity as well as piety. ‘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. Matt 7: 12.
He who has a heart without guile is true in his promises; his word is as good as his bond. If he has made a promise, though it be to his prejudice, 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 saith as Jephthah, ‘I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.’ Judges 11: 35.
He who has a heart without guile is faithful in his friendship; he is what he pretends; 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 look 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 heart without guile is; and that to have such a heart is a sign that sin is pardoned. God will not impute sin to him ‘in whose spirit there is no guile.’ What a blessed thing is it not to have sin imputed! If our sins be 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 in whose spirit is no guile.
(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 want 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, nihil oblivisci solet praeter injurias. Cicero. He was of a forgiving spirit, and would do offices of love to all who had injured him; like the sun, which having drawn up black vapours 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 favour, it is a spring shut up, and unsealed for none but the elect. The wicked may have forbearing mercy, but an elect person only has forgiving mercy. Forgiveness of sin makes way for solid joy. ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem;’ or, as in the Hebrew, ’speak to her heart.’ Isa 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, thy sins be forgiven thee.’ Matt 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 was newly dead, and God had told him ‘the sword shall never depart from thine house;’ yet now he spruces up himself, puts on his best clothes, and anoints himself, whence was this? He had heard good news, God sent him pardon by Nathan the prophet. ‘The Lord has put away thy sin.’ 2 Samuel 12: 13. This could not but revive his heart, and, in token of joy, he anointed himself. Philo says, it was an opinion of some of the philosophers, that among the heavenly spheres there was such sweet harmony, that if the sound of it could reach our ears it would affect us with wonder and delight. 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, ‘Thy 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 remain 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 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 for ever secured from the wrath of God. How terrible is God’s wrath! ‘Who knoweth the power of thine anger?’ Psa 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.’ Rom 5: 9. His 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 that is pardoned. God has discharged the sinner, and if the creditor discharge 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, ‘Thy sins are pardoned,’ conscience says, ‘Go in peace.’ If the sky be clear, and no storms blow there, the sea is calm; so, if all be clear above, and God shines with pardoning mercy upon the soul, conscience is calm and serene.
(5) Nothing that befalls a pardoned soul shall hurt him. ‘There shall no evil befall thee:’ that is, no destructive evil. Psa 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 munera [favours], but insidiae [snares]. Seneca. ‘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 ’savour 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; poverty, reproach, persecution. ‘Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto 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 dropsy 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 Euroclydon or cross wind, which, though it broke the ship, yet Paul was brought to shore upon the broken pieces. Acts 27.
(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 favourite of heaven. A king may pardon a traitor, but will not make him one of his privy council; but whom God pardons, he receives into favour. I may say to him as the angel to the virgin Mary, ‘Thou hast found favour with God.’ Luke 1: 30. Hence, such as are forgiven, are said to be crowned with lovingkindness. Psa 103: 3, 4. Whom God pardons he crowns. Whom God absolves, he marries to himself. ‘I am merciful, and I will not keep anger for ever;’ 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 sceptre. He that has got 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. His prayer is ‘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, saith the Lord, ‘Take away the filthy garments, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee;’ 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 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 luxury, or spending his estate among harlots; 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. To Mary Magdalene, a pardoned penitent, after Christ arose, he first appeared. 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 thy child, thy husband; but he has also taken away thy sins. He has given thee more than he has taken away; he has taken away a flower, and given thee a jewel. He has given thee Christ and the Spirit, and the earnest of glory. He has given thee more than he has taken away.
(14) Where God pardons sins, he bestows righteousness. With remission of sin goes imputation of righteousness. ‘I will greatly rejoice in the Lord: he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.’ Isa 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 righteous as Christ, having his embroidered robe put upon the soul! This is the comfort of every one that is pardoned, he has a perfect righteousness; and now God says of him, ‘Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.’ Cant 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 in his blood. A pardoned soul may triumph over death, ‘O death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory?’ He who is pardoned need not fear death: it is not to him a destruction, but a deliverance; it 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, when he smote him, and beat off his chains, and carried him out of prison; it smites his body, and the chains of sin fall off. Death gives a pardoned soul a quietus est [he is at rest], it frees from all his labours. Rev 14: 13. Felix transitus a labore ad requiem [Happy is the passage from toil to rest]. Bernard. As it 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. It is like the waggon which was sent for old Jacob, that came rattling with its wheels, but it was to carry Jacob to his son Joseph; 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 fulness of joy. To a pardoned soul, death is transitus ad regnum [a passage to the kingdom]; it removes him to the place of bliss, where he shall hear the triumphs and anthems of praise sung in the choir of angels. 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. Psa 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 labour 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 forgiven.
(1) Be much in praise and doxology. ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, who forgiveth all thine 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 discriminating 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 want a pardon! All the curses of the law stand in full force against such a one. The unpardoned sinner dying drops into the grave and hell both at once; he must quarter among the damned; and will it not make you thankful that this is not your condition, but that you are ‘delivered from the wrath to come’?
(2) Let God’s pardoning love 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 that is pardoned love the prince who has been so full of clemency 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 make you more cautious and fearful of sin for the future. ‘There is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared.’ Psa 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 disoblige him or abuse his love. After Nathan had told David, ‘The Lord has put away thy sin,’ how tender was his conscience! How fearful was he of staining his soul with the guilt of more blood! ‘Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God.’ Psa 51: 14. When men commit gross sins after pardon, God changes his carriage towards them, he turns his smile into a frown; they lie, es 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 joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.’ Rom 5: 11. Who should rejoice, if not he that 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 lovingkindness, and yet art thou sad? ‘We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’ Rom 5: 2. Can the wicked rejoice who have only a short reprieve from hell, and not they 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 laboured more abundantly than they all.’ 1 Cor 15: 10. Paul’s obedience did not move slowly, as the sun on the dial; but swiftly, as the sun in the firmament. He did spend, and was spent for Christ. 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.  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; thy 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.  Because Christ died for their sins, therefore they are forgiven. That Christ died for remission of sin is true; but that all have remission is false, for then Judas would be forgiven. Remission is limited to believers. ‘By him all that 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 ere 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? Their sins are but small, therefore venial. The devil holds the small end of the perspective glass before their eyes. But there is no small sin against Deity. Why is he punished with death that 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? Thy 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 an offering for the least sin. Little sins, unrepented of, will damn thee, as well as greater. Not only great rivers fall into the sea, but little brooks; not only greater sins carry men to hell, but less; 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; say not, Lord, my heart is good, and my life blameless. God hates this. Lie in the dust, be covered with sackcloth: say as the centurion, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof;’ I deserve not the least smile from heaven. Matt 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 thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.’ Psa 32: 5. Would we have God cover our sins, we must uncover them. ‘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. Cum accusat excusat. Tertullian. 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 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 you, 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.’ Isa 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; 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 that 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. I Pet 1: 2. Many are not pardoned, though Christ’s blood be shed, because it is not sprinkled; now it is faith that 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 that believe are justified.’ Acts 13: 39. ‘Thy sins are forgiven.’ Luke 7: 48. Whence was this? ‘Thy faith has saved thee.’ 7: 50. O let us labour for faith. Christ is a propitiation or atonement to take away sin; but how? ‘Through faith in his blood.’ Rom 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, he went away justified. Many pray for health, riches, children; but Christ has taught us to pray, Dimitte nobis debita nostra, ‘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 thy house were haunted with devils than thy 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 judgement. If guilt be so dismal, and breed 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 thy knees, say, Lord, hear one word. God may say, What canst thou say for thyself, that thou shouldest 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 thee? Thou hast nowise obliged me. But, Lord, pardon me, because thou hast promised it; I urge thy covenant. When a man is about to die by the law, he calls for his book; so say, Lord, let me have the benefit of my book, thy word says, ‘Let the wicked forsake his way and our God will abundantly pardon.’ Isa 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? Thou canst not deserve it. Lord, for thy own name’s sake; thou hast said, thou wilt blot out sin, for thy own name’s sake. Isa 43: 25. It will not eclipse thy crown; thy mercy will shine forth, and all thy other attributes ride in triumph, if thou shalt pardon me! Thus plead with God in prayer, and resolve not to give over till thy pardon be 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 sin.
IV. The last part of this petition is the condition: ‘As we forgive them that trespass against us.’ This word, As, is not a note of equality, but similitude; not that we equal God in forgiving, but imitate him. The great duty of forgiving others, is crossing the stream; it 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 lawful. Ulcisci te lacessitus potes [When provoked you may avenge yourself]. Cicero. But we learn better things from the oracles of Scripture. ‘When ye stand praying, forgive.’ Mark 11: 25. ‘Many man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.’ Col 3: 13.
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 mischief, 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 honour. The Scripture says of a man, ‘It is his glory to pass over a transgression.’ Prov 19: 11. It is more honour to bury an injury than to revenge it. Wrath denotes 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 thy not forgiving him is a greater wrong. In injuring thee he has offended against man, but in not forgiving him thou offendest against God.
But if I forgive vile injury, I shall occasion more.
If the more injuries you forgive, the more you meet with, it will make thy grace thine the more. Often forgiving will add more to the weight of thy glory. If any say, I strive to excel in other graces, but as for this forgiving, I cannot do it, I desire in this to be excused, what becomes of other graces? The graces are inter se connexae, linked and chained together; when there is one, there is all. He that cannot forgive, his grace is counterfeit, his faith is fancy, 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 every one 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; 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 chancery 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 charity.
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 thou lackest.’ Mark 10: 21. They lack a forgiving spirit, they will rather want 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, 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: and what shall we say to those who make a profession of religion, but instead of forgiving, pursue others despitefully? It was prophesied, the ‘wolf shall dwell with the lamb.’ Isa 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 rancour as any. O whither is love and mercy ‘deaf? If the son of man come, will he find charity on the earth? I fear but little. How can those who cherish 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 labour to be of forgiving spirits. ‘Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another.’ Col 3: 13.
(1) Herein we resemble God. He is ready to forgive. Psa 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 candour. 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, 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 vapours 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 rewarded me evil for good; but as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth, I humbled my soul with fasting.’ Psa 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 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. Matt 11: 29. He doth 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 death.
(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 meat 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 ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ Matt 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 bowels are shut up and are merciless to their trespassing brethren? ‘He shall have judgement without mercy that 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 wanted water, they chided with him. ‘Wherefore is this that thou hast 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 thy 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, Etiamsi millies me diabolum vocet: ‘Though he call me a devil a thousand times, yet I will love and honour 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 mischief when it was in his power. David’s kindness melted Saul’s heart. ‘Is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lifted up his voice and wept, and said, Thou art more righteous than I, for thou hast rewarded me good.’ 1 Sam 24: 16, 17. Such forgiving is heaping coals which melt the enemy’s heart. Rom 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 clemency.
(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 ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.’ Matt 6: 14. But one would think other things should 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. Matt 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 that 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) Cordially. God not only makes a show of forgiveness, and keeps our sins by him; but he really forgives, he passes an act of oblivion. Jer 31: 34. So we must not only say we forgive, but do it with the heart. ‘If ye from your hearts forgive not.’ Matt 18: 35.
(2) God forgives fully; he forgives all our sins. He does not for fourscore write down fifty. ‘Who forgiveth all thine iniquities.’ Psa 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. We run afresh upon the score, but God multiplies pardon. Isa 55: 7. Peter asks the question, ‘Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not until seven times, but until seventy times seven.’ Matt 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 should 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. Quisquis detrahit famae meae addet mercedi meae. Augustine. He that injures me shall add to my reward; he that 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 thy brother trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent, thou shalt 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 thou hast sometimes wronged others; and may it not be just with God that the same measure you mete to others should be measured to you again? Hast thou not wronged others, if not in their goods, yet in their name? If thou hast not borne false witness against them, yet perhaps thou hast 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 put up with an injury. What causes so many duels and murders but pride? ‘Be clothed with humility.’ 1 Pet 5: 5. He who is low in his own eyes will not be troubled much 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, who has said, ‘Vengeance is mine.’ Rom 12: 19.
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 makes me no satisfaction, and wilt not thou forgive me who hast received satisfaction in Christ my surety?
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