It is painfully humiliating for one who has known the Lord for any considerable time to face the truth as to the very little progress his soul has made in the apprehension of divine things, and how much of the simplest elements of Christianity he has yet to learn. The reason of this may be that while we have to learn the truth in parts, and can only take it in according to the growth of our souls, it is all one complete subject, nothing isolated and independent by itself, but each and every part and line of truth so interwoven that each single thread of that priceless fabric runs throughout the entire material. We learned a little yesterday and we are being taught a little more today, and if we remain upon earth and are diligent we shall learn a little more tomorrow; but what one feels is this, that nothing that we have learned has been learned so perfectly that nothing more can be known about it, and the reason of this, I have no doubt, is that the mind of God is not only infinite, but that it is presented to us in a Person, and the thoughts of God are only known by us as we know that Person.
What leads me to speak of this is the fact that each day it becomes more and more clear to my soul that everything that God has to say to man is declared in Christ; the preaching is the preaching of Christ. To have things in the letter is not to possess them in reality, for as they are in Christ we can only be in the benefit of them in the power of the Spirit. Hence, all ministry which is according to God and valuable to man must be a ministry of Christ, and no one is capable of preaching Him beyond the measure in which he knows Him. It might be easy enough for anyone of ordinary natural ability to learn and repeat a doctrine or a creed, but this Person has to be known to be set forth.
I do not doubt we are all liable to drift into the error in which the blessed Lord found the Jews, who searched the scriptures, thinking that in them they had eternal life, while all the time rejecting the One of whom those scriptures testified, and the One in whom life had come to them. Life was in Him who was the spirit of the scriptures. It did not lie in the letter, death was there; “the letter killeth, but the spirit gives life,” and “the Lord is that spirit” (2 Cor. 3).
But I would draw the reader’s attention to the very simplest elements of the glad tidings. Jesus tells His followers that it was necessary that He should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day, “and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations” (Luke 24:47). Now, what has been called the apostles’ creed says, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” and a good many preach it according to the creed, that is, as a doctrine, leaving in the background the One who is the subject of the glad tidings. But when I come to scripture I see it is “in His name,” “through this Man.” It may be said that no one preaches forgiveness apart from Christ, but my contention is that the way in which He is brought in is that He is simply the One who has procured it by His death, and not as the One in whom God has approached men, and the One in whom the blessing is. It is pretty much in people’s minds that forgiveness, instead of being in Christ, is in the scriptures, that is, that it is presented to them in the scriptures and that they come to know they have it by belief of the scriptures, and the Person in whom everything is is lost sight of, and thus well-meaning people are unconsciously playing into the hands of the enemy of souls. It is in Christ God makes known His mind to men, and it is as we apprehend Him that we apprehend the mind of God. Hence, forgiveness of sins is not in itself God’s testimony to men nor is it the object of faith for men, but Christ Himself is the testimony of God and the Object of faith. He is the One in whom God makes Himself known, and the One in whom all must have to do with God, be it in grace and love, as today, or in judgment and wrath in a coming day. In Him, in this day of salvation, God addresses men in grace. He is the wisdom of God, and He speaks from heaven. He has the Spirit for man: “Turn you at My reproof: behold I will pour out My Spirit unto you” (Prov. 1:23). “He baptizeth with the Holy Ghost” (John 1:33). Sins are no barrier, forgiveness is declared in His name. There is a deeper question than that of forgiveness raised by the gospel, and that is the rescue and deliverance of man from his whole condition to which the judgment of God applies. If he be not rescued in a day of grace he cannot escape in a day of judgment. Salvation is found in the life of Christ, and to this end God, who will have all men to be saved, is directing attention to Him in whom alone life and salvation are.
Let me ask the reader to consider for a brief moment what forgiveness is in itself. Forgiveness, if it exists at all, must in the first instance exist in the mind of the creditor, or injured party, and it must be there before the debtor, or offender, can have any intimation of it. It is the way in which the creditor or injured party, when he acts in grace, is disposed toward the debtor or offender. The one who has the prerogative to forgive may communicate his mind to the object of his clemency, or he may not, but what he communicates must be the disposition of his mind, when he is pleased to make the communication. The debtor has been at the mercy of his creditor, and the creditor has shown grace. If I fail in the fulfilment of my responsibilities, or trespass upon my neighbour, naturally judgment must ensue, unless the aggrieved party alter his mind and resolve to act in grace, and if so, the thought of judgment leaves his mind, and forgiveness takes its place. I cannot read his mind, and might be unhappy about it, but when he makes known his mind toward me, I am at rest. But what I come to know, is what was in his mind before I knew it. I may refuse to accept his grace, and reluctantly his thoughts may have to revert to judgment again, but forgiveness was the state of his mind toward me when he resolved to visit me in grace, as much as if I had thankfully received it. And I think people mix up forgiveness as it exists in the mind of God in Christ with the apprehension of it on the part of man, and with their reception of it. Paul was sent to open the eyes of the Gentiles. This was to be done by the presentation of grace on the part of God. Forgiveness was preached by him through Christ. This was preached that men might turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance. Forgiveness is preached through a risen Christ. He is the mercy seat in whom God addresses men. He is the propitiation for our sins and for the whole world. Righteousness having been accomplished, grace can be declared to all. Forgiveness is the aspect of God’s mind toward all. It goes forth from the mercy seat sprinkled with blood, which is simply the risen Christ. I bear the announcement, and turn to God. Why should I remain away? He is gracious. I come and receive forgiveness and inheritance. How? I receive the Holy Spirit and in the Spirit I have both. I come by the Spirit into the enjoyment of that grace which was declared to me in the far country, and which first of all brought me to myself and next turned me to God. Now in Christ by the Spirit, I am in an entirely new relationship with God which cannot be disturbed by sin.
By way of illustration—supposing the crew of one of a king’s ships of war breaks out into open rebellion, murders the chief officers, seizes the ship, joins the enemy, and fights against their sovereign. And supposing the king’s own cruiser, with himself on board, one day falls unexpectedly upon the rebels, pours a broadside into their ship and places her in a sinking condition. One other discharge like that from those terrible guns will complete the destruction of the vessel and send the foolish mutineers to a watery grave. But we will suppose the monarch is moved with compassion for those men and instead of seeking their extermination, announces in the spirit of grace to them his change of mind, declaring forgiveness to all without exception, and calls upon them to come on board his own vessel, where a welcome awaits them, and where they will find life and salvation, but warning them that in the next hour his guns will once more open fire upon their doomed ship and sink her to the bottom of the sea. Those who submit to the terms are received with every indication of good will, and a gracious forgiveness, signed by the king’s own hand, and sealed with his seal, is handed to each, and commandment is given that their offence is never again to be mentioned, while judgment without mercy is poured upon those who remain obdurate.
Those rebels may be taken to represent man who has revolted from the authority of God. A day has been appointed “in the which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31), and Christ is the One who will execute that judgment. To Him all judgment is committed. He will judge the living and the dead. But the day appointed for this is delayed, while grace is presented to all men in the person of Christ. In Him God has drawn near to men, and in Him the way in which the mind of God toward men is disposed becomes manifest. He is the Mediator who through the rich grace of a Saviour God, gave Himself a ransom for all, because God would have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. The judgment under which man lay has been borne. The blood upon the mercy seat is the witness to it, for it is the witness that the life of flesh is gone in the judgment borne by Christ, and through the risen Christ God speaks to men in grace, in this accepted time, forgiveness is announced.
When the blessed Lord was here upon earth, God was in Him not imputing unto men their trespasses. This ministry did not then go much beyond Israel. It was the word that God sent unto the children of Israel preaching peace. In sending His Son to Israel God remitted their sins. This was the way in which He preached peace. The Creditor was there among His debtors who were unable to pay, but their debts were remitted (Luke 1:77). It was only in a provisional kind of way, because this became a test to Israel, and proved that they would not have God revealed in grace; still for the moment their sins were remitted, and if they had accepted Him there would have been no need on God’s part to revert to wrath. Now, in a risen Christ, God addresses the Gentiles. The great question at present between man and God is not the sins he has committed any more than the offence was the question between the sovereign and his rebellious subjects when in grace he approached them, and offered them salvation on board his own vessel. The question today is Christ. The eyes of men are being opened by the presentation of grace, that they may turn to God and receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among the sanctified (Acts 26:18). But the thing that he receives is that which was announced to men universally. The way he receives it is by faith (Acts 10:43), but the way in which it is given to him by God, so that his soul may be in the benefit of it, is by the gift of the Spirit; I do not believe that any one can know that his sins are forgiven any other way. There are people who profess to solve the question and get peace from texts of scripture, but forgiveness is not in the scripture, but in Christ. It might be replied to this, that people who have forgiveness are themselves the best judges of how they came by it, and that most will say they got it from a text of scripture; but I do not accept that men are the best judges of these things, because the minds of men are very largely under the influence of that which they give their ears to, and very often the things of God are presented to men as if they lay in the scriptures; but I believe that the way men know their sins are forgiven is by the blessed witness of the Spirit, who fills their hearts with the fathomless love of a Saviour God, and I am persuaded that if saints could get their minds free from the creeds and errors into which they have been drilled, so that they might get some little insight into the ways of God with them, when they were being brought out of darkness, they would see that it was not the letter gave them the knowledge that this grace was their portion, but the Spirit. Everything is in Christ for every man, and for every man alike; and therefore every believer must possess everything in the Spirit. The king approached all those wretched conspirators in the same terms. The aspect of his mind toward all was forgiveness. Only a few accepted the grace, but the grace on the part of the sovereign was unlimited.
Another thing I would say, there is no possibility of repentance except as grace is apprehended. Perhaps I may be told that the Ninevites repented at the announcement of judgment. This is true, but the king of Nineveh lets us into the secret of that repentance. He says: “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?” (Jon. 3:9). “WHO CAN TELL?” The king was not hopeless. Without hope of grace, repentance is impossible. Hence both repentance and remission of sins are preached. And the soul that repents at the preaching and turns to God receives the Spirit, and is in Christ, apart from the condition to which the judgment of God applies; there is “no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.”
But forgiveness is neither life nor salvation. It does not in itself, even when apprehended, deliver a man out of his lost and undone condition; this can only be effected by the gift of the Holy Spirit, who brings the heart under the influence of the love of God. It does not place him in Christ, and if we are to be saved, we must be saved in Christ. There was no salvation in the old ship, it was found in the one in which the king approached them. They must change ships to be saved. Life and salvation are both in Christ, and nowhere else. Death and judgment apply to our whole condition as in Adam. You must find “a hiding place from the wind,” and “a covert from the tempest” in Christ.
We must not mistake forgiveness for salvation, or we are sure to fail to grasp the meaning of either. The way in which the blessed God has saved us, is set before us in the epistle to Titus. Our natural condition is described as “foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving diverse lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (chap. 3:3). “But,” be adds, “after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” It is not difficult to forecast the doom of those living in the condition described in verse 3, when the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God breaks loose. Grace was preached to us when we were in that condition, in order that we might, as I have already said, be able to repent, and come to Christ in whom salvation is, that He might bring us under the power of salvation by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.
The washing brings us out from our evil and polluted associations into an atmosphere of kindness and love. This in itself does not save us, for we read in Peter’s second epistle of some who had escaped the pollutions, going back to them again, like the dog to his vomit; but the renewing of the Holy Ghost brings our own hearts under the influence of that kindness and love, so that the kindness and love of God which have been manifested toward us in the gift of His Son, become the life of our souls, we partake of the divine nature, and are thus fit for the company of the children of God and made able to enjoy those holy relationships and affections belonging to that sphere. That the elect might obtain this salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory, Paul endured all things.
Forgiveness is the aspect of the mind of God toward all in this day of grace. Indeed, this is what makes the present dispensation the day of grace. Soon His mind will revert to judgment, for He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world, but that day is being delayed while grace is preached.
Perhaps I may be asked if I mean to convey the thought that everyone is forgiven. Certainly not. This would mean that everyone had received forgiveness and was therefore in relationship with God in Christ; but I say that in the testimony of the grace of God there is no imputation of sins, that this is the state of His mind expressed in Christ to all and announced in the gospel. Today He looks upon all either in the aspect of grace or in that of judgment, and I have no question in my mind as to which it is.
But I may be told that if God forgives, it is once for all, and there is an end to it. But I do not think scripture will bear this out. How often did He forgive Israel in the past dispensation, and turn again to destroy them? It may be replied that they were under probation then, but He sent His Son to them, and in sending Him, He remitted their sins; and when they murdered Him, God, in answer to “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” gave them another opportunity, by the testimony of the Spirit, and when this also was rejected, wrath came upon them to the uttermost. We need also to take heed to the servant, who having been forgiven, refused to forgive, and had his own forgiveness cancelled; and the Lord tells us, “So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matt. 18:35).
I think the mistake, in the first place, lies in not apprehending what forgiveness is in itself. The moment one speaks of forgiveness, the thoughts of people often revert to the forgiven person instead of to the One who forgives. It is what is in His mind. It might be said that it is also in the mind of the forgiven. It is when he has received it, but he has only come into the light of what was in the mind of the One who forgave him, and it must have been there before it was announced to him. When one receives the Spirit forgiveness is then absolute and eternal. He is in new relationships altogether, and from that fathomless love of God which is the nourishment and strength of his rejoicing heart there is no separation. May the reader be in the continual enjoyment of this.