J. N. Darby.
(Notes and Comments Vol. 1.)
Forgiveness is, I think, evidently the changed aspect of the mind of him who forgives, as regards the faults of the forgiven. Where judicial authority, or an injured right existed of the forgiver, and judgment as to the person concerning the act, ceased in the mind, judgment was no longer its aspect for the wrong done. It may be authoritative judgment of the wrong, or the kind of authority there is in the possession of a right - there is authority as to that, so that we may say, in general, that it is authority ceasing to view the fault in the aspect of judgment, and, thereon, releasing the offender who had come under that judgment; hence, it is evident, it cannot go beyond the claim or title to judge of him who takes cognizance of the offence. All beyond this is impossible in the nature of things; I may forgive a thief, or a murderer, his wrong, but this does not screen him from the laws, nor from God's judgment if unrepentant. A man may be forgiven of God, and yet as testimony in the world, providential effects may follow, because the spheres are different, and everlasting exclusion from His presence, or favour, is the effect of sin; or, I may impose a condition - as if my child had stolen an apple, I may require him to return the apple, or I do not forgive him, because there is a double relationship - my parental authority, and the wrong done to another. But, in general, forgiveness is the release of one in fault from the judgment of one in authority - who has title to release him, and this includes all wrong - and takes place in the mind of him who has authority, who ceases to hold him in the aspect of judgment.
Many consequences and effects may follow, but this, I think, is what forgiveness is; the consequence is, it is according to the measure and sphere in which that authority moves, and applies to the judgment from which the offender is released. God may chasten governmentally for our good, or even in testimony as in David's case, and Numbers 14:20, yet, as between Him and the guilty, forgive, and not impute the sin - no longer hold him guilty. I may forgive a wrong doer, but it is measured by the value and import of my forgiveness. The church may bind sin on a guilty Christian, in the exercise of discipline, or forgive, in restoring or releasing from the discipline, and God will sanction it, but it does not go beyond its own sphere, and competency, and it acts in that which God sanctions. God - if it be rightly done - will bind what the Church has done, but the Church does not forgive sins in the sense of eternal forgiveness for salvation - it is not its sphere. It is its sphere to deal with them here, and God will set His seal upon its actings; so could the Apostle forgive, as we read in 2 Corinthians; so, through the prayer of faith where sickness was a chastisement from God, so that His dealing with sin stood in the way of recovery, compare Job 36. God puts His sanction on the forgiveness which the Church grants in its sphere, but the Church cannot pretend to grant the forgiveness which belongs to God, in His sphere of authority. God sanctions my forgiveness of my enemy, that is another thing from my having a title to forgive, divinely, the guilt of sin against God. The administration of the Church is different, and God has committed an administration to it, but God's sanction of its action in that, is a different thing from its assumption of His sphere of eternal mercy as to guilt. That, what Peter bound on earth might be bound in heaven, is a different thing from his having all that heaven itself could - had - put into his hand; the king may sanction all a viceroy may do in his own proper sphere, that is not saying the viceroy can do all that the king can do, as such.
193 When all the Apostles were commissioned to preach remission, this was from God. It was no action of the Church at all - on the reception of the Word, they were admitted into the Church, their sins being remitted; there, there is no imputation of sins. Hence Ananias can say to Saul, "Arise, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" - it was the earthly administration of forgiveness, a present reception of the peace which Christ had made - then the government of God, I add, of the Church begins, and in that sphere of government, forgives or binds by judgment; God does so, as in Job 36, and the Church, cognizant of His mind, ought to be able to do, and the individual by the prayer of faith obtain it. It has nothing to do with the putting away, or imputing sin as to condemnation, but only, as far as the Church goes, to those who are forgiven by one offering - perfected for ever, or supposed to be so, and dealt with as such. "Do ye not judge them that are within; them that are without God judgeth" - their reception in again is present administrative forgiveness - they enjoy, as amongst the forgiven therein, the privileges of those who are. In this sense of reception, the Church forgives, see 2 Corinthians 2:7-10; hence, I have the administration of forgiveness by admission to Christianity - coming into the place in which I have left my sins behind me, and indeed, for faith, my nature too - this, as an administrative right, as in baptism; Colossians 2:12, 13. Romans 6 as to nature.
194 Then a man is within, and the Church or Assembly judges him, and its administration of the government of God - not of salvation, but in respect of the saved - begins; so, in Job, "He withdraws not his eyes from the righteous." And as to the righteous, saints, saved ones, sins may be forgiven, or bound on the person, and here two or three, gathered in Christ's name, are competent, and their action, done under and with Christ's authority, will have divine sanction - but, as I said, divine sanction on their act is not God's act in respect of His wrath and dealing with sin, relatively to the sinner's place with Him of forgiveness or condemnation; that has been settled in the conscience of the sinner by faith, and reception into the Assembly as to his actual status. Discipline, even by God, is for the righteous - when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord that we may not be condemned with the world; the moment I have made it a re-forgiveness of the person, in the sense of grace and acceptance, I have upset Christianity, and denied the place and standing of the Church - to say nothing here of the work of Christ. Government does not begin till that is settled - the righteous are governed, chastened, forgiven, judged, now - and, as I have said, sanction from God on our acts, is not our pretending to His.
Forgiveness implies too the release (aphesis) from the penal liability to which the judgment of the mind of the forgiver rightly holds it; but forgiveness is properly what I have before referred to - this is an effect. It may be applied to the person or the faults; it has rather the previous and essential sense as to the person - the latter (aphesis) as to the sins. The words are different, at any rate often when applied to people and sins, as Luke 7:42; 2 Corinthians 2:7; Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32 it is charizomai - of sins aphesis. But we have aphes auto (forgive him) (Luke 18:3), and charizesthe o ti; 2 Corinthians 2:10, and chap. 12:13. Etymologically, charizomai (to forgive, or show kindness to) is evidently more the favour of the person forgiving but actually exercised; aphiemi, its application to dismissal of the sin - a release. The force of aphiemi (to forgive or leave) is seen in Matthew 6:12, 14, 15, and Luke 11:4.
195 No doubt God must be satisfied, in the holiness of His own nature, as regards Himself - that there may be forgiveness, that must have been. Still, as to judgment, it is according to the relative responsibility quâ judgment and punishment, though exclusion be the state of all unless reconciled; nor - though founded on the intrinsic work, so that eternal joy may be there as to what is essential to it - is conferred blessing by this consideration. The earthly saints in the millennium will not have their place within the veil; they are (say the Jews) thoroughly forgiven, but the Lord is with them, not they with the Lord in heavenly places. Sin will always be sin in God's sight, according to His nature - hence there must be the blood of Christ according to His own perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself; but they will return - their repentance will be according to, and by their rejected Saviour, when they see Him. It is real, but refers to earth, to acts on earth, and has its fruit on earth then.
We have four words for "forgive" in the Old Testament: Ka-phar, Na-sa, Ka-sah, Sa-lakh. The first commonly used for atonement; the sin was covered by a sacrificial act in God's sight - God was satisfied, and so forgave. Na-sa is airo (take away), the sin was removed from God's sight, and so forgiven. Ka-sah is "cover" - it is covered, hidden out of God's sight; the last is forgiveness commonly so used, and as the effect of ka-phar. But the main point is that when the question of righteousness was raised, the evil was there, and on the great day of atonement (kip-pur), it was a memorial, a remembrance of sin, a witness that it was not put away (though of provision made for it) nor God accessible in His holy presence. Hence for every particular sin, the atonement had to be offered (ka-phar), a renewal of the act typically which put away sin. Forgiveness is when the mind ceases to look in judgment at the offender as under the sin, and the mind is returned to favour towards him, or holds him now in favour, if not before in it. But the state of man as an object of wrath was not revealed in the Old Testament; it dealt with man, as to the question of righteousness, on the ground of probation, though pointing to atonement, and giving a means of reconciliation, so that transgression, when occasion required, might be done away - put out of God's sight. Hence ka-phar towards God, kis-sah as to the man.
196 Christianity reveals righteousness on God's part - the veil is rent, one full, final, unrepentable sacrifice for sin made - so much so, that repetition is the denial of its value. This has been accepted of God, as the putting away sin athetesis (putting away, disannulling) (perhaps ha-them "make an end of," Daniel 9:24). Into this we come, and stand in God's presence in light without veil, where sin is not - Christ having perfectly glorified God, and borne, and put away our sins. There was no actual athetesis of sin ho airon ("he that taketh away") though pointed to in shadows. But Christ has appeared in the end, sunteleia ton aionon (the summing-up of the ages), to put away sin for God and for us, and man (the believer) is accepted as and where He is - that is his status before God according to what He has wrought, and the passing away of judgment, and forgiveness is necessarily absolute and eternal, for sin is put away, as such, according to that judgment and the nature of God, and our sins borne. God must deny that doing to bring the sins up, whereas His righteousness (and He cannot but be righteous) is active and exercised in owning it there only, perfectly; that is what in the highest sense righteousness is - "Of righteousness, because I go unto my Father," that is, righteousness as in act. Forgiveness is according to this passing away of judgment, and this was announced in the gospel. Forgiveness, when declared, puts the forgiven person in a new position with the forgiver as regards what is forgiven - if all, wholly so - but at any rate as regards what is forgiven.
The full efficacy I have spoken of is a question of positive revelation. During the Lord's life, when it was just about to be accomplished, but was not yet, we have to learn whether in any given case the Lord speaks as to the particular case, or as to absolute forgiveness. Thus in Luke 7, the word, "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace," intimates a full forgiveness, not knowledge of all Hebrews 10 or Romans 8, but of Romans 3 at any rate. The case of the man sick of the palsy has a more Jewish character, yet doubtless as to his then standing, was a full forgiveness; It alludes to Psalm 103, sa-lakh (who forgiveth) - actual forgiveness as present favour. But this raises another question; if forgiveness is the action of the mind, of one having a right or claim which has been injured or slighted, giving up displeasure and not holding the person any longer guilty towards him - the wrong must have been there to be forgiven - God could not have forgiven innocent Adam. Besides when announced, and so we speak of it, a person is forgiven, enters into the enjoyment of the favour expressed in it. I admit that unbelief may hinder a person's thinking himself forgiven, when the wronged one's mind is wholly towards the wrongdoer in love, and that even between man and man. Still, in itself, it is a relative position which supposes previous displeasure with the fault; "that they may receive remission of their sins" we read. It puts the individual in a new relative position; hence forgiveness must be after the commission of the fault, in respect of which the person is forgiven.
197 The ground of forgiveness may have been, and has been for us, long ago surely, laid in the work of Christ; no discipline could be exercised but in view of this - sin would be, and have remained exclusion from God's presence - but this laid the ground of appeal as to Cain, typically, as in Israel, and was in fact what made forbearance with Old Testament saints righteous. Now it is declared; but forgiveness (which in form never went beyond government then) which is now the abiding state of the believer - no imputation of sin, and righteousness imputed - is exercised as to, is granted in occasions of profitable discipline to the righteous when humbled, supposes the existence of the fault, and its forgiveness, though we may speak of the person's being forgiven, but he is forgiven something. Just as in repentance, man passes from will and lust to the judgment of his sins and sin, so when one forgives, he passes from displeasure and judgment of the sin - i.e., viewing it in judgment of the person - to favour, and ceasing so to judge. Hence, though there is no time with God, and no imputation of sin to him that believes, and he, if he knows the truth has no more conscience of sins, yet forgiveness, as a fact, cannot be till the fault is committed, and the mind of the forgiver turned from judgment to favour. It may not be, as to the Christian, as to any imputation, but then there is no forgiveness any more in that sense either, but governmentally He may bring a person's sins upon him, or forgive, and then it is actual in time after the fault, and, when grace, causes displeasure, see Jonah - so even for the forgiveness by the Church - so even of Israel in the latter day - all founded on Christ's work, its value known to us now, so that we know nothing can be imputed. In this sense we are perfectly forgiven and justified - before Pentecost unknown, so that it was continual occasional forgiveness, as in governmental forgiveness - not known of Israel, in the latter day, till they look on Him whom they have pierced.
198 Justification is, in the first instance "from," Acts 13:38, 39; hence here, and in Romans 4 does not reach beyond forgiveness, so chapter 3:25, 26, and so chapter 4:5 - and resurrection is the status in which it is made good, though ascension and glory may be the effect of that by which it is made good. Still in itself it has nothing to do with glory, but with a judicial approbation of the state of the person judged, though the work, in virtue of which he is justified, may obtain glory, "whom he justified, them he also glorified."
In the gospel we have the revelation of God's righteousness; Rom. 1:17. This is strictly the righteousness of God; in chapter 3:25, 26, we have endeixis "pointing out," "showing," and in the sense of proving, "showing" is the word in English. This is done as to forbearance with past sins, and to show it at the present time, so as that He is righteous, and the Justifier of the believer in Jesus.
In chapter 4 it is imputed, but this is righteousness, i.e., the man accounted righteous, not God's righteousness imputed; in that sense "imputed" is ellogeitai, not logizetai. The former connection suggested to me, only one must allow the last is accounting righteous, not God's righteousness, though it be according to that. God does not impute sin, or imputes righteousness; imputation of righteousness is not in question. Sinners are justified, chapters 3, 4, and 5. In chapter 8 we have a condition before God, where, founded on Christ, the Holy Ghost has set us. But in chapter 5:18-21 we have dikaiosis (justification) and katastethesontai dikaioi (will be constituted righteous) - and that is the doctrinal statement in this part of the epistle; chapters 6, 7, 8 are only explaining the status of those so justified, as dead to sin and alive to God, and under the effect of the presence of the Holy Ghost. In Acts 13 they are justified from all things. Resurrection is the state in which justification is established, although that by which it is so established may be a ground for higher glory, and it applies to our being manifestly clear, in God's sight, of all the offences of which we were guilty, and judicially cleared before Him. But righteousness is an abstract word - I am constituted righteous - that is my standing before God, and there is a cause for being righteous - judicially so accounted. Here the obedience of Christ - I am constituted righteous before God in virtue of Christ's obedience; no doubt I am justified from sins as having the profit of His death and resurrection, but I have the actual status according to the worth of what was done - I am estimated a righteous person, according to the value of what was done. So Hebrews 11, "testimony that he was righteous," "God bearing witness to his gifts."
199 But justifying is of a person judicially in question; hence we have it not in Ephesians - when it is a new creation, God has not to justify that - His work. Justification, on the contrary, is of a responsible person, and with whom justice is occupied; hence, first from what we are guilty of as children of Adam; then resurrection of life, judicially, in the place, as to judgment, which belongs to the person judged by the judgment - not by the counsel, that is glory - but a positive status before God in righteousness, and that in resurrection. The judicial mind of God owns us by salvation as before Himself, not in the old condition in flesh, but in the new, alive to God righteously, without blame before Him, and that is in virtue of Christ's death, for we are not actually blameless as we know, though the new man cannot sin, and we are through Christ judicially placed in that. It was dikaioma eis dikaiosin zoes (righteousness for justification of life); in actual result not yet, though the new man be faultless and free - because of Christ's death, sin and the tempter have no title. In the counsels of God, glory comes in; in Christ's case, He is in glory now by righteousness, but that is only of Him, and an assurance and guarantee for us - He appears in God's presence for us, and is withal our Forerunner.
In Romans 5, verse 19 gives the abstract idea - what characterized the two persons referred to. It is definitely contrasted with the law in verse 20.
There is another thing we have to consider as to remission. It has been proclaimed, hence it is not in the Gospel when Messiah was come, only in the mind of the Forgiver; it was declared, proffered, present forgiveness, i.e., when so addressed to any one - applied, he was released; this might be governmental as heretofore in Israel, or from wrath. But Christ comes, saying, "Thy sins be forgiven thee" - "But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins" - and the man is healed; and now full forgiveness is preached, as between the soul and God, as Luke 7, Acts 13, so that the person is in a forgiven state, no sin judicially imputed to him - it is not merely "I have (God has) forgiven" the person, but the person is forgiven. That is his declared, manifested status. In John 20, the administration of this was committed to the twelve, it was nothing peculiar to Peter; it was their mission from a risen Christ in the world, who breathed on them in life-giving power. He had stood amongst them speaking peace, then repeats it, sends them as the Father had sent Him, breathes on them, and declares that those to whom they forgave sins, should be forgiven. It is not the Kingdom, but the message of the Gospel administered in application by the twelve. Nor has it to do here with merely governmental forgiveness; the power might reach that, as in Corinthians - but it was the present administration of forgiveness to men. Baptism may have been associated with it in its due place; but the passage is a general abstract, conferring the competency to administer forgiveness on their mission from Christ, as He had in the Father's name.
200 NOTE. - Although the communications on which the work of a servant of God is founded, and by which he is strengthened in it, are not the state of his own soul, yet, inasmuch as it is an immense favour, and that which has passed between God and his soul, if he act inconsistently with it - neglect it, as to his moral state, and act unworthily of it - God may deal with his soul in respect of this neglect and unworthy treatment of such grace, and all the pain of a grieved spirit be in his soul. For these communications are an immense grace - how great the evil of slighting such, I mean slighting, in conduct, this intimacy with God, with which the soul has been favoured! Note this well.