Forgiveness of Sins

"I write to you, children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake" (1 John 2:12, N.T.), is language addressed to the whole family of God, whether little children, young men, or fathers; and it is of all importance to be divinely established in this fundamental truth of Christianity, as without the knowledge of forgiveness of sins one cannot be said to have started on the Christian course at all.

It is, therefore, with the desire to draw the attention of young believers, or those who may be anxious, to a few of the salient points in Scripture, in connection with the forgiveness of sins, that these few lines are written, although one is conscious that in doing so one can do little more than put together in a simple way for the young that which has been written and spoken of much more fully by others.

The first thing we may consider, and that which is the foundation of all, is THE RIGHTEOSNESS OF GOD, as described in Romans 3:25-26, where, speaking of the Lord Jesus, the apostle writes, "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." Here we have the divine basis upon which God can bestow pardon upon all who believe in the Lord Jesus. From Romans 1:18 to chapter 3:20 man's condition before God is developed. The Gentiles had sunk lower than the brute creation; the philosophers who condemned others practised the same things themselves; and the Jews, who had an outward link with Jehovah, and special privileges as His people, had behaved so inconsistently that the name of God was blasphemed amongst the Gentiles through them. Thus the Spirit of God sums up not only what man has done, but what man is before God; the law being introduced that every mouth might be stopped, and the whole world be under judgment to God.

On the ground of responsibility all was lost; man had been weighed in the balances and found wanting, and death, as the judgment of God, lay upon him. But now God acts in sovereign grace from His own side - coming into this world of ruin and sin and death as a Saviour-God, not demanding anything from man, but drawing near in the fullest grace to those who were sunk in sin and misery. Therefore it becomes a divine necessity that God, acting in grace towards such a world, must declare His righteousness; and this He has done in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom He has set forth a Mercy-seat - a Mercy-seat established in blood - the witness of death accomplished, of a life poured out under the judgment of God. This grace is exercised, not through judgment stayed, but through judgment executed. Death as the judgment of God lay upon man. Christ as man has been in death, and thus, in laying down His spotless, unforfeited life, He ended in death for God the life to which, in us, sin attached. In Christ made sin God condemned sin in the flesh, so that, as another has said, "The man under judgment has gone in judgment." Every question of righteousness has been divinely settled in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, the history of man in the flesh ended, sin removed from under the eye of God, and the sins of believers borne and put away. Thus God's righteousness has been declared in the passing by of the sins of Old Testament saints, and in the justification now of all who believe in Jesus; and not only so, but in the very depths of death itself all the love of the heart of God has been revealed. None can challenge the absolute righteousness of God's grace. The full judgment due to man has been borne by Man, and the heart of God told out at the very moment when that judgment was borne. Thus the death of our blessed Lord is the divine basis upon which God can justify, and that too through which all His counsels can be carried out.

Having, therefore, seen God's character vindicated, and His love revealed in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, we may now consider a second important truth, which we find in Romans 4, namely, THE POWER OF GOD as displayed in RESURRECTION. Speaking of righteousness being imputed to Abraham, the apostle adds, in verses 24 and 25, that it was not written for his sake alone, "but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification."

We see, then, in Romans 4 that the point is not death, but resurrection; and resurrection, as has often been said, is the great demonstration of the power of God, of complete victory over every enemy. Christ, the seed of the woman, has bruised the serpent's head in death, has through death annulled him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered them who, through fear of death, were all their life-time subject to bondage. The battle-field has been swept of every foe, and Christ stands in resurrection glory in all the triumphs of victory. And here in Romans 4 He is presented as having been set there by God. The One who went into death for the glory of God has been brought out of death by the power of God. The God who delivered Him for our offences has raised Him for our justification. Could proof be greater of how completely the righteous claims of God were met in death by the Lord Jesus? Therefore the Spirit of God, in Romans 4, presents the God of resurrection as the Object of faith, the God in whom Abraham believed; for if God has closed the history of man after the flesh in death, He has begun a new order of things in divine power in resurrection in Christ, the Man of His pleasure. Thank God! there is a Man out of death, and that Man the One "who was delivered for our offences," "who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree," the One upon whom Jehovah hath laid the iniquity of us all. If we look back in simple faith and see Christ charged with our offences on the cross, there bearing all the judgment due to us, it is our privilege and joy now to see Him raised by God for our justification, and to know that, if He is clear of death and judgment, He is clear on our account as the Representative of His people.

Death and judgment never lay upon Him personally; but taking our place in grace, He was in death and under judgment, therefore His clearance is ours. He was raised for our justification. Justification is a legal term, and has the sense of clearance; and while of course including the thought of forgiveness, it goes further. The question in Romans 8:33, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" has its divine answer in "It is God that justifieth." We are cleared from every charge in the clearance of Christ.

On the cross Christ was charged with all that we could be charged with; there all the sins of His people were borne; there all that we were morally as children of Adam was judicially ended in death. But now Christ is clear of death and judgment; and the measure of His clearance is the measure of the clearance of every believer; and it is not merely that God has now nothing against us, but that righteousness is reckoned to us - Christ is made unto us righteousness. It is not in us, but in Christ that the truth of justification is set forth. We can never understand justification by looking at ourselves, or at one another; it is apprehended on the principle of faith, that is, faith in contrast to works. Not that there is any intrinsic value in faith, but faith lays hold of God in that which He has accomplished; and we see by faith that God, in the putting forth of His power in raising Christ from the dead, has displayed in Christ, thus raised, the measure of our justification, our clearance from every charge, as well as, we may add, our deliverance from every foe.

"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 5:1.) God, acting in divine righteousness, is for us, having removed, in the death of Christ, everything that was against us. Peace with God is the necessary consequence of apprehending Him thus by faith in that which He has done for His own glory and our blessing. And as it rests entirely upon what God has wrought through Christ, it is a settled, abiding peace, unaffected by feelings, experience, or anything in us. Moreover, it is "through Jesus Christ our Lord." All the grace of God is administered through Christ our Lord. As in the famine in Egypt all who came to Pharaoh were told to "go unto Joseph," so now all who come to God must come through the Lord Jesus. "For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." (Acts 4:12.) So too in Acts 13:38-39, we find the apostle, having spoken of the death and resurrection of Christ, proclaims that "through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by Him all that believe are justified from all things." And in Romans 5 we find that blessing after blessing is described as coming to us "through," "by," or "in" Christ Jesus. He has fought the fight, He has gained the victory, He has glorified God; and now, as raised and glorified, all the blessings which God has for man, as the result of Christ's victory, are administered by God through Christ as Lord.

The last point I would notice, in concluding, is the condition upon which forgiveness of sins can be known and enjoyed. We have already seen that the death of Christ is the righteous basis upon which God can bestow it, and that the resurrection of Christ is the great display of His power, and of victory over every enemy. As also that through Christ as Lord all blessings are administered. And so far all is on God's side. But many have not the joy of forgiveness through not apprehending that which Psalm 32 would teach, from which Rom. 4:6-7, 8, is quoted. In Romans 4 we have the principle of justification by faith established in Abraham; and in David we have an example of one who got blessing on that principle. And David's own words in Psalm 32 are quoted to prove it. Turning back then to the Psalm, we see that, in order to be in the joy of forgiveness, there must be confession to God. It cannot be too strongly pressed that we must get forgiveness from God, if we are to be really established in grace before Him.

One has little doubt that the lack of spiritual growth in many souls is due to the fact that they have never been alone with God about their sins. They have, it may be, been aroused at a gospel meeting, and have confessed to the preacher what sinners they feel themselves to be, and have trusted too in the finished work of Christ, and will assuredly never perish; they may even have the knowledge of forgiveness through some precious verse of Scripture. But it is one thing to get the knowledge of forgiveness from a text of Scripture, and quite another to be in the presence of God in confession, and to receive, it may be, the same text as the word of His mouth.

We see therefore in the Psalm that so long as David kept silent God's hand was pressing upon him, in order that the silence might be broken by confession; and when at length that silence is broken, in verse 5, we see it is with God he has to do. "I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou, forgavest the iniquity of my sin." The result, therefore, of his being with God in confession, and getting pardon from God, is that he has the joy of forgiveness, and is in the sense of the favour of the One who has pardoned him.

Again, if we turn to 1 John 1:9 we read, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Taking our place in confession before God, telling out all that our consciences take cognizance of as sinful, He pardons, and not only so, but cleanses us from all unrighteousness - the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, which witnesses of death accomplished, being the righteous ground upon which He can do so. And this ninth verse is an abstract statement of wide application, which would embrace those coming as sinners to God through Christ at the first, upon whom He bestows His eternal forgiveness as a Saviour-God. And also if, alas! we fail and grieve Him after our conversion, upon taking our place before Him in self-judgment and confession we receive His pardon, not now as sinners coming to the Saviour, but as those who are, through grace, in relationship with Him. To quote from another, "If it is our first coming to God, it is forgiveness, it is in the full and absolute sense. I am forgiven with God: He remembers my sins no more. If it is subsequent failure honesty of heart always confesses; then it is forgiveness as regards the government of God, and the present condition and relationship of my soul with Him."

We live in superficial days, in which, alas! shallow conversions are by no means uncommon; and the great need is for souls to get to God, like the Thessalonians, who "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." Let us remember that "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God."

We would do well to ask our own hearts, Have we stopped short, contented with a mere mental peace, or have we been BROUGHT TO GOD? L. H. F.

I know well how few know deliverance; but it is a great thing to know that I, a poor worm, should be before God and the Father in the same acceptance and favour that Christ is, loved even as He is loved. But it is the greatness of infinite love.