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The Forgiveness of Sins.
THAT men are naturally apt to transgress the laws Luke xxiv. of God, and the dictates of reason; that so doing And that they incur guilt, and are exposed to vengeance, and remis(from the great Patron of right and goodness, who sion of sins, is injured and dishonoured thereby ;) that hence they are subject to restless fears and stinging remorses of conscience; that they cannot be exempted from such obnoxiousness otherwise than by the free grace and mercy of God, nor be freed from such anxieties otherwise than by an assurance of pardon from him, are points to natural light sufficiently manifest.
Of such a disposition or will in God to remit offences, that all men have ever had a presumption, their application to him in religious practice doth shew; (for no man would address himself in service Heb. xi. 6. to God, without a hope that God is reconcilable to him, and that his service therefore may be acceptable ;) particularly that general practice of offering sacrifice for expiation of sin, and appeasing God's wrath, doth plainly declare the same.
But this was indeed but a presumption or conjecture, partly drawn from the necessity of their case, (which admitted no other remedy beside that hope,) and from man's nature, apt to presume that which most pleaseth; partly grounded upon experience of God's forbearance to punish, and the con
tinuance of his bounty toward men; upon which grounds no man could build a full confidence that he should find mercy, much less could he be satisfied upon what terms it would be granted, in what manner it should be dispensed, or how far it should extend; these things merely depending on the will of God, and the knowledge of them only upon revelation from him.
Numb. xv. ༢༠.
The Jewish dispensation (which was particular and preparatory to Christianity) did indeed appoint and accept expiations for some lesser faults, committed out of ignorance and infirmity; but it pretended not to justify from all things, nor upon any terms did it promise remission of great sins wilfully committed, but threatened remediless excision for them, pronouncing dreadful imprecations, not only upon the transgressors of some particular laws, but Gal.iii. 10. against all those who continued not in all things written in the law to do them: so that the remission tendered by Moses was of a narrow extent, and could hardly exempt any man from obligation to punishment, and from fear thereof; although indeed (to prevent despair, and that which naturally follows thereon, a total neglect of duty) God was pleased by his prophets, among that people, occasionally to signify somewhat of further grace (beyond what he was tied to by the terms of the covenant with that people) reserved for them, and that he was willing (upon condition of hearty repentance and real amendment) to receive to mercy even those who had been guilty of the most heinous offences: but these discoveries, as they were special and extraordinary, so were they preparatory to the gospel, and dispensed upon grounds only declared therein.
It is the gospel only which explicitly teacheth and tendereth remission of all sins; shewing for what reasons, upon what conditions, to what purposes, it is dispensed by God. It clearly and fully declares how God, in free mercy and pity toward us, (being all involved in sin and guilt, and lying under a condemnation to death and misery; all our works being unworthy of acceptance, all our sacrifices being unable in the least part to satisfy for our offences,) was pleased himself to provide an obedience worthy of his acceptance, and thoroughly pleasing to him, (in effect imputable to us, as performed by one of our kind and race, and for our sake willingly undertaken, according to his gracious pleasure,) to provide a sacrifice in nature so pure, in value so precious, as might be perfectly satisfactory for our offences; in regard to which obedience God is become reconciled, so as to open his arms of grace to mankind; in respect to which sacrifice he doth offer remission of sins to all men who shall upon the terms propounded be willing to embrace it; namely, upon condition of faith and repentance; that is, upon sincerely professing the doctrine of Christ, and heartily resolving to obey his laws. This is that great doctrine so peculiar to the gospel, from whence especially it hath its name, and is styled the word of grace: this is that great blessing, which Zachariah, in his prophetical hymn, did praise God for; The giving knowledge of Luke i. 78, salvation to God's people in the remission of their"" sins, according to the tender mercies of our God; in which the dayspring from on high hath visited us: this is the good tidings of great joy to all Luke ii. 10. people, which the angels did celebrate at our Saviour's birth: this is that main point, which our
Lord especially charged his apostles to declare and Luke xxiv. testify, that in his name repentance and remission of sins should be preached to all nations; that Acts v. 31. God had exalted him to his right hand, as a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel, and remission of sins; (to give repentance; that is, to give, as Clemens in his Epistle well expoundeth it, μεTavolas TóжTOV, a place for repentance, in order to mercy; or that it should be acceptable and available for the remission of our sins, as all that on our part is required toward it ;) all which points (together with the nature of this remission, its causes, its grounds, its ends, its conditions, its means, and way of conveyance) are admirably couched in those Rom. iii. 4, words of St. Paul; All men, saith he, have sinned,
and are come short of the glory of God: but we are justisfied freely by his grace, by the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God hath proposed a propitiatory by faith in his blood, for the demonstration of his righteousness, toward the forgiveness of forepast offences.
The consideration of which point is of exceedingly great use and influence.
1. It should engage us to admire the great goodness of God, and with grateful hearts to praise him for so great a favour: that God, being so grievously affronted and wronged by our sins, (loaded with extreme aggravations,) should be at such charge to purchase for us the means of pardon, should offer it so freely, should so earnestly invite and entreat us to accept it; how inexpressible a clemency doth it demonstrate how great thankfulness doth it require from us!
2. It should beget in us an ardent love to God,
answerable to that love which disposed him to bestow on us so inestimable a benefit. We should imitate the debtor in the gospel, who most loved him Luk. vii.41. who had forgiven him most; and the good penitent,
St. Magdalen, who, because much was forgiven her, Luk. vii.47. did love much.
3. It is matter and ground of hope and of comfort to us; (is preventive of despair and immoderate sadness;) for that our case cannot be so bad, but there is an assured remedy at hand, if we please to have recourse thereto, the mercy of God upon our true repentance; whereby we infallibly shall obtain that happy state, of which it is said, Blessed Psal. xxxii. is he whose transgression is forgiven. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth no iniquity.
4. It is a great engagement to obedience; for that it greatly aggravates our disobedience, and endangers our estate. Having once from God's mercy obtained a cure and state of health, we by relapsing into sin do incur deeper guilt, and expose ourselves to greater hazard; Behold, saith our Lord in like John v. 14. case, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee.
5. Lastly, it shews us how much (in conformity to God and compliance with his will) we should bear with and forgive the offences or injuries done to us. You know how strongly our Lord, in the gospel, presseth the consideration of God's free pardon bestowed on us to this purpose; how he Matt. xviii. sets out the extreme unreasonableness and disin- Matt.vi. 14. genuity of those who, notwithstanding this dealing of God with them, are hard-hearted and unmerciful toward their fellow-servants; how he threatens implacable severity toward them who do not from
BARROW, VOL. VI.