"But the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him."--Daniel 9:9
Such is the utterance of prophetic lips. Daniel here speaks, wrestling with God, and valiantly refusing a repulse. The words sparkle as a bright gem in his diadem of prayer. Their testimony has this exceeding value--in brief space they reveal our God as glorious in mercies and forgivenesses, and show in terrible contrast the rebel character of man. Thus the blessing of blessings--the essence of the glorious Gospel of our God--the forgiveness of sins, appears in bold relief.
It is superfluous to state that this proclamation is not limited to supplicating Daniel--it pervades the book of Revelation as fragrance the sweetest garden. Echoing texts reverberate the note that our God is "ready to pardon." Witness the answer when Moses prayed, "Show me Your glory." The glories of His name resound; but the bright chain was incomplete without the link, "forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." (Ex. 34:7.)
Thus the ambassadors of Christ repeat the call, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts--and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:7.) And again, "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins--and by Him all who believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:38, 39.)
Our sublime services, also, insert this truth in a most touching prayer--"O God, whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive, receive our humble petitions." And worshipers are taught individually to profess, "I believe in the forgiveness of sins."
It is not irrelevant here to state that the noble Reformer of Germany was fast bound in the dungeons of doubts and fears, sinking in the mire of despondency, and stumbling in the deepest gloom of darkness, when an experienced friend reminded him of this frequent avowal. Then light and peace enlivened his soul, and he went forth rejoicing and achieving wonders. He found God in Christ and triumphed in the strength of recognized forgiveness.
To this grand subject attention is now invited. May our forgiving God, by His enlightening Spirit, suggest each thought, supply each word, and grant a blessing according to His gracious will!
To estimate forgiveness rightly, its must be distinctly seen. It will be poorly prized, unless its value be weighed in balances of truth. It will not be sought, as surpassing all worlds in worth, until there be adequate knowledge of the miseries which it averts, the wounds which it heals, the joys which it kindles, the wrath which it quenches, the rescue which it achieves, the depths from which it raises, the heights to which it exalts. When sickness comes, a remedy is valued--shelter is entered, when storms impend.
What then is forgiveness as appertaining unto sin? What is the blessing implored in the petition--"Forgive us our trespasses"? It is remission of due penalties, the obliteration of incurred guilt, the withdrawal of just displeasure, the blotting out of accusing handwriting, the burying all offences in oblivion, the hushing of the loud thunder of the law, the canceling of its tremendous curse, the consigning to a sheath the sword of justice. It is the frown of Jehovah softening into eternal smiles. It encounters sin, and strips it of its destroying power.
Hence evidently forgiveness implies that sin has preceded. It can only effect its wonders in the element of transgression--there must be sin before there can be remission. Where no offence exists, no pardon can be needed--they cannot be restored whose feet are always in right paths.
Thus we reach the fundamental position that sin gives occasion for forgiveness. Sin is the need which calls for its intervention. Let then this monster now be boldly faced; let its hideous features be narrowly scrutinized; let it be stripped of its deceiving mask; let the cheating tinsel disappear; let it be viewed in its naked deformity; let its essence and character, and work, and guilt be traced unsparingly.
I. SIN'S ESSENCE. What constitutes its character? No unanswerable question is here asked as to the parent of its birth--here is no search into its originating cause. The simple inquiry is--Where is its sphere of work, and what is its distinctive nature? Supreme authority replies. Scripture states in terms intelligible and incontrovertible, "Sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4.) Violation then of God's holy rule introduces sin--it breathes in the province of transgression.
God, as supreme in all His universe, fixes His mode of government. Accordingly He issues His commands--if these be outraged, the outrage is sin. Its essence is disobedience to God's law.
This essence appears in frightful enormity, when the purpose of this law is viewed. The sum of its requirements is worthy of the great Lawgiver. In divine simplicity it only requires Love. Its statute book enforces Love. It demands that the heart should beat in one pulse; the affections flow in one channel; the will be bound by one fetter; the desires burn in one flame; the actions move in one path--Love. The whole inward man must be bright in one complexion--Love. Any deviation from this course constitutes sin.
This sublimity brightly shows the origin of the law to be divine. As a mirror it reflects Jehovah's excellence--it is the transcript of His glorious being; it is holiness on its highest throne; it is purity in its loveliest form; it is perfection without one alloy. How abominable then is that principle which hates and resists such code, and strives to crush it beneath insulting steps! How incontrovertible is the position that they need forgiveness who fight against God under the banners of this monster!
It follows that the need of forgiveness is universal, for sin exercises a sway co-extensive with all human life. It grasps each mother's son in its vile arms, and stops not its assaults while time endures. It moves with the mind's first movement--in the cradle it begins to stir. It grows with man's growth; it walks beside him in his every path; it adheres as the very skin, and lingers in each dying chamber. There is no lofty dwelling and no lowly hut which it frequents not. There is no period of day or night which can repel its step. It is a universal and life-long plague; for where is the man whose career is not continual deviation from the rule of love? Hence the need of forgiveness of sins is world-wide. Hence is the preciousness of the testimony, "To the Lord our God belong mercies;" in the plural, "and forgivenesses;" in the cumulative, "though we have rebelled against Him."
II. This need becomes more apparent, as advance is made from SIN'S essence to some of its DEVELOPMENTS. Here it appears a many-headed hydra, a fiend of various forms. Its outbreak towards God, towards the soul within, towards the world around, betray it.
(1) Let diverse instances show its conduct towards GOD. Its feelings may be thus classed.
Alienation. Whatever departs from God's rule departs from Himself. Contrariety to His law separates from His mind. Disinclination to His will moves altogether in an adverse course. It flees His face--it establishes an opposing interest. Far as the east is from the west, so far it is estranged from all that is divine. Sin is such alienation. They who are its slaves need to be forgiven, before they can see God's face and live.
Hatred. "The carnal mind,"--and every mind is such in which the Spirit dwells not--"is enmity against God--for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Rom. 8:7.) By nature's instinct the secret chambers of imagination swarm with thoughts tainted with dislike of God, His name, His nature, His perfections, His cause, His people, His Word, His scepter, His kingdom, His Christ. Sin has strong inclinations, and they all are arrayed against His righteous ways. It has ungodly bias towards the abominable things which God hates. Surely the victims of this passion need to be forgiven, before they can be one with God.
Contempt. With haughty look it sneers at sacred precepts. It scorns them as weak precision. It spurns the restrictions of godly walk as derogatory to man's liberty. In the swellings of pride it tramples on the barriers which heaven has erected. Except forgiveness comes, the consequence is appalling woe.
Defiance. It raises an insulting head. It braves God's displeasure. It ridicules all penal consequences. It mocks at the thunder-bolts of threatened wrath. It regards the right hand of the Lord as impotent to strike. It boldly asks, "Who is the Lord that I should serve Him?" Unless forgiveness intervenes what will be the doom!
Rebellion. It shatters the yoke. It breaks restraining bands. It ignores submission. It boasts, "We will not have this man to reign over us." If power were equal to the will, it would invade the heaven of heavens, and hurl God from His throne. If forgiveness lingers, how terrible must be the end!
Treason. It enters into conspiracy with all heaven's foes. It joins hands with every adversary. It combines with all dark plots. It betrays the citadel of God's government. It opens the portals to admit all traitors. Without forgiveness, vengeance will be sure and just.
Robbery. God, as Sovereign, has a right to exact obedience. Sin defrauds Him of this due. It refuses payment of just demands. It withholds the allegiance of rightful service. It wantonly misuses every talent entrusted to its care. If not forgiven, how can it escape!
Such, and many more, are the developments of sin in reference to God. Thus the position is established, that vast is the need of vast forgiveness. How enchanting, now, is the sweetness of the words, "To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against Him!"
(2) The picture darkens when the developments of sin in reference to the SOUL are seen. It changes this garden of the Lord into a waste howling wilderness. Fragrant flowers cease to bloom; thorns and briers usurp their place. It dims the noblest jewel of God's creation. It tears away its robe of righteousness, and casts it forth to face the world naked, impoverished, impotent--without one sheltering rag--with no possession but ignominious shame. It weakens every spiritual faculty. It so blinds, that the eye sees as through a glass, most darkly. It so impairs the ear, that the voice of truth is not discerned. It cripples every energy. The feet are powerless to climb the upward path of life. It infuses moral leprosy. It renders earth a spiritual charnel-house--men live the tabernacles of dead souls. Behold this fair vessel a wreck on evil's rocky coast, and then ponder the work of sin! Will not the cry ascend--What need of forgiveness for such wrong! Will not the tidings be prized--"To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against Him!"
(3) The case assumes more frightful hue when sin's inroads on the WORLD around is added. Doubtless sin is inborn. It is a hereditary disease--the seeds of every evil are innate in each heart. Unaided by contagion it would universally exist; but yet by contact, influence, example, it multiplies, and becomes more rampant. A spark from without kindles the dry stubble--bad men wax worse by bad fellowship. As Christ's disciples never move towards heaven alone, so evil beckons and decoys a multitude. Sin is a ready teacher, and has ready pupils. Let it be repeated, that each natural heart is from the cradle a hive of sin; but through evil suggestions and evil associations, evil broods swarm abroad on quicker wing. Tempted Eve becomes a tempter. Of Achan we read, "that man perished not alone in his iniquity." (Josh. 22:20.) Jeroboam the son of Nebat is branded, as the man "who made Israel to sin." Hence reproaches will embitter the miseries of the lost. Children will loathe misleading parents; companion will revile companion, as the first to lure to headlong fall.
When sin is contemplated running its infectious course--sowing universally the seeds of woe--ruining individuals, nations, generations--spreading a fatal plague--it cannot be denied that its course is ruinous. Perilous is the condition of man infected by it. Forgiveness must come, or sure and dreadful consequences ensue.
Why is this dark picture thus exhibited? There is no intent to leave any trembling, dismayed, cast down, fast-bound in shackles of despair. The true desire is to show in lovelier form the Gospel's smile--and to win readier acceptance for the tidings, "To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against Him."
Let it be repeated, that none can claim exemption from sin's grasp! "All we like sheep have gone astray." "If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves." Sin's vile brand is upon all--but to all the Gospel comes, with cheering voice. It sweetly proclaims, the case is not hopeless--to perish is not inevitable--deliverance is provided--remedy is at hand--rescue opens large arms. God extends a cup overflowing with forgivenesses. A way is opened, in which, without infringement of any holy attribute, He can pardon, restore to favor, and remit sin's curse. Full, free, complete, everlasting forgivenesses have come forth from the courts of heaven. They stand ready to spread their saving mantle round the sons of men. Who will not bless God for His revealed and unalterable property--"But the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him." Let no one rest until he can say, "I acknowledged my sin unto You, and my iniquity have I not hidden. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and You forgave the iniquity of my sin." (Psalm 32:5.)