"In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace."--Eph. 1:7
Forgiving mercy abounds in aspects which only vary to increase delight. These aspects are ever fresh joy in the days of earthly pilgrimage. They will not weary throughout eternity. What will prompt the ascription of glory and dominion "unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood"? (Rev. 1:5.) Surely it will be a realized pardon. To swell this chorus will be pleasures at God's right hand for evermore, and happiness in its fullest flow, and bliss on its highest pinnacle, and delight in its supreme perfection. The more this song is practiced now, the more will earth assimilate to heaven, and fitness ripen for eternal and divine worship.
Let then this theme be now contemplated from another stand-point. By gradual steps a position has been reached from which the expansive plan of forgiveness may be largely and intelligently surveyed. With this purpose the valley of humiliation has been entered--the urgent need has been portrayed. With open eye the truth has been contemplated that guilt is linked to sin, and guilt awakens God's wrath.
The fact, also, has been established that this tyrant enslaves each child of man and entwines adamantine fetters of condemnation. What condition can be more appalling! Sinners are righteously obnoxious to God's vengeance and must eternally endure the penalty, unless some way be found for the entrance of forgiveness. But while the death-knell sounded, the reviving note was heard--"To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against Him." "In Christ Jesus we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace."
The question now occurs, Whence springs forgiveness? Where is the birth-place of this friend to sinners? Here the Word gives distinct reply--"In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." Precious and abundant is the revelation--a full cup of mercy is presented to our lips; Christ's blood is announced as the purchasing price; God's grace is added as the originating source. Let thoughts of the price at present be postponed; the origin and fountain-head claim first attention; and may the God of all grace send out His light and truth to guide and teach! For as the sun is only seen through solar light, so grace cannot be visible except grace lends enlightening rays.
To exclude misapprehension, it is well at the outset closely to scan GRACE. In its objective sense, as a heavenly attribute, it exhibits God in loveliest view. It is a bright jewel in the crown of His glory; it sits high on the throne of His perfections; it is love flowing in the deep channel of freeness. It finds its sphere of action not only in compassionating misery, wretchedness, distress, anguish, agony, woe; it looks tenderly on such sufferers in their most repulsive condition of undeserving and guilty; it yearns with pitying eye over the extremities of demerit--over those who are obnoxious to His wrath--under just condemnation--utterly without the slightest ray of excuse--righteously doomed to penal vengeance.
Misery may exist with no fault as its occasion--mercy may hasten to soothe and to allay it; but grace is more than mercy; it melts with pity over sinners in the lowest cells of guilt. It flies to avert execution when just sentence has gone forth. When no cause exists to soften, when every motive seems to steel the heart, grace freely loves, because it will love. Such is grace in Scripture statement; such is grace as the originating cause of the forgiveness of sins.
When the Spirit lends illuminating aid it is evident that unless grace had thus intervened no sinner could escape the wrath denounced. That this conclusion may be more deeply impressed let thought confront earth's final day. This day comes on apace. All who have ever breathed the breath of life must meet it. Suppose the great white throne to be now fixed, the judgment to be set, and the books opened. What do they show? Page upon page appears black with recitals of transgression.
When the record of daily life is publicly proclaimed, who among the children of men can lift up the head and boldly aver--These doings are not sins? Immunity is their due. This cannot be said. Truth now reigns. Fallacies have vanished; self-deceit no longer blinds; the light of heaven has dissipated all mists. "Every mouth must be stopped, and all the world must become guilty before God." (Rom. 3:19.) No flesh can seek acquittal on the plea of innocence.
But while guilt is acknowledged, are there pleas which can restrain the merited penalties, or can avail to win forgiveness? Let the examination advance as if the tribunal were some earthly bar, and the proceedings were conducted "after the manner of men."
Shall it be said--These sins are small in magnitude and trifling in importance? What, is not every deviation from the perfect law of love an offence of infinite amount? It must be so when measured by the majesty of the infinite Lawgiver. There is no little sin, because there is no little law, no little God. Can that be small which is allied to eternal wrath? No plea is valid which ignores the nature of offence.
Shall any plead the scanty number of their sins? Be it so, that in some cases through short time or restricted opportunities sins are comparatively few. There will be stripes more, and stripes fewer. But in what instance have they not been commensurate with the moments of life, and as swarming as the multitude of thoughts! Let it never be forgotten that if there were only one sin, it would be violation of the law, and as such would call for penalty. It must obtain forgiveness or wrath must be outpoured.
Shall thoughtlessness and ignorance be pleaded? Perhaps awakened conscience may disdain such weak excuse; but if it be made it cannot extenuate, but rather it aggravates the guilt. Is thoughtlessness, with eternity at the door, no fault? Is ignorance excusable, with the Bible in the hand or within reach? Is not the Gospel within hearing? What more could God have done to awaken, to instruct, to guide? Account is due, not only for what is known, but for the knowledge within grasp. Escape is vain when based on willful blindness.
Where now shall the guilty flee? Shall penitence, contrition, shame, and tears be offered in arrest of judgment? What is their worth when weighed against God's just demands! Besides, when penitence, contrition, shame, and tears are real, they are evidence that grace exists. They are divinely genuine only in the territory of experienced pardon.
Such reasoning might be extended until imagination's inventions failed. But enough has been said. No ingenuity, apart from Christ and irrespective of God's grace, can fabricate one bar to check guilt's punishment. No urgency, no potency of pleas can claim remission.
Is then the sinner's case beyond all hope? Far otherwise. It is bright as the brightest rays of heaven. "But the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him."
Whence then springs this reviving light? No reply except from heaven can satisfy. But the Word announces that from the fountain of free grace streams of forgiving mercy flow! "In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." Blessed be God, forgiveness flies swiftly from the heaven of heavens, speeded by the wings of grace. It makes large strides to blot out sin, but every step moves in the path of grace. On every feature in the scheme of forgiveness the lineaments of free grace beam.
(1) Investigate the first conception of pardon. Here steps must move with meekest reverence. No advance can be safe except in the footsteps of the Spirit's teaching--but Scripture is not silent concerning counsels of grace. It is written with unmistakable intent, "He works all things after the counsel of His own will." Thus forgiveness is the result of deliberate resolve. The purchasing blood is declared to be "the blood of the everlasting covenant." (Heb. 13:20.) Jesus is announced as the Mediator of the new covenant (Heb. 12:24); and among the articles of this better covenant it is stipulated, "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." Thus forgiveness emanates from deliberate eternal counsels in which free love reigns. In accordance the sound is heard of "God's great love with which He loved us, when we were dead in sins," and again, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." These counsels consult for the sinner not as pardoned and restored, but that he may be pardoned and restored; not as extricated from the pit of guilt, but as lying helpless in its mire. Thus forgiveness originates from grace.
(2) Next, the prominent feature in the scheme of forgiveness manifests free grace. This feature is willingness to accept a substitutionary payment, to inflict vicarious punishment, to transfer guilt from the personally guilty to one capable to represent them. It consents to regard those in whose stead the Surety stands, as liberated, absolved, acquitted, justified, blameless, innocent. Hear the grand announcement, "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him,"--His beloved Son, our Surety--"the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6.) A glorious note confirms the truth, "He has made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." Our God takes off sin from the actual perpetrator, removes the crushing burden, transfers the guilt, and consequently the penalty and wrath. But nothing of merit on the sinner's part, nothing out of Himself moves God to this act. Grace calls and grace accepts a Substitute. Thus again, forgiveness springs from grace.
(3) What but grace induces Christ to undertake the Surety-place? Grace leads Him so to humble Himself as to put on the prison garb, and to represent the vilest prisoners. He, the all holy and all just, presents Himself as responsible for all iniquity, and appropriates to Himself all guilt. With no reluctant step He ascends the altar of the cross, He lays bare His heart to bury the sword of justice. He receives as His own due every vial of God's wrath, and drinks them to the very dregs. No merit in the sinners, for whom He thus endures, could move Him. In them everything is most vile, unlovely, repulsive--they are laden with abominations most abhorred. It is vain then to seek any moving cause, but free grace. Let then the song of praise be heard--through grace His people are vicariously punished; through grace they are most graciously forgiven.
(4) It is most pertinent to add that this forgiveness only works in the sphere of Christ. It is the property and privilege of those only who are one with Him, the members of His mystic body, the spouse of His heart, the branches of the true vine, the living stones annexed to Him the true foundation. The link which constitutes this union is FAITH. Faith sees Christ in all His beauty, glory, power and willingness to save. It recognizes Him as wholly suitable, supremely capable, divinely sufficient, infinitely willing. As such it flees to Him, embraces Him, cleaves to Him and becomes identified with Him forever. Whence arises this faith? Scripture decides, "therefore it is of faith, that it might be BY GRACE." (Rom. 4:16.) Faith is a free-grace gift. The Holy Spirit in love descends, bringing this seed from heaven, and implants it in the heart. Without faith there is no forgiveness through the work of Christ--and without grace there is no faith. Hence forgiveness is interwoven with grace.
(5) The Spirit in the plenitude of His love preserves, guards, waters, nourishes this plant, until mortality is swallowed up of life, and the headstone of redemption's pyramid is brought forth "with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it." (Zech. 4:7.) Thus from foundation to completion every stone in the fabric of forgiveness is laid and cemented by free grace! "In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace."
It is thus apparent that the scheme of forgiveness is heaven-born and worthy of its Author. It seats God on His high throne, and crowns Him with His eternal glory. It sinks man into the depths of his own nothingness and exhibits him as fast bound in fetters of helplessness; exposed to storms of wrath and unable to devise a shelter. It kindles in the redeemed heart flames of adoration praise and love. It awakens the only motives for grateful service and holy living. They who would work out their own forgiveness work as slaves, and fail and perish. They who work because they are through grace forgiven, work as happy and beloved sons. They fit to reign with Christ in glory forevermore.