As We Forgive Our DebtorsA Practical Exposition of the Lord's Prayer by Thomas Manton (1620-1677) (Volume 1)
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As We Forgive Our Debtors
I come to the last branch. Hence observe:-
Doct. 3. Those that would rightly pray to be forgiven of God, they must forgive others.
First, I shall give you the explication; Secondly, The reasons.
For explication, I shall speak to three things:-
1. Who are debtors.
2. What respect our forgiving of others hath to God’s forgiving of us.
3. In what manner we must forgive others.
First, Who are our debtors. It is not meant in a vulgar sense, of those only which stand engaged for a sum of money due to us; but of all such as have offended us in word or deed. There is a duty we owe to one another, which, when we omit, or act contrary unto it, we are not only debtors to God, but to one another; and the doers of the injury are bound to repair the wrong, and to make restitution. In this large sense is the word debtors here taken, with respect to the person that hath done the injury. He becomes a debtor, is to make satisfaction, and suffer the punishment, which the wrong deserves.
Secondly, What respect hath our forgiving of others to God’s forgiving us?
I shall speak to it negatively and positively.
[1.] It is not a meritorious cause, or a merit and price given to God, why he should pardon us, for that is only the blood of Christ. Every act of ours is due, it is imperfect, and no way proportionate to the mercies we expect; and therefore it cannot be meritorious before God. It is due, it is a duty we are bound to do, and paying off new debts doth not quit old scores. God hath laid such a law upon us, that we are to forgive others. That cannot expiate former offences. And it is imperfect too. The remembrance of injuries sticks too close to us. When we do most heartily and entirely forgive others, even then we have too great a sense of the injury and wrong that is offered to us. Now that which needs pardon cannot deserve pardon. And it is disproportionate to the mercy which we expect. What a vast disparity and difference is there between God’s pardoning of us and our pardoning of others, whether we respect the persons that are interested in this action, or the subject-matter, or manner and way of doing, or the fruit and issue of the action.
First, In the persons pardoning. What proportion can there be between God and man, the Creator and the creature? God he is most free, and bound to none, of infinite dignity and perfection, which can neither be increased nor lessened by any act of ours, for him or against him; but we live in perfect dependence upon God’s pleasure, are subject to his command, and bound to do his will; and therefore what is our forgiving our fellow-creatures, made out of the same dust, animated by the same soul, and every way equal with us by nature, when they wrong us in our petty interests? What proportion is there between this forgiving and God’s forgiving? he that is of so infinite a majesty, his forgiving the violations of his holy law?
And secondly, To the subject-matter, that which is forgiven, there is no proportion. When we compare the multitude or magnitude, the greatness, and the number of offences forgiven of the one side and the other, we see there is a mighty disproportion. We forgive pence, and God talents; we an hundred pence, he ten thousand talents: Mat. xviii.
So, thirdly, The manner of forgiving: on God’s part, by discharging us freely, and exacting a full satisfaction from Christ; therefore our forgiving can hold no comparison with it, which is an act of duty, and conformity to God’s law.
And fourthly, As to the fruit and issue of the action. Our good and evil doth not reach to God. Though our forgiving of others be an action of profit to ourselves, yet no fruit redounds to God. And therefore there being no proportion between finite and infinite, there can be no such proportion between our forgiving, and God’s forgiving, as that this act may be meritorious before God. Thus it is not brought here as merit, as that which doth oblige and bind God meritoriously to forgive us.
[2.] It is not a pattern or rule. We do not mean our forgiving should be a pattern of forgiving to God. So as is taken, indeed, ver.10, ‘Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven;’ there it implies a conformity to the pattern. But when we say, ‘Forgive us, as we forgive,’ it doth not mean here a pattern or rule. We imitate God, but God doth not imitate us, in forgiving offences; and it would be ill with us if God should forgive us no better than we forgive one another. God is matchless in all his perfections; there is no work like his: Ps. lxxxvi. 8. As God is matchless in other things, so in pardoning mercy. ‘As the heavens are above the earth, so are his ways above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts:’ Isa. lv. 9. And upon this very occasion the Lord will multiply to pardon: ‘ As far as the heavens,’ etc. This is the greatest distance we can conceive. The heavens, they are at such a vast distance from the earth, that the stars, though they be great and glorious luminaries, yet they seem to be like so many spangles and sparks. This is the distance and disproportion which is made between God’s mercy and ours: Hosea xi. 9, ‘I will not return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God, and not man.’ If God should forgive but only as man doth, it would be ill for Ephraim if he had to do with revengeful man. God, acteth according to the infiniteness of his own nature, far above the law and manner of all created beings. Therefore it is not put here as a pattern and rule.
[3.] It doth not import priority of order, as if our acts had the precedency of God’s; or as if we did or could heartily forgive others before God hath shown any mercy to us. No; in all acts of love, God is first; his mercy to us is the cause of our mercy to others. As the wall reflects and casts back the beat upon the stander-by when first warmed with the beams of the sun, so, when our hearts are melted with a sense of God’s mercy, his love to us is the cause of our love and kindness to others: 1 John iv. 19, ‘We love him, because he first loved us;’ that is, we love him, and others for his sake; for love to God implies that. Why? Because he hath been first with us. And then it is the motive and pattern of it. In that parable, Mat. xviii. 32, 33, God’s forgiving is the motive to our forgiving: ‘I forgave thee all thy debt; and shouldest not thou have compassion on thy fellow-servant?’ In those that have true pardon it causeth them to forgive others out of a sense of God’s mercy; that is, they are disposed and inclined to show mercy to others. But in others that think themselves pardoned, and have only a temporary pardon and reprieve (such as is there spoken of), it is a motive which should prevail with them, though it doth not. Nay, it is the pattern of our love to others: Eph. iv. 32, ‘Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you;’ in that manner, and according, to that example.
[4.] It doth not import an exact equality, but some kind of resemblance. As, it is a note of similitude, not equality, either of measure or manner; it only implieth that there is some correspondent action, something like done on our part. So, Luke vi. 36, ‘Be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful.’ As, notes the certainty of the truth, though not the exact proportion; there will be something answerable to God.
2. But positively to show what respect it hath.
[1.] It is a condition or moral qualification which is found in persons pardoned: Mat. vi. 14, ‘For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:’ but, ver. 15, ‘ If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ These two are inseparably conjoined, God’s pardoning. of us, and our pardoning of others. The grant of a pardon, that is given out at the same time when this disposition is wrought in us; but the sense of a pardon, that is a thing subsequent to this disposition. And when we find this disposition in us, we come to understand how we are pardoned of God.
[2.] It is an evidence, a sign or note of a pardoned sinner. When a man’s heart is entendered by the Lord’s grace, and inclined to show mercy, here is his evidence: Mat. v. 7, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ The stamp or impression shows that the seal hath been there; so this is an evidence to us whereby we may make out our title to the Lord’s mercy, that we have received mercy from the Lord.
[3.] It is a necessary effect of God’s pardoning mercy shed abroad in our hearts; for mercy begets mercy, as heat doth heat: Titus iii. 2, 3, ‘Show meekness to all men; for we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient,’ etc. There is none so tender to others as they which have received mercy themselves; that know how gently God hath dealt with them, and did not take the advantage of their iniquity.
[4.] It is put here to show that it is a duty incumbent upon them that are pardoned. God hath laid this necessity upon men. And that may be one reason why this clause is inserted, that every time we come to pray and beg pardon, we may bind ourselves to this practice, and warn ourselves more solemnly of our duty, and undertake it in the sight of God. So that when we say, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,’ it is a certain undertaking or solemn promise we make to God, if he will show mercy to us, this will incline us to show mercy to others. In earnest requests, we are wont to bind ourselves to necessary duties.
[5.] It is an argument breeding confidence in God’s pardoning mercy. When we, that have so much of the old leaven, that sour, revengeful nature, in us, yet when we have received but a spark of grace, it makes us ready to forgive others; then what may we imagine in God! What is our drop, to that infinite sea of fulness that is in him! Clearly thus it is urged in that clause, Luke xi. 4, ‘And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.’ There is a special emphasis upon that, for we a1so; that is, we that have so little grace, we that are so revengeful and passionate by nature, we also forgive those that are indebted to us. Therefore the gracious God, in all goodness, and in all moral perfections, doth far exceed the creature; and if this be in us, what is there in God? This kind of reasoning is often used in scripture; as Mat. vii. ll, ‘If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?’ If evil men hath such bowels and affections towards their children, certainly there is more of this goodness and kindness in God.
Thirdly, Wherein this forgiving of others doth consist?
1. In forbearing others.
2. In acquitting others.
3. In doing good to them.
[1.] In forbearing one another and withholding ourselves from revenge. This is a thing that is distant from forgiving, and accordingly we shall find it so propounded by the apostle: Col. iii. 13, ‘Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.’ Mark, there is first forbearing and then forgiving. What is forbearing? A ceasing from acts of revenge, which, though they be sweet to nature, yet they are contrary to grace. Some men will say, We will do to him as he hath done to us: Prov. xxiv. 29, ‘Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me; I will render to the man according to his work.’ Corrupt nature thirsteth for revenge, and hath a strong inclination this way; but grace should give cheek to it: ‘ Say not,’ etc. Men think it is a base thing, and argueth a low, pusillanimous spirit, to put up with wrongs and injuries: oh, it argueth a stupid baseness. But this is that which giveth a man a victory over himself; nay, it gives a man the truest victory over his enemy, when he forbears to revenue. It gives a man a victory over himself, which is better than the most noble actions amongst the sons of men: Prov. xvi. 32, ‘He that overcometh his own spirit is more than he that taketh a city.’ There is a spirit in us- that is boisterous, turbulent, and revengeful, apt to retaliate and return injury for injury. Now, when we can bridle this, this is an overcoming of our own spirits. But that is the true weakness of spirit, when a man is easily overcome by his own passion. And then hath our enemy a true victory over us, when his injury overcome us so far as we can break God’s laws to be quit with him. Therefore the apostle saith: Rom. xii. 21, ‘ Be not ovecome of evil, but overcome evil with good.’ Then is grace victorious, and then hath a man a noble and brave spirit, not when he is overcome by evil (for that argueth weakness}, but when he can overcome evil. And it is God’s way to shame the party that did the wrong and to overcome him too: it is the best way to get the victory over him. When David had Saul at an advantage in the cave, and cut off the lap of his garment, and did forbear any act of revenge against him, Saul was melted, and said to David, ‘Thou art more righteous than I’ 1 Sam. xxiv. 17. Though he had such a hostile mind against him, and chased and pursued him up and down, yet when David forebore revenge when it was in his power, it overcame him, and he falls a-weeping. So the captains of the Syrians, when the prophet had blinded them, and led them from Dothan to Samaria, what saith the king of Israel? Is he ready to kill them presently? No: 2 Kings vi. 22, ‘ Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master.’ He was kind to them; and what followeth? ‘They did no more annoy Israel.’ This wrought upon the hearts of the Syrians, so that they would not come and trouble them any more.
[2.] In forgiving, it is not only required of Christians to forbear the avenging of themselves, but also actually to forgive and pardon those that have done them wrongs. They must not only forbear acts of revenge, but all desires of revenge must be rooted out of their hearts. Men may tolerate or forbear others for want of a handsome opportunity of executing their purposes; but the scripture saith, ‘Forbearing one another, forgiving one another.’ This forgiving implieth the laying down of all anger, and hatred, and all desire of revenge. Now this should be done, not only in word, but sincerely and universally.
(l.) Sincerely, and with the heart. In the conclusion of that parable, Christ doth not say, If ye do not forgive, thus it shall be done to you; but, ‘ If ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses, so also shall my heavenly Father do to you.’ We must not only do this, but do it from the heart. Joseph, when his brethren came to him and submitted themselves, did not only remit the offence, but his bowels yearned towards them, and his heart was towards them: Gen. 1. 17. Then,
(2.) It must be done universally, whatever the wrong be, be it to our persons, names, or estates. To our persons: Acts vii. 60, Stephen, when they stoned him, he said, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’ Though they had done him so great an injury as to deprive him of his life and service, yet, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’ So to our names: When Shimei came barking against David -the poor man was driven out of Jerusalem by a rebellious son, and this wicked wretch takes advantage against David and rails at him -yet David forgives him when restored to his crown: ‘He shall not die,’ 2 Sam. xix. 23. Nay, he sware to him. So his estate: When a debtor is not able to pay, and yet submits. So Paul bids Philemon to forgive the wrongs of Onesimus: ‘Put it on my score,’ Philem. 18, that is, for my sake forgive this wrong.
[3.] We must be ready to perform all offices of love to them: Luke vi.27, ‘Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you.’ Mark, do not only forbear to execute your wrath and revenge upon them, but do good to them; yea, though they be enemies upon a religious ground; though religion be made a party in the quarrel, and so engage us to the greater fury, when that which should bridle our passions is the fuel, to them: ‘Pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you,’ Mat. v. 44. Miriam, when she had wronged Moses, yet he falls a-praying for her, Num. xii. 13, that the Lord would forgive the sin and heal her.
For the reasons why those that would rightly pray to be forgiven of God must forgive others-it should be so, it will be so-there is a congruency and a necessity.
1.The congruency, it should be so.
It is fit that he that beggeth mercy should show mercy; it is exceedingly congruous. For this is a general rule: that we should do as we would be done unto; and, therefore, if we need mercy from God, we should show mercy to others, and without it we can never pray in faith. He that doth not exercise love can never pray in faith. Why? His own revengeful disposition will still prejudice his mind, and make him conclude against the audience of his prayers; for certainly we muse on others as we use ourselves. And that is one reason of our unbelief, why we are so hardly brought to believe all that tender mercy which is in God; because it is so irksome to us to forgive seven times a day, we are apt to frame our conclusions according to the disposition of our own heart. Can we think God will forgive when we ourselves will not forgive? A man’s own prayers will be confuted. What is more equal than to do as we would be done unto? And therefore it is but equal, if he entreat mercy for himself, he should show it unto others. Look, as the centurion reasoned of God’s power, from the command that he had over his soldiers: Mat. viii. 9, ‘I am a man under authority, and I say to one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh.’ Those things we are accustomed to, they are apt to run in our minds when we come to think of God. Now he that kept his soldiers under discipline that if he said, Go, they go, he reasons thus of God: Surely God hath power to chase away diseases. So accordingly should we reason of God’s mercy according to the mercy that we find in ourselves. Therefore it is very notable that when Christ had spoken of forgiving our brethren, ‘not only seven times, but seventy times seven,’ the disciples said unto the Lord, ‘Increase our faith,’ Luke xvii. 5. How doth this come in? In the 4th verse Christ had spoken that they should forgive not only seven times, but seventy times seven; and they do not say, Lord, increase our charity, but our faith; implying that we cannot have such large thoughts of God when our own hearts are so straitened by revenge and our private passions.
2. In point of necessity; as it should be so, so it will be so;
for God’s mercy will have an influence upon us to make us merciful. All God’s actions to us imprint their stamp in us. His election of us makes us to choose him and his ways; his love to us makes us love him again, who hath loved us first; so his forgiving of us makes us to forgive our brethren. There is an answerable impression left upon the soul to every act of God. Why? For a true believer is God’s image: ‘ The new man is created after God,’ Eph. iv. 24; and therefore he acts as God. Certainly, if there be such a disposition in our heavenly Father, it will be in us if we have an interest in him. Look, as a child hath part for part, and limb for limb, answerable to his father, though not so big in stature and bulk; so hath a child of God, which is created after God, he hath all the divine perfections in some measure in his soul. And this consideration is of more force, because the new creature cannot be maimed and defective in every part, but is entire, lacking, nothing. And therefore, if God forgive others, certainly the godly will be inclinable to forgive too. ‘
Use 1. Here is a ground of trial whether we are pardoned or no: Is our revengeful disposition, that is so natural and so pleasing to us, mortified? That is one trial or evidence whether we are forgiven of God; can we freely from the heart forgive others? Objection. But it may be objected against this: Do you place so much in this property of forgiving others? It doth not agree only to pardoned sinners, because we see some carnal men are of a weak and stupid spirit, not sensible of injuries. And, on the other side, many of God’s children find it hard to obtain to the perfect oblivion of injuries that is required of them.
Answer. As to the first part, I answer: We do not speak of this disposition as proceeding from an easy temper, but as it proceedeth from grace; when, in conscience towards God, and out of a sense of his love to us in Christ, our hearts, being tendered and melted towards others, to show them such mercy as we ourselves have received from the Lord; that is the evidence. And again, we do not press to judge by this evidence single and alone, but in conjunction with others; when they are humbly penitent, and confessing their sins, and turn to the Lord, which is the great evangelical condition: Job xxxiii. 27, ‘If any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not,’ then will he restore light to him. When a man is soundly touched with remorse, and seeth the folly of his former courses, and asketh pardon of God, then is God gracious to him. But this is that we say, that this disposition of pardon, in conjunction with the great evangelical condition of faith and repentance, it helpeth to make the evidence more clear.
2. As to the other part of the objection, which was this: it will be a great weakening of the confidence of God’s children who cannot get such a perfect oblivion of injuries they have received, but find their minds working too much this way:-
I answer: As long as we live in the world there will be flesh and spirit, corruption as well as grace; there will be an intermixture of the operations of each. Carnal nature is prone to revenge, but grace prevaileth and inclineth to a pardon. Well, then, if this be the prevalent inclination of the soul, and that which we strive by all good means to cherish in us, this meek disposition, passing by of wrongs we receive by others, then we may take comfort by this evidence, though there be some reluctances and regrudgings of the old nature.
Use 2. To press us to this ready inclination to forgive wrongs and injuries. We are not so perfect but we all need it from one another. There will be mutual offences while we are in the world, especially in a time when religious differences are on foot; therefore it concerns us to look after this disposition of forgiving others, as we would be forgiven of God. Human society cannot well be upheld without this mutual forbearance and forgiving. Now imitate your heavenly Father. No man can wrong us so much as we daily trespass against him, and yet God pardoneth us. He doth not only pardon the lesser failings, some venial errors, and sins of incogitancy and sudden surreption, which creep upon us we know not how; but he pardons the greatest sins, though they be as scarlet: Isa. i. 18. Those that are of a crimson hue, God can wash them out in the blood of Christ. And mark, what is it then that you will stand upon? Is it the greatness of the offence? God pardons great sins. Or is it the baseness of those that injure you (this is the circumstance)-when we have received wrong from those which are our inferiors, that owe us more reverence and respect? What are we to God? Notwithstanding the baseness of those which affront him daily, all men to him are but ‘as the drop of the bucket, and the small dust of the balance,’ Isa. xl. 15; yet God pardons them. And then again, cast in the consideration of God’s omnipotency. He is able to right himself of the wrongs done to him, and no man can call him to an account. Many times it is not in our power: ‘He can cast body and soul into hell,’ Mat. x. 28. God is thus offended, and by saucy dust that is ready to fly in his face, inconsiderable man; and yet the Lord pardons, and this he doth freely: Luke vii.42,’He frankly forgave them both.’ And he pardons fully, as if it were never committed: Micah vii. 19, ‘He casts all our sins into the depths of the sea.’ Then he pardons frequently: His ‘free gift is of many offences unto justification,’ Rom. v. 16. And he ‘multiplies to pardon’ Isa. Iv. 7. And mark, he pardons too (in some sense) before they repent; there is a purpose; he provided Christ before we were ‘born.’ And he gives us grace to repent, or else we could never humble ourselves at his feet, the offended God; he gives them the grace whereby they shall acknowledge the offence. Christ prayed for his persecutors when they had no sense of the injury they had done him; they were converted by that prayer afterwards: Luke xxiii. 34, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do;’ therefore certainly much more when they repent and submit. Oh, therefore, let us not be drawn hardly to this duty; or, at least, we should not upon every petty offence cherish hatred and rancour against our brethren.
But here are certain cases that would come into debate.
First Case. Whether it be consistent with this temper, forgiving of others, to seek reparation of wrongs in a way of justice, and pursue men at law for offences they have committed against us?
Ans. Yes. For,
1. Certainly one law doth not cross another. By the law of charity the law of justice is not made void. A magistrate, though he be a Christian, and bound to forgive others, is not bound up from executing his office against public offenders. Nor yet are private men tied from having recourse to the magistrate for restoration to their right, or reparation of their wrong. For to demand one’s right is not contrary to love, nor to seek to amend and humble the party nocent by the magistrate’s authority, who is ‘the minister of God for good,’ Rom xiii 4, and that others may ‘hear and fear,’ Deut. xix. 20; and the party damnified may for the future live in peace. Forgiving is an act of private jurisdiction. The offence, as far as it is private to us, it may be forgiven; but there are many such offences as are not only an offence to us, but to the public order, and that must be left to the process of the law.
2. Whosoever useth this remedy must look to his own heart, that he be not acted with private revenge, nor with a spirit of rigour or rancour against the party offending; but that he be carried out with zeal to justice, with pity to the person, that he and others may not be hardened in sin. For this is the general law of Christ, that all things should be done in love,’ 1 Cor. xvi. 14. Therefore when we are acted by our private passion and secret desires of revenge, we abuse God’s ordinance of magistracy, and make it to lacquey upon our lusts. And therefore there must be a taking heed to the frame of our own hearts, that they be upright in these things. Though it seem hard to flesh and blood, yet remember flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Grace must frame your hearts to the obedience of God’s will.
3.These remedies from authority must be in weighty cases, and in matters of moment and importance. Their contending in law one with another about the smallest matters is that which the apostle taxeth: I Cor. vi. 7. Not upon every trifling occasion. It must be after other means are tried and used; as the help of friends to compound the matter, for charity trieth all things: 1 Cor. xiii. 4. And the apostle saith, 1 Cor. vi. 5, ‘ Is there none to judge between you?’ that is, none to decide and arbitrate the difference, for the refuge to authority should be our last remedy. And it must be too when the party wronging, is able to make satisfaction, otherwise it is rigour and inhumanity: 2 Kings iv. 1. As when the creditors came to take the sons of the widow for bondmen. When you are rigorous with those that come to poverty, not by their own default, but by the discharge of their duty brought poverty upon themselves, it is contrary to Christianity. Look, as physicians deal with quicksilver, after many distillations they make it useful in medicines; so, after many preparations is this course to be taken.
Second Case. Whether, in forgiving injuries, we are bound to tarry for the repentance of the party? The ground of doubting is, because Christ saith, Luke xvii. 3, ‘ If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and, if he repent, forgive him;’ and because of God’s example, who doth not forgive an obstinate sinner, but him that repents. Certainly, even before repentance, we are bound to lay aside revenge, and in many cases to go and reconcile ourselves with others. Saith our Saviour, ‘If thou hast aught against any one, go reconcile thyself to him, and then come and offer thy gift.’ It is not said, If any have aught against thee, but, If thou hast aught against anyone.’ I confess, in some cases, it is enough to lay it aside before the Lord. But at other times, we are to seek reconciliation with the party which hath wronged us. But this case is mightily to be guided by spiritual prudence. As for God’s example, God is superior, bound to none, he acts freely – it is his mercy that pardons any; and yet God gives us a heart to repent of his good pleasure, -he begins with a sinner. But this is nothing to our case who are under law, who are bound to forgive others.
III. The person to whom we pray, Our heavenly Father.
The note is, that God doth alone forgive sin.
There is a double forgiveness of sin -in heaven and in a man’s own conscience; and therefore sometimes compared to the blotting out of something out of a book, sometimes to the blotting out of a cloud. To the blotting out of a book: Isa. xliii. 25, ‘I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions, for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins;’ that it may be no more remembered or charged upon us. To the blotting out of a cloud: Isa. xliv. 22, ‘I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins;’ as the sun when it breaketh forth in its strength dispelleth the mists and clouds. Sin interposeth as a cloud, hindering the light of God’s countenance from shining forth upon us. Both these are God’s work; to blot the book and to blot out the cloud.
1. Pardoning of sin in the court of heaven, it belongeth to God peculiarly: Dan. ix. 9, ‘To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses,’ etc. It is God alone can do it, for two reasons.
[l.] He is the wronged party.
[2.] He is the supreme judge.
( 1.) He is the wronged party, against whom the offence is committed: Ps. li. 4, ‘Against thee, against thee only, have I sinned.’ He had sinned against Bathsheba, against Uriah, whose death he projected. How is it said, ‘against thee only’? There may be wrong and hurt done to a creature, but the sin is against God, as it is a breach of his law, and a despising of his sovereign authority; the injury done to the creature is nothing in comparison of the offence done to God, against so many obligations wherein we stand bound to hire amongst men, we distinguish between the crime and the wrong. And a criminal action is one thing, and an action of wrong and trespass is another. If a man steal from another, it is not enough to make him restitution, but he must satisfy the law.
(2.) He is the supreme judge.
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as one God, are the judge of all the earth, to whom they must be accountable for the offence: Gen. xviii. 25, ‘Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?’ But in the mystery of redemption, thither, as first in order of the persons is represented as the judge, to whom the satisfaction is tendered, and who doth authoritatively pass a sentence of absolution. And therefore it is said, 1 John ii. 1, ‘We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ He is to deal with him as the supreme judge; and it is God that justifieth,’ Rom. viii. 33. The whole business of our acquitment is carried on by the Father, who is to receive the satisfaction, and our humble addresses for pardon.
But to answer some objections that may arise.
Object. 1. It is said, Mat. ix. 6, 1 ‘The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.’
I answer: That is brought there as an argument of his Godhead. He that was the Son of man was also very God; and therefore upon earth, in the time of his humiliation, he had power to forgive sins, for he ceased not to be God when incarnate. And it became him to discover himself, as by his divine power in the work of miracles, so his divine authority in the forgiveness of sins.
Object. 2. Is taken from the text, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ I answer: In sin, there is the obliquity or fault in it, and the hurt or detriment that redounds to man by it. As it is a breach of the law of God, or an offence to his infinite majesty, God can only pardon it, or dispense with it. As it is a hurt to us, so restitution is to be made to man, and man can pardon or forgive it.
Object. 3. It is said, John xx. 23, ‘Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.’ So that it seemeth man hath a power to remit sins.
I answer: They do it declaratively, and by commission from God. The officers of the church have the keys of the kingdom of heaven committed to them; the key of knowledge or doctrine, and the key of order and discipline. Accordingly this power is called, ‘The keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ Mat. xvi. 19. And the use of them is to open or shut the doors of God’s house, and to ‘bind or loose,’ as the expression is, Mat. xviii. 18. That is, to pronounce guilty and liable to judgment, or to absolve and set free declaratively and in God’s name; or, as it is literally expressed in the place alleged, to remit or retain. The key of doctrine is exercised about all sin as sin, were it never so secret and inward; and the key of order and discipline about sin only as it is scandalous and infectious. Now what they act ministerially, according to their commission, it is ratified in heaven, for it is a declaration or intimation of the sentence already passed there. So that a declarative and ministerial power is given to the church; but the authoritative power of forgiving sins, that God hath reserved to himself. Man can remit doctrinally, and by way of judicial procedure, but that is only by way of commission and ministerial deputation. Such as are penitent, and feel the bonds of their sins, they do declaratively absolve and loose them, or take off the censure judicially inflicted for their scandalous carriage. This ministerial forgiving, however carnal hearts may slight it, both in doctrine and discipline, yet being according to the rules of the word, is owned by God, and the penitent shall feel it to their encouragement, and the obstinate to their terror.
2. As he pardoneth sin in the conscience; and there God alone can forgive sin, or speak peace to the soul upon a double account:-
[1.] Because of his authority.
[2.] Because of his power.
(1.) Because of his authority.
Conscience is God’s deputy, and till God be pacified, conscience is not pacified upon sound and solid terms. Therefore it is said, where conscience doth its office, 1 John iii. 20, 21, ‘If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things; if our hearts condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.’ God is greater than our consciences. His authority is greater, for God is supreme, whose sentence is decisive. Now, though conscience should not do its office, 1 Cor. iv. 4, ‘For I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.’ All depends upon God’s testimony.
(2.) Because of his power, who only can still the conscience: Isa. lvii. 19, ‘I create the fruit of the lips to be, peace, peace;’ that is, the lips of his ministers or messengers, who bring the glad tidings of peace, or the reconcilement of God to his people: and therefore it is called ‘the peace of God,’ Phil. iv. 7, as wrought by him. The gospel is a sovereign plaster, but it is God’s hand that must make it stick upon the soul, otherwise we hear words and return words: it is the lively operation of his Spirit that our hearts are settled. God cometh in with a sovereign powerful act upon the soul, otherwise one grief or sad thought doth but awaken another. Till he ‘command loving-kindness,’ Ps. xlii. 8, we are still followed with temptation; as the rain swells the rivers, and rivers the sea, and in the sea one wave impelleth another, so doth one temptation raise another.
Use 1. It reproveth those that do not deal with God about the pardon of their sins. If God alone pardon sins, then God must be sought to about it. For though there be none in earth to call us to an account, yet God may call us to an account; and then what shall we do? Many, if they escape the judgment of man, think they are safe; but alas! your iniquities will find you out. You think they are past, and never more to be remembered; but they will find you out in this world or the next; our business lieth not with man so much as with God. Therefore this should be the question of your souls: Job xxxi. 14, ‘What then shall I do when God riseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him?’ Which way shall I turn myself when God calleth me to an account? He will come and inquire into our ways; are you provided of an answer? David’s sin was secret; his plot for the destruction of Uriah closely carried. Nathan tells him, 2 Sam. xii. 12, ‘Thou didst it secretly.’ But, ‘against thee have I sinned.’ Many escape blame with men, but God’s wrath maketh inquisition for sinners. You cannot escape his search and vengeance if you do not treat with him about a pardon.
Use 2. It shows the folly of those that have nothing to show for the pardon of their sins, but their own secure presumptions; it is God’s act to pardon sin. Man may forget his sin, but if God remember it he is miserable. Man may hide his sin, but if God bring it to light; man may put off the thoughts, but if God doth not put away; man may excuse his sin, but if God aggravate it; the debtor may deny the debt, but if the book be not crossed, he is responsible: Ps. xxxii. 1, 2, ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity,’ etc. We must have God’s act to show for our discharge, then we may triumph: ‘ It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?’ etc., Rom. viii. 33, 34. God is the offended party, and the supreme judge. Then conscience hath nothing to do with us, nor Satan, neither as accuser or executioner. Not as an accuser, for then he is but a slanderer; not as an executioner, for he is turned out of office: Heb. ii. 14, ‘ That he might destroy him that had the power of death, even the devil.’ Have you your pardon from God? Is your discharge from him? When have it we from God?
1. Have it you from his mouth, in the word, or prayer, upon suing to him in Christ’s name, and earnest waiting upon him? If men would consider how they come by their peace, they would sooner be undeceived. You were praying and wrestling with God, and so your comfort came. God speaketh peace. But when it groweth upon you, know not how; it was a thing you never laboured for; like Jonah’s gourd, it grew up in a night; it is but a fond dream.
2. Have it you under his hand? Is it a peace upon scripture terms?-of faith: Rom. v. 1, ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:’- repentance: Luke xxiv. 47, ‘That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations,’ etc.;-and the exercise of holiness, -then have you God’s word to show for it. But if it be not a peace consistent with scripture rules, nay, you are afraid of the word, John iii. 20, you are loth to be tried,-it is a naughty heart.
3. Have it you under his seal? 2 Cor. i. 22, ‘Who hath also sealed us, and given us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.’ Have you the impress of God upon you, God’s seal, his image? Doth the Spirit of promise assure your hearts before God, that you can live in the strength of this comfort and go about duties cheerfully? Then it is God’s pardon; otherwise it is but your own absolution, which is worth nothing.
Use 3. It showeth that we need not fear the censures of men, nor the hatred of the ungodly; for it is God pardoneth, and who can condemn? God will not ask their vote and suffrage who shall be accepted to life and who not: 1 Cor. iv. 3, ‘But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment’ etc. A man must expect censure that will be faithful to God; but if he acquit us, it is no matter what our guilty fellow-creatures say.
Use 4. Is comfort to brokenhearted sinners; to those that need and desire pardon. It is well for them that God doth not put them off to others, but reserveth this power of pardoning sins to himself.
1.It is his glory to forgive sins: Exod. xxxiii. 18, ‘And he said, I beseech thee show me thy glory;’ compared with Exod. xxxiv. 6,7, ‘And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin,’ etc. It is not only the glory of a man, who is so offensive himself and so passionate, that this passion will draw him to what is unseemly, but of God.
2. It is his glory, not only above the creatures, but above all that is called god in the world: Micah vii. 1 8, ‘Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.’ The heathen gods were known by their terrors rather than their benefits, and feared rather for their revenges than their mercies. We may boast of him above all idol gods upon this account. He is known among his people, not so much by acts of power, as acts of grace, and the greatness of his mercy, in pardoning sins for Christ’s sake.
3. He is willing to dispense a pardon: Micah vii. 18, 1 He delighteth in mercy.’ God delighteth in himself, and all his attributes, and the manifestation of them in the world; but above all in his mercy. Justice is ‘his strange act, ‘Isa. xxviii. 21. There is not anything more pleasing to him. It is the mercy of God that he hath drawn up a petition for us; he would never have taught us to have asked mercy by prayer, if he had not been willing to show us mercy.
4. God will do it for his own sake, and not for any foreign reason: Isa. xliii. 2,5, ‘I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake,’ and out of a respect to his own honour. See how God casts up his accounts. It is mercy: Jer. iii. 12, ‘I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever.’ So his truth: Ps. cvi. 45, ‘He remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies.’ Not from any desert of theirs, who do so neglect him and wrong him; God will do it upon his own reasons.
5. He will do it in such a way as man doth not, in away of infinite mercy: Hosea xi. 9, ‘I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger; for I am God, and not man.’ It is the great advantage of us sinners that we have to do with God and not man in our miscarriages; for man’s pity and mercy may be exhausted, be it never so great. What! seven times a day? But God is infinite. Man may think it dishonourable to agree with an inferior when he stoops not to him; but God is so far above the creature that we are below his indignation. Man is soon wearied, but not God: Isa. Iv. 8, 9, ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’
I now come to the fourth and last consideration.
IV. That forgiveness of sins is one great benefit that we must ask of God in prayer.
Here it will be needful to show:-
First, The necessity of treating with God about forgiveness.
Secondly, The nature of this benefit.
Thirdly, The terms how God dispenseth it.
First, The necessity will appear in these propositions
1. Man hath a conscience: Rom ii 15, ‘Thoughts accusing or excusing,’ etc. A beast cannot reflect.
2. A conscience inferreth a law.
3. A law inferreth a sanction
4. A sanction inferreth a judgment.
5. A judgment inferreth a condemnation to the fallen creature.
6. There is no avoiding this condemnation, unless God set up a chancery, or another court of grace.
7. If God set up another court, our plea must be grace. Of this see more at large, ‘Twenty Sermons,’ Sermon 1 on Ps. xxxii. 1, 2.
Secondly, The nature of this benefit, or manner how God forgiveth.
[1.] Freely, and merely upon the impulsions of his own grace: Isa. xliii. 25, ‘I, even I, am he that forgivth your iniquities for my name’s sake.’ Nothing else could move him to it but his own mercy; and he could have chosen whether he would have done so, yea or no- for he spared not the angels, but offereth pardon to man, and all men are not actually pardoned. And, therefore, the only reason why he showeth us mercy and not others, is merely his own grace. The intervention of Christ’s merit doth not hinder the freedom of it, though dearly purchased by Christ, yet freely bestowed on us. For it is said, Rom. iii. 24, ‘Justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ.’ Why? Partly because it was mercy that be would not prosecute his right against us. Partly because he found out the way how to recompense the wrong done by sin unto his majesty, and out of his love sent his Son to make this recompense for us: John iii. 16. It was love set all a-work. And lastly, not excited hereunto by any worth on our parts, but the external moving cause was only our misery, and the internal moving cause his own grace. Nor is the freedom of this act infringed by requiring faith and repentance on our part, because that only showeth the way and order wherein this grace is dispensed, not the cause why. It is not for the worth of our repentance, or as if there were any merit in it. A malefactor, that beggeth his pardon on his knees, doth not deserve a pardon; only the majesty of the prince requireth that it should be submissively asked. These are not conditions of merit, but order; not the cause, but the way of grace’s working. And these conditions are wrought in us by grace: Acts v. 31; not required only, but given. In all other covenants, the party contracting is bound to perform what he promiseth by his own strength. But in the covenant of grace, God doth not only require that we should believe and repent, but causeth it in us. Conditions of the covenant are conditions in the covenant. God requireth faith and repentance, and giveth faith and repentance. Compare Isa. lix. 20, with Rom. xi. 26. It is Christ’s gift as well as his precept; so that when we come about pardon of sin, we have only to do with grace. We beg pardon, and a heart to receive it. It is a free pardon.
[2.] It is a full pardon. It is full in several respects. (l.) Because the party is forgiven, he is accepted with God as if he had never sinned: Ps. ciii. 12, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.’ And Micah vii. 19, Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depth of the sea;’ Isa. xxxviii.17, 1 Thou hast cast all sins behind thy back.’ It shall not be remembered nor laid to their charge any more. It is true, for a while after they may trouble the conscience, as when the storm ceaseth, the waves roll for a while afterwards; so may sin in the consciences of God’s children work trouble, after the fiducial application of the blood of Christ. But the storm ceaseth by degrees; and it is possible that the commitment of new sins may revive old guilt, as a new strain may make us sensible of an old bruise. Yet we must distinguish between the full grant of a pardon, from the full sense of it. When we are not thankful, humble, fruitful, former sins may come into remembrance, and God may permit it, as matter of humiliation to us, and to quicken us to seek after new confirmation of our right and interest. Yet God’s pardon is never reversed, nor will the sin be charged again, or put in suit against him, to the final condemnation of the person so pardoned. Once more: though the sins of the justified should be remembered at the day of judgment, it will not be to the confusion of their faces, but the exaltation and praise of the Lord’s grace. Then is this acquittance in all respects full. (2.) It is full, because where God forgiveth one sin, he will forgive all: Ps. ciii. 3, ‘Who pardoneth all thy sins;’ and Micah vii. 19, ‘Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depth of the sea.’ Sins original, actual, of omission, commission; small, great; secret, open; lust that boileth in the heart, and breaketh out in the life; sins of worship, of ordinary conversation. Look in the bill -what owest thou? A Christian is amazed when he cometh to a serious account with God; but the selfjudging sinner needeth not be discouraged when he cometh to God. For where God pardoneth all that is past, the fountain stands daily open for him to flee unto, with all his faults as they are committed; and upon the renewing of his faith and repentance, he shall obtain his pardon. All sins are mortal, all of them damnable. Therefore if all sins be not pardoned, he remaineth in danger of the curse, and one sin let alone is sufficient to exclude us out of heaven. Therefore all is pardoned, first or last. Justice hath no more to seek of Christ. And we have all leave to sue out our pardon in Christ’s name. He is under that covenant that will pardon all.
[3.] It is full; because where God forgiveth the sin, he also forgiveth the punishment. It will not stand with God’s mercy to forgive the debt, and yet to require the payment. It is a mocking to say, I forgive you the debt, and yet cast the man into prison; and to pardon the malefactor, and yet leave him liable to execution. Here in the text, God forgiveth us, as we are bound to forgive our brother, not in part, but in whole. Guilt is nothing but an obligation to punishment (l.) As to eternal punishment, it is clear: Rom. v. 9. The eternal promises and threatenings, being of things absolutely good and evil, are therefore absolute and peremptory, that is certain. (2.) But now as to temporal afflictions, there is some difficulty, for where the whole punishment is done away, such grace and payment of any part of the debt cannot stand together. That pardon which is given upon valuable and sufficient price is full and perfect. Jesus Christ satisfied the justice of God for all our sins. How is it, then, that the saints are subject to so many afflictions? (l.) So far as sin remains, so far some penal evil remains: when the dominion of it is broken, there remains no condemnation, but yet some affliction, and when it is wholly gone, there is no evil at all. We are not yet purged from all sin; and, therefore, (2.) these afflictions are not satisfactory punishments, and need not, as to the completing of our justification, but are helps to us, as the furtherance of our sanctification; and so are of great use-: [1.] To make us hate sin more., If we only knew the sweetness of it and not the bitterness, we would not be so shy of it. Now the bitterness of it is seen by the effects: Jer. ii. 19, ‘ Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee; know therefore, and see, that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts.’ [2.] It will cause us to prize our deliverance by Christ. If affliction be so grievous, what would hell be? 1 Cor. vi. 32, ‘But when we are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.’ It is a gentle remembrance of hell pains, or a fair warning to avoid them, when scorched or singed a little. [3.] To make us walk more humbly. We forget ourselves, and are apt to be puffed up. Paul saith, 2 Cor. xii. 7, ‘Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.’
[4.] It is full, because where God forgiveth sin, there are many consequent benefits.
(l.) God is reconciled: Rom. v. 1, ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ This is the great blessing, and our great work is to make and keep peace with God; to have no cloud between us and his face. Light is pleasant: what then is the light of his countenance, that filleth us with a peace that passes understanding? We would have a powerful friend, especially if we need him: Acts xii. 20; they sought peace with Herod, ‘because their country was nourished by the king’s country;’ so should we do: we cannot live without God. If sin be pardoned, then we are at peace with God, and may have free access to him, with a free use of all that is his.
(2.) A heart sanctified is a connexed benefit: 1 Cor. vi. 11, ‘And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus;’ and 1 John i. 9. Sin is considerable in the guilt and filth of it, as it rendereth us obnoxious to God’s justice, or as it tainteth our faculties and actions. According to this double respect, Christ destroyeth sin, and no man hath benefit by him that is not freed from the guilt and filth thereof. Christ was sent into the world to restore God’s image in us. But the image of God consisteth in the participation of holiness, as well as the participation of blessedness; for God, that is happy and blessed, is also holy and good. The filthiness of sin is opposite to holiness, and the guilt of it to blessedness; so that either Christ must restore but half the image of God, or he must give us this double benefit. If he should give us one without the other, many inconveniences would follow; therefore both are given: he justifieth that he may sanctify, and he signifieth that he may glorify.
(3.) Providence is blessed: the curse is taken out of our blessings, and the sting out of our afflictions. As long as sin remains unpardoned our blessings are cursed: Mal. ii. 2, ‘If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name, saith the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon; you, and I will curse your blessings; yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart.’ There will be a worm in our manna, our ‘table will become a snare,’ Ps. lxix. 22. But when once sin is pardoned, the sting of misery is taken away: I Cor. xv. 56, ‘ The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law: but thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Crosses are not curses.
(4.) We have a right to heaven, which is the great ground of hope: Rom. v. 10, ‘For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.’
Thirdly, The terms upon which it is dispensed are faith and repentance.
1. Faith: Acts x. 43, ‘To him give all the prophets witness, that, through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.’ Faith is necessary to honour the mercy of God, to own the surety, to consent to his undertaking, to encourage the creature to look after this benefit.
2. Repentance, which implieth a sorrow for sin, with a serious purpose of forsaking it. Sorrow for sin: no man can seriously desire a pardon but he that is touched with a sense of his sin, moved and troubled at it. And then, for purpose of forsaking: Ezek..xxxiii. 12, ‘As for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness.’ Sin pardoned must be left; otherwise, a pardon given to a wicked man would be a confirmation of his sin, or a concession of leave to sin. Well, then, let us seek pardon of God in this way.