All forgiveness is founded on the blessed work of the Lord Jesus. But it is important to distinguish between the pardon which clears us once and for ever from all our sins before God, by which we are justified, and have peace with God, and the pardon which we may receive on the way as under God s government, supposing we are pardoned and saved.
Without the work of Christ, a holy and just God, yea a God of truth, must have held man to be what he really is, a guilty sinner, who must be judged according to his works; and we know beforehand from His word, that there is none righteous, no not one. The love of God, great as it is, so great that for us He did not spare His Son, could not say that sin was not sin, or that He was indifferent to good and evil, for He is not, and in His own nature cannot be; and if He judges and makes man himself answer for what he has done, He must judge him righteously.
Besides, we are alienated from God in heart and mind, and so really already lost. I do not now mean finally, nor that we cannot be saved out of that state; but if we can, it is because Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost. Judgment, if we come unrepentant, unbelieving, before the judgment-seat of Christ, will be according to our works, and therefore condemnation: for all have sinned.
But God is love: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God has thus anticipated, in grace, that day of judgment. The same blessed Son of God, who will as Son of man sit on the judgment-seat, and judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom, has already, before that day, come as a Saviour, and died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and he that believeth on the Son of God shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be condemned. Solemn as that warning is, I shall not say more of these last. The statement is plain enough and solemn enough without adding anything to it: they die in their sins and are doubly guilty; they have not only sinned against His holiness, but despised His mercy.
Supposing now we do really in heart believe in the Son of God, with a faith wrought in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, and a conscience which feels the need of grace and forgiveness, for that is the great point; a faith which has wrought true repentance, that godly sorrow and sense that we have deserved to be condemned which make Christ and His grace and His work precious to us. I suppose we have been all brought up to believe in the blessed Lord Jesus as a divine history, but that is very different from believing in Him as meeting the need of an awakened conscience.
But, supposing I have this true faith in Him, then it behoves me to be able to say what He has done for me.
“He has died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3); “He has borne our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24); “He died the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God,” 1 Pet. 3:18.
So that here is our question: Supposing I have true heart faith in Him, Christ having thus died for me, what is the effect or efficacy of His death for me?
I have a perfect and eternal forgiveness and redemption according to the glory of God. I do not speak of those who neglect this great salvation; they are doubly guilty; but of what is the value of His work for those who have really a part in it? “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 that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,” Acts 13:38, 39. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace,” Eph. 1:7. “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” Rom. 4:25; chap. 5:1, 2. “By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,” Rom. 5:19. “Whom he justified, them he also glorified,” Rom. 8:30. “By his own blood, he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption,” Heb. 9:12. And its effect is complete (v. 14): “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
But is this valid for ever?
We have seen that it is eternal redemption, that it purges the conscience from dead works, and gives peace with God. But Scripture is more explicit. Christ is always at the right hand of God, and has presented His precious blood to God. It is always before His eyes. But Scripture is very explicit on this point. “But this [man], having offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down at the right hand of God.” Not like the Jewish priests standing continually at the altar, offering sacrifices which could never take away sins (Heb. 10: n), He sat down because, for redemption and forgiveness, He had done already the whole work; for (Heb. 5:14) “By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sactified.” He sits there at the right hand of God till His enemies be made His footstool; then He will come to deal with them in judgment. But all is done for His friends, that is, true believers, and He has sat down having finished the work, so that those who come by it have no more conscience of sins (v. 2). “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will impute no sin.” “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered,” Rom. 4:7, 8. And is it only some of them? No, that were useless. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth no sin, and the Holy Ghost testifies of it clearly in that same Hebrews 10 from which we have quoted: “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more “(v. 17). And so plainly does He put it, that He declares that “where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” (v. 18). So that, if all were not completely pardoned and effaced, there could be no remedy.
The more we consider it, the more plain it is. Christ is the Judge, and if now I can say by faith, He has loved me and washed me from my sins in His own blood, how can He, when I stand before the judgment-seat, impute to me the sins He has Himself borne and put away? He would be denying the value of His own work, which is impossible.
Again, if we are believers, we are raised in glory; 1 Cor. 15:43. Nay, Christ shall Himself come to bring us to Himself: “Who shall change our body of humiliation that it may be fashioned like unto his body of glory.” If Christ comes to fetch us, and puts us in glory, where is the place for raising any question then about our sins? And this is clearly said in John 5:24. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation [judgment]; but is passed from death unto life.”
Is it because God is indifferent to their sins? Impossible! But He has given His Son for us. Christ has borne them already, and cannot impute them to those who believe in Him and in the Father who sent Him in love. We know that the Lord says, “If ye do not believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins,” John 8:24. But if we believe in Him, we have the forgiveness of our sins—not of some, to be condemned for the rest. “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more,” because “by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” And we possess the blessedness of this word, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom Jehovah will not impute sin.” Hence repentance and remission of sins were to be preached in Jesus’ name. The Christian has a new life from Christ, and this will shew itself in his walk. He is born of the Spirit; and the faith in Christ by which he has forgiveness makes Christ everything to him, as it is written in Colossians 3, Christ is all and in all, the “everything,” that is, of our hearts, and He is our life.
But I now confine myself to redemption and forgiveness.
There is then a forgiveness identified with redemption and the abiding value of Christ’s blood, so that our sins are none of them imputed to us: God remembers them no more. We have part in this through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and the door by which we enter is repentance toward God, which faith in the word of Christ always produces. We have our eyes opened, we are turned from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God, and we receive remission of our sins and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith that is in Jesus; Acts 26:18.
Under the Old Testament among the Jews this full forgiveness was not known; they got a kind of absolution for each sin they committed; they were shut out from entering into the holiest by the veil, which hung before the place where God revealed Himself. Thus in Hebrews 9 it is written, “The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing.” But we learn, when the real work of which all these things were figures was accomplished in the death of the Saviour, that the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom (Matt. 27:51), and we are exhorted (Heb. 10:19) in virtue of the work of Christ and the remission of our sins (w. 17, 18), “having boldness to enter into the holiest, by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh,” to “draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” That one work, done once for all, never to be repeated, and effectual to give peace to the conscience, is the ground on which we have eternal redemption, full forgiveness, so that God remembers our sins and iniquities no more, an entrance into God’s presence and a part in the everlasting inheritance of God’s children in glory.
This great difference in the state of believers before and after the death of the blessed Lord is celebrated by Zacharias at the birth of John the Baptist, Christ’s forerunner; Luke 1:77. “To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.” So the repentant thief went straight into paradise with Christ; so to the repentant woman in the city that was a sinner the Lord said, not only, “Thy sins are forgiven thee”; but, “Thy faith hath saved thee,” Luke 7:48-50.
There is, then, for faith, a present but eternal forgiveness, founded on Christ’s bearing our sins in a work which can never be repeated, its value never diminished, nor anything added to it. God has proved His value of its worth in setting Him who did it at His right hand in glory, where He was with Him as Son of God before the world was. “Without shedding of blood there is no remission.” This cannot be repeated. “Christ is not entered into holy places made with hands (which are the figures of the true), but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. Nor yet to offer himself often… otherwise he must often have suffered since the foundation of the world; but now once in the consummation of ages he hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time, apart from sin, unto salvation.” Those whose sins were put away the first time He comes to take into glory, as to them having no more to do with sin which He put away the first time.
But there is a government of God in this world over those who are thus redeemed, and ever has been. “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.” And when God exercises this discipline, which is always for our good in love, when a soul is truly humbled, He in His wisdom often takes it away, forgiving, as to His present government and ways, the sin which made it necessary. Not that all such visitations are because of sins. The world is in a state of misery through sin, and all are liable to be subject to this servitude of corruption. This the Lord states in John 9:3.
Nor even when they are sent of God in reference to the state of the soul, are they always because of sins committed; they may be to prevent them, break the will, humble us as to our state. Thus Paul had a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be puffed up through the abundance of revelations. Thrice he asked the Lord to take it away, but the Lord had sent it for his good; so He would not.
This government of God, and pardon as to the present inflictions of His hand, we find both in the Old Testament and in the New.
Thus, when God had pronounced a terrible judgment on Ahab for his wickedness, Ahab humbled himself, and God said to Elijah who had carried the message to him, “Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? I will not bring the evil in his days; in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house.” This had nothing to do with the saving of his soul; indeed, as far as this history informs us, he died in his sins; but he was forgiven as to that particular judgment on the earth.
So with David: when he had acted very wickedly in a particular case, though in the main one beloved of God, and glorifying Him in his walk, Nathan the prophet declares to him, “Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me.” Yet in his general walk he was a man after God’s own heart. Very many such instances could be adduced from the Old Testament. There was pardon of the sin as to present chastisement. David was spared and not cut off, but the child of this sin was taken from him.
So in Exodus: when God threatened to destroy all the people, He recalled His threat when Moses pleaded His promises, and sent His angel to guide them, but declared “Nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them. And Jehovah plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made,” Exod. 32:34, 35. But their falling in the wilderness had nothing to do with the saving of their souls: Moses and Aaron died in the wilderness too, and we know they were saints of Jehovah.
It is just what is taught us in the book of Job, where Elihu interprets God’s ways in chapter 33:17-30; and in chapter 36:7 he speaks expressly of a righteous man, saying, “He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous,” but He chastens them for their sins; and he warns Job not to fight against God. If he had bowed in heart, he would have been delivered from his affliction (v. 16), and he is warned, as God was thus dealing with him, to take care he was not cut off from the earth (v. 12). Yet Job was the godliest man on all the earth, but needed correction as beginning to think well of himself; chap. 31:16 and following. Compare chapters 29:11, and 42:5, 6.
In the New Testament we have the same chastisement and forgiveness as a present dealing of God with man on the earth for their good. See 1 Corinthians 11:30-32. They took the Lord’s supper as if it were a common meal, and the poor had not enough to eat, and the rich indulged in gluttony and wine, and many were sick in consequence and even “slept,” that is, died. But all this was present chastening in this world, for the apostle says, “When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” The Corinthians were chastened for their faults, but were not condemned as unbelievers with the world.
So we read in 1 John 5:16. And this makes us understand what mortal sin so called is. It is a sin that brings the death of the body as a chastisement, and is such that Christians cannot pray that the life of their brother may be spared; whereas in other cases they could, and their prayers were heard, and the man’s life was spared who had sinned: he was pardoned in this sense. Thus Peter’s indignation arose against Ananias and Sapphira, not his compassion; and they died, through their sin, as a present judgment.
So in James 5:14-16, “The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” The man recovered from his sickness, being pardoned as a present thing, as to God’s government in dealing with him in this world.
We must not confound this pardon which refers to God’s dealing with us here, and the chastisements His love may inflict upon us, or deliver us from if we humble ourselves, and the eternal pardon of our souls which belongs to us through the redemption that the blood of Christ has wrought for us, the value of which nothing can alter or take away. Whereas we can easily understand that, if God chastens a man for his good when he is His child, He can take off the chastisement, and in this sense pardon the particular fault if a man humble himself, without the salvation of his soul being in question.
There is only another passage, which it may be well to refer to, John 20:23. The Lord, after He was risen, comes amongst His disciples and communicates to them the peace He had just made, and sends them out to preach that peace to others while He has gone away into heaven. In thus sending them out as His Father had sent Him, He conferred on them apostolic authority, so that they should administer this remission and forgiveness of sins to all those who believed, who became Christians. Thus when the Jews, convinced of their sin in rejecting Christ, said, thinking all was over through their rejecting Him, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter replies, “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Thus becoming Christians through his ministry they received the perfect remission which Christ obtained for them.
So in Acts 10:43; only there, as Peter himself had great difficulty in receiving any who believed from among the heathen, God gave them a testimony, as Peter says afterwards, before they were received, so that men could not refuse to receive them. So Paul gives the same testimony; Acts 13:38, 39.
And to this day, if a heathen believes in Christ and becomes a Christian by baptism, he then receives full remission of sins. Only the apostles could do it, with not only personal authority, but discernment as to the reality of the faith of those who came; Acts 8:28, 29. The general truth remains sure, “By him all that believe are justified from all things.”
The same governmental forgiveness remains true, too, with the same difference. Peter does not pray for Ananias and Sapphira: it was a sin unto death, and they fell dead. So Paul (1 Cor. 5:3-5) judged to “deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” There was apostolic discernment, authority and power. Then all were called on too to act on their responsibility as the assembly of God (vv. 12,13), and Paul associates them with him in this act of power.
In this sense the apostles had no successors. There were local authorities, elders, deacons, etc., but apostles were apostles, and did this with Christ’s authority everywhere, only Peter specially among the Jews, and Paul among the Gentiles; Gal. 2:7, 8. As such, even the greatest authorities among the Roman Catholics admit they had no successors.
But there is a succession owned of God, whose authority flows from Christ where His presence is realised in lowly grace. In Matthew 18:18, if a person were wronged, he was to speak to the wrong-doer, and win him if he could; if he could not, to take two or three more; if this did not succeed, he was to tell it—not to the clergy, not to any priest, but—to the assembly. If the wrong-doer would not listen to the assembly, the person was free to treat him as outside it—as a heathen man and a publican. And the reason is given: that wherever two or three were gathered together in Christ’s .name, really met and looking to Him, so as to act really and humbly in His name, He being there according to this promise, the act would have in ordinary church discipline (as “putting out from among yourselves”) Christ’s authority, and He would own and sanction it.
It is not individual apostolic power (Peter and Paul both announce these would not be after their decease, Acts 20:29-33) acting in Christ’s name as Peter could, saying, “Jesus Christ maketh thee whole,” or Paul delivering to Satan, but an act within the limits of duty, presented by the word, and which Christ sanctions by His presence and authority, acting in the midst of two or three. This supposes they are in unity, really gathered to Christ’s name, and truly looking to Him by the Spirit, as the only One who can exercise this authority, and taking His word for their guide. It is this that in the word of God takes the place (I do not say of apostolic power, for it is not individual, but) of apostolic authority, because it is Christ who really acts.