Guilt and Pardon

Guilt and Pardon

John Martin

“‘Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
—Luke 23:34

These words spoken by our Lord when He was crucified demonstrate the magnanimous grace of God to a guilty world then. When? The previous verse tells us that it was, “When they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him.” It was then, precisely at the moment when man was executing his most fiendish act, driving nails into His hands and feet, that Jesus cried, “Father, forgive them.” The wanton and relentless hatred of man to God is met by the boundless and causeless love of God to man. Stupendous thought! Our Lord’s prayer for His enemies was for their forgiveness.

What is forgiveness? The Bible reveals two aspects of this truth, judicial and experimental.

From the God-ward side, sin has been dealt with according to the Divine estimate of what it is. However, it is not only a matter for Divine judgment; it is also a matter for self-judgment that the believer is to exercise in relation to his life and testimony. Observe how man looks at sin. From a moral standpoint, a man is innocent until he is proved guilty, but God reverses that, and in His reckoning, a man is guilty until he is proved innocent. He is not a thief because he steals, but he steals because he is a thief.

In judicial circles, if a man steals three dollars, he is charged with petty larceny. Again the religious world classifies sin as original, venial, mortal, etc. In God’s sight however, sin is not so much a condition as it is an attitude, and it is one of rebellion against the throne of God.

Of course, while this is all true that all men are alike sinners; it is equally true that all men are not sinners alike. Comparitively speaking, some are fifty pence debtors while others are five hundred pence debtors, but our absolute amount of debt is like the one who owed his master ten thousand talents.

Sin raised a problem to which God alone had the answer. How could God justify the sinner without justifying his sin? How could He save him from the legal penalty of his sin and yet save Himself from complicity and compromise with his guilt? Only the wisdom and love of God were equal to give the answer. The wisdom and love of God provided it. A vicarious death was necessary to enable (not induce) Him to forgive sin without injustice to Himself or the sinner.

The pardon that God provides for the sinner must at the same time be full, free, and forever.

It Must Be Full

To be full it must embrace all sin; not one sin can remain unforgiven. The recipient of a Divine pardon must be able to sing truthfully:

“My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought;
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to His cross and I bear it no more.
Blessed hope! Blessed rest of my soul!”

Nehemiah spoke of God as One “ready to pardon” (Chap. 9:17). Jeremiah spoke of a day when God would pardon all the iniquities of Judah and Israel; adding, “And it shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise, and an honor before all the earth which shall hear all the good that I do unto them” (Chap. 33:9). The pardon must not only be full, but

It Must Be Free

The Bible opposes any idea of payment being offered to God for His mercy, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5). This is a mortal blow to all human merit. Salvation comes to each one not on the ground of creature merit, but on the basis of sovereign grace alone.

It Must Be Forever

The pardon is not only full and free, but it is, glorious truth, forever. With God it could not be otherwise. Jeremiah describes a search that was made for the sins of Judah and for the iniquities of Israel, but the result given was they could not be found (Jer. 50:20-21). The same prophet says, “Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back” (38:17). The act of turning one’s back upon a person indicates a desire to have nothing more to do with such an one, and so God wants no more to do with the believing sinner’s sin. The prophet Micah describes them as being “cast into the depths of the sea” (Chap. 7:19). Again, an apostle writes of them quoting a saying of the Lord, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 10:17). Does that mean that God has forgotten our sins? No. To forget indicates a lapse of memory, but to remember no more is a judicial act of obliteration. What security! “Behind His back,” suggests that they are out of sight; “In the depth of the sea,” that they are out of reach; “Remember no more,” that they are out of mind. Samuel Davies expressed this truth in his immortal hymn:

“Such dire offences to forgive,
Such guilty, daring, worms to spare;
This is Thy grand prerogative,
And in this glory none shall share.
Who is a pardoning God like Thee,
Or Who has grace so rich, so free ?”
“In wonder lost with trembling joy,
We take the pardon of our God,
Pardon for sins of deepest dye,
Pardon that’s sealed with Jesus’ blood.
Who is a pardoning God like Thee,
Or Who has grace so rich and free ?”

Two thousand years ago a storm of unmitigated judgment broke upon the head of Christ, but He is beyond that now. Yes, two thousand years beyond it, and because of this we read, “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).