Are You Forgiven?
Adapted from a Sermon by J.C. Ryle
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake. 1 John 2:12
Are you forgiven? Have you considered the question? It is just possible you may not understand its meaning. Perhaps you may think, “Whom have I injured?—Whom have I defrauded?—Whom have I wronged?—Whose confidence have I betrayed?—What need do I have of forgiveness?”
I answer, it is not an earthly forgiveness I am asking about, but a heavenly one. I am not asking whether you are forgiven in the sight of men, but whether you are forgiven in the sight of God. The question I want to press home on your conscience is simply this, “Are you a pardoned soul?”
Come now, and give me your attention, while I speak to you about the forgiveness of sins. The subject is one that can never be considered too soon. Our life is fragile. Disease, accident, natural disaster may extinguish it in a moment. We live yet, and surely we should be thoughtful. Our turn may come next. Our graves may soon be ready for us. Come then, I say once more, and let me speak to you about the forgiveness of sins.
I. Let me show you first of all your need of forgiveness.
All men need forgiveness, because all men are sinners. It is the very first step in Christianity, that a man should know his right place, and understand what it is he deserves.
We are all great sinners. Sinners we were born, and sinners we have been all our lives. We take to sin naturally from the very first. No child ever needs schooling and education to teach it to do wrong. No devil or bad companion ever leads us into such wickedness as our own hearts. And the wages of sin is death. We must either be forgiven, or lost eternally.
We are all guilty sinners in the sight of God. We have broken His holy law. We have transgressed His precepts. We have not done His will. There is not a commandment in all the ten which does not condemn us. If we have not broken it in deed we have in word, we have in thought and imagination,—and that continually. Tried by the standard of the Sermon on the Mount there is not one of us that would be acquitted. And as it is appointed for men to die once, so after that comes the judgment. We must either be forgiven, or perish everlastingly.
If we walk through the crowded streets of any great city, we will see hundreds and thousands, of whom we know nothing beyond their outward appearance. Some bent on pleasure, and some on business,—some who look rich, and some who look poor,—some rolling by in their cars, some hurrying along on foot. Each having his own object in view. Each having his own aims and ends, all alike being hidden from you and me. But one thing you may know for certain—they are all sinners. There is not a soul among them all that is not guilty before God. There breathes not the man or woman or child in that crowd, but must die forgiven, or else rise again to be condemned for ever at the last day.
You may not perhaps like this line of thought. No doubt such language as this sounds excessive to some. You think it is going much too far. But mark well what I am about to say next, and then consider whether I have not used sober and truthful words.
What then, I ask, is the life of the best Christian amongst us all? What is it but one great string of shortcomings? Our faith, how feeble! Our love, how cold! Our works, how few! Our zeal, how small! Our patience, how short-breathed! Our humility, how thin! Our self-denial, how dwarfish! Our knowledge, how dim! Our spirituality, how shallow! Our prayers, how formal! Our desires for more grace, how faint! Never did the wisest of men speak more wisely than when he said, “there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Eccles 7:20.)
And what is the best action that is ever done by the very best of Christians? What is it after all but an imperfect work, when tried on its own merits? It is, as Luther says, no better than a splendid sin. It is always more or less defective. It is either wrong in its motive, or incomplete in its performance,—not done from perfect principles, or not executed in a perfect way. The eyes of men may see no fault in it, but weighed in the balance of God it would be found lacking, and viewed in the light of heaven it would prove full of flaws. It is like the drop of water which seems clear to the naked eye, but placed under a microscope is discovered to be full of impurity. David’s account is literally true, “there is none who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:3.)
And then, what is the Lord God, whose eyes are on all our ways, and before whom we have to give account one day? “Holy, holy, holy,” is the remarkable expression applied to Him by those who are nearest to Him. (Isaiah 6:3. Rev. 4:8.) It sounds as if no one word could express the intensity of His holiness. One of His prophets says, He is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.” (Habak. i. 13.) What is any one of us but a miserable sinner in the sight of such a God as this?
Surely we ought to abandon all proud thoughts about ourselves. We ought to cover our mouths, and say with Abraham, “I am but dust and ashes,” and with Job, “I am vile,” and with John, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (Gen. 18:27; Job 40:4; 1 John 1:9.) Where is the man or woman or child in the whole catalogue of the Book of life, that will ever be able to say more than this, “I obtained mercy?” What is the glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the noble army of martyrs, what are they all but pardoned sinners? Surely there is only one conclusion to be arrived at, we are all great sinners, and we all need a great forgiveness.
Do you see now what good reason I have to tell you that to know your need of forgiveness is the first thing in true religion? Sin is a burden, and must be taken off. Sin is a defilement, and must be cleansed away. Sin is a mighty debt, and must be paid. Sin is a mountain standing between us and heaven, and must be removed. Happy is the one who feels all this! The first step towards heaven is to see clearly that we deserve hell. There are two and only two alternatives before us, we must either be forgiven, or be miserable forever.
Do you see also how few know of the fundamentals of Christianity, though they live in a Christian land. They imagine they are to go to church to learn their duty, and hear morality enforced, and for no other purpose. They forget that the heathen philosophers could have told them as much as this. They forget that Greek philosophers such as Plato gave instruction, which ought to put to shame the Christian liar, the Christian drunkard, and the Christian thief. They have yet to learn that the leading mark of Christianity is the remedy it provides for sin. This is the glory and excellence of the Gospel. It meets man as he really is. It takes him as it finds him. It goes down to the level to which sin has brought him, and offers to raise him up. It tells him of a remedy equal to his disease, a great forgiveness for great sinners.
I ask you to consider these things well, if you have not considered them before. It is no light matter whether you know your soul’s needs or not. It is a matter of life and death. Try, I urge you, to become acquainted with your own heart. Sit down and think quietly what you are in the sight of God. Bring together the thoughts, and words, and actions of any day in your life, and measure them by the measure of God’s word. Judge yourself honestly, that you may not be condemned at the last day. Would that you might find out what you really are! That you might learn to pray Job’s prayer, “Make me know my transgression and my sin..” (Job 13:23.) That you might see this great truth, that until you are forgiven, your Christianity has done nothing for you at all!
II. Let me point out to you, in the second place, the way of forgiveness.
I ask your particular attention to this point, for none can be more important. Granting for a moment that you want pardon and forgiveness, what ought you to do? Where will you go? Which way will you turn? Everything hinges on the answer you give to this question.
Will you turn to ministers, and put your trust in them? They cannot give you pardon: they can only tell you where it is to be found. They can set before you the bread of life: but you yourself must eat it. They can show you the path of peace: but you yourself must walk into it. The Jewish priest had no power to cleanse the leper, but only to declare him cleansed. The Christian minister has no power to forgive sins, he can only pronounce who they are that are forgiven.
Will you turn to sacraments and ordinances, and trust in them? They cannot supply you with forgiveness however diligently you may use them. By sacraments faith is confirmed and grace increased, in all who rightly use them. But they cannot justify the sinner. They cannot put away transgression. You may go to the Lord’s table every Sunday in your life; but unless you look far beyond the sign to the thing it represents, you will after all die in your sins. You may attend a daily service regularly, but if you think of establishing a righteousness of your own by it, in the slightest degree, you are only getting further away from God every day.
Will you trust in your own works and endeavours, your virtues and your good deeds, your prayers and your alms? They will never buy for you an entrance into heaven. They will never pay your debt to God. They are all imperfect in themselves, and only increase your guilt. There is no merit or worthiness in them at the very best. “When you have done all that you were commanded,” says the Lord Jesus, “say, we are unworthy servants.” (Luke 17:10.)
Will you trust in your own repentance and amendment? You are very sorry for the past. You hope to be better for the time to come. You hope God will be merciful. Sadly! if you lean on this, you have nothing beneath you but a broken reed. The judge does not pardon the thief because he is sorry for what he did. Today’s sorrow will not wipe off the debt of yesterday’s sins. It is not an ocean of tears that would ever cleanse an uneasy conscience and give it peace.
Where then must a man go for pardon? Where is forgiveness to be found? Listen and by God’s help I will tell you. There is a way both sure and plain, and into that way I would guide whoever is seeking deliverance.
That way is simply to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour. It is to cast your soul, with all its sins, unreservedly on Christ, to cease completely from any dependence on your own works and doings, either in whole or in part, and to rest on no other work but Christ’s work, no other righteousness but Christ’s righteousness, no other merit but Christ’s merit, as your ground of hope. Do this, and you are a pardoned soul. To Christ, says Peter, “all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43.) “Through this man,” said Paul at Antioch, “forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” (Acts 13:38.) In Him, writes Paul to the Colossians, “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:14.)
The Lord Jesus Christ, in great love and compassion, has made a full and complete satisfaction for sin, by His own death on the cross. There He offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, and allowed the wrath of God, which we deserved, to fall on His own head. For our sins He gave Himself, suffered, and died, the just for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty, that He might deliver us from the curse of a broken law, and provide a complete pardon for all who are willing to receive it. And by so doing, as Isaiah says, He has borne our sins, as John the Baptist says, He has taken away sin, and as Daniel says, He has put an end to sin. (Isaiah 53:11.; John 1:29; Dan. 9:24.)
And now the Lord Jesus is sealed and appointed by God the Father to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give remission of sins to all who will have it. The keys of death and hell are put in His hand. The government of the gate of heaven is laid on His shoulder. He Himself is the door, and by him all that enter in will be saved. (Acts 5:31; Rev. 1:18. John 10:9.)
Christ, in one word, has purchased a full forgiveness, if you and I are willing to receive it. He has done all, paid all, suffered all that was needed to reconcile us to God. He has removed every barrier between us and God the Father, taken every obstacle out of the way, and made a road by which the vilest may return. All things are now ready, and the sinner has only to believe and be saved, to eat and be satisfied, to ask and receive, to wash and be clean.
And faith, simple faith, is the only thing required, in order that you and I may be forgiven. That we will come to Jesus as sinners with our sins, trust in Him, rest on Him, lean on Him, confide in Him, commit our souls to Him, and forsaking all other hope, hold on only to Him, this is all and everything that God asks for. Let a man only do this, and he will be saved. His iniquities will be found completely pardoned, and his transgressions entirely taken away. Every man and woman and child that so trusts is wholly forgiven, and counted perfectly righteous. His sins are clean gone, and His soul is justified in God’s sight, however bad and guilty he may have been.
Faith is the only thing required, not knowledge. A man may be a poor unlearned sinner, and know little of books. But if he sees enough to find the foot of the cross, and trust in Jesus for pardon, I will be saved. To know Christ is the corner-stone of all religious knowledge.
Faith, I say, and not conversion. A man may have been walking in the broad way up to the very hour he first hears the Gospel. But if in that hearing he is awakened to feel his danger, and wants to be saved, let him come to Christ at once and wait for nothing. That very coming is the beginning of conversion.
Faith, I repeat, and not holiness. A man may feel all full of sin, and unworthy to be saved. But let him not wait until he is better. Let him come to Christ just as he is. Afterwards he will be holy.
Let nothing move you from this strong ground, that faith in Christ is the only thing needed for your justification. Stand firm here, if you value your soul’s peace. Settle it firmly in your mind that in the matter of your forgiveness and justification there is only one thing required, and that is simple faith in Christ.
The natural heart dislikes this doctrine. It goes against man’s notions of religion. It leaves him no room to boast. Man’s idea is to come to Christ with something in his hand, his regularity, his morality, his repentance, his goodness, and so, as it were, to buy his pardon and justification. The Spirit’s teaching is quite different; it is, first of all to believe. Whoever believes shall not perish. (John 3:16.)
This is the glorious doctrine that was the strength of the Apostles when they went out to the Gentiles to preach a new religion. They began a few poor fishermen, in a despised corner of the earth. They turned the world upside down. They changed the face of the Roman empire. They emptied the heathen temples of their worshippers, and made the whole system of idolatry crumble away. And what was the weapon by which they did it all? It was free forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.
This is the only doctrine which will ever bring peace to an uneasy conscience, and rest to a troubled soul. A man may get on pretty well without it so long as he is asleep about his spiritual condition. But once let him awake from his slumber, and nothing will ever calm him but the blood of atonement and the peace of Christ.
Do you see now how you should ask yourself whether you have really received the truth which I have been dwelling on, and know it by experience? Jesus, and faith in Him, is the only way to the Father. If anyone thinks to climb into paradise by some other road, he will find himself fearfully mistaken. There is no other foundation for an immortal soul. Whoever anchors himself here is safe. Whoever is not on this rock will perish.
Remember these things, and you will be wise. The way of life has been set before you. You have been told where pardon may be found. Beware, for fear that having heard the offer of free forgiveness, any of you should come short of it.
III. Let me in the third place encourage all who wish to be forgiven.
To anyone who feels he is not yet a forgiven soul. My earnest desire and prayer is that such a one may seek his pardon at once. And I would gladly help him forward, by showing him the kind of forgiveness offered to him, and the glorious privileges within his reach.
Listen then, while I try to show you the treasures of Gospel forgiveness. It cannot be describe in its fulness as it ought. Its riches are indeed “unsearchable.” (Eph. 3:8.) But if you turn away from it, you will not be able to say in the day of judgment, you did not at all know what it was.
Consider then for one thing, that the forgiveness set before you is a great and broad forgiveness. Hear what the Prince of Peace Himself declares, “All sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” (Mark 3:28.) Though your sins are as scarlet, they will become white as snow; though they are bright red, they will be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18.) Though your trespasses be countless, they can all be pardoned. As the waters of Noah’s flood covered over and hid the tops of the highest hills, so can the blood of Jesus cover over and hide your mightiest sins. His blood “cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7.) Though to you they seem written with the point of a diamond, they can all be erased from the book of God’s remembrance by that precious blood. Paul names a long list of abominations which the Corinthians had committed, and then says, “such were some of you. But you were washed.” (1 Cor. 6:11.)
Furthermore, it is a full and complete forgiveness. It is not like David’s pardon to Absalom,—a permission to return home, but not a full restoration to favour. (2 Sam. 14:24.) It is a pardon so complete, that he who has it is counted as righteous as if he had never sinned at all. His iniquities are blotted out. They are removed from him as far as the east from the west. (Psalm 103:12.) There remains no condemnation for him. The Father sees him joined to Christ and is well pleased. The Son beholds him clothed with his own righteousness, and says, “You are altogether beautiful… there is no flaw in you.” (Cant. 4:7.) If the best of us all had only one blot left for himself to wipe out, he would miss eternal life. But praised be God that in the matter of our pardon there is nothing left for man to do. Jesus does it all, and man has only to hold out an empty hand and to receive.
Furthermore, it is a free and unconditional forgiveness. It is not burdened with an “if,” like Solomon’s pardon to Adonijah, “If he will show himself a worthy man.” (1 Kings 1:52.) Nor yet are you obliged to carry a price in your hand, or bring a character with you to prove yourself deserving of mercy. Jesus requires but one character, and that is that you should feel yourself a sinful, bad person. He invites you to “buy wine and milk without money and without price,” and declares “let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Isaiah 55:1. Rev. 22:17.) Like David in the cave of Adullam, He receives everyone that feels in distress and a debtor, and rejects none. (1 Sam. 22:2.) Are you a sinner? Do you want a Saviour? Then come to Jesus just as you are, and your soul will live.
Again, it is an offered forgiveness. You may read of earthly rulers who did not know how to show mercy, but the King of kings is not like them. He calls on man to come to Him, and be pardoned. “To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man.” (Prov. 8:4.) “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” (Isaiah 55:1.) “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37.) “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mat. 11:28.) It ought to be a great comfort to you and me to hear of any pardon at all, but to hear Jesus Himself inviting us, to see Jesus Himself holding out His hand to us,—the Saviour seeking the sinner before the sinner seeks the Saviour,—this is encouragement, this is strong consolation indeed.
Again, it is a willing forgiveness. Jesus is “good and forgiving.” (Psalm 86:5.) He is “not willing that any should perish. (2 Peter3:9.) He desires all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim.2:4.) He wept over unbelieving Jerusalem. “As I live,” He says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?” (Ezek. 33:11.) You and I may well come boldly to the throne of grace. He who sits there is far more willing and ready to give mercy than you and I are to receive it.
Besides this, it is a tried forgiveness. Thousands and tens of thousands have sought for this pardon and not one has ever returned to say that he sought in vain. Sinners of every name and nation,—sinners of every sort and description, have knocked at this door, and none have ever been refused admission. Zacchæus the extortioner, Saul the persecutor, Peter the denier of his Lord, the Jews who crucified the Prince of life, the idolatrous Athenians, the adulterous Corinthians—none who have ventured their souls on Christ’s promises of pardon have ever been disappointed. If the way I set before you were a new and un-traveled way, you might well feel fainthearted. But it is not so. It is an old path. It is a path travelled by many pilgrims, and a path in which the footsteps are all one way. The treasury of Christ’s mercies has never been found empty. The well of living waters has never proved dry.
Besides this, it is a present forgiveness. All that believe in Jesus are at once justified from all things. (Acts 13:39.) The very day the younger son returned to his father’s house, he was clothed with the best robe, had the ring put on his hand, and the shoes on his feet. (Luke 15:11-32) The very day that David said, “I have sinned against the Lord,” he was told by Nathan, “The LORD also has put away your sin.” (2 Sam. 12:13.) The very day you first flee to Christ, your sins are all removed. Your pardon is not a thing far away, to be obtained only after many years. It is close at hand. It is close to you, within your reach, all ready to be bestowed. Believe, and that very moment it is your own. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned.” (John 3:18.) It is not said, “He will not be,” but “is not.” From the time of his believing, condemnation is gone. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” (John 3:36.) It is not said, “He will have,” it is “has.” It is his own as surely as if he was in heaven, though not so evidently so to his own eyes. You must not think forgiveness will be nearer to a believer in the day of judgment than it was in the hour he first believed. His complete salvation from the power of sin is every year nearer and nearer to him; but as to his forgiveness and justification, it is a finished work from the very minute he first commits himself to Christ.
Last and best of all, it is an everlasting forgiveness. It is not like Shimei’s pardon, a pardon that may sometime be revoked and taken away. (1 Kings 2:9.) Once justified, you are justified forever. Once written down in the book of life, your name will never be blotted out. The sins of God’s children are said to be cast into the depths of the sea,—to be sought for and not found,—to be remembered no more,—to be cast behind God’s back. (Mic. 7:19; Jerem. 50:20;31:34; Isaiah 38:17.) Some people imagine they may be justified one year and condemned another,—children of adoption at one time, and after a while strangers,—heirs of the kingdom in the beginning of their days, and yet servants of the devil in their end. But the salvation Jesus offers is an everlasting salvation, and a pardon once sealed with His blood will never be reversed.
And so this is the nature of the forgiveness offered to you. We have explored only little of it. The half of it remains untold. The greatness of it is far more than any words can convey. But surely enough has been said to show you it is worth the seeking, and I can wish you nothing better than that you may strive to make it your own.
Do you call it nothing to look forward to death without fear, and to judgment without doubt and to eternity without a sinking of heart? Do you call it nothing to feel the world slipping from your grasp, and to see the grave getting ready for you, and the valley of the shadow of death opening before your eyes, and yet not be afraid? Do you call it nothing to be able to think of the great day of account, the throne, the books, the Judge, the assembled worlds, the revealing of secrets, the final sentence, and yet to feel “I am safe?” This is the portion, and this the privilege of a forgiven soul.
Such an one is on a rock. When the rain of God’s wrath descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, his feet will not slide, his footing will be sure.
Such an one is in an ark. When the last fiery deluge is sweeping over all things on the surface of the earth, it will not come close to him. He will be caught up and taken securely above it all.
Such an one is in a hiding place. When God arises to judge the earth, and men are calling to rocks and mountains to fall on them and cover them, the everlasting arms will be thrown around him, and the storm will pass over his head. He will remain under the shadow of the Almighty.
Such an one is in a city of refuge. The accuser of the brethren can lay no charge against him. The law cannot condemn him. There is a wall between him and the avenger of blood. The enemies of his soul cannot hurt him. He is in a secure sanctuary.
Such an one is rich. He has treasure in heaven which cannot be affected by worldly changes, compared to which all the wealth of the world is as nothing at all. He need not envy the richest merchants and bankers. He has a portion that will endure when stocks and bonds and bank-notes are worthless things. He has Christ.
Such an one is insured. He is ready for anything that may happen. Nothing can harm him. Banks may fail, and governments may be overturned. Famine and epidemics may rage around him. Sickness and sorrow may visit his own home. But still he is ready for all,—ready for health, ready for disease,—ready for tears, ready for joy,—ready for poverty, ready for plenty,—ready for life, ready for death. He has Christ. He is a pardoned soul. “Blessed” indeed “is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (Psalm 32:1.)
And how will you escape if you neglect so great a salvation? Why should you not lay hold on it at once, and say, Pardon me, even me also, O my Saviour. What is that you want, if the way I have set before you does not satisfy you? Come while the door is open. Ask, and you will receive.
IV. Let me give you in the last place some marks of having found forgiveness.
Hear is a fearfully important point. Too many people presume they are forgiven, who have no evidences to show. Not a few cannot think it possible they are forgiven, who are plainly in the way to heaven, though they may not see it themselves. I would gladly raise hope in some, and self-examination in others, and to do this let me tell you the leading marks of a forgiven soul.
Forgiven souls hate sin. It is the serpent which bit them: how should they not shrink back from it with horror? It is the poison which brought them to the brink of eternal death: how should they not loathe it with a godly disgust? It is the Egyptian enemy which kept them in hard bondage: how should not the very memory of it be bitter to their hearts? It is the disease of which they carry the marks and scars about them, and from which they scarcely recovered: well may they dread it, flee from it, and long to be delivered altogether from its power. Remember how the woman in Simon’s house wept over the feet of Jesus. (Luke 7:38.) Remember how the Ephesians publicly burned their wicked books. (Acts 19:19.) Remember how Paul mourned over his youthful transgressions, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Cor. 15:9.) No, if you and sin are friends, you and God are not yet reconciled. You are not fit for heaven, for one main part of heaven’s excellence is the absence of all sin.
Forgiven souls love Christ. This is that one thing they can say, if they dare say nothing else,—they do love Christ. His person, His office, His work, His name, His cross, His blood, His words, His example, His day, His ordinances, all, all are precious to forgiven souls. The ministry which exalts Him most, is that which they enjoy most. The books which are most full of Him, are most pleasant to their minds. The people on earth they feel most drawn to, are those in whom they see something of Christ. His name is as ointment poured out, and comes with a peculiar sweetness to their ears. (Cant. 1:3.) They would tell you they cannot help feeling as they do. He is their Redeemer, their Shepherd, their Physician, their King, their strong deliverer, their gracious guide, their hope, their joy, their all. Were it not for Him they would be of all people the most miserable. They would as soon consent that you should take the sun out of the sky, as Christ out of their religion. Those people who talk of “the Lord,” and “the Almighty,” and “the Deity,” and so forth, but have not a word to say about Christ, are in anything but a right state of mind. What says the Scripture? “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. (John 5:23.) “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed..”—1 Cor. 16:22.
Forgiven souls are humble. They cannot forget that they owe all they have and hope for to free grace, and this keeps them lowly. They are brands plucked from the fire,—debtors who could not pay for themselves,—captives who must have remained in prison forever, but for undeserved mercy,—wandering sheep who were ready to perish when the shepherd found them,—and what right then have they to be proud? Forgiveness produces the spirit of Jacob:—“I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant;” (Gen. 32:10.) and of the Apostle Paul, “I am the very least of all the saints” (Ephes. 3:8) When you and I have nothing we can call our own but sin and weakness, there is surely no garment that suits us so well as humility.
Forgiven souls are holy. Their great desire is to please Him who has saved them, to do His will, to glorify Him in body and in spirit which are His. “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits,” is a leading principle in a pardoned heart. It was the remembrance of Jesus showing mercy, that made Paul labour so abundantly, and do good so unweariedly. It was a sense of pardon that made Zacchæus say, “The half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” (Luke 19:8.) Pardon of sin and love of sin are like oil and water, they will never go together. All that are washed in the blood of Christ, are also sanctified by the Spirit of Christ.
Forgiven souls are forgiving. They do as they have been done by. They look over the offences of their brethren. They endeavour to walk in love, as Christ loved them, and gave Himself for them. They remember how God for Christ’s sake forgave them, and endeavour to do the same toward their fellow creatures. Has He forgiven them millions, and shall they not forgive a few pennies? Doubtless in this, as in everything else they come short;—but this is their desire and their aim. A spiteful, unforgiving, quarrelsome Christian is a scandal to his profession. It is very hard to believe that such an one has ever sat at the foot of the cross, has ever considered how he is praying against himself every time he uses the Lord’s prayer, and saying as it were, “Father, do not forgive me my trespasses at all.” But it is still harder to understand what such an one would do in heaven, if he got there. All ideas of heaven in which forgiveness does not have a place, are vain imaginations. Forgiveness is the way by which every saved soul enters heaven. Forgiveness is the only title by which he remains in heaven. Forgiveness is the eternal subject of song with all the redeemed who inhabit heaven. Surely an unforgiving soul in heaven would find his heart completely out of tune. Surely we know nothing of Christ’s love to us but the name of it, if we do not love our brethren.
These then are some marks of having found forgiveness. And though there are great diversities in the degree of men’s advancements in grace, and saving faith in Christ can exist with many imperfections, the marks we have just seen, will generally be found more or less in all forgiven souls.
These marks should raise in many minds great searchings of heart. There are thousands of persons called Christians, who know nothing of these marks. They are baptized. They go to church. They would not on any account want to be counted as infidels. But as to true repentance and saving faith, union with Christ and sanctification of the Spirit, they are names and words of which they know nothing at all.
Such a person who hears a sermon such as this one, would probably either be alarmed, or become very angry. If it leads to anger, we can only look on in sorrow. If it alarms them, it is a good sign for which we can be thankful. They may be awakened from their present state. They may yet see that great fact, that they are not yet forgiven, they have not peace with God, and are on the high road to destruction.
This has to be said because there is no alternative. It seems neither Christian faithfulness, nor Christian charity, to keep it back. I see certain marks of pardoned souls, laid down in Scripture. I see an utter lack of these marks in many men and women and children around me. How then can I avoid the conclusion that they are not yet forgiven? And how shall I do the work of a faithful watchman, if I do not say it plainly in so many words? Where is the use of crying peace, peace, when there is no peace? Where is the honesty of playing the part of a lying physician, and telling people there is no danger, when in reality they are fast drawing near to eternal death? Surely the blood of souls would be required at my hands, if I spoke out less than the truth. If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?
Examine yourselves then, before this subject is forgotten. Consider of what sort your religion is. Test it by the marks I have just set before you. They have been made as broad and general as possible, for fear of causing any heart to be sad that God has not made sad. If you know anything of them, though it be but a little, I am thankful, and encourage you to go forward. But if you know nothing of them in your own experience, let me say in all sincerity, I stand in doubt about you. I tremble for your soul.
1. And now before we close, let me put a personal question to you. It will be short and plain, but it is all-important, “Are you forgiven?”
I have told you all I can about forgiveness. Your need of forgiveness,—the way of forgiveness,—the encouragement to seek forgiveness,—the marks of having found it,—all have been placed before you. Bring the whole subject to bear upon your own heart, and ask yourself, “Am I forgiven? Either I am, or I am not. Which of the two is it?”
You believe perhaps, there is forgiveness of sins. You believe that Christ died for sinners, and that He offers a pardon to the most ungodly. But are you forgiven yourself? Have you yourself laid hold on Christ by faith, and found peace through His blood? What profit is there to you in forgiveness, except you get the benefit of it? What does it profit the shipwrecked sailor, that the life-boat is alongside, if he stays on the wreck, and does not jump in and escape? Except you lay hold for your own soul, you will be as surely lost, as if there was no forgiveness at all.
If ever your sins are to be forgiven, it must be now,—now in this life, if ever in the life to come,—now in this world, if they are to be found blotted out when Jesus comes again. There must be actual business between you and Christ. Your sins must be laid on him, by faith. His righteousness must be laid on you. His blood must be applied to your conscience, or else your sins will meet you in the day of judgment, and sink you into hell. How can you delay, when such things are at stake? How can you be content to leave it uncertain whether you are forgiven? Surely that a man can make his will, insure his life, give directions about his funeral, and yet leave his soul’s affairs in uncertainty, is a amazing thing indeed.
2. Let me next give a solemn warning to anyone who knows in his conscience he is not forgiven.
Your soul is in awful danger. You may die this year. And if you die as you are, you are lost forever. If you die without pardon, without pardon you will rise again at the last day. There is a sword over your head that hangs by a single hair. There is but a step between you and death. How can you sleep quietly in your bed?
You are not yet forgiven. Then what have you got by your religion? You go to church. You have a Bible, you perhaps have a hymn-book. You hear sermons. You join in services. It may be you go to the Lord’s table. But what have you really got after all? Any hope? Any peace? Any joy? Any comfort? Nothing, literally nothing! You have got nothing but mere temporal things, if you are not a pardoned soul.
You are not yet forgiven. But you trust God will be merciful. And why should He be merciful, if you will not seek Him in His own appointed way? Merciful He doubtless is, wonderfully merciful to all who come to Him in the name of Jesus. But if you choose to despise His directions, and make a road to heaven of your own, you will find to your cost there is no mercy for you.
You are not yet forgiven. But you hope you will be some day. But this is like pushing the hand of conscience away, and seizing it by the throat to stop its voice. Why are you more likely to seek forgiveness in the future? Why should you not seek it now? “Now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:2) You may not feel your need of forgiveness now. But a time may come when you will want it. The Lord in mercy grant that it may not then be too late.
3. Let me next give an earnest invitation to all who desire forgiveness.
To you I say Come to Christ by faith, and you will have pardon.
Do not think for a moment that you have some great thing to do before you come to Christ. Such a notion is of the earth, earthy. The Gospel invites you to come just as you are. Man’s idea is to make his peace with God by repentance, and then come to Christ at last. The Gospel way is to receive peace from Christ first of all, and begin with Him. Man’s idea is to amend and turn over a new leaf, and so work his way up to reconciliation and friendship with God. The Gospel way is first to be friends with God through Christ, and then to work. Man’s idea is to toil up the hill, and find life at the top. The Gospel way is first to live by faith in Christ, and then to do His will.
And judge for yourself: which is true Christianity? Which is the good news? First the fruits of the Spirit, and then peace; or first peace, and then the fruits of the Spirit? First sanctification and then pardon; or first pardon and then sanctification? First service and then life; or first life and then service? Our own hearts can well supply the answer.
Come then willing to receive, and not thinking how much you can bring. Come willing to take what Christ offers, and not imagining you can give anything in return. Come with your sins, and no other qualification but a hearty desire for pardon, and so, sure as the Bible is true, you will be saved.
You may tell me you are not worthy, you are not good enough, you are not elect. I answer, you are a sinner, and you want to be saved, and what more do you want? You are one of those whom Jesus came to save. Come to Him, and you will have life. Take with you words, and He will hear you graciously. Tell Him all your soul’s needs, and I know He will hear you. Tell Him you have heard He receives sinners, and that you are such. Tell Him you have heard He has the keys of life in His hand, and entreat Him to let you in. Tell Him you come in dependence on His own promises, and ask Him to fulfil His word, and do as He has said. Do this in simplicity and sincerity, and you will not ask in vain. Do this, and you will find Him faithful and just to forgive your sins, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
4. Last of all let me give a word of exhortation to all forgiven souls.
You are forgiven. Then know the full extent of your privileges, and learn to rejoice in the Lord. You and I are great sinners, but then we have a great Saviour. You and I have sinned sins that are past man’s knowledge, but then we have “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19) to rest upon. You and I feel our hearts to be a bubbling fountain of evil, but then we have another fountain of greater power in Christ’s blood, to which we may daily resort. You and I have mighty enemies to contend with, but then the Captain of our salvation is mightier still, and is ever with us. Why should our hearts be troubled? Why should we be disquieted and cast down? How little is our faith! Why do we doubt?
Let us strive every year to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is sad to be content with a little religion. It is honourable to desire the best gifts. We ought not to be satisfied with the same kind of hearing, and reading, and praying which satisfied us in past years. We ought to labour every year to throw more heart and reality into everything we do in our religion. To love Christ more intensely,—to abhor evil more thoroughly,—to cleave to what is good more closely, to watch even our least ways more narrowly,—to declare very plainly that we seek a country,—to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be clothed with Him in every place and company,—to see more,—to feel more,—to know more,—to do more,—these ought to be our aims and desires, every year we begin. Truly there is room for improvement in us all.
Let us try to do good to the souls of others more than we have done until now. Sadly! it is poor work indeed to be swallowed up in our own spiritual concerns, and taken up with our own spiritual ailments, and never to think of others. We forget that there is such a thing as religious selfishness. Let us count it a sad thing to go to heaven alone, and let us seek to draw companions with us. We ought never to forget that every man, woman, and child around us will soon be either in heaven or hell. Let us say to others as Moses did to Hobab, “Come with us, and we will do good to you.” (Num. 10:29.) It is indeed a true saying, “One who waters will himself be watered” (Prov. 11:25.) The selfish Christian has little idea what he is missing.
But above all let us learn to live the life of faith in Jesus more than we have until now. Ever to be found by the fountain side,—ever to be eating Christ’s body by faith, and drinking Christ’s blood by faith,—ever to have before our minds Christ dying for our sins,—Christ rising again for our justification,—Christ interceding for us at God’s right hand,—Christ soon coming again to gather us to Himself,—this is the mark which we should have continually before our eyes. We may fall short, but let us aim high: for an eye more quick to discern His leadings! for an ear more ready to hear His voice!
Let us say to everything in the world that interferes between ourselves and Jesus, “stand aside;” and let us dread allowing ourselves in the least evil habits, for fear that they rise up like a mist and hide Him from our eyes. In His light alone will we see light and feel warmth, and separate from Him we will find the world a dark and cold wilderness.
Let us think lightly of the world’s gifts. Let us sit calmly under its trials. Let us care for nothing, if we may only ever see the King’s face, if we may only ever rest in Christ.