And forgive us our Debts.
*THe next Question to be handled, is, What remission of sin is, and how God doth forgive them. And although the dis∣cussing of the former Question, viz. What maketh a man a sin∣ner doth make an easie and quick way of dispatching this, be∣cause Justification doth take off that consideration and respect of a sinner from a man, yet that the whole nature of it may be better understood, I shall lay down severall Propositions, all which will tend to give us much light in this great and glorious benefit of the Gospel.
*And in the first place, as we formerly considered some choice Hebrew words that set forth the pardon of sinne, so now let us take notice of some Greek words in the new Testament, that expresse this gracious act of God: for the holy Ghost knoweth best in what words to represent this glorious mercy to us.
The word that is most frequently used by the Evangelists and Apostles is 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, which in the general, is as much as to dis∣misse or send away, to let alone, to leave, to permit or suffer; in which senses the Scripture often useth it: and certainly God in this sense doth pardon sin, because he lets it alone, he leaves it, he meddles no more with it, but handleth the person forgiven, as if he never had been a sinner. But commonly this word is u∣sed of absolving those who are accused as guilty, which appear∣eth in that famous sentence of Agesilaus, who writing to have one Nicias sent to him that was accused, used this expression, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉Page 139Nicias, if he have done no wrong, absolve him, if he have, absolve him for my sake, but howsoever absolve him, or set him free. And in this sense forgivenesse of sins may well be called 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, but in the Scripture it seemeth rather to be an expression from those that are loosned out of their bonds for their debts; and there∣fore frequently is applied to the forgiving of debts, Mat. 18.25, 27, 32. and this is more notably set down, Luk. 4.18. to preach to captives or prisoners, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, freedom or forgivenesse of sin, and so 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, shall be as much as 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, to loosen bonds, as the word is used, Luke 16.26. Acts 27.40. Therefore howsoever Grotius thinks the word to remit, to be a metaphor from those who part with, or leave a thing that they might retain, yet it seemeth rather to be taken from releasing of debts, and loos∣ning of bonds, in which the conscience of a sinner was tied, being bound to answer at the Tribunal of God. Hence the Scri∣pture useth several names to expresse pardon of sin, according to the several titles that sin hath in the Scripture. As sins are Debita, Debts, so God doth forgive, as they are Sordes, a filth and loathsomnesse, so God doth cover them, as they are vin∣cula, bonds, so he doth remit them. As they are debts, writ∣ten down in a book, so he blots them out: As they make us mi∣serable and wretched, so he is mercifull and propitious in remo∣ving of them.
A second word is 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, Col. 2.13. Having forgiven you all trespasses, Col. 3.13. Even as Christ forgave us. Now this word doth excellently signifie the fountain, and the effect of pardon. The fountain, that it cometh from the meer grace and favour of God. There is nothing in us to merit or satisfie God with. Therefore howsoever there be a necessity of faith and repent∣ance, yea and God will not forgive sin in persons grown up, but where these are, yet these are no meritorious causes, nor can they satisfie God for all that offence and dishonour which our sins have cast upon him. And this may encourage the broken heart, who feeleth a load of sin upon it self, and hath nothing to bring unto God: remember the root and fountain of all for∣givenesse is grace, which is so far from supposing any worth of condignity in thee for pardon, that it rather implieth the con∣trary. And as it doth imply grace thus in the fountain, so also Page 140 acceptablenesse and joy too in the party, to whom sin is forgi∣ven. So that there can be nothing in the world more welcome, or a greater matter of joy, then to bring this glad tidings; and indeed therefore is the Gospel called 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, because it prea∣cheth the glad tidings of Gods love and reconciliation thorow Christ with a sinner.
A third word is 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, thus the Publican prayed, Luk. 18.3. Some derive 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 from 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, because we desire to look on those to whom we are propitious. But this word doth more immediately relate to the bloud of Christ, as the way by which God becomes thus pacified. So that as the other words set up the grace of God in pardoning, so this the merits and satisfacti∣on of Christ, 1 Joh. 2.2. 1 Joh. 4.10. Rom. 3.25. Heb. 2.17. In which places the appeasment of God towards us, is attributed to the bloud of Christ. Therefore if we put the former words and these together, we may see an admirable temperament and mixture of grace and justice in forgiving of sins. The for∣mer places exclude Popish Doctrines, The later, Socinian bla∣sphemies.
A fourth word may be 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, to obtain mercy. For although the Scripture apply this to all the benefits and mercies of God, yet Paul applieth it more particularly to pardon of sin, 1 Tim. 1.13. and when Dives prayed, Luk. 16.24. Father Abraham〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, have mercy on me, and so by consequent to be remo∣ved from that place of torment. Hence in that form of prayer which Paul useth by way of salutation, there are these three words 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 and 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉. But this word is more expresly used for this end in the grand Covenant and Promise for par∣don of sin, Heb. 8.12. For I will be mercifull to their iniqui∣ties, &c. This is so comprehensive a Petition, that it seemeth to be a generally received form of prayer in the Church, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, yea the wiser among the Heathens used this pray∣er, as appeareth by Arrianus epist. diss. lib. 2. cap. 7. 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉: Now this word supposeth, 1. The party praying for pardon to look upon himself, as in a most miserable and undone estate, that no outward calamity or evil lieth so heavily upon him, as his sins do▪ And then secondly, on Gods part, it supposeth that he doth not only par∣don, Page 141 but that even his bowels yearn within him, when he doth forgive. Hence Luk. 1.78. they are called 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, the bowels of mercy. This goodnesse of God is excellently repre∣sented in the father of the Prodigal, Luk. 15.20. Therefore how great a sinne is unbelief, and refusing to have good thoughts of God, when God hath manifested himself thus gracious!
The last word I shall mention (though there be others that are used) is by way of negation, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, Rom. 4.8. 2 Cor. 5.9. And this is a metaphor from those that cast up their accounts, and account so much upon such an one for debt. Now by this word is shewn the terrible nature of sin, as also that howsoever for a while, we may live jollily, care for nothing, and be in se∣curity, yet God will one day cast up his accounts, and charge such and such debts upon us; but if so be the Lord will not impute them to us, and account them upon our score, this will be our blessednesse. And thus you have heard the most choice and principal words the holy Ghost expresseth our forgivenesse by. We proceed,
1. Proposition. Lay this down as a foundation,*That when God doth pardon sin, he takes it away so, as that the party acquitted is no more looked upon as a snner.
All the expressions about pardon amount to thus much; even as when one accused of theft and murder in the Common∣wealth, and is legally acquitted by the Judge, he is no more re∣puted a thief or murderer. Therefore it is a calumny of the Pa∣pists, as if we held, That a man is a sinner after God hath pardon∣ed him. It is true, we say, That sin doth remain in a man, though he be justified, and that sin hath a desert of condemnation with it, but where God hath pardoned, there he doth not look upon that man as a sinner, but as a just man. Therefore in different respects we may say, That pardon of sin is an utter abolition of it, and it is not an utter abolition of it. It is an utter abolition of it, as it doth reflect upon the person, making him guilty, and ob∣liging him actually to condemnation; in this respect a man is as free as if he had never sinned; but if you speak of the inherency of sin, and the effects of original corruption, that do abide in all, which are also truly and properly sins; so pardon of sin is not Page 142 an utter abolition, and although Christ wrought no semiplenam curationem, as is observed, no half-cures upon any diseased per∣sons, but whom he healed, he healed perfectly, yet he works by degrees in the grace of Sanctification, as he did perfect the world by severall degrees successively, and not (as Austin thought) all at once. So that this particular, viz. That forgive∣ness is a perfect abolition of sin in the former consideration, is of transcendent comfort to the believers: and indeed it is impossi∣ble that sin should be forgiven divisibly, and by parts: so a man should be at the same time under the favour of God, and under his hatred, which is impossible.
Thou therefore who art a believer hast cause to rejoyce, for this perfect work of remission of thy sins past, wherein nothing more is, or can be done for thy good and consolation. Do not think it is with God, as with men, who say indeed, They forgive with all their heart, yet retain their secret, inward hatred, as much as before. Indeed the pain of sin may roul and tumble in thy conscience a long while after, though it be forgiven (we see so in David) as the sea, which hath been enraged by tem∣pests and windes, though they be quiet, yet the sea will roar and make a noise a long time after. The heart of a man awaken∣ed and pierced with the guilt of sin; doth not quickly and easily compose it self again.
*Prop. 2. It is one thing for God to forgive, and another thing not to exact and demand punishments.
As we see among men, a Judge many times through fear or otherwise, when Justice is obstructed, doth not call such a ma∣lefactour to an account, but deferreth it, yet for all that, the man is not acquitted; so it is often to be seen in Gods provi∣dence, There are multitudes of sinners, who after their trans∣gressions committed, are not onely without punishment, but enjoy great prosperity, and much outward successe, yet these men are not pardoned, they have no acquittance from God. This hath been such a temptation to David, Jeremiah, and others of Gods people, that they have many times staggered through unbelief. But men may have their punishments de∣ferred, their damnation may sleep or linger, but it is not ta∣ken off.
Page 143Let not men therefore delude themselves with vain hopes, as if their sins were forgiven, because not yet punished: No, there must be some positive gracious act of God to acquit thee, else thy sins are alive to condemn thee. Examine thy self therefore whether thy peace, comfort, plenty, be a fruit of Gods forbear∣ance meerly, or of his acquittance. This later is alwayes an act of his gracious mercy: but the other may be a terrible fruit of his hatred against thee, insomuch that thou hadst better wander up and down like Cain, fearing every thing will kill thee, or damn thee, then be in such security.
Prop. 3.*A godly man may account not only himself bound to thank God for the pardon of those sins he hath committed, but he is to ac∣knowledge so many pardons, as by the grace of God he hath been pre∣served from sin.
And if a believer enter into this consideration, how will it overwhelm him! So often as God hath preserved thee from such and such sins, which thy own heart, or temptations would have inclined thee to, God hath virtually given thee so many pardons. That God preserved David from killing Nabal and his Family, here was interpretatively as great mercy, as in the expresse forgiving of the murder of Ʋriah. It is a rule of Di∣vines, Plures sunt gratiae privativae, quàm positivae. There are more preventing graces then positive. The keeping of evils from us, is more then the good he bestoweth on us. Therefore Austin observed well, that as Paul said, By the grace of God I am what I am: So he might also have said, By the grace of God I am not what I am not. Though therefore we are not so sensi∣ble of preventing mercies, as of positive, yet a due and right consideration of Gods love in this matter might much inflame our hearts: Say therefore, O Lord, I blesse thee, not onely for the pardon of those sins I have committed, but also for thy goodnesse in preserving me from those many thousands, I was prone to fall into, which is in effect, the pardon of so many.
Prop. 4.*Remission of sin is not to be considered meerly as removing of evil, but also as bestowing of good.
It is not only ablativa mali, but collativa boni: it is not a meer negation of punishment due to us, but a plentifull vouchsafingPage 144 of many gracious favours to us, such as a Sonship, and a right to eternal life, as also Peace with God, and Communion with him. God also never pardons any sin, but where he sanctifieth the nature of such an one. Indeed it will be worth the enquiry, Whether this connexion of pardon of sin with inherent holiness, arise from a natural ne•essity, so that one cannot be without the other; or whether it be by the meer positive will, and appointment of God; for the present this is enough, God hath revealed he will never dis▪join these.
*Prop. 5. I• every sin there are (as to the purpose of Justifica∣tion, these two things considerable) the offence that is done to God, whereby he is displeased, and the obligation of the man so offending him to eternal condemnation.
Now remission of sin doth wholly lie in removing of these two: so that when God doth will neither to punish or to be of∣fended with the person, then he is said to forgive. We must not therefore speak of two kinds of remissions, one remission of the punishment, another of the offence and fault; for this is one re∣mission, and God never doth the one without the other. It is true there remain paternal and medicinal chastisements after sin is forgiven, but no offence, or punishment strictly so taken. What kinde of act this remission is, whether immanent or transient, is to be shewed in the next Question.
*Prop. 6. From the former Proposition this followeth,
That sin in the guilt of it is not remitted by any act that we do, but it is a meer act of God.
So that neither the grace of repentance, or love of God is that, which removeth guilt out of the soul, but it is something in God onely. It is the opinion of many Papists, That God in pardoning doth onely inable to repent for sin, and then the guilt of sinne doth naturally and necessarily go away, so that there needeth no acceptation from God, or act of remission, but onely an infusion of grace to repent. But this in the next Sermon shall mainly be insisted upon, and it is of great practi∣cal use, to take us off from having confidence, and trust in our sorrow for sin. For as when a creditor doth forgive his debtor, it is the sole act of the creditor, not any thing of the debtor: So in pardoning, it is not any thing that we do, though with Page 145 never so much love, and brokennesse of heart, that doth release and untie the bond of sinne, but it is an act of God onely.
If you say,*Why then is repentance and faith pressed so ne∣cessarily, that God doth not forgive without it? For if it be onely an act of Gods▪ then it may be done without any work of the sinner intervening. But of this in the next place; onely for the present take notice,* That it is not any sor∣row or retraction of ours, that makes a sinne either re∣missible, or actually remitted, but a meer act of Gods, and if all the men of the world were askt this Question, What they mean, when they pray God to forgive their sins? The sense of all would be, not that they should doe something which would remit them, but that God by his gracious favour would release them. So then, if all these particulars be cast up together, you may clearly conceive, how God doth for∣give sin, not by infusing or putting grace into us, which may expel sin, as light doth darkness, but by his outward grace and favour accepting of us: and therefore we are not to relie upon any thing we do, not to presume, no not of our godly sorrow for sinne, but to look up to Heaven, desiring God would speak the word, that he would pronounce the sentence of abso∣lution.
Let the Use be, To look upon our selves as bound in chains and fetters by our sins,* as made very miserable by them, that so we may the more earnestly desire pardon, and put an high prize up∣on it. Though Gods forgiving be not the putting of godly sorrow, and the working of a broken heart within us, yet we can never obtain the one without the other. The grace and mercy of a pardon is no more esteemed by us, because we look not upon our selves, as so many guilty persons adjudged to eter∣nal death. Thus the Publican cried out, Have mercy upon me a sinner. What Plutarch said of the Husbandman, That it was a pleasant sight to him, to see the ears of corn bending to the earth, because that was an argument of fruit within. No▪ lesse joyfull is it to spiritual husbandmen to see their people walk with humble, debased, broken hearts, through sense of sin, and not to walk confidently and delicately, like Agag, saying, The worst Page 146 is past. God said of Ahab, though humbled for externall mo∣tives only, Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself? How much more will God take notice of those, who humble themselves upon spiritual grounds, desiring ease from Christ. As there∣fore Bernard writing to one, epist 180. who he thought was not sollicitous enough about the Judgements of God, in stead of wishing him according to the ordinary custom of salutation, Salutem plurimam, much health, said, Timorem plurimum, much fear: So may the Ministers of God, we wish you not much joy, but much holy fear. Alas thou fearest pain, poverty, death: but the guilt of sin is chiefly to be feared: but we like children are afraid of a vizard, and do not fear the fire, which is a real danger.