And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward.—Isaiah 37.31.

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The Blessedness of Forgiveness:

A Sermon by

Andrew Gray.


PSALM 32.1.

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

SANCTIFICATION is a thing not much in exercise among Christians in these days.  There is but small correspondence that Christians keep betwixt Moses and Christ, betwixt Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.  We are not much sitting down to behold the just sentence of condemnation passing against us because of our iniquities, and subscribing unto the equity of that divine sentence; and withal to have our recourse to him, into whose hand that blessed power is committed, to repeal and reverse that sentence which, most justly, hath passed against us.  Since first he did take the guiding of the posterity of Adam, how many most just and equal sentences that justice hath pronounced, hath infinite grace repealed!  O that once ye were persuaded to be more taken up in the study of yourselves, that so ye may go to him for the pardon of your iniquities.  We may stand and wonder at that unspeakable folly and madness that is amongst many, that they rest with so much contentment under that unsupportable yoke of their iniquities, which, no doubt, ere long shall depress them into the lowest hell.  Is not your blessedness here, in the pardon of your iniquities? and why do you not once pursue after it? We doubt, ere long, he shall deliver up the kingdom to his Father; and all hope of returning from these everlasting pains, unto which ye shall be sent, shall be cut off from you; there shall be an impassable gulf fixed betwixt heaven and you, so that these that would desire to pass from the one to the other, shall not be able.  We might speak much to the commendation of this one thing, to have our iniquities or transgressions covered; and, if ye would but once listen to take heed, no doubt, ye might be persuaded once to begin to set about this, which we may say, without all breach of charity, that there are not many who have ever seriously attempted this unknown work, of having recourse unto God through Jesus Christ for the pardon of iniquity; it is a mystery even to the practice of those who pass under the notion of saints.  O but there are many who are now walking down to the everlasting prisons, with a strong delusion and a lie in their right hand (Isa. 44.20), whose {156} hope shall once be cut off as the spider’s-web, and shall evanish as a dream, and fly away as a vision of the night.

But to speak to this, What is it to have our iniquities pardoned? One that hath attained this, whatever be his lot that he hath in the world, were it never so sad or anxious, may comfort himself.  This is clear, Matth. 9.2, Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee.  O what divine consolation may the soul of a Christian reap, by reflecting upon this, that his iniquities are pardoned? This is clear likewise, Isa. 32.20, The inhabitants of Jerusalem shall say no more that they are sick; and the reason of it is given, because their iniquities are forgiven them.

There is this likewise to commend it, that there is no affliction that befals the Christian, that hath obtained the pardon of iniquity, but it is a mystery for one that wants it; and he might have said, he had been undone, except he had been undone.  That mystery of Samson’s, is no mystery to a Christian, out of the eater to come meat, and out of the strong to come sweetness.  God doth make up their afflictions with this, that he knoweth their soul in adversity.

The third thing which may commend this, is this: One that hath obtained pardon of sin, may drown all his anxious thoughts he hath within him, in these endless depths of enjoyment of him through all eternity.  This is clear, Rom. 5.1,2, “Being justified by faith,—we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”  All your rivers of sorrows shall once sweetly dissolve in that endless ocean of unspeakable joy.  It is not long before you shall have an universal and everlasting suspension from all these things that do now so much encompass you; sorrow and sighing shall fly away, as then being afraid to seize upon you.

The fourth thing to commend it, is this, A Christian that hath obtained pardon of iniquity, hath peace with God through Jesus Christ.  No doubt, it would require the tongue of an angel, to commend this precious advantage that flows unto the Christian that is pardoned, to have peace with God.  What could be desired more, than to have that peace which passeth all understanding; or, as the word may be rendered, quartered in your hearts and minds?  Did we believe what an one he is, it should be our greatest ambition, and most earnest suit, to obtain peace with him.  This is clear from the place which we cited, Rom. 5.1, “Being justified by faith (saith he), we have peace with God through Jesus Christ.”

There is a fifth advantage in this, to have our iniquities pardoned, a Christian doth attain unto divine submission, and {157} wins to patience under the most sad and bitter dispensations.  It is impossible for one either walking in an uncertainty concerning his estate, or for those who have been of old ordained to condemnation [Jude 4], to walk with patience under the rod; but one that hath this once made sure, O with what patience will he endure the most sad and bitter things that he can meet with! Is he afflicted with reproaches? He will make it up with this, I am pardoned.  Yea, if he should multiply his losses, he hath no other thing, (and certainly it is enough), to make them all up with, but this, I have obtained mercy and pardon of God, through Jesus Christ.

Now, that which makes people so oft so little taken up in the divine pursuit after this excellent thing, the pardon of our iniquity, is,  1st, Because we are not much living under the apprehensions what an insupportable burden the yoke of our iniquities is.  This made David commend the blessedness of the man who was pardoned, because he felt the burden of his iniquity; for the word that is here rendered forgive, doth likewise signify this, blessed is the man whose iniquities is lifted up, importing so much, that iniquity is a burden which no man can take off, but these everlasting arms of our blessed Lord Jesus.  If once ye were under the apprehensions of this, ye should travail in pain till Christ were formed in you. [Gal. 4.19.]  But behold how it may astonish many, to look upon people walking so lightly under so unsupportable burdens!  Our blessed Lord, when he was walking under that sad and deplorable yoke of our transgressions, did find it so heavy, that he was put to a possibility of the passing away of that cup [Matt. 26.39]; his soul was sorrowful and exceeding heavy, even unto death [Matt. 26.38]: yea, (so to speak) that burden did put him to an holy nonplus, when he was put to speak these words, What shall I say? [John 12.27.]  And if he who doth uphold all things by the word of his power [Heb. 1.3], and who was sustained by all the fulness of the Godhead [Col. 2.9], if he did groan under this burden, shall not that which made him groan, crush and ruin us? No doubt, if once your own estate were discovered unto you, ye should utter such complaints, that the open fields should be more fit for you than the most secret retirements.  This was the practice of this most holy man [David], when his iniquity was discovered unto him, “My bones are turned into summer’s drought, through my roaring all the day.” [Psalm 32.3.]  He did not mourn as a man, but in a manner did complain as a beast.

The 2d thing that makes us put so little account upon this excellent thing, the pardon of our iniquity, is this, Our not discovering how shameful, and how abominable iniquity is.  It is so odious, that (as the Psalmist speaks) it stands in need of a {158} covering, whose transgressions are covered. [Psalm 32.1.] He who is of purer eyes than that he can behold iniquity, hath a blessed antipathy against everything that is evil.  There is nothing that hath such incongruity with his nature as sin; though we may say, without all question, that there is nothing that hath such a congruity with our nature, as sin and iniquity.

There is a 3d thing which discovers the blessedness of that, to have the pardon of our iniquity, and it is this, Our little dwelling under the apprehensions of the infinite justice of God, that he will (as Enoch the seventh from Adam prophesied [Jude 14,15]) come with ten thousand of his saints, to execute vengeance on those that know not God, and that delight in unrighteousness.  Did we once believe that God was just, and will in no ways acquit the guilty, durst we walk so confidently under the yoke of our iniquities? There are many of you who shall go down to your grave, having your bones full of the iniquities of your youth. You have wrapped a yoke about your neck, which no hand can untie, but he who hath that divine art of untying the bond of our iniquities.

There is this likewise as a 4th consideration why we are not much more taken up in our pursuit after this, the pardon of our iniquity: We are not much under the exercise of the law.  Were we but ten days seriously in the school of Moses, we should long to be disciples unto Christ.  Hath the law entered to discover your iniquity, and to make it out of measure sinful unto you? [Rom. 7.13.] O what a holy impatience and longing would ye entertain, till once ye had obtained pardon of iniquity? Heaven and earth cannot cure that distemper, but only him, who hath taken that blessed name to himself, of having the tongue of the learned, to speak a word in season to those that are wearied.

There is this last consideration why we are so little taken up after the pursuit of this, the pardon of our iniquity, and it is this,  We are neither much taken up in the study of these advantages that we might have by the pardon of iniquity, nor are we taken much up in the study of these disadvantages that we have by remaining at enmity with God.  I think, that man that stands at a distance from God, what can we say more to declare his misery, than this, he is not at peace with God; he is the perfect hieroglyphic and compend of all misery.  Blessedness, yea, all imaginable delight, is confined in that one divine sentence, to enjoy God; and we may likewise say, that all misery is confined in that, to be separated from God.

Now that ye may be regulated to make use of Jesus Christ, for the pardon of your iniquity, and that ye may not weary yourselves with debates, we shall only propose these considerations: {159}

The first is this, That a Christian may make use of his iniquity, and of the greatness of his transgression, as one argument with God to obtain pardon.  This is clear, Psalm 25.11, Pardon mine iniquity; and he gives this reason for it, because it is great: a reason, no doubt, which could not hold in schools; but it holds well there in that court, where grace and love is judge.  This is clear likewise, Psalm 40.11,12, where he desireth that he would prevent him with his loving-kindness, and would not with-hold his tender mercies from him; and he gives this as the reason of it, “Innumerable evils have compassed me about; they have taken hold of me, so that I am not able to look up.”  O what a mystery must this be, that Christ is taken with such arguments? though we confess, we have no stronger arguments whereby to reason our cause with God? we have shut out ourselves from all reasons of equity, and we must take ourselves to this, which grace hath made the reason.  This is clear, likewise, in Psalm 41.4, “Lord, be merciful unto me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee.”

The second consideration is this, That we may make use of our necessities as an argument with God to obtain pardon.  If thou canst call thyself needy, thou hast a sufficient ground to have thy recourse unto him, who hath proposed himself as he everlasting rock of ages, whereupon thou mayest rest and repose thyself.  Entertain a holy correspondence, and divine fellowship, betwixt thine unspeakable necessity, and his unspeakable fulness. Let unspeakable inability in thee to save thyself, make thee to have thy recourse to him, who is sufficient, and able to save all those that come unto God through him.

The third consideration is, We may make use of our imperfections, as arguments with God to obtain mercy, and pardon of iniquity; that because we are frail, and the dust of his feet, therefore he should pardon us.  This is clear from Psalm 78.38,39, with verse 40, where he giveth this reason of his compassion, that he remembered we were flesh; and this is likewise in Psalm 103.11,12.

The fourth consideration (which is most wonderful) is, That we may make use of the argument to plead for mercy with God, which God hath made use of for pleading justice against us.  This is clear, Exod. 33.3, compared with Exod. 34.9, where God giveth this reason, why he would not go up among them, because they were a stiff-necked people; and Moses, in his pleading with God, doth take this same argument, and pleadeth thus with him, Go up amongst us, for we are a stiff-necked people: This is a divine art of retorting of arguments, which grace hath taught the Christian. {160}

Now certainly it were your advantage and concerning duty, to be making this sure to you, That ye have obtained a good hope through Christ, and that ye have received a discharge of all your iniquities ratified and confirmed unto you.  They who desire to come within the reach of this mercy, it were certainly their duty to be convinced of these, which, no doubt, would prove unto you, that you are in the way of obtaining pardon; that ye would be convinced of that utter inability wherewith ye are clothed, to satisfy the infinite justice of God.  This is the first great lesson that ye must learn, to receive the sentence of death in your own bosoms, that ye may have your recourse unto him who raiseth the dead.

Likewise be convinced of this, That the only way of obtaining pardon of iniquity, must be through the grace of Christ.  Ye must leave all your merit behind you; though, we confess, we need not bid you do so, if we knew ourselves well; for we have nothing that can pass under this name: But withal, let the first lines of your petition run upon this tenor, All my righteousness is as filthy rags. [Isa. 64.6.]  Ye must have nothing to commend you unto Christ but emptiness, and must walk under that, as the most suitable argument to provoke him to have pity upon you.  And certainly, those who have obtained pardon of God, and have a discharge given out of all their iniquities, will, no doubt, have an high and eminent account of him that is the Pardoner.  This is clear from Micah 7.18, Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity? In a manner, when we would commend him, we take no other thing to be so suitable for the subject of our commendation, as that he hath pardoned our iniquity.  No doubt, Christ is precious to those, to whom he hath pardoned their iniquity, except they be living under misbelief, and have lost the sight of their discharge. Those who are pardoned, will likewise walk humbly with God.

3dly, A man that hath obtained pardon of God, is so much in reflection upon what he was, and how far he cometh short of that which he should be, that (in a manner) he forgetteth what he is; and that were, no doubt, an holy oblivion.

4thly, There is likewise this that doth accompany the Christian, that hath his iniquities pardoned, They cannot look upon those sins, even which are pardoned, without detestation.  Sure we are, ye may question your pardon, if you can, without resentment and grief, look upon these sins wherewith ye have solaced yourselves.  O with what contentment does many look upon the seven abominations of the heart? and are not constrained to weep in secret places because of these. {161}

5thly, There is likewise this that doth accompany a Christian that hath obtained pardon: It is his endeavour to have the letters of his discharge always kept legible, that he may read it.  In a manner, it is his charter, and right of his inheritance; it is the first-fruits of the promised land: and if we look, whether in reality, or in our apprehension, it is no wonder though we sit down seven nights and days, and not speak a word, because our grief is great. [Job 2.13.]

We shall shut up our discourse with this, To desire you to be more under the exercise of the law, that ye may give the gospel more employment.  Be making a diligent inquiry into the idolatrous temple of your hearts, beholding these great and monstrous abominations.  I think God hath manifested much infinite love and wisdom towards man, that he hath reserved that royal prerogative to himself, to be the searcher of hearts; for, did we know all that is within us, (as he who is greater than our hearts doth know), we should find more difficulty to believe.  I think, if there were a window opened for each one of us, to behold one another’s hearts, O how should we loath and shun to converse one with another!  If a part of that mystery of iniquity that is within us were engraven on our foreheads, we should be made a curse and reproach in all the earth.  Amongst all the eternal trophies and monuments of the victory of our blessed Lord, if ever we shall be made pillars in the house of our God, we doubt, we may be put in the highest room.  All the mysteries that he hath manifested in saving others, might evanish in this one mystery, of saving us.  We can desire no more, but have access unto the holiest of all, through him, who, by the eternal Spirit, hath offered up himself a spotless sacrifice for sin and iniquity. [Heb. 9.14.]  Now, to him who was that blessed Lamb slain from the foundation of the world [Rev. 13.8], even to him, we desire to give all praise, glory, honour, for now and evermore, world without end.   Amen.