Nothing is more definitely set forth in the gospel than the fact that its very heart is the work of Christ. Do we think of the gospel as the covenant with Abraham concerning everlasting inheritance of the land promised? Then we find that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers (Rom 15:8). He specifically linked his shed blood with the covenant: “He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is the blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt 26:27, 28). He is the mediator of “the better covenant”. And since a covenant to be operative requires death in confirmation, so the new covenant is established in Christ’s death: “for this cause he is the mediator of the new covenant, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they which are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”

Do we think of the gospel as a promise of eternal life? Then that is made possible in Christ’s death. God gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life. The “giving” involved his death, that we who are dying might live. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” “I lay down my life for the sheep.”

When we think of the gospel as an invitation to turn to God, we find the promise that though sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool. This amazing transformation, this impossible thing except by the miracle of divine grace, is inseparably linked with the blood of Christ. “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood… to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” For the shepherd was by a splendid paradox the lamb of God to whom it is said: “Thou wast slain, and has redeemed us to God by thy blood”. So wondrous is the Lamb’s work that angels and all creation join in praises: “Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, and wisdom, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” “Ye know”, says Peter, “that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot”… “who his own self bore our sins in his body to the tree.”

Forgiveness and the Death of Christ

The message of salvation is bound up with the death of Jesus. “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name.” Repentance—for man has a part to play; but remission is essentially God’s work. “Christ died for all… and all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” And Paul gives by way of an explanation the divine paradox: “that God hath made him who knew no sin to be sin for us: that we might be made the righteousness of God in him”.

How can we resolve this divine paradox? Christ shared many things with us that have come by sin, even though— and Paul puts this emphatically first—he was sinless. Paul had earlier said, “In that he died for all, then all died”. He shared the death and the suffering and the shame that have come by sin. It is the suffering and the shame and the death that belongs to all of us. Whatever else Paul’s statement does, it helps us to try to articulate what we cannot adequately express ourselves; we know what the horror of sin is when we at last try to see it as God sees it. We cannot repair the breach between God and man, for we cannot even define the tragedy of it. But God has set forth Jesus crucified among men; and the man who seeks to be justified by Christ becomes dead to law as the basis of human achievement and is “crucified with Christ” to share his life “by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. The one ground of glorying is that which excludes all human glorying, and Paul could say: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world”.

Confession: “Jesus is Lord”

“Remission of sins in his name” inescapably involves a connection between the repentant man and Christ. In him God meets the sinner, and there forgiveness is found. Why God chose this way we in measure discern as we grow in the Scriptures. The fact that He chose it is un questionable. That it involved one who shared the consequences of sin in partaking of our nature is plainly declared as a vital truth; that one must be sinless, too, in order that he might be the source of resurrection and life is also evident; and with that one we must be identified that in his suffering for sin he becomes our representative. “We die with him and are buried with him.” What he did becomes our confession before God, as “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Confession is made by the “word that is nigh thee”, even in heart and mouth. We confess with the mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God hath raised him from the dead that we may be saved. To confess Jesus as Lord is to acknowledge that he has bought us; it is to acknowledge that in the name of the Lord upon whom we call in faith we may be saved; and “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom 10:10).

The Experience of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a vital part of the disciple’s experience of life in Christ. As a man learns that all the world is guilty before God, and that means each individual is guilty before God—as a man realises this, not as just an intellectual assent but with a moral awareness of his real standing before his Maker—then forgiveness comes as a lifting of a load which is unbearable. The shame of the past goes with the conviction that God has cast our sins behind His back. But the effect of forgiveness is not only the sense of freedom from the past; it is a power for the future. Even in human relationships, that power is evident. When a man or woman has realised the pain their action has caused, and has asked the forgiveness for which the price of pain has been paid, the soul is fortified against a further lapse when temptation comes. The memory of a mother’s forgiveness can make a son say, “I can’t do that again”. It is much more so in divine relations. God has forgiven, and the price was great; “precious” is the Bible word. What Paul says follows naturally: “The love of Christ con straineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then all died; and he died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him that for their sakes died and rose again” (2 Cor 4:14,15, RV). There has been a release from the bondage to self, and a new horizon, as limitless as God Himself, has been opened up. Self-satisfaction has gone, and its place is taken by the will to serve God. If the old life was a bondage, the new life is the freedom of emancipated men, and the labour of the freed man is better in soul, in quality, in the joy of service than that of the slave. The example of Christ inspires, gratitude to God impels, the fellowship of God ennobles; forgiveness is a cleansing experience, for sin in its repulsiveness is no longer paraded as righteousness. For forgiveness is received by faith. “Abram believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” But faith, which is the channel of forgiveness, illumines its significance and its wonder: and it is all one to speak of being cleansed by forgiveness and of God purifying hearts by faith. This is behind the thought of John when he says, “This is that which overcometh the world, even our faith”; and the same apostle testifies that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.

Forgiveness Through Christ

The forgiveness of God is mediated through His Son whom God has provided. “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” So gracious a pro vision of the Father could not fail to find expression in the ministry of the Son. That he should claim to forgive sins understandably outraged the religious leaders of Israel, and they reasoned in their hearts, “Why doth this man speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The last phrase seems to admit of but one answer. But Jesus posed a question, which also allowed of one answer only. “Whether is it easier, to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed and walk?” Judged on the basis of saying, the latter provides a more direct apparent test, and therefore one more easily proved. But Jesus linked the two together and used the healing to demonstrate the forgiveness. “That you may know that the son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy), Arise and take up thy bed.” And immediately he arose. Is the linkage merely an arbitrary one Jesus saying, Just as I can do this, so I can do that? Or is it intrinsic and basic? The latter would appear to be the true answer; for sin produces effects, and probably the man’s state was due to a life of self-indulgence. If Jesus was answering the man’s unspoken question, which was yet apparent to Jesus, then both he and Jesus were more concerned with his spiritual life than his physical. Be that as it may, sorrow and sickness are ultimately part of the sad toll which sin imposes upon sinners. By removing the effects, Jesus showed the power to forgive sins. The healing, like other miracles, was Messianic in its import, and illustrated an aspect of the work for which Jesus came.

Consequences Which Remain

While the miracle demonstrates that the forgiveness of sins involves the removal of the effects of sin including both sickness and death—it would be a mistake to conclude that when a man is justified by faith he at once finds the consequences of sin also removed. The early preachers sent forth by Jesus himself had to preach the gospel and heal the sick. That power given to them was a share of the Messianic power of Jesus: it was in Paul’s phrase a fore taste of the powers of the age to come. But the miraculous gifts ceased with the apostles, and while there may be a connection between faith and health in that faith can create conditions conducive to health, it must be recognised that nevertheless sickness and death run their course. Even in the apostles’ days, Paul suffered a thorn in the flesh, Timothy had a frequent digestive trouble, Trophimus had to be left by Paul at Miletus sick. The order of nature is not altered for our sakes; mistakes bring their penalties. And the aftermath of sins is not taken away. A sin can affect the lives of others for which no reparation is possible. A man can squander his health and his wealth, and bring poverty to his family. A well-to-do man may reduce his family to poverty by gambling; but a change in the man’s attitude to life, following repentance by him and the forgiveness of his family, cannot bring back what is lost.

There is something that repentance and forgiveness does effect, however. Even though the consequences of sin remain, a man’s attitude is changed. It is possible that the afflictions, which produce cursing in one man as he pursues a godless evil life, may so act on a man who has found forgiveness with God that those same difficulties become a discipline. A man humble and contrite, awake to the folly of sin, accepts the trials of his life as a purifying experience, and becomes ennobled as he patiently seeks to live the life of the new man in Christ Jesus. Penitence on man’s part and forgiveness on God’s part can so effectively enable a man to endure the consequences of sin, that he uses them as transforming experiences, becoming thereby more than conqueror in that not only is sin overcome but its effects are made to serve as a training in righteousness. As each one’s past has become a part of himself, by that very continuity which is part of personality, a man is abidingly aware of the past. Paul could never forget the days when he was a persecutor, although he had found mercy. The past can therefore abide, not now with the power of habit holding in bondage, but producing the humble and contrite heart. The memory of the guilt and the consciousness of forgiveness are part of the personality. And as the one disciplines and corrects, so the other encourages and guides in godliness. The grace of God is creative—the new creature is a forgiven man who seeks to walk worthy of God. And when the new creation is perfected, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, the effects of sin will all have been swallowed up in victory—the victory of the Lamb slain.

Human Forgiveness

Human and divine forgiveness are never far apart in the Scriptures. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” “Forgive us our sins; as we also forgive everyone that is indebted to us”. The petition points to the similarity of the act of the Father and the disciple. As the one forgives, so does the other.

There can be no forgiveness from God for the unforgiving man. “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). “And when ye stand praying, forgive if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses”. The unforgiving has enmity in his heart; he also exercises a judicial attitude which usurps the prerogatives of God. Jesus puts no limit to forgiveness, for when Peter asked how often they should forgive, the answer, “Until seventy times seven”, virtually removes a limit. Jesus emphasised his lesson by the story of the man who was forgiven a tremendous debt by his lord and who immediately sought to exact a very small debt from a fellow servant. On hearing of it his lord was wroth with him: the man was unworthy of forgiveness. Jesus adds, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses”. Here the operative words are “from your hearts”. They demand of men understanding, compassion, humility, and a love that finds its pattern in the love of God.

As the works of the flesh find an outlet in bitterness, wrath, anger and evil speaking, so the renewed man which after God is created in righteousness and holiness of truth, seeks to follow the divine way: “Be ye kind one to another, tender hearted and forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you”.

There are two follies that men commit. One is seen in the light cavalier treatment of forgiveness which says, “Of course God forgives, it is His business”; and the other is the defiance of the natural rebelliousness in man expressed by G. B. Shaw, “Forgiveness is a beggar’s refuge; we must pay our debts”. The one fails to recognise the moral problems of sin and forgiveness, and the other denies the fundamentals of man’s salvation.