J. C. Ryle wrote well over two hundred evangelical tracts, of which more than two million were circulated, and many were translated into foreign languages. Throughout his ministry he remained one of the strongest defenders of the evangelical reformed faith within the Church of England. His faithful witness to the Gospel of Christ needs to be heard more than ever today. The following tract is a classic of Gospel Truth that readers came to expect from all his writings. All his tracts are pure gold. Some of them, not published since the 19th century, have come into my possession, and I offer you these inspiring works exactly word for word as they were published by Drummonds Tract Depot, Stirling, Scotland.
“YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN YOU.”
Do you see the question which stands at the head of this page? 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 forfeited?—What need have I of forgiveness?”
I answer, it is not an earthly forgiveness I am asking about, but a heavenly one. I do not inquire whether you are forgiven in the sight of men, but whether you are forgiven in the sight of God. The question I desire 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. We lately saw the pestilence slaying its thousands and tens of thousands of our countrymen. The strongest were carried off in a few hours. The cleverest physicians found their skill entirely unavailing. We live yet, and we may be thankful. 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. He that does not know this, knows nothing in religion. It is the very A B C of Christianity, that a man should know his right place, and understand his deserts.
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 fifth chapter of St. Matthew, there is not one of us that would be acquitted. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, so after this comes the judgment. We must either be forgiven, or perish everlastingly.
When I walk through the crowded streets of London, I see hundreds and thousands, of whom I know nothing beyond their outward appearance. I see some bent on pleasure, and some on business,—some who look rich, and some who look poor,—some rolling in their carriages, some hurrying along on foot. Each has his own object in view. Each has his own aims and ends, all alike hidden from me. But one thing I know for a certainty, as I look upon them,—they are all sinners. There is not a soul among them all but is guilty before God. There breathes not the man or woman in that crowd, but must die forgiven, or else rise again to be condemned for ever at the last day.
When I look through the length and breadth of Great Britain, I must make the same report. From the Land’s End to the North Foreland, from the Isle of Wight to Caithness, from the Queen on the throne to the pauper in the work-house, we are all sinners. We have got a name among the empires of the earth. We send our ships into every sea, and our merchandize into every town in the world. We have bridged the Atlantic with our steamers. We have made night in our cities like day with gas. We have changed England into one great County by railways. We can exchange thought between London and Edinburgh in a few seconds by the electric telegraph. But with all our arts and sciences, with all our machinery and inventions, with all our armies and navies, with all our lawyers and statesmen, we have not altered the natures of our people. We are still in the eye of God an island full of sinners.
When I turn to the map of the world, I must say the same thing. It matters not what quarter I examine, I find men’s hearts are everywhere the same, and everywhere wicked. Sin is the family disease of all the children of Adam. Never has there been a corner of the earth discovered, where sin and the devil do not reign. Wide as the differences are between the nations of the earth, they have been found to have one great mark in common. Europe and Asia, Africa and America, Iceland and India, Paris and Pekin, all alike have the mark of sin. The eye of the Lord looks down on this globe of ours as it rolls round the sun, and sees it covered with corruption and wickedness. What He sees in the moon and stars, in Jupiter and Saturn, I cannot tell, but on the earth I know He sees sin. (Psalm xiv. 2, 3.)
Reader, you may not perhaps like what I am saying. I have no doubt such language as this sounds extravagant to some. You think I am going much too far. But mark well what I am about to say next, and then consider whether I have not used the words of soberness and truth.
What then, I ask, is the life of the best Christian amongst us all? What is it but one great career of short-comings? What is it but a daily acting out the words of our Prayer Book, “leaving undone things that we ought to do, and doing things that we ought not to do?” Our faith, how feeble! Our love, how cold! Our works, how few! Our zeal, how small! Our patience, how short-breathed! Our humility, how threadbare! 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 just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not.” (Eccles, vii. 20.) “In many things,” says the apostle James, “we offend all.” (James iii. 2.)
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 wanting, 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 that doeth good, no not one.” (Psalm xiv. 3.)
And then, what is the Lord God, whose eyes are on all our ways, and before whom we have one day to give account? “Holy, holy, holy,” is the remarkable expression applied to Him by those who are nearest to Him. (Isaiah vi. 3. Rev. iv. 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 behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity.” (Habak. i. 13.) We think the angels exalted beings, and far above ourselves; but we are told in Scripture, “He charged His angels with folly.” (Job iv. 18.) We admire the moon and stars as glorious and splendid bodies, but we read, “Behold even to the moon, and it shineth not; yea the stars are not pure in His sight.” (Job xxv. 5.) We talk of the heavens as the noblest and purest part of creation; but even of them it is written, “the heavens are not clean in His sight.” (Job xv. 14.) Reader, what is any one of us but a miserable sinner in the sight of such a God as this?
Surely we ought all to cease from proud thoughts about ourselves. We ought to lay our hands upon our mouths, and say with Abraham, “I am dust and ashes,” and with Job, “I am vile,” and with Isaiah, “We are all as an unclean thing,” and with John, “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” (Gen. xviii. 27; Job xl. 4; Isaiah lxiv. 6; 1 John i. 9.) Where is the man or woman 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 but one conclusion to be arrived at, we are all great sinners, and we all need a great forgiveness.
See now what just cause 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 that mother’s child amongst us that feels all this! The first step towards heaven is to see clearly that we deserve hell. There are but two alternatives before us, we must either be forgiven, or be miserable forever.
See too how little many persons know of the design of Christianity, though they live in a Christian land. They fancy 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 such men as Plato and Seneca 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.
Reader, 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 necessities or not. It is a matter of life and death. Try, I beseech 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. Oh! that you might find out what you really are! Oh! that you might learn to pray Job’s prayer, “Make me to know my transgression and my sin.” (Job xiii. 23.) Oh! 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? Whither 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 signified, you will after all die in your sins. You may attend a daily service regularly, but if you think to establish 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 ye have done all those things which are commanded you,” says the Lord Jesus, “say we are unprofitable servants.” (Luke xvii. 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. Alas! 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 score 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, reader, and by God’s help I will tell you. There is a way both sure and plain, and into that way I desire to guide every inquirer’s feet.
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. Take this course, and you are a pardoned soul. “To Christ,” says Peter, “give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believed in Him shall receive remission of sins.” (Acts x. 43.) “Through this man,” said Paul at Antioch, “is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by Him all that believe are justified from all things.” (Acts xiii. 38.) “In Him,” writes Paul to the Colossians, “we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. i. 14.)
The Lord Jesus Christ, in great love and compassion, has made a full and complete satisfaction for sin, by His own death upon 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, as Paul says, He has purged our sins, and put away sin, and as Daniel says, He has made an end of sin, and finished transgression. (Isaiah liii. 11. John i. 29. Heb. i. 3. ix. 26. Dan. ix. 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 shall be saved. (Acts v. 31. Rev. i. 18. John x. 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 needful to reconcile us to God. He has provided a garment of righteousness to clothe us. He has opened a fountain of living waters to cleanse us. 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, cleave only to Him, this is all and everything that God asks for. Let a man only do this, and he shall be saved. His iniquities shall be found completely pardoned, and his transgressions entirely taken away. Every man and woman that so trusts is wholly forgiven, and reckoned 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 engage he shall not miss heaven. 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 tarry outside the ark till he is better. Let him come to Christ without delay, just as he is. Afterwards he shall be holy.
Reader, I call upon you to 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. I see many walking in darkness and having no light, from confused notions as to what faith is. They hear that saving faith will work by love and produce holiness, and not finding all this at once in themselves, they think they have no faith at all. They forget that these things are the fruits of faith, and not faith itself, and that to doubt whether we have faith because we do not see them at once, is like doubting whether a tree be alive, because it does not bear fruit the very day we plant it in the ground. I charge you to settle it firmly in your mind that in the matter of your forgiveness and justification there is but one thing required, and that is simple faith in Christ.
I know well that the natural heart dislikes this doctrine. It runs counter to man’s notions of religion. It leaves him no room to boast. Man’s idea is to come to Christ with a price 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. Whosoever believeth shall not perish. (John iii. 16.)
Some say, such doctrine cannot be right, because it makes the way to heaven too easy. I fear that many such persons, if the truth were spoken, find it too hard. I believe in reality it is easier to give a fortune in building a cathedral like York minster, or to go to the stake and be burned, than thoroughly to receive justification by faith without the deeds of the law, and to enter heaven as a sinner saved by grace.
Some say this doctrine is foolishness and enthusiasm. I answer, this is just what was said of it 1800 years ago, and is a vain cavil now, as it was then. So far from the charge being true, a thousand facts can prove this doctrine to be from God. No doctrine certainly has produced such mighty effects in the world, as the simple proclamation of free forgiveness through faith in Christ.
This is the glorious doctrine that was the strength of the Apostles when they went forth 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 doctrine which brought light into Europe 300 years ago, at the time of the blessed Reformation, and enabled one solitary Monk, Martin Luther, to shake the whole church of Rome. Through his preaching and writing the scales fell from men’s eyes, and the chains of their souls were loosed. And what was the lever that gave him his power? It was free forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.
This is the doctrine that revived our own church in the middle of last century, when Whitefield, and the Wesleys, and Berridge, and Venn broke the wretched spirit of slumber that had come over the land, and roused men to think. They began a mighty work, with little seeming likelihood of success. They began, few in number, with small encouragement from the rich and great. But they prospered. And why?—Because they preached free forgiveness through faith in Christ.
This is the doctrine which is the true strength of any church on earth at this day. It is not orders, or endowments, or liturgies, or learning, that will keep a church alive. Let free forgiveness through Christ be faithfully proclaimed in her pulpits, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. Let it be buried or kept back, and her candlestick shall soon be taken away. When the Saracens invaded the lands where Jerome and Athanasius, Cyprian and Augustine, once wrote and preached, they found bishops and liturgies, I make no question. But I fear they found no preaching of free forgiveness of sins, and so they swept the churches of those lands clean away. They were a body without a vital principle, and therefore they fell. Let us never forget the brightest days of a church are those when Christ crucified is most exalted. The dens and caves of the earth, where the early Christians met to hear of the love of Jesus, were more full of glory and beauty in God’s sight than ever was St. Peter’s at Rome. The meanest barn at this day, where the true way of pardon is offered to sinners, is a far more honourable place than the cathedral of Cologne or Milan. A church is only useful so far as she exalts free forgiveness through Christ.
This is the doctrine which of all others is the mightiest engine for pulling down the kingdom of Satan. The Greenlanders were unmoved, so long as the Moravians told them of the creation and the fall of man; but when they heard of redeeming love, their frozen hearts melted like snow in spring. Preach salvation by the sacraments, exalt the church above Christ, and keep back the doctrine of the atonement, and the devil cares little,—his goods are at peace. But preach a full Christ and a free pardon, and then Satan will have great wrath, for he knows he has but a short time. John Berridge said he went on preaching morality and nothing else, till he found there was not a moral man in his parish. But when he changed his plan, and began to preach the love of Christ to sinners, then there was a stirring of the dry bones, and a mighty turning to God.
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. How anyone can undertake to be a minister of religion without a firm grasp of this doctrine, I never can understand. For myself, I can only say I should think my office a most painful one, if I had not the message of free forgiveness to convey. It would be miserable work indeed to visit the sick and dying, if I could not say, “Behold the Lamb of God, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The right hand of a Christian minister is the doctrine of free forgiveness through faith in Christ. Give us this doctrine, and we have power. We will never despair of doing good to men’s souls. Take away this doctrine, and we are weak as water. We may read the prayers, and go through a round of forms, but we are like Samson with his head shorn, our strength is gone. Soul’s will not be benefited by us, and good will not be done.
Reader, I commend the things I have been saying to your notice. I am not ashamed of free pardon through faith in Christ, whatever some may say against the doctrine. I am not ashamed of it, for its fruits speak for themselves. It has done things that no other doctrine can do. It has effected moral changes which laws and punishments have failed to work, which magistrates and policemen have laboured after in vain, which mechanics’ institutes and secular knowledge have proved utterly powerless to produce. Just as the fiercest lunatics in Bethlehem hospital became suddenly gentle when kindly treated, even so the worst and most hardened sinners have often become as little children, when told of Jesus loving them and willing to forgive. I can well understand Paul ending his Epistle to the erring Galatians with that solemn burst of feeling, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Gal. vi. 14.) The crown has indeed fallen from a Christian’s head, when he leaves the doctrine of justification by faith.
See now how you should ask yourself whether yon 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. He that thinks to climb into paradise by some other road, will find himself fearfully mistaken. Other foundation can no man lay for an immortal soul than that of which I have been feebly speaking. He that ventures himself here is safe. He that is off this rock has got no standing ground at all.
See too how you should seriously consider what kind of a ministry you are in the habit of attending, supposing you have a choice. You have reason indeed to be careful. It is not all the same where you go, whatever people may say. There are many places of worship, I fear, where you might look long for Christ crucified, and never find Him. He is buried under outward ceremonies, thrust behind the baptismal font, lost sight of under the shadow of the church. “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” Take heed where you settle yourself. Try all by this single test: “Is Jesus and free forgiveness proclaimed here?” There may be comfortable pews, there may be good singing, there may be learned sermons. But if Christ’s Gospel is not the sun and centre of the whole place, do not pitch your tent there. Say rather with Isaac, “Here is the wood and the fire, but where is the Lamb?” Be very sure this is not the place for your soul.
Reader, remember these things, and you will be wise. I have set before you the way of life. I have told you where pardon is to be found? Oh! beware, lest an offer being made you 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.
I dare be sure this paper will be read by someone who feels he is not yet a forgiven soul. My heart’s desire and prayer is that such a one may seek his pardon at once. And I would fain help him forward, by showing him the kind of forgiveness offered to him, and the glorious privileges within his reach.
Listen to me then, while I try to exhibit to you the treasures of Gospel forgiveness. I cannot describe its fulness as I ought. Its riches are indeed unsearchable. (Eph. iii. 8.) But if you will turn away from it, you shall 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 shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies, wherewith soever they shall blaspheme.” (Mark iii. 28.) Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah i. 18.) Yes! 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 cleanseth from all sin.” (1 John i. 7.) Though to you they seem written with the point of a diamond, they can all be effaced 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 ye are washed.” (1 Cor. vi. 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. xiv. 24.) It is not, as some fancy, a mere letting off, and letting alone. It is a pardon so complete, that he who has it is reckoned 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 ciii. 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, “Thou art all fair, there is no spot in thee.” (Cant. iv. 7.) Blessed be God that it is so. I verily believe if the best of us all had only one blot left for himself to wipe out, he would miss eternal life. If the holiest child of Adam were in heaven all but his little finger, and to get in depended on himself, I am sure he would never enter the kingdom. If Noah, Daniel, and Job had had but one day’s sins to wash away, they would never have been saved. Praised be God that in the matter of our pardon there is nothing left for man to do. Jesus does 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 i. 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 man. He invites you to “buy wine and milk without money and without price,” and declares “Whosoever will let him take the water of life freely.” (Isaiah lv. 1. Rev. xxii. 17.) Like David in the cave of Adullam, He receives everyone that feels in distress and a debtor, and rejects none. (1 Sam. xxii. 2.) Are you a sinner? Do you want a Saviour? Then come to Jesus just as you are, and your soul shall live.
Again, it is an offered forgiveness. I have read of earthly kings who knew not how to show mercy, of Henry the Eighth of England, who spared neither man or woman; of James the Fifth of Scotland, who would never show favour to a Douglas. The King of kings is not like them. He calls on man to come to Him, and be pardoned. “Unto you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men.” (Prov. viii. 4.) “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.” (Isaiah lv. 1.) “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” (John vii. 37.) “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mat. xi. 28.) Oh! reader, 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. I have heard of pardons granted in reply to long entreaty, and wrung out by much importunity. King Edward the Third of England would not spare the citizens of Calais till they came to him with halters round their necks, and his own queen interceded for them on her knees. But Jesus is “good and ready to forgive.” (Psalm lxxxvi. 5.) He delighteth in mercy. (Micah vii. 18.) Judgment is His strange work. He is not willing that any should perish. (2 Peter iii. 9.) He would fain have all men saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. ii. 4.) He wept over unbelieving Jerusalem. “As I live,” He says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways: why will ye die?” (Ezek. xxxiii. 11.) Ah! reader, 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 pardon at the mercy-seat of Christ, 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 the door of the fold, and none have ever been refused admission. Zacchĉus the extortioner, Magdalen the harlot, Saul the persecutor, Peter the denier of his Lord, the Jews who crucified the Prince of life, the idolatrous Athenians, the adulterous Corinthians, the ignorant Africans, the blood-thirsty New Zealanders,—all have ventured their souls on Christ’s promises of pardon, and none have ever found them fail. Ah! reader, if the way I set before you were a new and untraveled way, you might well feel faint-hearted. But it is not so. It is an old path. It is a path worn by the feet of 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 xiii. 38.) 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 xv.) The very day Zacchĉus received Jesus he heard those comfortable words, this day is salvation come to this house.” (Luke xix. 9.) The very day that David said, “I have sinned against the Lord,” he was told by Nathan, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin.” (2 Sam. xii. 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 nigh at hand. It is close to you, within your reach, all ready to be bestowed. Believe, and that very moment it is your own. “He that believeth is not condemned.” (John iii. 18.) It is not said, “He shall not be,” or “will not be,” but “is not.” From the time of his believing condemnation is gone. “He that believeth hath everlasting life.” (John iii. 36.) It is not said, “He shall have,” or “will have,” it is “hath.” It is his own as surely as if he was in heaven, though not so evidently so to his own eyes. Ah! reader, 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 ii. 9.) Once justified, you are justified forever. Once written down in the book of life, your name shall 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. vii. 19. Jerem. 1. 60. xxxi. 34. Isaiah xxxviii. 17.) Some people fancy they may be justified one year and condemned another,—children of adoption at one time, and strangers by and by,—heirs of the kingdom in the beginning of their days, and yet servants of the devil in their end. I cannot find this in the Bible; as the New Zealander told the Romish priest, I do not see it in the book. It seems to me to overturn the good news of the Gospel altogether, and to tear up its comforts by the roots. I believe the salvation Jesus offers is an everlasting salvation, and a pardon once sealed with His blood shall never be reversed.
Reader, I have set before you the nature of the forgiveness offered to you. I have told you but a little of it, for my words are weaker than my will. The half of it remains untold. The greatness of it is far more than any report of mine. But I think I have said enough 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 shall not slide, his habitation shall 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 shall not come nigh him. He shall be caught up and borne securely above it all.
Such an one is in a hiding place. When God arises to judge terribly the earth, and men are calling to rocks and mountains to fall upon them and cover them, the everlasting arms shall be thrown around him, and the storm shall pass over his head. He shall abide 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 Peru and California are nothing at all. He need not envy the richest merchants and bankers. He has a portion that will endure when bank-notes and sovereigns are worthless things. He can say, like the Spanish ambassador, when shown the treasury at Venice, “My master’s treasury has no bottom.” He has Christ.
Such an one is insured. He is ready for anything that may happen. Nothing can harm him. Banks may break, and governments may be overturned. Famine and pestilence may rage around him. Sickness and sorrow may visit his own fireside. 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 he whose transgression is forgiven, and whose sin is covered.” (Psalm xxxii. 1.)
Reader, how will you escape if you neglect so great salvation? Why should you not lay hold on it at once, and say, Pardon me, even me also, O my Saviour. What would you have, if the way I have set before you does not satisfy you? Come while the door is open. Ask, and you shall receive.
IV. Let vie give you in the last place some marks of having found forgiveness.
I dare not leave out this point. Too many persons 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 fain raise hope in some, and self-inquiry in others, and to do this let me tell you the leading marks of a forgiven soul.
Forgiven souls hate sin. They can enter most fully into the words of our Communion Service, “the remembrance of sin is grievous unto them, and the burden of it is intolerable.” It is the serpent which bit them: how should they not shrink 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 vii. 38.) Remember how the Ephesians publicly burned their wicked books. (Acts xix. 19.) Remember how Paul mourned over his youthful transgressions, “I am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.” (1 Cor. xv. 9.) Ah! reader, if you and sin are friends, you and God are not yet reconciled. You are not meet 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 forth, and comes with a peculiar sweetness to their ears. (Cant. i. 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 men 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 saith the Scripture? “He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him. (John v. 23.) “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.”—1 Cor. xvi. 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 them-selves,—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? I do not deny that there are proud saints. But this I do say, they are of all God’s creatures the most inconsistent,—and of all God’s children, the most likely to stumble and pierce themselves with many sorrows. Forgiveness more often produces the spirit of Jacob:—“I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast shewed unto thy servant;” (Gen. xxxii. 10.) and of Hezekiah, “I shall go softly all my years;” (Isaiah xxxviii. 15.) and of the Apostle Paul, “I am less than the least of all saints,—chief of sinners.” (Ephes. iii. 8;—1 Tim. i. 15.) Reader, when you and I have nothing we can call our own but sin and weakness, there is surely no garment that becomes us so well as humility.
Forgiven souls are holy. Their chief 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 unto 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 in labours so abundant, and in doing good so unwearied. It was a sense of pardon that made Zacchĉus say, “The half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” (Luke xix. 8.) Reader, if you point out to me believers who are in a carnal, slothful state of soul, I reply in the words of Peter, “They have forgotten they were purged from their old sins.” (2 Pet. i. 9.) But if you show me a man deliberately living an unholy and licentious life, and yet boasting that his sins are forgiven, I answer he is under a ruinous delusion, and is not forgiven at all. I would not believe he is forgiven, if an angel from heaven affirmed it, and I charge you not to believe it too. 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 pounds, and shall they not forgive a few pence? Doubtless in this, as in everything else they come short;—but this is their desire and their aim. A spiteful, 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 has not a place, are castles in the air, and vain fancies. 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.
Reader, I lay these things before you. I know well there are great diversities in the degree of men’s attainments in grace, and that saving faith in Christ is consistent with many imperfections. But still I do believe, the marks I have just been naming, will generally be found more or less in all forgiven souls.
I cannot conceal from you, these marks should raise in many minds great searchings of heart. I must be plain. I fear there are thousands of persons called Christians, who know nothing of these marks. They are baptized. They keep their church. They would not on any account be reckoned 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.
Now if this paper is read by such persons, it will probably either alarm them, or make them very angry. If it makes them angry I shall be sorry. If it alarms them I shall be glad. I want to alarm them. I want to awaken them from their present state. I want them to take in the great fact, that they are not yet forgiven, they have not peace with God, and are on the high road to destruction.
I must say this, for I see 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 want of these marks in many men and women 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 write it down plainly in so many words? Where is the use of crying peace, peace, when there is no peace? Where is the honesty of acting 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 wrote to you anything 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. Try it by the marks I have just set before you. I have endeavoured to make them as broad and general as I can, 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 entreat you to go forward. But if you know nothing of them in your own experience, let me say in all affection, I stand in doubt of you. I tremble for your soul.
1. And now before I conclude, let me put a home question to everyone who reads this paper. It shall 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 sticks by the wreck, and does not jump in and escape? What does it avail the sick man, that the doctor offers him a medicine, if he only looks at it and does not swallow it down? Except you lay hold for your own soul, you will be as surely lost, as if there was no forgiveness at all.
Reader, 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 our sins will meet you in the day of judgment, and sink you into hell. Oh! reader, how can you trifle, 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 wonderful thing indeed.
2. Let me next give a solemn warning to everyone who reads this paper, and 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. Oh! I wonder that you can 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 have a prayer-book, and perhaps 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 shall be some day. I cannot away with that expression. It is like thrusting off the hand of conscience, and seizing it by the throat to stop its voice. Why are you more likely to seek forgiveness at a future time? Why should you not seek it now? Now is the time for gathering the bread of life. The day of the Lord is fast drawing near, and then no man can work. (Exod. xvi. 26.) The seventh trumpet will soon sound. The kingdoms of this world will soon become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ. Woe to the house which is found without the scarlet line, and without the mark of blood upon the door! (Josh. ii. 18. Exod. xii. 13.)
Well! 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 read this paper, and desire forgiveness.
I know not who you are, or what you have been in time past, but I say boldly, Come to Christ by faith, and you shall have a pardon. High or low, rich or poor, young men and maidens, old men and children,—you cannot be worse than Manasseh and Paul before conversion, than David and Peter after conversion,—come all of you to Christ, and you shall be freely forgiven.
Think not 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 bids you 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 ye, every one, judge ye, which is true Christianity? Which is the good news? Which is the glad tidings? 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? Reader, your own heart 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 fancying 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 shall 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 shall have life. Take with you words, and He will hear you graciously. Tell Him all your soul’s necessities, and I know He will give heed. Tell Him you have heard He receiveth 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 my soul for yours, you shall not ask in vain. Do this, and you shall 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 which passeth knowledge 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? O men and women of little faith that we are! Wherefore 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 covet the best gifts. We ought not to be satisfied with the same kind of hearing, and reading, and praying which satisfied us in years gone by. 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 hitherto. Alas! 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 sorrowful 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 Jethro, “Come with us, and we will do thee good.” (Num. x. 29.) Oh! it is indeed a true saying, “He that watereth shall be watered himself.” (Prov. xi. 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 hitherto. 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. Let us walk in the full light of the Sun of righteousness and then our graces will grow. Let us not be like trees on a north wall, weak and unfruitful and cold. Let us rather strive to be like the sun-flower, and follow the great fountain of light wherever He goes, and see Him with open face. Oh! for an eye more quick to discern His leadings! Oh! 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, lest insensibly they rise up like a mist and hide Him from our eyes. In His light alone shall we see light and feel warmth, and separate from Him we shall find the world a dark and cold wilderness. We should call to mind the request of the Athenian philosopher when the mightiest monarch on earth asked him what he desired most: “I have,” said he, “but one request to make, and that is that you would stand from between me and the sun.” Let this be the spirit in which you and I are found continually. Let us think lightly of the world’s gifts. Let us sit calmly under its cares. Let us care for nothing, if we may only ever see the King’s face, if we may only ever abide in Christ.
And now reader, with every kind and Christian wish for your soul’s happiness, I commend you to the only wise God, our Saviour. He is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. (Jude 24.) I ask to be always remembered in your prayers, and remain,
Your affectionate friend,