The Works of
A PRACTICAL EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX.;
Index of Fourth Verse
Ver. 4.] THE WORDS OF THE VERSE EXPLAINED. 379
The words explained, and the design or scope of the psalmist in them discovered.
THE state and condition of the soul making application unto God in this psalm is recounted, verse 1. It was in the "depths " not only
380 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
providential depths of trouble, affliction, and perplexities thereon; but also depths of conscience, distress on the account of sin; as in the opening of those words have been declared.
The application of this soul unto God, with restless fervency and earnestness, in that state and condition; its consideration in the first place of the law, and the severity of God's justice in a procedure thereon, with the inevitable ruin of all sinners if God insist on that way of dealing with them, -- have also been opened and manifested from the foregoing verses.
Being in this estate, perplexed in itself, lost in and under the consideration of God's marking iniquity according to the tenor of the law, that which it fixes on, from whence any relief, stay, or supportment might be expected in such a condition, is laid down in this verse.
Verse 4. -- " But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared."
I shall first open the words as to their signification and importance; then show the design of the psalmist in them, with reference to the soul whose condition is here represented; and, lastly, propose the general truths contained in them, wherein all our concernments do lie.
"There is forgiveness." [--GREEK--] say the LXX., and Jerome accordingly, "propitiatio," "propitiation;" which is somewhat more than "venia," or "pardon," as by some it is rendered.
[--HEBREW--] Condonatio ipsa," "Forgiveness itself." It is from [--HEBREW--] , to spare, to pardon, to forgive, to be propitious; and is opposed to [--HEBREW--] , a word composed of the same letters varied (which is common in that language), signifying to cut off and destroy.
Now, it is constantly applied unto sin, and expresseth every thing that concurs to its pardon or forgiveness; as, --
First, It expresseth the mind or will of pardoning, or God's gracious readiness to forgive: Ps. lxxxvi. 5, "Thou, Lord, art good, [--HEBREW--] , and ready to forgive;" [--GREEK--] , "benign and meek," or "sparing, propitious, -- of a gracious, merciful heard and nature. So Neh ix. 17, "Thou art a God [--HEBREW--] "propitiationurn," of propitiations or pardons;" or, as we have rendered it, "ready to forgive," -- "a God of forgivenesses;" or, "all plenty of them is in thy gracious heart," Isa. lv. 7, "so that thou art always ready to make out pardons to sinners." The word is used again, Dan. ix. 9, to the same purpose.
Secondly, It regards the act of pardoning, or actual forgiveness itself: Ps. ciii. 3, [--HEBREW--] , "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities," -- " actually dischargeth thee of them;" which place the apostle respecting, renders the word by [--GREEK--] : Col. ii. 13, "Having freely forgiven you" (for so much the word imports) "all your trespasses."
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And this is the word that God useth in the covenant, in that great promise of grace and pardon, Jer. xxxi. 34.
It is warrantable for us, yea, necessary, to take the word in the utmost extent of its signifcation and use. It is a word of favour, and requires an interpretation tending towards the enlargement of it. We see it may be rendered [--GREEK--] , or "propitiation;" [--GREEK--] , or "grace;" and "venia," or "pardon;" and may denote these three things: --
1. The gracious, tender, merciful heart and will of God, who is the God of pardons and forgivenesses; or ready to forgive, to give out mercy, to add to pardon.
2. A respect unto Jesus Christ, the only [--GREEK--] , or propitiation for sin, as he is expressly called, Rom. iii. 25; 1 John ii. 2. And this is that which interposeth between the gracious heart of God and the actual pardon of sinners. All forgiveness is founded on propitiation.
3. It denotes condonation, or actual forgiveness itself, as we are made partakers of it; comprising it both actively, as it is an act of grace in God, and passively, as terminated in our souls, with the deliverance that attends it. In this sense, as it looks downwards and in its effects respects us, it is of mere grace; as it looks upwards to its causes and respects the Lord Christ, it is from propitiation or atonement. And this is that pardon which is administered in the covenant of grace.
Now, as to the place which these words enjoy in this psalm, and their relation to the state and condition of the soul here mentioned, this seems to be their importance: --
"O Lord, although this must be granted, that if thou shouldst mark iniquities according to the tenor of the law, every man living must perish, and that for ever; yet there is hope for my soul, that even I, who am in the depths of sin-entanglements, may find acceptance with thee: for whilst I am putting my mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope, I find that there is an atonement, a propitiation made for sin, on the account whereof thou sayest thou hast found a ransom, and wilt not deal with them that come unto thee according to the severity and exigence of thy justice; but art gracious, loving, tender, ready to forgive and pardon, and dost so accordingly. THERE IS FORGIVENESS WITH THEE."
The following words, "Therefore thou shalt be feared," or "That thou mayest be feared," though in the original free from all ambiguity, yet are so signally varied by interpreters, that it may not be amiss to take notice of it in our passage.
The Targum hath it, "That thou mayest be seen." This answers not the word, But it doth the sense of the place well enough. God in his displeasure is said to hide himself or his face: Isa. viii. 17, "The LORD hideth his face from the house of Jacob." By forgiveness we
382 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
obtain again the light of his countenance. This dispels the darkness and clouds that are about him, and gives us a comfortable prospect of his face and favour. "There is forgiveness with him that he may be seen." Besides, there is but one letter different in the original words, and that which is usually changed for the other.
The LXX. render them, [--GREEK--] [--GREEK--] , -- " For thy name's sake," or "thy own sake;" that is, freely, without any respect unto any thing in us. This also would admit of a fair and sound construction, but that there is more than ordinary evidence of the places being corrupted: for the Vulgar Latin, which, as to the Psalms, was translated out of the LXX., renders these words, "Propter legera tuam," -- "For thy law's sake;" which makes it evident that that translator reads the words [--GREEK--] , and not [--GREEK--] , as now we read. Now, though this hath in itself no proper sense (for forgiveness is not bestowed for the law's sake), yet it discovers the original of the whole mistake. [--HEBREW--] , "the law," differs but in one letter from [--HEBREW--] , "that thou mayest be feared;" by a mistake whereof this [--GREEK--] , "for thy law's sake," crept into the text. Nor doth this any thing countenance the corrupt figment of the novelty of the Hebrew vowels and accents, as though this difference might arise from the LXX. using a copy that had none, -- that is, before their invention, which might occasion mistakes and differences; for this difference is in a letter as well as in the vowels, and therefore there can be no colour for this conceit, unless we say also that they had copies of old with other consonants than those we now enjoy. Bellarmine, in his exposition of this place, endeavours to give countenance unto the reading of the Vulgar Latin, "For thy law's sake;" affirming that by the law here, not the law of our obedience is intended, but the law or order of God's dealing with us, that is, his mercy and faithfulness; -- which is a mere new invention to countenance an old error, which any tolerable ingenuity would have confessed, rather than have justified by so sorry a pretence; for neither is that expression or that word ever used in the sense here by him feigned, nor can it have any such signification.
Jerome renders these words, "Ut sis terribilis," -- "That thou mayest be dreadful or terrible;" doubtless not according to the intendment of the place. It is for the relieving of the soul, and not for the increasing of its dread and terror, that this observation is made, "There is forgiveness with thee."
But the words are clear, and their sense is obvious. [--HEBREW--] , -- "Therefore thou shalt be feared;" or, "That thou mayest be feared."
By the "fear of the LORD," in the Old Testament, the whole worship of God, moral and instituted, all the obedience which we owe unto him, both for matter and manner, is intended. Whatever we
Ver 4.] THE WORDS OF THE VERSE EXPLAINED. 383
are to perform unto God, being to be carried on and performed with reverence and godly fear, by a metonymy of the adjunct, that name is given to the whole. "That thou mayest be feared," then, is, "That thou mayest be served, worshipped; that I, who am ready to faint and give over on the account of sin, may yet be encouraged unto, and yet continue in, that obedience which thou requirest at my hands:" and this appears to be the sense of the whole verse, as influenced by and from those foregoing: --
"Although, O Lord, no man can approach unto thee, stand before thee, or walk with thee, if thou shouldst mark their sins and follies according to the tenor of the law, nor could they serve so great and holy a God as thou art; yet because I know from thy revelation of it that there is also with thee, on the account of Jesus Christ the propitiation, pardon and forgiveness, I am encouraged to continue with thee, waiting for thee, worshipping of thee, when, without this discovery, I should rather choose to have rocks and mountains fall upon me, to hide me from thy presence."
"But there is forgiveness with thee, and therefore thou shalt be feared."
The words being thus opened, we may take a full view in them of the state and condition of the soul expressed in this psalm; and that answering the experiences of all who have had any thing to do with God in and about the depths and entanglements of sin.
Having in and from his great depths, verse 1, addressed himself with fervent, redoubled cries, yea, outcries to God, and to him alone, for relief, verses 1, 2; having also acknowledged his iniquities, and considered them according to the tenor of the law, verse 3; he confesseth himself to be lost and undone for ever on that account, verse 3. But he abides not in the state of self-condemnation and dejection of soul; he says not, "There is no hope; God is a jealous God, a holy God, I cannot serve him; his law is a fiery law, which I cannot stand before; so that I had as good give over, sit down and perish, as contend any longer!" No; but searching by faith into the discovery that God makes of himself in Christ through the covenant of grace, he finds a stable foundation of encouragement to continue waiting on him, with expectation of mercy and pardon.
Propositions or observations from the former exposition of the words -- The first proposed to confirmation -- No encouragement for any sinner to approach unto God without a discovery of forgiveness.
FROM the words unfolded, as they lie in their contexture in the psalm, the ensuing propositions do arise: --
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First, Faith's discovery of forgiveness in God, though it have no present sense of its own peculiar interest therein, is the great supportment of a sin-perplexed soul.
Secondly, Gospel forgiveness, whose discovery is the sole supportment of sin-distressed souls, relates to the gracious heart or good will of the Father, the God of forgiveness, the propitiation that is made by the blood of the Son, and free condonation or pardon according to the tenor of the covenant of grace.
Thirdly, Faith's discovery of forgiveness in God is the sole bottom of adherence to him, in acceptable worship and reverential obedience.
The first of these is that whose confirmation and improvement I principally aim at; and the others only so far as they have coincidence therewith, or may be used in a subserviency to the illustration or demonstration thereof.
In the handling, then, of this truth, that it may be of the more advantage unto them whose good is sought and intended in the proposal and management of it, I shall steer this course, and show, --
FIRST, That there is not the least encouragement to the soul of a sinner to deal with God without this discovery.
SECONDLY, That this discovery of forgiveness in God is a matter great, holy, and mysterious; and which very few on gospel abiding grounds do attain unto.
THIRDLY, That yet this is a great, sacred, and certain truth, as from the manifold evidences of it may be made to appear.
FOURTHLY, That this is a stable supportment unto a sin-distressed soul shall be manifested, and the whole applied, according to the several concernments of those who shall consider it.
FIRST. There is not the least encouragement for the soul of a sinner to entertain any thoughts of approaching unto God without this discovery. All the rest of the world is covered with a deluge of wrath. This is the only ark whereunto the soul may repair and find rest. All without it is darkness, curse, and terror.
We have an instance and example of it, beyond all exception, in Adam. When he knew himself to be a sinner (and it was impossible for him, as we shall show afterward, to make a discovery of any such thing as forgiveness with God), he laid aside all thoughts of treating with him; the best of his foolish contrivance was for an escape: Gen. iii. 10, "I heard thy voice," saith he to God, "in the garden, and I was AFRAID, because I was naked; and I HID myself." Nothing but "Thou shalt die the death," sounded in his ears. In the morning of that day, he was made by the hand of God; a few hours before, he had converse and communion with him, with boldness and peace; why, then, doth nothing now but fear, flying, and hiding, possess him? Adam had sinned, the promise was not yet given, no revela-
Ver. 4.] NO APPROACH TO GOD WITHOUT FORGIVENESS. 385
tion made of forgiveness in God; and what other course than that vain and foolish one to fix upon he knew not. No more can any of his posterity, without this revelation. What else any of them hath fixed on in this case hath been no less foolish than his hiding; and in most, more pernicious. When Cain had received his sentence from God, it is said "he went out [--HEBREW--] , from the presence" or face "of the LORD," Gen. iv. 16. From his providential presence he could never subduct himself: so the psalmist informs us at large, Ps. cxxxix. 7-10. The very heathen knew, by the light of nature, that guilt could never drive men out of the reach of God: --
"Quo fugis Encelade? quascunque accesseris oras
Sub Jove semper eris."
They knew that [--GREEK--] (the vengeance of God) would not spare sinners, nor could be avoided, Acts xxviil. 4. From God's gracious presence, which he never enjoyed, he could not depart. It was, then, his presence as to his worship, and all outward acts of communion, that he forsook, and departed from. He had no discovery by faith of forgiveness, and therefore resolved to have no more to do with God, nor those who cleaved to him; for it respects his course, and not any one particular action.
This also is stated, Isa. xxxiii. 14, "The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" The persons spoken of are sinners, great sinners, and hypocrites. Conviction of sin and the desert of it was fallen upon them; a light to discern forgiveness they had not; they apprehend God as devouring fire and everlasting burnings only, -- one that would not spare, but assuredly inflict punishment according to the desert of sin; and thence is their conclusion, couched in their interrogation, that there can be no intercourse of peace between him and them, -- there is no abiding, no enduring of his presence. And what condition this consideration brings the souls of sinners unto, when conviction grows strong upon them, the Holy Ghost declares: Micah vi. 6, 7, "Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" Sense of sin presseth, forgiveness is not discovered (like the Philistines on Saul, Samuel not coming to his direction); and how doth the poor creature perplex itself in vain, to find out a way of dealing with God? "Will a sedulous and diligent observation of his own ordinances and institutions relieve me? 'Shall I come
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before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old?'" Alas! thou art a sinner, and these sacrifices cannot make thee "perfect," or acquit thee, Heb. x. 1. "Shall I do more than ever he required of any of the sons of men? 0 that I had 'thousands of rams, and ten thousands of rivers of oil' to offer to him!" Alas! if thou hadst all the "bulls and goats" in the world, "it is not possible that their blood should take away sins," verse 4. "But I have heard of them who have snatched their own children from their mothers' breasts, and cast them into the fire, until they were consumed, so to pacify their consciences in expiating the guilt of their iniquities. Shall I take this course? will it relieve me? I am ready to part with my 'first-born' into the fire, so I may have deliverance from my 'transgression.' Alas! this never came into the heart of God to approve or accept of. And as it was then, whilst that kind of worship was in force, so is it still as to any duties really to be performed, or imaginarily. Where there is no discovery of forgiveness, they will yield the soul no relief, no supportment; God is not to be treated upon such terms.
Greatness and rareness of the discovery of forgiveness in God -- Reasons of it: --
Testimonies of conscience and law against it, etc.
SECONDLY. This discovery of forgiveness in God is great, holy, and mysterious, and which very few on gospel grounds do attain unto.
All men, indeed, say there is; most men are persuaded that they think so. Only men in great and desperate extremities, like Cain or Spira, seem to call it into question. But their thoughts are empty, groundless, yea, for the most part wicked and atheistical. Elihu tells us, that to declare this aright to a sinful soul, it is the work of "a messenger, an interpreter, one among a thousand," Job xxxiii. 23; that is, indeed, of Christ himself. The common thoughts of men about this thing are slight and foolish, and may be resolved into those mentioned by the psalmist, Ps. 1. 21. They think that "God is altogether such an one as themselves;" that, indeed, he takes little or no care about these things, but passeth them over as slightly as they do themselves. That, notwithstanding all their pretences, the most of men never had indeed any real discovery of forgiveness, shall be afterward undeniably evinced; and I shall speedily show the difference that is between their vain credulity and a gracious gospel discovery of forgiveness in God. For it must be observed, that by this discovery I intend both the revelation of it made by God and our
Ver. 4.] FORGIVENESS A GREAT MYSTERY 387
understanding and reception of that revelation to our own advantage; as shall be showed immediately.
Now, the grounds of the difficulty intimated consist partly in the hinderances that lie in the way of this discovery, and partly in the nature of the thing itself that is discovered; of both which I shall briefly treat.
But here, before I proceed, somewhat must be premised to show what it is that I particularly intend by a discovery of forgiveness. It may, then, be considered two ways: -- l. For a doctrinal, objective discovery of it in its truth. 2. An experimental, subjective discovery of it in its power. In the first sense, forgiveness in God hath been discovered ever since the giving out of the first promise: God revealed it in a word of promise, or it could never have been known; as shall be afterward declared. In this sense, after many lesser degrees and advancements of the light of it, it was fully and gloriously brought forth by the Lord Jesus Christ in his own person, and is now revealed and preached in the gospel, and by them to whom the word of reconciliation is committed; and to declare this is the principal work of the ministers of the gospel. Herein lie those unsearchable treasures and riches of Christ, which the apostle esteemed as his chiefest honour and privilege that he was intrusted with the declaration and dispensation of, Eph. iii. 8, 9. I know by many it is despised, by many traduced, whose ignorance and blindness is to be lamented; but the day is coming which will manifest every man's work of what sort it is. In the latter sense, how it is made by faith in the soul, shall in its proper place be farther opened and made known. Here many men mistake and deceive themselves. Because it is so in the book, they think it is so in them also. Because they have been taught it, they think they believe it. But it is not so; they have not heard this voice of God at any time, nor seen his shape. It hath not been revealed unto them in its power.
To have this done is a great work; for, --
First, The constant voice of conscience lies against it. Conscience, if not seared, inexorably condemneth and pronounceth wrath and anger upon the soul that hath the least guilt cleaving to it. Now, it hath this advantage, it lieth close to the soul, and by importunity and loud speaking it will be heard in what it hath to say; it will make the whole soul attend, or it will speak like thunder. And its constant voice is, that where there is guilt there must be judgment, Rom. ii. 14, 15. Conscience naturally knows nothing of forgiveness; yea, it is against its very trust, work, and office to hear any thing of it. If a man of courage and honesty be intrusted to keep a garrison against an enemy, let one come and tell him that there is peace made between those whom he serves and their enemies, so that he may
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leave his guard, and set open the gates, and cease his watchfulness; how wary will he be, lest under this pretence he be betrayed! "No," saith he; "I will keep my hold until I have express order from my superiors." Conscience is intrusted with the power of God in the soul of a sinner, with command to keep all in subjection with reference unto the judgment to come. It will not betray its trust in believing every report of peace. No; but this it says, and it speaks in the name of God, "Guilt and punishment are inseparable twins; if the soul sin, God will judge. What tell you me of forgiveness? I know what my commission is, and that I will abide by. You shall not bring in a superior commander, a cross principle, into my trust; for if this be so, it seems I must let go my throne, -- another lord must come in;" not knowing, as yet, how this whole business is compounded in the blood of Christ. Now, whom should a man believe if not his own conscience, which, as it will not flatter him, so it intends not to affright him, but to speak the truth as the matter requireth? Conscience hath two works in reference unto sin, -- one to condemn the acts of sin, another to judge the person of the sinner; both with reference to the judgment of God. When forgiveness comes, it would sever and part these employments, and take one of them out of the hand of conscience; it would divide the spoil with this strong one. It shall condemn the fact, or every sin: but it shall no more condemn the sinner, the person of the sinner; that shall be freed from its sentence. Here conscience labours with all its might to keep its whole dominion, and to keep out the power of forgiveness from being enthroned in the soul. It will allow men to talk of forgiveness, to hear it preached, though they abuse it every day; but to receive it in its power, that stands up in direct opposition to its dominion. "In the kingdom," saith conscience, "I will be greater than thou;" and in many, in the most, it keeps its possession, and will not be deposed.
Nor, indeed, is it an easy work so to deal with it. The apostle tells us that all the sacrifices of the law could not do it, Heb. x. 2: they could not bring a man into that estate wherein he "should have no more conscience of sin;" -- that is, conscience condemning the person; for conscience in a sense of sin, and condemnation of it, is never to be taken away. And this can be no otherwise done but by the blood of Christ, as the apostle at large there declares.
It is, then, no easy thing to make a discovery of forgiveness unto a soul, when the work and employment which conscience, upon unquestionable grounds, challengeth unto itself lies in opposition unto it. Hence is the soul's great desire to establish its own righteousness, whereby its natural principles may be preserved in their power. Let self-righteousness be enthroned, and natural conscience desires no
Ver. 4.] CONSCIENCE OPPOSED TO FORGIVENESS. 389
more; it is satisfied and pacified. The law it knows, and righteousness it knows; but as for forgiveness, it says, "Whence is it?" Unto the utmost, until Christ perfects his conquest, there are on this account secret strugglings in the heart against free pardon in the gospel, and fluctuations of mind and spirit about it. Yea, hence are the doubts and fears of believers themselves. They are nothing but the strivings of conscience to keep its whole dominion, to condemn the sinner as well as the sin. More or less it keeps up its pretensions against the gospel whilst we live in this world. It is a great work that the blood of Christ hath to do upon the conscience of a sinner; for whereas, as it hath been declared, it hath a power, and claims a right to condemn both sin and sinner, the one part of this its power is to be cleared, strengthened, made more active, vigorous, and watchful, the other to be taken quite away. It shall now see more sins than formerly, more of the vileness of all sins than formerly, and condemn them with more abhorrency than ever, upon more and more glorious accounts than formerly; but it is also made to see an interposition between these sins and the person of the sinner who hath committed them, which is no small or ordinary work.
Secondly, The law lies against this discovery. The law is a beam of the holiness of God himself. What it speaks unto us, it speaks in the name and authority of God; and I shall briefly show concerning it these two things -- 1. That this is the voice of the law, -- namely, that there is no forgiveness for a sinner. 2. That a sinner hath great reason to give credit to the law in that assertion.
1. It is certain that the law knows neither mercy nor forgiveness. The very sanction of it lies wholly against them: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die;" "Cursed is he that continueth not in all things in the book of the law to do them," Deut. xxvii. 26; [Gal. iii. 10.] Hence the apostle pronounceth universally, without exception, that they who "are under the law are under the curse," Gal. iii. 10; and saith he, verse 12, "The law is not of faith." There is an inconsistency between the law and believing; they cannot have their abode in power together. "'Do this and live;' fail and die," is the constant, immutable voice of the law. This it speaks in general to all, and this in particular to every one.
2. The sinner seems to have manifold and weighty reasons to attend to the voice of this law, and to acquiesce in its sentence; for, --
(1.) The law is connatural to him; his domestic, his old acquaintance. It came into the world with him, and hath grown up with him from his infancy. It was implanted in his heart by nature, -- is his own reason; he can never shake it off or part with it. It is his familiar, his friend, that cleaves to him as the flesh to the bone; so that they who have not the law written cannot but show forth the
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work of the law, Rom. ii. 14, 15, and that because the law itself is inbred to them. And all the faculties of the soul are at peace with it, in subjection to it. It is the bond and ligament of their union, harmony, and correspondency among themselves, in all their moral actings. It gives life, order, motion to them all. Now, the gospel, that comes to control this sentence of the law, and to relieve the sinner from it, is foreign to his nature, a strange thing to him, a thing he hath no acquaintance or familiarity with; it hath not been bred up with him; nor is there any thing in him to side with it, to make a party for it, or to plead in its behalf. Now, shall not a man rather believe a domestic, a friend, indeed himself, than a foreigner, a stranger, that comes with uncouth principles, and such as suit not its reason at all? 1 Cor. i. 18.
(2.) The law speaks nothing to a sinner but what his conscience assures him to be true. There is a constant concurrence in the testimony of the law and conscience. When the law says, "This or that is a sin worthy of death," conscience says, "It is even so," Rom. i. 32. And where the law of itself, as being a general rule, rests, conscience helps it on, and says, "This and that sin, so worthy of death, is the soul guilty of." "Then die," saith the law, "as thou hast deserved." Now, this must needs have a mighty efficacy to prevail with the soul to give credit to the report and testimony of the law; it speaks not one word but what he hath a witness within himself to the truth of it. These witnesses always agree; and so it seems to be established for a truth that there is no forgiveness.
(3.) The law, though it speak against the soul's interest, yet it speaks nothing but what is so just, righteous, and equal, that it even forceth the soul's consent. So Paul tells us, that men know this voice of the law to be the "judgment of God," Rom. i. 32. They know it, and cannot but consent unto it, that it is the judgment of God, -- that is, good, righteous, equal, not to be controlled. And, indeed, what can be more righteous than its sentence? It commands obedience to the God of life and death; promiseth a reward, and declares that for non-performance of duty, death will be inflicted. On these terms the sinner cometh into the world. They are good, righteous, holy; the soul accepts of them, and knows not what it can desire better or more equal. This the apostle insists upon, chap. vii. 12, 13, "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which was good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." Wherever the blame falls, the soul cannot but acquit the law, and confess that what it says is righteous and uncontrollably equal. And it is meet things should be so. Now,
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though the authority and credit of a witness may go very far in a doubtful matter, when there is a concurrence of more witnesses it strengthens the testimony; but nothing is so prevalent to beget belief as when the things themselves that are spoken are just and good, not liable to any reasonable exception. And so is it in this case: unto the authority of the law and concurrence of conscience, this also is added, the reasonableness and equity of the thing itself proposed, even in the judgment of the sinner, -- namely, that every sin shall be punished, and every transgression receive a meet recompense of reward.
(4.) But yet farther. What the law says, it speaks in the name and authority of God. What it says, then, must be believed, or we make God a liar. It comes not in its own name, but in the name of him who appointed it. You will say, then, "Is it so indeed? Is there no forgiveness with God? For this is the constant voice of the law, which you say speaks in the name and authority of God, and is therefore to be believed." I answer briefly with the apostle, "What the law speaks, it speaks to them that are under the law." It doth not speak to them that are "in Christ," whom the "law of the Spirit of life hath set free from the law of sin and death;" but to them that are "under the law" it speaks; and it speaks the very truth, and it speaks in the name of God, and its testimony is to be received. It says there is no forgiveness in God, namely, to them that are under the law; and they that shall flatter themselves with a contrary persuasion will find themselves wofully mistaken at the great day.
On these and the like considerations, I say, there seems to be a great deal of reason why a soul should conclude that it will be according to the testimony of the law, and that he shall not find forgiveness. Law and conscience close together, and insinuate themselves into the thoughts, mind, and judgment of a sinner. They strengthen the testimony of one another, and greatly prevail. If any are otherwise minded, I leave them to the trial. If ever God awaken their consciences to a thorough performance of their duty, -- if ever he open their souls, and let in the light and power of the law upon them, -- they will find it no small work to grapple with them. I am sure that eventually they prevail so far, that in the preaching of the gospel we have great cause to say, "Lord, who hath believed our report?" We come with our report of forgiveness, but who believes it? by whom is it received? Neither doth the light, nor conscience, nor conversation of the most, allow us to suppose it is embraced.
Thirdly, The ingrafted notions that are in the minds of men concerning the nature and justice of God lie against this discovery also. There are in all men by nature indelible characters of the holiness
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and purity of God, of his justice and hatred of sin, of his invariable righteousness in the government of the world, that they can neither depose nor lay aside; for notions of God, whatever they are, will bear sway and role in the heart, when things are put to the trial. They were in the heathens of old; they abode with them in all their darkness; as might be manifested by innumerable instances. But so it is in all men by nature. Their inward thought is, that God is an avenger of sin; that it belongs to his rule and government of the world, his holiness and righteousness, to take care that every sin be punished; this is his judgment, which all men know, as was observed before, Rom. i. 32. They know that it is a righteous thing with God to render tribulation unto sinners. From thence is that dread and fear which surpriseth men at an apprehension of the presence of God, or of any thing under him, above them, that may seem to come on his errand. This notion of God's avenging all sin exerts itself secretly but effectually. So Adam trembled, and hid himself. And it was the saying of old, "I have seen God, and shall die." When men are under any dreadful providence, -- thunderings, lightnings, tempests, in darkness, -- they tremble; not so much at what they see, or hear, or feel, as from their secret thoughts that God is nigh, and that he is a consuming fire.
Now, these inbred notions lie universally against all apprehensions of forgiveness, which must be brought into the soul from without doors, having no principle of nature to promote them.
It is true, men by nature have presumptions and common ingrafted notions of other properties of God besides his holiness and justice, -- as of his goodness, benignity, love of his creatures, and the like; but all these have this supposition inlaid with them in the souls of men, namely, that all things stand between God and his creatures as they did at their first creation. And as they have no natural notion of forgiveness, so the interposition of sin weakens, disturbs, darkens them, as to any improvement of those apprehensions of goodness and benignity which they have. If they have any notion of forgiveness, it is from some corrupt tradition, and not at all from any universal principle that is inbred in nature, such as are those which they have of God's holiness and vindictive justice.
And this is the first ground; from whence it appears that a real, solid discovery of forgiveness is indeed a great work; many difficulties and hinderances lie in the way of its accomplishment.
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False presumptions of forgiveness discovered -- Differences between them and faith evangelical.
BEFORE I proceed to produce and manage the remaining evidences of this truth, because what hath been spoken lies obnoxious and open to an objection, which must needs rise in the minds of many, that it may not thereby be rendered useless unto them, I shall remove it out of the way, that we may pass on to what remains.
It will, then, be said, "Doth not all this lie directly contrary to our daily experience? Do ye not find all men full enough, most too full, of apprehensions of forgiveness with God? What so common as ' God is merciful? Are not the consciences and convictions of the most stifled by this apprehension? Can you find a man that is otherwise minded? Is it not a common complaint, that men presume on it unto their eternal ruin? Certainly, then, that which all men do, which every man can so easily do, and which you cannot keep men off from doing, though it be to their hurt, hath no such difficulty in it as is pretended." And on this very account hath this weak endeavour to demonstrate this truth been by some laughed to scorn; men who have taken upon them the teaching of others, but, as it seems, had need be taught themselves the very "first principles of the oracles of God."
Ans. All this, then, I say, is so, and much more to this purpose may be spoken. The folly and presumption of poor souls herein can never be enough lamented. But it is one thing to embrace a cloud, a shadow, another to have the truth in reality. I shall hereafter show the true nature of forgiveness and wherein it doth consist, whereby the vanity of this self-deceiving will be discovered and laid open. It will appear in the issue, that, notwithstanding all their pretensions, the most of men know nothing at all, or not any thing to the purpose, of that which is under consideration. I shall, therefore, for the present, in some few observations, show how far this delusion of many differs from a true gospel discovery of forgiveness, such as that we are inquiring after.
First, The common notion of forgiveness that men have in the world is twofold -- 1. An atheistical presumption on God, that he is not so just and holy, or not just and holy in such a way and manner, as he is by some represented, is the ground of their persuasion of forgiveness. Men think that some declarations of God are fitted only to make them mad; that he takes little notice of these things; and that what he doth he will easily pass by, as, they suppose, better becomes him. "Come, 'let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.'" This is their inward thought, "The Lord will not do good,
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neither will he do evil;" which, says the psalmist, is men's thinking that God is such a one as themselves, Ps. 1. 21. They have no deep nor serious thoughts of his greatness, holiness, purity, severity, but think that he is like themselves, so far as not to be much moved with what they do. What thoughts they have of sin, the same they think God hath. If with them a slight ejaculation be enough to expiate sin, that their consciences be no more troubled, they think it is enough with God that it be not punished. The generality of men make light work of sin; and yet in nothing doth it more appear what thoughts they have of God. He that hath slight thoughts of sin had never great thoughts of God. Indeed, men's undervaluing of sin ariseth merely from their contempt of God. All sin's concernments flow from its relation unto God; and as men's apprehensions are of God, so will they be of sin, which is an opposition to him. This is the frame of the most of men, -- they know little of God, and are little troubled about any thing that relates unto him. God is not reverenced, sin is but a trifle, forgiveness a matter of nothing; whoso will may have it for asking. But shall this atheistical wickedness of the heart of man be called a discovery of forgiveness? Is not this to make God an idol? He who is not acquainted with God's holiness and purity, who knows not sin's desert and sinfulness, knows nothing of forgiveness.
2. From the doctrine of the gospel commonly preached and made
known, there is a general notion begotten in the minds of men that God is ready to forgive. Men, I say, from hence have a doctrinal apprehension of this truth, without any real, satisfactory foundation of that apprehension as to themselves. This they have heard, this they have been often told; so they think, and so they resolved to do. A general persuasion hereof spreads itself over all to whom the sound of the gospel doth come. It is not fiducially resolved into the gospel, but is an opinion growing out of the report of it.
Some relief men find by it in the common course of their conversation, in the duties of worship which they do perform, as also in their troubles and distresses, whether internal and of conscience, or external and of providence, so that they resolve to retain it.
And this is that which I shall briefly speak unto, and therein manifest the differences between this common prevailing apprehension of forgiveness, and faith's discovery of it to the soul in its power.
(1.) That which we reject is loose and general; not fixed, ingrafted, or planted on the mind. So is it always where the minds of men receive things only in their notion and not in their power. It wants fixedness and foundation; which defects accompany all notions of the mind that are only retained in the memory, not implanted in the . judgment. They have general thoughts of it, which they use as
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occasion serves. They hear that God is a merciful God, and as such they intend to deal with him. For the true bottom, rise, and foundation of it, -- whence or on what account the pure and holy God, who will do no iniquity, the righteous God, whose judgment it is that they that commit sin are worthy of death, should yet pardon iniquity, transgression, and sin, -- they weigh it not, they consider it not; or, if they do, it is in a slight and notional way, as they consider the thing itself. They take it for granted so it is, and are never put seriously upon the inquiry how it comes to be so; and that because indeed they have no real concernment in it. How many thousands may we meet withal who take it for granted that forgiveness is to be had with God, that never yet had any serious exercise in their souls about the grounds of it, and its consistency with his holiness and justice! But those that know it by faith have a sense of it fixed particularly and distinctly on their minds. They have been put upon an inquiry into the rise and grounds of it in Christ; so that on a good and unquestionable foundation they can go to God and say, "There is forgiveness with thee." They see how and by what means more glory comes unto God by forgiveness than by punishing of sin; which is a matter that the other sort of men are not at all solicitous about. If they may escape punishment, whether God have any glory or no, for the most part they are indifferent.
(2.) The first apprehension ariseth without any trial upon inquiry in the consciences of them in whom it is. They have not, by the power of their convictions and distresses of conscience, been put to make inquiry whether this thing be so or no. It is not a persuasion that they have arrived unto in a way of seeking satisfaction to their own souls. It is not the result of a deep inquiry after peace and rest. It is antecedent unto trial and experience, and so is not faith, but opinion; for although faith be not experience, yet it is inseparable from it, as is every practical habit. Distresses in their consciences have been prevented by this opinion, not removed. The reason why the most of men are not troubled about their sins to any purpose, is from a persuasion that God is merciful and will pardon; when indeed none can really, on a gospel account, ordinarily, have that persuasion, but those who have been troubled for sin, and that to the purpose. So is it with them that make this discovery by faith. They have had conflicts in their own spirits, and, being deprived of peace, have accomplished a diligent search whether forgiveness were to he obtained or no. The persuasion they have of it, be it more or less, is the issue of a trial they have had in their own souls, of an inquiry how things stood between God and them as to peace and acceptation of their persons. This is a vast difference. The one sort might possibly have had trouble in their
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consciences about sin, had it not been for their opinion of forgiveness. This hath prevented or stifled their convictions; -- not healed their wounds, which is the work of the gospel; but kept them from being wounded, which is the work of security. Yea, here lies the ruin of the most of them who perish under the preaching of the gospel. They have received the general notion of pardon; it floats in their minds, and presently presents itself to their relief on all occasions. Doth God at any time, in the dispensation of the word, under an affliction, upon some great sin against their ruling light, begin to deal with their consciences? -- before their conviction can ripen or come to any perfection, before it draw nigh to its perfect work, they choke it, and heal their consciences with this notion of pardon. Many a man, between the assembly and his dwelling-house, is thus cured. You may see them go away shaking their heads, and striking on their breasts, and before they come home be as whole as ever. "Well, God is merciful, there is pardon," hath wrought the cure. The other sort have obtained their persuasion as a result of the discovery of Christ in the gospel, upon a full conviction. Trials they have had, and this is the issue.
(3.) The one which we reject worketh no love to God, no delight in him, no reverence of him, but rather a contempt and commonness of spirit in dealing with him. There are none in the world that deal worse with God than those who have an ungrounded persuasion of forgiveness. And if they do fear him, or love him, or obey him in any thing, more or less, it is on other motives and considerations, which will not render any thing they do acceptable, and not at all on this. As he is good to the creation, they may love, as he is great and powerful, they may fear him; but sense of pardon, as to any such ends or purposes, hath no power upon them. Carnal boldness, formality, and despising of God, are the common issues of such a notion and persuasion. Indeed, this is the generation of great sinners in the world; men who have a general apprehension, but not a sense of the special power of pardon, openly or secretly, in fleshly or spiritual sins, are the great sinners among men. Where faith makes a discovery of forgiveness, all things are otherwise. Great love, fear, and reverence of God, are its attendants. Mary Magdalene loved much, because much was forgiven. Great love will spring out of great forgiveness. "There is forgiveness with thee," saith the psalmist, "that thou mayest be feared." No unbeliever doth truly and experimentally know the truth of this inference. But so it is when men "fear the LORD, and his goodness," Hos. iii. 5. I say, then, where pardoning mercy is truly apprehended, where faith makes a discovery of it to the soul, it is endeared unto God, and possessed of the great springs of love, delight, fear, and reverence, Ps. cxvi. 1, 5-7.
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(4.) This notional apprehension of the pardon of sin begets no serious, thorough hatred and detestation of sin, nor is prevalent to a relinquishment of it; nay, it rather secretly insinuates into the soul encouragements unto a continuance in it. It is the nature of it to lessen and extenuate sin, and to support the soul against its convictions. So Jude tells us, that some "turn the grace of God into lasciviousness," verse 4; and says he, "They are 'ungodly men;' let them profess what they will, they are ungodly men." But how can they turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness? Is grace capable of a conversion into lust or sin? Will what was once grace ever become wantonness? It is objective, not subjective grace, the doctrine, not the real substance of grace, that is intended. The doctrine of forgiveness is this grace of God, which may be thus abused. From hence do men who have only a general notion of it habitually draw secret encouragements to sin and folly. Paul also lets us know that carnal men, coming to a doctrinal acquaintance with gospel grace, are very apt to make such conclusions, Rom. vi. 1. And it will appear at the last day how unspeakably this glorious grace hath been perverted in the world. It would be well for many if they had never heard the name of forgiveness. It is otherwise where this revelation is received indeed in the soul by believing, Rom. vi. 14. Our being under grace, under the power of the belief of forgiveness, is our great preservative from our being under the power of sin. Faith of forgiveness is the principle of gospel obedience, Tit. ii. 11, 12.
(5.) The general notion of forgiveness brings with it no sweetness, no rest to the soul. Flashes of joy it may, abiding rest it doth not. The truth of the doctrine fluctuates to and fro in the minds of those that have it, but their wills and affections have no solid delight nor rest by it. Hence, notwithstanding all that profession that is made in the world of forgiveness, the most of men ultimately resolve their peace and comfort unto themselves. As their apprehensions are of their own doing, good or evil, according to their ruling light, whatever it be, so as to peace and rest are they secretly tossed up and down. Every one in his several way pleaseth himself with what he doth in answer unto his own convictions, and is disquieted as to his state and condition, according as he seems to himself to come short thereof To make a full life of contentation upon pardon, they know not how to do it. One duty yields them more true repose than many thoughts of forgiveness. But faith finds sweetness and rest in it; being thereby apprehended, it is the only harbour of the soul. It leads a man to God as good, to Christ as rest. Fading evanid joys do ofttimes attend the one; but solid delight, with constant obedience, are the fruits only of the other.
(6.) Those who have the former only take up their persuasion on
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false grounds, though the thing itself be true; and they cannot but use it unto false ends and purposes, besides its natural and genuine tendency. For their grounds, they will be discovered when I come to treat of the true nature of gospel forgiveness. For the end, it is used generally only to fill up what is wanting. Self-righteousness is their bottom; and when that is too short or narrow to cover them, they piece it out by forgiveness. Where conscience accuses, this must supply the defect. Faith lays it on its proper foundation, of which afterwards also; and it useth it to its proper end, -- namely, to be the sole and only ground of our acceptation with God. That is the proper use of forgiveness, that all may be of grace; for when the foundation is pardon, the whole superstructure must needs be grace. From what hath been spoken it is evident that, notwithstanding the pretences to the contrary, insinuated in the objection now removed, it is a great thing to have gospel forgiveness discovered unto a soul in a saving manner.
The true nature of gospel forgiveness -- Its relation to the goodness, grace, and will of God; to the blood of Christ; to the promise of the gospel -- The considerations of faith about it.
THE difficulties that lie in the way of faith's discovery of forgiveness, whence it appears to be a matter of greater weight and importance than it is commonly apprehended to be, have been insisted on in the foregoing discourse. There is yet remaining another ground of the same truth. Now, this is taken from the nature and greatness of the thing itself discovered, -- that is, of forgiveness. To this end I shall show what it is, wherein it doth consist, what it comprises and relates unto, according to the importance of the second proposition before laid down.
I do not in this place take forgiveness, strictly and precisely, for the act of pardoning; nor shall I dispute what that is, and wherein it doth consist. Consciences that come with sin-entanglements unto God know nothing of such disputes. Nor will this expression, "There is forgiveness with God," bear any such restriction as that it should regard only actual condonation or pardon. That which I have to do is to inquire into the nature of that pardon which poor, convinced, troubled souls seek after, and which the Scripture proposeth to them for their relief and rest. And I shall not handle this absolutely neither, but in relation to the truth under consideration, -- namely, that it is a great thing to attain unto a true gospel discovery of forgiveness.
First, As was showed in the opening of the words, the forgive-
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ness inquired after hath relation unto the gracious heart of the Father. Two things I understand hereby: -- l. The infinite goodness and graciousness of his nature. 2. The sovereign purpose of his will and grace.
1. There is considerable in it the infinite goodness of his nature. Sin stands in a contrariety unto God. It is a rebellion against his sovereignty, an opposition to his holiness, a provocation to his justice, a rejection of his yoke, a casting off, what lies in the sinner, of that dependence which a creature hath on its Creator. That God, then, should have pity and compassion on sinners, in every one of whose sins there is all this evil, and inconceivably more than we can comprehend, it argues an infinitely gracious, good, and loving heart and nature in him; for God doth nothing but suitably to the properties of his nature, and from them. All the acts of his will are the effects of his nature.
Now, whatever God proposeth as an encouragement for sinners to come to him, that is of, or hath a special influence into, the forgiveness that is with him; for nothing can encourage a sinner as such, but under this consideration, that it is, or it respects, forgiveness. That this graciousness of God's nature lies at the head or spring, and is the root from whence forgiveness doth grow, is manifest from that solemn proclamation which he made of old of his name, and the revelation of his nature therein (for God assuredly is what by himself he is called): Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7, "The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." His forgiving of iniquity flows from hence, that in his nature he is merciful, gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness. Were he not so, infinite in all these, it were in vain to look for forgiveness from him. Having made this known to be his name, and thereby declared his nature, he in many places proposeth it as a relief, a refuge for sinners, an encouragement to come unto him, and to wait for mercy from him: Ps. ix. 10, "They that know thy name will put their trust in thee." It will encourage them so to do; others have no foundation of their confidence. But if this name of God be indeed made known unto us by the Holy Ghost, what can hinder why we should not repair unto him and rest upon him? So Isa, l. 10, "Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God." Not only sinners, but sinners in great distress are here spoken unto. Darkness of state or condition, in the Scripture, denotes every thing of disconsolation and trouble. To be, then, in darkness, where yet there is some light, some relief, though darkness be predominant, is
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sad and disconsolate; but now, not only to be, but also to walk, that is, to continue a course in darkness, and that with no light, no discovery of help or relief, -- this seems an overwhelming condition: yet sinners in this estate are called "to trust in the name of the LORD." I have showed before that nothing but forgiveness, or that which influenceth it and encourageth to an expectation of it, is of any use unto a sinner, much more one in so great distress upon the account of sin; yet is such a one here sent only to the name of the Lord, wherein his gracious heart and nature is revealed. That, then, is the very fountain and spring of forgiveness. And this is that which John would work a sense of upon our souls where he tells us that "God is love," 1 Epist. iv. 8, or one of an infinitely gracious, tender, good, compassionate, loving nature. Infinite goodness and grace is the soil wherein forgiveness grows. It is impossible this flower should spring from any other root. Unless this be revealed to the soul, forgiveness is not revealed. To consider pardon merely as it is terminated on ourselves, not as it flows from God, will bring neither profit to us nor glory to God.
And this also (which is our design in hand) will make it appear that this discovery of forgiveness whereof we speak is indeed no common thing, -- is a great discovery. Let men come, with a sense of the guilt of sin, to have deep and serious thoughts of God, they will find it no such easy and light matter to have their hearts truly and thoroughly apprehensive of this loving and gracious nature of God in reference unto pardon. It is an easy matter to say so in common; but the soul will not find it so easy to believe it for itself. What hath been spoken before concerning the ingrafted notions that are in the minds of men about the justice, holiness, and severity of God, will here take place. Though men profess that God is gracious, yet that aversation which they have unto him and communion with him doth abundantly manifest that they do not believe what they say and profess: if they did, they could not but delight and trust in him, which they do not; for "They that know his name will put their trust in him." So said the slothful servant in the gospel, "I knew that thou wast austere, and not for me to deal withal." It may be he professed otherwise before, but that lay in his heart when it came to the trial. But this, I say, is necessary to them unto whom this discovery is to be made, even a spiritual apprehension of the gracious, loving heart and nature of God. This is the spring of all that follows; and the fountain must needs be infinitely sweet from whence such streams do flow. He that considers the glorious fabric of heaven and earth, with the things in them contained, must needs conclude that they were the product of infinite wisdom and power; nothing less or under them could have brought forth such an effect. And he
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that really considereth forgiveness, and looks on it with a spiritual eye, must conclude that it comes from infinite goodness and grace. And this is that which the hearts of sinners are exercised about when they come to deal for pardon: Ps. lxxxvi. 5, "Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive;" Neh. ix. 17, "Thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness;" and Micah vii. 18, "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity? . . . . because he delighteth in mercy." And God encourageth them hereunto wherever he says that he forgives sins and blots out iniquities for his own sake or his name's sake; that is, he will deal with sinners according to the goodness of his own gracious nature. So Hos, xi. 9, "I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man." Were there no more mercy, grace, compassion to be showed in this case than it is possible should be treasured up in the heart of a man, it would be impossible that Ephraim should be spared; but saith he, "I am God, and not man." Consider the infinite largeness, bounty, and goodness of the heart of God, and there is yet hope. When a sinner is in good earnest seeking after forgiveness, there is nothing he is more solicitous about than the heart of God towards him, -- nothing that he more labours to have a discovery of; there is nothing that sin and Satan labour more to hide from him. This he rolls in his mind, and exercises his thoughts about; and if ever that voice of God, Isa. xxvii. 4, "Fury is not in me," sound in his heart, he is relieved from his great distresses. And the fear of our hearts in this matter our Saviour seems to intend the prevention or a removal of: John xvi. 26, 27, "I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loveth you." They had good thoughts of the tender heart and care of Christ himself, the mediator, towards them; but what is the heart of the Father? what acceptance shall they find with him? Will Christ pray that they may find favour with him? Why, saith he, as to the love of his heart, "There is no need of it; 'for the Father himself loveth you.' If this, then, belongeth to forgiveness, as whoever bath sought for it knoweth that it doth, it is certainly no common discovery to have it revealed unto us.
To have all the clouds and darkness that are raised by sin between us and the throne of God dispelled; to have the fire, and storms, and tempests, that are kindled and stirred up about him by the law removed; to have his glorious face unvailed, and his holy heart laid open, and a view given of those infinite treasures and stores of goodness, mercy, love, and kindness which have had an unchangeable habitation therein from all eternity; to have a discovery of these eternal springs of forbearance and forgiveness, -- is that which none but Christ can accomplish and bring about, John xvii. 6.
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2. This is not all. This eternal ocean, that is infinitely satisfied with its own fulness and perfection, doth not naturally yield forth streams for our refreshment. Mercy and pardon do not come forth from God as light doth from the sun or water from the sea, by a necessary consequence of their natures, whether they will or no. It doth not necessarily follow that any one must be made partaker of forgiveness because God is infinitely gracious; for may he not do what he will with his own? "Who hath first given unto him, that it should be recompensed unto him again.?" Rom. xi. 35. All the fruits of God's goodness and grace are in the sole keeping of his own sovereign will and pleasure. This is his great glory: Exod. xxxiii. 18, 19, "Show me thy glory," saith Moses. "And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Load before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious." Upon that proclamation of the name of God, that he is merciful, gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness, some might conclude that it could not be otherwise with any but well; -- he is such a one as that men need scarce be beholding to him for mercy. "Nay," saith he; "but this is my great glory, that 'I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious.' There must be an interposition of a free act of the will of God to deal with us according to this his abundant goodness, or we can have no interest therein. This I call the purpose of his grace, or "The good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself," Eph. i. 9; or, as it is termed, verses 5, 6, "The good pleasure of his will," that he hath purposed "to the praise of his glorious grace." This free and gracious pleasure of God, or purpose of his will to act towards sinners according to his own abundant goodness, is another thing that influences the forgiveness of which we treat. Pardon flows immediately from a sovereign act of free grace. This free purpose of God's will and grace for the pardoning of sinners is indeed that which is principally intended when we say, "There is forgiveness with him;" that is, he is pleased to forgive, and so to do is agreeable unto his nature. Now, the mystery of this grace is deep; it is eternal, and therefore incomprehensible. Few there are whose hearts are raised to a contemplation of it. Men rest and content themselves in a general notion of mercy, which will not be advantageous to their souls. Freed they would be from punishment, but what it is to be forgiven they inquire not. So what they know of it they come easily by, but will find in the issue it will stand them in little stead. But these fountains of God's actings are revealed, that they may be the fountains of our comforts.
Now, of this purpose of God's grace there are several acts, all of them relating unto gospel forgiveness: --
(1.) There is his purpose of sending his Son to be the great means
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of procuring, of purchasing forgiveness. Though God be infinitely and incomprehensibly gracious, though he purpose to exert his grace and goodness toward sinners, yet he will so do it, do it in such a way, as shall not be prejudicial to his own holiness and righteousness. His justice must be satisfied, and his holy indignation against sin made known. Wherefore he purposeth to send his Son, and hath sent him, to make way for the exercise of mercy; so as no way to eclipse the glory of his justice, holiness, and hatred of sin. Better we should all eternally come short of forgiveness than that God should lose any thing of his glory. This we have, Rom. iii. 25, "God set him forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past." The remission of sins is the thing aimed at; but this must be so brought about as that therein not only the mercy but the righteousness of God may be declared, and therefore must it be brought forth by a propitiation, or making of an atonement in the blood of Christ: so John iii 16; 1 John iv. 9; Rom. v. 8. This, I say, also lies in the mystery of that forgiveness that is administered in the gospel, -- it comes forth from this eternal purpose of making way by the blood of Christ to the dispensation of pardon. And this greatly heightens the excellency of this discovery. Men who have slight thoughts of God, whose hearts were never awed with his dread or greatness, who never seriously considered his purity and holiness, may think it no great matter that God should pardon sin, But do they consider the way whereby it is to be brought about? -- even by the sending of his only Son, and that to die, as we shall see afterward. Neither was there any other way whereby it might be done. Let us now lay aside common thoughts, assent upon reports and tradition, and rightly weigh this matter. Doubtless we shall find it to be a great thing, that forgiveness should be so with God as to be made out unto us (we know somewhat what we are) by sending his only Son to die. Oh, how little is this really believed, even by them who make a profession of it! and what mean thoughts are entertained about it when men seek for pardon! Immunity from punishment is the utmost that lies in the alms and desires of most, and is all that they are exercised in the consideration of, when they deal with God about sin. Such men think, and will do so, that we have an easy task in hand, -- namely, to prove that there is forgiveness in God; but this ease lies in their own ignorance and darkness. If ever they come to search after it indeed, to inquire into the nature, reasons, causes, fountains, and springs of it, they will be able to give another account of these things. Christ is the centre of the mystery of the gospel, and forgiveness is laid up in the heart of Christ, from the love of the Father; in him are all the treasures of it hid. And surely it is no small
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thing to have the heart of Christ revealed unto us. When believers deal about pardon, their faith exercises itself about this, that God, with whom the soul hath to do, hath sent the Lord Christ to die for this end, that it may be freely given out. General notions of impunity they dwell not on, they pass [press?] not for; they have a closer converse with God than to be satisfied with such thoughts. They inquire into the graciousness of his nature, and the good pleasure of his will, the purpose of his grace; they ponder and look into the mystery of his wisdom and love in sending his Son. If these springs be not clear unto them, the streams will yield them but little refreshment. It is not enough that we seek after salvation, but we are to inquire and search diligently into the nature and manner of it. These are the things that "the angels desire to" how down and "look into," 1 Pet. i. 11, 12. And some think if they have got a form of words about them, they have gotten a sufficient comprehension of them! It is doubtless one reason why many who truly believe do yet so fluctuate about forgiveness all their days, that they never exercised faith to look into the springs of it, its eternal fountains, but have merely dwelt on actual condonation. However, I say, these things lie utterly out of the consideration of the common pretenders to an acquaintance with the truth we have in hand.
(2.) There is another sovereign act, of God's will to be considered in this matter, and that is his eternal designation of the persons who shall be made partakers of this mercy. He hath not left this thing to hazard and uncertainties, that it should, as it were, be unknown to him who should be pardoned and who not. Nay, none ever are made partakers of forgiveness but those whom he hath eternally and graciously designed thereunto: so the apostle declares it, Eph. i. 5-7. The rise is his eternal predestination; the end, the glory of his grace; the means, redemption in the blood of Christ; the thing itself, forgiveness of sins. None ever are or can be made partakers thereof but by virtue of this act of God's will and grace; which thereupon hath a peculiar influence into it, and is to be respected in the consideration of it. I know this may be abused by pride, profaneness, and unbelief, and so may the whole work of God's grace, -- and so it is, even the blood of Christ in an especial manner; but in its proper place and use it hath a signal influence into the glory of God and the consolation of the souls of men.
There are also other acts of this purpose of God's grace, as of giving sinners unto Christ and giving sinners an interest in Christ, which I shall not insist upon, because the nature of them is sufficiently discovered in that one explained already.
Secondly, Forgiveness hath respect unto the propitiation made
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in and by the blood of Christ the Son of God. This was declared in the opening of the words. Indeed, here lies the knot and centre of gospel forgiveness. It flows from the cross, and springs out of the grave of Christ.
Thus Elihu describes it, Job xxxiii. 24, "God is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom." The whole of what is aimed at lies in these words: -- 1. There is God's gracious and merciful heart towards a sinner: "He is gracious unto him." 2. There is actual condonation itself, of which we shall treat afterward: "He saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit." And, -- 3. There is the centre of the whole, wherein God's gracious heart and actual pardon do meet; and that is the ransom, the propitiation or atonement that is in the blood of Christ, of which we speak: "I have found a ransom."
The same is expressed, Isa. liii. 11, "My righteous servant shall justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities." Of the justification of sinners, absolution or pardon is the first part. This ariseth from Christ's bearing their iniquities Therein he "finished the transgression, made an end of sins, and made reconciliation for iniquity," Dan. ix. 24. Even all the sacrifices, and so consequently the whole worship of the Old Testament, evinced this relation between forgiveness and blood-shedding; whence the apostle concludes that "without shedding of blood is no remission," Heb. ix. 22; -- that is, all pardon ariseth from blood-shedding, even of the blood of the Son of God; so that we are said "in him to have redemption, even the forgiveness of sins," Eph. i. 7. Our redemption in his blood is our forgiveness: not that we are all actually pardoned in the blood of his cross, for thereunto must be added gospel condonation, of which afterward; but thereby it is procured, the grant of pardon is therein sealed, and security given that it shall in due time be made out unto us. To which purpose is that discourse of the apostle, Rom. iii. 24-26. The work there mentioned proceeds from grace, is managed to the interest of righteousness, is carried on by the blood of Christ, and issues in forgiveness. Now, the blood of Christ relates variously to the pardon of sin: --
1. Pardon is purchased and procured by it. Our redemption is our forgiveness, as the cause contains the effect. No soul is pardoned but with respect unto the blood of Christ as the procuring cause of that pardon. Hence he is said to have "washed us in his blood," Rev. i. 5; "by himself to have purged our sins," Heb. i. 3; "by one offering" to have taken away sin, and to have "perfected for ever them that are sanctified," Heb. x. 14; to be the ransom and "propitiation for our sins," 1 John ii. 2; to have "made an end of sins," Dan. ix. 24; and to have "made reconciliation for the sins of the
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people," Heb. ii. 17. God hath enclosed his rich stores of pardon and mercy in the blood of Jesus.
2. Because in his blood the promise of pardon is ratified and confirmed, so that nothing is wanting to our complete forgiveness but our pleading the promise by faith in him: 2 Cor. i. 20, "All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen;" that is, faithfully, and irrevocably, and immutably established. And therefore the apostle having told us that this is the covenant of God, that he would be "merciful to our sins and iniquities," Heb. viii. 12, he informs us that in the undertaking of Christ this covenant is become a testament, chap. ix. 15-17; so ratified in his blood, that mercy and forgiveness of sin is irrevocably confirmed unto us therein.
3. Because he hath in his own person, as the head of the church, received an acquitment for the whole body. His personal discharge, upon the accomplishment of his work, was a pledge of the discharge which was in due time to be given to his whole mystical body. Peter tells us, Acts ii. 24, that it was impossible he should be detained by death. And why so? Because death being penally inflicted on him, when he had paid the debt he was legally to be acquitted. Now, for whom and in whose name and stead he suffered, for them and in their name and stead he received this acquitment.
4. Because upon his death, God the Father hath committed unto him the whole management of the business of forgiveness: Acts v. 31, he now gives "repentance" and the "forgiveness of sins." It is Christ that forgives us, Col. iii. 13. All forgiveness is now at his disposal, and he pardoneth whom he will, even all that are given unto him of the Father, not casting out any that come to God by him. He is intrusted with all the stores of his Father's purpose and his own purchase; and thence tells us that "all things that the Father hath are his," John xvi. 15.
In all these respects doth forgiveness relate to the blood of Christ. Mercy, pardon, and grace could find no other way to issue forth from the heart of the Father but by the heart-blood of the Son; and so do they stream unto the heart of the sinner.
Two things are principally to be considered in the respect that forgiveness hath to the blood of Christ -- (1.) The way of its procurement; (2.) The way of its administration by him. The first is deep, mysterious, dreadful. It was by his blood, the blood of the cross, the travail of his soul, his undergoing wrath and curse. The other is gracious, merciful, and tender; whence so many things are spoken of his mercifulness and faithfulness, to encourage us to expect forgiveness from him.
This also adds to the mysterious depths of forgiveness, and makes its discovery a great matter. The soul that looks after it in earnest
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must consider what it cost. How light do most men make of pardon! What an easy thing is it to be acquainted with it! and no very hard matter to obtain it! But to hold communion with God, in the blood of his Son, is a thing of another nature than is once dreamed of by many who think they know well enough what it is to be pardoned. "God be merciful," is a common saying; and as common to desire he would be so "for Christ's sake." Poor creatures are east into the mould of such expressions, who know neither God, nor mercy, nor Christ, nor any thing of the mystery of the gospel. Others look on the outside of the cross. To see into the mystery of the love of the Father, working in the Mood of the Mediator; to consider by faith the great transaction of divine wisdom, justice, and mercy therein, -- how few attain unto it! To come unto God by Christ for forgiveness, and therein to behold the law issuing all its threats and curses in his Mood, and losing its sting, putting an end to its obligation unto punishment, in the cross; to see all sins gathered up in the hands of God's justice, and made to meet on the Mediator, and eternal love springing forth triumphantly from his Mood, flourishing into pardon, grace, mercy, forgiveness, -- this the heart of a sinner can be enlarged unto only by the Spirit of God.
Thirdly, There is in forgiveness free condonation, discharge, or pardon, according to the tenor of the gospel; and this may be considered two ways: --
1. As it lies in the promise itself; and so it is God's gracious declaration of pardon to sinners, in and by the blood of Christ, his covenant to that end and purpose, which is variously proposed, according as he knew [to be] needful for all the ends and purposes of ingenerating faith, and communicating that consolation which he intends therein.
This is the law of his grace, the declaration of the mystery of his love, before insisted on.
2. There is the bringing home and application of all this mercy to the soul of a sinner by the Holy Ghost, wherein we are freely forgiven all our trespasses, Col. ii. 13.
Gospel forgiveness I say, respects all these things, these principles; they have all an influence into it. And that which makes this more evident (wherewith I shall close this consideration of the nature of it), is, that faith, in its application of itself unto God about and for forgiveness, doth distinctly apply itself unto and close with sometimes one of these severally and singly, sometimes another, and sometimes jointly takes in the consideration of them all expressly. Not that at any time it fixes on any or either of them exclusively to the others, but that eminently it finds some special encouragement at some season, and some peculiar attractive, from some one of them, more than from the rest; and then that proves an inlet, a door of en-
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trance, unto the treasures that are laid up in the rest of them. Let us go over the severals by instances: --
(1.) Sometimes faith fixes upon the name and infinite goodness of the nature of God, and draws out forgiveness from thence. So doth the psalmist: Ps. lxxxvi. 5, "Thou, Lord, art good and ready to forgive." He rolls himself, in the pursuit and expectation of pardon, on the infinite goodness of the nature of God. So Neh. ix. 17, "Thou art a God of pardons," or ready to forgive, -- of an infinite gracious, loving nature, -- not severe and wrathful; and this is that which we are encouraged unto, Isa. l. 10, to stay on the name of God, as in innumerable other places.
And thus faith oftentimes finds a peculiar sweetness and encouragement in and from the consideration of God's gracious nature. Sometimes this is the first thing it fixes on, and sometimes the last that it rests in. And ofttimes it makes a stay here, when it is driven from all other holds; it can say, however it be, "Yet God is gracious;" and at least make that conclusion which we have from it, Joel ii. 13, 14, "God is gracious and merciful; who knoweth but he will returns." And when faith hath well laid hold on this consideration, it will not easily be driven from its expectation of relief and forgiveness even from hence.
(2.) Sometimes the soul by faith addresseth itself in a peculiar manner to the sovereignty of God's will, whereby he is gracious to whom he will be gracious, and merciful to whom he will be merciful; which, as was showed, is another considerable spring or principle of forgiveness. This way David's faith steered him in his great strait and perplexity: 2 Sam. xv. 25, 26, "If I shall find favour in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me again. But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him." That which he hath in consideration is whether God hath any delight in him or no; that is, whether God would graciously remit and pardon the great sin against which at that time he manifesteth his indignation. Here he lays himself down before the sovereign grace of God, and awaits patiently the discovery of the free act of his will concerning him; and at this door, as it were, enters into the consideration of those other springs of pardon which faith inquires after and closeth withal. This sometimes is all the cloud that appears to a distressed soul, which after a while fills the heavens by the addition of the other considerations mentioned, and yields plentiful refreshing showers. And this condition is a sin-entangled soul ofttimes reduced unto in looking out for relief, -- it can discover nothing but this, that God is able, and can, if he graciously please, relieve and acquit him. All other supportments, all springs of relief, are shut up or hid from him. The springs, indeed, may be nigh, as
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that was to Hagar, but their eyes are withheld that they cannot see them. Wherefore they cast themselves on God's sovereign pleasure, and say with Job, "'Though he slay us, yet will we trust in him;' we will not let him go. In ourselves we are lost, that is unquestionable. How the Lord will deal with us we know not; we see not our signs and tokens any more. Evidences of God's grace in us, or of his love and favour unto us, are all out of sight. To a present special interest in Christ we are strangers; and we lie every moment at the door of eternity. What course shall we take? what way shall we proceed? If we abide at a distance from God, we shall assuredly perish. 'Who ever hardened himself against him and prospered?' Nor is there the least relief to be had but from and by him, 'for who can forgive sins but God?' We will, then, bring our guilty souls into his presence, and attend the pleasure of his grace; what he speaks concerning us, we will willingly submit unto." And this sometimes proves an anchor to a tossed soul, which, though it gives it not rest and peace, yet it saves it from the rock of despair. Here it abides until light do more and more break forth upon it.
(3.) Faith dealing about forgiveness doth commonly eye, in a particular manner, its relation to the mediation and blood of Christ. So the apostle directs, 1 John ii. 1, 2, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins." If any one hath sinned, and is in depths and entanglements about it, what course shall he take, how shall he proceed, to obtain deliverance? Why, he must unto God for pardon. But what shall he rely upon to encourage him in his so doing? Saith the apostle, "Consider by faith the atonement and propitiation made for sin by the blood of Christ, and that he is still pursuing the work of love to the suing out of pardon for us; and rest thy soul thereon." This, I say, most commonly is that which faith in the first place immediately fixes on.
(4.) Faith eyes actual pardon or condonation. So God proposeth it as a motive to farther believing: Isa. xliv. 22, "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee." Actual pardon of sin is proposed to faith as an encouragement unto a full returning unto God in all things, 2 Sam. xxiii. 5. And the like may be said of all the other particulars which we have insisted on. There is not any of them But will yield peculiar relief unto a soul dealing with God about forgiveness, as having some one special concernment or other of forgiveness inwrapped in them; -- only, as I said, they do it not exclusively, but axe the special doors whereby believing enters into the whole. And these things must be spoken unto afterward.
Let us now take along with us the end for which all these consi-
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derations have been insisted on. It is to manifest that a real discovery of gospel forgiveness is a matter of greater consequence and importance than at first proposal, it may be, it appeared unto some to be. Who is not in hopes, in expectation of pardon? Who think not that they know well enough at least what it is, if they might but obtain it? But men may have general thoughts of impunity, and yet be far enough from any saving acquaintance with gospel mercy.
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