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THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS ONLY FOR CHRIST'S
ACTS xiii, 38.
Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.
THE apostle Paul determined to know nothing, in his preaching, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Whether he preached to Jews or to Gentiles, he commonly and largely insisted upon the atonement of Christ, as the only foundation of pardon and acceptance in the sight of God. In the discourse which contains the text, he first speaks of the descent, the life, and death of Christ, and then represents what he did and suffered, as the only ground of the pardon and justification of sinners.
"Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." These words plainly teach us, that forgiveness is the only favour, which God bestows upon men, on Christ's account. In treating upon this subject, I shall,
I. Consider what we are to understand by forgive
II. Consider what we are to understand by being forgiven, on Christ's account.
III. Make it appear, that forgiveness is the only favour, which God bestows upon men, on the account of Christ.
I. Let us consider what we are to understand by forgiveness.
To remit, to pardon, to forgive, are terms of the same import. To forgive a debt, is to cancel the obligation of the debtor to pay the sum which he engaged to pay. And to forgive sins is to cancel the obligation of the transgressor to suffer the punishment, which his sins deserve. Some have justly made a distinction between the guilt of blame and the guilt of punishment. When a man has sinned, he deserves to be blamed, and when he deserves to be blamed, he deserves to be punished. Every sin carries in it a desert of both blame and punishment, which never can be removed. The Deity himself cannot take away the demerit of sin, which is inseparable from its nature. After a man has once transgressed, his transgression will forever remain, and justly deserve both blame and punishment. But though God cannot remove the demerit of sin, yet he can free men from the punishment of it. And in this, the essence of forgiveness consists. So far as God frees men from the punishment due to them for sin, so far he actually forgives them. Forgiveness may be partial, or total. Partial forgiveness is the remission of part of the penal evil which the sinner deserves. Thus rebels are sometimes partially pardoned. They are freed from the punishment of death; but not from certain civil disadvantages, such as the deprivation of former privileges, and an incapacity for future preferments. But total forgiveness removes all penal pains, evils, or inconveniences arising from transgression. Every sin deserves God's wrath and curse, both in this life, and in that which is to come. And though God forgives every believer the future punishment of all his sins; yet he reserves it in his own power to punish him in this life, as often and as severely as he sees best. So
that the forgiveness of sin in this life is not total, but partial. It consists, however, as far as it extends, in the prevention or removal of punishment. God does, for Christ's sake, absolve true believers from all punishment in a future state. He assures them, that they shall be saved from the wrath to come, and never suffer that eternal death, which is the proper and full wages of sin. Having shown what is to be understood by forgiveness, I proceed to consider,
II. What we are to understand by being forgiven for Christ's sake, or on his account.
Through Christ, for Christ's sake, on Christ's account, are phrases of one and the same signification. "Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins," says the apostle. Forgiveness comes through the medium of Christ. His atonement is the sole ground of pardon. God forgives for Christ's sake, or on account of what Christ has done to render it consistent with his character, to absolve or release the transgressor from bearing the punishment due to him for sin. Sometimes men forgive for the sake of their own honour or reputation; and sometimes they forgive for the sake of compassion towards the offender. God never forgives for his own sake, nor for the sake of the sinner, but merely for Christ's sake. Neither his own honour, nor the sinner's misery, is the ground of his forgiveness, but simply the atonement of Christ. God can consistently punish sinners without respect to Christ; but he cannot consistently pardon them, or free them from deserved punishment, without respect to the Mediator. Without shedding of blood there is no remission. There must be a peculiar reason for God's forgiving the guilty. And the atonement of Christ is the only sufficient reason for his forgiving the guilty. This indeed is sufficient; and while he forgives sinners
entirely on Christ's account, he appears to be just as well as gracious. The way is now prepared to show,
III. That forgiveness is the only favour, which God bestows upon men, on Christ's account. This will appear, if we consider,
1. There was no need of an atonement, in order to God's bestowing any other favour, than forgiveness. He can shew favour to holy and innocent creatures, without any thing's being done to render the displays of his goodness consistent with his character. From mere benevolence, he has raised the holy angels to the highest degrees of holiness, and caused them to drink of those rivers of pleasure which perpetually flow at his right hand. And when man was formed in his own image, he treated him in the same manner in which he treated, and will forever treat, the angels of light. God placed him in the garden of Eden, and loaded him with benefits, as long as he continued holy and innocent. And even now, he bestows innumerable blessings upon his degenerate offspring, without respect to Christ. He causes his sun to rise and his rain to fall, upon the evil as well as the good, and grants as large a portion of the good things of this life to his enemies, as to his friends. There is no temporal favour so great, but he can bestow it upon the vilest of men, as a mere act of sovereignty, without the least respect to Christ as Mediator. But it is only through the atonement of Christ, that he can and does forgive sinners. And from this, we may justly conclude, that forgiveness is the only favour, which he grants to mankind merely for Christ's sake.
2. The great design of Christ's coming into the world and making atonement for sin, was to open the way for forgiveness. This appears from the whole current of scripture. The types of Christ, under the law, re
The paschal lamb "Christ our passover,
But the paschal lamb,
present his atonement as being designed to lay the foundation for forgiveness only. was a type of Christ's death. says the apostle, is slain for us." which was slain to preserve the Israelites from that destruction, which fell upon the Egyptians, would not have been a proper type of the death of Christ, unless his death had been designed to lay the foundation of pardon or freedom from punishment. The bullock that was slain for the sins of Israel, was a type of Christ's laying down his life for the sins of the world. But this bullock is said to make atonement for the express purpose of forgiveness. So we repeatedly read in the fourth chapter of Leviticus. If the whole congregation sin, it is said, the priest shall kill the bullock, and make atonement for them, and their sin shall be forgiven. ver. 20. If a ruler sin, then the priest shall kill the builock, and make atoren.ent for him, concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven. ver. 26. Or if one of the common people sin, the priest shall kill the bullock, and make atonement for him, and his sin shall be forgiven, All the sacrifices for sin, under the Old Testament, were designed to lay a foundation for forgive. Hence says the apostle in his exposition of the types in his epistle to the Hebrews, "without shedding of blood is no remission." This shows, that the death or atonement of Christ was wholly designed to open the way for the remission of sin, or the exercise of pardoning mercy to penitent sinners.
The inspired writers represent the design of the sufferings and death of Christ in the same light. The evangelical Prophet says, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was laid upon him; and by his stripes we are healed." When Christ appeared