Delivered on Sabbath Morning, May 20th, 1860, by the
"Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back"Isaiah 38:17,
EZEKIAH HERE SPEAKS POSITIVELY on a matter concerning which he had not the remotest shadow of n doubt. He kind trusted his God, he had cast himself upon the merit of the promised Messiah, and as the result of that faith, assurance had been granted to him, and he now sings with unfaltering tongue, "Thou," even thou, O God, Most High and Most Just, "thou hast cast all my sins," great and innumerable though they be, thou hast east them all "behind thy back." Oh, what a joyous thing it is to have a ray of heavenly sunlight in the soul, and to hear the very voice of God as he walks in the garden of our souls in the cool of the day, saying to us, "Son thy sins which are many, are all forgiven thee." The whisper of that heavenly voice may raise our heart to bliss almost divine it confers a joy that is not to be squalled by all the corn and the wine, and all the pleasures which the riches and the-enjoyments of this world can afford. To have the divine kiss of acceptance to be robed in the best robe, to have the ring on the hand and the shoes on the feet to hear the heavenly music and dancing with which the returning prodigals are returned to their Father's house,this, indeed, is a bliss worth worlds.
To mansions in the skies."
I shall now turn to the one point of experience which seems to be brought out prominently in our text, that blessed experience of a consciousness of pardon, a sense of pardoning love shed abroad in the soul. I shall view my text in two ways. There are two sorts of pardon which God gives, and it is very needful to distinguish between them. First, I shall speak of a consciousness of pardon enjoyed by a man as a forgiven sinner. When I have so done, I shall speak of that other consciousness of pardon, more true to my text, more intimately connected with it, a sense of forgiveness enjoyed by man, not as a sinner, but as a child, a pardoned child he knows he has already been forgiven by the Judge, but who now smiles to know that he is pardoned also by the Father.
I. First, then, let me speak of A SENSE OF PARDON AS GIVEN BY GOD TO THE SINNER.
We are not to wait for this sense of pardon before we come to Christ. The soul beholding itself lost. ruined. and naked, is commanded in the Word of God to trust itself, just as it is. in the hands of Christ. Faith obeys that command, and without one glimpse of joy within, commits the soul, all trembling and quivering with fear, into the hand of Christ, as into the hand of an all-loving and all-powerful Redeemer. I repeat it, we are not to stop for a sense of pardon until we do this. Faith is our duty, and the sense of pardon is our privilege. We must first obey, and then receive the reward. I, feeling that I am utterly undone, and that there 1:no reason in myself wily I should have saved, cast myself at the foot of Christ's cross, and trust him with myself eternally. As the result of that, God afterwards, of his own free grace, by his Spirit, sheds abroad in my soul an infallible witness, which proves to me that I was forgiven in that very hour when I closed in with Christ, and trusted my soul in his hands.
Now, this consciousness of pardon includes many things, although it is not alike comprehensive in all souls. With some uninstructed persons, who know too little of scripture, all the consciousness they enjoy is this, that sin is forgiven. They feel in their souls that every till that ever stood on record in the book of God, has been blotted out once for all. Joined with this they are released from the terror and dread which once weighed upon their spirits. The nightmare bus departed; that huge apparition which haunted them, a consciousness of their guilt, is gone and laid in the Red Sea of Jesus' blood, safely for ever. But, being ignorant and uninstructed, they are not conscious of more than this,the sum total of their joys lies herethat till is forgiven that the wrath of God is turned away and that they shall not now into the pit of hell. If the Holy Ghost, however. is pleased to slyer them more at this time, they have a consciousness that God loves them. They are sore that Jehovah looks upon them as his favourites, as those to whom he has a special grace unit a peculiar love. They, then, at that very moment, begin to read their title to the blessings of the covenant. They see that all things are theirs because they are Christ's, and that since there is no condemnation, there must he every blessing vouchsafed by the very act which took away the condemning sentence. It sometimes happens too, that this sense of pardon swells till it exceeds the narrow bounds of time, till the spirit is not only sure that it is reconciled to God, and that its life is now secure; but it sees heaven itself as at a little distance, begins to realize its own indefeasible title to the inheritance of the saints in lightnay, in the hour of pardon I have sometimes known the emancipated spirit by faith, walk the golden streets; and lay its finger on the strings of the glorious harp of heavenly praise. There is no telling how comprehensive at times this sense of pardon may become. It may embrace a past eternityreceiving its election, an eternity to comebeholding its glory. It may go into the depths of hell and see the fires for ever quenched or mount to the glories of heaven and see all these splendours given to it to be its own. And, yet, as I have said before, it is not so in all eases, for with many uninstructed minds, the only sense of pardon they get, is a removal of terror, and an assured conviction that their sins are all forgiven them.
But, saith one, "How does this sense of pardon come? In what manner and forms?" We answer, it comes in different ways and forms. Many men receive their consciousness of pardon in an instant. They were reading the Word of God perhaps, and some one text seemed as if it rose up from its fellows, illuminated with heavenly fire, and they saw that text printed on their own hearts. Such a one as this;Come now, and let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool; though they be red like crimson, they shall be whiter than snow." Or, such another As this;"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." The man was doubting before, full of gloom and despondency, in a minute all is light, and life, and joy in his heart. If he could have passed from hell to heaven by a single step, the change in his soul could not have been more manifest and clear. From being heavily burdened, he has suddenly become light of soul; from being black from head to foot, he comes to view himself washed completely white, and standing in the snowy garment of the Savior's righteousness. With others this sense of pardon is of slower growth. It begins with a faint gleam of hope, another ray, and yet another, till at last the morning star arises in their souls; the light increases still, till at last the morning star of hope gives way to the sun of righteousness himself, who was risen with healing beneath his wings. I have known some obtain peace in an instant, and others have been months, if not years. before they could walk with a steady and firm footstep, and say with unquivering lip,"I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that the is able to keep that which I hate committed to him."
This conviction is sometimes conveyed to us in the most extraordinary manner. I have known it brought home to the soul by some singular saying of a minister, by some saying so appropriate to one's own case, that we were compelled to say,"That is not the voice of man, but the voice of God, for man could not know my heart. that sentence is surely spoken by one who tries the heart and searches the reins." At other times some strange providence has been the singular means of giving joy and relief. The strangest story I ever remembered to have read, with regard to peace given after a long season of despondency, was the ease of Mrs. Honeywood, whom you may have read of. Living in puritanic times, she had been accustomed to hear the most thundering of its preachers. She became so thoroughly broken in peace with the consciousness of sin, that for, I think, some ten years, if not twenty years, the poor woman was given up to despairshe was absolutely certain that there was no hope for her. It seemed that in this ease, a kind of miracle must be wrought to give her peace of mind. One day an eminent minister of Christ, conversing with her told her there yet was hope that Jesus Christ was able to save to the uttermost, them that come unto God by him. Grasping a Venice glass that stood on the table, made of the thinnest material that can be conceived, the woman dashed it down on the ground, and said,"I am lost, as sure as that glass is broken into a thousand pieces." To her infinite surprise, the glass suffered no damage whatever, remained without a crack. From that instant she believed that God had spoken to her. She opened her ears to hear the words of the minister, and peace poured into her spirit. I mention that as an extraordinary and singular instanceperhaps the like is not to be found on record anywhere else. But God has his ways and means. He will by some means, by every means, by the strangest and most miraculous means, bring his people to a sense of pardon. If they reject all other ways, he will sooner work a miracle than, that his banished ones shall not be brought home.
Permit me to dwell for another minute or two upon the joy which this sense of pardon creates. I speak now from experience. That happy day when my soul first found a Savior, and learned to cling to his dear feet, was a day never to be forgotten by me. An obscure child, unknown, unheard of, I sat and listened to the Word of God; and that precious text, "Look unto me and be ye saved all ye ends of the earth," lead me to the cross of Christ. I can testify that the joy of that day is utterly indescribable. I could have leaped, I could have danced. There ergs no expression, however fanatical, which would have been out of keeping with the joy of my spirit at that hour. Many days have passed since then of Christian experience, but there has never been a day which has had that full exhilaration that sparkling delight which that first day had. I though t I could have sprang from the seat on which I sat, and have called out with the wildest of those Methodist brethren v ho were present "I am forgiven! I am forgiven! A monument of grace! A sinner saved by blood!" Concerning that day all other occurrences are dim in my remembrance. I know nothing of what was said to me, or of what happened but just this, that my spirit save its chains broken to pieces, and that I walked an emancipated man, an heir of heaven, a forgiven one, accepted in Christ Jesus, plucked out of the miry clay and out of the horrible pit, with my feet set upon a rock and my goings established. The joy of the hears when it receives pardon may be imagined by some of you who have never tasted it, but if you ever come to know it, you will say with the queen of Sheba, "the half has not been told me." Men when they are in this delightful state, are very communicative. they cannot hold themselves in. They are like John Bunyan who wanted to tell the crows on the ploughed land about it. They speak to the very trees. They think the world is in harmony with themselves; they go forth with joy, and they are led forth with peace, the mountains and the hills break forth before them Into singing, and the trees of the field do clap their hands. The birds sing, to be in tune with their hearts. The sun shines more brightly that day than he ever did before; or if the rain descends, it is but the very emblem of those showers of mercy which have made glad the spirit. On that day at least, if never before, the man becomes the world's great priest, he stands in the midst of all his fellow priests the great high priest of the world's universe. He walks in his white garments; he wears about him the belle of the music of praise; he offers the sacrifice which is acceptable to God, and his ours heart is the chief offering which he presents. Oh! on that day the world seems to be a great organ, and the fingers of the pardoned man run along the keys and wake the music even to thunder, till the eternal sonnets of the ages long past dwindle into mere silence before the hallelujahs of that acclaim of praise, to which the pardoned sinner wakes the worlds.
Do not think I am fanatical in this, I speak but sober sense. In fact, I fall short in my descriptions of the joy of the spirit in which God has shed abroad a glimpse of his love, and a token of his grace. Do I hear some friend whisper, that such feelings are fanatical. Ah! my friend if It were so, it were a fanaticism devoutly to be roughs for; It were one for which the most sober mind might strain itself for ever. But you tell us this is fanaticism, for a man to be sure that he is pardoned. But pause awhile. Will you venture to say that this book is itself fanatical, that the Bible is a book full of enthusiasm and vain conceits. Oh, no, you believe this to be a book written in sober earnest. Well, then, the feelings of a pardoned man are but the necessary and natural consequence of the truths of this book. Is there each a thing as pardon taught here? there not such-words as these?"Blessed is the than whose iniquity is forgiven.""Blessed is he to whom the Lord imputeth not his iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.""Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back." Are there not words here which tell us that Jesus Christ came into the World to seek and to save that which is lost; that there in such a thing as salvation, such a thing as regeneration, such a thing as passing out of darkness marvellous light such all thing as being transplanted from the kingdom of darkness, and taken into the kingdom of God's dear Son? If the Bible teaches us that there are such things, and if such things are realities in the experience of Christian men, it were a libel upon that book if men were not happy when they received them. In feet if the experience of a Christian at the time of his conversion were not singularly nay, excessively joyful, it might be a, contradiction to the teaching of this word But, I say it, and say it boldly, all the transports that the most joyous spirit ever knew in the hour of its pardon are warranted by this Word; nay, not only warranted, but they fall short of what this look would warrant us in receiving.
"But," saith one, "I cannot understand that a man can be sure that he is pardoned." That great and excellent man, Dr. Johnson, used to hold the opinion that no man ever could know that he was pardoned: that there was no such thing as assurance of faith. Perhaps, if Dr. Johnson had studied his Bible a little more, and had had a little more of the enlightenment of the Spirit, he, too, might have come to know his own pardon. Certainly, he was no very excellent judge of' theology, no more than he was of porcelain, which he once attempted to make, and never succeeded. I think both in theology and porcelain his opinion is at little value. You say, how can a man know that he is pardoned? There is a text which says"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." I believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; is it irrational to believe that I am saved? "He that believeth hath eternal life," saith Christ, in John's gospel. I believe in Christ; am I absurd in believing that I have eternal life? I find the apostle Paul speaking by the Holy-Ghost, and saying"There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. Being justified by faith we have peace with God." If I know that my trust is fixed on Jesus only, and that I have faith in him, were it not ten thousand time. more absurd for me not to be at peace than for me to be filled with my unspeakable. It is but taking God at his word, when the soul knows as a necessary consequence of its faith that it is caved. But, besides that, suppose it should be true that God himself, stepping as you think out of the order of nature, absolutely speaks to every individual man, and seals on their hearse the witness that they are forgiven suppose it to be so, however hard you think the supposition to bewould it be unnatural then, that the spirit should rejoice? Now, such is just the fact, literally And positively; for the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, that we are born of God. And I will tell you this, though I be censured for fanaticism in it, there are times with every child of God, when he could not doubt of his acceptance with Christ, when his being saved is a more palpable and sure truth than even the fact that he is in existence; when all the arguments you could possibly bring could not shake him, because he has the infallible witness of the Holy Ghost that he is born of God. Have you never seen some poor servant girl accosted by a clever infidel, who begins to cut her down in all her principles, and laugh at her, and tell her she is a poor deluded thing. She answers him, bears with him, answers him again and again in her own simple style. You can see that her arguments are not conclusive or logical, but wait till she gets to the end, and you hear her say,"Well, sir, you know a great deal more than I do, and I am not able to speak as you can; I do not wish to think as you think; but, sir, if what you have said be true, you cannot disprove what I feel in here; I feel that I am a child of God; I know I am, and you may as soon reason me out of the fact that what I see does exist, and what I feel has a real cause, as reason me out of this fact, which I know in my inmost soul, namely, that I have passed from death unto life, and am a child of God." Come here, blind man! His eyes are opened; now try and convince that man he does not see. "No," says he, "that is one thing I know. Other things I may be mistaken about; but one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see." Here, bring up that sick man who has been in bed this last fifteen years a cripple. A miracle is wrought, he is restored, and he begins to leap. Bring up out friend of the academy, and let him argue against him."Your leg is not in a sound state. I tell you, you are not well, you ate not cured; you don't feel happy, you don't feel restored and recruited in strength. "Oh," says he, "I don't care for all your arguments, nor for all the Latin phrases that you use. I am cured, that is a matter of consciousness with me, and I am not to be beaten out of it." So it is with the Christian; there are times when he can say,"I am saved, I am forgiven." The Lord hath said to him,"I am thy salvation," and no reasoning, however sophistical no argument, however omnipotent it may seem to be, can shake him, or make him renounce his "which hath great recompense of reward."
And, now, my dear hearers, before I leave this point, to dwell for a few minutes on the second part of my subject. I want to ask you a question or two. Have you ever had this consciousness of pardon in your lives? "No," says one, "I never had; I wish I had; I mean to wait for it." You may wait till you are lost before you will ever have it by waiting for it. Your business is to go to Christ as you are, and trust him, and you shall have it. To sit still, and not to obey that great commandment, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," is the very way to make your damnation doubly sure. I hope that you will find this precious pearl unless you sell all that you have and buy that divine field, Christ Jesus, and there find this pearl of great price. "Ay, but" saith another, "I feel I have never had it, and I don't want it." Mark this, my hearer: as God's witness I speak to you to-day, and if you reject my warning now, in that hour when you lie quivering on a dying bell, perhaps this uplifted finger and these eyes may be a vision for you then. If thou shalt never have in thy soul a consciousness of pardon on this side of the grave, I fear that thou shalt come to thy grave full of sin, and after death shall be the judgment, and after the judgment the wrath to come. This which thou thinkest to be enthusiasm and fanatical is essential to thy soul's salvation, Oh, put it not from thee. Despise it not. Long for it. Cry for it Pant after it. And the Lord God give thee yet to know that thou art his child, and that thou art passed from death unto life! A better wish no heart can wish thee. A larger benediction than that, no ministers lips could pronounce on thee. God bring thee out of thy state of lethargy and slumber, and darkness, and bring thee to seek and find the Savior, whom to know is to receive pardon in the conscience, and joy in the soul!
II. And now I shall want your patient attention but for a few moments while I take the second part of my subject and dwell upon it briefly. I have sometimes heard uninstructed Christians ask how it is that when a man is once pardoned he is nevertheless to ask every day that his sins may be forgiven. We teach, and we are bold to affirm it again and again, and confess the teaching, that the moment a sinner believes all his sins are put away; past, present, and to come, they are all gone so far as God the Judge is concerned; there is not left one sin against any of his people, nor shall there be. "He seeth no sin in Jacob, neither iniquity in Israel." And yet our Master tells us to bow our knee and say, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us." How can we ask for that we already possess? Why seek a pardon which we already enjoy? The difficulty lies in a forgetfulness of the relationship which Christians sustain to God. As a sinner I come to Christ and trust him. God is then a Judge; he takes the great book of the Court, strikes out my sins and acquits me. At the same moment, out of his great love, he adopts me into his family. Now I stand in quite a different relationship to him from what I ever did before. I am not so much his subject as his child. He is no longer to me a Judge but has become to me a Father. And now I have new rules, new laws; now I have a new discipline; now I have new treatment; now I have new obedience. I go and do wrong. What then? Does the Judge come and at once summon me before his throne? No, I have no Judge. He is a Father, and that Father brings me up before his face, and frowns on menay, takes the rod and begins to scourge me. He never scourged me when he was a Judge. Then, he only threatened to use the axe; but he has buried the axe now. Now that I am his child, he has no axe to put me to death withhe cannot destroy his own children. But he uses the rod upon me. If I do that which is wrong, as I am doing every day towards him as a father, I am bound to go to him as to a father on a child's knees, and say, "Our Father which art in heaven, forgive me these trespasses as I forgive them that trespass against me." As each day you and I, if we be children of God, are continually sinning, not against him as Judge, but against him as Father, it behoves us to seek daily pardon. If we do not obtain that pardon daily, at last the Father lays on the rod, as he did in Hezekiah's case. He smote Hezekiah till he was sick even to death. Hezekiah repented; the rod was taken away; and then Hezekiah felt in his soul, "Thou hast east all my sin. behind thy back." This was David's case. David's sin with Bathsheba had been forgiven years ago and put away, through the expected blood of Christ. But when he sinned it, God put him away for awhile; took away his presence from him, and as a father was angry against his child. When David, however, repented, after he had been smitten, the Father took him again to his bosom, and David could sing once again, "Thou hast cast my sins behind thy back."
Now notice that this pardon differs from the first. The first was the pardon of a Judge: this is the pardon of a rather. The first quenched the flames of hell: this only removes the paternal rod. The first made the rebel into a pardoned criminal, and reversed the sentence: the second receives the erring child more tenderly to a Father's breast. There are essential differences, because the pardon of the second does not relate so much to the punishment and the guilt, as it does, to the root of iniquity within, and the removing of that from which was only cast upon us in order to make us sick of self and fond of Christ. But when this sense of pardon is obtained by the Christian, it gives him a joy; not so tumultuous as the first one he had; but still, and deep, and unruffled, and calm. He does not, perhaps, partake of that roaring see of rapturous delight on which he sailed when first he was forgiven; but his peace is liken river, and his righteousness like the waves of the sea. And this peace produces in him the most blessed and salutary effects. He becomes grateful to God fur the chastisement he teas received, which taught him his need of Jesus afresh. He henceforth avoids the sins which made him grieve his God. He walks more cautiously and tenderly than he did before; lives nearer to God; cultivates greater acquaintance with the Holy Spirit; is more in prayer, more humble; and yet the same time more confident than he was before. The light wee withdrawn that he might receive a double portion of it by-and-bye. The joy was taken away that his holiness might be increased. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are you laboring this morning under desertion of soul? Was there a time when you could read your title clear? Have clouds and darkness beset you? Do not doubt your Father's love for all that; do not distrust him; do not go creeping on your knees as you did when you first went, as one who had never received pardon. Come boldly, yet humbly, to your God. Plead his promise; rely upon the precious blood of Christ, and look up and say, "My Father, my Father, restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit" And you shall have back the confidence of your youth, and you shall again feel that the Holy Spirit dwells within you. You shall once again mount above the trials and troubles of this mortal life, and begin to enter into the rest which remaineth for the people of God.
One solitary sentence or so, and I will dismiss the present congregation. Have I a man here who declares that he is pardoned, and yet indulges in the sins which he pretends are forgiven? Sir, you have either deceived yourself, or else you are uttering what you know is untrue. He who is forgiven hate' sin. We cannot be washed clean if we still persist in living up to our neck in filth. It cannot be possible that a man is pardoned while he still continues to wallow in abominable sin. "O yes," but he says, "I am no legalist; I believe the grace of God has made me clean, though I do go on in sin." Sir, it is clear you are a legalist, but I will tell you what else you are: you are no child of God, you are no Christian; for the Christian is a man who uniformly hates sin. There never was a believer who loved iniquity; such a strange thing as a pardoned sinner who still loved to be in rebellion against his God. "Yes," but I hear another say, "Sir, that may be true; but I do not profess to be pardoned in any such way as you speak of. I believe my sins to be so small and little, that I have no need to go seeking mercy; or if I seek it I do not expect that I shall find it here. I dare say I shall fare as well as the best when I go into another world." Poor fool poor fool thou art condemned already. The sentence of God has gone out against you, "Whosoever believeth not on the Son of God is condemned because he believeth not." And yet you, when your sentence is written out, and your death-knell perhaps tolling now, say your ring are little. They are so great, sir, that the fires of hell shall never expiate them, and your own misery, in soul and body for ever, shall never be a full equivalent for the iniquity you have committed against God. And so you don't want to know that you are forgiven, you are consent to take your chance with the rest. A chance, indeed, it is! But know, air, I feel so differently in my heart from you in that respect, that had I a doubt at this time about my sins being forgiven, I could not give sleep to my eyes, nor slumber to my eyelids, till I was assured that I had received God's love in my heart. If at any time a doubt crosses my soul, I am the most wretched of beings. For sure, this is like light to the eyes, like friendship to the spirit, like drink to the thirsty, and bread to the hungry, to know one's-self forgiven. Go out of this hall, and say, "I am walking over the mouth of hell and may slip in at any moment; I am hanging over perdition by a single hair, and into in flame may be speedily hurled, yet I do not care whether I am damned or not." Say it right out in broad Englishsay you are in doubt as to whether you shall go to heaven or hellsay, if you must go home to day, and in your upper chamber lie down on your narrow bed to diesay you are not sure whether you shall see the face of your God with acceptance, and yet you are content. Speak like an honest man, and like a fool, for such language is only the raving of a madman and a fool. Oh, I beseech you, never be content until you have sought and found a Savior. Ay, and until you are sure you have found him, do not be happy with a "perhaps," or a "perchance." Do not rest your soul on chances, but make sure work for eternity, I conjure you, airs, by the solemnities of eternity, by the fires of hell, and by the joys of heaven, get your foot on a rock, and know it is there. Do not make guesswork of it; put it beyond all chance. O dying sinner! do not let it be a question with you whether thou shalt be saved or whether thou shalt be damned. O frail man! tottering on the brink of the grave, do not let it be a matter of uncertainty as to whether heaven shall receive thee, or hell engulph thee. Be sure of it one way or the other. If thou canst make thy bed in hell, if thou canst endure the everlasting burning, if thou canst suffer the anger of God when he shall rend thee in pieces like a lion, then go on in thy folly. But if thou wouldst have a portion among them that are sanctified. if thou wouldst se the face of Christ and walk the golden streets, be sure that thou art in Christ, be certain that thou art trusting him, and be not satisfied till that is put beyond all question, beyond all argument and contention.
The Lord add his blessing to my feeble words, for Jesu's sake! Amen.