Forgiveness

A SERMON DELIVERED ON SABBATH EVENING, MAY 13, 1855, BY THE REV. C. H. SPURGEON, AT EXETER HALL, STRAND.

“I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 43:25.

 


THERE are some passages of Sacred Writ which have been more abundantly blessed to the conversion of souls than others. They may be called salvation texts. We may not be able to discover how it is, or why it is, but certainly it is a fact that some chosen verses have been more used of God to bring men to the cross of Christ than any others in His word. Certainly they are not more inspired, but I suppose they are more notice able from their position, from their peculiar phraseology more adapted to catch the eye of the reader and more suitable to a prevailing spiritual condition. All the stars in the heavens shine very brightly, but only a few attract the eye of the mariner and direct his course. The reason is that those few stars from their peculiar grouping are more readily distinguished and the eye easily fixes upon them. So I suppose it is with those passages of God’s word which especially attract attention and direct the sinner to the cross of Christ. It so happens that this text is one of the chief of them. I have found it, in my experience, to be a most useful one. Out of the hundreds of persons who have come to me to narrate their conversion and experience, I have found a very large proportion who have traced the divine change which has been worked in their hearts to the hearing of this precious declaration of sovereign mercy read and the application of it with power to their souls. “I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for My own sake and will not remember your sins.” Hence I feel this morning somewhat pleased to have such a text, because I anticipate that my Master will give me souls. And I feel likewise some what afraid lest I should spoil the passage by my own imperfect handling thereof. I will, therefore, cast myself implicitly on the help of the Spirit, so that whatever I speak may be suggested by Him and whatever He says, that may I speak—to the exclusion of my own thoughts as much as possible.

We shall notice first, this morning, the recipients of mercy—the per sons of whom the Lord is here speaking; secondly, the deed of mercy—“I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions”; thirdly, the reason for mercy—“for My own sake”; and fourthly, the promise of mercy—“I will not remember your sins.”

I. We are about to see who are THE RECIPIENTS OF MERCY. And I would have you all listen. Perhaps there are some strayed in here who are the very chief of sinners—some who have sinned against light and knowledge, who have gone the full length of their powers for sin—so that they come here selfcondemned. They may fear that for them there is neither mercy nor pardon. I am about to talk to you of the loving kindness of our glorious Jehovah, and may some of you be led to read your own condition in those characters which I shall describe to you.

If you will turn to your Bibles, you will find who the persons are here spoken of. Look, for example, at the 22nd verse of the chapter from which our text is taken and you will see, first, that they were a prayerless people—”You have not called upon Me, O Jacob.” And are there not some prayerless ones sitting or standing here this morning? Might I not walk along these benches and point my finger to one and another and say, “You are not a praying one”?

Or might I not reach out my hand to one and another upon this platform and say, “You have not been with God in secret and had close communion with Him”? These prayerless ones may have repeated many a form of prayer, but the breathing desire, the living words, have not come from their lips. You have lived, sinner, up to this time without sincere prayer and if an intercession has been forced from your lips from a fear that took hold of you—if a cry has gone forth from you when in the sufferings of a sick bed because the pains of death got hold upon you—if it has not been your habit to pray, the impressions of that trying period have soon been forgotten. Is prayer your constant practice, my hearers? How many of you now, before me, yes, and behind me, too, must confess that you have not prayed, that it is not your habit to hold communion with God? Prayerless souls are Christless souls! You can have no real fellowship with Christ, no communion with the Father, unless you approach His Mercy Seat and are often there. And yet if you are condemning yourselves and lamenting that this has been your condi tion, you need not despair, for this mercy is for you—”You have not called upon Me, O Jacob.” Yet, “I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for My own sake.”

Next, these persons were despisers of religion, for observe the language of the same verse—“You have been weary of Me, O Israel.” And may I not say to some here—you despise religion, you hate God? You are weary of Him and love not His services. As for a Sunday, do not too many of you find it the most tiresome day in the week? And do you not, in fact, look over your ledger on a Sunday afternoon? If you were compelled to attend a place of worship twice on a Sunday, would you not think it the greatest
and most terrible hardship that could be inflicted upon you? You have to find some worldly amusement to make the hours of a Sunday pass away with any comfort at all. So far from wishing that, “congregations might never break up,” and a Sunday last for eternity, is it not to some of you the most tedious day of the week? You feel it to be weariness, and are glad when it is gone. You do not understand the sentiment expressed by the poet—

“Sweet is the work, my God, my King,
To praise Your name, give thanks and sing.”

You know nothing of the pain of banishment from the courts of Zion, where the sacred tribes repair. And when there, you do not hold communion with God, rejoicing that the hallowed place has become a Beth el—the house of God—the very gate of heaven. You can never say—

“My willing soul would stay In such a frame as this,
And sit and sing herself away To everlasting bliss.”

Ah, no, not only is religion unlovely to you, but it is a weariness! But if you are now convinced of this sin and are repenting of it and desire to be delivered from its power, then God speaks to you this morning and says, “I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for My own sake— return unto Me with unfeigned repentance and I will have mercy upon you.”

Note again the character. They have been thankless persons—”You have not brought Me the small cattle of your burnt offerings.” They have been unthankful. They had their cattle and their flocks all multiplied and increased many fold, but they did not bring even one of the small cattle to Him in return. You never gave Him a kid for a burnt offering but have been like the swine, regardless of the oak which strews food upon the ground for you. You have been a carnal worldly character, receiving a gift but never thanking the Almighty who caused it to be bestowed. While even the little chicken, after it has drunk of the stream, lifts its head as if to thank God who provided the water. You have been fed, day by day, by an almighty power and yet you have never given in return even one of the small cattle of your flock for a burnt offering. This is true of some who at tend our houses of prayer.

They very rarely give to any collection for the cause of God. They are like the man in America, of whom someone has told us, who boasted that religion had been to him a very cheap thing, costing him only a few cents a year, of whom a good man said, “The Lord have mercy on your little stingy soul.” If a man has no more religion than that—if he has not a religion that will make him generous—he has no religion at all. I thought of that passage last Thursday night, while I was preaching—”You have bought Me no sweet cane with money.” God needs nothing at your hands but He likes little presents. He loves, now and then, to receive of your substance. For you know that little as it is in His eyes, comparatively speaking, it is great because it comes from a friend.

But some of you have never bought Him a sweet cane with your money— never sang a hymn to His praise. You have attributed everything to your good luck and have boasted that you have obtained everything you have by the labor of your own hands. You boast that you can say, “I have need to thank nobody for what I have.” That has been your spirit. You have given no thanks to God—the God of heaven and earth. You have not glorified Him, but yourself—and yet the Most High is willing to pardon your sin in this thing if you are but sincerely penitent and ask for forgiveness, for He also says to you, “I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions.”

Yet, again, these people were a useless people. “Neither have you filled Me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you have made Me to serve with your sins.” It is well said the chief end of man is to glorify God. For that purpose God made the sun, moon and stars and all His works—that they might honor Him. And yet how many are there, even, perhaps among my hearers this morning, who have never honored God in their lives? Ask yourselves what you have done? If you were to write your own history, it would be little better than that of Belzon’s toad which existed in the rock for three thousand years. You may have lived like it, but you have done nothing. What souls have you ever won to the Savior? How has His name been magnified by you? Have you ever served Him?

How have you ever worked for Him? What have you done for God? Have you not been cumberers of the ground, taking the nourishment of the earth where some better tree might have grown and bearing no fruit for your Creator? For all you have done, the world might as well have never known you! You have not even been as much use as the glowworm, which, at least, serves to light the steps of the traveler. The world may possibly be glad to get rid of some of you and rejoice when you are gone. Perhaps you have assisted in destroying the souls of those with whom you have been connected in life. You can recollect the time when you led that young man first into the ale house. You can remember the hour when you swore a most horrible oath—your child was within hearing—and learned to also be profane.

You may look upon some souls who are going even now to damnation through your example. And in hell you may see spirits starting up from their iron beds and hear them shrieking in their woe—“Who is it that led me here and caused my soul to be destroyed?—you are the author of my damnation!” Is the indictment true? Will you not be compelled to plead guilty to the charge? Do you not even now repent of your great transgressions? Even if it is so, my Master authorizes me to say again,

“Thus says the Lord, I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions and will not remember your sins.”

Again—there are some who may be termed sanctuary sinners—sinners in Zion—and these are the worst of sinners. I can usually tell whether inquirers have been the children of pious parents or not, if, after a confession of great guilt they feel unable to proceed at the remembrance of what they once were. Groaning, sobbing and tears running down their cheeks are the silent language of their woe. When I see this, I always know that the language that succeeds will be—“I have been the child of pious parents. And I feel that I am one of the worst of sinners because I was brought up to religion. And yet I disregarded it and turned aside from it.” O yes, the worst of sinners are sinners in Zion because they sin against light and knowledge. They force their way to hell, as John Bunyan says, over the cross of Christ. And the worst way to hell is to go by the cross to it. Many of you now before me were consecrated to God by a beloved mother.

And many of your fathers taught you to read and love the Scriptures of truth. You were brought up like Timothy. You well understand the theory of the way of salvation and yet you come here, young men and women, some of you enemies of God and without Christ and despisers of His word! Some of you are even scoffers, or if not actually scoffers, you say religion is nothing to you and by your actions, if not by your words, declare it is nothing to you that Jesus should die! Ah, when I speak to you, I should not forget myself. Should it ever be my lot to wake up in hell, I should be among the most horribly damned there, for I had a most pious training and would be forced to take my place with the sanctuary sinners. And you that are such, whom I am addressing now, are you not afraid? Ask yourselves now, “Who among us shall dwell with devouring fire?” Do you tremble and shake for fear and with a penitent heart desire forgiveness? If so, then I say again, in my Master’s name— who spoke nothing but love and mercy to penitent sinners—who said, “Neither do I condemn you”—Jehovah now declares—“I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for My own sake and will not remember your sins.”

Yet, once more, we have here some who have wearied God—”You have made Me to serve with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities.” You see here the man who has been a professor of religion and can look back 20 years ago, when he was a member of a Christian church. He was apparently walking in the fear of the Lord and all men thought he had received the grace of God in truth. But he has turned aside into the paths of sin. Sometimes his lips have been defiled with oaths, and his soul the bond slave of sin. But even now he is often found in God’s house. Sometimes he is affected to tears and says within himself, “Surely I will return unto the Lord, for then was it better with me than now.” Selfcondemned, he stands and weeps in the bitterness of his heart. And mark you, it may be this morning he has stepped into this vast assembly and that his knees are knocking one against the other.

Baxter used to say; now God or Satan, now accepted or con demned. Poor backslider, by God’s grace return to the Lord, and He will have mercy upon you! He will blot out all your sins. And so blot them out that He will not remember them against you any more forever.

These, then, are the characters who receive mercy. Some of you may say, “You seem to think us a bad lot”—and so I do. Others exclaim, “How can you talk to us in this way? We are an honest, moral and upright people.” If so, then I have no gospel to preach to you. You may go else where if you will, for you may get moral sermons in scores of chapels if you want them. I am come in my Master’s name to preach to sinners and so I will not say a word to you Pharisees except this—by so much as you think yourself righteous and holy, by so much shall you be cast out of God’s presence at last! Your sentence will be eternal banishment from the presence of Him who has said to every repenting sinner, “I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions, and will not remember your sins.”

II. The second point is THE DEED OF MERCY. We have found out the persons to whom God will give mercy. Now what is mercy’s deed? It is a deed of forgiveness and in speaking of it, I shall speak first of its being a divine forgiveness—“I, even I, am He.” Divine pardon is the only for giveness possible. For no one can remit sin but God only. It matters not whether a Roman Catholic priest, or any other priest shall say in the name of God, “I absolve you from your transgressions,” it is an abomina ble blasphemy! If a man has offended me, I can forgive him, but if he has offended God, I cannot forgive him. The only discharge possible is pardon by God. But then it is the only pardon necessary. Suppose I have so sinned that the king or the queen will not pardon me, that my brethren will not forgive me, and that I cannot pardon myself. If God absolves me, that is all the acquittal that will be necessary for my salvation! Perhaps I stand condemned by the law of my country—I am a murderer and must suffer on the scaffold. The queen refuses to pardon and perhaps she does right in such a refusal.

But I do not need her forgiveness in order to enter heaven. If God acquits me, that will be enough! Were I such a reprobate that all men hissed at me and wished me gone from existence. If I knew that they would never forgive my crime—though I ought to desire my fellow creatures’ forgiveness—it would not be necessary that I should have it to enter heaven. If God says, I forgive you, that is enough. It is only God who can forgive satisfactorily because no human pardon can ease the troubled conscience. The selfrighteous Pharisee may be content to give himself into the hands of a priest to be rocked to sleep in the cradle of delusion—but the poor convinced sinner needs something more than the arrogant dictum of a priest. Ten thousand priests, with all their en chantments, he feels to be all in vain, unless Jehovah, Himself, shall say, “I have blotted out your sins for My own sake”

Again—it is surprising forgiveness. For the text speaks as if God, Him self, were surprised that such sins should be remitted—“I, even, I.” It is so surprising that it is repeated in this way lest any of us should doubt it. And it is amazing to the poor sinner when first awakened to his sin and danger. It seems to be too good to be true and he “wonders to feel his own hardness depart.” The mercy offered is so overwhelming. It is said that Alexander, whenever he attacked a city, put a light before the gate of it. And if the inhabitants surrendered before the light was burnt out, he spared them. But if the light went out first, he put them all to death. But our Master is more merciful than this. For if He had manifested grace, only, while a small light would burn, where should we have been? There are some here 70 or 80 years of age and God still has mercy on you. But there is a light you know which when once quenched, extinguishes all hope of pardon—the light of life! See then, grayheaded man, your candle is burnt almost to the socket—it has but the snuff left. Eighty years you have been here living in sin, and yet mercy waits for you; but you shall soon depart—and mark me—there is no hope for you then! But surprising grace, mercy’s message is still proclaiming—

“For while the lamp holds out to burn, The vilest sinner may return.”

Unutterable mercy! There is no sinner out of hell so black but that God can wash him white. There is not out of the pit of hell one so guilty that God is not able and willing to forgive him, for He declares the wondrous fact—“I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions.”
Notice once more, that it is a present forgiveness. It does not say I am He that will blot out your transgressions, but that blots them out now. There are some who believe, or at least seem to imagine, that it is not possible to know whether our sins are forgiven in this life. We may have hope, it is thought, that at last there will be a balance to strike on our side. But this will not satisfy the poor soul who is really seeking pardon and is anxious to find it. And God has, therefore, blessedly told us that He blots out our sin now—that He will do it at any moment the sinner believes.

As soon as he trusts in His crucified God, all his sins are forgiv en, whether past, present, or future! Even supposing that he is yet to commit them, they are all pardoned! If I live 80 years after I receive pardon, doubtless I shall fall into many errors—but the one pardon will avail for them as well as for the past. Jesus Christ bore our punishment and God will never require at my hands the fulfillment of that Law which Christ has honored in my place—for then would there be injustice in heaven—and that is far from God. It is no more possible for a pardoned man to be lost than for Christ to be lost, because Christ is the sinner’s surety. Jehovah will never require my debt to be paid twice. Let none impute injustice to the God of the whole earth—let none suppose that He will twice exact the penalty of one sin. If you have been the chief of sinners, you may have the chief of sinner’s forgiveness—and God can be stow it now!

I cannot help noticing the completeness of this forgiveness. Suppose you call on your creditor and say to him, “I have nothing to pay with.” “Well,” he says, “I can issue a distress against you and place you in prison and keep you there.” You still reply that you have nothing and he must do what he can. Suppose he should then say, “I will forgive all.” You now stand amazed and say, “Can it be possible that you will give me that great debt of a thousand pounds?” He replies, “Yes, I will.” “But how am I to know it?” Here is the note—he takes it and crosses it all out and hands it back to you and says, “Here is a full discharge, I have blotted it all out.” So does the Lord deal with penitents; He has a book in which all your debts are written—but with the blood of Christ, He crosses out the handwriting of ordinances which is there written against you! The note is destroyed and He will not demand payment for it again. The devil will sometimes insinuate to the contrary, as he did to Martin Luther—“Bring me the catalog of my sins,” said Luther. And he brought a scroll black and long. “Is that all?” said Luther. “No,” said the devil. And he brought yet another. “And now,” said the heroic saint of God, “write at the foot of the scroll—‘The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses from all sin.’ That is a full discharge.”

III. Now, very briefly, the third thing—THE REASON FOR MERCY. Some poor sinner says, “Why should God forgive me? I am sure there is no reason why He should, for I have never done anything to deserve His mercy.” Hear what God says, “I am not about to forgive you for your sake, but for My sake.” “But, Lord, I shall not be thankful enough.” “I am not about to pardon you because of your gratitude, but for My name’s sake.” “But, Lord, if I am taken into Your church I can do very little for Your cause in future years, for I have spent my best days in the devil’s service. Surely the impure dregs of my life cannot be sweet to You, O God.” “I will not engage to forgive you for your sake, but for My own. I do not need you,” says God, “I can do as well without you as with you.

The cattle upon a thousand hills are Mine. And if I pleased I could create a
whole race of men for My service who would be as renowned as the greatest monarchs, or the most eloquent preachers—but I can do as well without them, as with them. And I forgive you, therefore, for My sake.” Is there not hope for a guilty sinner here? It cannot be pleaded by anyone that his sins are too great to be pardoned! The amount of guilt is hereby put entirely out of consideration, seeing that God forgives not on account of the sinner, but for His own sake! Did you ever hear of a physician vis iting a man upon a sick bed, when the poor man said, “I have nothing to give you for your attention to me.” “But,” says the doctor, “I did not ask for anything; I attend you from pure benevolence, and moreover, to prove my skill. It will make no difference to me how long you live; I love to try my skill and let the world know that I have power to heal diseases. I want to get myself a name.” And so God says, I desire to have a name for mer cy, so that the worse you are, the more God is honored in your salvation. Go, then, to Christ, poor sinner—naked, filthy, poor, wretched, vile, lost, dead—come as you are, for there is nothing required of you, except the need of Him—

“This He gives you,
Tis His Spirit’s rising beam.”
“For My own sake,” says God, “I will forgive.”

IV. Now to conclude—THE PROMISE OF MERCY. “And will not re member your sins.” There are some things which even God cannot do. Though it is true He is omnipotent, yet there are some things He cannot do. God cannot lie—He cannot forsake His people—He cannot disown His covenant. And this is one of the things it might be thought He could not do—that is, forget. Is it impossible for God to forget? We finite creatures forget many things, but can the Almighty ever do so? God who counts the stars and calls them all by their names—who knows how many microscopic organisms there are in the mighty ocean—who notices every grain of dust that floats in the summer air and is acquainted with every leaf of the forest—can He cease to remember? Perhaps we may answer, “No.” Not as to the absolute fact of the committal of the deed. But there are senses in which the expression is entirely accurate. In what sense are we to understand God’s forgetfulness of our sins?

First of all, He will not exact punishment for them when we come before His judgment bar at last. The Christian will have many accusers. The devil will come and say, “That man is a great sinner.” “I don’t remember it,” says God. “That man rebelled against You, and cursed You,” says the accuser. “I do not remember it,” says God, “for I have said I will not re member his sins.” Conscience says, “Ah, but Lord, it is true, I did sin against You, and that most grievously.” “I do not remember it,” says God—“I said, I will not remember his sins.” Let all the demons in the pit of hell clamor in God’s ears, and let them vehemently shout out a list of our sins—we may stand boldly forth at that great day and sing, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” for God does not even remember their sin! The Judge does not remember it and who, then, shall punish? Unrighteous as we were; wicked as we have been, yet He has forgotten it all.

Who, then, can bring to remembrance what God has for gotten? He says, “I will cast your sins into the depths of the sea,” not into the shallows where they might be fished up again, but into the depths of the sea, where Satan, himself, cannot find them. There are no such things as sins recorded against God’s people. Christ has so taken them away that sin becomes a nonentity to Christians—it is all gone and through Jesus’ blood they are clean!

The second meaning of this is, I will not remember your sins to suspect you. There is a father and he has a wayward son who went away that he might live a life of looseness and profligacy. But after a while he comes home again in a state of penitence. The father says, “I will forgive you.” But he says the next day to his younger son, “There is business to be done at a distant town tomorrow and here is the money for you to do it with.” He does not trust the returned prodigal with it. “I have trusted him before with money,” says the father to himself, “and he robbed me, and it makes me afraid to trust him again.” But our heavenly Father says, “I will not remember your sins.” He not only forgives the past, but trusts His people with precious talents. He never suspects them. He has never one suspicious thought. He loves them just as much as if they had never gone astray. He will employ them to preach His gospel. He will put them into the Sunday school and make them servants of His Son—for He says, “I will not remember your sins.”

Again—He will not remember in His distribution of the recompense of the reward. The earthly parent will kindly pass over the faults of the prodigal—but you know when that father comes to die and is about to make his will, the lawyer sitting by his side—he says, “I shall give so much to William, who always behaved well. And my other son shall have soandso. My daughter, she shall have so much. But there is that prodi gal. I have spent a large sum upon him when he was young and he wast ed what he received. Though I have taken him, again, into favor—and for the present he is going on well—still I think I must make a little differ ence between him and the others. “I think it would not be fair—though I have forgiven him—to treat him precisely as the rest.” And so the lawyer puts him down for a few hundred pounds, while the others, perhaps, get their thousands. But God will not remember your sins like that! He gives all an inheritance.

He will give heaven to the chief of sinners as well as to the chief of saints. When He divides the portion to His children it may be He will put Mary Magdalene as high as He does Peter, and the good thief as high as He does John. Yes, the malefactor who died on a cross is as much in the sight of God as the most moral person that ever lived. Here is a blessed forgetfulness! What do you say, poor sinner? Is your heart drawn by a mysterious inspiration to the foot of the cross? Then I thank my Master! For I trust the one objective of my life is to win souls for Christ and if I may be blessed in that, my life shall be happy! Do you still say, “My sins are too great to be forgiven”? No, but O man, as high as the heaven is above the earth, so great is His mercy above your sins and so far does His grace exceed your thoughts! “Oh, but,” you say, “He will not accept me.” What then is the meaning of this text—“He is able to save unto the uttermost.” Or this—“Whoever comes unto Me I will in no wise cast out.” And again—“Whoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” Do you still say, “This does not include me”? Oh be not so faithless, but rather believe! Oh, had I the power, God knows I would weep myself away in order to win your souls—

“But feeble our compassion proves
And can but weep where most it loves.”

I can do nothing but preach God’s gospel. But since the moment Christ forgave me, I cannot help speaking of His love. I turned away from His gospel and would have none of His reproofs. I cared not for His voice or His word. That blessed Bible lay unread. These knees refused to bend in prayer and my eyes looked on vanity. Has He not pardoned? Has He not forgiven? Yes! Then sooner may this tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth than cease to proclaim free grace in all its mighty displays of electing, redeeming, pardoning, and saving mercy!

Oh, how loud I ought to sing, seeing I am out of hell and delivered from condemnation! And if I am out of hell, why should not you be? Why should I be saved and not another? It was for sinners, remember, that Jesus came. Mary Magdalene, Saul of Tarsus—the very chief of sinners, were accepted and why do you foolishly conclude that you are cast out? Oh, poor Penitent, if you perish, you will be the FIRST penitent who ever did so! God give you His blessing, my dear friends, for Christ’s sake. Amen. Amen.