Forgiveness and the Cross
“There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” Psa_130:4
“In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” Col_1:14
There are millions of people for whom divine forgiveness is a great and thrilling fact. They could no more doubt it than they could doubt their being. Quite possibly they do not understand it, but one can enjoy things he doesn’t understand. We daily use and enjoy a hundred things of whose nature we are ignorant. I light my room with electricity or revel in a glorious summer morning though I know practically nothing about electricity or the sun. And among these things stands out divine forgiveness as the greatest. For millions it is an experienced reality. It is the spring of joy, the source of liberty, the starting-point of victorious endeavor. Forgiven, the barriers are gone that raised themselves between the soul and God. Estrangement from their Creator has given place to sweet communion.
Why Was the Death of Jesus Necessary?
But the difficulty for many people is how forgiveness comes through the death of the Lord Jesus. Why can’t a God of love forgive His children as the father of the prodigal forgave his son? When a wife forgives her husband, she doesn’t need the intervention of another. She forgives him just because she loves him with a love that expects a brighter tomorrow. When a father forgives his erring child, it is a private and personal transaction where the intrusion of anyone else would be impertinence. Why, then, should our heavenly Father call for more than a repentant heart? Why should restoration to communion demand the agony and death of Jesus?
This difficulty is often aggravated by the glorious ringing note of the Old Testament: “There is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared, and plenteous redemption that thou mayest be sought unto.” Well, men say, that is enough for me, I needn’t complicate matters by the cross; and they forget that the Old Testament is never final but rather God’s avenue leading to the new. I give a child an apple, and tell him to eat it for it is good for him. It is only afterwards that the child learns why that apple should be healthful. A little boy puts coals on the fire, confident that they will warm the room. But why the coals should have their warming properties he only learns when he goes to school or college. That is heaven’s universal ordering, first the fact and then the explanation. Life would be impossible to live if we could not use things till we understood them. And as God orders the whole of human life, so He does with Scripture, first proclaiming the eternal truth and then showing us the secret of it. The cross of the New Testament is not an intrusion on an old simplicity. The cross does not complicate forgiveness: it explains it and shows how it is possible. “There is forgiveness with thee,” cries the psalmist; and the New Testament interprets that—Yes, there is forgiveness through the blood.
God’s Divine Assurance
Surely it is evident that without the cross we could have no assurance of divine forgiveness. It is only in the life and death of Jesus that we can be perfectly sure of a forgiving God. God reveals Himself in nature. Could we be perfectly certain of forgiveness there? Even though nature carries glimpses of it, are these sufficient to assure the heart? Neither in nature nor in human history is there the luminous proof the sinner needs that there is forgiveness with God. That proof is given in Christ, and in Christ only. Only in the life and death of Christ can we be perfectly sure that God forgives. When we see Him dying on the cross for us in a redeeming love that traveled to the uttermost, God’s forgiveness becomes certainty. A child in his earthly home needs no such argument. He is perfectly familiar with his father. He sees him every evening and has his kiss before he falls asleep. But the heavenly Father is different from that—-clouds and darkness are about His throne—and so His children need for their assurance something that our children never do.
Again, we must not forget that earthly fatherhood can never exhaust the fullness of the Deity. In Him lies the fount of moral order without which life would be intolerable. A father at home who is a judge may freely forgive his child, but he cannot act like that on the bench. The morale of the State would go to pieces if the judge were to act just as the father does. He is to administer the law, and were every repentant prisoner forgiven, law would become a byword and a joke. That, as one of the Reformers put it, was a problem worthy of God—how to maintain and magnify the law, and yet freely forgive the transgressor; and God’s answer is the cross of Christ. There we learn what heaven thinks of sin. There sin is seen in all its awfulness. There we behold the grandeur of the law in the very glance that tells us of forgiveness. The pardon of God is not the worthless pardon of an easy and tolerant good nature. He is just, and the justifier of all them that believe.