The freedom of God's grace, and the greatness of his wisdom, shine forth most brightly in the dispensation of the gospel, and both of them beautify and illustrate one another. That there is, first, an expiation of sin by the blood of Jesus Christ, that a way is laid down of reconciling the world, and that by the blood of the cross, that peace is purchased and so preached unto sinners, as a thing already procured, and now only to be applied unto the soul by faith, -- herein doth the estimable riches of the grace of God expose itself to the view of angels and men. That the great work of redemption is ended, ere it come to us, and there remains nothing, but to publish it to the world, and invite us to come and receive it, and have a part in it, -- all is ready, the feast prepared, and set on the table, and there wants nothing but guests to eat of it, and these are daily called by the gospel to come to this table, which the wisdom of the Father hath prepared for us, without either our knowledge or concurrence. Besides, the very terms of proposing the gospel, speak forth absolute freedom. What can be more free and easy than this? Christ is sent to die for sinners, and to redeem them from the curse, -- only receive him, come to him, and believe in him. He hath undertaken to save, only do you consent too, and give up your name to him, -- ye have nothing to do to satisfy justice, or purchase salvation, only be willing that he do it for you, or rather acquiesce in that he hath done already, and rest on it. But how shall our sins be pardoned, and justice satisfied? Only confess your sins to him, and ye are forgiven, not for your confession, but for Christ, only acknowledge thine iniquity and wrongs, and he hath taken another way to repair his justice than by thy destruction and condemnation. He is so far from extending his justice against thee, that he is rather engaged upon his faithfulness and justice to forgive thee, because of his promise.
Yet, ye would not conceive so of this manner of proposal of forgiveness and salvation, as if the requiring of such a thing as repentance in thee were any derogation from the absoluteness of his grace for it is not required, either to the point of satisfaction to God's justice, and expiation of sin, for that is done already upon the cross. Christ was not offered to save sinners, he was not sent upon the previous condition of their repentance nay, "while we were yet enemies, Christ died for the ungodly." So that to the business of our redemption there was no concurrence upon our part nor influence upon it by our carriage, for he considered us as sinners, and miserable, and so saved us. And now, to the actual application of these preventing mercies, -- it is true, it is needful in the wise and reasonable dispensation of God, that sinners be brought to the knowledge and sensible acknowledgment of their sin and misery, and so be upon rational inducements of misery within, and mercy without, of self-indigency, and Christ's sufficiency, be drawn unto Jesus Christ, and so to a partaking of those purchased privileges of forgiveness of sin, peace with God, &c. I say, all this is so far from diminishing a jot of that absolute freedom of grace, that it rather jointly proclaims the riches of grace and wisdom both, that repentance should be given to an impenitent sinner, and faith freely bestowed on an unbelieving sinner, and withal, that remission and salvation, together with faith and repentance, should be brought to us by his death, while we were yet enemies, -- this doth declare the most unparalleled bounty and grace that the heart of man can imagine, and withal, that remission of sins is joined to confession, and salvation to faith, herein the wisdom of God triumphs, for what way is it possible to declare that freedom of grace, to the sensible conviction of a sinner, and so to demonstrate it to all men's consciences, except by making them return within, to see their own absolute unworthiness, vileness, and incorrespondency to such mercies, and so drawing an acknowledgment of his grace from the mouths and consciences of all? How shall a soul know that rich superabundant grace, if he know not the abundance of his sins? How shall he profess the one, except he withal confess the other? Let us imagine an impenitent sinner, continuing in rebellion, pardoned and forgiven: and is there any thing more contrary to common sense and reason, to be in God's favour, and yet not accepting that favour, to be a friend, and yet an enemy, to have sins forgiven, and yet not known, not confessed? These, I say, sound some plain dissonancy and discord to our very first apprehensions. Certainly, this is the way to declare the glory of his grace, in the hiding and covering of sin, even to discover sin to the sinner, else if God should hide sin, and it be hid withal from the conscience, both thy sin and God's grace should be hid and covered, neither the one nor the other would appear. Take it thus then, -- the confession of sin is not for this end, to have any casual influence upon thy remission, or to procure any more favour and liking with God, but it is simply this, the confession of sin is the most accommodate way of the profession and publication of the grace of God in the forgiving of sins. Faith and repentance are not set down as conditions pre-required on thy part, that may procure salvation or forgiveness, but they are inseparably annexed unto salvation and forgiveness, to the end that they may manifest to our sensible conviction, that grace and freedom of grace which shines in forgiveness and salvation.
"He is just and faithful," &c. Herein is the wonder of the grace of God increased, that when we are under an obligation to infinite punishment for sin, and bound guilty before his justice, that the "most great and potent Lord" who can easily rid himself of all his enemies, and do all his pleasure in heaven and earth, should come under an obligation to man to forgive him his sins. A strange exchange! Man is standing bound by the cords of his own sins over the justice of God, -- he is under that insoluble tie of guiltiness. God in the meantime is free, and loosed from the obligation of the first covenant, that is, his promise of giving life to man. We have loosed him from that voluntary engagement, and are bound under a curse. And yet, behold the permutation of grace, -- man is loosed from sin, to which he is bound, and God is bound to forgive sin, to which he was not bound. He enters into a new and voluntary engagement by his promise, and gives right to poor creatures to sue and seek forgiveness of him, according to his faithfulness. Yet in this plea, as it becomes us to use confidence, because he gives us ground by his promises, so we should season it with humility, knowing how infinitely free and voluntary his condescension is, being always mindful, that he may in righteousness exact punishment of us for sin, rather than we seek forgiveness from him. And yet seek it we ought, because he hath engaged his faithful promise, which opportunity to neglect, and not to improve, either through fear or security, were as high contempt and disobedience to him, as those sins by which we offend him.
Certainly, the very name of God, revealed to us or known by nature's light, those general characters of his name, mercy and goodness, power and greatness, might suffice to so much, as to make us, in the apprehensions of our own guiltiness and provocations of his holiness, to look no other way than to his own merciful and gracious nature. Suppose we had nothing of a promise from him, by which he is bound, yet, as the very apprehension of the general goodness, and unlimited bounty, and original happiness that is in God, ought naturally to draw the creature towards him in all its wants, to supplicate his fulness, that can supply all necessities, without lessening his own abundance, even so, if we did only apprehend that God is the fountain of mercy, and that he is infinitely above us and our injuries, and that all our being and well being eternally consists in his sole favour, this, I say, alone considered, might draw us to a pouring out our hearts before him, in the acknowledgment of our guiltiness, and casting ourselves upon his mercy, as the term is used in war, when there is no quarter promised, and no capitulation made. It is the last refuge of a desperate sinner, to render unto God upon mercy, to resign himself to his free disposal. Since I cannot but perish, may a soul say, without him, there is no way of escaping from his wrath, I will rather venture, and "go in to the King, and if I perish, I perish." There is more hope in this way to come to him, than to flee from him. Perhaps he may show an act of absolute sovereign goodness, and be as glorious in passing by an offence, as just in punishing it. Do I not see in man, in whom the divine Majesty hath imprinted some characters of conscience and honesty, that it is more generous and noble to forgive than to revenge? And do I not see generally among men, clemency and compassion are commended above severity and rigour, though just, especially towards those who are inferior, weak, unable to resist, and have yielded themselves to mercy. Now, shall I not much more apprehend that of God which I admire in a sinful man? Shall not that be most perfect in him which is but a maimed and broken piece of his image in lost man? Certainly, it is the glory of God to conceal an offence as well as to publish it, and he can show as much greatness and majesty in mercy as in justice, therefore I will wholly commit myself to him. I think a man ought to reason so, from the very natural knowledge he hath of God. But when ye have not only his name and nature published, but his word and promise so often proclaimed, himself come under some tie to receive and accept graciously all sinners that fly in under the shadow of his wings of mercy, then, O with how much persuasion and boldness should we come to him, and lay open our sins before him, who not only may pardon them, and not only is likely to do it, seeing he hath a gracious nature, but certainly will pardon them, cannot but do it, because his faithfulness requireth it! Certainly, he hath superadded his word to his name, his promise to his nature, to confirm our faith, and give us ample ground of strong consolation.
There is another more suitable notion about the justice of God, in forgiving sin. It hath some truth in the thing itself, but whether it be imported here, I dare not certainly affirm. Some take his faithfulness in relation to his word of promise, and his justice in relation to the price and ransom paid by Christ, importing as much as this -- whatever sinner comes to God in Christ, confessing his own guiltiness in sincerity, and supplicating for pardon, he cannot in justice refuse to give it out unto them, since he hath taken complete satisfaction of Christ. When a sinner seeks a discharge of all sin, by virtue of that blood, the Lord is bound by his own justice to give it out and to write a free remission to them, since he is fully paid, he cannot but discharge us, and cancel our bonds. So then a poor sinner that desires mercy, and would forsake sin, hath a twofold ground to suit(247) this forgiveness upon -- Christ's blood, and God's own word, Christ's purchase and payment, and the Father's promise, he is just and righteous, and therefore he cannot deny the one, nor yet take two satisfactions, two payments for one debt, and he is faithful, so he cannot but stand to the other, that is, his promise, and thus is forgiveness ascertained and assured unto the confessing sinner. If any would take this in relation to confession, as if it reflected upon that which preceded, and the meaning should be, if any man confess his sin, he is just to requite confession with remission, -- he cannot in righteousness deny one that deserves it, he is just to return some suitable recompense to such a humble confession, this sense were a perverting of the whole gospel, and would overturn the foundations of grace. For there is no connection between our confession and his remission but that which the absolute good pleasure of his will hath made, besides, that repentance is as free grace given from the exalted Prince, as remission of sins is.