In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
The earlier verses of this chapter contain Paul's conception of the Divine ideal of human nature. It was the Divine purpose "before the foundation of the world" that men should share the life and sonship of the eternal Son of God. It was for this that human nature received its wonderful capacities. Its sanctity and righteousness were to be secured by union with Christ. The human race was to be a great spiritual organism, having Christ for the root of its life and blessedness. Abiding in Christ, the race was to abide in God; and only by abiding in Christ could the race achieve the perfection and glory for which it was created. But the Divine purpose did not suppress human freedom. It could be fulfilled only by the free concurrence of the race with the Divine righteousness and love; and the whole order of the development of the Divine thought has been disturbed by sin. In His infinite goodness God has delivered us from the immense catastrophe which came upon us through our revolt against His authority. In Christ we have redemption and forgiveness.
I. WHAT FORGIVENESS IS NOT.
1. Forgiveness is not a change in our minds towards God, but a change in God's mind towards us. Take an illustration. A son has been guilty of flagrant misconduct towards his father; has insulted him, slandered his character, robbed him, and almost ruined him. The son discovers his guilt and is greatly distressed. He does all he can to atone for his wickedness. He has become a better man, and there is a great change in his mind and conduct towards his father. But it is possible for all the change to be on one side. He may be unable to remove or even to lessen his father's indignation against him. His father may continue for years bitter, relentless, unforgiving. I do not mean to suggest that God will be hard with us when we repent; but if we are to have any clear and true thoughts about this subject we must see distinctly that it is one thing for us to repent of sin and to become better, and quite another thing for God to forgive us.
2. Nor must the Divine forgiveness be confounded with peace of conscience. I have known many people who were restless and unhappy, dissatisfied with themselves, and unable to find any rest of heart in the Divine mercy. The reason was plain: they were not troubled by the Divine hostility to their sin, and therefore the assurance that God was willing to forgive them afforded them no relief. It was not God's thoughts about them that occasioned their distress, but their own thoughts about themselves. They did not want to obtain the Divine forgiveness, but to recover their own self-respect, which had been wounded by the discovery of their moral imperfections. But it is clearly one thing for God to be at peace with us, and quite a different thing for us to be at peace with ourselves.
3. We must not suppose that as soon as God forgives us we escape at once from the painful and just consequences of our sins. The sins may be forgiven, and yet many of the penalties which they have brought upon us may remain. There is a certain alliance between the laws of nature and the laws of righteousness, and there is a similar alliance between the natural laws of society and the laws of righteousness. No Divine act arrests the operation of the natural laws which punish the penitent for his former drunkenness. There are vices, such as flagrant lying, gross treachery, deliberate dishonesty, which involve a man in heavy social penalties. He does not escape these penalties when he repents of the vices and receives the Divine pardon. He is maimed for life. His chances are lost. He will recover with difficulty the confidence of even kindly and generous men. Positions of public trust and honour will be closed against him, He will be excluded from many kinds of usefulness.
II. WHAT IT IS FOR GOD TO FORGIVE SINS.
1. Forgiveness among ourselves implies that there has been just resentment against the person whom we forgive, resentment provoked by his wrongdoing. When we forgive him the resentment ceases. And so also does God regard, not with disapproval only, but with resentment, those who sin; and when He forgives men, His resentment ceases.
2. When God forgives, He actually remits our sin. Our responsibility for it ceases. The guilt of it is no longer ours. When His resentment against us ceases, the eternal law of righteousness ceases to be hostile to us. When He pardons our transgressions, the eternal law of righteousness no longer holds us responsible for them. The shadow which they had projected across our life, and which lengthened with our lengthening years, passes away. We look back upon the sins which God has forgiven and we condemn them still, but the condemnation does not fall upon ourselves; for God, who is the living law of righteousness, condemns us no longer.
3. The peace and blessedness of this release from guilt are wonderful. The soul is conscious of a Divine freedom. It can approach God with happy trust and with perfect courage, for the past is no longer a source of terror, and the future is bright with immortal hope.
(R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;