Pardon for the Greatest Sinner

by Jonathan Edwards

“For thy name’s sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great.”
—Psalm 25:11

Doctrine: If we truly come to God for mercy, the greatness of our sin will be no impediment to pardon...The following things are needful in order that we truly come to God for mercy:

That we should see our misery and be sensible of our need of mercy. They who are not sensible of their misery cannot truly look to God for mercy, for it is the very notion of divine mercy that it is the goodness and grace of God to the miserable. Without misery in the object, there can be no exercise of mercy. To suppose mercy without supposing misery or pity without calamity is a contradiction. Therefore, men cannot look upon themselves as proper objects of mercy, unless they first know themselves to be miserable. So, unless this be the case, it is impossible that they should come to God for mercy. They must be sensible that they are the children of wrath, that the Law is against them, and that they are exposed to the curse of it: that the wrath of God abideth on them and that He is angry with them every day while they are under the guilt of sin. They must be sensible that it is a very dreadful thing to be the object of the wrath of God, that it is a very awful thing to have Him for their enemy, and that they cannot bear His wrath. They must be sensible that the guilt of sin makes them miserable creatures, whatever temporal enjoyments they have; that they can be no other than miserable, undone creatures, so long as God is angry with them; that they are without strength and must perish, and that eternally, unless God help them. They must see that their case is utterly desperate, for any thing that any one else can do for them; that they hang over the pit of eternal misery; and that they must necessarily drop into it, if God have not mercy on them...

1. The mercy of God is as sufficient for the pardon of the greatest sins, as for the least, because His mercy is infinite. That which is infinite is as much above what is great as it is above what is small. Thus, God being infinitely great, He is as much above kings as He is above beggars. He is as much above the highest angel, as He is above the meanest worm. One infinite measure doth not come any nearer to the extent of what is infinite than another. So the mercy of God being infinite, it must be as sufficient for the pardon of all sin as of one...

2. That the satisfaction of Christ is as sufficient for the removal of the greatest guilt as the least: “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1Jo 1:7). “And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Act 13:39). All the sins of those who truly come to God for mercy, let them be what they will, are satisfied for, if God be true Who tells us so. And if they be satisfied for, surely it is not incredible, that God should be ready to pardon them. So that Christ having fully satisfied for all sin, or having wrought out a satisfaction that is sufficient for all, it is now no way inconsistent with the glory of the divine attributes to pardon the greatest sins of those who in a right manner come unto Him for it. God may now pardon the greatest sinners without any prejudice to the honor of His holiness. The holiness of God will not suffer Him to give the least countenance to sin, but inclines Him to give proper testimonies of His hatred of it. But Christ having satisfied for sin, God can now love the sinner and give no countenance at all to sin, however great a sinner he may have been. It was a sufficient testimony of God’s abhorrence of sin that He poured out His wrath on His own dear Son, when He took the guilt of it upon Himself. Nothing can more show God’s abhorrence of sin than this...

God may, through Christ, pardon the greatest sinner without any prejudice to the honor of His majesty. The honor of the divine majesty indeed requires satisfaction, but the sufferings of Christ fully repair the injury. Let the contempt be ever so great, yet if so honorable a person as Christ undertakes to be a Mediator for the offender and suffers so much for him, it fully repairs the injury done to the Majesty of heaven and earth. The sufferings of Christ fully satisfy justice. The justice of God, as the supreme Governor and Judge of the world, requires the punishment of sin. The supreme Judge must judge the world according to a rule of justice...The Law is no impediment in the way of the pardon of the greatest sin, if men do but truly come to God for mercy: for Christ hath fulfilled the Law, He hath borne the curse of it, in His sufferings. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal 3:13).

3. Christ will not refuse to save the greatest sinners, who in a right manner come to God for mercy; for this is His work. It is His business to be a Savior of sinners; it is the work upon which He came into the world; and therefore He will not object to it. He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Mat 9:13). Sin is the very evil which He came into the world to remedy: therefore, He will not object to any man that he is very sinful. The more sinful he is, the more need of Christ. The sinfulness of man was the reason of Christ’s coming into the world...The physician will not make it an objection against healing a man who applies to him that he stands in great need of his help...

4. Herein doth the glory of grace by the redemption of Christ much consist, viz., in its sufficiency for the pardon of the greatest sinners. The whole [plan] of the way of salvation is for this end: to glorify the free grace of God. God had it on His heart from all eternity to glorify this attribute; and therefore it is, that the device of saving sinners by Christ was conceived. The greatness of divine grace appears very much in this: that God by Christ saves the greatest offenders. The greater the guilt of any sinner is the more glorious and wonderful is the grace manifested in his pardon: “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom 5:20)...The Redeemer is glorified, in that He proves sufficient to redeem those who are exceeding sinful, in that His blood proves sufficient to wash away the greatest guilt, in that He is able to save men to the uttermost, and in that He redeems even from the greatest misery. It is the honor of Christ to save the greatest sinners when they come to Him, as it is the honor of a physician that he cures the most desperate diseases or wounds. Therefore, no doubt, Christ will be willing to save the greatest sinners, if they come to Him. For He will not be backward to glorify Himself and to commend the value and virtue of His own blood. Seeing He hath so laid out Himself to redeem sinners, He will not be unwilling to show that He is able to redeem to the uttermost...If you see not the sufficiency of Christ to pardon you, without any righteousness of your own to recommend you, you never will come so as to be accepted of Him. The way to be accepted is to come—not on any such encouragement, that now you have made yourselves better, and more worthy, or not so unworthy, but—on the mere encouragement of Christ’s worthiness and God’s mercy.

From “Great Guilt No Obstacle to the Pardon of the Returning Sinner” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2, reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust.

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