A Pardoning God!

Archibald G. Brown

May 28, 1871, Stepney Green Tabernacle

"Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy!" - Micah 7:18

"No God like Israel's God!" — this was the joyous boast of patriarch, psalmist, and all the prophets. Not only was it rung into the ears of the chosen people, that the 'Lord your God is One Lord' — but that their God was incomparable in himself and all his actions.

With what triumphant joy does Moses utter his song and extol his God before the assembled congregation of Israel. How defiant does the song become, as glorying in his Rock, he challenges all others to show its equal, and exclaims 'their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges'.

Well did Elijah, that prophet of fire, maintain the same when on Carmel's mount he dared all the prophets of Baal to the test; when before an assembled host he vindicated the honor of his God, and made the conscience-stricken crowd declare, 'The Lord, he is the God — the Lord, he is the God.'

The psalmist bids his harp sound forth the same bold strain, as he sings, 'Why should the heathen say, where is now their God?' And then lashing their idols with bitter sarcasm, continues, 'But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak; eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear; noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel; feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them!' Psalm 115:4-8

Grandly does Jehovah throw down the gauntlet through his servant Isaiah, and challenge all comparison. 'To whom then will you liken me, or shall I be equal? says the Holy One.' 'This is what the LORD says —  Israel's King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one! All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame!' Isaiah 44:6-9

God laughs to scorn all rivals. Idols, the work of men's hands, he spurns. Jehovah shares not his glories with another. Alone he is God, and incomparable are all his actions.

It is happy work to boast in the Lord. Good is it for the soul to get out of itself its petty cares and trials, and revel in what its God is. This holy boasting is an atmosphere that strengthens while it rests — it prepares the heart to endure suffering with patience, and makes it bold for any enterprise.

He who has a little God will always be a small saint. In proportion as we understand the grandeur of our God, will our spiritual manhood grow strong. Everything about our God is great and worthy of himself. Every attribute is that attribute in fullest perfection. Everything our God does is done in a God-like manner. All he is — all he has — all he does, is beyond compare.

Is he wise? Yes, he is the 'only wise God'. 

Is he potent? Yes, something more, for 'the Lord God omnipotent reigns.'

Is he holy? Yes, the Holy One — him before whom the angels veil their faces and cry, 'Holy — Holy — HOLY.' Thrice must the word be repeated to set forth the holiness of him they praise.

When his mercy is the theme, the holy writers seem as if they felt all language far too poor to describe its matchless worth, and so they heap words upon words, and thus in every verse of a whole psalm it is declared that 'His mercy endures forever.' He is the God, 'merciful' — or full of mercy, and all his mercies are 'tender mercies'; and his kindnesses 'loving kindnesses'.

But most transcendent is he in his pardons. Here indeed the incomparable God shines forth in glory all his own. His pardons, like himself, are infinite, and know no bounds or limit. Well may we sing in triumph
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?

My purpose this evening is, by the Lord's help to set forth before you the all-excelling nature of our God's forgiveness. This we shall try and do by asking six questions, each question like our text, challenging comparison.

I. Who pardons at SUCH A COST? Earthly pardons are cheap luxuries. Although often hard to get and difficult to give — yet most cost but the sacrifice of a little personal feeling. Let that go, and it is easy to forgive. I can easily imagine there are two here this evening who have long been severed in their friendship. Both feel a reconciliation ought to have taken place before this, 'But', they say, if spoken to on the subject, 'it is impossible.' Why? The simple reason is that neither is prepared to pay his share of the cost of a pardon, and that amounts to the sacrifice of a little personal pique, and a good deal of foolish pride. Neither likes to be the first to offer his hand. Both are waiting for each other, and so a miserable estrangement is carried on through weary months and years, because neither will exchange pride for pardon. O 'tis a thousand pities that when pardons are so cheap, they yet remain so scarce!

Turn now to the pardon of our God and see if it is not an incomparable one for cost. Before God could forgive a sinner in accordance with his infinite holiness and perfect justice, think what had to be done, sacrificed, and suffered. Measure God's desire to pardon by the obstacles his pardoning love overcame, and then you can form some idea of its intensity. No little sacrifice of feeling — no small surrender of pride would have availed here; something infinitely greater must be surrendered, and the sacrifice must be that of a Son.

God has fathomed his love and pity in one text, 'God SO loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish — but have everlasting life.' That little word 'so' contains more than Heaven or earth can describe. In it is the heart of God — in it is the depth of pardoning love. O think for a minute what that pardon cost that now makes your soul to sing for joy. You received it freely enough because another paid the price; but what was that price? It cost the Father the gift of his beloved Son — he who from eternity had dwelt in his bosom, must be surrendered and become incarnate. It cost the Son a price no lip can tell — and no heart can conceive.

Do you see him tied to yonder pillar — mark that awful scourge as it falls again and again upon his quivering flesh; do you note how deep the thongs cut, drawing blood at every stroke? Your pardon cost that! 'By his stripes we are healed.'

Follow him in that weary walk to Calvary — linger by him as fever courses through his veins, while head and hands and feet all drip with gore. Stay by him until his sacred head falls upon the breast, and his great heart breaks with anguish, and then looking up into that white countenance, say, 'My pardon cost Jesus that!'

Yes, no pardon could ever have come to guilty man had not an atonement been made that satisfied justice, honored the law, and magnified the holiness of God. Sweet work is it to trace the silver stream of forgiving love; and mark how it would flow on until it reached the sinner — yes, even though it flowed along the channel of a Savior's wounds.

Contrast, beloved, this evening the poor cheap pardons of man, often withheld because he will not sacrifice his foolish feelings or his paltry pride — with the rich costly pardons of our God, given at the price of his own Son — given through the agonies of Gethsemane and Golgotha. Contrast them until you sing with tearful joy.

Truly the poet is right when he says that the tenderest hearts have limits to their mercy. The most loving may have his compassion put to a test that shall prove the best of human love, is but human love at best.

With the generality however, the limit of forgiveness is soon reached. Many are the crimes marked down by men as 'unpardonable'. All Europe seems to agree in putting the wretched assassins and incendiaries of Paris beyond the pale of mercy or hope for pardon. Their hands are too red with blood — their outrages too gross and vile.

But behold God, and wonder at his pardoning love!! Man has revolted against him — murdered his servants — lighted his church with the fires of martyrdom — laughed to scorn and derided his Book, and even crucified his own Son — and yet he says to such red-handed rebels, 'Come now and let us reason together; though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.'

No sinner has ever yet been lost because his sins were too great for pardon. God's power and willingness to forgive, go beyond — yes, infinitely beyond — the greatest lengths of sin into which any desperate sinner has dared to run. Go bring me the vilest wretch that breathes God's air — out of depravity bring me the most depraved — one on whose head is accumulated the guilt of every sin, and every sin in its most aggravated and malignant form — one who has vice written in every line of his sin-stamped countenance, and Hell's hatred embossed in his heart; and I venture to say to such a one: 'There is mercy sufficient for you, and God's pardoning love reaches a deeper depth than your iniquity!'

Men are not damned because their sins surpass God's mercy — but because they refuse to accept it when offered. God's pardoning mercy is like the waters of the Red Sea when it rolled upon the Egyptian army; the captains and the charioteers were as much overwhelmed as the common footmen. The impetuous tide knew no distinction, it drowned Pharaoh with as much ease as the horses in his chariot; it swept in triumph over all alike. The great sins and the mighty sins are as easily drowned in the blood of Jesus, as those, which in our ignorance, we call but 'failings'. The depths of pardon cover them; they sink into the bottom as a stone; the sea covers them, they sink as lead in its mighty waters. O blessed deluge of forgiving mercy, surely this second question has stirred our hearts to highest gratitude, and put on every lip the adoring challenge —
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?


II. Who pardons so WILLINGLY? It is almost difficult to decide which calls for loudest praise, the pardon — or the way in which the pardon is bestowed. Not only is God incomparable in the forgivenesses he has — but also in the way he gives them. Human pardons are generally spoiled in the mode of bestowal. The bloom of their beauty is lost by the hot hand that holds them so long before it parts with them. Too often man's pardon is only the result of long pleading. It never gushed forth towards the guilty one with holy alacrity — but was wrung out by many an argument and plea; then when it came, how ungracious was it in its language. Who, among us, has not known what it is to be forgiven in such a way that we felt more miserable after the pardon than before, and inwardly resolved we would never ask another pardon from the man?

Henry Ward Beecher has well said: 'There is an ugly kind of forgiveness in this world — a kind of hedgehog forgiveness, shot out like quills. Men take one who has offended them and set him down before the blow-pipe of their indignation, and scorch him, and burn his fault into him, and when they have kneaded him with their fiery fists — then they forgive him.' How different the manner of our God — how infinitely higher in this matter are his ways than our ways.

I will show you an illustration or two of how the Lord forgives. Our Savior is sitting at table in the house of Simon the Pharisee, when a woman comes timidly to the door. The woman is too well known, her shame has been her living. She is a sinner — a disgraceful woman of the town. Respectable morality will
Make a wide sweep,
Lest she wander too near.

She is fallen, and sanctimonious Phariseeism would lose its caste if it was weak enough to pity. Something tells this poor creature that Jesus may be ventured near; perhaps she has marked a look of deep compassion on his face as she has passed him in the streets, and that look has broken her heart.

At all events she comes to where he is, and bending over his feet upon the couch, big tears begin to fall. The bold look of the past has gone; she can but sob as she remembers it. Her tears wet those blessed feet she has come to anoint with ointment; so stooping down, she uses her long tresses to wipe them.

The host at the head of the table looks on with scorn. He seems to have known the woman well, and says within himself, 'If he were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who touches him.' Jesus perceives his thoughts, rebukes him, and then turning to the weeping sinner, says, 'Your sins are forgiven; go in peace.' O the exquisite tenderness of our Lord in giving that guilty soul its pardon.

Yet again. The scribes and Pharisees bring unto him one day a woman taken in adultery. Here is, if anything, a greater sinner than the last. They demand that she should be stoned to death and ask his approval of the sentence. Appearing to be occupied in writing on the ground, he only for a moment looks up to say, 'He who is without sin, let him first cast a stone at her.' Convicted in their own consciences, they leave one by one, until only the woman remains. Jesus looks up again from the ground, and says to that guilty wife, 'Has no one condemned you?' And she said, 'No one, Lord.' 'Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.'

Could anything be more delicately done? Could reproof and pardon be more sweetly blended?

Would you yet know, dear friends, how God forgives? Then take his own picture in the parable of the prodigal son, and there in every line you will behold the beauty of his pardon. In the father who sees the prodigal 'afar off', who 'has compassion', who 'runs', who 'kisses', who interrupts even the confession of guilt, and puts the best robe on him at once. In all these things I behold my God who is 'ready to forgive,' and am compelled to sing
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?

III. Who pardons so FREQUENTLY? On this point there can be no question. No difference of opinion. The stock of man's pardons is very soon exhausted. I have no doubt Peter thought he displayed marvelous magnanimity when he said to the Lord, 'How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him; until seven times?' Seven times seemed to him a great many — but how few and small they looked after the Savior's answer. 'I say not unto you until seven times; but until seventy times seven.' How much greater was the divine idea of pardon than the human. Peter and Christ both consulted their own hearts — but how different the response.

But he who tells us to forgive our brother seventy times seven, forgives his brethren seventy million times seven, and more than that!

Never is there a minute when our God is not forgiving us. His pardoning love runs parallel with our erring life. I marvel not that Newton said, 'I am downright staggered at the exceeding riches of his grace. How Christ can go on pardoning day after day, hour after hour!!! Sometimes I feel almost afraid to ask for a fresh pardon for very shame!'

Who has not felt the same? The very multitude of God's pardons overwhelms. It would tire out any angel to write down all the pardons that God bestows on one of his children.

Dear friend, if indeed you are a Christian, then rejoice in the thought that you are always pardoned. True is it, even unto you, 'The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.' O, how precious is that present tense — 'cleanses' — keeps on cleansing, never ceasing in its purifying work. Being reconciled unto God, the friendship is ever maintained — sins are forgiven as soon as they are committed — wrongs are pardoned every moment — guilt is purged by precious blood every moment.

O bear me witness, saints of God, that his willingness to forgive has often amazed you — over and over again have you returned unto him after seasons of backsliding, until you felt ashamed to go again — you felt he could never forgive you any more, it was almost presumption on your part to ask for it; but at last you were obliged to seek his face, you could stay away no longer. With many a tear you told him how again you had fallen into the very sin that had been forgiven a thousand times, and how you felt you were no more worthy to be called his son.

How did he receive you? Never can you forget how he ran to meet you and, as if this was the first offence, hastened to give the kiss of forgiveness lest your heart should break with sorrow. Then did you indeed sing:
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?

IV. Who pardons so COMPLETELY? There is much that goes by the name of forgiveness, which is no true pardon at all. The tongue may declare that all is forgiven and forgotten — but let some fresh little difference arise, and all the past has a resurrection — old wrongs that have been buried for years, rise from their graves, all the more hideous for their partial burial. Forgiving love had never made clean work of it. The remembrance of the past wrongs still rankled in the breast, it required but a touch to remove the outer skin and reveal the festering wound beneath!

Or, to use another illustration, wrath's fire had never been put quite out, it had just smouldered for years, and a new wrong stirred the slumbering embers and made the old flames break out again.

Not so is it with the pardon of our God. It is as real in its nature, as comprehensive in its embrace — it is as true as oft repeated. God never brings old scores up again, or taunts with the past while he forgives the present. When he says 'forgiven', we are forgiven, and the sins he buries in the grave of pardoning love never live or are seen again. The grave is too deep for Hell to find them.

Have you ever, beloved, noticed the different terms employed in Scripture to set forth the forgiveness of our God? They are well worthy of study. Words and illustrations more expressive of completeness could not be found. I will mention one or two. Not only are they declared to be 'covered' — but 'washed' away. 'He has washed us from our sins in his own blood.' However perfectly anything may be covered, it yet exists, therefore the more expressive term of washing is employed. When a stain has been removed by purging, it is something more than hidden — it is clean gone, so entirely that the same can never be restored. A fresh sin may take its place — but the old sin is no more. Our previous question showed that the fresh sin shares the fate of the old.

As if 'washing' were not sufficiently forcible, a stronger word is also used: 'As for our transgressions, you shall purge them away', and again, 'When he had by himself purged our sins, he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.' Washing and purging imply thorough work.

Another beautiful emblem is that of 'blotting' them out. Just as the sun not only shines through the cloud but dissipates it — blots it out of existence and leaves nothing but the blue firmament over head, so says God, 'I have blotted out as a thick cloud your transgressions, and as a cloud your sins.' 'I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and will not remember your sins.' Our sins when pardoned are as the cloud that melts in the air — gone.

They are also declared to be 'removed', and that to an infinite distance: 'As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.' Who shall say where the east commences or where the west terminates? The distance is boundless. Yet as far as the furthest east is from the remotest west — so far has pardoning love taken our sins from us. They are not near you, believer, they have been carried by your scape-goat into an uninhabited land; so far that even the eye of God perceives them not.

Yet one more illustration and I think the loveliest of them all. You will find it in the chapter from which the text is taken and the 19th verse. 'You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea!' Notice here two beauties. First the number of sins that God takes away, 'ALL their sins.' Not one is left to tell the tale. Observe, secondly, where all the sins are cast: 'In the depths of the sea.' Not in any river lest like Kishon it should run dry and reveal the hidden crime. Not in the foam of the waves that break along the beach, lest when the tide went down they should be left high dry upon the shore. But 'in the depths'; far out to sea, where the waters cover the face of the deep. There God drops his people's sins! They are out of sight — eternally hidden — not only forgiven but forgotten — wondrous love!

Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?

5. Whose pardon is so FULL OF GRACE? Only a word or so on this division. However sweet human pardon may be, there is nothing gracious in it. There is not one reason why we should not forgive — there are millions why we should. Needing forgiveness ourselves of man, 'tis but our duty to forgive.

But why should God forgive us? What reasons can there be but those found in his own gracious purposes why he should pardon fallen man. The roots of pardoning love are in his own heart — and therefore the fruits appear on us. One says, 'It is a remarkable fact that the words in all European languages which express forgiveness or pardon, all imply free gift.' Here indeed our God stands forth incomparable, for 'Who has grace so rich and free?'

6. Whose pardon but his SUBDUES THE SIN? Most beautiful is the teaching of that sentence in the following verse to our text. He who pardons our iniquities, subdues them as well. The fond parent may forgive his child over and over again, and yet die of a broken heart through seeing that the more frequently he forgives, the more reckless does his son become. He has the love to pardon the sin — but not the power to subdue the sin. Blessed be God, he has both. While he forgives the result — he heals the cause. God subdues our iniquities, by forgiving them.

It is a great mistake to imagine that a consciousness of pardon will lead to an indifference about sin. Love is a mightier motive-power than fear; and gratitude for forgiveness will make the soul hate sin far more than a dread of lacking pardon. It is when we enjoy in the fullest measure the sweets of pardon felt — that we abhor our sins with deepest detestation. Is it not, dear child of God, a joyful thought, that while infinite love keeps on pardoning our ever recurring sins, infinite power is at the same time bringing our wayward hearts more and more under control? God is gradually putting our iniquities beneath his feet — and still pardoning them as they rise.

I will now conclude with a sentence or so of application. Believer, rejoice! rejoice!! rejoice!!! You are a traitor if you do not sing. The past is forgiven — the present is being forgiven — the future will be forgiven. You are surrounded by pardons, and they line the road to Heaven's gate. O triumph in your God tonight — let your soul make her boast in the Lord, and sing of pardon bought with blood.

Lost sinner, has this verse no word of hope to you? It has. It is all hope. While it stands part of inspired Writ, you never need despair. You say, 'But there is no sinner as bad as me!' Granted, and there is no God like our pardoning God. Let an incomparable sinner and an incomparable Savior meet tonight. You shall find his pardons are even greater and more numerous than your crimes.

I have read of a most hardened criminal who was condemned to death in the town of Ayr. It pleased the Lord, however, to save his soul while in prison, and so full was his assurance of pardoning mercy, that when he came to the place of execution, he could not help crying out to the people, 'Oh, he is a great forgiver! He is a great forgiver!' The Lord have mercy on you, my hearer, and then with us you will exclaim —
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?

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