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Of course, we are all sinners. To be human and on this earth, except in the case of the Lord Jesus Christ MEANS that one is a sinner. That is constitutive, the nature of the case.
But there are two obvious differences amongst mankind, as sinners. Some know their place; some ignore it. You have the Pharisee and the Publican; you have the decent chap, the good type, the sober citizen, call him/her what you will, who is too good for Christ, and who will find heaven through sheer good nature, or so would this one think. You have the person in other words, who is to good to be saved, who therefore is good enough to be lost. Then, on the other hand, you have the poor creature who knows that God's mercy must be as deep as his sin if he is to be fitted for the divine friendship; and knows moreover that his sin is as deep as his soul. You had these two in Jesus' day, the good chap sure of his stars and of himself, and the poor sinner, sure of his God and in search of His mercy.
The other difference I have in mind is this. Some are sons and daughters, and some are strangers. Some men are forgiven; some are steep in sin. Some know their Father and abide in Him, though often washed and always watched; others do not belong to His house and sin by indifference and ignorance without cease (Ephesians 2:12; and I John 3:1-9 - the latter referring to not "making a practice of sin" - not of course to 'never committing a sin', in the Greek, cf. I John 1:7-2:1).
There is a difference of allegiance and respect and therefore of the whole manner of living. Some are with God; some are without God; and thee are without mercy. It may touch them, it does not hold them; it is not theirs. Thus Jesus said: "I came not to call he righteous but sinners to repentance" - Matthew 9:13. Mercy is for sinners only. People who think sin is a mirage will surely find that mercy is no oasis. You can ignore the cancer, the doctor and the drug; but you cannot ignore death.
For sinners only, who recognise that in themselves they are sinners, that in their flesh their flesh is no good thing, nothing that can justify them before God, that all goodness is from God on whom and whose mercy we depend absolutely: God has a word, and it is found our text:
"Who is a God like You,
And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?
He does not
retain His anger forever,
Because He delight in mercy.
He will again
have compassion on us,
And will subdue our iniquities.
You will cast
all their sins
Into the depths of the sea.
You will give
truth to Jacob
And mercy to Abraham,
Which You have sworn to our fathers
From days of old" -
We take 7:18-19, and for verse 20's significance here, see Item 17, above.
"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God, for He will have mercy and abundantly pardon" - proclaims Isaiah in 55: 7.
Notice first the fact that God is READY to forgive. How many rack their souls with serious doubts about His acceptance of them; or with torturous self-accusations - why? Because hey forget or will not hear or even do not know that God can forgive. He pardons and uncoils the tangle of sin.
Secondly, note how deep this mercy is . God is not eager to charge the bill! He is not a spiritual skinflint. Not that He is forgetful and indifferent to the fact of the damage and debts and debris which sin brings, when it spoils what He made. Not that. But God is out to pardon.
Foxes are out for blood; but God is a hunter of pardon. In the film Tom Jones one sees the exuberance of the hunt, to take it at a different level, the flying, flinging dash and desire as the huntsman seek their quarry. If the subject can be distasteful, let the enthusiastic desire speak as to atmosphere. Not however for the kill but for the deliverance our God is ardent; not to damage but to rescue, not to exact the penalty but to remit it. So eager is He that He has DONE what it takes on the Cross of Calvary, and this represents in a mark of time the desire of eternity, never frustrated, for He did it well; never failing, for He triumphed in His plan; never contained, for death parted its doors to Him, since it could not hold Him, nor cling successfully to His body, which arose and walked and left death the penalty for those who desire it, and not mercy.
You see it in sheep shearing likewise, an image of this marvel, this wonder, this love and compassion with legs and arms and feet and heart and practical action, this plan of salvation. How is this? - you ask. Consider the labourer with tired back and aching arms, with sweat and endurance mixed, while he toils. More remain and his strength is at an end. Someone comes, a friend and asks to take over while he rests. He offers relief, rescue, so that the delight of deliverance may be for him who shears. As much as the RELIEF would delight the shearer, so does GIVING RELIEF delight the Lord!
For the Lord does not retain His anger for ever BECAUSE HE DELIGHTS IN MERCY.
If the shearer went on, injured his back and was in strife, would you blame "his circumstances" ? not at all. Least of all would you blame the one who offered relief and deliverance freely, because it was in his heart to do so! Yet people will often blame God whom they do not accept, and chant away about pain and suffering and evil, which they refuse to help by being brought out of the way of it, and into the kingdom of heaven, so that they in the Lord, may also show mercy.
What do we find in man, that small paperback edition which God has made of Himself, diminuendo? What we do discover in man? in this one, creation not Creator, yet parallel in this, that he may create and love and have fellowship with God Himself - on His terms, the conditions of His mercy in the New Covenant in His blood which Christ, at the pinnacle of mercy, shed for redemption of all who come to Him, who come to Him in repentance and faith as God the Son, the only Saviour (Act 4:11-12).
In man this quality of mercy is also deep - sometimes hidden in the mire of hard thoughts or calloused spirit: but it is there. Giving and receiving mercy is a practice more precious to the lively soul, than the Stock Exchange to the financier. It is the coin of life. It is like a diamond - every angle revels new strength and beauty - it is in the heart of God Himself. Shakespeare in the Merchant of Venice has a picture which is known to many. There is the angry money lender, suing the man who was indebted to him, determined to get his pound of flesh'; but he was rebuked by the sharp-sighted lawyer - Portia - who cried:
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath; It is twice blessed;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes -
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest - it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown ...
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is an attribute of God himself...
MERCY IS AN ATTRIBUTE OF GOD HIMSELF! More than this, HE DELIGHTS IN MERCY! More thrust to Him is in this than the fastest speed to the racing driver, the best smash to the tennis player, the bravest deed to the soldier. Mercy is in the heart of God, whose goodness like beneficial lava, flows from His inward depth; like waters in the desert, perfumes in the Spring, comes mercy from the Lord. It is HIS, and He loves to give. His mercy may be rendered: lovingkindness, but it has this flavour, the word indicating a lovingkindness of faithful mien and dismissive proclivity, that would redeem, deliver and rescue, and that has put the cost behind and the offer in front. How blessed to hear this Gospel! How marvellous this mercy! How amazing that it is from God Himself!
How staggering that His only begotten Son, the One sent from the eternities of heaven, His everlasting word, should shower this mercy through a life so perfect and pure, a love so intense and yet unmanoeuvred by man and a death with such solemnity and force that it simultaneously portrayed the follies of man in the disfigurement they accorded Him, and provided the portrait of the judgment on sin, in His bearing of it for those who should receive Him, even then.
love from His heart, ,
and that treatment accorded
from the very heart of this global realm of shame,
He went to the death and then arose from the dead,
with extreme and surgical neatness vacating the tomb
and presenting Himself, apt for handling to verify, and to eat,
in the solitary such act in the history of the world.
(Cf. John 20:5-7, Luke 24:25-43, I Corinthians 15:12-22, SMR pp. 931ff., esp. 936ff., 457ff., esp. 468ff..)
But let us return to our Shakespearean illustration.
The wily money lender,
whose ambition and avarice, whose hate indeed, had sought vengeance for insults
both real and imagined, who had planned to take embarrassment to its climax by
demanding, as per contract, a pound of the merchant's flesh if the contracted
dealing was not fulfilled: he was outwitted. Just as he refused to show mercy
to the merchant, so
Thus the Bible is behind even the tenor of this, for does it not say, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Indeed, a small booklet, The Gospel according to Shakespeare presents such a scope of Biblical doctrine and evangelical prongs that one is amazed at this author, justly famed and perhaps in this world's productions, the greatest of all literary artists. It is not for nothing that his depth is such, and that its source is what it is! Such is man, and so may he be depicted, for such depths are real.
Blessed are the merciful ... but if mercy is not in you, how is God in you: for God Himself is merciful. (See Psalm 72:6, 65:9-10, 13:5, 32:10, 103:11-14, Matthew 6:15!)
Notice thirdly the glow of joy in this mercy. The Bible is full of this. Speaking of Christ who was (then) to come, David said:
Thus in Psalm 102:19-22, we read of this same mercy:
At that time, it was still to come, but mercy was assailed and the Messiah murdered, but again, He arose in mercy that in strength He might deliver those who call, even from death itself. It is mercy, the beauty of mercy all the way.
Have you ever considered that picture of rain on the mown grass as in Psalm 72, of the Messiah. How beautiful it is, the drops clinging to the cut edges of the grass, the light shining at times in this drop or that, all the colours of the rainbow through the spectrum of an individual drop here, or there, as shafts of sunshine delicately touch the little orbs of water which result from the rain. So it is with Christ, His mercy is individual, delicate and pure, and in it there is the light of great beauty and much peace. Look at Isaiah 54:10-14, where the mercy of the Lord is so intense, and soon focussed in Isaiah 55 in the One who redeems for nothing; though the cost to Him is clear enough, in Isaiah 52-53! There is lovingkindness, the love of God, the mercy of God, the faithfulness of God. Small wonder we find this in Titus 3:4-5:
Blessed, says Jesus - Oh how happy are merciful people! Have you recently thought what it is to be shown mercy ? To have the wrangling tangle of shortcomings, shortsightedness and unmemorable events ... removed, melt... simply go ? Consider our text:
Not merely is the sin to be subjected to everlasting redemption, or its subject through the payment of redemption (Hebrews , but it is to be overcome, so that it is not the tempest which tosses, the force which controls or the blight which invades (Hebrews -14). Present? yes. Domineering? No More. That is what John is saying in I John 3.
Let us look again at the
word of God on this theme. Jeremiah declares, in :
"O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing."
This reminds us again of our text,
Then again, Jeremiah protests (Lamentations ):
"It is because of Your mercies that we are not consumed!" -not burnt up, for "our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews ).
There, that is magnificent. EVEN THOUGH His righteousness is intense, and His garbage collection rigorous, yet His mercy reaches into the midst; He even became a garbage collector in Christ, for God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. Many will not, but He did not come to condemn but to save. The final departures are to come; but now is the day of salvation, and what a long day it is has been (see Item 17above, The Everlasting Gospel, which so fits in history, as the Everlasting Mercy shines forth from God Himself, with Everlasting Life His gift (I John 1:1-4), just as it has come for us, and we may receive Him, and with Him, this life, fraught with mercy. Small wonder John exclaims (I John 3:1):
It is for this reason, he continues, that the world does not know us, because it did not know Christ!
Fervently the saints feel the need of mercy, its blessedness, its joy. Equally they know that scorching plain justice would bring them. Free is mercy; fierce is justice; where is forgiveness?
It has its place in the heart of mercy. Lovingkindness supplies it: for is it not true that "mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other" ! It was a very expensive kiss, introduced in its beauty by that of the false Judas. There was the active preliminary to the scorching aridity of the death of Christ, separated from the active communion with His Father just as the full burden of sin landed on Him (cf. Isaiah 59:1, 53:6) for all whom He should heal.
The New Testament word for forgiveness suggests a willingness to let go, to let
off, to turn away a penalty, to remit a debt. It suggests a letting be, at cost
to the merciful.
Now that we have cleared the ground a little, let us examine some of the chief points of our text.
GOD'S ATTITUDE ...
IN THE BEAUTY OF TRUTH:
"WHO is a God like You!"
Now this question can bear only one answer. There is no one. The young man may feel that his young bride is above all others; and a species of love may blind him; but it may indeed be true that she is more perfectly a match for him than any other. Beautiful though this is, yet it is but a picture of the ultimate sublimity. Indeed, with God it is different. It is here a plain objective fact that there is none like Him in greatness (cf. Psalm 89:6-7), none His equal in goodness (Psalm 103). He is not only Master of the Universe, but its Maker. His greatness moreover lies not only in this, but in the quality of His pursuits. The text invites us to consider something of these in the field of mercy.
HE PERFECTLY PARDONS INIQUITY
This is absolutely different from ignoring it, or redefining it. One magazine recently had an article on automatic forgiveness BY school children of someone who murdered one of them. It poured scorn on the concept of such automation of mercy. It is of course true that it was not primarily against them that the offence was committed. It was against the person murdered, his family and his Maker. Still, it was an offence to remove someone like that, at the fellowship level. They COULD forgive in the sense that the welfare of the murderer would still be sought, within mercy and justice.
Did they HAVE to forgive? This is where soppy sociology can intervene. They assuredly do NOT; no one can force such an action. SHOULD they, however, in the sight of the Almighty forgive such a thing? If it is not repented of, then it is not removed; it is still an action held right and sustained by the culprit. In that case, though in love they seek his good, in truth they do accept his attitude or spirit, and that is choice. A forgiving spirit, not a pardoning act, since first, it is not theirs to pardon the act, and second, the active evil is still there.
It is INIQUITY that God pardons - so defined, transgression of His ways, truth and righteousness. It is NOT pardoned if it is not iniquity that is pardoned; and it is not available for pardon if the pardon is not accepted, nor is the pardon given if it is not accepted; which is all another way of saying that REPENTANCE is a first essential for mercy. Thus Luke 13:1-3, EXCEPT YOU REPENT, you will all likewise perish!
When God pardons, the evil is not suppressed, but expressed and held as in a vice, and surrendered, led to the Cross where its cancellation of punitive consequences occurs, towards God. It is then depicted on the Cross, and overcome in the resurrection. When, then, you pardon, you are very well aware of the evil you quash. In fact, you view it so seriously that you bring it to light and make an act of will by which it is carefully and conscientiously laid to rest. The pardon is free, but on terms for acceptance.
The thing is laid to rest, like a corpse, it is buried. Yet it is unlike this: for the body will be resurrected; while the sin God so pardons is never resurrected. "Their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more" (Hebrew ). God "will be merciful to their unrighteousnesses". This non-remembering, or imputation of righteousness, this forgiveness you can then be sure of, for God says so, and He is careful; He carries out His word (Joel 2:11, Isaiah 444:25-27) and keeps His eye on what He is doing. He is neither lax nor carping. A sin is either pardoned or not pardoned; but when it is pardoned, it is forgotten. His word, quite simply, is truth (Matthew 4:4, John ).
We should learn the lesson, that God, properly approached through Christ, will forget the guilt (II Cor. 5:19-21, Galatians 3:10-13). The question is this: Do you believe? and hence receive, and so accepting the Lord in His Person as Saviour and His work in salvation, gain redemption of your transgressions (Hebrews 9:11-15), declaring His Lordship clearly (Romans 10:9) as the natural result of the reality that then lies within - lies, yes and springs up with refreshing beauty that cannot be ignored (John 7:37, 4:14. For the one will more surely lead to the other than dawn to the rising of the sun above the horizon - whether it be seen or not, in our era and world!
If a person believes, then let that one make a careful and conscious approach to the Lord and in terms of His offered mercy, take it, His offered way of providing it at the Cross, accept it, required allegiance as to the Lord, give it, and basking in the beauty of His holiness, be transformed, by His power delivered not only formally but functionally, in mind, in body, in spirit and in eternity (John 1:1-14). God has come out for you; then you come out for Him, and you are His. Then there is a peace this world can only dream of, for the pardon is effectual not only as it were in law, but in life. God has then buried your sin, and what is there left?
There is friendship with God. Small wonder Isaiah in 26 speaks of the "perfect peace" or literally "peace, peace" which is precisely what Christ said, Peace, be to you... when He met the disciples after the resurrection, on the first Sunday worship on the new day of rest. Then He said it again. Indeed, in John 14 as He was preparing them for His great work, He declared to them:
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you" - John . Again it is twice given, like the murmuring of the stream, resembling the voice like many waters.
As we shall see, that glad funeral, the burial of sin is strongly related.
2. GOD'S DELIGHTED PROVISION
THE BURIAL OF SIN - PASSING OVER, PAYING AND BRINGING PEACE
That is the second aspect of the pardon. It is not only from the heart, and beautiful in peace, but it is objectively cancelled, buried, paid for, costed and crushed. He is like a lawyer who takes the case, knowing it will be victory, because He has already paid the penalty which none but He can exact.
Thus it is no indulgent delight which so shrives sin. It is no careless gesture. If He pardons there is a reason: He delights in mercy and has taken all necessary steps to implement it. THAT is past. YOUR future in Him, when you come, is FUTURE, but the peace is always PRESENT, because it is grounded in fact, fact HE has created on the Cross (Galatians ).
He WAS angry (cf. Romans -20). Paul tells us there that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against the suppressive ways of man, towards the truth. We are told that He will NOT RETAIN HIS ANGER for ever. These TWO things we are told, but the junction between them is that He prepared to pass over the iniquity of believers, to turn again, to have compassion. Not subject to moods, God is offering pardon with delight, blessing with bounty, but not without cost or cleansing. ALL, all says Paul (Romans ) have sinned.
(Jer. 2:35). Because you say I have not sinned, says the Lord through Jeremiah, He would act. Indeed the action was quite utterly devastating. How often however did He offer pardon first, in how many ways, through images, through actions, through protests, exhortations; but the mule would not come. It preferred its ditch. Enlightened and wilful mules that refuse the deliverance are not the subject of quite the same pity as those who are not in a position to find mercy at all!
It is only God who has no guilt in this matter. Nor is it, then, the case that He is not exercised. He is angry, without the remedy, and the anger is most deserved. His mercy is great, but the mischief is not acceptable; though the mercy penetrates into the depths. Penetrate it must, if life is to be saved. Salvation is not an emotional luxury, but a thrusting necessity (Acts -12). You might well be angry if your child were bruised, battered or misled physically or morally; and God MADE you! If your child wilfully pursued a way that would ruin him/her, his would not be easy to bear: God IS angry. But because He delighted in mercy there is a place for pardon, for passing over a recognised and confessed sinfulness. God faces facts - He made them and our actions become part of them as the freedom He conferred is utilised or misutilised; and there is real wrong and real ruin and real anger. It is all real, and so was the Cross. Religion is not dreams; it is reality.
We must emphasise that with the liberality of payment there is a correlative or parallel liberality of spirit. If people are called on to forgive, they may be tempted to put on a stiff face and just manage to 'pardon' someone a very real injury. 'Life is hard enough,' a man may reflect. 'Without your injuries on top of my normal problems, it would have been enough. However,' the stinting sufferer might continue in his mind, 'I will stretch my wings, feel like a hero, curb my snarl, hate you like poison for giving me this trouble, and carefully feeling angelic, mutter with greatly expanded grace: "Oh! It's all right. Let's forget it!"'
But God is far above that as the heaven above the earth. Indeed, does He not express as much in Isaiah 55:7-8, when, telling of His abundant pardoning, He proceeds:
To forgive for God, when the way is prepared and the price is accepted which he has provided, to forgive for Him will bring a much heightened form of the joy which we gain in the meeting of our highest desires. To forgive for Him will bring something sweet and lofty like the joy of attainment, of deliverance. He actually forgives happily, freely. But see how far beyond our text takes us : He takes delight in it. It is a joyful morning for Him when He is forgiving someone. Yet we are still far below the plane at which God works in mercy. It is an extreme pleasure; He relishes it even more than this. That? It is because He is GOOD. The righteous Lord loves righteousness, and the gracious Lord loves mercy.
A worldly man say bets and wins 100,000 dollars. He is delighted, overjoyed. Very well. Now when God shows mercy, it is like that bet; but it is good, not evil. It is giving , not grasping. It is a passionate grace, a joy of almost inexpressible magnitude. He actually delights in showing mercy and in passing over the reminder of the transgressions. He is not keen to assess and demand, but to secure dismissal of the evil. The 99 are safe, but the exquisite joy arises when the hundredth sheep comes home! There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 just persons.... (Luke 15:7,10).
Therefore to seek
forgiveness, always in the filter of the Cross, it is not to bore Him; He has
provided. It is to delight Him. For one to see the gravity of the offence and
to seek the place of pardon is for God a matter of joy which is communicated in
measure to the heart of the sinner, who so filled with joy inexpressible and
full of glory as he/she is brought into the presence of that great Spirit, that
great God and Saviour whose face is shown in Jesus Christ
( I Peter 1, Titus 2:13). God is like that. He is like no other.
A. WHAT MERCY IS NOT - AUTOMATIC
Yet there is nothing automatic about the mercy of God. Love is not programmable, though it is practical. Our text tells us that God will turn again. How may we know that He will turn ?
Certainly He will not run after us, stuffing forgiveness into our back trouser pockets at we run away from Him. You recall the rich young ruler, who, when he went sorrowing because the cost of being a personal disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ was just too much for his exchequer department, did not run to follow him...
We can ask Him to turn us. At another place, the Scripture says, Turn me and I shall be turned (Jeremiah 31:18). God's willingness will not replace our unwillingness. He may let us have our way in being wayward. God is the judge. But this is true: we must turn and He can turn us. It says so.
While, then, God is beyond our wills, our wills are not beyond God; we must be very careful to come when He calls, to hear when He speaks, to be saved; or to be sanctified form sin; or to be forgiven for some repressed fault. To His disciples Jesus said: Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. Again the word of God says, Proverbs 1,
Read that chapter of Proverbs, for it is most impactive.
God knows who are His ( II Timothy ), and surely with it comes the word, Let him who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity. It is sweet severance; but it is also sure, it is certain. It is all real, personal, girded with propositions, covered with covenant, preceded by foreknowledge, enshrined in predestination, a preliminary which includes and incorporates that very love of God which in history, will be seen. It is the insurance that guarantees no errors, and there is no error in this love, in this mercy; except when it is spurned by the sinner for the depravities of hell, whether the self-righteous quarter or the sunken subsidences. Untruth cannot live in heaven; and those who foster it will not be at home in that place. NEVER however is the clean fear of the Lord misplaced; and never is there ground for complaint. AT ONCE, if you seek Him, there is the provision; and if you do not, there is your will. You have your will!
Again read Luke 19:42, the
Lord's lament: O
"If you had known, even you, at least in this your day, the things which belong to your peace! but now they are hidden from your eyes ... "
If you cannot read that, is it not time to open the eyes!
There is love in its full restraint and its overflowing feeling, the spirit of pity spurned, all together. Nor is it mere feeling; for the nails felt like nails, and the territorial waters of sin which flooded about Him when He bore it, felt like sin in its volumes and depths. (Cf. Item 17 above, p. 117.) But feeling there is as well as action, and adequate action, and the case is wonderful, because of this, that GOD DELIGHTS IN MERCY. You do not need to ascend to heaven to bring Him down; He CAME DOWN and offers mercy, with hands and feet duly expressive!
B. INIQUITIES ARE NOT MERELY SHOOED BUT SUBDUED
This brings us to something of God's method of showing mercy. As it involved discipline for the Lord Jesus Christ who, being in the form of God did not regard it as something to be snatched to be equal with God, but moved to come to our blessed planet, formed for our image-bearing lives, created for fellowship; so it is for us. We cannot redeem (Psalm 49:7), but we can serve (Matthew ) in the spirit of grace and kindness. Hence, since iniquities are enemies of God, and He is our friend - if we are His - then they are enemies of ours, and they are not received. If a stray dog iniquity wanders in, it is to be put out, and put down if it persists! With God ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE and it is precisely here that the practical consequence of salvation comes.
IF we believe, we have faith. Nothing can 'invent' it. If it is there it works, and if not, the thing that that is there does not; for faith is in the object, GOD, and it transforms the subject like watering a garden. Thinking of water brings no moisture. Watering requires water (John 7:37, Ezekiel 47).
Hence He who enters the life of His people (Colossians 1:27), "Christ in you the hope of glory" makes His presence felt! ONE SUCH WAY is in the practical subduing of iniquities. He is full of compassion, but a compassion which is so true and so just that He links it with a mastery of our iniquities.
When Jesus prayed: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing - you must notice the reason for His request. They do not know what they do. But we have been told. The gospel has been proclaimed. We know very well what has been done and how to separate ourselves from that action of sin which does kill the sinner, and would even try to kill God - that is what sin does, it sets up a little autocrat inside, a thief of what God has made, in place of God.
At the Cross: THAT led to the crucifixion. Moreover we should notice where this forgiveness is seen - WHEN we look TO Jesus on the Cross (John 6:40, 12:32). That is where God's mercy is focussed, where God subdues iniquities. There is never mercy from God's judgments apart from that, nor for that matter, victory in vanquishing sin from the heart.
Christ showed discipline in facing His strange task: the Cross by which He cancels, covers, conquers and meets the death that sin brings. He took the sting out of by putting the sin into it. His enormous input is seen in Hosea 13:14, where God Himself indicates it is His own action.
Sin is a disease that brings death, inevitable death amidst rotting conscience and rotted soul, separate from someone too holy to join forces with it. Jesus lets it brings death. He let it bring death to Him so that, the Great Doctor, He might remove it from those who turn to Him. But imagine a patient, alarmed, disturbed, cancer clawing remorselessly, agreeing with the doctor, moved - but ignoring the cure while weeping at the growing pain. Would you blame the doctor? If the doctor had already the cure by his own loss, would you blame the patient!
C. VANQUISHED AND CAST OUT PATHOGENS
It is not enough that sin is vanquished, its sting removed, its results paid, its attraction replaced, its basis broken. It must in its whole unwholesome dynamic be detested, so that as the flesh strives with the spirit, one is neither allied nor allianced. It is foul, and like Nineveh of old, it deserves it doom.
"You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea" - Micah 7:20.
Perhaps every Age has its manners. In our country and in this day, it often seems as if there is a cult for non-repentance. You can be fulfilled, amplified, extended, amended - but repent? The philosophy seems to run like this.
The fact however is that until God is abides in a man's centre and heart, man is off centre. He is a little toy king playing at life as if he made himself, and the world too. The fact is that he did not. The fact is the God is God and until we have Him as our personal and living God, we are acting like children taking possession of the house - such nice children, such nice liars. We must acknowledge that God is neither indifferent nor inefficient. He has no limit, no control, no necessities and does what He pleases in the heaven and the earth; and it is our everlasting joy that His is a good pleasure (Ephesians 1:5). It is what SEEMS GOOD to Him. Producer of all, He has lust for none; Maker of all, He has baulking by nothing. He plans, proceeds, speaks, does and confirms His word to all at all times.
Not God but sinners make messes. Sin creates cruelty. If we ignore the words of God, we are telling Him that we do not believe He knows how to make the sort of world we would make with our niceness. We are calling Him a fool. But if we see the truth, we will see our own foolishness and repent. God is neither vexed nor frustrated, but has insisted on giving the priceless gift of freedom which misused, now is like a rolling boulder, out of control, except its stopper be its maker.
Filled with the deceit of disobedience, suppressed in acknowledgment by romances and fairy tales about Nature - our own and physical nature - we are asking for precisely what we are getting in our world.
Either then we are condemning God or we are repenting. But if we repent, and come and call upon His name in faith, then we remember that God delight in mercy. He always does. He will subdue our iniquities, be they first or last, big or small, mental or physical, moral or spiritual, punitive or practical - if we come to Him. The leopard cannot change its spots but God can make a new creation.
Finally in our text we find that God will CAST ALL THEIR SINS INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA. This oblivion is both legal, forensic, for the severing results, and moral, for the renewed and healed heart; it is both powerful for a personality restructured, and alienating, removing the very support apparatus for sin which once like giant aircraft hangars, dwelt upon the fields of our hearts.
But whose sins? The remnant of His inheritance (cf. Ephesians 1:18). And who are they? "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17)... But what if - ? Ah, but He changes your desires, your tastes, your life, your ways. He was self-disciplined, and so are His. Let those who name the name of Lord depart from iniquity. THAT is one of the ways one may detect who is who; but in the end, judgment will show it.
Love then breathes discipline as a good housewife breathes order. Mercy is not laxity and salvation is not careless. God does not allow us to rove the streets of the world, like illegitimate children. He corrects us surely, quietly, constantly as needed (Hebrews 12). He tests and develops. He moulds before He uses. Love likes His moulding. Perhaps it is easier to think of discipline when we recall the need for training using insight, and for the insight itself, with care for our own children .
Let us therefore be glad to see our iniquities cast into the depths of the sea. They at first seem like lost treasure; but in the end we shall learn to treasure their loss.
That is God's
mercy that makes men saints; and it is for SINNERS ONLY.