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The Forgiveness of Sins
Before we begin with the actual topic, that is to say: the forgiveness of sins, a Christian’s freedom from the law and his new eternal righteousness—all being one and the same thing— we want to do just as Dr. Martin Luther did. In most cases when dealing with this topic, namely, he began with three preparatory remarks: First: This topic is the greatest and most important in the entire Christian doctrine. Second: This is, moreover, the most difficult matter when it comes to understanding it correctly and applying it to one’s own daily life. Third: This subject is also is regarded as the simplest and most easily mastered subject by most inexperienced and spiritually dead people. This essay about the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, and the eternal justification in Christ, is the greatest and most important doctrine of all, as it actually is this that saves us, making us Christians. This is what gives us the Holy Spirit when it is properly understood by our hearts. No matter how it may be with a person’s other understanding, and the rest of his experiences, has the matter concerning Christ’s merits, grace, and forgiveness of sins, become a living reality in one’s heart? If so, then he is already a Christian, already happy, blessed, and made willing and fit to do good works by the Spirit. On the contrary, if one has the knowledge and has everything else but is lacking this, then he is not yet a Christian. He may be religious and pious, but he is not a Christian and not born again. He may have good intentions, be struggling and praying to achieve this, but death, ineffectiveness, and misery are prevailing throughout it all, and one feels a disinclination and inertia in everything. But note! When these same people have received assurance that their sins are forgiven, how happy and satisfied, how willing and inclined to live for God they become! A preacher may have ever so great, holy fervor, preaching, and warning, yes, driving his hearers with Sinai and the hottest flames of hell, but if he has not had Christ and the grace of redemption as his main theme, his Alpha and Omega in his sermons, then everything is in vain in the long run. People may be well instructed, be convinced, condemned, and partly awakened but if their hearts are unchanged, destruction is overwhelming, and they are without a spark of life; it is dull, unspiritual. The work is then entirely fruitless just as a field must appear which has been ploughed and prepared, but no seed has as yet been sown, and sun and rain have not yet appeared. But when he turns over a new page and starts proclaiming Christ and Him crucified, preaching the forgiveness of sins for those unhappily burdened by their sins which they have not yet overcome, then some hearts—previously hard—melt, become inclinable, humble, happy, loving, willing, and fit for good works of all kinds. Yes, this matter is the one that makes us children of God. Having forgiveness of my sins, then I am already blessed, a child of God, and what more can I be or wish for in this life? But if I have not received the forgiveness of my sins, of what use is then everything else to me? How unhappy is that person who has not yet received this forgiveness. He is always under the wrath and curse of God—cursed when coming and going, cursed in the house and in the field, cursed when rejoicing and sorrowing, cursed at work and at rest, cursed in life and cursed in death, and cursed throughout eternity. It is the most difficult matter for Christians properly to teach and use this matter—with true and living faith to grasp and cling to the forgiveness of sins, something they throughout their lives will never master, although they practice it daily, when reading, listening, and speaking about Christ and about the grace they have through Him. They remain immature disciples in the art of believing and receiving grace, the reason being that they daily and constantly feel and see so much sin and weakness, so much lacking in their Christianity while grace and the eternal righteousness in Christ is not seen, nor felt: the reason being that their hearts—previously so safe, secure, and strong—are now crushed, bleeding, and weak because of the spirit of the fear of the Lord which is now living in them. The cause is finally that their faith—now true and saving—has become the target of Satan’s incessant vexations and burning arrows. From this follows that no true Christian who is so enlightened by the Gospel, has progressed so far in his faith, that he should not at times suffer from fear and anxiety concerning the state of his soul. Yes, the greatest saints who have spoken with tongues of angels about the eternal value and merits of the blood of Christ, have themselves often been weak, harassed, and troubled, and only with difficulty continued in faith, a matter of which King David, St. Paul, Dr. Luther, and others are significant examples. However, most people cannot understand this as they hold that nothing is easier to believe than the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins. This they have learned at an early stage; namely, as soon as they heard or read a beautiful dissertation concerning this; or, they could even in their own hearts learned how gracious God is, and so they do not need to bother any further about that, but now it is just a question of how we ought to be and live. Luther often speaks about these people with the following (and similar) words: “This matter of forgiveness of sins is, for true Christians, the greatest wisdom and a most difficult art in which they, throughout their lifetime, never become sufficiently learned. Yet, it is affected by the evil nuisance that no one (among the false Christians) regards it easier to be proficient in, but as soon as they have read or heard something about it, they regard themselves as past masters and now they want to hear something different. I (Luther) have now for many years maintained this doctrine before students, studying and preaching about it more than any of these people who are such masters, still I cannot boast of being a master myself: I am happy to be a disciple together with others.” But what does this prove, that they have become such masters in this matter? Nothing but that these people have either never experienced—or have already lost—this first part of true Christianity, which is: a real awareness of sin, a broken heart, and an awakened conscience. They are still asleep in false security; their faith is dead and needs no nourishment. As it is false, the devil does not regard it worth harassing, but rather supports it. Oh, that everyone who finds it so easy to believe, would begin to understand that all is not right when, what is the most difficult art for the greatest saints, is so easy for them. Surely, there must be something deceptive about this. If we are now going to contemplate the topic, then what we have to do is to find what the Lord Himself has told us about it. No human being has anything to say here—God is the One who forgives sins, and He does in His matters what He wants to. And who should in a matter of such importance believe and trust in anything but God’s own Word? Who dares to die and depart to a mysterious eternity trusting only in the assurance of a human being? Yes, who would in this life feel secure and happy in the grace of God, if he did not have the Word of God itself to cling to? No human being is to tell us how God forgives sins; that is something we want to see and hear from His own mouth. Therefore we now turn to the Holy Scriptures. There forgiveness of sins is described from two view-points, namely: first, as procured and actually completed, second, as received by and applied to an individual person.
First Definition of Forgiveness
First of all, we notice in the Holy Scriptures something that is just as strange as it is wonderful and worthwhile considering, and which to most people appears almost new and surprising; and this is that the sins of all human beings are already forgiven, blotted out, covered, and this before they repent and believe, and before they themselves receive this grace. What does this forgiveness of sins that has been acquired and offered them mean? Well, the Scriptures state that the meaning, or significance, of the redemption brought about through Jesus Christ, is the forgiveness of sins, and that we, when Christ died on the cross, were reconciled to God. Our sins were then covered over, our wickedness then atoned for. Where is this written? In Romans 5:10 where it says that “when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” Note! It does not say here: we shall be reconciled, but: we were. It does not say: through our contrition, our repentance, prayer, penitence, etc., but through the death of His Son. It does not say: when we were converted and God’s friends, but: while we were God’s enemies. We were is never the same as we shall be; our repentance, contrition, prayer, and good deeds are never equal to the death of His Son. Further: In II Corinthians 5:19 we read: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation,” through which He now exhorts us, “Be ye reconciled to God!” As if the apostle now wants to state: True, God is appeased through the death of Christ. True, sin is blotted out before His eyes. True, He is satisfied and appeased toward you. Now it is for you to be reconciled to God. In Ephesians 1:7 and in Colossians 1:14 we find the same expression: “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins,” by which the apostle clearly explains the significance of the redemption through the blood of Christ; namely: forgiveness of sins. In Daniel 9:24 it is stated that at that very time decreed after the before-mentioned seventy weeks, occurring by the time of the death of Christ, “. . . to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness. . . .” In Isaiah 53:5-6 it is written, “The Lord hath laid on Him (the only Son) the iniquity of us all” and that “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed,” etc. In this manner the Holy God has written His Word. What shall we do with this? His words are as clear and obvious as the sun, and as firm as a pillar of rock. We must receive them as they are written, knowing that the Lord wants them to mean just what they say, no more, no less. What do these tell us? That all sins in the world, the sins of all human beings, even the sins of the ungodly, the unrepentant, and the faithless, are once and for all cast on Christ. That is, they are all placed on Him, charged to His account, and all are cleared by Him, atoned for and blotted out. But if they are placed on Him, then they do not remain upon the sinner, because if we take something away from one place, putting it down in another, no longer does it remain lying at the former place. If a debt is removed from one’s debt and entered on another, then it does not remain written on the former bill. Is that not so? In short, from this follows that the words of Luther in the second main article of the Catechism, are true, that Jesus Christ has “redeemed me a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold and silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” It does not say will redeem, will purchase and win, but has redeemed, etc. From this we gather that no human being needs to become lost because of his sins, for truly all sins are done away with, blotted out, forgiven. But he who does not receive this forgiveness will not come to the wedding-feast on high even though he was invited. “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). “Except a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Surely, the kingdom of God is open, but has he who has a mind which is hostile to God, then he neither wants, nor is allowed, to be gathered with the bornagain, spiritual children. For these reasons (and some others) not all will be saved, although Christ has atoned for and blotted out all the sins of every human being.
Second Definition of Forgiveness This leads us to the second meaning of forgiveness of sins, the more common one and also the easiest to understand; that is to say, the application of this forgiveness to an individual. The Holy Scriptures speak of this as follows: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). From King David’s words in Psalm 32:3, 5 we learn what this confession consists of: “When I kept silence” (what I have done, my grievous sin), “my bones waxed old through my groaning all day long; . . . but I said: I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sins.” Here we learn that confession is done before the Lord. “I will confess before the Lord,” says David. From this we realize that “keeping silent” about sin, was silence before the Lord. But what is meant by this? someone may ask. How is it possible to conceal something from the Lord? Before His eyes everything is exposed and visible. Well, by experience we understand this silence. It means from David’s mouth actually to keep one’s sin, one’s sick and burdened conscience, at distance from God, until the feeling of guilt has cooled down, before one is ready to come before the throne of grace, fall down before God, admitting one’s sin, and seeking forgiveness and absolution. But the words (to keep silent) can also be applied to the dead, unrepentant multitude of human beings. The whole world is keeping silent about their sins before the Lord and as such are unsaved. They do not feel their guilt and cannot consequently, properly confess it. And so the word “confess” means to repent, that is, actually come to know one’s sins, the threatening curse, and to seek for grace in Christ. This is all that is required in order to partake of the acquired forgiveness. There were hard times and a severe famine in the country where the prodigal son was dwelling to cause him to think of his father’s house and the grievous sin he had committed when he deserted his father and went away, squandering his inheritance. Not before this did he decide: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.” This is how Jesus Himself summed up the words when He wanted to give us a picture of a conversion. From this we gather something about true confession—and repentance. The prodigal son did not mention any particular sin, he only said, “I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” He did not say this and that sin has deserved your displeasure; but I, all of me, is unworthy to be called your son. What can we deduce from this? It is not a true repentance when one is aware of and confessing just one sin or two, and at the same time is satisfied with many other good traits. No, one has to realize that one is completely condemned, or worthy of condemnation. Further, the prodigal son did not remain where he was, but he actually returned to his father. Your confession of sin is false if you can remain where you are, in the same “country” away from the Lord, in the world and in sin. Notice furthermore that the prodigal son said, “Make me as one of thy hired servants!” This was due to his self-righteousness and unbelief. He did not think that he by grace alone could obtain full rights as a child, but rather that he first had to be a servant working his way up in his father’s house. This is what always happens with those who are repentant. But then we note that the father did not pay any attention to this good but erred intention. We read: “While he was yet a great way off (he had no time to pray a single prayer, nor shed a single tear, nor do a single service); his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” Oh, what matchless, divine forgiveness! Could not THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS 21 the father have had reason to say, “Go away, you unworthy, debased son! You have squandered your inheritance. You have wasted your right as a child.” But no, he did not reproach him for his sins, not with a single word. He did not demand the slightest compensation, but at once had him dressed in the best robe, he had him given “a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet,” arranged for him a joyous feast to celebrate his return. In this way Christ Himself has explained what divine forgiveness is; this is how He wants to be known and regarded. The father’s heart was invariably forgiving even during the fallen son’s absence and most awful sinning—it was not redeemed through his return—it was sufficiently redeemed before. But the prodigal son had no need of this until he returned. From this we infer that God is appeased even toward ungodly infidels and unrepentant human beings. Christ has even blotted out even their sins, and that in one day. Grace and forgiveness has been procured for them as well. The best robe—the brightly shining silk which is the righteousness of Christ—has for a long time been ready on their account, waiting to be received by them. From what happened to the prodigal son, we can also learn when that blessed moment occurs a wretched sinner actually receives grace, forgiveness, and adoption as a son. This is at the first serious return to the Lord. That is to say, when he for the first time—despairing about himself and everything of his own, such as his penitence, repentance, and prayer—turns the eye of his indigent, hungering spirit towards the uplifted crucified Christ. But even more so he for the first time understands his salvation in Christ. The first time he sees in the Gospel what he had not known before, that everything is ready, is sufficient, yes, more than enough in Christ. He now is not only dressed in the robe but has also received a ring, which is the seal or witness of the Holy Spirit that he is a son in the family and not a servant. It is important to understand that the application of grace takes place at the first glance of faith at Jesus—at the first prayer of faith—otherwise one might in disbelief and self-righteousness 22 CARL OLOF ROSENIUS begin to have unblessed expectations of wonderful feelings and signs of grace, thereby despising the Word of God. Note that Christ states that the prodigal son did not even reach the house itself, did not have time to pray a single prayer, nor shed a single tear, nor serve in any way, but “was yet a great way off” when the father, filled with compassion for him, ran to meet him, threw his arms around him, kissing him tenderly. Likewise, Christ expressly states of Himself, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” All of evangelical history confirms the same, as it does not present a single example of a sinner, kneeling down at the feet of Jesus, praying for mercy, who received the answer: “Not at this time, go away, repent even more, feel even more sorrow for your sins, and pray yet for some time, then come to seek for grace.” No, but “as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.” The fact is that you are at all times equally worthy and equally unworthy. All your deeds, such as remorse, prayer, contrition, and repentance, do not help in the least to move God’s heart toward you, but the aim is to move your heart toward Him and to be led to Jesus. And this is what it ought to be when this end is obtained. You do not have enough penitence, contrition, repentance, and prayer when you through your own efforts cannot obtain consolation and peace, but must seek consolation only in Christ Jesus, in His anguish, His contrition, His prayer, and repentance which was all for you. But you may be thinking: “Surely, all this I have seen and heard through the Word, and I have furthermore in my wretchedness sought grace as pure grace through the merits of the Savior, but as for me, I have not yet obtained this grace because I do not feel it in my heart.” Answer: When you think like this, you are merely saying: “Of course, the great God states in His Word that all sin was laid upon Christ and blotted out, forgiven, and cast into the depths of the sea through His death. Surely, it is therefore Christ who says: ‘Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out,’ but I don’t think that these words of God and of Christ THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS 23 are trustworthy. I do not attach much value to what they say as my heart and my feelings do not tell me the same.” What kind of a testimony would that be for a Christian? You ought to pay attention to the Word and not make God a liar (I John 5:10). It is to be noticed that forgiveness of sins is twofold even here. First of all, there is the secret concealed forgiveness which is not perceptible; and second, the revealed perceptible forgiveness. Only the Word can assure you of the former, which is without any feeling. And you receive concealed grace as soon as you come to Jesus, hungering and thirsting after His righteousness, praying and sighing: “Oh, that I could know that there is grace for me! Oh, that I could know that I am a child of God and that I were assured of this!” O Lord, I am coming before Thy throne; Don’t look at Me, look at Thy Son! In me there is only wretchedness; In Him is all my worthiness. So then you are already, before God, released from all your sin and declared righteous. Your name is then entered into the Book of Life, although you are not aware of it. This is the concealed grace. Then you receive the revealed grace when your heart senses an answer and the testimony of the Holy Spirit that you are a child of God. An example in the Bible is, for instance, the woman who had lived a sinful life and who kneeled at the feet of Jesus in the house of Simon. She had already the concealed grace, as Jesus told Simon, “Her many sins have been forgiven.” She received the revealed forgiveness when Jesus turned to her, saying, “Thy sins are forgiven. Go in peace!” (Luke 7:37-50). As we have seen in the preceding passages that the forgiveness of sins is procured through the death of Christ and is received by faith, we are now going to consider the comforting, strengthening, and joyful circumstance that this forgiveness will be our eternal possession: a daily and eternal grace which will never be recalled or removed from us through sins that still cling 24 CARL OLOF ROSENIUS to us. As long as we remain in Christ through faith, we shall continually remain with God in the same grace, because grace is not dependent on works; yes, because we are in ourselves all the time equally worthy of condemnation, but in Christ equally righteous. Let us see what the Scriptures tell us about this! When the Lord in the Old Testament speaks about the realm of grace which by Christ should be established on earth, He calls this in Isaiah 33 “the city of our festivals” and “Jerusalem” and says about this city: “The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven the iniquity.” As God in Psalm 89 speaks about His covenant with His Son—the covenant of eternal grace for those whom the Son, with His atonement purchased and defended, those who believed in Him and here are called “His (the Son’s) children”—He says: “If his sons forsake My law and do not follow My statutes, if they violate My decrees and fail to keep My commands, I will punish their sins with the rod, their iniquity with flogging, but I will not take My love from them, nor will I ever betray My faithfulness. I will not violate My covenant or alter what My lips have uttered” etc. (Ps. 89:30-34). And in the New Testament St. John states: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2). Because of lack of space, we will not enumerate more of the innumerable comforting words such as those quoted above from the Scriptures, but we will now consider these. First of all, the Lord tells us that none of those living in Zion, in the realm of grace, will have any reason to complain or worry about being ill because their sins have been forgiven. The Lord seems to want to say: the forgiveness of sins presumes already beforehand that there are sins and weaknesses, or, it would not be called forgiveness of sins; but also that our sins are not counted against us, not remembered and not punished, as it is called forgiveness. That THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS 25 which is forgiven need not be spoken about, nor be thought about with anxiety, because forgiven is forgiven. “And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity” (Isa. 33:24). This passage reminds us furthermore of a specific circumstance when it concerns the foolish, and yet honest children of grace. Of course, they believe that their sins are forgiven, but they have at the same time something else (that is what they think), which torments and worries them—something that they do not remember to count as sin but as a weakness, something they lack in their Christianity, some fault, or, whatever it may be called. They say: “Of course, I believe that God forgives sins, but I am so weak, I have this or that weakness,” etc. Now the Lord states here that all this comes under one title: sin. “And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity,” and forgiveness removes or covers all weaknesses. The law claims the whole man; heart, thoughts, feelings, and so it accuses all that is done by these when it is contrary to the Word. We ask: Are not the shortcomings in a Christian life also sin? Isn’t it sin to be indifferent, lazy in reading the Word and in praying, and to be timid in confessing Christ, etc.? But all that is sin comes under the forgiveness of sins. It is not written that Christ atoned for the sins of the hand and the tongue, but rather all the sins of man as a whole. Therefore, as long as you remain in Christ through faith—even though you at the same time are afflicted by sins—watching, praying, and struggling against it—there is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1) as forgiveness covers everything you are and have. Dr. Martin Luther has written the most comforting commentaries concerning this topic. In his Evangelical Book of Family Sermons on the nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, he states: “We ought to understand this doctrine so that we know that our piety before God consists in possessing forgiveness of sins. When a person wants to deal with God, they ought to know that neither their sins, nor their piety counts.” When it comes to what 26 CARL OLOF ROSENIUS I shall do, think, speak, and how I shall live before God, or before men, then I want to be pious, take care not to sin, and do many good deeds, but as soon as it is a matter of how I stand before God, if I can count on His grace, or how to obtain it, then I want to be nothing but a sinner so that the forgiveness of sins will be applicable to me. Yes, then I want to be saying courageously in faith: Have I sins, I know that Christ has righteousness. His piety is my piety. I am now at that place where sin cannot reach me. Such is the realm of grace—this happy city of which God Himself said: “And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.” Psalm 89 deals in a wonderfully glorious way with “Messiah and His kingdom.” It has in fact to do with the covenant between the Father and the Son. The covenant provides for eternal grace for the ones the Son redeems, purchases, and acquires here on earth. Those who want to read this Psalm, aspiring to see the wonders of grace and the glories that are hidden here, ought first of all seriously to pray God to grant them the light of the Holy Spirit. They should stop at every verse and study it to see whether a precious pearl is shining through it. Here the Father speaks of His Son, sometimes calling Him directly His Son, “the firstborn,” “the most exalted of the kings on the earth”; sometimes “my chosen one” and “my servant David”—because King David was the Son’s human forefather and in many cases His model—sometimes He says immediately afterwards: “The heavens shall praise Thy wonders, O Lord, Thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints” (v. 5); at times He says: “I have bestowed strength on a warrior, I have exalted a young man from among the people,” all these titles being very important. The Father now speaks about this, His Son, stating that He has made a “covenant” with Him concerning “eternal grace” that should be established; of course not for Himself (the Son) as He was “the Highest,” He was “Lord,” He was “the Lord among the heavenly beings,” but it was the grace the Son was seeking when He came THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS 27 to earth, the grace He bought at such a high cost on the Great Day of Atonement, which is to say; grace for fallen and lost children. He was a hero with help in His hand. As concerns “the children”—who would believe in Him and be His own, being and dwelling under Him in His kingdom —they are here called “His seed” which will be established forever (v. 4), or “the congregation of the saints” (v. 5), and in verse 7: “them that are about Him,” and “His children” (v. 30). There are many wonderful words and promises written concerning these sons such as: “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of Thy countenance. In Thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in Thy righteousness shall they be exalted” (vv. 15-16). This is both remarkable and comforting. It is not written that they exult in “their” righteousness, but in “Thy” righteousness. But what kind of God’s righteousness is this? It is that righteousness of God by which He Himself acts and executes justice according to our deeds, without which no living being will be deemed righteous, much less exalted and glorified. It is obviously referring to God’s righteousness here, the one St. Paul preaches of in Romans 3:21-22, where the words state as follows: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.” It is in the righteousness of God that they will be exalted, or glorious, as it does not result from our deeds, nor is dependent on us, but is Christ’s own righteousness. But if someone asks, “What happens if these fall and sin against God? Do they then lose this grace? Or, what does the Lord then do with them?” Here we receive the answer from the Father Himself in the following remarkable way: “If his children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgments; if they break My statutes, and keep not My commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless My lovingkindness will I not 28 CARL OLOF ROSENIUS utterly take from him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips” (Ps. 89:30-34). What does this mean? There is something peculiar here. We are told that when a child sins and so is punished with the rod and with flogging, love will not be taken from him. Him! Who? This we learn from the context. The words immediately preceding these are, “My mercy will I keep for him forevermore, and My covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure forever, and His throne as the days of heaven.” This is followed by, “If His children forsake My law . . .” etc. But how is it possible that the grace promised by the Son be questioned, when His children sinned? Answer: Well, it was grace for the children secured by the Son; it was grace for the children— but the covenant, or contract, of grace was achieved by the Son, the “firstborn.” He is our Lord, our Mediator and Advocate before the Father. He has taken up our cause, He has paid the debts, He has fulfilled all righteousness, and so grace will be irrevocable for His sake, even if the children trespass. But note! It says, “His children,” that means those who have become His own, those who believe on Him and by faith “surround Him,” through faith cling to Him like a child to its mother in order to have her protection, comfort, and righteousness. These have childlike hearts toward Him; they do not want to leave Him; they repent of their sins before Him, wishing they were undone. These are His children. But even they can at times fall and sin as grievously as is written here that they “forsake His law” (temporarily). What does He then do? Yes, He says: “Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless My lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him,” as that would be to remove grace by Him who has purchased and secured it. Dr. Luther states: “When God seems wrathful as He would cast me away, then I will answer: Holy Father, before Thou rejectest me, Thou hast to reject Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ: as He is my Surety, my Guarantee, yes, my Ransom. If Thou acceptest Him, then even I can be free and cared for.” THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS 29 Application: you who have come to Jesus and begun to believe in Him and want to be His honest child, but are now, in the meantime, so full of sin, falling and trespassing so grievously that you think that God necessarily has to reject you with your wicked heart, then remember this: that what He wants to do with you because of your sins is to punish them with the rod and with flogging, first, internally in your conscience as long as that is sufficient for your chastisement; and then, externally with all kinds of trials as may be needed. He will punish your sins with the rod and with flogging, but He will not remove His love because when it concerns His grace He has dealt with His Son. He does not talk about grace to you but to Him, who has earned and secured this and who is your Mediator, Advocate, and Security. Grace is resting on a different foundation than your piety, and cannot therefore be checkmated by your sins, as then it would not be grace. And when you experience the reality of these threats: that is the rod and the flogging causing fear and anguish, you ought just as firmly believe in the truth of His promise, that is to say eternal grace. You must not misunderstand Him, thinking that He is angry with you when you have sinned when He punishes you with the rod and with flogging. This you ought to know as a matter agreed upon between Him and you, namely: that both sins and floggings will occur, but grace is eternally consistent. So, when you are sinful and tormented, squeeze through the dark cloud and say with confidence: “Holy God, appear even more wrathful, flog me even worse and even longer. I will not misunderstand Thee. Thou hast foretold this, that Thou wilt punish sin with the rod and flogging, but Thou wilt not take Thy love away, and so I am willing to suffer, etc.” Consider, this would be a wonderful Christian faith and experience. But on the contrary, the one who does not experience this fatherly chastisement for sin, this internal rod and torment, this timidity and fear, but stays for days and weeks on end without being troubled and suffering from any sin, feels free and secure in spite of one or 30 CARL OLOF ROSENIUS other conscious carnal sin, he is definitely not a true son but an illegitimate one (Heb. 12:8); he is a dead hypocrite, a foolish virgin with no light and a dry lamp. Consequently, we are here talking of children who often have difficulty to believe, have weak, fragile, and fearful hearts, but seek their refuge in Christ and His righteousness, in order that they would know that in spite of their weakness, they have grace as long as their ransom is accepted—a constant, eternal grace. The third Bible passage that we should consider is I John 2:1-2: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Here the Apostle speaks to the faithful whom He calls “My children.” He admonishes them not to sin. At the same time he notes that it still may happen that they do sin—“if any man sin.” But now, what does He say about such a person? What ought such a person think and do? The Apostle states that he at that very moment has an Advocate before the Father, something he ought to remember. “If anyone does sin, we have One who speaks to the Father; Jesus Christ, who is righteous, and He is the atoning Sacrifice,” etc. The spiritual meaning of the Apostle’s words seems to be: My dear children, this I write to you so that you will not sin nor be careless, for you have now been cleansed in the blood of Jesus Christ and received the forgiveness of sin (as he has said earlier), but you should now be even more faithfully vigilant, praying, and fighting against all sin. But if it still so grievously happens that you sin due to the weakness of your flesh, or because of persecutions from the world and the devil’s craftiness—something that easily happens as you can never watch so faithfully that these enemies cannot at times overthrow you— then this is of course regrettable, and it would have been better if you had never sinned. Yes, you have actually deserved God’s disgrace and rejection. But that God should be ungracious—will not happen because you have an Advocate before the Father who THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS 31 even then is acting on your behalf when you have sinned. Yes, never otherwise, as the one who has not sinned does not need any mediator, redeemer, or advocate. Consequently, God does not by any means want you to sin. But He wants even less that you should despair and perish, so He Himself has given you as an Advocate. When St. John says here, that Christ is our Defender before the Father, who is interceding on our behalf before the law, and protecting us through His atonement against wrath, is infinitely comforting and can be found in many passages in the Scriptures. In Revelation 5:6 St. John saw in heaven “in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts . . . stood a Lamb as it had been slain.” In Hebrews 9:24 we read that Christ has entered “heaven itself now to appear in the presence of God for us.” When now our accuser, the devil, who has accused us “before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10) comes enumerating our sins, and clamoring for justice, Christ appears answering, saying for instance, “Yes, Father, it is true, this soul has sinned, but if his sins shall be punished according to the law, then this will again fall upon Me, as I have taken his sins upon Me and he trusts in Me.” The heavenly Father will never forget the day when He heard the cry of distress from His Son on earth. He will never demand payment for the same debt twice. So thus, the sinner is defended and free. St. John continues by stating, “He who is righteous,” with reference to Christ. What should I learn from this? Well, as follows: Christ is righteous and holy, even though I am a sinner, and that is sufficient. His righteousness is my righteousness. Further: “And He is the atonement for our sins.” For what sins? Certainly for all, or He would be of no use to us as He would have died in vain. But Christ has with His blood truly atoned, not only for a few sins but for all; and not only for imagined sins but for real ones; not only for minor sins but also for grave ones; and not only for sins committed by the hand or the tongue but for the sins of the heart and of thoughts; not only for sins of the past but 32 CARL OLOF ROSENIUS also for present ones; or, as Luther boldly states, “Not only for sins that have been overcome and done away with, but even for the still strong and powerful sins” (Commentary on Galatians). But you object: Yes, Christ is the Atonement for the sins of the saints; such as St. John, St. Peter, St. Paul, and others, but who knows whether it is true even for my sins? Then St. John says: “Not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Now, “the whole world” means not only St. John, St. Peter, St. Paul, and other saints, but to the world belong every human being. Only test if you are a human being, then you will know that even your sins are atoned for and blotted out through the death of Christ. But, perhaps you object, I may not console myself with this except when I have been saintly and done what God’s Word demands, committing no sin. But here the Apostle states something completely contrary: “And if anyone does sin, then we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense.” Note carefully the small word “then,” because the importance and value of the whole verse is based on this. We would readily believe in and value the atoning grace, but only when we ourselves have been more godly, more devoted, prayed, read, and done some good deeds, etc. But as soon as we fall and sin, or, we have neglected to pray, or, have been indifferent, all of which are serious sins, then Christ and His atonement does not carry great weight with us. Then one is as if he had no Savior, no Defender, or as if He had come only for the righteous ones, benefitting us only when we ourselves are as we ought to be. But here the Apostle states just the opposite: it is just when we have sinned that the Defender is serving us. From this follows that those who believe in Christ are under perpetual grace, which does not waver, or change as does their own saintliness. This is the revealed teaching in all the Word of God concerning daily and eternal forgiveness—such a wonderful and comforting teaching that no hypocrites or false Christians ought to hear it for it usually leads to their condemnation as they “turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness” (Jude 4). And still we THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS 33 are not allowed to keep quiet, but have it proclaimed for comfort and salvation to wretched, despairing, and poor hearts. Such hearts also receive renewed inclination and power unto sanctification through this overflowing grace. Those, on the other hand, who take occasion of this, to confidently remain in sin, that is to say, those who do not try to overcome and get rid of their sins, but rather excuse and defend them, they are the ones who “turn the grace of God into lasciviousness,” and who do sin. The same meek John in that same letter declares of these people: “He that committeth sin is of the devil.” And “whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin . . . he cannot sin (do what is sinful), because he is born of God.” But “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not is us.” But “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8-9).