Articles, Tracts and Letters

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Saving Faith and


by Rev. Brian Garrard

In his third and final article in this series Mr. Garrard gives us an outline of the Scriptural idea of forgiveness and shows us the basis upon which it is granted by God to sinners of mankind. In a day when these things are so greatly misunderstood we would do well to heed the basic teaching which is presented below.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 18, April-June 2000.

"Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." – Romans 4:7,8.

H ERE in these words is expressed the great felt need of the repenting sinner. Like the publican of old, he sighs: "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13) and in due time is brought to a happier frame. As King David could rejoice in all his iniquities being forgiven (Psa. 103:3) so does the believing sinner. "Such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God; which hope shall never make them ashamed." [1]


(i) It is not a glossing over or choosing to ignore sin. For God to do so, would be a denial of his own holiness.

(ii) It is not mere forgetting and overlooking sin. The tendency today is to see God as a benevolent figure who, at the end of time, will forgive all and condemn none.

(iii) Forgiveness cannot be reduced simply to charitable feelings toward another. That is sentimentality and as such, can change at a whim.

(iv) Forgiveness is not the pleasant response to an apology. To apologise in public for some misdemeanour is very much in vogue, whether by civic or church leaders. Yet this is not the biblical view at all.


There are various elements to be found in the term:

(i) To raise, lift up, bear. Cf. our text: "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven," that is, the sinner's guilt has been taken away and lifted off him. Implied here is the work of the Redeemer who was the great sinbearer.

(ii) Covering. Our text speaks of sins being covered. See too verse 5 of Psalm 32. David does not hide or cover his sins. Instead, he confesses and makes clear acknowledgement of his guilt. Consequently, God is said to cover his iniquities. "He only has his sins covered who does not himself cover them." [2] In all this, we see our Saviour's work of making an atonement for sin, removing the curse of the Law, satisfying the justice and righteousness of God and overcoming the power of sin in the believer's heart.

(iii) Separation. Although similar to (i) above, there is nevertheless a clear separation of sin's guilt from the believing sinner. "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (Psa. 103:12). John Brown of Haddington wrote that forgiveness is: "to pardon; to forgive; to remove the guilt of sin, that the punishment due to it may not be inflicted."

(iv) A passing over. Clearly revealed in the Feast of the Passover and the daubing of a lamb's blood on the door posts and lintels of the hebrew homes. The blood and righteousness of Christ is imputed to us and then we are forgiven.

(v) Remission. See John 20:23 and Hebrews 9:22. Here the glorious sending away of sin's damning guilt through the death of Christ is spoken of. In this connection, hear one of old: "God does not remit our sins and afterwards impute righteousness, but he first imputes righteousness and afterwards on account of that imputed righteousness, remits our sins."[3]

Reader, as you ponder these words, rest not in the theory alone. Good theology must always lead to experience. As Louis Berkhof can write about the actus transiens [4] , we would ask: Have you come to know this same forgiveness in your heart? Are you rejoicing over pardon for all iniquity? Do you have a sense of rest and peace because you are now reconciled to God? This is a critical matter, for too many trust in church affiliations or good works to save and at the last day will be full of anguish, as they are banished from the presence of God. Give your heart no rest until you exhibit genuine repentance and saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Earnestly entreat him to pardon, save and receive you. "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Matt. 16:26).


We cannot leave this all-important subject (to which, incidentally, we have only given a mere introduction, if that) and not mention the basis of forgiveness. This basis is twofold:–

(i) The death of Christ and that understood in terms of the Covenant of Grace. In this Covenant, God the Father has given His Son to be "the Head and Redeemer of the elect," while God the Son presents Himself as our "Sponsor or Surety." [5] In obedience to His Father, He made satisfaction for the sins of the elect and thus, on this foundation, our forgiveness is granted.

(ii) This leads quite naturally on to Justification. [6] The Larger Catechism defines it as: "An act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight..." None of this is through the sinner's works or goodness, "but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone." [7]

In this solely we rest for pardon and peace. There is no other hope for us, but the blood and death of our Saviour. David alludes to this in Psalm 51:7; "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." God ever grant us His mercy of Forgiveness.

"For thou art gracious, O Lord,
and ready to forgive;
And rich in mercy, all that call
upon thee to relieve."

– Psalm 86:5, Metrical Version.


[1] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 18:i.

[2] Hengstenberg, quoted in R. Fausset's Commentary on Psalm 32.

[3] Turretin, F., Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol.2, p.657.

[4] Berkhof, L., Systematic Theology, p.515.

[5] Witsius, H., The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man, Vol.I, Book 2, pp.163ff.

[6] Readers are directed to the useful article in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No.16, (Oct-Dec 1999), pp.11-14.

[7] Larger Catechism, Q&A 70.