The Forgiveness of Sins


Thus much for the first benefit bestowed on the church; the second is forgiveness of sins, which may be thus described: Forgiveness of sins is a blessing of God upon His church procured by the death and passion of Christ, whereby God esteems of sin, as no sin, or, as not committed. In this description I have couched four points, which we are severally to consider:


1. The first: Who is the author of forgiveness of sins? Answer: God, whose blessing it is; for sin is only committed against God, and the violating of His laws and commandments are properly sins. And the offence done to any man or creature is no more in itself, but an offence or injury; yea the breach of manŐs commandment is no sin, unless it do imply withal the breach of GodŐs commandment. Therefore it is a prerogative belonging to God alone to pardon sin; and when we are taught to say (Luke 11:4), Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us, the meaning is not that we forgive sins as they are sins, but only as trespasses, that is, losses, hurts, and damages done unto us by men. It may be further said, God hath given this power and commandment to His ministers to forgive sins, saying (John 20:23), Whose sins ye remit, they are remitted. Answer: GodŐs ministers do not properly forgive sins, but only in the name of God according to His Word pronounced to a penitent sinner that his sins are pardoned and forgiven of God; and therefore it is a most certain truth that none can forgive sins but God only (Mark 2:7); it was avouched by the Pharisees and not denied by Christ. Hence it follows that remission of sin, being once granted, remains for ever, because GodŐs love unto the elect is unchangeable, and His decree concerning their salvation cannot be altered.


2. The second point is, to whom remission of sins is given? Answer: To the catholic church, that is, to the whole company of men predestinated to salvation; as Isaiah saith (Isa. 33:24), The people that dwell therein (that is, the church) shall have their sins forgiven. And (Isa. 62:12), They shall call them the holy people, the redeemed of the Lord; and thou shalt be named, A city sought out, and not forsaken. And if there had been an universal remission of sins to all men, as some do dream, it should not here have been made a peculiar prerogative of the church.


3. The third point is, what is the means whereby pardon of sin is procured at GodŐs hand? Answer: The death and passion of Christ; so Paul saith (1 Cor. 15:3), Christ died for our sins; that is, Christ died to be a payment and satisfaction to GodŐs justice for our sins. And St John saith (1 John 1:7), The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin. And Peter saith (1 Pet. 1:18,19), Knowing that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation etc., but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb undefiled and without spot.


4. The fourth point is, after what manner sin is forgiven? Answer: By an action of God, whereby for the merit of Christ, He esteems and accounts sin as no sin, or, as if it had never been committed. Therefore David saith (Psa. 32:2), Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth no sin. And (Isa. 44:22) the Lord saith, I have put away thy transgressions like a cloud, and thy sins as a mist. Now we know that clouds and mist which appear for a time, are afterward by the sun utterly dispersed. And King Hezekiah, when he would shew that the Lord hath forgiven him his sins, saith ((Isa. 38:17), God hath cast them behind His back, alluding to the manner of men, who when they will not remember or regard a thing, do turn their backs upon it. And Micah saith (Mic. 7:19) that God doth cast all the sins of His people into the bottom of the sea, alluding to Pharaoh, whom the Lord drowned in the bottom of the Red Sea. And Christ hath taught us to pray thus (Matt. 6:12): Forgive us out debts, as we forgive our debtors; in which words is an allusion to our creditors, who then forgive debts when they account that which is debt as no debt, and cross the book. Hence it appears that damnable and vile is the opinion of the church of Rome, which holdeth that there is a remission of the fault without a remission of the punishment; and herewithal falls to the ground the doctrine of human satisfactions, and indulgences, and purgatory, and prayer for the dead, built upon this foundation, which are of the same kind.


Moreover, we must remember to add to this clause, I believe, and then the meaning is this: I do not only believe that God doth give pardon of sin to His church and people (for that the very devils believe), but withal I believe the forgiveness of mine own particular sins. Hence it appears that it was the judgment of the primitive church, that men should believe the forgiveness of their own sins.


By this prerogative we reap endless comfort; for the pardon of sin is a most wonderful blessing, and without it every man is more miserable and wretched than the most vile creature that ever was. We loathe the serpent or the toad; but if a man have mot the pardon of his sins, procured by the death and passion of Christ, he is a thousand-fold worse than they. For when they die, there is the end of their woe and misery; but when man dieth without this benefit, there is the beginning of his. For first in soul till the day of judgment, and then both in body and soul for evermore, he shall enter into the endless pains and torments of hell; in which if one should continue so many thousand years as there are drops in the ocean sea, and then be delivered, it were some case; but having continued so long (which is an unspeakable length of time) he must remain there as long again, and after that for ever and ever without release; and therefore among all the benefits that ever were or can be thought of, this is the greatest and most precious. Among all the burdens that can befall a man, what is the greatest? Some will say, sickness, some ignominy, some poverty, some contempt; but indeed among all, the heaviest and greatest, is the burden of a manŐs own sins, lying upon the conscience and pressing it down, without any assurance of pardon. David being a king had, no doubt, all that heart could wish; and yet he laying aside all the royalties and pleasures of his kingdom, saith this one thing above all (Psa. 32:2): that he is a blessed man that is eased of the burden of his sins. A lazar man full of sores is ugly to sight, and we cannot abide to look upon him; but no lazar is so loathsome to us as all sinners are in the sight of God; and therefore David counted him blessed, whose sins are covered. It may be, some will say, there is no cause why a man should thus magnify the pardon of sin, considering it is but a common benefit. Thus indeed men may imagine, which never knew what sin meant; but let a man only, as it were, but with the tip of his finger have a little feeling of the smart of his sins, he shall find his estate so fearful, that if the whole world were set before him on the one side, and the pardon of his sin on the other side, he would choose the pardon of his sins before ten thousand worlds. Though many drowsy Protestants esteem nothing of it, yet to the touched conscience it is a treasure, which when a man finds he hides it, and goes home, and sells all that he hath, and buys it. Therefore this benefit is most excellent, and for it the members of GodŐs church have great cause to give God thanks without ceasing.


The duties to be learned hence are these:


Duty 1. And first of all here comes a common fault of men to be rebuked. Everyone will say that he believeth the remission of sins, yet no man almost laboureth for a true and certain persuasion hereof in his own conscience; and for proof hereof, propound this question to the common Christian: Doest thou persuade thyself that God gives remission of sins unto His church? The answer will be, I know and believe it. But ask him further: Doest thou believe the pardon of thine own sins? And then comes a blind answer: I have a good hope to Godward, but I cannot tell, I think no man can say so much; for God saith to no man, Thy sins are pardoned. But this is to speak flat contraries, to say they believe, and they cannot tell; and it betrays exceeding negligence in matters of salvation. But let them that fear God, or love their own soulŐs health, give all diligence to make sure the remission of their own sins; withal avoiding hardness of heart and drowsiness of spirit, the most fearful judgments of God, which everywhere take place. The foolish virgins went forth to meet the bridegroom with lamps in their hands as well as the wise, but they never so much as dreamed of the horn of oil, till the coming of the bridegroom. So many men live in the church of God as members thereof, holding up the lamp of glorious profession; but in the mean season they seek only for the things of this life; never casting how they might assure themselves in conscience touching their reconciliation with God, till the day of death come.


Duty 2. Secondly, if we be here bound to believe the pardon of all our sins, then we must every day humble ourselves before God and seek pardon for our daily offences; for He gives grace to the humble or contrite (1 Pet. 5:5); He fills the hungry with good things (Luke 1:53), when the rich are sent empty away. When Benhadad the king of Syria was discomforted and overcome by the king of Israel (1 Kin. 20:31), by the counsel of his servants, who told him that the kings of Israel were merciful men, he sent them clothed in sackcloth with ropes about their necks to entreat for peace and favour. Now when the king saw their submission, he made a covenant of peace with him. We by our sins most justly deserve hell, death and condemnation every day, and therefore it standeth us in hand to come into the presence of God, and to humble ourselves before Him in sackcloth and ashes, craving and entreating for nothing in the world so much as for the pardon of our sins, and that day by day without ceasing till the Lord give this blessed answer to our conscience, that all our sins are put out of His remembrance. We must not think that God putteth grace into menŐs hearts when they lie snorting upon their elbows, and either not use, or despise the means; but we must first use the means, partly by making confession of our sins to God, and partly by crying to heaven for pardon; and then when by His grace we begin to desire grace, He gives further grace.


Duty 3. Lastly, if we believe the pardon of our sins, then we must change the tenor and course of our lives, and take heed of breaking GodŐs commandments by doing any of those things whereof our conscience may accuse us, and tell us that by them we have displeased God heretofore. A man that for some misdemeanour hath been cast into prison and lien there many years winter and summer in cold irons; when he obtains liberty, he will often bethink himself of his old misery, and take heed for ever lest he fall into the same offence again; and he which hath seen his own sins and felt the smart of them, and withal by GodŐs goodness obtained assurance touching the pardon of them, will never wittingly and willingly commit the like sins any more, but in all things change the course of his life. As for such as say that they have the pardon of their sins, and yet live in them still, they deceive themselves, and have no faith at all.