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days;' Isa. liji. 10. Which hath carried over that word, and that which is signified by it, unto eternal things. But this by the way. As the singular promise made to that command renders it singular, so doth this especial instancing in this duty in our prayer, render it also. For though as all the commandments had a promise, so we are to carry a testimony with us of our sincerity in universal obedience in our addresses unto God: yet the singling out of this instance renders it exceeding remarkable; and shews what a value God puts upon it, and how well he is pleased with it.
3. That God requires this forgiveness in us, upon the account of the forgiveness we receive from him; which is to put the greatest obligation upon us unto it, that we are capable of, and to give the strongest and most powerful motive possible unto its performance. See Eph. iv. 32.
4. That this duty is more directly and expressly required in the New Testament than in the Old. Required then it was, but not so openly, so plainly, so expressly as now. Hence we find a different frame of spirit between them under that dispensation, and those under that of the New Testament. There are found amongst them some such reflections upon their enemies, their oppressors, persecutors, and the like, as although they were warranted by some actings of the Spirit of God in them, yet being suited unto the dispensation they were under, do no way become us now, who by Jesus Christ receive 'grace for grace.' So Zechariah, when he died, cried, The Lord look on, and require ;' but Stephen, dying in the same cause and manner said, ' Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.' Elijah called for fire from heaven: but our Saviour reproves the least inclination in his disciples, to imitate him therein. And the reason of this difference is, because forgiveness in God is under the New Testament far more clearly, especially in the nature and cause of it, discovered in the gospel, which hath brought life and immortality to light, than it was under the law. For all our obedience, both in matter and manner, is to be suited unto the discoveries and revelation of God unto us.
5. This forgiveness of others, is made an express condition of our obtaining pardon and forgiveness from God, Matt. vi. 14, 15. and the nature hereof is expressly declared, chap. xviii. 24. Such evangelical conditions we have not
many. Iconfess they have no causal influence into the accomplishment of the promise; but the non-performance of them is a sufficient bar against our pretending to the promise, a sufficient evidence that we have no pleadable interest in it. Our forgiving of others will not procure forgiveness for ourselves; but our not forgiving of others proves, that we ourselves are not forgiven. And all these things do shew what weight God himself lays on this duty.
Secondly, Observe, that this duty is such, as that there is nothing more comely, useful, or honourable unto, or praiseworthy in, any, than a due performance of it. To be morose, implacable, inexorable, revengeful, is one of the greatest degeneracies of human nature. And no men are commonly, even in this world, more branded with real infamy and dishonour, amongst wise and good men, than those who are of such a frame, and do act accordingly. To remember injuries, to retain a sense of wrongs, to watch for opportunities of revenge, to hate and be maliciously perverse, is to represent the image of the devil unto the world in its proper colours; he is the great enemy and self-avenger; on the other side, no grace, no virtue, no duty, no ornament of the mind, or conversation of man, is in itself so lovely, so comely, so praiseworthy, or so useful unto mankind, as are meekness, readiness to forgive, and pardon. This is that principally which renders a man a good man, for whom one would even dare to die ; and I am sorry to add, that this grace or duty is recommended by its rarity. It is little found amongst the children of men. The consideration of the defect of men herein, as in those other fundamental duties of the gospel, in self-denial, readiness for the cross, and forsaking the world, is an evidence, if not how little sincerity there is in the world ; yet at least it is, of how little growing, and thriving there is amongst professors. Thirdly, that there is no grace, virtue, or perfection in
any man, but what is as an emanation from the divine goodness and bounty, so expressive of some divine excellencies or perfection ; somewhat that is in God, in a way and manner infinitely more excellent. We were created in the image of God. Whatever was good or comely in us, was a part of that image; especially the ornaments of our minds, the perfections of our souls. These things had in them a resemblance of, and a correspondency unto, some excellencies in God, whereunto by the way of analogy they may be reduced. This being for the most part lost by sin, a shadow of it only remaining in the faculties of our souls ; and that dominion over the creatures, which is permitted unto men in the patience of God. The recovery that we have by grace, is nothing but an initial renovation of the image of God in us; Eph. iv. 22. It is the implanting upon our natures those graces, which may render us again like unto him. And nothing is grace or virtue, but what so answers to somewhat in God. So then, whatever is in us of this kind, is in God absolutely, perfectly, in a way and manner infinitely more excellent.
Let us now therefore put these things together. God requires of us, that there should be forgiveness in us for those that do offend us ; forgiveness without limitation and bounds; the grace hereof he bestoweth on his saints, sets a high price upon it, and manifests many ways, that he accounts it among the most excellent of our endowments; one of the most lovely and praiseworthy qualifications of any person. What then shall we now say? Is there forgiveness with him or no ? • He that hath made the eye, shall he not see? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear?' He that thus prescribes forgiveness to us, that bestows the grace of it upon us, is there not forgiveness with him? It is all one as to say, though we are good, yet God is not; though we are benign and bountiful, yet he is not. He that finds this grace wrought in him in any measure,
fears that he shall not find it in God for himself, doth therein, and so far, prefer himself above God; which is the natural effect of cursed unbelief.
But the truth is, where there not forgiveness with God, forgiveness in man would be no virtue, with all those qualities that incline thereto; such are meekness, pity, patience, compassion, and the like. Which what were it, but to set loose human nature to rage and madness? For as every truth consists in its answerableness to the prime and eternal verity; so virtue consists not absolutely nor primarily in a conformity to a rule of command, but in a correspondency unto the first absolute perfect being and its perfections.
Properties of forgiveness. The greatness and freedom of it.
The arguments and demonstrations foregoing have, we hope, undeniably evinced the great truth we have insisted on, which is the life and soul of all our hope, profession, religion, and worship. The end of all this discourse is, to lay a firm foundation for faith to rest upon, in its addresses unto God for the forgiveness of sins; as also to give encouragements unto all sorts of persons so to do. This end remains now to be explained and pressed; which work yet before we directly close withal, two things are farther to be premised. And the first is, to propose some of those adjuncts of, and considerations about, this forgiveness, as may both encourage and necessitate us to seek out after it, and to mix the testimonies given unto it, and the promises of it with faith unto our benefit and advantage. The other is to shew, how needful all this endeavour is, upon the account of that great unbelief which is in the most in this matter. Asto the firstof these then we may consider,
First, That this forgiveness that is with God, is such as becomes him, such as is suitable to his greatness, goodness, and all other excellencies of his nature, such as that therein he will be known to be God. What he says concerning some of the works of his providence, ‘Be still and know that I am God;' may be much more said concerning this great effect of his grace. Still your souls, and know that he is God. It is not like that narrow, difficult, halving, and manacled forgiveness that is found amongst men, when any such thing is found amongst them. But it is full, free, boundless, bottomless, absolute, such as becomes his nature and excellencies. It is, in a word, forgiveness that is with God, and by the exercise whereof he will be known so to be. And hence,
1. God himself doth really separate and distinguish his forgiveness from any thing thatour thoughts and imaginations can reach unto, and that because it is his, and like himself. It is an object for faith alone; which can rest in that which it cannot comprehend. It is never safer than when it is, as it were, overwhelmed with infiniteness. But set mere rational
thoughts, or the imaginations of our minds at work about such things, and they fall inconceivably short of them. They can neither conceive of them aright, nor use them unto their proper end and purpose. Were not forgiveness in God somewhat beyond what men could imagine, no flesh could be saved. This himself expresseth, Isa. lv. 7–9. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, and he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.' They are, as is plain in the context, thoughts of forgiveness and ways of pardon, whereof he speaks. These, our apprehensions come short of; we know little or nothing of the infinite largeness of his heart in this matter. He that he speaks of, is yw an impiously wicked man,' and 198 U'N'a man of deceit,' and perverse wickedness. He whose design and course is nothing but a lie, sin, and iniquity. Such a one as we would have little or no hopes of; that we would scarce think it worth our while to deal withal about a hopeless conversion; or can scarce find in our hearts to pray for him, but are ready to give him up, as one profligate and desperate. But let him turn to the Lord, and he shall obtain forgiveness. But how can this be ? Is it possible there should be mercy for such a one? Yes; for the Lord 17133 727, 'will multiply to pardon.' He hath forgiveness with him to outdo all the multiplied sins of any that turn unto him, and seek for it. But this is very hard, very difficult for us to apprehend. This is not the way and manner of men.
We deal not thus with profligate offenders against us. True, saith God; ' But your ways are not my ways.' I do not act in this matter like unto you, nor as you are accustomed to do. How then shall we apprehend it? how shall we conceive of it? You can never do it by your reason or imaginations; For as the heavens is above the earth, so are my thoughts' in this matter above your thoughts.' This is an expression to set out the largest and most inconceivable distance that may be. The creation will afford no more significant expression or representation of it. The heavens are inconceivably distant from the earth,