Forgiveness – Knowing the Depths of God’s Mercy

Psalm 25:11 “Pardon my iniquity for it is great”

By Neil Earle

Jonathan Edwards

Christian devotionals and sermons flood the airwaves and the Internet. Sometimes North American Christianity reminds me of a rich guy polishing his latest BMW in the front yard – uh oh, gotta clear out that scratch, some mud on the undercarriage, gotta get those windows squeaky clean, scrub those tires.

All very well. We in these base countries have so much – literature, great scholars to draw upon, churches to attend even during the pandemic but…one of the beating heartstrings of authentic Christianity is God forgiving us, God’s forgiveness. Oh what a precious thought that the Holy Spirit is still with us and showing us – patiently and lovingly – that even though saved by grace we are in our root self still sinners.

Forgiven sinners, as Luther knew in his famous formula – “peccator et iustus” – sinners but justified because of the atoning blood of Christ.

“The Sinner’s Refuge”

One of the great teachers who understood this in a deep way was the first great American theologian, Jonathan Edwards. It was the Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon who copied these remarks from Edwards as he reflected on psalm 25:11, “Pardon my iniquity for it is great.” The language is a bit 1700s style but the thoughts are as powerful as they are sweet to a Christian who wonders if God will forgive him after sinning. Here goes:

“He pleads the greatness of his sin, and not the smallness of it; he enforces his prayer with this consideration, that his sins are very heinous.”

Interesting opening though. “But how could he make this a plea for pardon? I answer, Because the greater his iniquity was, the more need he had of pardon. It is as if he said…my case will be exceeding miserable unless thou be pleased to pardon me.”

Then Edwards drives home a good point: “He makes use of the greatness of his sin, to enforce his plea for pardon, as a man would make use of the greatness of his calamity in begging for relief.”

Then comes a great analogy which every preacher can admire: “When a beggar begs for bread, he will plead the greatness of his poverty and necessity. When a man in distress cries for pity, what more suitable plea can be urged than the extremity of his case?”

Right. It’s when you’re in trouble that you need help the most. To use our analogy above, “You’re not polishing your BMW you’re walking away from a total wreck from which you should have been killed.”

Fervency in prayer is linked to honest confession. (Basil Wolverton artwork)

The Kindness of God

What made Edwards such a great preacher was that he knew God. This is not as axiomatic as it sounds. Too many preachers never convey the battles they too have with sin. They talk “down” to their congregants and not “up.” He knew what God was like because he had obviously experienced God’s lavish forgiveness for he goes on to say: “And God allows such a plea as this: for he is moved to pity towards us by nothing in us but the miserableness of our case. He doth not pity sinners because they are worthy, but because they need his pity.”

Then one of Edwards’ great points: “Herein doth the glory of grace by the redemption of Christ much consist: namely, in its sufficiency for the pardon of the greatest sinners.”

This whole business Edwards says is “to glorify the free grace of God…God had it on his heart from all eternity to glorify this attribute.”

Edwards knows this because he knows God!

“Where Sin Abounded, Grace…”

Here is the message of Grace which some think Puritans such as Edwards did not understand or teach. Nothing could be further from the truth:

“The greatness of divine grace appears very much in this, that God by Christ saves the greatest offenders. The greater the guilt of any sinner is, the more glorious and wonderful is the grace manifested in this pardon. Romans 5:20, “Where sin abounded grace did much more abound.” Edwards quotes Paul’s reflection on his life in 1 Timothy 1:13, 14, “And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Jesus Christ.”

“The Redeemer is glorified…in that his blood proves sufficient to wash away the greatest guilt, in that he is able to save men to the uttermost and in that he redeems (sinners) even from the greatest misery. It is the honor of Christ to save the greatest sinners when they come to him, as it is the honor of a physician that he cures the most desperate diseases or wounds. Therefore Christ will be willing to save the greatest sinners, if they come to him; for he will not be backward to glorify himself and…the value and virtue of his own blood.”

These are great solid arguments Edwards is laying out. They offer hope and rescue to the greatest sinner who turns to God in sincerity and hope. That included King Manasseh, Judah’s worst king (2 Kings 33). Or King David, one of the best, who got tangled in the coils of temptation and folly (2 Samuel 10-11). It included the Sanhedrin’s chef “hit man” Saul of Tarsus (Acts 8-9). And it includes you and me.

Our sins are great and reprehensible and the knowledge of them should cause us to figuratively roll in the dust like the saints of old. But the good news of the Gospel is that Christ’s blood and life’s work count for more with God than our sins. Every experienced Christian learns this sooner or later: Where sin abounds, the gracious forgiveness of God abounds much more.

Thanks be to God for his indescribeable mercy to us all.