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We are new-begotten by the Father, through the waters of regeneration. In Christ, Who is our forgiveness, we are born again ; we receive a new manhood, we are made new creatures. From first to last this is the language in which the ew Testament expresses the nature of our pardon; and all its language is an echo of the words with which the Lord opened His mission in Jerusalem : " Yerily, verily, I say unto you, ye must be born again. Unless ye be born of water and of the Spirit, ye cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven." What does this imply ? It means, that all our forgiven life dates itself from an act of God — an act orio^inative, antecedent, fertile. God begins the work. The sickness of sin had made us powerless to begin the recovery. This was our confusion, our paralysis, our misery, our despair, that, sorry as we might be, sick as we might feel, nevertheless not all our sorrow nor all our sickliness could persuade us to love righteousness as once we loved it.
2 20 Conversion,
nor to hate iniquity as only the unfallen spirit can hate it. Do what we would, it remained sadly clear that we were not at our old level ; our standards had sunk, and we could not restore them to their former force ; the influences in us that made after holiness were impoverished ; and we, out of ourselves, had no means of replenishing them. o; we cannot begin. We cannot beget ourselves. That is the prime and fatal difficulty. It is the new start that has become so impossible ; and yet it is the new start which is so vital a necessity for us.
God must begin, if we are ever to be rescued. Here is the very key of Christian theology, and the very core of Christian faith. Until we have laid hold of this interpretation, the language of the Epistles and the fabric of the Church remain hopelessly unintelligible. God must begin. This is the secret that burns through all the strong appeals of St. Paul and St. John, as they reiterate their conviction that nothing of our own enters into the primary movement of our justification. o goodness at all of ours drew out a response from the co-operating favour of God. It was our badness, not our goodness, that drew it from Heaven. It was pity for our perishing that moved the Father to send His Son to save the world. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. ot because we loved God, but because we could not love Him, did His love for us break oat over us in His Son. God first loved us while still we loved sin rather than holiness, in order that, by loving us. He might restore
The Law of Forgiveness. 221 to us the lost power of loving Him. The heat of His love alone it is which wakes up in our cold hearts the forgotten love for Him. We cannot begin until God has begun. To doubt this is to be " under the Law." It was, in St. Paul's language, "the Law," which said, "Keturn ye. My people, and then I will return to you." This is the law of works — the law of work and wages: it said, "If only you will prove our repentance, if only you will turn again into the old ways, God will forgive, God will be merciful ! " The despair of the law of works lay in the discovery that this preliminary effort on our part was just the last effort that it was possible for us to make. ay; if we are to be recovered and recalled, we must wait for a stronger Hand than ours. We have no part in it. God must anticipate our beginning. He must take the first step ; He must do something to relieve the dilemma. He must arrive to succour, before we deserve anything; He must
forgive, before we have ceased to sin ; He must justify, while still we lie guilty. You recognise the language I am using. It recalls a theology which has isolated the particular truth conveyed by these terms until, in its isolation, it has become grotesque, unreal, deceptive, — yes, and morally perilous. But it is here, as in so many other cases, the isolation of the terms, not the terms themselves, which are at fault. Justification by faith, itself a paradoxical expression, which can never hold itself together against the analysis of a solvent and penetrating logic, has yet a most valid signification in that
2 2 2 Conversion.
deep region where the secret of life runs back, behind logic, into paradox. It is the assertion of our absolute exclusion from the creative act by which God acquits us ; in that act we have no more part or lot than in the act of our first begetting. God forgives us without our helping Him. We are justified, we are acquitted for and by nothing at all of our own, not even by our faith. But how, then, is it rational ? How is it intelligible ? Forgiveness is hope. How can God have hope of men who have proved themselves hopeless? Forgiveness is favour. How can holiness show favour to that which has proved itself irredeemably corrupt ? Forgiveness is love. How can purity love the impure? Impossible ! Yet that is what forgiveness must mean. If God has forgiven sin, then God's repugnance has been changed into attraction. What can so change Him? ot anything, again we say, of ours. We, in ourselves, are as yet unchanged. o ! But the act by which God forgives, carries with it, out of Heaven, the power to work the change in us, which will justify God in forgiving. God's forgiveness goes out from Him in such a form that it makes us, it enables us, it obliges us, to become that which we should be if
we deserved to be forgiven. God the Father forgives us by anticipating that which will follow on His forgiveness. How is this done? What is this strange, this miraculous forgiveness ? Christ, the Wisdom of God, the Power of God.
The Law of Forgiveness. 223 God, the Father, forgives us by sending us His Son. And, in saying this, we dispose of a swarm of questions with which people besiege us. How is it, they ask, that the Father requires this bloody scene on Calvary ? Has He no forgiveness for us without shedding of blood? Is He not ready to forgive us of His own Will, of His own mercy ? Yes, indeed! He is ever ready; He has never ceased to be willing to forgive. How else, but as longing to forgive, does He cry to us, all through the Old Testament, the cries of a Father Whose Heart still yearns over His lost children, "0 My people, what have I done unto thee ? " "0 that Israel would have hearkened unto Me!" "Is not Ephraim a pleasant child ? " " Turn ye, turn ye ; why will ye die, house of Israel?" "Hath the Lord any pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his ways and live ? " " Why, why will ye die ? " The Father has never slackened in His readiness to forgive ; but how is He to forgive ? Forgiveness means restored favour. What is there in us on which His favour can rest ? Forgiveness means renewed hope; what is there in us on which Divine hope can fasten ? Forgiveness is a renewal of love; what is there He finds within us with which His love can fuse its force and its fires ? It is not that the Father is unready to forgive ; but that His ready forgiveness is shut up, of melancholy
necessity, within Himself. It can discover no way by which to enter, no point of attachment by which to
2 24 Conversion.
lay hold. The love of God wanders round this bitter, inhospitable world, and can find no haven that is not barred. And therefore it is that He sends His Son in Whom His forgiveness can find a road into the repellent earth, into this repugnant humanity. God's expelled forgiveness, as all other doors are bolted, will open a way for itself ; as no man will admit it, it will itself become a man, that it may find admittance. God will forgive man in spite of man. God's forgiveness issues out of Heaven in the shape of a Man, wearing human flesh. Jesus Christ is the Forgiveness of the Father. The Father had already forgiven the world when He sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, to be crucified ¦under Pontius Pilate. He arrives, bringing with Him the pardon of the Father ; and this pardon is effectual. For there is now in man one spot, at least, clean from defilement, on which the eyes of God's purity can afford to rest. There is now, amid the loveless herds of sinners, one Heart, at any rate, upon which the Father can risk the outpouring of His love; one Body, amid the hopeless and the faithless and the diseased, which can admit the rushing power of the transfiguring Spirit. The love, hope, purity, of God — long homeless and unhoused — have found at last a footing within our flesh, a resting-place, a habitation, a temple. They had looked, and there had been no man — not one that doeth good, no, not one ! — not one that could respond to their appeal — ^not one that could surrender himself to their intimacy, — no, not one; and, therefore, not one whom God could forgive.
The Lazv of Forgiveness, 225 But now there is one Son of man in and through
Whom God's forgiveness can begin to work. Christ, the Forgiveness, becomes the one forgiven Man; the one Son, Who has sanctified Himself to do the Father's Will. "Lo; this is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased." God begins to forgive before we deserve it ; and He does so by and through His Son. This is His forgiveness, which comes speaking peace to those that are near, and to those that are far off. God has forgiven us before we begin to find it out ; and all our reconciliation to God is just our discovery that we have long ago been forgiven in Christ Jesus. Just as a secret act of God's original energy underlies all our natural life — one act, prevenient, enduring, hidden, — so a secret act of forgiveness, original, enduring, prevenient, underlies all our regenerate life. God spoke once, " Let Us make man ; " and lo, in the unending force of that fiat, we all are, we have our being. God spoke once in Christ, "Let Us work out man's forgiveness;" and in the everlasting power of that one word, so spoken and done, the new race of the forgiven finds itself existing, the Church of the redeemed rises, grows, gathers, swarming upward out of some hidden will, as clouds that make and build themselves out of the very vacancy of air under the strong eye of the risen sun. This is the secret of Baptism. Baptism is no seal of a life already restored ; it is the act by which restoration is first made possible. The diseased life has to be brought under the regenerating Will, for its Q
2 26 Conversion.
cure to begin. Yes, God must begin. He has originated a way of pardon, of healing — Christ, the Wisdom of God, and the Power of God; and the first thing of all to be done, is for us to be brought
under the influence, under the pressure, under the heat, of this regenerative Wisdom. Our cure must begin in an act by which, far back in the dim and secret recesses of our life — there, where God's congenial act of creation still works beneath our incumbent corruption — far, far back, in the silent secrecies, impenetrable, invisible, God reverses the distorted directions of our life-power, God cuts off the supplies of wrong that feed the mischief, dams up the current of our shame, imbeds the germinal seed of our new humanity. This restorative action, first lodged in His Christ, is by Him deposited within the bosom of the Church, His Bride ; there (as we at any rate believe) it works in its fulness, in its freedom, with the least amount of check or hindrance, with the least risk of loss or impoverishment. And, under this action, we place our babes; that it may effect its lodgment within them. Once forgiven of God, the redeemed life can begin. It does not start to win its forgiveness — the old, sad, wearisome impossibility ! ay, it starts forgiven. It begins with forgiveness, with Atonement, and, in the power of that pardon, it works out its own salvation ; with fear, indeed, and trembling ; but with a hope that can never fail. ever fail! o; for the enduring forgiveness
The Law of Forgiveness. 227 is not in doubt; it is not a prize for which it painfully toils, or pitifully and brokenly prays. It abides behind and beneath, a possession, untouched by its own shifting feelings, deeper than its own yet irresolute desires and wavering will. The Will of God in Christ, pledged to it, certified to it, by Baptism — — endures on and on through all. I fall, I faint, I fail? Yes; but under me lie the Everlasting Arms. Until I myself repudiate my Baptism, and kill out my baptismal grace, I am still a forgiven man. I have not lost my Gift. It is in me still. It is under me. And, again and again, I may have
sinned, but under the covering wings of the Church, through the Absolution of God's Priest, I can assure myself of my full renewal, of my perfect pardon. Through Absolution, the enduring efficiency of that baptismal grace, not yet all lost, finds once more its road unhindered, its channels unchoked. As God began by forgiving me, so it is He, not I, Who begins again and again, by Absolution, each stage of my renewal. His grace goes before; it makes my healing possible. He sends me out forgiven, with a forgiveness that is independent of my mischance; for it stands, not in my worth, but in Christ's merits. And, therefore, I will not fear ; for the Kock is under my feet. o ! "I will not fear, though the earth be removed, or though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea. Though the waters thereof rage and swell, and the mountains shake at the tempest of the same ; yet still, deep within the keep and citadel of Zion, there is a river, whose streams run on untainted,
2 28 Conversion.
making glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High." Here is the great hackground of our restoration. God, alone, with His own Arm, brings us salvation. His own force sustains Him. God acts ; we are powerless. God staunches the ancient wrong. God cuts us out of our evil past, running His holy Will, like a knife, through the strong cords of necessity which bound us to our dreadful past. God, out of His sole compassion, introduces His Forgiveness, in Christ Jesus, into the world; and only by the force of that antecedent forgiveness is our recovery possible. And now the scene changes ! In the foreground we lie, sick, diseased, " the maimed, the halt, the blind, the dumb." There we lie, one by one, each laid out on his lone and miserable bed, and separately, slowly, that world-wide pardon, sealed in Christ, draws near, and reaches each single sufferer. It is our
individual recovery that is now in hand. And lo ! now, at this stage, it is God Who holds back, Who waits. Who cannot begin. It is we who must make the start. On us the whole burden of movement lies. If we will but move, God will co-operate ; but we must make the first effort. God waits upon our initiation. Eemember the old scenes in Galilee. They repeat themselves in us. Jesus is so withdrawn, repressed, silent. The sick must seek, pursue, catch Him, as He passes ; they must press in, through thronging crowds, as tJie woman with the issue of
The Law of Forgiveness. 229 blood. They must take up the roof, and be let down by ropes. They must follow, and cry, until the Apostles are weary. They must go on crying their "Jesus, Son of David " with relentless persistence, against the rebuke of the multitudes. And, then, when they have reached Him, the effort is still all thrown upon them. " Lord, if Thou canst ? " said the poor father at the foot of the hill. "If I can ? ay ! ot if I can ; but if thou canst t It is all a question of thine energy, thy courage, thy faith ! If thou canst believe, all things are possible." And when it is done, it is as if our Lord had done nothing, as if the man had done all. " Thy faith hath made thee sound ! " That, and nothing else. From within the man the power came — a spring was opened, a force set free, a key turned, a bolt flew back, and lo ! it is all done in a moment. As if by the mere upward pressure of the human will, strength streams into his palsied limbs, health pours itself through his dried veins. He stretches out his hand, long withered; he rises from his bed, and lo, he walks! It is done, and by the man himself, under the eye of the Master. " Yes ; thy faith— that, and nothing else — thy faith hath saved thee, hath made thee sound. All things are possible to him that believeth." In the foreground, it is we that begin. Everything
turns on us. Grace is near at hand; but we must find it for ourselves. And grace, when found, still demands something of us; it is we who must summon up our energy to use it, to touch it, to discover its secret, to put out its power. Jesus calls
upon us to act, as if we had ourselves the capacity to obey. But how, and why can He ask this ? Only because that which happens in the foreground is the fruit of His own antecedent action, in the secret background. We are forgiven, already, in Him. He has already stemmed, for us, the current of our sin. He has already bound the strong man, who held us so fast, and has robbed him of his authority, and has stripped him of his armour. The victory is won, long ago. The cords are cut. The Power of this world has been judged, mastered, cast out. The Lord has ascended, to take His great power, and reign. He holds already all the keys of Heaven and Hell. He sits at the right Hand of God. All power is given unto Him. All things move under His sway. He opens, and no man shuts : He alone shuts so that no man can open. It is done. It is won. He is exalted far above all principalities and powers. He has stripped naked all the forces of sin, and has triumphed over them openly. He is ascended up on high. And therefore the road of escape for us is open. We are already released, before we know it ; forgiven, before we have begun. The past is fallen away from us. God's mercy looks out upon us. We are already made free. And, therefore, because of this one perfect and sujBScient Sacrifice long ago offered and accepted for the sins of the whole world — therefore, because God has long ago begun on our behalf — therefore it is that Christ can expect great things of us; can look
The Law of Forgiveness. 231 to us to obey; can just stand, there, and bid us " stretch out our hand," or " rise and walk " ! In the ame of the ascended Lord — all things are possible to them that believe. All things are possible, just because we have not got to win, or to deserve our pardon, but only to exert the forgiveness already established at the right Hand of God. We have not got to be forgiven ; — we were forgiven eighteen hundred years ago. ow we have got to discover it for ourselves ; to use the promise sealed to us ; to put out the powers that are in us from God. You are forgiven. ow, try what it means to be forgiven. " Stretch out your hand ! " Kise from your sick sins! " Eise, and walk ! " Try it! Begin! Believe that it is done, and make a start I " Oh ! but I have so long forgotten," you say, " those ways of spiritual living ! This old world of faith has all become dim, remote, unreal to me. I have lost the taste. My love for holiness is withered. I have no instinct after purity. I have no spiritual organ: it is diseased, palsied. I do not see the things you speak of. I do not hear those voices you promise me. I am weak, thin, paralysed, how can I rise and walk, in this heavenly kingdom of yours! It is years and years since I really felt at home in it, or moved amid its mysteries, and understood its language, and fed on its sweet secrets, — years and years ago ! ow it is all gone from out of me ; and lusts are strong, and habits are rooted, and all is bent one way. I cannot do it ! " You cannot ; but Jesus is gone up on high, above
every name that is named. He has broken off your cords. The past is dead— He has killed it. The ropes lie still tied round your arms; but they are
cut. You are loose ; for He has redeemed you. You can start afresh, to-day, from the beginning ; for He has bound the strong man. Your organs, your spiritual faculties, were withered and maimed; but a new creative action is at work within you; you have been taken into the forgiveness of Christ, and that forgiveness is a force that re-creates. It has all been done for you. Try. Believe. Look up at Jesus. Do just what He tells you. With eyes rooted on His, begin. Stretch out that withered hand of yours. You can do it; for He orders it. Who has already Himself made it possible. Leave that weary, weary bed of miserable sinning. Eise; rise and walk. Forget the long years behind you, the sad dreary sickness, the terrible memories. Look at the Master, and lo ! it comes ; it is done. You rise under His magic. You are doing what He bids. You are doing the impossible. Before you know how, the weakness has dropped away from you ; you are carrying your bed. God, the Father, of His good mercy, grant that all those who so lie sick, may press, and touch the hem of His garment, that they may know in themselves that they are healed of their plagues !
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