Our Acceptance Before God
October 26th, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
OUR ACCEPTANCE BEFORE GOD
Dr. W.A. Criswell
10-26-69 10:50 a.m.
In the first chapter of the Book of Ephesians you will find the text, and the pastor is expounding, he is exegeting the Word of God. We will begin at verse 3 and read through verse 7.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in the heavenlies in Christ:
According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love:
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Christ Jesus, according to the good pleasure of His will,
To the praise and the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.
And the title of the sermon is that, Our Acceptance Before God.
In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace;
Wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.
Last Sunday morning I preached on the doctrine of predestination: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children . . . in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worked all things after the counsel of His own will” [Ephesians 1:5, 11]. The doctrine of predestination, the doctrine of the sovereignty of God: that the whole world lies in His hands, and He controls, He guides, and He directs, and all things ultimately flow toward that great final consummation, chosen by Him before the foundation of the world, before the thing was flung out into space, and before we were created; the doctrine of predestination [Ephesians 1:4]. Now this morning we have time to do it; this morning I am going to speak of three other things that Paul has written to this Ephesian church in this glorious letter: adoption, and redemption, and forgiveness of sins.
First, adoption: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Christ Jesus, according to the good pleasure of His will” [Ephesians 1:5]. We are not children of God by natural birth. We are a fallen family and a fallen people, all of us [1 Corinthians 15:22]. That black drop of sin is in the bloodstream of every one of us born of natural parents. We inherited it from them, the disposition toward, the affinity for unrighteousness, sin, iniquity [Romans 5:15-19, 7:14]. And they inherited it from their parents, and they inherited it from their parents, and our forefathers inherited it from their forefathers, and so all the way back to our first father and mother in the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:1-6].
By nature, we are children of wrath [Ephesians 2:3]. We are under the judgment and condemnation of our sins and transgressions [Ephesians 2:1]. We become children of God by adoption [Ephesians 1:5]. We are adopted into the family of the Lord. Another expression describing that is, we are born again; a new birth, another birth, an anōthen birth, a birth from above [John 3:3]. By nature, we are not the children of God; we are sinful and disobedient. By adoption [Ephesians 1:5] we become, through faith [Ephesians 2:8] in the blood, and mercy [Titus 3:5], and atoning grace of Jesus, we become the children of God [Ephesians 2:8].
John 1:11-12: “He came unto His own, and His own received him not. But to as many as received Him, to them gave He the right, the prerogative, the privilege of becoming the children of God, even to them that trust in His name.” Now by law you cannot adopt a child and then unadopt him. I would suppose that law is passed lest people adopt a child, and then getting angry with the little fellow would send him out again, then maybe bring him back again, and then send him out again, then adopt him again, then disinherit him again, then adopt him again, and then unadopt him. By law you can’t do that, nor can that be done according to the Word of God.
That is a facetious and a fanciful suggestion, that we can belong to God and be born in the family of God, and then be taken out of the family of God, then be put back into the family of God, then we could be saved, and unsaved, inherit and then disinherit. There’s no suggestion of that in the Bible. That is a fanciful, speculative, facetious doctrine that men think up.
According to the Word of God, if you are ever adopted into the family of the Lord, if you are ever born into the family of God, you are there forever. You can’t be un-adopted. You cannot be disinherited. You are there eternally, and every suggestion in the Bible is to that same end. “I give unto them eternal life.” Just how long is that? “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” [John 10:28]. How long is that? “That he that believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” [John 3:16]. How long is that?
If you are ever born again, you’re never the same again. You’ve got a new heart. You’ve got a new life. You have a new love. You have a new vision. You have a new dedication. It’s a new day. It’s a new life. It’s a new creation. “If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. He is a new creation. He is somebody else. He’s been born again. He now belongs to God, and you don’t ever get away from it. Don’t care how you do, what you do, how you may fall, stumble, err; the seed of God, the Scriptures say, remains in your soul and you never get beyond it [1 John 3:9].
Now if you are a natural born son of a father, he can disinherit you, but if you are an adopted son, you can’t be unadopted; not according to the law of the land, nor can you be, according to the Word of God. If you are ever saved, you are saved forever [John 3:16; 10:27-30]. You’re never the same again. Well, that’s a glorious doctrine. It’s a glorious promise. It’s the mightiest, sweetest, most comforting assurance that a man could ever know. For how could you be assured but that?
Having loved Jesus all your life, and having served God all your life, maybe sixty days before you got to the pearly gates, you might fall and be damned; how would you know? How would you know? If a man can fall out of the grace of God and away from the salvation of the Lord, how would you ever know that you’d make it to glory? Having come within five inches of the pearly gates you still might miss it. Ah! what a comfort and what an assurance to know that my salvation does not depend upon my hanging onto God, or my holding onto Jesus, but it depends upon God’s grasp of me.
That’s part of the sovereignty of the Almighty, and that’s part of the doctrine that Paul’s preaching here, and that’s part of this text. As I say, all I’m doing, I’m just exegeting this thing. I’m just expounding this thing. I don’t invent these things. These things are God’s things, and these words are God’s words. And these promises are God’s promises, and He can’t lie. So we’re in God, having been saved, regenerated, born again, adopted, we’re in Christ forever and forever [John 3:16; 10:27-30].
Well, he says another thing about that adoption: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will” [Ephesians 1:5]. The Lord purposes some marvelous thing for us. By natural generation––children of Adam and Eve––why, we were going to tend the garden [Genesis 2:15], we were going to mow the lawn. And we were going to get us some big clippers and trim the hedge, and we were going to see that the fruit trees bear fruit and the bushes bear berries, and that’s what we were going to do in the garden of Eden; the Book says so. Now that was what we were going to do by natural generation, the children of Adam and Eve, that’s what we were going to do.
But now God hath purposed for us some better thing, some incomparably glorious thing. What are we going to do now? We’re going to be fellow heirs with Jesus Christ; the Book says so [Romans 8:17]. We’re going to sit with the Lord up there on His throne and rule over all creation [Revelation 3:21; 5:9-10; 22:3-5]. And the wealth, and the treasures, and the riches of God all are ours to share with Him. Think of it. What a destiny! What a prospect! What a future God hath arranged for us who are adopted into the family of God according to the good pleasure of His will [Ephesians 1:5].
Ah, dear! When I get to glory, its not going to be “Master, O Lord, look what I’ve done. Look how high I’ve come. Look at these achievements, Lord. O Master, just look at me.” No. All of these things are by grace, according to the good pleasure of His will [Ephesians 1:5]. God did it for us. And that’s why when we get to glory we’re not going to sing about us. We’re not going to praise ourselves, and we’re not going to say all of those fine things that we congratulate ourselves upon. “Ah, look at me, how fine, and how noble, and how virtuous, and how excellent, and how superb. Oh, how I have arrived and achieved!” You’re not going to do that at all. When you get to glory, whom are you going to praise? You’re going to praise Jesus. He did it. He did it!
“Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and made us kings and priests to God our Father; to Him be glory, and riches, and dominion, and power, for ever and ever. Amen and amen” [Revelation 1:5-6]. That’s what you’re going to do when you get to glory. Jesus did it. He did it. He paid the debt for our sins [Ephesians 1:7]. He chose us to grace and love [Hebrews 9:14]. He saved us and washed us [Revelation 1:5]. Jesus did it. And when you’re singing your best, Lee Roy, that’s what you’re singing down here.
Jesus paid it all.
All to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain.
He washed it white as snow.
[“Jesus Paid It All,” Elvina M. Hall, 1865]
Jesus. “More, more about Jesus”; “Tell me the old, old story.” That’s the gospel. And that’s the praise, and how thankful we are to God. See, it doesn’t minister to our egotism, and our exaltation, and our aggrandizement, and the furtherance of our personal appreciation, and we got plenty of it, full of ourselves. But this always ministers to our humility, and to the praise, and glory of God; according to the good pleasure of His will; He did it [Ephesians 1:5].
As I go around the world, and come back, and then think of it in my mind, O Lord, O God! His great goodness and grace to me—how could I ever thank Him for it? Why wasn’t I born in a communist, infidel, atheistic, blaspheming home in the heart of Russia? Why wasn’t I born there, and brought up through all of those classifications, those organizations of the Young Pioneers, and all the rest of those organizations? Why wasn’t I born over there? I never chose where I was born, nor when I was born; but how good God was to me, to let me be born in America!
I think of those black people who live in the heart of Africa, and they live on a dirt floor under a thatched hut, and they worship gods of animism, gods that live in trees, and stones, and rocks, and brooks. I walked around and looked, and there’d be blood on this big tree, and there’s blood on that rock, and there’s blood on this stone, and there’s blood on that stick. And I’d say to the missionary accompanying me, “Why do they have blood on all these things?”
And he says, “They are animists. They worship sticks, and rocks, and stones, and they believe the spirits live in those things. And they have propitiated the gods. They’ve expiated their sins before the gods by offering chickens and other like animals before the spirits that live in these stones and sticks.” Why wasn’t I born there? And why wasn’t I brought up like that, to bow down before a stick, and to offer chicken blood for the expiation of my sin? Why wasn’t I?
Ah, the goodness of God and the grace of Jesus that let me born where I was, in America and in a Christian home. And being born here in America, thank God I wasn’t born in a home that disallows God, and that disavows the Lord, and that disowns the right of heaven to love me, and to save me, and to write my name in the Book of Life, and to deliver me sometime to the glory that is yet to be. O Lord, there are so many homes in America that are not Christian. They’re everything else but Christians, and they get more vocal every day. In the great things that our forefathers loved, these who don’t believe in God and don’t believe in Christ, and they don’t believe in the gospel, and they don’t believe in the Bible, they become more vocal every day. And I look at them and I see them. O Lord, how could I thank Thee enough that I was born in a devout Christian home?
The Lord’s Day was a sacred day. We went to church. We went to Sunday school. We went to Training Union. Wednesday was a prayer meeting night in our home. Thursday was choir practice, and my father loved to sing, and I used to go with him to the choir practice. I might have been a sour, blue note in the program even when I was a boy, and I haven’t gotten over it yet, but I like it!
And God never said anything about making beautiful noise. He just said make a joyful noise, and if your heart overflows, why just make the noise. God understands. Pat your foot. Clap your hands. Say amen, or just sing off key. It doesn’t matter. We got enough noise around here to keep us going, isn’t that right? My soul, don’t worry about whether you can sing beautifully or not, just sing joyfully.
Well, I was fetched up in a home like that. “According to the good pleasure of His will” [Ephesians 1:5]; I had nothing to do with it at all, nothing at all, but Jesus did it for me. God did it for me. And I just praise His name forever, adopted into the family of God, and a member of the household of the Lord, forever and forever [Ephesians 1:5].
Well, we must hasten. “In whom we have redemption through His blood”; “redemption through His blood” [Ephesians 1:7]; that is the great theme of the Bible, Jesus dying for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]. That’s why He said He came into this world: “This is My blood of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28]. “For the Son of Man is come into the world to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10].
And the great act of the death of our Lord was not a martyrdom, nor was it a hero’s sacrifice, but it was the most meaningful, and the most glorious of all of the crises that human history has ever faced; for all of the ages before pointed toward the coming of the Son of God, and all of the ages since shall look back to the great moment when God died for our sins, and purchased His church with His own blood [Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25].
That’s the great meaningful significant fact in time, and in history in this world, and in the world to come. All of the Old Testament looked toward the coming of Jesus; and it’s the theme of the Old Testament, “He is coming” [Genesis 3:15]. And every sacrifice, and the blood poured out on the altar [Leviticus 4:18], and the blood of the Passover night [Exodus 12:7], and the blood of the daily sacrifice [Exodus 29:38], all typified, were harbingers of, earnests of, promises of, pictures of the glorious death, when God should pay in His own life and in His own blood for our sins [Ephesians 1:7]. And since that day, the story of the New Testament is that redemption. Jesus has died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And the great ultimate song in glory will be the praise for the Son of God, who purchased us to the Lord Himself with His own blood [1 Peter 1:18-19]. That’s what it’s about. And when you preach in the gospel, that’s what you preach. And when you rejoice in God, that’s what you’re rejoicing in.
Some of you are here, a lot of you were here, when on a Sunday night several years ago, when the New Year’s Eve fell on Sunday night, I announced to the people I was going to start preaching at seven-thirty and preach past midnight. And I chose a subject. I said, “The subject is going to be ‘The Scarlet Thread through the Bible.’” And I started at the beginning in Genesis, when God slew that innocent animal and the ground drank of his blood [Genesis 3:21], and He covered the nakedness of our first father and mother [Genesis 3:7, 21].
And the story of the blood, the scarlet thread, all through the Bible, until that group in heaven, when the elder said to John, “Who are these?” And he said, “I do not know.” And the elder replied, “These are they who washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:13-14]. That’s the whole story of God’s word. That’s the theme of the Bible. Jesus is coming to die for our sins, and since Jesus has died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], and in glory all praise to Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood [Revelation 1:5]. That’s the Book, and that’s the gospel, redemption in His blood [1 Peter 1:18-19].
Now how does the blood of Christ save us? How does the cross of Christ save us? In my doctoral work I had two minors and a major. One of those minors that I chose was a study of the theories of the atonement, and I studied that thing for two years. That was one of the minors in my doctor’s work, and when I got through with it at the end of two years, and had taken a doctor’s examination on it and passed it, I still didn’t know any more about the atonement than when I started. I just knew what men were speculating concerning it.
And some of those theories of the atonement—and as you know, they change with every changing age, and they differ with every differing generation—some of the theories of the atonement were artificial and technical, and some of them were downright grotesque, and some of them intellectually incredible. It is not possible for a speculative theologian, no matter who he is, to encompass the full divine and heavenly meaning of what the cross of Christ means, and how the blood of Jesus washes the stain of sin out of our souls. It is a knowledge inaccessible to human wisdom. We cannot enter into it. All we can do is just see and marvel at what God has done in the cross, in the blessed sobs, and tears, and agonies, and suffering, and death, and blood of the Lord Jesus [Romans 5:10]. It brings hope to the despairing, and comfort to the comfortless, and changes our damnation and condemnation into celestial joy, but how it does, nobody knows. We can’t encompass in our minds the infinitude of the love [John 3:16] and grace [Ephesians 2:8] of God in Christ Jesus. Now all you can do is just look at it, and you can see the effects of it.
And as you look at the effects of the atonement, why, you’ll see this. Why, the effect of the death of Christ, the cross of Jesus, the effect—you know, it is like it corresponds to the effect of a slave who is ransomed and given his liberty. And so some of the theories of the atonement say, that the death of Christ is a ransom for our servitude and our sins. And that’s biblical, for Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” [Matthew 20:28]. And the effect of the death of Christ corresponds to the effect of the ransoming of a slave. Well, that’s right.
Then again, as you look at the effect of the atonement, the effect of the death of Christ corresponds to the effect of a man who has angered God, and the wrath of God is against him. And he comes before the Lord, and he propitiates God, and he turns the wrath of God into mercy, and grace, and favor, and so some would say the atonement of Christ is a propitiation. It renders God favorable to man [Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10]. And that’s right; the Book says so.
Then there are those who look at the atonement and the effect, and they say, “You know the effect of the death of Christ is like a worshipper in the ancient temple, and he is shut out from the temple because of his sins. And he takes an innocent animal and he sacrifices it, and he expiates his sin.” And some, seeing the death of Christ and the effects, say that the death of Christ, the atonement of the Lord, is an expiation of our sins. It is an “at-one-ment,” with God. It is “at-one-ment,” and we pronounce it atonement. It is an “at-one-ment,” it is an atonement of our sins. And so they say the death of Christ is an atonement; the death of Christ is an expiation. And that’s right; the Book says so [Romans 5:11].
Then there are those who look at the death of Christ and say, “You know, the effect of the death of Christ is as someone who has been estranged and had been pulled apart, but the death of Christ reconciles them.” And they say the death of Christ is a reconciliation to God. He is reconciled to us in Jesus, and in Christ, we can be reconciled to God. That’s right; the Book says so [Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21]. And when you fit it all—and a thousand others that I haven’t time, because every man has his own idea of the atonement—when you say it all, the death of Christ is atonement [Romans 3:25]. It’s expiation [1 John 4:10]. It’s propitiation [1 John 2:2], and it’s ransom [Romans 6:6-7]. It’s reconciliation [Colossians 1:22]. When you’ve said it all, you still haven’t said it.
Ah, the glory of the abounding pouring out grace of God in Christ’s death is beyond our human minds to realize and our human tongues to describe. That’s why sometimes we just burst loose and sing. How do you say it? How do you express it? Once in awhile the old-timers at least used to just turn loose and shout! The top would just overflow. You can’t say it. It’s so gloriously, aboundingly, celestially wonderful. That’s the reason I want you to sing that song while we’re singing, “Oh, How I Love Jesus.” I want you to get somebody up here to sing. Oh, it is wonderful; you going to do that? You going to do that? We’re going to get this thing started up here one of these days, yes sir.
Just like I’m a-telling you, you can see the effects of it, but you can’t describe it. You can’t put your arms around it. You can’t say “I got it,” because it’s bigger than man’s mind. All we do is experience it, and rejoice in it, and we just watch it, and see it, and glorify God through it. And that’s the testimony of the ages and of our testimony in our day and our generation, looking at it through the years.
I read there was a ruffian that came to hear George Whitefield preach. You know, the Anglican Church wouldn’t let John Wesley, Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and those men in their pulpits; not one in England, not a church, not a pulpit. So they went outside, and they preached on the commons, and they preached to the colliers, and they preached to the people on the streets and on the river banks, wherever people would listen. Well, George Whitefield was preaching at Exeter, a town in Southwestern England, and a ruffian filled his pocket full of rocks in order to go there and attend that outdoor meeting, and going to bust it up, going to stone the preacher while he’s preaching.
So he stood there with his pocket full of rocks, and Whitefield started praying. “Well,” he said, “I can’t stone the preacher while he’s a-praying. I’ll wait till he gets through praying, then I’ll do it.” So he stood there with his pockets full of rocks, and George Whitefield got through praying, and then he began to read his text. He began to read God’s Book. And that ruffian said, “Well, I don’t want to stone him while he’s preaching God’s Book, so I’ll wait till he gets through preaching God’s Book.” And then when he finished his text, George Whitefield began to preach Jesus, and the cross of God, and the love of the Lord in Christ Jesus.
After the service was over the ruffian went up to George Whitefield and said, “Sir, I came here with my pockets full of rocks to break up this meeting. But,” he said, “instead, God hath broken up my heart,” and he was won to Jesus right there on the spot. Isn’t that something? Isn’t that something?
Do you all, does the name T. De Witt Talmage mean anything to you? One of the great, great, great preachers of all time; every sermon that T. De Witt Talmage preached in the Brooklyn Tabernacle was published the following Monday in the newspapers across America. That has never happened before or since in the history of the world, but it happened in the days of T. De Witt Talmage. Well, upon a day, Dr. Talmage began to describe how it was his people became Christians, how they were saved and briefly it was like this.
He said his grandpapa and his grandmamma went to hear Charles G. Finney preach, and they were saved; and they came back home resolving to win their children to Jesus. Well, talk about a generation gap; there hasn’t been any time when there hasn’t been a generation gap; the young people this way and the older people that way. Well, they said to the children that they wanted [them] to be Christians, and those youngsters smiled and laughed, and those young people thought it was a first class joke, and they went off to the party.
That night having a big party, and away they went, and the mother said to them, “All the time you’re gone, I’m going to be praying for you. And when you get back, I’ll still be praying for you.” Well, they never had such a hilarious time at the party, and when they got back there was that dear mother, down on her knees, praying for those children.
Well, the next day they heard someone crying in their daughter’s room, and they went upstairs and opened the door, and there was the daughter weeping before God, under great conviction. And she said her brothers were under conviction like she was. She said, “My brother Elijah is in the barn, and my brother David is in the wagon shed.” And the father and mother rushed to the barn, and there was Elijah, who became a great preacher himself, under deep conviction of Jesus. And they rushed to the wagon shed and there was David, who was the father of T. DeWitt Talmage, there was David Talmage under conviction of God. The whole family was saved.
They all were saved, and the news of the salvation of that family spread from home to home, house to house, and heart to heart, and leaped from tongue to tongue. They lived in a little tiny village, he said, and when time came for them to have preaching service, as they do out in the country maybe once a month, when time came for the preacher to come and they had the service, T. De Witt Talmage said that that morning, there were more than two hundred people accepting the Lord as their Savior. That’s how it come to him to be a preacher. How do you like that? Saved, that’s God, and you can’t explain those things. It’s just the effect of the preaching of the cross.
This television service is cabled out there to San Angelo, where Lee Roy and I were last week in that crusade. They’ve got a big coliseum where they have rodeos, and that’s where we held forth preaching the gospel, and singing the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. I did at the early service, but I don’t feel that maybe I ought to speak of too much, because some of those people out there in San Angelo will be listening at this moment.
But I can say to you in San Angelo who are listening, and that whole western world, as to this great congregation here in Dallas, every night, every night I’d go by the counseling service, stop and look, and there would be the people who were saved by the preaching of the blood of the crucified One. Whole row of ruffian boys, tough as boot leather; Jimmy Hester was the coordinator of the meeting, got a hold of those boys, and one night, passing by the service of prayer, there I looked at them, the whole row of them there with bowed heads, seeking the love, and grace, and mercy of Jesus.
One of those women out there for whom some of them had prayed, and loved, and visited, an alcoholic, passed by in a moment of prayer. There she was, with her head bowed, asking Jesus to come into her heart, saved in that mercy [Titus 3:5], and grace [Ephesians 2:8], and love of the crucified One [John 3:1]. Ah, that’s the power of God in the cross! And you don’t explain it. You just see it. And if you’re saved, you can’t explain quite what happened to you. You were just moved and God did something and you’ve never been the same again.
Well, we must hasten. Adoption, redemption, and then forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace, forgiveness of sins [Ephesians 1:7]. There are three ways that God forgives our sins in Christ Jesus. In a personal way, in a personal way, that is, there is cessation of moral indignation and righteous sensitivity against our sins. There is a cessation of that indignation in God; in a personal way He forgives us. He forgives us in an ethical way. The burden of guilt on our backs, our souls, He takes away, rolls away.
And then there is a legal sense in which God forgives us. He commutes our sentence. We don’t face damnation, and brimstone, and hell, and the fury of the righteousness of God, but He commutes the sentence. We are free. We just go to heaven. Now those three ways in which He forgives our sins, let me say just a word about each one of them.
God forgives our sins in a personal way. God is a person just as you are a person, God is a person. God is Jesus. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. “I and My Father are one” [John 10:30]. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” [John 14:9]. And Jesus would be angry. Book says, “He looked around upon them in anger [Mark 3:5]. He made a cord out of a whip and drove them out of the temple” [John 2:15].
He could denounce the Pharisees in language like none in human literature [Matthew 23:13-33]. He is a person. He can feel. He is grieved. He is hurt. He is angered. He is filled with wrath. And He loves, and He forgives, and He in His heart goes out. God is a person.
Now it’d be possible for us to repent and come back to God, and He wouldn’t have us. Just like the story of the prodigal son [Luke 15:11-32]. When that prodigal came back, who’d wasted his substance in riotous living with harlots and every other kind of evil, drunken, trans-iniquitous way [Luke 15:13, 17-21], why, the younger brother didn’t want him. I mean, the older brother wouldn’t want him [Luke 15:25-30]. No, he was done with him. And the father could have been that way, the prodigal come back in repentance and the father could have refused to forgive him. “Get out of my sight. We’ve had your funeral. We’ve taken your name off of the list of the genealogical tables of our family, and you are no more. Get out. Don’t want to see you.” Now the father could’ve done that, and a lot of fathers do it today, for different reasons.
But the prodigal son, when he came back, the father said, “Put shoes on his feet, and a ring on his hand, and put a fine robe over him, and kill the fatted calf, and let us be merry and praise God: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found” [Luke 15:22-24]. And the father took him back and forgave him, and he was his son again. Now that’s God in heaven. Now that’s personal forgiveness. God takes us back, and He adopts us into His family, and showers upon us every rich gift according to the riches of His grace [Ephesians 1:5-7]. That’s personal forgiveness. He forgives us from His heart.
Now, ethical forgiveness; I don’t think in the English language there is a more beautiful description of the life of the Christian than Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. And do you remember how it begins? Here’s a man in tatters. Here’s a man standing in rags, with his back to his house and he’s holding a Book in his hand. And the Book tells him about sin and about judgment. He’s holding the Bible in his hand, and as he reads, he weeps. He weeps, and he cries, “What shall I do?” with a great and lamentable cry. And then Bunyan describes him, and he has a great burden on his back; a great burden on his back, and that burden, of course, is the sense of sin, and guilt, and shortcoming; and all of us have that burden on our back, that sense of lack, that drag. Well, haven’t time enough to follow it through, but at the cross, it rolled away. Remember that story in the book, and the burden rolled away; and you sing that song:
At the cross, at the cross
Where I first saw the light
And the burden of my sin rolled away.
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day.
[“Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed,” Isaac Watts, 1707]
Boy, you ought to be up here preaching this sermon. Oh, that’s a glorious song!
Happy day, happy day
When Jesus washed my sins away.
He taught me how to watch and pray
And live rejoicing every day.
Happy day, happy day
When Jesus washed my sins away.
[“O Happy Day,” Phillip Doddridge]
That’s ethical forgiveness. The burden is taken off of our backs.
And last, legal forgiveness, legal forgiveness, God commutes the sentence. And when I die, I don’t die now in prospect of falling into the grave, and into the night, and into death, and into hell, and in the judgment and damnation. No, for Christ has saved me [Romans 10:8-13], and now when I die I just open my eyes in glory and there I am.
When peace like a river attendeth my way
Or when sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul!
All of my sins—listen, my brother—when the Noah’s Flood covered the highest mountains, it covered all the little molehills, too. Don’t you worry. All of our sins washed way.
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
And the clouds be rolled back like a scroll;
And the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
[“It Is Well With My Soul,” Horatio G. Spafford, 1873]
Amen. That’s legal forgiveness. God commutes the sentence. We’re not going to pay for our sins anymore. God has given us life for death.
Well, we’ve got to sing our song. Time’s done. While we sing this hymn of appeal, a family you, a couple you, a somebody you, coming down that aisle, “Here I am, preacher, I make it now.” This morning, this hour, in the balcony round, the throng, there’s a stairway at the front and the back on either side, and there’s time and to spare for you to come. If you’re on the back row of that highest balcony, there’s time, come. And on this lower floor into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor.” A family you, the whole family coming, a couple you, or just you; make the decision now, do it now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. That first step will be the most preciously meaningful step in your life. Do it now, come now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.