God's forgiveness is, so to speak, the preliminary grace, which enables the beginning of a new life, so that we become holy and loving children. Forgiveness is the prerogative of him who has been sinned against. "Who can forgive sins save God only?" He forgives on grounds sufficient in the estimation of His own righteous love. He cannot be coerced or coaxed into forgiveness. He cannot forgive until He sees it right to forgive. He cannot connive at the sinner being let off, if righteousness demands that he should suffer penalty. Nothing can be weaker or more immoral than to represent God as moved merely by pity, by a merciful compassion.
That He is infinitely pitiful and loving is the uniform representation of Scripture. But His love works in a far profounder and holier and greater way than by mere pitiful feeling. He Himself "gave the only begotten Son" to redeem us, to die as a sacrifice for sins, that He might righteously forgive, that He might be "a just God and yet a Saviour." The entire representation is of God's love as the moving cause of Christ's mission and redeeming work. Christ is given by the leather to redeem us — that is, as the apostle here explains it, to obtain for us the forgiveness of sins. Sin is not a misfortune, a necessity of our nature — it is a guilty act.
We need not sin; we wilfully sin: and before we can become loving children of God, our sin must be forgiven. This is the first step in our redemption; forgiveness is made possible for us, is obtained for us by Jesus Christ. The further phrase "redemption through His blood," shuts us up to the idea that the shedding of His blood by Christ, was that which made forgiveness a possible thing. It is only natural that men should ask, How, in what way, did the death of Christ constitute a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of men? Such questions have been asked from the beginning of Christianity, and have in a hundred ways been answered in creeds and in systems of theology. These are purely human conceptions of the great fact which the New Testament affirms, and they have continuously changed as the spiritual intelligence of the Church has grown. Perhaps no one could now be found capable of entertaining the gross notions of the earlier and middle ages of Christianity.
Whatever theory we may form, it must be taken only as our fallible human idea. The fact of the great sacrifice for sin is authoritatively affirmed; very little is said in explanation of what we may call the philosophy of it. That it had an aspect Godward, that it is the ground or reason of God's forgiveness of sins, we are expressly told. And that it has an aspect manward, that it is a moral constraint upon human feeling, "the power of God unto salvation" is equally affirmed. "Lifted up from the earth, He draws all men unto Him." One or two things may be said. Christ suffered, of course, as a man — a perfectly holy man, suffering for human sin as if He Himself had sinned. To enable this He became incarnate. He was "made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death." It is clear that He did not suffer to appease any implacable feeling in God — to incline God to save.
Every representation of Scripture is of God's yearning pity and love. His love was the origin, the cause, of Christ's Incarnation — He "spared not His only-begotten Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all." That God is angry with sin is only to say that He is a Holy Being. If God can delight in the holiness of His creatures, He must hate their sin. He is not a passionless Being, incapable of feeling. How could He be loved if He were? No expressions can be stronger than those which represent God's feeling towards sin. "He is angry with the wicked every day"; "The wrath of God abideth upon him"; "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness," for those that "obey unrighteousness there is indignation and wrath.
" We are "saved from wrath through Him." We are by nature "children of wrath"; "the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience." That God was not angry with His well-beloved Son needs not be said, save that this, too, is a misrepresentation that the rejectors of the Atonement are not ashamed to persist in. "Therefore doth the Father love Me, because I lay down My life for the sheep." That Jesus Christ ever thought the Father angry with Him it is impossible to think. When, in the extreme anguish of His spirit, He felt as if His Father had forsaken Him, He immediately added: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." Was not His anguish simply the vivid realization by His human heart of what human sin was?
If any of us had a brother or a sister, a father or a mother, who committed a murder, would not our anguish at the crime be greater than even that of the murderer himself, just in proportion as his heart was murderous and ours was humane? Many a father, many a mother, feels infinitely more anguish for the sin of a profligate son, of a fallen daughter, than the sinner himself. May not this suggestion help us to understand the agony of the garden and of the cross?