“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”1 John 1:9
The text says that not only can God be just, but it says something more: it says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Now, if I understand this text, it means this: that IT IS AN ACT OF JUSTICE ON GOD’S PART TO FORGIVE THE SINNER WHO MAKES A CONFESSION OF HIS SIN TO GOD. Mark! not that the sinner deserves forgiveness: that can never be. Sin can never merit anything but punishment, and repentance is no atonement for sin. Not that God is bound from any necessity of his nature to forgive every one that repents, because repentance has not in itself sufficient efficacy and power to merit forgiveness at the hand of God. Yet, nevertheless, it is a truth that, because God is just, he must forgive every sinner who confesses his sin. And if he did not—and mark, it is a bold thing to say, but it is warranted by the text—if a sinner should be led truly and solemnly to make confession of his sins and cast himself on Christ, if God did not forgive him, then he were not the God that he is represented to be in the Word of God: he were a God unjust, and that may God forbid, such a thing must not, cannot be. But how, then, is it that Justice itself actually demands that every soul that repents should be pardoned? It is so. The same Justice that just now stood with a fiery sword in his hand, like the cherubim of old keeping the way of the tree of life, now goes hand in hand with the sinner. “Sinner,” he says, “I will go with thee. When thou goest to plead for pardon I will go and plead for thee. Once I spoke against thee: but now I am so satisfied with what Christ has done, that I will go with thee and plead for thee. I will change my language I will not say a word to oppose thy pardon, but I will go with thee and demand it. It is but an act of justice that God should now forgive.” And the sinner goes up with Justice, and what has Justice got to say? Why, it says this: “God must forgive the repenting sinner, if he be just, according to his promise.” A God who could break his promise were unjust. We do not believe in men who tell us lies. I have known some of so gentle a disposition, that they could never say “No;” if they were asked to do a thing they have said, “Yes.” But they have never earned a character for it, when they have said “Yes,” and afterwards did not fulfil. It is not so with God. He is no tender-hearted being who promises more than he can perform, and no forgetful one who promises what afterwards shall slip from his memory. Every word which God utters shall be fulfilled, whether it be decree, threatening, or promise. Sinner! go to God with a promise in your hand.—”Lord thou hast said, ‘He that confesseth his sin, and forsaketh it, shall find mercy.’ I confess my sin, and I forsake it: Lord, give me mercy!” Don’t doubt but that God will give it you. You have his own pledge in your hand; you have his own bond in your keeping. Take that pledge and that bond before his throne of mercy, and that bond never shall be cancelled till it has been honoured. You shall see that promise fulfilled to the uttermost letter, though your sin be never so black. Suppose the promise you take should be this. “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” “But,” says the Law, “thou art one of the greatest sinners that ever lived.” “Ay, but the promise says, ‘Him that cometh,’ and I come, and I claim the fulfilment of it.” “No, but thou hast been a blasphemer.” “I know it, but the promise says, ‘Him that cometh,’ and I come, and blasphemer though I am, I claim the promise.” “But thou hast been a thief, thou hast deceived thy neighbour, and thou hast robbed men.” “I have, but the promise says, ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise case out;’ I come, and I claim the promise. It does not say anything at all about character in the promise: it says, ‘Him that cometh,’ and I come, and if I be black as the devil, nevertheless God is true, and I claim the promise. I confess all that can be said against me. Will God be untrue, and send a seeking soul away with a promise unfulfilled? Never!” “But,” says one, “you have lived many years in this way; your conscience has often checked you, and you have resisted conscience often: it is too late now.” “But I have the promise, ‘Him that cometh,’—there is no time stipulated in it—’Him that cometh;’ I come, and O God, thou canst not break the promise!” Challenge God by faith, and you will see that he will be as good as his word to you. Though you are worse than words can tell, God, I repeat it, as long as he is just, must honour his own promise. Go and confess your sin, trust in Christ, and you shall find pardon.
But, again, not only did God make the promise, but according to the text man has been induced to act upon it; and, therefore, this becomes a double bond upon the justice of God. Suppose you made a promise to any man, that if such a thing was done, you would do something else, and suppose that man were to do something quite contrary to his own nature, quite abhorrent to himself; but he did it nevertheless, because he expected to get great blessings thereby, do you mean to say you would tempt a man to do that, and put him to vast expense, and care and trouble, and then turn round and say? “There I shall have nothing to do with that promise: I only promised to make you do so-and-so, now, I will not fulfil my engagement.” Why the man would turn about and call you base to make a promise to lead him to do something and then not fulfil your promise. Now, God has said, “If we confess our sins and trust in Christ, we shall have mercy.” You have done it; you have made the most abject and sincere confession, and you do declare that you have no trust but the blood and righteousness of Christ. Now, on the faith of the promise you have been led into this state. Do you imagine when God has brought you through much pain and agony of mind to repent of sin, to give up self-righteousness, and rely on Christ, he will afterwards turn round and tell you he did not mean what he said? It cannot be—it cannot be. Suppose, now you were about to engage a man to be your servant, and you say to him, renounce such a situation, give that up; come and take a house in the neighbourhood where I live, and I will take you to be my servant.” Suppose he does it, and you then say, “I am glad for your own sake that you have left your master, still I will not take you.” What would he say to you? He would say, “I gave up my situation on the faith of your promise, and now, you break it.” Ah! but it never can be said of Almighty God, that, if a sinner acted on the faith of his promise, then that promise was not kept. God ceases to be God when he ceases to have mercy upon the soul who seeks pardon through the blood of Christ. No, he is a just God, “Faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
One more aspect of this case. God’s justice demands that the sinner should be forgiven if he seeks mercy, for this reason: Christ died on purpose to secure pardon for every seeking soul. Now, I hold it to be an axiom, a self-evident truth, that whatever Christ died for he will have. I cannot believe that when he paid to his Father the price of blood, and groans and tears, he bought something which the Father will not give him. Now, Christ died to purchase the pardon of sin for all those who believe on him, and do you suppose that the Father will rob him of that which be has bought so dearly? No, God were untrue to his own Son, he would break his oath to his well-beloved and only begotten Son, if he were not to give pardon, peace, and purity to every soul that comes to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Oh, I would that I could preach it as with a tongue of thunder everywhere, God is just, and yet the justifier of him that believeth. God is just to forgive us our sins, if we confess them; just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
III. Now, to close. I must just enter into some little EXPLANATION OF THE TWO GREAT DUTIES THAT ARE TAUGHT IN THE TWO TEXTS. The first duty is faith—”believeth in Christ;” the second text is confession—”if we confess our sins.”
I will begin with confession first. Expect not that God will forgive you until you confess; not in the general confession of a prayer book, but in the particular confession of your own inmost heart. You are not to confess to a priest or a man, unless you have offended against him. In that respect, if you have been an offender against any man, be at peace with him and ask his pardon for aught you have done against him. It is a proof of a noble mind when you can ask pardon of another for having done amiss. Whenever grace comes into the heart it will lead you to make amends for any injury which you have done either by word or deed to any of your fellow-men; and you cannot expect that you shall be forgiven of God until you have forgiven men, and have been ready to make peace with those who are now your enemies. That is a beautiful trait in the character of a true Christian. I have heard of Mr. John Wesley, that he was attended in most of his journeyings by one who loved him very much, and was willing, I believe, to have died for him. Still he was a man of a very stubborn and obstinate disposition, and Mr. Wesley was not perhaps the very kindest man at all times. Upon one occasion he said to this man, “Joseph, take these letters to the post.” “I will take them after preaching, sir.” “Take them now, Joseph,” said Mr. Wesley. “I wish to hear you preach, sir; and there will be sufficient time for the post after service.” “I insist upon your going now, Joseph.” “I will not go at present” “You won’t!” “No, sir.” “Then you and I must part,” said Mr. Wesley. “Very good, sir.” The good men slept over it. Both were early risers. At four o’clock the next morning, the refractory helper was accosted with, “Joseph, have you considered what I said—that we must part?” “Yes, sir.” “And must we part?” “please yourself, sir.” “Will you ask my pardon, Joseph?” “No, sir.” “You won’t?” “No, sir.” “Then I will ask yours, Joseph!” Poor Joseph was instantly melted, and they were at once reconciled. When once the grace of God has entered the heart, a man ought to be ready to seek forgiveness for an injury done to another. There is nothing wrong in a man confessing an offence against a fellow-man, and asking pardon for the wrong he has done him. It you have done aught, then, against any man, leave thy gift before the altar, and go and make peace with him, and then come and make peace with God. You are to make confession of your sin to God. Let that be humble and sincere. You cannot mention every offence, but do not hide one. If you hide one it will be a millstone round your neck to sink you into the lowest hell. Confess that you are vile in your nature, evil in your practice, that in you there is no good thing. Lie as low as ever you can at the footstool of divine grace, and confess that you are a wretch undone unless God have mercy upon you.
Then, the next duty is faith. Whilst thou art lying there in the dust turn thine eye to Christ and say. “Black as I am, and hell-deserving as I confess myself to be, I believe that Jesus Christ died for the penitent; and inasmuch as he died, he died that the penitent might not die. I believe thy merits to be great; I believe thy blood to be efficacious; and more than that, I risk my eternal salvation—and yet it is no risk—I venture my eternal salvation upon the merit of thy blood. Jesus, I cannot save myself. Cast the skirts of thy blood-red atonement over me. Come, take me in thine arms; come, wrap me in thy crimson vest, and tell me I am thine. I will trust in nothing else but thee. Nothing I can do or ever did shall be my dependence. I rely simply and entirely upon thy mighty cross, upon which thou didst die for sinners.”
My dear hearers, as to any probability of your being lost after such a confession and such a faith, I assure you there is neither possibility nor probability thereof. You are saved; you are saved in time, you are saved in eternity. Your sins are forgiven; your iniquities are all put away. In this life you shall be fed, and blessed and kept. Remaining sin within you shall be overcome and conquered; and you shall see his face at the last in glory everlasting, when he shall come in the glory of his Father, and all his holy angels with him. “Whosoever believeth on the Son of God hath eternal life, and shall never come into condemnation.” “He that believeth on the Lord Jesus and is baptized, shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned.”
And now in conclusion, I have tried to tell out simply and plainly the story of how God’s justice is satisfied, and has become the sinners friend, and I look for fruit, for where the gospel is simply preached it is never preached in vain. Only let us go home and pray now, that we may know the Saviour. Let us pray that others may know him too. If you are convinced of sin, my dear friends, do not lose a moment. Go to your chamber as soon as you get home, shut to your door, go alone to Jesus, and there repeat your confession, and once more affirm your faith in Christ; and you shall have that peace with God which the world cannot give, and which the world cannot take away. Your troubled conscience shalt find rest: your feet shall be on a rock; and a new song shall be in your mouth, even praise for evermore.