It is with our sins that we go to God, for we have nothing
else to go with that we can call our own. This is one of
the lessons that we are so slow to learn; yet without
learning this we cannot take one right step in that which
we call a religious life.
To look up some good thing in our past life, or to get
some good thing now, if we find that our past does not
contain any such thing, is our first thought when we begin
to inquire after God, that we may get the great question
settled between Him and us, as to the forgiveness of our
"In His favour is life"; and to be without this favour is
to be unhappy here, and to be shut out from joy hereafter.
There is no life worthy of the name of life save that
which flows from His assured friendship. Without that
friendship, our life here is a burden and a weariness; but
with that friendship we fear no evil, and all sorrow is
turned into joy.
"How shall I be happy?" was the question of a weary soul
who had tried a hundred different ways of happiness, and
had always failed.
"Secure the favour of God," was the prompt answer, by one
who had himself tasted that the "Lord is gracious."
"Is there no other way of being happy?"
"None, none," was the quick and decided reply. "Man has
been trying other ways for six thousand years, and has
utterly failed, and are you likely to succeed?"
"No, not likely; and I don't want to go on trying. But
this favour of God seems such a shadowy thing, and God
Himself so far off, that I know not which way to turn."
"God's favour is no shadow; it is real beyond all other
realities; and He Himself is the nearest of all near
beings, as accessible as He is gracious."
"That favour of which you speak has always seemed to me a
sort of mist, of which I can make nothing."
"Say rather it is sunshine which a mist is hiding from
"Yes, yes, I believe you; but how shall I get through the
mist into the sunshine beyond? It seems so difficult and
to require such a length of time!"
"You make that distant and difficult which God has made
simple and near and easy."
"Are there no difficulties, do you mean to say?"
"In one sense, a thousand; in another, none."
"How is that?"
"Did the Son of God put difficulties in the sinner's way
when He said to the multitude, 'Come unto Me, and I will
give you rest'
"Certainly not; He meant them to go at once to Him, as He
stood there, and as they stood there, and He would give
"Had you then been upon the spot, what difficulties should
you have found?"
"None, certainly; to speak of difficulty when I was
standing by the side of the Son of God would have been
folly, or worse."
"Did the Son of God suggest difficulty to the sinner when
He sat on Jacob's well, by the side of the Samaritan? Was
not all difficulty anticipated or put away by these
wondrous words of Christ, 'thou wouldst have asked, and I
would have given'?"
"Yes, no doubt; the asking and the giving was all. The
whole transaction is finished on the spot. Time and space,
distance and difficulty, have nothing to do with the
matter; the giving was to follow the asking as a matter of
course. So far all is plain. But I would ask: Is there no
"None whatever, if the Son of God really came to save the
lost; if He came for those who were only partly lost, or
who could partly save themselves, the barrier is infinite.
This I admit; nay, insist upon."
"Is the being lost, then, no barrier to our being saved?"
"Foolish question, which may be met by a foolish answer.
Is your being thirsty a hindrance to your getting water or
is being poor a hindrance to your obtaining riches as a
gift from a friend?"
"True; it is my thirst that fits me for the water and my
poverty that fits me for the gold."
"Ah, yes, the Son of Man came not to call the righteous
but sinners to repentance. If you be not wholly a sinner,
there is a barrier; if you be wholly such, there is none!"
"Wholly a sinner! Is that really my character?"
"No doubt of that. If you doubt it, go and search your
Bible. God's testimony is that you are wholly a sinner,
and must deal with Him as such, for the whole need not a
physician, but they that are sick
"Wholly a sinner, well! – but must I not get quit of some
of my sins before I can expect blessing from Him?"
“No, indeed; He alone can deliver you from so much as even
one sin; and you must go at once to Him with all that you
have of evil, how much so ever that may be. If you be not
wholly a sinner, you don't wholly need Christ, for He is
out and out a Saviour; He does not help you to save
yourself, nor do you help Him to save you. He does all, or
nothing. A half salvation will only do for those who are
not completely lost. He 'His own self bare our sins in His
own body on the tree' [1 Peter ]
It was in some such way as the above that Luther found his
way into the peace and liberty of Christ. The story of his
deliverance is an instructive one, as showing how the
stumbling-blocks of self-righteousness are removed by the
full exhibition of the gospel in its freeness, as the good
news of God's love to the unloving and unlovable, the good
news of pardon to the sinner, without merit and without
money, the good news of PEACE WITH GOD, solely through the
propitiation of Him who hath made peace by the blood of
One of Luther's earliest difficulties was that he must get
repentance wrought within himself; and having accomplished
this, he was to carry this repentance as a peace-offering
or recommendation to God. If this repentance could not be
presented as a positive recommendation, at least it could
be urged as a plea in mitigation of punishment. "How can I
dare believe in the favour of God," he said, "so long as
there is in me no real conversion? I must be changed
before He can receive me."
He is answered that the "conversion," or "repentance," of
which he is so desirous, can never take place so long as
he regards God as a stern and unloving Judge. It is the
goodness of God that leadeth to repentance [Romans 2:4],
and without the recognition of this "goodness" there can
be no softening of heart. An impenitent sinner is one who
is despising the riches of His goodness and forbearance
Luther's aged counsellor tells him plainly that he must be
done with penances and mortifications, and all such
self-righteous preparations for securing or purchasing the
Divine favour. That voice, Luther tells us touchingly,
seemed to come to him from heaven: "All true repentance
begins with the knowledge of the forgiving love of God."
As he listens light breaks in, and an unknown joy fills
him. Nothing between him and God! Nothing between him and
pardon! No preliminary goodness, or preparatory feeling!
He learns the Apostle's lesson, "Christ died for the
ungodly" [Romans 5:6]; God “justifieth the ungodly”
[Romans 4:5]. All the evil that is in him cannot hinder
this justification; and all the goodness (if such there
be) that is in him cannot assist in obtaining it. He must
be received as a sinner, or not at all. The pardon that is
proffered recognizes only his guilt; and the salvation
provided in the cross of Christ regards him simply as
But the sense of guilt is too deep to be easily quieted.
Fear comes back again, and he goes once more to his aged
adviser, crying, "Oh, my sin, my sin!" as if the message
of forgiveness which he had so lately received was too
good news to be true, and as if sins like his could not be
so easily and so simply forgiven.
"What! would you be only a pretended sinner, and therefore
need only a pretended Saviour?"
So spake his venerable friend, and then added, solemnly,
"Know that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of great and real
sinners, who are deserving of nothing but utter
"But is not God sovereign in His electing love?" said
Luther; "Perhaps I may not be one of His chosen."
"Look to the wounds of Christ," was the answer, "and learn
there God's gracious mind to the children of men. In
Christ we read the name of God, and learn what He is, and
how He loves; the Son is the revealer of the Father; and
the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world."
"I believe in the forgiveness of sins," said Luther to a
friend one day, when tossing on a sick bed; "but what is
that to me?"
"Ah," said his friend, "does not that include your own
sins? You believe in the forgiveness of David's sins, and
of Peter's sins, why not of your own? The forgiveness is
for you as much as for David or Peter."
Thus Luther found rest. The gospel, thus believed, brought
liberty and peace. He knew that he was forgiven because
had said that forgiveness was the immediate and sure
possession of all who believed the good news.
In the settlement of the great question between the sinner
and God, there was to be no bargaining and no price of any
kind. The basis of settlement was laid eighteen hundred
years ago; and the mighty transaction on the cross did all
that was needed as a price. "It is finished," is God's
message to the sons of men in their inquiry, "What shall
we do to be saved?" This completed transaction supersedes
all man's efforts to justify himself, or to assist God in
justifying him. We see Christ crucified, and God in Christ
reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing unto men
their trespasses; and this non-imputation is the result
solely of what was done upon the cross, where the
transference of the sinner's guilt to the Divine surety
was once and for ever accomplished. It is of that
transaction that the gospel brings us the "good news," and
whosoever believeth it becomes partaker of all the
benefits which that transaction secured.
"But am I not to be indebted to the Holy Spirit's work in
"Undoubtedly; for what hope can there be for you without
the Almighty Spirit, who quickeneth the dead?"
"If so, then ought I not to wait for His impulses, and
having got them, may I not present the feelings which He
has wrought in me as reasons why I should be justified?"
"No, in no wise. You are not justified by the Spirit's
work, but by Christ's alone; nor are the motions of the
Spirit in you the grounds of your confidence, or the
reasons for your expecting pardon from the Judge of all.
The Spirit works in you, not to prepare you for being
justified, or to make you fit for the favour of God, but
to bring you to the cross, just as you are. For the cross
is the only place where God deals in mercy with the
It is at the cross that we meet God in peace and receive
His favour. There we find not only the blood that washes,
but the righteousness which clothes and beautifies, so
that henceforth we are treated by God as if our own
righteousness had passed away, and the righteousness of
His own Son were actually ours.
This is what the apostle calls "imputed" righteousness
[Romans 4:6, 8, 11, 22, 24], or righteousness so reckoned
to us by God as that we are entitled to all the blessings
which that righteousness can obtain for us. Righteousness
got up by ourselves, or put into us by another, we call
infused, or imparted, or inherent righteousness; but
righteousness belonging to another reckoned to us by God
as if it were our own, we call imputed righteousness. It
is of this that the apostle speaks when he says, "Put ye
on the Lord Jesus Christ" [Romans ;
Thus Christ represents us: and God deals with us as
represented by Him. Righteousness within will follow
necessarily and inseparably; but we are not to wait in
order to get it before going to God for the righteousness
of His only begotten Son.
Imputed righteousness must come first. You cannot have the
righteousness within till you have the righteousness
without; and to make your own righteousness the price
which you give to God for that of His Son, is to dishonour
Christ, and to deny His cross. The Spirit's work is not to
make us holy, in order that we may be pardoned, but to
show us the cross, where the pardon is to be found by the
unholy; so that having found the pardon there, we may
begin the life of holiness to which we are called.
That which God presents to the sinner is an immediate
pardon, "Not by works of righteousness which we have
done," but by the great work of righteousness finished for
us by the Substitute. Our qualification for obtaining that
righteousness is that we are unrighteous, just as the sick
man's qualification for the physician is that he is sick.
Of a previous goodness, preparatory to pardon, the gospel
says nothing. Of a preliminary state of religious feeling
as a necessary introduction to the grace of God, the
apostles never spoke. Fears, troubles, self-questionings,
bitter cries for mercy, forebodings of judgment, and
resolutions of amendment, may, in point of time, have
preceded the sinner's reception of the good news; but they
did not constitute his fitness, nor make up his
qualification. He would have been quite as welcome without
them. They did not make the pardon more complete, more
gracious, or more free. The sinner's wants were all his
be merciful to me a sinner." He needed salvation, and he
went to God for it, and got it just because he needed it,
and because God delights in the poor and needy. He needed
pardon, and he went to God for it, and obtained it without
merit or money. "When he had NOTHING TO PAY, God frankly
forgave." It was the having nothing to pay that drew out
the frank forgiveness.
Ah, this is grace. "This is love, not that we loved God,
but that He loved us!" He loved us, even when we were dead
in sins. He loved us, not because we were rich in
goodness, but because He was "rich in mercy"; not because
we were worthy of His favour, but because He delighted in
loving-kindness. His welcome to us comes from His own
graciousness, not from our lovableness. "Come unto Me, all
ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you
rest." Christ invites the weary! It is this weariness that
fits you for Him, and Him for you. Here is the weariness,
there is the resting-place! They are side by side. Do you
say, "That resting-place is not for me?" What! Is it not
for the weary? Do you say, "But I cannot make use of it?"
What! Do you mean to say, "I am so weary that I cannot sit
down?" If you had said, "I am so weary that I cannot
stand, nor walk, nor climb," one could understand you. But
to say, "I am so weary that I cannot sit down," is simple
folly, or something worse, for you are making a merit and
a work of your sitting down; you seem to think that to sit
down is to do some great thing which will require a long
and prodigious effort.
Let us listen then to the gracious words of the Lord: "If
thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to
thee, Give Me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him,
and He would have given thee living water" [John ].
Thou wouldest have asked, and He would have given! That is
all. How real, how true, how free; yet how simple! Or let
us listen to the voice of the servant in the person of
Luther. "Oh, my dear brother, learn to know Christ and Him
crucified. Learn to sing a new song; to despair of
previous work, and to cry to Him, Lord Jesus, Thou art my
righteousness, and I am Thy sin. Thou hast taken on Thee
what was mine, and given to me what is Thine. What I was,
Thou becamest, that I might be what I was not. Christ
dwells only with sinners. Meditate often on this love of
Christ, and you will taste its sweetness." Yes; pardon,
peace, life, are all of them gifts, Divine gifts, brought
down from heaven by the Son of God, presented personally
to each needy sinner by the God and Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ. They are not to be bought, but received; as
men receive the sunshine, complete and sure and free. They
are not to be earned or deserved by exertions or
sufferings, or prayers or tears; but accepted at once as
the purchase of the labours and sufferings of the great
Substitute. They are not to be waited for, but taken on
the spot without hesitation or distrust, as men take the
loving gift of a generous friend. They are not to be
claimed on the ground of fitness or goodness, but of need
and unworthiness, of poverty and emptiness.