Past Sins of Backsliders

Dryden’s sentiment, in the following lines, if applied to unpardoned sin, or when seized upon by a mind that is flying from the Saviour, as it is endeavoring to escape from remorse is not only bad theology, but highly dangerous to the soul:

“Tis done, and since ’tis done, ’tis past recall;
And since ’tis past recall, must be forgotten.”

No; we must not forget, until we know that God has ceased to remember our sins. We may forget, but Eternal Justice cannot. The law of God shall ever be seizing the soul by the throat which has incurred guilt, saying, “Pay me what thou owest.” Nor is it likely that oblivion’s antidote shall long be effectual in banishing from the memory this debt of guilt, when the dunning importunity of this eternal creditor, served as it is upon the mind by conscience, compelling the soul so often to say, “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” The mind, in such a case, must be lapsing evermore into a retrospection, which is often as great an enemy to peace as it is to forgetfulness.

An eminent writer inquires, “Can they imagine that God has therefore forgot their sins, because they are not willing to remember them? Or, will they measure his pardon by their own oblivion?” If they do, it is a most dangerous mistake. Our oblivion may not be God’s pardon, nor our forgetfulness (if the thing were possible under some circumstances) the oblivion of our sins from the remembrance of the Almighty. True, God has said, by the prophet Isaiah, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions, for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” True, he has repeated the declaration by the prophet Jeremiah. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. And, I will add, all this is confirmed in two places by the apostle, and he uses the same words in both: “And their sins, and their iniquities, will I remember no more.”

But, then, the same apostle tells us how this important and wonderful event is to take place: “Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.” And, in another place, the instrumental and meritorious cause of the remission of sins. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his name, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past.” Now, to attempt to forget our sins prior to the time that God has forgotten them, before we have taken refuge at the cross of Christ, before the reliance of the soul upon the blood of Jesus for immediate and conscious pardon, would, unquestionably, be the very method to ruin the soul eternally. Therefore, you must not suffer the recollection of your sins to keep you from your Saviour. There is a danger of thinking too much about our sins, as there is of thinking too little of them. When the eye of the soul is fixed upon the “sins which are past,” and the circumstances which led to their commission, to such a degree as not to have a moment left to look unto Jesus, then the matter is carried too far. You have received injury enough from your sins; but, by this course, you must surely draw new and deadly poison from them. An embargo must be laid upon your thinking faculties. You must prohibit your thoughts from traveling over your sins so repeatedly. You say, “I may as well try to control the whirlwind as my thoughts. They must have employment, — I cannot possibly lay them to rest. A sense of my danger, and a dread of dying without forgiveness, forbid my thoughts to be lulled into repose.” I do not require that they be “lulled into repose,” nor drowned in oblivion: this is, perhaps, impossible; but turn them into another channel, — send them to Calvary. Let them circulate, with ceaseless activity, around the bleeding cross. Employ them in the work of associating with a sense of guilt an equal perception of that blood by which it is to be washed away. Let those untiring operations of your mind spend themselves in fathoming the love of God in Christ Jesus. We may indeed, say of this, as of the depths of the sea, no human sounding-line has ever reached the bottom; yet, you will find it much more profitable to let thought, in its sleepless energy, travel this fathomless profound, than explore the dark abyss of your sins. Better, at every landing-place in that descent, to be forced into the exclamation of an apostle, “O, the depth!” than with the awakened sinner (Romans 7), sinking in “the horrible pit, and miry clay,” crying in anguish and despair, “O, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?” Had the poor serpent-bitten Israelite only bemoaned himself, had he, in spite of every entreaty, obstinately fixed his eye upon the wound, or agonizingly gazed upon the path taken by the gliding serpent, which had given him his death-wound; if he had firmly persisted in mourning over his own carelessness, in permitting himself to be bitten, reproaching his own culpable indifference to personal safety, when so many were writhing in agony insupportable, and the camp was horribly vocal with the hissing warnings of the flying serpents; suppose, also, that his eye had continued wildly rolling to and fro, in order to guard against another attack, and all the time madly refusing to cast one look at the brazen serpent, erected upon the pole — what but death, and that a dreadful one, must have been his portion, if he had persisted? I have not time to show how applicable all this is to your case; your own good sense, however, can make the application. When the Israelite cast a dying look at the serpent on the pole, were it even through the mists of death, he was healed in a moment. May I entreat you again to look to Jesus?

Your repentance and convictions are deep enough when they bring you to the cross, and leave you there with your weeping eyes fixed on your bleeding Saviour, as your last and only hope. But when they drive you past, and far beyond, into the region of despair; or when they frighten your approaching soul away from it; and this, either from a dread of repulsion, of that your sins are so great that the atonement is insufficient; then they are too deep. The devil has then the advantage of you; he is most assuredly using the remembrance of your sins to complete your ruin, just as he did the commission of them to begin it. Think of the aged dying Christian, with which you were so much pleased. Neither friendship, nor honor, nor high renown, interested his mind, nor for a moment carried away his thoughts to a retrospect of the past. They were calmly and serenely centered in God. The name, the precious name of God in Christ, was dearer to his faltering heart than any object that had ever arrested that heart’s affections. This name was the center of his soul; here it rested; all else was forgotten as a dream; this was enough; this possessed a charm which defied the assaults of death, and saved him from dismay in his dying hour. “His final hour brings glory to his God.”

“You see the man; you see his hold on heaven!
A silent lecture, but of sovereign power!
To vice confusion, and to virtue peace.”

O, then, withdraw your mind from all the past, from all you sins. Your thoughts are intense; let their intensity be fixed on Jesus.

Again I say, look unto him and be saved. Think about Christ, — his death, — his blood, -his sufferings. Now, let Jesus be precious: “To you who believe he is precious,” says the apostle. Precious Jesus! He died for thee, my brother. Is he not “the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely”? Think of what one has said about him:

“All the names that love could find,
All the forms that love could take,
Jesus in himself hath joined,
Thee, my soul, his own to make.”

Are you not this moment in the act of falling upon your knees? Matt. 6:6. Behold him, Lord! In imagination I see you just going to the cross, approaching Jesus, saying,

“With throbbing head, and heaving breast,
Saviour, I fly to thee for rest;
With trembling hands, and tottering feet,
I reach the cross, my sole retreat.”

I think I hear you there; the fountains of the great deep are broken up. The windows of heaven are opened; the wounded breast is discharging all its grief into the bosom of Jesus. The cry is ascending, “Save, Lord, or I perish!” It is enough; by faith I see the Lord passing by and proclaiming himself, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” I think I hear Jesus saying to your tortured heart, “Peace, be still!” and there is a calm, a sweet, heavenly calm. Sunshine, glory, and heaven, descend from God into your heart. O, my Lord, let it be while he is reading this paper!