"As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us; like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust." (Psalm 103:12-14)
THIS is a sweet and precious Psalm of David. It is very similar to Psalm 34, which begins thus: "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth." None but saints can mount up to this key. "All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord; and thy saints shall bless thee." "Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me bless his holy name." How David wanted to bring up every faculty of his heart, and of his soul, to be engaged in this work. "And forget not all his benefits." Don't you often forget God's mercies? I know a poor old man that does. I am obliged to call upon my soul, as David did, to forget not all his benefits. God is very gracious to me. You have not the outward afflictions that I have; but I find the word of God to be true. "As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ." (2 Cor. 1:5) "Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things, so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's." Don't you find a little reviving and renewing in your bondage? I had a very nice time in preaching this morning. I desire that others may enjoy the word with me, that I may be an instrument in God's hands to communicate these good things to others. I never like to eat my morsel alone, neither in a temporal nor spiritual sense. "As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us."
I propose to consider first the words, "as far as the east is from the west." I hope you will receive the word with savor, but remember you cannot feed yourself. "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." (Isa. 40:11) He will do this himself. Then as to the word "us," we must have the character of those here referred to. What God gives, such only can gather. He does not throw it at random, to be caught by anybody. When I was a hearer, I used to like the minister to trace out the character to which the word speaks. The children's meat is not to be cast to dogs. It is always sent to children. "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour." (Eph. 5:2) "Jacob have I loved; but Esau have I hated." (Rom. 9:13) This is the doctrine of election, which gives so much offence.
"Election! 'tis a word divine;
For, Lord, I plainly see,
Had not thy choice prevented mine,
I ne'er had chosen thee."
No man ever fought more against the doctrine of election than I did, but now it is savory meat to me.
"Hail, sovereign love, that first began
The scheme to rescue fallen man!
Hail, matchless, free, eternal grace,
That gives my soul a hiding place."
I can sing this now; but once I boiled up at this doctrine. When I had a proper view of sin, and a sense of God's unmerited goodness, that broke me down. If ever the free sovereign grace of God is known, it will conquer the vilest rebel on earth. "He hath ascended on high, he hath led captivity captive, he hath received gifts for men, yea, even for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them." (Ps. 68:18) My nature was like the Jew's, "We will not have this man to reign over us;" but now I desire this:
"Reign o'er us as king,
Accomplish thy will,
And pow'rfully bring
Us forth from all ill;
Till falling before thee,
We laud thy lov'd name,
Ascribing the glory
To God and the Lamb."
I love Christ as much in his kingly office, as in his prophetical and priestly offices. None but God's children can do that. If you can desire to have every thought brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and stand at his feet as Mary did, and wash them with tears, then you are a child indeed. The believer's pace is slow and sure. "He that believeth, shall not make haste." "He that hasteth with his feet sinneth."
There is a removing of our transgressions in a two-fold sense. First, In laying them upon his dear son. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isa. 53:6) This is represented by the iniquities of the people being confessed over the scape goat, and put upon his head, who bore them away into the wilderness. (Lev. 16:20-22) Here is the first removal of sin; and this was done in purpose from all eternity, and executed in time. If God had not done this, sin would have sunk us to the nethermost hell. "For he hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor. 5:21) "Christ poured out his soul unto death." (Isa. 53:12) Then he removed the iniquity of the land in one day, (Zech. 3:9)--in the great day of atonement. "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." (Isa. 43:25) "I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins: return unto me, for I have redeemed thee." (Isa. 44:22) Blotting all out, is as well as if the debt were paid. When I read in my Bible, and can believe that my sin is laid on Christ, that is sweet; when I read that Christ atoned for my sin, that is also sweet; but before we come to this, we must feel sin to be a heavy burden, and, as David says, "Too heavy for me to bear."
"To see sin, smarts but slightly;
To own with lip confession
Is easier still; but oh! to feel,
Cuts deep beyond expression."
No tongue can describe the sense of sin charged home to the conscience with all its malignity. "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up." Then to find this made out in your experience, He will give his people the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins, is indeed blessed. And again, "They shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31:34) Nothing less than an application of the atoning blood of Jesus Christ will satisfy a poor sinner under the sense of sin. That is the second removal of sin. "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." (1 John 1:7) "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases." (Ps. 103:3) When you feel the disease of sin, you cannot rest without the healing. The poor woman that touched the hem of Christ's garment felt in her body that she was healed. So have I felt it sometimes in my soul, by a direct act of faith in Christ. This brings satisfaction to the sinner.
"Sinners, I read, are justified
By faith in Jesus' blood;
But when to me that blood's applied,
'Tis then it does me good."
Then guilt is removed indeed. I have told you how, on one occasion, I found this application of Christ's atonement. I went to my little study one day heavily burdened, and fell on my knees, when these words were applied to me, "Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isa. 1:18) I felt the burden gone. This was a removing of iniquity; but you say, Is it never felt any more? Yes. You may fall into sin, and bring guilt on your conscience; or you may feel guilt without falling into outward sin.
"But if guilt removed
Return and remain,
Its pow'r may be proved
Again and again."
Nothing but faith in the atonement of Christ will satisfy me. How can we heartily and fully use the words, "So far hath he removed our transgressions from us," if we don't know the pardon of "our" sin? At one time my friends took offence at me because I could not come to God with confidence. This was because sin bore heavy upon me. I remember hearing Mr. Huntington preach from these words, "Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." (John 15:3) And he said an honest man, who owes a debt which he cannot pay, is unable to look his creditor in the face. This is not because of his dishonesty, but because he cannot pay the debt. This looks more like an honest man than he who boldly faces his creditor. I know what this is. The grief and sorrow of an honest upright man is because he cannot pay his debts. This debtor don't require to be forced, but has more pleasure in paying than the creditor has in receiving. "The publican standing afar off would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." (Luke 18:13) He could not look up to his creditor. "A certain creditor had two debtors, the one owed five hundred pense and the other fifty, and when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both,--which of them will love him most?" (Luke 7:41,42) "Seest thou this woman....her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much." If you have a sense of the pardon of sin, you will love much. Then you can look your creditor in the face; with humble confidence you can look up to him as your loving Father. Here is an alteration. If God shall be pleased to make me an instrument to speak comfort and encouragement to some of his dear children, it is the height of my ambition. When I began in the ministry, I prayed that I might have a single eye to the glory of God, and be made use of to the good of his family. This test constrained me, "Son, go work to day in my vineyard." I said, "I will not;" but afterwards I repented and went. "The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." (Rom. 2:4) "Removed from us," that is, from the children of God. All who have the true fear of God in their hearts are children. I know there may be this fear, and yet no satisfaction found without an application of the atonement,--the sealing and witnessing of the Holy Ghost. All this is found in the simple believing in the Son of God. "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself." (1 John 5:10) I generally enjoy a sweet and stable peace with God through Jesus Christ. "Like as a father pitieth his children," etc. What will draw forth this pity from a father? Why, to see his child in anguish and distress. God shows it in this way. I will give you three examples of it from Scripture. When you have been in the greatest distress you have found the tender pity of God more than at any other time. "His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel." If one of your children is in great pain and anguish, does not that draw forth more pity towards that child than you feel for the others, though you may love them all alike? God shows the same. In Jeremiah 31, you have an account of a dear child, though very rebellious. "I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn." "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus, Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him." (Jer. 31:9,18,20) Ephraim is afraid of being cast off by God. This is what is the matter with him. But the relationship of father and child is never dissolved or broken.
"Ye children of God,
By faith in his Son,
Redeem'd by his blood,
And with him made one.
This union with wonder
And rapture be seen,
Which nothing shall sunder,
Without or within."
Ephraim prays, "Turn thou me and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God." (Jer. 31:18) This is true faith; he claimed the relationship when under the chastening hand of God. "Surely after that I was turned I repented; and after that I was instructed I smote my thigh." (Jer. 31:19) Then the Lord says, "Is Ephraim my dear son," etc. Here is the pity, sympathy, and compassion of a loving Father. "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?"--I cannot give thee up. Though he is perverse, yet I cannot give him up. If you know the tender pity of God as a Father, you cannot sin that grace may abound. You would rather say, Let me not sin against thee, nor dishonor thee. A certain man had two sons, the younger son was a prodigal, and spent all that he had. Afterwards this poor backsliding sinner began to be in want. He was hunger-bitten. Now faith began to move him. "And when he came to himself he said, I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." (Luke 15:11-20) That kiss will embitter sin and self, and make you desire never to sin against God again. "Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him...and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry." (Luke 15:23) This is a merry heart which will make a cheerful countenance. The kiss of the Father does all this, but will not lead you to presume on him, and think sin a light matter. "For he knoweth our frame." That is a comfort--all our infirmities. How feeble we are in body and soul! Are you in bodily affliction? He knows all our frame. This always excites the pity of a father. When I hear of the illness of one of my children, I pray, "Lord, my child is sick, remember him." My believing the tender compassion of my Father, endears him to me; but his being so, ensures my safety. "How shall I put thee among the children, and give thee a pleasant land? Thou shalt call me my Father, and shalt not turn away from me." (Jer. 3:19) When the Spirit witnesses this in our hearts, we do so indeed. If you are once a child, you are a child for ever. This is one of my favorite texts. I get to know that God is my Father. Thou "shalt not turn away from me." Another instance is, in the account of the poor man that fell among thieves, which stripped him, and wounded him, and left him half dead. There came a certain priest, who saw him and passed by. Then came a Levite, and he passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan came where he was. (Luke 10:30-35) This represents Jesus Christ. Did he pass him by? No; he went to his place. He goes to the poor sinner in this place, and pours the grace and spirit of God softly into the heart. This softens and causes inward melting and dissolving. Then he goes on, and gives you a little wine to cheer you. Then he takes you to the church of God, and gives his minister charge of you, and he will pay all the cost. Have you ever found Christ thus precious to you? A little taste of it will increase the appetite, and make you long for more.