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The Forgiveness of Sins.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875.

Second part of Sermon LXVI. for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity.
 Eph. iv. 17-32.    St. Matthew ix. 1-8.
That you put off concerning the former conversation of the old man, which 
is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. 

And be renewed in the spirit of your mind.EPH. iv. 22, 23.


THE Gospel for to-day, in which our Lord is described as giving life to the dead limbs of the paralytic, affords us a very lively emblem of this change from the old to the new man, which must take place in us by faith in the operation of His Godhead. But let us first consider this change, as St. Paul describes it in the Epistle... 

(for the first part, on the Epistle.

...Now I have endeavoured Sunday after Sunday to point out to you how all that beauty of holiness which St. Paul describes, that heavenly conversation which he inculcates on us, is found full of life, when we turn to the Gospel for the day. The Sun of Righteousness there sheds His life-giving beams upon it all. By looking unto Him that change is wrought in us by His Spirit, which St. Paul insists on as necessary for us. Nor is there any occasion wherein this can be shown more strongly than in the Service for to-day. Indeed all that the Apostle says would have been in vain, had not Christ been first manifested to mankind as we read of Him in the Gospels, as having in Himself all the fulness of the Godhead, and most able and willing to work this change from death unto life. “Forgive one another” says St. Paul, “as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you ;“ and the Gospel is of “the Son of Man” having “power on earth to forgive sins.” We are comforted and supported as we read, and look in faith unto Him in Whom is forgiveness of sins, and power of resurrection, and of a new life in all those parts of our conduct which have been dead before. Thus, Sunday after Sunday, we are brought to be in company with Christ, and to meditate on Him all the week; and may He of His infinite mercy grant that we may be aided by Him to look, as it were, at thin time upon His life-giving countenance, upon His face of holiness and of love, which is the glory of the new covenant.

Jesus entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into His own city; that is, to Capernaum, which He made the usual place of His sojourn during this His teaching in Galilee. And here we may observe, that His entering into a ship, passing from shore to shore, and the mention of His own city,—all these things bring Him near to us.  The High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity thus clothes Himself with our little ways as men, our necessities, our journeyings, and homes, in order that we may feel the more constrainingly how He has come down to be with us. “If He had remained in His own power and greatness, He would have had nothing common with man; and if He had not fulfilled all the ways of the flesh, the taking upon Himself of our flesh would have been without reality and superfluous. But the Creator and Lord of all things had thus straitened and made Himself small, that He might be with us in the flesh, with a human country, and city, and home, that He might thus draw out our human affection, and bind us to Himself by all love and sympathy, that He might make us partakers of His own home and country in Heaven.” (St. Peter Chysol. Brev.—Abp. of Ravenna, A.D. 433.)

And behold, they brought to Him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed. The circumstance indicated a state utterly helpless, so that he could not ever have come himself, had he not been thus carried. And Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer; thy sine be forgiven thee. Our Lord’s words are often addressed to the heart and thoughts of those to whom He was speaking; and therefore to understand this we must consider, that what laid heavily at this poor man’s heart was not so much his bodily affliction as the sense of his sins. He had probably, in the bitterness of his heart, felt that his sickness was well deserved, and only the punishment due to his sins; and his only desire was for his sin to be removed. And that he thus needed encouragement we may conclude from our Lord’s tender expression to him, calling him “Son,” or “child,” and bidding him “be of good cheer,” on the subject of his sins. He was perhaps unable to speak on account of the palsy, but his heart and affliction spoke more than words. And as St. Paul tells us that we are members one of another, and that as such we are knit together in love to each other and so prevail with God, and obtain more abundantly His love, so it is especially to be noticed that our Lord takes the sick man’s kind and good neighbours into part with himself; He makes them also to minister to their friend, because in love and kindness to him they themselves looked to God. For we may observe it is said, that “seeing their faith,” i. e. the faith of those that carried him, He was thus, as it were for their sakes, gracious to their afflicted neighbour. He saw their faith; He saw his need and want; and, far more, He knew his sorrow. But this is not all; the occasion is marked by another circumstance, the presence of the Scribes. And here we may see how evil works for good, and the enmity of the wicked turns to the praise of God; for had there been no worldly men here present, with evil eyes, we should not have had that memorable and Divine lesson which follows, whereby our Lord has shown us that, in healing diseases, He was forgiving sin, which is the cause of disease and death; that He intended these as outward signs of His power and mercy, whereby out of the old man, dead in trespasses and sins, He would bring forth the new man.

And behold, certain of the Scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.  And Jesus knowing their thoughts, said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee? or to say, Arise and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins. They accused Him of blasphemy, for which they afterwards condemned Him to death, because He made Himself God, for none but God can forgive sins. But it was very evident that none but God only could heal diseases by a word; and it was as easy for Him to do one as the other. But there were reasons in this case why He should express it in this way. First of all, there was the desire of the suffering man, which was known to the Searcher of hearts, who earnestly longed for forgiveness beyond all things, and which our Lord thus hastens as it were first to confer, pouring the healing balm into his soul before He healed his body, which was of much less consequence, and teaching us that if we first seek the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, all other things needful for the body shall he added. There was also another reason why He should on this occasion thus speak, for the sake of those that were present, that they might know what He wished them to perceive in all these miracles, “that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins.” And here we may observe that the cause why these Pharisees did not believe was not the state of their understandings, but of their hearts; for it was clear that Christ had power to forgive sins if He could thus work miracles, and they knew that none but God could forgive sins. But they must have been either entirely free from all sin, or else could have had no great desire to be freed from their sins, for otherwise they would have rejoiced with trembling and joy unspeakable, to hear of, and to see with their eyes, the manifestation of Him Who had power on earth to forgive sins.

It may further be noticed that our Lord does not first work the miracle, and then say that with it He forgave sins; but He first states the forgiveness of sins, and the power given to the Son of Man to forgive, and then draws their attention to this work He was about to per-form, and adduces it as a proof of what He had before stated, as the outward seal and sign as it were that His words were true. He who works such a miracle must be from God; and if from God, His words are to be believed when He declares this removal of disease to be one with forgiveness of sin. Then saith He to the sick of the palsy, Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house. But when the multitude saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, Who had given suck power unto men.

Now this case of the sick of the palsy may, as I said, well represent the old man dead in trespasses and sins, unable of himself to move or do anything that is good, as St. Paul represents his state, “to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not.” And first of all must sins be forgiven, before life is restored. It is a very awful thought, when we consider how Christ was then standing in the midst of men, with power to forgive sins, and most ready to absolve sinners, yet that many around Him were rendered no better for this, but rather perhaps the worse. Thus St. Luke says that these Scribes were collected on this occasion from every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem, and “the power of the Lord was present to heal them :“ but surely they were not healed. They stood in His all-healing presence unforgiven, because unrepenting. The miracle which He wrought on the paralytic, accompanied by His forgiveness of sins, was nothing else but that living language by which God speaks; yet they could not hear this His Divine voice, because they heeded it not. None needed forgiveness more than they; none desired it less. “After their impenitent heart they treasured up wrath against the day of wrath,” because they knew not the day of mercy.

Now all this, my brethren, is in the very strongest manner applicable to ourselves whenever we come to church. Do we then long to put off the old mail, all that appertains to our dead evil nature, and to be clothed with the new, Which is Christ ? One consideration particularly in point is that of the Absolution. We first turn to God with a very humble confession of sin; and if the Searcher of hearts knows that we are sincere in thus lamenting our sins, we are in a state to receive His pardon. And He is no doubt in the midst of us. After this confession the priest, in the Name of Christ, turns round to the people and pronounces the forgiveness of sins. When the priest was ordained, it was said to him by the bishop, “Receive the Holy Ghost, for the office of a priest,” “Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained.”

Now we are all, with regard to our souls, so far in the state of the paralytic, that we need to be renewed and restored. Will it not be good for us to obtain this forgiveness thus pronounced, shall I not say daily, or twice a day A good man is always described in Scripture as growing in grace, as going from strength to strength, as being daily renewed, as being changed from glory to glory, as increasing in stature to the fulness of Christ. Now I would seriously put it to every man’s conscience, must not this Absolution, pronounced daily in the Name of Christ, in that assembly in which He has Himself promised to be present, have some effect on a penitent and thoughtful mind ? Is it possible to believe anything, and to doubt that He Who said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee,” and Who gave him strength to take up his bed, nay, by His word, gave him, I may say, obedience also,—that He does not now meet in the same manner every penitent soul who listens for the Absolution in church, and on whom it falls as dew from Heaven on the parched ground.

And here observe that when Christ pronounced those words of old, so full of unspeakable consolation to the penitent, there were very many who hardened their hearts and believed not. They indeed looked upon Him with bodily eyes, but they believed not, because His power was then confined to a small space; we now see Him, not with bodily eyes, but we behold His power throughout the whole world. In both cases alike it must be by faith; for the temptation to unbelief is the same now as then.