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Question 56. What believest thou concerning “the forgiveness of sins?”

Answer. That God, for the sake of Christ s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, neither my corrupt nature, against which I have to struggle all my life long, but; will graciously impute to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may never be condemned before the tribunal of God.



Concerning the forgiveness of sins we must consider:

  1. What it is: By whom it is granted:

  2. On account of what it is granted:

  3. Whether it comports with the justice of God:

  4. If it is gratuitous:

  5. To whom it is granted: and

  6. How and when it is given.




The forgiveness of sins consists in the purpose of God, not to punish the sins of the faithful on account of the satisfaction of Christ. Or, it is the pardon of deserved punishment, and the bestowment and imputation of the righteousness of another, even Christ. It is more fully defined in this manner: To be the will of God which does not impute any sin to the faithful and elect; but remits unto them both the guilt and punishment of sin, loves them just as much as if they had riot sinned, delivers them from all the punishment of sin, and freely grants them eternal life in view of the merits and intercession of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our mediator Bait although God remits unto us our sins for the sake of the merits of his Son, yet he still afflicts us in this life, not, indeed, that he may punish us, hut that he may chastise us as a father. Neither must we suppose, because God does not punish our sins, that they are not displeasing to him, for the sins even of the most holy greatly offend him, although he does not punish them for their sins, for the reason that he has punished them in his Son.  For God does not so remit sins as if he did not regard them as sins, or were not displeased therewith; but because he does not impute them unto us, nor punish them in us, and because he accounts us righteous on account of the satisfaction of another, which we apprehend by faith. It is, there fore, the same thing to have the remission of sins, and to be righteous.  Obj. The law does not only demand that: we avoid sin, but also that we do good. Therefore it is not sufficient that sin be pardoned, but it is also necessary that perfect obedience be rendered to the law that we may be just. Ans. Even the omission of doing good is sin; for he that can do good and does it not, is a sinner, and accursed. (James 4:17.) This forgiveness is granted unto us, because Christ has sufficiently satisfied for all our sins. Hence we have in Christ perfect remission of all our sins in such a way, that we are accounted righteous in the sight of God by his merits alone.



Remission of sins is granted by God alone, who, as the prophet says, (Is. 48:25.) “blotteth out our transgressions.” This is done by the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; for we are baptized in the name of the three persons of the Godhead. That we are baptized unto the remission of sins, is evident from the baptism of John. And the Scriptures plainly affirm of Christ, that the Son of man hath power to forgive sins.  (Matt. 9:6.) So also it is said of the Holy Ghost that he was tempted, offended and grieved on account of sin; and hence he also has power to forgive it; for no one can forgive sin, except the person against whom it is committed, and who is offended thereby. Christ likewise speaks in express terms of the sin against the Holy Ghost. The reason why no one but God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, can forgive sin, arises from this, that none but the offended party can remit sin. Now no one is offended at sin except God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Therefore no one else can forgive sin; consequently no creature can grant any thing which rightfully belongs to God. Hence David said, “Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” (Ps. 51:6.)

Obj. But the apostles also, and the church, remit sins, as it is said, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven: and what soever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.” Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” (Matt. 18:18. John 20:23.) Therefore it is not true that none but God can forgive sins. Ans. The apostles forgave sin in as far as they announced the forgiveness of God. So the church forgives sin, when she, according to the command of God, pronounces forgiveness to the penitent. So likewise one neighbor remits sin to another, when he pardons private offences. But God alone frees us from the guilt of sin by his own authority; he alone cleanses us from all impurity by the blood of his Son, and remits all sins, original and actual, whether they be sins of omission or of ignorance, as it is said, “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities.” “There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Ps. 103:3; Rom. 8:1.)



God forgives our sins out of his pure mercy, and free love towards us; and on account of the intercession and satisfaction of Christ applied by faith. Intercession could not be made without satisfaction, because that would be to ask of God to yield somewhat of his justice. “Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” “The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” “For it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell in Christ; and , having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself.” “Ye are come to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things, than that of Abel.” “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace.” (1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 1:7; Col. 1:19, 20; Heb. 12:24; Eph. 1:7.)



It belongs to God, as a most righteous judge, not to permit sin to pass by with impunity, so that he cannot remit it, unless some sufficient satisfaction be made. Hence God cannot grant the forgiveness of sins out of his clemency, which would conflict with his justice, for the reason that he would then suffer it to pass by unpunished; but he has punished it most sufficiently in Christ. God then pronounces us righteous, and such as arc not to be punished in view of the perfect satisfaction of Christ, which does net conflict with his justice and truth.

Obj. 1. The justice of God demands that he who sins, should be punished. Therefore that forgiveness which is granted without a sufficient punishment of the sinner, conflicts with the justice of God. Ans. It would, indeed, conflict with the justice of God, if he were not to punish sin at all, neither in the sinner, nor in any one else, who might endure punishment in the sinner’s room and stead.

Obj. 2. But to punish the innocent in the place of the guilty is also repugnant to the justice of God. Ans. This objection would have force, 1. If the innocent one were unwilling to endure the punishment which would be required. 2. If he were not of the same nature with the guilty. 3. If he were not able to undergo a sufficient punishment. 4. If he could not come forth from this punishment; for God would not have

the innocent to perish for the guilty. 5. If he were not able to renew and regenerate the sinner, and give him faith so that he might embrace his benefits. But all these conditions meet in Christ, as is clearly evident from the following portions of Scripture: “Christ hath loved us and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet smelling savour.” “I lay down my life for the sheep.” “He was wounded for our transgressions, and was bruised for our iniquities.” “Christ died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” “I lay down my life that I might take it again.” “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it.” “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Eph. 5:2; John 10:15; Is. 53:5; 2 Cor. 5:15. John 2:19; 10:17. Eph. 5:25; Tit. 2:14.)



Although God does not extend unto us the forgiveness of our sins, unless a sufficient satisfaction be made, yet he nevertheless grants remission freely, because he does not demand satisfaction from us, but from Christ upon whom our sins were laid.

Obj. But if God forgive sins for the sake of the satisfaction of Christy” it is not free. Ans. It is, indeed, free in respect to us; for it is with out any satisfaction on our part, although not without the satisfaction of another. To this it is objected; he that grants pardon upon this condition, does not grant it freely; for it is an established rule, That whatever any one does through another, he seems to do through himself. Therefore we ourselves give this satisfaction, by paying it through Christ. Ans. But God also gives this price, or ransom for us, that is, he gave Christ to be our satisfier and mediator; for he was not purchased by us. “God so loved the world that he gave his,” &c. (John 3:16.)



The forgiveness of sins is extended to all and only the elect; because it is given to such as believe. In as much now as the reprobate never do truly believe, they never receive the forgiveness of sins. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” “To him gave all the prophets witness, that through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” (John 3:36, Acts 10:43.) All the elect, however, do not always enjoy the forgiveness of sins, but all those that believe always have it; for none have the remission of sins, but those who believe that they have it. But all the elect do not always believe this: but then first when they are converted, and made the possessors of a true faith.  Yet they always have the remission of sins, in respect to the purpose of God. Even infants have faith in possibility and inclination, although not actually. Hence they also have the forgiveness of sins.



The forgiveness of sins is granted and received by faith alone, which the Holy Spirit works and kindles in us. It may be said then, that the forgiveness of sins is granted at the time when it is received by faith. God has, indeed, determined from everlasting to pardon the sins of those whom he has chosen in Christ, for the sake of his satisfaction, but he pardons the sins of every one, and of all that believe in Christ, at the time when he accounts them as righteous, and works in their hearts by the Holy Spirit a sense of this pardon, so that they may forever remain certain in regard to it. The decree of God, therefore, concerning the forgiveness of sins is everlasting, but the execution of it takes place at the time when we apply to ourselves by faith the forgiveness which the gospel offers unto us. It is in the same way that God always loves his people, but he does not shed abroad this love in their hearts before their repentance. But those who do truly repent obtain at length the testimony of their conscience, by the Holy Spirit which is given unto them, that they are beloved of God, and so enjoy the forgiveness of sins.


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