What Is The Forgiveness Of Sins? -- By: William Henry Walker
BSac 60:237 (Jan 1903) p. 158
What Is The Forgiveness Of Sins?
Does the question need consideration? Has the Christian church been proclaiming the forgiveness of sins for so many centuries without really knowing what forgiveness is? A sufficient answer to the query might be, that every Christian doctrine is so profound that the combined wisdom of the ages has never been able to fathom its depths. Each age may add its treasures to the interpretations of the past, and gain new light upon the meaning of Christian doctrine. But the forgiveness of sins does not stand in as favorable a position as most Christian doctrines in that regard. It has always been a part of the gospel proclamation, but it has been strangely neglected in Christian theology, especially in works upon theology in the English language. Turn to the indices of such standard works as those of Dick, Dwight, John Pye Smith, H. B. Smith, the Hodges, Shedd, or Fairchild, and you will not find the word. The index of Stearns’s “Present-Day Theology” has it, but the reader is referred to “justification” for references. The absence of the word from the index does not always indicate its absence from the work, but it does show that it is referred to only incidentally. So this word, so often on the lips of Jesus and on such solemn and significant occasions, is well-nigh banished from the scientific statement of the content of the Christian revelation.
The subsumption of the word in the index of Stearns under “justification” explains its absence in general. Everything that needed to be said about “forgiveness”
BSac 60:237 (Jan 1903) p. 159
wag supposed to have been said under “justification.” Theologians recognized rightly that “forgiveness” and “justification” were parallel terms, though they never seem to have recognized the true relation between them. The theological thought of the English-speaking world has been determined constructively or polemically by Calvinism. “Justification” is a favorite word with Calvinism. The whole character of that doctrinal system is legal. It begins with a sovereign and ends with a court of justice. “Justification” is a legal term. It will fit into a system of thought resting upon governmental relations where the word “forgiveness” will find no place. Hence the latter has been thrust aside or reduced to a subordinate role. Henry B. Smith, speaking of the quite synonymous term “pardon,” says that “justification involves what pardon does not, a righteousness which is the ground of the acquittal and favor; not the mere favor of the sovereign, but the merit of Christ is at the basis,—the righteousness which is of God.”1 Ritschl speaks of the forgiveness of si...
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