A Presidential Pardon?
Some quarters of the Media have expressed outrage at the rumour that has emerged - that the current incumbent in the White House, should he lose the forthcoming Presidential election, plans to resign his office and appoint Vice-President Pence in his place: this would follow agreement, that should official crimes emerge, all presidential misdemeanours would be pardoned-in-full. If that were to prove true, many protest that it would be fundamentally unjust: it would be smeared with swampy slime that the President promised he would drain!
I hope you are not disappointed, but it is not my intention to comment on either the truthfulness or falsehood of the rumour - it may just be more "fake news" - or how I myself regard such an act of clemency were it actually to take place. In raising this matter my aim is much more humbling - that more-than-presidential pardon, which each believing reader receives, lies at the core of the Gospel and is fundamental to the character of Yahweh, the Covenant God of the Bible: His heart of grace is disclosed definitively in the face, life, death, and cross of the Lord Jesus Christ!
My waking thoughts this morning marvelled at the truth declared to the church by the Holy Spirit through David in Psalm 103:
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities - Psalm 103:10
Perhaps no-one except King David could have expressed this fact with such feelings of ecstasy and relief - as Covenant Mediator, Messianic Type, and Official Head of Church and State, this leader of God's Kingdom is the Old Testament chief of sinners, who erred unimaginably in public with legendary guilt (see Psalm 51).
Yet, the son of Jesse utters this word in light of Mosaic doctrine - this was so amply demonstrated in the desert in the 40 years of rebellion. "Our sins" belong to the church and refer, in multiples, to offences and short-fallings - "Our iniquities" refers to rebellion in all its crookedness and guilt that merits eternal damnation under the holiness of God's just wrath. Traitors to the Covenant had sinned against light and love - yet God had not acted or dealt with rebel Israel to reward or repay their just deserts. Quite the opposite is just the case, in fact: a breathtaking height and breadth of patient pardon was penitent believers' lot - though trained by chastening, when rebuked for misdeeds, not "Presidential Pardon" but PATERNAL PARDON is what they got!
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us - Psalm 103:11-12
The central doctrine that I want to highlight, in Psalm 103:10, is this: God is very merciful and gracious in dealing with sinners - he does not-at-all give us what we deserve for our sins! Let me expand upon this statement in three ways...
First - the Proof of the Statement
In Theology - All the forgiven people of God have sinned against much light and great love. They merit eternal punishment for the guilt of infinite offences against the infinite majesty of the holy person of the LORD and immeasurably perfect justice of His Law. The sins and iniquities of covenant-breaking sinners should be rewarded with being cast into the darkest deepest recessed dungeon of Hell.
In History - All Israel, in addition, deserved the untold woes of the Covenant Curse - Moses elaborates on this so fully in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. That any ancestor of the Exodus survived to tell the tale, or escaped the pit of Dathan, Abiram, and Korah, or the snakes or swords of the wilderness, was Paternal Pardon of highest rank and richest grace:
So they got away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. And Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones. And Moses said, "Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD." And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, "Lest the earth swallow us up!" And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men offering the incense - Numbers 16:27-35.
In Experience - A moment reflecting on how blessing shines upon our lives from beginning to end, and how gently God chastens us when we sin or stray from Him, ought to make forgiven Christians hold their hands up and chime out Psalm 103:9 with joy - God is gracious, good, most-wise and kind. Even dark clouds of discipline, that cast a shadow upon our way in this world for a time, are rich with blessing and finally break with blessing on our heads.
The Implications of the Statement
First, if we grasp the fact of how God has dealt with us in grace we should have no difficulty stirring our souls to worship the God who is good, gracious, generous, and forgiving - as David starts the Psalm, so we should sing: "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy Name!"
Second, as we start to trace God's kindness and come to terms with Paternal Pardon, it should increasingly make us believers more humble, grateful, joyful, and mindful both of the dimensions of the grace of God, the horror of the sin that Christians continue to commit, and a firm resolution to live for God and be like Him in this world.
The problem of course, that you may be wrestling with, is how is it possible for a God of inflexible justice, and impeccable holiness, to pardon his saints and not give them what they deserve - in other words, the question this throws up is this: what makes Presidential Pardon suspect but the LORD's Paternal Pardon righteous?
The Basis of the Statement
God, in His mercy, before the world began, drew up a saving plan to maintain His justice, honour His Law, declare His holiness, effect pardon for sinners, and display mercy to His flock - the Son of God was appointed the Redeemer before the world was made: He is the Lamb of God given to take away the sins of the world. The Mediator of the Elect, God-Man Jesus of Nazareth, though deserving of no blame, bore the wrath His people deserve to demonstrate God is just. The just One was punished as a substitute in the place of the unjust ones. It is only on this ground any guilty sinner may stand - through faith in this truth God declares us right by grace through faith in Christ.
This means of course that, in the death of Christ, sin is paid in full - God poured out on Christ divine, deserved, just, and holy wrath. It also means that if, for believers, the Cross is heaven and blessing for us, for Jesus Christ Calvary was the Hell of Hells, and the most darkest, woeful, flaming, sulphuric, deepest pit.
Paternal Pardon - Not According to our Sins! As you reflect on this fact of the just, holy, forgiveness of God, by which your life is most surely blessed, marvel at the dimensions of the infinite love of God and eternal value of His blood. All had been paid, and come the Day of Reckoning, those blood-bought, believing, children of God have no sentence or crime to fear.