Stephen F. Olford tells the story of Peter Miller, a pastor living in Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War. Although Miller was greatly loved by almost everyone in the community there was one man who lived near the church who hated him and had earned an unenviable reputation for his vociferous abuse of the minister. This man, Michael Wittman, was discovered to be a traitor and was convicted of treason and sentenced to death.
The trial was conducted in Philadelphia, and no sooner did Miller hear of it than he set out on foot to visit General George Washington to intercede for the man’s life. But Washington declined his appeal with these words: “I’m sorry that I cannot grant your request for your friend,” at which point Miller cried out, “Friend! Why, that man is the worst enemy I have in the world!” General Washington was greatly taken aback, and responded, “What? Have you walked sixty miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light.” Washington wrote out a pardon for Wittman for the sake of Miller’s magnanimous request, and handed it to Miller himself to deliver.
Miller ran fifteen miles to where the execution was scheduled to take place.
He arrived just as Wittman was being carried to the scaffold. When the prisoner saw Miller hurrying toward him, he remarked, “There is old Peter Miller, he has walked all the way from Ephrata to have his revenge gratified today by seeing me hanged.” But scarcely had he spoken the words when Miller forced his way through the crowd of onlookers to the condemned man and handed him the pardon that would saved his life.
Michael Wittman returned to Ephrata no longer as an enemy of Peter Miller, but as a lifelong friend.
Four aspects of forgiveness you need to understand to fully appreciate what is being offered
- The meaning of forgiveness
Psalm 32:1-2 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity…
Our problem is a depressing one. Everyone has sinned. James 2: 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
Jesus explained that if you have had one lustful thought you are guilty enough to be confined to Hell forever and the warrant for your sentencing will say ‘adultery’ on it.
So if every person is born with a one-way ticket to Hell and it is discovered that there is a man who has all his sins forgiven, there is only one word we would employ to describe him: blessed. It means happy, favored, privileged, envied. He is no longer groaning (v3) and God’s hand is no longer heavy upon him (v4).
This blessed man is forgiven – his debt has been erased, his sin is covered – the evidence of his sin is hidden and his sin is not counted against him by God.
- The method of forgiveness
Psalm 32:5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
How do I get this most precious of all God’s gifts? David tells us:
I acknowledge my sin – I admit my sin and don’t deny it.
I do not cover up my sin – I don’t try to hide it from God.
I confess my sin – I say the same thing about my sin as what God does.
If you are harboring sin in the dark recesses of your heart, know this: God sees it all. Admit it and ask for forgiveness. Don’t insult His sacrifice but say what Jesus says: I bore what you deserve.
- The marvel of forgiveness
Psalm 32:6-7 Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
Once you are right with God, once you have been forgiven, you have instant and unremitting access to your Creator. There is no waiting period for activation. You are instantaneously connected to God and have full privileges of being one of his children, including direct access to him in prayer. When you need to pray, you can. In the sudden rush of mighty waters, in any distressing trial, you are safe in him.
You can sense the wonder and awe of David who feels total confidence because of his deliverance. Do you marvel at your forgiveness? Like Horatio Spafford did in his magnificent hymn:
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! …it is well, it is well with my soul.”
- The motive of forgiveness
Psalm 32:10-11 Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
We should be motivated to ask God for forgiveness by our understanding of the seriousness of our sin, and the joy of a right relationship with God that comes from forgiveness – being surrounded by God’s steadfast love. The blessing of forgiveness is a great incentive for seeking it.
If you are forgiven, rejoice in your new relationship with your Father. If you are not forgiven, know that both on earth and in eternity you will bear the consequences of your sin. But know too that Jesus died in your place to take the punishment you deserve and if you turn to him in repentance believing he can save you – God will forgive you. Because Jesus took your sin and God’s wrath, you too can know the blessedness of the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.