Twelve Bible Dialogues 



A Review of Twelve Basic Bible Doctrines



Harold P. Barker, with O. Lambert, C. A. Miller, P. Brown,
S. W. Royes, W. E. Powell, E. D. Kinkead, E. C Mais,


Number 6


Questions by E. D. Kinkead; Answers by H. P. Barker

IN order to introduce the subject I will read a verse of Scripture: “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).

This passage shows very clearly that there were some who could say, and who were encouraged by the apostle Paul to say, “We have the forgiveness of our sins.

No doubt a good many are accustomed to repeat, Sunday after Sunday, the words, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” By the grace of God some of us can go further and say, “I believe in the forgiveness of my own sins.” Can you say that? If not, I beg your earnest attention to the matter we are about to consider.

Must a sinner lay all his sins upon Jesus before he can be forgiven?

Not one of us could remember all our sins. As we scan the coast-line of our past lives no doubt there are some sins that stand out like promontories, the memory of which will abide with us to our last hour on earth. But multitudes of our sins, little sins as men would style them, have been forgotten. Yet each one of them calls for expiation, each one must be answered for. Christ’s work is sufficient to answer for them all, but if, before we could get the benefit of that work, we had to bring our sins and lay them upon Jesus, we should be in a sorry plight indeed. The thought of the forgotten sins would be for ever haunting us. “What shall we do about them?” would be the question that would rob us of our peace.

But there is another reason why we could never lay all our sins upon Jesus, and that is because Jesus is in glory to-day. Do you think He can take sins upon Him where He is? Naught that defileth shall ever enter there. How, then, can a sinner cast his polluting sins upon Jesus, the exalted and glory-crowned Lord? Impossible!

The time for sin-bearing was when He was upon the cross. And mark this: If your sins were not laid upon Jesus then, they never will be. Now it is certain that you could not have laid your sins upon Him at Calvary. You had no existence then. The truth is, that God laid the sins of all who believe upon Jesus. “The Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.”

What must a sinner do to show that he is worthy to be forgiven?

A sinner could never do anything to show himself worthy of forgiveness. The ground on which God forgives sinners is not their worthiness, or anything that they can do or be. It is altogether for Christ’s sake, and on account of what He has done. You will see this very clearly stated in Ephesians 4:32: “God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” So also in 1 John 2:12: “Your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.

Suppose that a poor man is presented with a cheque by some kindly disposed person, and told to present it for payment at the Colonial Bank. As he wends his way in that direction he begins to have certain misgivings as to whether he will receive the money or not. His clothes are so threadbare, his poverty so evident, his name so unknown! Summoning up courage, however, he steps up to the counter and hands in the cheque. The clerk takes it and looks at—what? The man’s ragged appearance? No, he looks at the name on the cheque. It is that of one of the bank’s best customers. Because of that name the clerk hands the money without a question to the bearer.

So with the sinner when he approaches God through the Lord Jesus Christ. God does not take the sinner’s worthiness or unworthiness into account. It makes no difference whether the applicant for blessing bear a good character for honesty and respectability, or whether he be known as a depraved outcast. He may have his name inscribed upon the membership roll of a fashionable church, or it may be written upon the conviction list of the police court. God does not make any difference in His treatment of the returning sinner because of things of that sort. What He looks at is the name which the sinner brings as his only plea. If that name be the precious name of Jesus, there is no blessing too great for God to bestow upon the one who seeks it. He will instantly forgive the sins of a lifetime for the sake of that name.

When a sinner trusts in Christ, are all his sins forgiven, or only his past sins?

I suppose it is only natural for people to divide their sins into past, present, and future, but it is certain that God does not so divide them. He sees our life, from its earliest moment to our last hour on earth, spread out before Him. Our sins, too those forgotten long ago and those not yet committed—He sees as one whole, a series of black deeds, and words, and thoughts.

More: He not only sees our sins thus, as one whole, but He saw them thus nineteen centuries ago. All our sins were future then, but God saw them all, and laid them upon Christ. If there is a single sin that you have ever committed, or may yet commit, which was not laid upon Christ, that sin must remain for ever unatoned for, and there can be no heaven for you. Thank God, the believer has reason to know that every sin of his life was borne by his Saviour at Calvary, and that as a necessary consequence every sin of his life, from cradle to coffin, was blotted out when he trusted in Christ. As a child of God he may sin, and will need forgiveness as such from his Father. But never again will he have to approach God as one who needs forgiveness as a guilty criminal under the sentence of eternal doom.

Is it right for anyone to pray for the forgiveness of his sins?

I understand your question to be, not was it ever right, but is it right now for anyone to pray for forgiveness?

Someone has said that Scripture is as eloquent in what it omits as in what it reveals. We certainly must number amongst its omissions any direction to pray for forgiveness since Christ’s work of atonement was accomplished. We find many references which show that the forgiveness of sins was enjoyed as a known thing by the early Christians, and that provision was made in the case of Christians who sinned, but we search in vain for any exhortation to pray for this great blessing.

How can we pray for a thing that we already have? Would not such a prayer be the prayer of unbelief? If we as Christians sin, forgiveness is assured to us if we confess our sins; not if we pray for forgiveness. There is a great difference between confessing our sins and praying for forgiveness, and of this we shall have more to say presently.

With regard to unsaved sinners the case is, of course, different. But even such are never told to pray for forgiveness. God is revealed as the One who offers it to all freely through Christ (Acts 13:38), and sinners are exhorted to receive it.

In saying that none are bidden to pray for forgiveness, I do not forget that the Lord Jesus taught His disciples to pray “Forgive us our trespasses”; but that was before the work of atonement was accomplished. Those to whom that prayer was taught were not in the position into which we, who live since that mighty work was done, have been brought. Though privileged to be the companions of the Lord Jesus on earth, they were in the position of Old Testament believers until He died, and rose again, and the Holy Ghost came down to take up His abode here. Since that time, none are taught to pray in the way that was right and proper before.

Do we need to be forgiven more than once?

By “we” I suppose you mean believers. Yes, we do need forgiveness, as often as we sin. We have already seen that the forgiveness of sins which accompanies salvation (see Luke 1:77) is received once for all. It is a blessing which is always ours. But if we, the children of God, sin, our communion with Him is interrupted, and forgiveness, leading to the restoration of that communion, is needed. And God, our Father, is so ready to grant that forgiveness! If we are exhorted to forgive an offending brother until seventy times seven, we may be sure that He will never tire of forgiving us unto seventy thousand times seven.

Will not the fact of God being so ready to forgive encourage carelessness as to sin?

Rightly understood, it should have the very opposite effect. A verse in Psalm 130 supplies an answer to this question: “There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared.” Mark those words: “that Thou mayest be feared.” The forgiving grace with which the contrite confession of the erring one is always met, produces in the soul of the forgiven one such a sense of God’s goodness, and withal such a sense of the seriousness of sin, that he fears again to grieve such a loving, patient, gracious One. Such fear is not the fear that hath torment. It is a godly, wholesome fear of sin. No doubt a fear of punishment often acts as a restraint upon men. But how much better when a fear of sin is produced! And this is the result of the forgiving grace of our God. It makes one delight to walk in His fear and seek to please Him in word and work.

What should Christians do when they sin?

That question can be answered in the very words of Scripture: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Notice, it does not say, “If we ask for forgiveness.” It is easy to say, “O God, pray forgive me for Jesus’ sake,” but to confess one’s sin is a far deeper thing. It means that we are to pour out the story of our sin in God’s ear; to say, “O my God and Father, I have dishonoured Thee by telling a lie,” or, “O my God and Father, I have given way to my wicked temper again.” Whatever the particular sin may be, we have to confess it in true self-judgment. Following upon this we receive God’s free forgiveness.

And here let me give a word of counsel to my dear young fellow-believers. Keep short accounts with God. Do not leave the sins of the day to be included in a general confession at night, but as soon as ever you find yourself overtaken with a fault, confess it. If you are in a place where you cannot get alone and kneel down, just lift up your heart and say silently, “Father, I have sinned; I have done such and such a thing.” Forgiveness is the assured result.

What does our forgiveness, as children of God, depend upon?

Upon the advocacy of the Lord Jesus. Of course, His atoning work upon the cross is the basis of all our blessing and is the ground upon which our eternal forgiveness is secured. But He who died there is alive again. No longer as the Sin-bearer, but as the Advocate for His people, He lives in glory.

This is what we learn from 1 John 2:1: “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

As soon as a believer sins he becomes an object of special concern to his blessed Advocate. As a result he is led to judge himself for his sin, and go to his Father in humble confession. As a further result forgiveness is granted, and he is cleansed from all unrighteousness.

How full of gratitude should we be for the services of our Advocate! He is as much for us in glory to-day as He was when suffering as our Substitute at Calvary, and He maintains us in all the abiding efficacy of His wondrous work of atonement. In Him there is ever present to the eye of the Father a ground upon which He can forgive us, and when we confess our sins He is faithful and just towards Christ in forgiving them.

Is the “cleansing from all unrighteousness” the same as the forgiveness of our sins?

I think it is a further thing. A child is told by his father not to go out and play in the yard. In spite of the prohibition he does go out, and falls down in the mud, covering himself and his clothes with dirt. That child now stands in need of two things. He needs forgiveness because he is disobedient, and he needs cleansing because he is dirty.

If he is truly sorry for his disobedience, and confesses it, his father forgives him at once. But the cleansing process takes longer. It needs the application of soap and water.

Now, it is just the same with the believer. When he sins he is not only disobedient, but defiled. On confession he is at once forgiven, but before his communion with God can be fully restored he must be cleansed from the defilement he has contracted. This, too, is a result of the advocacy of Christ.

How is this cleansing brought about?

I think we may gather from Psalm 119:9 what the means are which God uses.

“Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy Word.” The Word of God is that which has cleansing power for the believer. Bear in mind that we are not now speaking of that cleansing which, as guilty sinners, we get when we come to Christ. At that time we were cleansed in a very different way, even by the precious blood of Christ. But as believers we need the continuous washing, not of blood, but of “water by the word” (Eph. 5:26).

Some precious portion of God’s Word is applied in power to the soul, and once again we can look up with joy into the face of our Father. It is not that we doubted Him; we knew all the while that He is our Father, and that in confessing our sin we had received His forgiveness. But, still, there was an uneasy feeling—a feeling of distance. The application of the Word removes that, and communion is fully restored.

How is it that so many of God’s dear people live without the assurance of their being forgiven for ever?

I suppose it is because they do not see that all their sins were laid upon Jesus, and that God is too righteous ever to charge them with the sins with which He charged their Substitute. And they do not in simple faith rest upon such precious statements of God’s Word as those that we have already mentioned, such as “God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.”

It seems to be ingrained into the minds of many that their forgiveness is in some way connected with their worthiness, and finding themselves full of unworthiness, they hesitate to rank themselves with the forgiven and saved. To all such the blessed words of Jesus are full of port: “Thy sins are forgiven … thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:48, 50).

If Jesus died for all, and bore the sins of all, must it not follow that all must be forgiven and saved?

In saying that Jesus “died for all,” we are using the very words of the Bible (see 2 Cor. 5:15). But if we say He bore the sins of all, we are overstepping the bounds of Scripture.

It is a blessed truth that Jesus died for all. He died to open the way to heaven for “whosoever will.” His death has provided a platform from which God may righteously call to all men in grace, and offer salvation to all.

But we cannot say to just everyone we meet, “Christ bore your sins upon the cross.” Those whose sins Christ bore will never have to bear them themselves. But many will have to bear their own sins for ever in hell.

The truth is that while Christ paid an infinite price, enough and to spare for all, He was only the Substitute of those who believe. We can say that He “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).

It is indeed a necessary result of Christ’s having borne our sins that we are forgiven and saved, but this applies only to those who believe.

May God grant that all here may believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and receive the remission of their sins!

Twelve Bible Dialogues -

Harold P. Barker et al.
Scanning, OCR and revision according to the original: Andreu Escuain
© Copyright 2005, SEDIN for the digital edition - All rights reserved.

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