“It [the gospel] is the only system which undertakes to provide a perfect pardon and to readjust man’s relations to the violated law. In every government, human or divine, the first thing to be considered is our relation to the law. Immediately upon transgression, the law seizes the offender’s person, brings him before the tribunal of justice, convicts him under the evidence, fixes upon him the sentence of condemnation, holds him in prison, awaiting the execution of the penalty. Of necessity, therefore, in seeking relief, his first concern will be to settle with the law and to cancel its indictment. It does not make a particle of difference, at the first, how the man feels as to his transgression; whether he glories in it, or is sorry for it; whether, if released from punishment, he will lead a life of obedience or repeat his trespass to the end. The first and absorbing question is how to escape the infliction of the penalty which he has incurred. How shall he come forth from the shadow of his prison and walk in the free air of heaven with an erect form, and look without a blush in the faces of other men. Now, this is just what the gospel undertakes to do for the sinner. It provides a perfect pardon, and secures it upon principles of strict justice and law. The imperfection of human government is in nothing more manifest than in the fact that it never can exercise mercy except at the expense of justice. The criminal can never escape the penalty without inflicting a certain amount of injury upon the country and the law. If he escape by any defect in the evidence he is turned loose again to prey upon society as before. If executive clemency sets aside the deliberate judgment of the court, a shock is given to the stability of government by the collision between its two departments, which ought to be mutually supporting. But in the gospel, the justice and integrity of God are as completely vindicated as in the punishment of the transgressor. Whilst the sinner escapes the penalty, the law of God is more firmly established than before. Such a pardon, in which every claim of law is satisfied, goes to the root of the sinner’s case, so far as his guilt is concerned, for the reason that it is a pardon which can be sealed upon the conscience and give it perfect peace.”
BY REV. B. M. PALMER, D. D., 1818 – 1902
Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, New Orleans, La.
Sermon — THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF THE GOSPEL
1.) Dr. Palmer’s burden is to communicate how the Gospel resolves the legal indictment of heaven against us as sinner. Palmer’s concern here is not experiential, or emotional, but rather forensic / judicial. God has a case against us. God, in Christ answers God’s case against His people. In our contemporary Gospel preaching the objective reality of judicial guilty is seldom touched upon and instead we go for felt needs as if what the sinner outside of Christ is emotionally feeling is the primary need to be addressed as opposed to God’s just wrath against sinners. If our Gospel begins with the felt needs our Gospel will forever be jerked about by the vagaries of “felt needs” that both redeemed and un-redeemed experience. Palmer’s Gospel is “from above” and so can reach below. Contemporary “Gospels” are from below and seldom, if ever, provide answer to God’s objective wrath.
2.) Dr. Palmer’s recognition that if mercy is exercised upon a criminal then a punishment is visited upon someone else. In the case of the Gospel we are extended mercy at the cost of punishment to the Son of God. This principle though needs to be understood by our social order structures today. If we turn a blind eye to justice to the guilty and extend “love” we are at the very moment turning a seeing eye of injustice upon someone else and are extending cruelty upon another. There was no cruelty visited upon the Lord Christ because he willingly laid down His life having entered into covenant w/ the Father from eternity but when our modern systems of “justice” ignore the law of God by extending “mercy” to the criminal, then at the same time cruelty is being extended at the same time somewhere else.
3.) Guilt is seen as objective and subjective in this quote. The criminal has objective guilt that must be dealt with and is dealt with in the cross of Christ. However, guilt is also subjective. The guilty must have his conscience quieted. The subjective feeling of guilt is only quieted in the sinner when the objective reality of guilty is answered. How Christian are men unless they know and answer that what they were saved from was a objective guilt that incurred God’s just wrath against them?