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Ransom Not Pardon

A federal pardon in the United States is the action of the President of the United States that completely sets aside the punishment for a federal crime. With the outgoing President set to pardon many with impunity, Christians should not confuse the act of pardoning with that of the ransom. The failure to discern the distinction between ransom and pardon has led to considerable confusion of thought on the subject. Christian people of general intelligence will quote texts relative to our being ransomed from the tomb, redeemed from death, bought with a price, even the precious blood of Christ, etc., and in the same breath they speak of the Father's gracious pardon of all offenses. Seemingly few think, though many must know, that pardon and ransom express exactly opposite thoughts.

The following primary definitions are from the Standard Dictionary:

Redeem--To gain possession of by paying the price.

Ransom--The amount or consideration paid for the release of a person held in captivity, as a prisoner or slave.

Now contrast with these the signification of:

Pardon--To remit the penalty of; to let pass.

Webster--"To refrain from exacting the penalty. In Law-- To release from a punishment that has been imposed by sentence."

Notice here also the definition of another word which though closely related to pardon is not exactly the same, viz.--

Forgive--To release from punishment--to cease to cherish resentment towards.

"The law knows no forgiveness."

The most ordinary mind must discern that the thought expressed by "redeem" and "ransom" is opposed by and irreconcilable with the thought expressed by the word pardon. But since all of these words are used in the Scriptures in reference to God's dealings with fallen man, many Bible students think of them as used carelessly and synonymously in Holy Writ: and they then conclude that they may take their choice and either attach the definition of "pardon" to the words "ransom" and "redeem" or vice versa the definitions of "ransom" and "redeem" to the words "pardon" and "forgive." This procedure is far from "rightly dividing the word of truth"; it is confounding two separate and distinct matters, and the result is confusion. With many the difficulty seems to be that they do not want and therefore do not seek for the truth on the subject--fearing that their no-ransom theories would thereby be condemned.

Nothing can be clearer than that God did not pardon Adam's transgression and remit its penalty: the facts all about us, in the groaning and dying creation, no less than the testimony of God's Word concerning "wrath of God revealed"-- the "curse" of death as the wages of original sin, all testify loudly that God did not pardon the world--did not remit its sin-penalty under which it has suffered for over six thousand years. He who confounds the justification of sinners through the merit of the sin-sacrifice of Christ, the sinner's substitute or ransomer, with pardon without payment, has not had his senses exercised properly. Had God pardoned Adam he would have restored him to the privileges of Eden and its life-sustaining orchard, and he would be living yet, and his numerous family would not have died for "one man's disobedience."

If at any time God were to come to man's rescue and pardon him, it would imply his full release from all the blight, disease, pain and death: it would mean full restitution to all that was lost. Evidently then God has not pardoned the original sin, but still holds the resentment of his holy law and sentence against the sinner. There is even no outward evidence to the world that they have been redeemed, ransomed. Only believers yet know of this and they receive it, not by sight, but by faith in the Lord's Word; its many declarations to this effect we have already cited. The sight-evidences proving the ransom will be discernible during the Millennium, when the work of restitution is under way-- when the Redeemer begins the exercise of his purchased rights as the Restorer.

The words forgive and pardon are used not in respect to the world and its original sin, but in respect to those who through faith in the Redeemer and his work are reckoned as having passed from death unto life--from sentence to justification. The great Mediator who bought them, and who bought the charges which were against them, freely forgives them and starts them afresh on trial for life--under the spirit of the divine Law and not under its letter. And more than this forgiveness of the past, he continues to forgive them and to pardon all their offenses (which will not be wilful so long as they have his new spirit or mind--1 John 3:9; 5:18)-- counting all such unwilful blemishes of thoughts, words and deeds as a part of the original sin and its depravity, still working in their flesh through heredity. Similarly the Heavenly Father is said to have mercy upon us, to forgive our trespasses, and to extend his grace (favor) to us; but the explanation is that all his grace is extended to us through our Lord Jesus' sacrifice: we are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation [satisfaction] through faith in his blood--to declare his righteousness for the remission [forgiveness] of sins." (Rom. 3:24,25) Again, it is declared, "We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14

"We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son," i.e., God ceased to resent our sins, because our ransom price had been paid, as provided by himself, who so loved us that he gave his Son to redeem us. Thus, too, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them" (but unto his beloved Son, who freely gave himself as our substitute). The sins were imputed to mankind until Jesus died; then God forgave, i.e., ceased to impute to us what had been paid by our Redeemer or Substitute. God did not PARDON, i.e., "refrain from exacting the penalty," but "laid upon him [our Redeemer] the iniquity of us all." (Isa. 53:6) "He bore [the penalty of] our sins in his own body on the tree." (1 Pet. 2:24) And thus we see how God forgave us freely "for Christ's sake"--because he paid the penalty which was the full satisfaction of justice. 1 John 1:7; 2:12; Eph. 4:32; Acts 4:12; 10:43; 13:38; Luke 24:47

Let it not be misunderstood that God compelled the just one to die for the unjust. Justice could not inflict the punishment of the guilty upon the innocent unless the innocent one freely gave himself as a substitute for the guilty. This our Lord Jesus did. The Scriptures declare that he laid down his life of himself; not for fear of divine wrath; not because compelled; but "for the joy that was set before him [the joy of obedience to the Father, the joy of redeeming and restoring mankind, and of bringing many sons to glory] he endured the cross." Heb. 12:2

The Greek words (apoluo, aphiemi and aphesis) translated "forgiveness," "forgiven" and "forgive," in the New Testament, have the same significance as the corresponding English words: "To release from punishment, to cease to cherish resentment towards." But let us mark well that the meaning is not as some seem to infer--to send away without an equivalent, as the English word pardon would imply. It is not that God will let the sinner go unconditionally, but, as Scripturally declared, God will let go the prisoners out of the pit (out of death), because he has found a ransom. (Job 33:24) The man Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom (a corresponding price) for all. (1 Tim. 2:6) Therefore all that are in their graves (prisoners in the pit) shall hear his voice and come forth, in due time--when the Redeemer shall "take to himself his great power and reign."

Though the word pardon does not occur in the New Testament, a Greek word of nearly the same meaning does occur-- karazomai. It signifies, to forgive freely. We will give some illustrations of the use of this word, from which it will be seen that it does not oppose but confirms the statement that our Father does not pardon, or unconditionally set sinners free from sin's penalty. The word karazomai occurs in all only twelve times, as follows: "Forgiving one another...even as Christ forgave you" (Col. 3:13); "When they had nothing to pay he frankly forgave them both"; "He to whom he forgave most." Luke 7:42,43

Here are four instances in which free forgiveness or pardon is meant. But notice, it is not Jehovah, but Christ Jesus and the disciples who do the free forgiving. Our Lord Jesus was in the very act of paying the ransom price of Simon, Mary and others, and realizing that Justice would be satisfied by his act, he, as the purchaser, could freely forgive them. The very object of his purchasing sinners was, that he might freely release them from sin's condemnation. Had our Lord Jesus been unwilling to pardon those whom he had purchased with his own blood, had he still held against them the wages of Adam's sin, his sacrifice would have been valueless to them; it would have left all as they were--"cursed"-- condemned. On the other hand, had the Father pardoned us, Christ's death would have been useless, valueless, as it would have accomplished nothing.

All will admit that God is just; and if so, he did not inflict too severe a penalty on man when he deprived him of life. Now if that penalty was just six thousand years ago, it is still a just penalty, and will be just for all coming time. If the penalty was too severe and God pardons the sinner (releases him from further continuance of the penalty) it proves either that God was at first unjust, or is so now. If it was right six thousand years ago to deprive mankind of life because of sin, it would always be wrong to restore the life unless the pronounced penalty were justly canceled by the payment of an equivalent price. And this could only be accomplished by the willing sacrifice of another being of the same kind, whose right to life was unforfeited, giving himself as a substitute or ransom.