Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you. I have swept away your offences like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you. Isaiah 44.21-22.
The images of sins and failures and shortcomings evaporating away like the mist in the valley as the sun rises, or vanishing like a thinning cloud into a clear blue sky, are lovely images and I linger on them for a while; but what really strikes me this morning as I read these words is the fact that God sweeps away the sins of Jacob and Israel without their asking him to do so and before they repent of their sins and idolatory and return to him.
This is the doctrine of “prevenient grace” and a doctrine which I need to learn and keep re-learning. It reaches its full expression in Romans 5.8 — “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It is the doctrine that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3.16), not that the world so repented of its sin that God gave his one and only Son. The forgiveness of my sin springs from God’s love not from my repentance.
There was a Dennis the Menace cartoon once … in Dandy or Beano, I can’t remember which. Dennis and his friend are, of course, couple of tearaways who are always in trouble. In the cartoon they are walking out of Mrs Wilson’s house with pile of cookies in their hands and Dennis’s friend is wondering what they’ve done to deserve them. So Dennis explains: “Mrs Wilson doesn’t give us cookies because we’re nice,” he says. “Mrs Wilson gives us cookies because she’s nice.”
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4.10). Grace comes first, preceding all human decisions and endeavours. The forgiveness comes before we either desire it or seek it or acknowledge our need for it. Out of his great love, God takes the initiative to cleanse and heal us before we even know we are dirty and sick. My salvation starts with God, it does not start with me. I do not and cannot merit it or earn it by contrition or repentance or anything else; it was never for sale. It is a gift that awaits me this morning, as ever, just waiting to be appropriated.
Thank you, Lord Jesus.