The pardoning mercy of God is not a discovery peculiar to the Gospel. It was equally made known to the world before Jesus.
"When I say to the wicked, You shall surely die;" (speaks Almighty God by his prophet, Ezekiel (33:14) "If he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and rights none of his sins that he has committed shall be mentioned unto him: he has done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live."
And Isaiah says, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, and he will abundantly pardon." (55:7)
Since we here plainly show that Jesus neither procured nor first revealed the divine forgiveness to repenting sinners - because the people of Israel were fully aware of it before he came among them and spoke to them - we still must inquire: In what way does he save sinners?
He says: "I am the light of the world:" (8:12) “whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." And, "Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent." (John 17:3)
When the world was called to the hope of eternal life through Christ, it was justly and indispensably required of them to repent and renounce every evil way, to fit and qualify them for a happiness with God, into whose presence nothing sinful or unholy, nothing false or unjust can ever enter.
Hence we find that almost all our Savior's instructions were of the practical kind. Not so much what men were to believe, as what they were to DO to attain eternal life.
The Apostle Peter, in his discourse to his countrymen soon after Jesus' resurrection, closes his exhortation to them saying (Acts 3:26) "Unto you first, God having raised up his servant Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities."
This was the way in which they were to be blessed or saved by Jesus, in hearkening to the preaching of his apostles who spoke in his name, and in turning from their iniquities.
These Jews had expected great temporal blessings from their Messiah. The apostle tells them that the blessings they were to look for from the Gospel, were none other but the means to become holy and good, which would qualify them for an endless happiness in the future world.
In this way, then, Jesus saved sinners, by bringing them off from their evil courses, to walk in the holy ways of God.
If we have happily learned from Christ, whose words and example are set before us by his apostles, to prefer virtue and holiness and doing the will of God above all worldly views and enjoyments, and can welcome reproach and suffering for his sake, in the way of our duty, and to spread the knowledge of God and his truth that many may be saved by it: we have then all reason to think well of our estate, and that, if by the divine assistance we thus persevere unto the end, eternal life will be ours.
But many are not content with this plain way of salvation marked out by the Gospel, in which the apostles of Jesus walked before us, and directed us to follow them. They would willingly be saved without the trouble of forsaking their sins, and amending their crooked tempers and dispositions.
And hence, from some mistaken passages of Scripture and various errors concerning the person and office of Christ, they have imagined that it was he alone that made God favorable and propitious to his sinful creatures, and that it is sufficient for salvation that we be persuaded of this, and moreover, that it is most honorable to God to give all to him in the work of salvation, and nothing to ourselves.
But our heavenly Father has always been merciful and compassionate towards his children, and ready with open arms to receive them to his mercy when they repent, without any other consideration, without the interposition of any other person on their behalf.
All that our Savior did and suffered, was to be a means of his own purification and advancement, as the Scriptures inform us, and at the same time a most powerful and efficacious motive and inducement to change our dispositions and reconcile us to God, and not to reconcile God to us, who is always disposed to show kindness to us.
And it is a vain and groundless fancy that we are to be passive in the work of our salvation. We must be fitted and qualified for it by suitable holy tempers and virtuous habits. And these cannot be wrought in us without our own will and concurrence. And this continual exertion of ourselves, to work holiness in the shadow of the Master, is what the Scriptures throughout exhort to and require at our hands.
(Rev. Theophilus Lindsey, 1723-1808, was a British theologian and clergyman who founded the first openly Unitarian congregation in London.)