In no part of the Bible can be found that the justice of God ever stood in the way of pardoning the penitent. Under the Old Testament, God revealed Himself as gracious and merciful, long-suffering and always ready to pardon all who would forsake sin and turn to Him with contrite hearts.
Yet the justice of God always did and always will stand in the way of pardoning the impenitent; for this would be of the nature of approving a sinful character.
To effect, then, the reconciliation and cleansing of the sinner, one thing needed to be done – repentance – so that God might be just in justifying him; and this was the great purpose for which the Messiah was sent out into the world, the purpose of his ministry and example, his life, and his death.
For what is the Sermon on the Mount, but a solemn, lucid, and impressive declaration of the righteousness which God requires of men under the light of the Gospel?
How careful was Christ in that sermon to correct the false opinions of the Pharisees, and to show his hearers that unless their righteousness would exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, they “would be excluded from the kingdom of heaven!”
How careful he was, to have it understood that the commands and prohibitions of the moral law extend to the heart, as well as to external conduct! How clearly, too, did he show what temper of hear we must possess to be "blessed," to be forgiven, to be the "children" of our Father, Who is in heaven! In other discourses he illustrated similar truths.
Nor did he fail to declare by his own example the righteousness which God requires, by exhibiting in his own conduct the spirit of benevolence, meekness, forbearance, self-denial, and forgiveness, calling on others to learn of him, to take up the cross and follow his steps.
For without thus believing in him as the Light of the world, men could not feel their obligations to obey his precepts and confide in his messages of love.
But the faith which he required was not a barren assent to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah; it was such a cordial and practical belief in him as the anointed Son of the living God, such as would incline us to become his disciples indeed, to obey his commands, to take up the cross and follow his example.
Hence the faith in Jesus is holy obedience to his precepts, which naturally results from love of his character, and a cordial reliance on him as one invested with divine authority to proclaim to men the glad-tidings of salvation, and the righteousness which God requires for the remission of sins.
But how does the Savior effect his purpose of turning men from iniquity, or purging them from sin? By the influence of the purifying religion which he came to establish, by the efficacy of the truths which he taught, the precepts which he enjoined, the motives be has set before us, by the love and concern which he expressed for us, in laying down his life, and by the example which he gave for our imitation.
That divine truth has an influence to cleanse men from sin, and turn them to the Lord, was known under the Old Testament. The Psalmist asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” (Psalm 119:9) Jesus said to his disciples, “Now you are clean through the word that I have spoken unto you.” (John 15:3)
(Adapted from Noah Worcester, 1829)