In view of the vastness of such a vital subject as the above, let us limit our contemplation of it to various aspects of the Greek word aphesis. As we do so, we realize that this word opens to us a veritable spiritual Aladdin’s cave of marvellous treasures that are ours as the children of God. May we endeavour fully to appreciate the value of these well-known gems in the setting of our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray that we may have a greater revelation of the depths concerned in order that this brief study may assist us in our worship at the Lord’s supper and elsewhere. These presentations of aphesis will be shown by words in italics, and we start with forgiveness.
Forgiveness. We remember the familiar words of our Lord when He spoke of His blood of the new covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness (remission) of sins, Matt. 26. 28. With what joy the new-born soul grasps the stupendous fact that the words of 1 John 2. 12 apply to him, “your sins are forgiven you”, and “in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins”, Eph. 1. 7. A holy and righteous God had sent His Son to die a substitutionary death for us sinners. The human mind is baffled by such an almost incredible love.
One of the greatest heights to which human forgiveness has risen concerned Richard the Lion Heart. Conflict had broken out between him and one of his vassals who commanded the French castle of Chaluz in the Limousin. Whilst the king and one of his subjects were walking round the besieged castle, a crossbowman named Bertrand de Gurdan on one of the parapets recognized the king and deliberately shot him, the arrow piercing his shoulder. Sepsis and gangrene supervened, and after days of terrible suffering Richard died. But before his decease the castle fell and the guilty Bertrand was brought before his sovereign. When asked for an explanation for his rebellion the soldier boldly replied, “You slew my father and my two brothers with your own hand and now you mean to kill me”, adding further accusations. The dying monarch, rising above his physical agony, answered with noble and exemplary words worthy indeed of a king, words that all could hear, “I forgive you my death. You may go free,” and then added that 100 shillings (a goodly sum in A.D. 1199) were to be given to him. In those days of heartless malevolence, Richard’s followers were flabbergasted at such unparalleled forgiveness and unexpected magnanimity. Yet even this illustration of man at his best can in no way be compared with the marvellous and immeasurable forgiveness that we have in Christ, obtained through suffering that far surpasses human imagination.
Yet there is something more of great importance to be added. In everyday life, a man may be convicted in a court of law of committing an offence against another citizen and punishment ordered. Then the offended party may forgive the offender, but the punishment would not be cancelled thereby. That this principle is true is well shown by the fact that when Richard died, the ill-fated Bertrand was murdered by the soldiers with the most fiendish cruelty conceivable.
How different it is in the case of an offended God, for with Him forgiveness includes “the deliverance of the sinner from the penalty Divinely imposed”, W. E. Vine. It is the Almighty’s superlative prerogative. So let us pass on to another facet of aphesis, which is remission.
Remission introduces us into more of the incomparable mercy of God, for it means the removal of sins from the sinner (together with the remission of the penalty, Abbott-Smith). This thought of remission is allied very closely to that of forgiveness to such an extent that frequently it is so translated and vice-versa in various versions. It is prominently shown in our previous reference to Matthew 26. 28, where the a.v. reads “for the remission of sins”. We are not too surprised at this when we remember that both words are complementary facets of aphesis.
The removal of sins from the sinner is a teaching of the Old Testament by statements and types, as well as in the New Testament. Thus there is a perfect harmony between “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us”, Psa. 103. 12, and “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”, John 1. 29.
The clarity of the Scriptures on this fundamental theme is such that any apprehensive believer can find absolute peace and assurance in texts such as the foregoing and “whosoever be-lieveth in him shall receive remission of sins”, Acts 10. 43, with which we link “without shedding of blood is no remission”, Heb. 9. 22. Thus we can revel in the blessed thought that there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, Rom. 8. 1.
We have not come yet to the end of the wonders conveyed by aphesis, for we now consider the marvellous freedom embraced by another aspect, which is release.
Release here means deliverance from being slaves of sin. This brings us again to our spiritual Aladdin’s cave, containing the unsearchable riches of Christ, for another of those gems which are without price. It is for those who are enchained by unworthy thoughts, debasing desires and perhaps ignoble practices from which they cannot set themselves free. They are declared to be slaves of sin, John 8. 34 and Rom. 6. 16, 17 (both in Greek). Nonetheless, for such there is a sure and certain hope of release. With this in mind we go back to the synagogue in Nazareth where, according to Luke 4. 17-21, Jesus read passages from Isaiah stating that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him, and that part of His purpose in coming into the world was to proclaim release to the captives, a phrase found also in Isaiah 61. 1, and further “to set at liberty (literally, send away in release) those that are oppressed”, found in Isaiah 58. 6 lxx.1 Both of these statements are similar in meaning, and both are based on aphesis.
Release is the prime and urgent need of all those that are in bondage in the devil’s domain, but, praise the Lord, we read that God has rescued us out of the tyranny of darkness and transported us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, Col. 1. 13. Lightfoot renders this verse with delightful elegance as “We were slaves in the land of darkness. God rescued us from that thraldom. He transported us thence and settled us as free colonists and citizens in the kingdom of His Son”. How we rejoice that in the realm of the redeemed we have the comforting and encouraging declaration that’“sin shall not have dominion over you”, Rom. 6. 14. In fact, no temptation is too great for us to cope with, God being our Helper, 1 Cor. 10. 13.
Keeping in mind the aforementioned aspects of aphesis, and so very much beside, our hearts overflow with praise, worship and gratitude for “so great salvation,” Heb. 2, 3.
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