AMONG the many wonderful promises of God to men is the promise that when He has forgiven them their sins and written His law in their minds and hearts, He will remember their sin no more (Jer. 31:33, 34). God assures them that He will blot out their transgressions for His own sake, and will remember them no more (Isa. 43:25). The forgiveness of sins already committed, the cleansing from present faults through the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:9), the writing of God's law on the mind and heart, and the blotting out of the record of sin from the books of heaven (see Rev. 20:12)—that seems to be the process that leads to God's forgetting that His ransomed ever defiled themselves by rebelling against Him. It is all the product of a love and a largeheartedness that defies comprehension.
God's power to pardon and forget the sins of the redeemed is all the more remarkable because He assures us that He never can forget His people. A woman, He said, may forget her baby, and, in a time of crisis, perhaps to save her own life, may let it perish, but God can never forget His redeemed (Isa. 49:15). He would sacrifice His own life rather than lose a single soul (John 3:16). He has become one with men, the Head of the human family (Eph. 1:22), and He will ever bear the marks of His sacrifice for their redemption (Zech. 13:6). But He will never regret it and will not remember the sins that caused His suffering, for "there was the hiding of his power" (Hab. 3:4).
This wonderful power of God to pardon and forget (Num. 14:17-19) contrasts with the third stanza of that grand old hymn "Grown Him Lord of All," which says:
"Sinners, whose love can ne'er forget The wormwood and the gall; Go, spread your trophies at His feet, And crown Him Lord of all."
This is an echo of Lamentations 3:19, where "the wormwood and the gall" were the consequences of Israel's continued rebellion and their choosing to serve the wrong master. However, when men have been forgiven, they would do well to forget their past failures and mistakes (see Testimonies, vol. 3, pp. 97, 98), for the remembrance of them tends to be most discouraging. We should never forget the way the Lord has redeemed and led us, for the remembrance of these will be a source of courage in the continuing conflict, but to dwell upon and mourn over past sins is unprofitable.
The time when " 'the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind' " is when there shall be a new heaven and a new earth (Isa. 65:17, R.S.V.). During the final phase of the judgment, however, there will be a remembrance of some sins. At this time a panorama of the history of sin and its consequences will pass before the whole universe. All will see a picture of God's tremendous efforts to prevent sin developing, and when it came, to mitigate its effects and redeem men from it and its wages—death.
This panorama is described in these moving words: "Above the throne is revealed the cross; and like a panoramic view appear the scenes of Adam's temptation and fall, and the successive steps in the great plan of redemption. The Saviour's lowly birth; ... His betrayal into the hands of the murderous mob; the fearful events of that night of horror—the unresisting prisoner, forsaken by His best-loved disciples, rudely hurried through the streets of Jerusalem." —The Great Controversy, pp. 666, 667. From this description it is clear that some sins, such as Adam's fall and Christ's being forsaken by His best-loved disciples in the hour of crisis, are brought before the assembled multitudes. In this recapitulation of history for the justification of God there may be no need to depict the sins of the righteous, but some shortcomings may be of the essence of the story.
Satan, however, does not forget the sins of the righteous. In that night of wrestling, when the Lord met with Jacob, "Satan endeavored to force upon him a sense of his guilt, in order to discourage him, and break his hold upon God."—Ibid., p. 618. This will be his method in the "time of Jacob's trouble," through which the people of God must yet pass before their final deliverance. "He has an accurate knowledge of the sins which he has tempted them to commit, and he presents these before God in the most exaggerated light, representing this people to be just as deserving as himself of exclusion from the favor of God." —Ibid.
"As Satan accuses the people of God on account of their sins, the Lord permits him to try them to the uttermost. . . . As they review the past, their hopes sink; for in their whole lives they can see little good. They are fully conscious of their weakness and unworthiness. Satan endeavors to terrify them with the thought that their cases are hopeless, that the stain of their defilement will never be washed away." It "is not a dread of persecution for the truth's sake" that causes their anguish, but "they fear that every sin has not been repented of," and so they will fail to benefit from the promise, "I will keep thee from the hour of temptation."—Ibid., pp. 618, 619.
But they have no "concealed wrongs to reveal. Their sins have gone beforehand to judgment, and have been blotted out; and they cannot bring them to remembrance." —Ibid., p. 620.
Some have taken this last sentence as meaning that the saints cannot recall any-of their past sins. But the people of God are not seeking to recall their past sins. They are searching their hearts to see if they can find there any unconfessed sin. If the saints could recall an unconfessed sin, "despair would cut off their faith, and they could not have confidence to plead with God for deliverance."—Ibid.
Taken out of its context, the statement might be thought to mean that the saints could not recall their sins. In its context it means simply that they are unable to recall any unconfessed sins. If they could, it would be evidence that their sins had not been blotted out, their unconfessed sins being the hindrance.
Taking this statement and others like it out of context and giving it a significance that is unsupported by the context, may have been done honestly, but it was designed to support the error that the cleansing of the sanctuary is in reality the cleansing of the soul, the taking away from the mind all trace made of sin and all memory of sin. Now the means for bringing repentant, forgiven sinners to perfection of character is the ministration of the first apartment of the sanctuary. There is the continual shewbread—the Word of God (John 6:32-40); and the incense with the prayers of the believers, the merits and righteousness of Jesus, assuring the granting of every request (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 367); and there is the light of the lamps—the guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit (Rev. 4:5), and with your cooperation, what more is required for complete sanctification? There remains to complete the work only the cancellation, the blotting out of the record (see Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 356). This concellation of the sin removes every trace of condemnation from the forgiven, sanctified sinner; but though it affects his standing and is indeed an atonement for him, it is not performed on the sinner's person, but is just what it is said to be, and no mistake, "the cleansing of the sanctuary."
If men are led to expect that in the time of trouble they would not be able to recall any of their sins because they have been blotted out, and if at that time Satan is permitted to try them to the uttermost, and he presents their sins before them with exaggeration, would not such an unexpected experience discourage them, and perhaps defeat them?
As we have said, the sanctuary illustrates the three steps in the plan of preparing the sinner for the glory of God. There is complete forgiveness of every sin at the altar; and there is complete sanctification in the holy place, by means of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and the addition of the merits of Jesus to all our requests for power and salvation, making them acceptable. Finally, there is the cancellation of the record of our iniquities. This done, we are ready for eternal glory, and Jesus comes to give it to us.
To lead men to look for some other operation not in any way illustrated in the sanctuary is to create in them a false hope which leads to destruction.
Thank God, the time is near when God will remember our sins no more, and "the former (things) shall not be remembered, nor come into mind," but holiness and happiness will reign forever.