He became a burden to his normal society. He moped about like a sad puppy, haunted by the bloody dagger of his murderous past. The crown now sat upon his head, but he was robbed of the pleasure to enjoy it. He wanders the pages of Shakespeare’s play as a ghoul, as one of the chief consequences of his villainy is a biblical one: he lost the ability to enter rest.
After the treacherous deed of assassinating his king, Macbeth hears a voice say that he shall henceforth find no rest, for he has murdered sleep. His mind tosses and turns, the hounds of justice bark at all hours in pursuit, his conscience has become his omnipresent foe.
We too know what it is like to be disturbed by our sin. Certain grievances provoke our consciences more than others. At times, our guilt shadows us during the day and climbs into our dreams at night. It talks to us.
The experience is unsettling, and we have different responses to it. But how I too often responded, even as a Christian, was to take Lady Macbeth’s counsel over Scripture’s: “Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done is done.” If I couldn’t fix it, I tried to forget it. I would try to put it out of my mind, and as time distanced me from my crime, I would begin to sleep more peacefully.
Time Will Not Forgive
But what I did not consider, along with God’s ancient people, is that heaven’s King does not forget sin because time has passed.
They do not consider that I remember all their evil. Now their deeds surround them; they are before my face. (Hosea 7:2)
God does not sweep sin under the rug with the broom of time. Our past sins have mouths, eyes, and legs. Though we try and silence our consciences, reminding them that it was last week, last month, last decade (besides, look how much we’ve reformed!), God’s anger towards our sin knows no remission or expiration date. Sin doesn’t rust or decompose before him. Time may seem to heal a human heart, but it does not remedy an offense against the divine. Just because we banish our sins from before our own eyes, they still stand in full view of his.
We may not consider that past sins — if they are not dealt with at the cross — surround us today. Perhaps we assume only young beasts speak the words of Scripture, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And yet our past transgressions do not grow tired of calling for our execution.
The sins of your youth still scream from the past,
As Abel’s blood cried to God against Cain.
They’ve not grown tired; the choir amasses.
They will not be silent till you are slain.
Untold Secret Sins
I realized one morning, meditating on Hosea 7:2, that I had been trusting in time to intercede for me. Without repentance, without trust in Christ, without turning to the Great High Priest who can forgive my transgression, I often, in laziness and unbelief, went to a different mediator: Priestly Time. I brought my lust to her, my anger to her, my hasty responses to her, my worldliness to her, and she would always respond, “It’s okay, my son, just give it a little while and all will be forgotten.
A few days and months will separate you from the sin as far as the east is from the west.”
In self-love, I concealed my faults, hoping that the ghosts of old sins had died. I assumed that the Ancient of Days had an aging memory to forget my crimes, and that time somehow caused him amnesia. I assumed that there was a statute of limitations on my wrongs. I had forgotten that a thousand years is like a day to him, and that a few years was but the passing of a few minutes.
My secret sins that I conveniently had forgotten, but never truly confessed, visited me. Not to condemn me — I was covered in the blood of Christ at this point — but to cause reform and greater delight, as Dickens’s ghosts visited Ebenezer Scrooge. And they pointed me again, with alarming sobriety, to the one actual Mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5).
Sins to Safely Forget
What can wash away our sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Vague repentance that deals nothing with Jesus and his cross is no repentance at all. And I was in danger of straying into this repentance. Although God was merciful to me during this season of true and faulty repentance, when he confronted me, three things began to happen.
First, I began to foster a habit of repenting, not forgetting. Second, I experienced the refreshment of true repentance and the consistent joy of knowing that all of my sins were truly forgiven (Acts 3:19; Psalms 32:1–2). And third, I began to appreciate Christ as my Mediator and Great High Priest in ways I hadn’t before. I loved him who not only saved me from the sins that most pricked my conscience, but who bore every single sin and stood in my place as a sinner.
I found that Christian repentance is not skulking away from the crime scene in hopes that the investigation eventually wanes, but it is going to my God through his Son — even at my lowest — to feel his smile and be reminded of the forgiveness that Jesus purchased. And this new, consistent, active, Christ-mediating repentance before the living God became a sweet place of confession as well as a constant reminder of God’s love and Christ’s glory. Grace and mercy — that had so often floated in abstract terms — became real as I daily experienced a Savior who sympathized with my weaknesses and loved me despite my remaining failures.
And then, only in Christ, could I safely and gladly begin to say with Paul, “I forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). And he says it with confidence because in God’s new covenant he remembers our sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34).
Have you been before the throne of grace recently to pour out your soul before God? Do you have any lingering sins that you have not brought to him? In Christ, he is even more willing to forgive us than we are to repent.
We entrust our sins to better hands than the hands of time.
Reckon, dear soul, what hands came to rescue.
Hands of an infant, a boy, then a King.
His pierced hands, made bloody to bless you,
Held God on a cross, you under his wing.
Trust, then, dear soul, in these hands forever.
Touch them, O Thomas, and doubt him no more.
His tender hands hold all things together.
They alone row us to the celestial shore.