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upon or defrauded; or without having his motives impeached, his character slandered, his sentiments misinterpreted or belied, and his very soul wrung with the unkindness and the injustice of his fellow men.
We often misunderstand our fellow men; and we are often misunderstood. Who does not know, how large a share of the enmities which arise between those who should be chief friends, is owing to some slight misapprehension, which a little candor, a little charity, and a little explanation in the outset, would have entirely cleared away? But when once ill blood is up, and the war of harsh words is begun, the closer the friendship has been, the more deadly now the war.
"A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” Often, too, a strife once kindled would go out, if there were no tale-bearers. But there are always enough to fan the fire. What began in a simple misunderstanding, thus often results in multiplied wrong.
With all the wickedness of which the world is so full,- with all the little misunderstandings to which fallible beings are so liable,and with all the ill-offices of those who love to promote strife ; it will be very strange if any man walks far in life, without being called to suffer some grievous wrong. “It must needs be that offences come.” And this our Saviour takes for granted. But,
II. He requires every one, who comes to pray for forgiveness from God, to give a bond, the penalty of which is damnation, that he will forgive his fellow men their trespasses, just as he asks the Lord to forgive his trespasses.
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Certainly, he who uses this prayer, binds himself to forgive his fellow men their trespasses, on penalty of never finding forgiveness with God. Every sinner, who does not forgive his brother, utters his own condemnation every time that he thus prays for the divine forgiveness. “ Forgive, as I forgive.” The import of the prayer is, if I fail to forgive, let me never be forgiven. Our Lord is not satisfied with declaring that an unforgiving soul shall never be forgiven : he makes the transgressor utter his own doom; nay, put it in as a condition of his prayer; and bind himself to forgive, under the penalty of eternal perdition. And to make the matter absolutely certain; to cut off all hope of forgiveness from every one that will not forgive his neighbor; our Lord is careful to add these words : " For if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your
He added the same to the parable of the unmerciful servant, who received forgiveness for a debt of ten thousand talents, but would not pity and spare his fellow servant who owed him a hundred pence. “ Then his Lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me : shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee? And his Lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you,
if from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."
He added the same sentiment, as he taught his disciples to have faith in prayer, on the occasion of the fig-tree withering at his word. ** And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses."
So, here is one character that cannot be forgiven. An unforgiving man cannot obtain the forgiveness of God. And what must become of him who cannot be forgiven? The bible does not leave us in doubt : “ He shall have judgment without mercy, that showed no mercy." Think of this—“ Judgment without mercy!" All his iniquities heaped upon his head; all remembered; all brought into the judgment! No Mediator to plead for him: no Redeemer's blood to atone for him: God will never forgive him. " He shall have judgment without mercy!"
For this reason, whoever comes to the altar with his gift, and there remembers that there is ill blood between him and his neighbor, must stop. He must first go and be reconciled to his brother. If he have entered into his closet ; and there, when he is on his knees, remembers that he has in his heart any bitterness or grudge against his neighbor, he must beware how he asks for forgiveness. If he presumes to pray for pardon without forgiving his neighbor, he will, in effect, pray for the damnation of his own soul.
But our wicked hearts are so prone to wicked evasions, that, in order to be safe, it is necessary for us to inquire further concerning the reach of this bond to forgive.
III. How, then, according to the condition of this prayer, are we to forgive our debtors ?
1. Freely : just as we wish God to forgive us. Your neighbor has offended. He has grievously and inexcusably wronged you. He deserves punishment. If it were not so, there would be no need of forgiveness : simple justice would make all right. But suppose he has grievously injured you,—wronged you in your property,—insulted you,—slandered you. The sentiment of this wicked world says, Resent it: revenge it. The Gospel says, Forgive. Forgive freely. Be not strict to ask for an honorable amend. Suppose the offender is in your power. Suppose you can make him smart for the wrong, or buy his peace dearly. Suppose you can, by simply telling the truth, cover him with shame, and make the world despise him. Suppose he has given ample provocation, and amply deserves it. What then ? Your wicked heart can, if it will, take sweet revenge. It will whisper you, that it is not so much vengeance as doing the offender justice. This wicked world may tell you it is all right. But what says the Gospel ? “Forgive.” Forbear all vengeance. Do not unnecessarily expose him. Do not wound his feelings, any more than the kindest concern for his present and eternal good would prompt you to do. Treat him not as an enemy, but as a brother whom you are anxious to spare ; whose reputation you wish to preserve. Take the necessary steps to bring him to repentance; but do it as to a beloved brother or son.
If you say, "I will forgive him, but I will make him smart a little for his wickedness: I will take a little revenge first, and make him pay for his exemption from worse punishment;"—is this as you wish the Lord to deal by you ? So you must pray.
You are bound to make the condition express ; " Forgive me my debts, as I forgive my debtors." By this rule, you are bringing yourself into trouble. According to your own prayer, God may have to strip you of your property ; blast your prospects; leave you to such courses as will ruin your reputation; lay you on a bed of lingering sickness; or cut down your children or dearest friends by death. You bind yourself by your prayer to all this. Possibly this is not the worst of the case. God may esteem you one who does not forgive; and he may hold on to the bond, which you give in prayer, never to be forgiven! Forgive freely. Forbear all vengeance; all retaliation ; all attempts to injure the offender's character. You are on ground, over which the Lord has seen fit to draw the provisions of his law with exceeding strictness. “Vengeance is mine ; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Slight is the injury which your revenge can inflict on him who has injured you; but, according to your prayer for forgiveness, it destroys your own soul.
2. Forgive great wrongs. So you wish to be forgiven of God. You owe ten thousand talents, and have nothing to pay. You must be indebted to a pardon that forgives sins worthy of everlasting death, or you must spend your eternity in hell. This is the forgiveness that you want of God. What wrongs so great has your neighbor committed against you? Say not, “ He has deserved punishment : he does not deserve to be forgiven.” Say not, “He has done so wickedly, that I cannot bear it: I cannot forgive it." Where would you be, if great wrongs could not be forgiven? Where would you be, if no one that richly deserves punishment, must ever find pardon ? God will hold you to your bond. If you could not forgive the great offences of your neighbor, then your great offences cannot be forgiven.
3. Be ready to forgive unasked: be the first to seek reconciliation with an offender.
Some people are apt to say, “ I am ready to forgive, as soon as he asks my forgiveness, with suitable reparation and acknowledgments.” At first view this looks very reasonable. But God so loved the world, that while we were yet enemies, Christ died for the ungodly. No voice of supplication had ascended to his ear. There were none ready to return and to seek God, crying, "Father, we have sinned." There were none ready to think of making reparation for the wrong : and had they done so, no reparation could have been made. Then God, of his own overflowing kindness, came to seck us, when we were lost. And still he pursues us with his love. While we are obstinate in rebellion, he pleads with us; he beseeches us by his mercies to turn and live. “Did ever mercy stoop so low." Was ever pardon offered at so costly an expense? God did not forbear the condescension. He did not forbear the sacrifice. He was the first to seek reconciliation with offending worms of the dust.
Say,-if you proudly and coldly stand aloof from your offending brother, waiting for him to make the first advances towards reconciliation, because he is the offender; if your proud heart prompts you to stand for your honor, and thinks it beneath your dignity to bow itself with kind offers of reconciliation to that unworthy and offending brother ;-can you' hope to be forgiven? If you make this a condition of forgiving your brother, God may make it a condition of forgiving you. He may cease to pursue you with his Spirit. He may give you up to your own heart's lust, to walk in your own counsels, and then you are as surely lost, as though you were already in hell. Be careful lest your endeavor to maintain your dignity end in the eternal ruin of your soul. God will certainly bring down that naughtiness of heart. Beware how you say, "Forgive me my debts as I forgive my debtors,” with such a temper. Beware lest you ensnare your own soul. 4. Forgive repeated wrongs.
Why, this man has been so constantly doing wrong, that I am tired of forgiving him. I have lost all patience.” How natural are such thoughts to the carnal heart ! Peter thought he had stretched forgiveness very far, when he had extended it to the seventh offence. “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times ? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times; but, until seventy times seven :" and immediately he uttered the parable of the unforgiving servant, to warn his disciples against an unforgiving spirit.
He knew our proneness to revenge : our punctiliousness respecting insults: and our ungodly notions of dignity, and of “proper resentment." He knew our dangers : and therefore said, " Take heed to yourselves :" as if he had said, Look out for special dangers here: “TAKE HEED to yourselves; if thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”
Where would you be ; you who have lost all charity and all patience, and are tired of forgiving your oft offending brother ; where would you be, if God's patience were wearied out ? Where would you be, if God could never forgive those whose offences are multiplied as the waves of the sea ? Are you willing to cut yourself off from all forgiveness, if you have sinned as many times as seventy times seven? If not, then beware how you refuse to forgive a brother who has often offended. You bind yourself by your very prayer, to receive the measure which you mete to others : “And with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”