Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER VII.

ON THE FORGIVENESS OF INJURIES.

1. To return good for evil, to treat enemies kindly, to exercise patience under injuries, and to abstain from revenge, are excellent qualities; but the point must be carried yet higher: for it is obviously one thing to endure an offence, and another to forgive it. It may however be generally presumed that where good is returned for evil, evidence is thereby afforded of entire forgiveness; but this, I think, is not necessarily the case; but even admitting such evidence to be conclusive, there are many inferior shades of character before we come to the one who does actually return good for evil, and who heartily prays for, and blesses his enemies. And even the character attains not such excellent temper but by divine grace.

2. If we turn to the word of God, we shall see the point carried to its perfection; but in a work of this kind I must be content with a lower standard as regards men; though certainly not as regards the divine law. " Jesus said to his disciples,

It is impossible but offences will come....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. And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith." In another place we are informed that, after Jesus had treated on this subject, "Then came Peter to him, and said, 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."? As Jesus had said nothing about the number of times, it is probable Peter thought he had got an extreme case, which would be admitted as an exception from the strict rule; we may therefore judge of his surprise at the foregoing answer. Jesus finely illustrated the subject in the subsequent part of the chapter.

3

3. It will perhaps be said that confession of the offence is connected with its forgiveness; and therefore it is sufficient to forgive when an apology is offered. But this notion is successfully exploded by that one short, and well-known clause in the Lord's Prayer, which I adduced in a previous chapter, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.' Observe, it is not said, as we forgive them who confess or apologize; and when injunctions are given to love our enemies, do them good, pray for and bless them,—not a word is said about their confessing, but only their aggravating conduct,

1 Luke xvii. 1.

2 Matt. xviii. 15-23.

3 Ibid. iii. 25.

4. The expression of forgiveness is often too vague to be depended on. A. has told in every company for these ten years past, how much he has suffered from B. always concluding with this doubtful adjunctum, But I forgive him, you know.' A moment's reflection might admonish him, that this constant blazoning of the offencethis perpetual stabbing, gives the lie to his profession of forgiveness. So on a death-bed, a man who has been remarkable for an unforgiving temper, may say, as is often the case, I am at peace with all the world; I forgive every body.' But, as Dr. Watts has said of some death-bed repentances, if we can reasonably believe that such an one would have come to the same frame of mind at the same time, had he been in health, then we might venture to believe the case to be genuine.' I really apprehend that some of these confessions about forgiving every body are much like the conduct of some hard-fisted men, who, finding they cannot take their money with them, bequeath a portion to some charity; and thereby gain in death a fame which no acts of their life would secure, and which, but for kind death, would never have been heard of.

5. An unforgiving temper is abhorred both by God and men. It is amazing how far some can carry it. Vindix's eldest son married against his approbation, a woman of equal respectability: so offended was the father that he firmly resolved to disinherit and discard the son for ever; and for nearly twenty years to the present hour he has been as good as his word. The son, as the father himself confessed, had never previously disobliged his parents, yet has suffered every change, and

almost every adversity, that can befal man,-unpitied by his own, though not wholly so by the world, bad as it is. Mother, sisters, and brothers, were interdicted, at their peril, to show him the least token of regard or assistance. If Vindix by accident meets his son in the streets, he screws up his countenance and rushes on as if the fruit of his loins were a toad. Friends and strangers have remonstrated to no purpose. Yet Vindix is a great professor of religion! Query. Does he ever repeat or join in the Lord's prayer? Who knows but that when he comes to see that such an unnatural temper is not quite convenient to be carried into another state, he may, as a peaceoffering to his conscience, and a passport for his soul, say, just before he expires, I forgive everybody! Providence has made the circumstances of the above fact so familiar to me, that, though the parties are now living, I would just as readily sign it as withhold my name. I run no risk of

offending the injured son, who is now in a respectable situation; and the father is too far sunk in the esteem of reasonable men to be regarded, though he might rave like a wild bull in a net.

6. There doubtless are cases where a parent may conceive a just displeasure at the alliance of a child: but, never to relent, because, Herod-like, it would infract his oath; never to relax his rigour, but rather rejoice at all his misfortunes, and a thousand times wish him dead! to forbid the mother, on pain of the highest displeasure, to notice or assist the son of her womb, the once dear darling of her heart, and above all, to forbid the weeping suppliant son admission to the dying bed of that mother, and afterward to the funeral

S

itself is a complication of iniquity which indicates a nature of more than common turpitude: and far exceeding any conceived defect which might be assigned as the cause of his displeasure. And then, to crown all, to retain a godly profession with this monstrous iniquity, is a contrariety which no rules of Euclid, and no reasoning of a Butler, can ever reconcile.

7. The above, it may be said, is an extreme case; but be assured it is not a solitary one. There are others, which, though inferior in degree, are equally unreasonable. Let not the sun go down upon your wrath, is not an authority to be slighted.1 To be constantly cherishing a pique, or to have the mind always charged with a disposition to revenge, is, to say the least, an unenviable temper. Even if the offender make no apology, it is better to pass it over in silent pity, as beneath the concern of a well-ordered mind. It should ever be remembered that forgiveness is a striking feature in the character of the great God, and is inculcated by him in the most positive and solemn terms. But such is the proud conceit of man, that he regards some paltry, and perhaps merited offences against his conceived dignity as not at all inferior to the sin against the Holy Ghost. I cannot forgive him, and I will not forgive him,' is the passionate language of this high and mighty Iman of the earth.' 2 Alas! if the Most High God were to adjudicate on this principle, and measure his pardons by the qualities and degrees of our offences, or only forgive us in exact pro

6

1 See Matt. vi. 15. Lxke xi. 4. Eph. iv. 32.
2 Psalm x. 18.

Col. iii. 13,

« PreviousContinue »