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If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will

your Father forgive your trespasses.

The forgiveness of injuries is commanded in Scripture, not simply as other duties are, but in a manner peculiar to itself; that is, as the absolute condition of obtaining forgiveness ourselves from God—a most awful consideration, and expressed in terms which cannot be mistaken or explained away—“ if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.” Words cannot be plainer or more positive. Nor is this all for in the prayer which our Lord taught his disciples, and which from thence is called the Lord's prayer, we are instructed to petition God to forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us; which is as much as to acknowledge that so far from expecting forgiveness of our offences, we are not even to ask it upon any other terms than our forgiving the offences committed against us. Some wonder why this forgiving temper, which they reckon no better than tameness, or want of spirit, should be ranked so high by our Saviour, and hold so prominent a place amongst the duties of his religion-should be of more account with him than the most shining and splendid virtues.

But such people do not sufficiently consider the importance of this duty, or the difficulty of it. By its importance, I mean its use to mankind; for what are half the vexations of life, the uneasinesses in families, betwixt neighbours, and all the strife and contention we see in the world owing to, but to the want of it ? and how are they to be healed and put a stop to, but by one of the parties at least setting an example of forgiveness ? As long as each is determined to be even with his adversary, there can be no end of provocation or offence. Every retaliation is looked upon as a fresh affront, and requiring consequently a fresh act of revenge; so that upon this principle hatred must be immortal—an offence once given, or a quarrel once begun, must breed a train of perpetual ill turns, of constant spite and malice in the persons concerned. And this disposition is as painful to a man himself as it is mischievous to his adversary; for there is no enjoying any solid quiet, or comfort of heart, while a man hateth his brother-whilst he bears a grudge against, or is seeking to be revenged of any one. It likewise makes this a duty of greater real value, that it is very

difficult. · When we have received an injury or affront, we are naturally set on fire by it—we consider constantly how to be revenged upon our enemy, and make him, as we say, repent it. This is either natural, as I said, or become so by our education-fashionhabit. Now this propensity, which is one of the strongest belonging to us, must by degrees, and with great pains and reflection, be got the better of. And we have not only this to struggle with, but also the opinion of the world, which is apt to have a mighty influence upon us. Other virtues are a credit and an honour to a man, but this is not : on the contrary, the world are more


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likely to reproach him as mean-spirited and cowardly for sitting down under an insult or affront, and tamely forgiving the author of it. As I said before, therefore, it is no wonder our Saviour should lay so much stress, and set so high a value, upon a duty which is so necessary to the peace and quietness of the world—which yet is so very difficult to be performed; and one which there is so little inducement to perform besides the considerations of religion.

To explain this duty farther, it may be necessary to mention some particulars which we may be apt to confound with it, but which are not any real parts of it. First, then, the forgiveness of offences should not imply that offences should not be punished when the public good requires it, that is, when the lawful punishment of the offence is necessary, either to correct and amend the delinquent himself, or others by his example. This duty only requires, that such offences should be punished and prosecuted out of a pure regard to the public safety, and to answer the ends of punishment, and not to gratify revenge. There is no moral simi- . litude between what we make a man suffer out of a cool consideration and a sense of what is necessary, and what is done out of spite or anger. There is this solid difference betwixt the two states-the one will be as painful to us as the other is pleasant. The two things arise from quite different motives—are of a separate nature-and Christ's command, which respects the one, has nothing to do with the other; so that the magistrate may do his duty in punishing offenders, and private persons may do their duty in bringing public offenders to justice, without interfering with this command of our Saviour's. At the same time, however, it should be remarked and understood, that where no

substantial good end is to be answered by it—that is, where the offence is trivial or inadvertent, or where lenity will not be likely to invite the repetition of it, or encourage others in it-in such circumstances to pursue an offence with the utmost rigour and severity of the law savours more of private spite than public justice. Now if there be a mixture of private grudge in such severity, it is a breach of our Saviour's command, though there be law, perhaps, to colour and cover it.

Secondly; nor does this precept hinder us from applying, upon proper occasions, to the laws of our country to recover some right that is denied us, or satisfaction for some wrong that is done us; for there would be no living in the world, if the good must sit down under every wrong that the bad do them: this in the event would be putting the good in absolute slavery and subjection to the bad. But then to justify our conduct in this case, that is, to make it consistent with our Saviour's precepts, the right in question must be some serious right, of value worth the contest, and not merely to show that we are in the right and our adversary in the wrong, rather than for any thing that depends upon either.

either. And likewise, when we are necessarily engaged in a contest of this kind, to proceed with calmness, civility, and good temper, which hurts no cause, and not with anger or passion ; and also to accept the cheapest and most easy method that will answer the ends of justice ; for what is beyond this must be merely to berate and distress our adversary; and springs, we may depend upon it, from malice and revenge at the bottom. In short, it is easy enough to distinguish in ourselves when we act in those contests, which are almost unavoidable, with a Christian spirit, and when otherwise. If we, instead of trying every

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fair expedient to avoid and terminate the dispute amicably, are hastily engaged in it—if we go more for victory and triumph to depress and expose our adversary, than for any thing else--if we take delight in putting him to trouble, vexation, and expense, we are far, very far, let his conduct have been what it will, from acting in that mild relenting temper which our religion inculcates and insists upon.—Neither,

Thirdly; when another has offended against us, are we bound to overlook his offence, or to continue to him the opportunity of repeating it. If, for instance, a person has cheated or deceived us, we are not obliged to trust him again ; because that would probably encourage him to persist in his bad practices, which is doing him as much harm as it can do us.-Nor,

Fourthly; ought we so to forget men's bad behaviour, as to caress and countenance all characters alike -to preserve no respect or distinction for virtue-to testify no dislike or indignation against vice. Men, good as well as bad, act with some view to the opinion of the world and the loss of character; the being ill received and looked upon is often the only punishment which the wicked fear : so that it seems to be necessary, in order to uphold and maintain the interests of virtue in the world, to treat the vicious differently from the virtuous-to withhold or withdraw our civili. ties or communications from such as would only disgrace the acquaintance of honest men. This sort of discipline is what St. Paul authorises, and even enjoins : “ I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one, no not to eat.” But what we do on this score is easily distinguished from

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