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Matthew xviii. 32-35.
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: SHOULDST NOT THOU ALSO HAVE HAD COMPASSION ON THY FELLOWSERVANT; EVEN AS I HAD PITY 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 YE FROM YOUR HEARTS FORGIVE NOT EVERY ONE HIS BROTHER THEIR TRESPASSES.
The morality of the Gospel is in general but little understood, and still less practised. This is a subject with which persons in general imagine themselves to be sufficiently acquainted; but their views of it are partial, and their practice defective. Forgiveness of injuries is a duty required of us by the gospel; and in this respect the gospel stands opposed to every false religion. This is a duty which is not enjoined, and of which the terms that explain' it are not used, in any treatises on heathen ethics. The Greeks and Romans were practically and speculatively as much unacquainted with this subject, as
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the most barbarous nations of the earth. But in the Gospel of Christ, our salvation is absolutely placed in connexion with this duty. For what is the language of the Saviour?" Forgive, if ye have aught against any; that your Father also, which is in heaven, may forgive your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father, which is in heaven, forgive your trespasses." If therefore we do not forgive, how can we ourselves expect forgiveness? This was once urged, by a Christian minister, upon a dying man, who had for some time lived in malice. He was informed that he could not be saved unless he forgave his enemy. Then, replied he, if I die I will forgive him; if I recover I will not. But are there not others who virtually hold similar sentiments? They forgive not an offender his trespasses, till they think of compounding with the Almighty for their own remission, and then perhaps they attempt to make this one of the conditions. That you, brethren, may more correctly understand the nature of Christian forgiveness, I shall request your attention to some remarks on the parable of the unmerciful servant, as it is recorded in this chapter, from the 21st verse to the end.
After our blessed Lord had been giving his disciples some advice and directions in relation to forgiving offences, Peter, the forward disciple, comes to him and asks this question :—" Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him ?— till seven times?"
It is evident, by this question, that Peter supposes he must forgive. Jesus had before taught his disciples this lesson, and the apostle, it seems, had not forgotten it. But he appears to be in a state of uncertainty in regard to the extent of this duty. He imagines it to be some great thing to forgive seven times. Nor does he here mean seven times in a day—a circumstance which our Lord elsewhere thus explains:—" If thy brother trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him." But Peter here seems to mean seven times altogether, without any reference to time. He supposes, that if one should offend him so many times as seven, he might then indulge resentment, and no longer forgive. "How often is it necessary that I should repeat my forgiveness? Must it be till seven times?"
By these questions of Peter, we see something of the character and dispositions of the human heart. The forgiveness of injuries is so entirely opposite to the natural temper of the human mind, that nothing but the special grace of God can subdue the man's sinful inclinations to malice and resentment, and influence him to the cordial exercise of forgiveness. We learn likewise, from the circumstance of Peter's inquiry on this subject, as well as from other facts recorded in the Gospels, that the Apostles themselves were for a long time, not only weak in faith, but likewise defective in the practice of the duties and requirements of Christian morality. And, alas! how many are there now, who by profession are the disciples of Christ, and yet suppose that when they receive injuries to a certain extent, they may give way to resentment and refuse forgiveness. But who will dare to assume the prerogative of him, who has said,—"Vengeance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord ?"—Observe the answer which our Lord returns to Peter's question :—"Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven."
Thus the great Teacher corrects Peter's mistaken notion respecting the extent of forgiving offences and injuries; and instructs him that this Christian duty and grace must be repeatedly and continually exercised, as often as occasions offer, without any limitation. And thus, mv brethren, we have an important and admirable direction for our own conduct: a direction consistent with the holy and divine character of its author. May He, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift, give us grace at all times to act consistently with it! Should we be tempted to withhold our forgiveness from an offending fellowcreature, let us call to mind the numerous provocations we have given to the Most High, our Creator, Preserver, Benefactor, and Redeemer. Oh, what would our state be, should the God of mercy and grace determine no longer to exercise forgiveness towards us? But here perhaps a difficulty may arise, which it may be necessary to solve. It may be asked, if we are in all cases to forgive, how can a Christian man prosecute in law a malefactor, or a magistrate execute justice upon him? As a reply to this question, another may be asked. Is it not said that " the magistrate beareth not the sword in vain, and that he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil?" We must be cautious of not explaining one portion of Scripture, so as to make it oppose or neutralize another. The punishment of evil-doers is by no means inconsistent with Christian forgiveness. Forgiveness is a branch of that charity "which beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." But one of the offices of charity is to correct and punish vice and crime, without respect to persons. There are positive duties enjoined in the Scripture, which require that offenders should be punished. A father is required to correct his children, when necessary; and this is viewed in the Word of God, as an evidence of his care and affection. Thus also governors of countries, towns, and families are under the obligation of correcting offenders, if they have any respect to God and their office, or love to those over whom they preside. And such punishments of evil-doers ought to be exercised in due time, lest by delay the offenders should fall headlong into deeper mischief; and thus not only increase their own guilt, but inflict greater injuries upon their fellow-creatures, and draw others by their evil example into similar crimes and offences. When God condescended to place his chosen people, the Jews, under a theocracy, and to act himself as their king, he appointed a variety of punishments for evildoers, and in several cases commanded that offenders