Sermon 1841. Divine Forgiveness Admired and Imitated
A SERMON DELIVERED ON LORD'S-DAY MORNING, MAY 17, 1885,
BY C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so alsodo you." Colossians 3:13.
To whom is this exhortation addressed? The Apostle told us in the 12th verse-"Elect of God, holy and beloved." Here are threeparticulars. They are, first of all, "elect of God," that is to say, chosen according to His eternal purpose. They are madechoice ones by being thus chosen. Next, they are sanctified by the Spirit of God and are, therefore, called "holy"-this holinessappertaining to their persons and their pursuits, their calling and their conversation. When the Spirit of God has fully doneHis work, He sheds abroad in their hearts the love of God, so that experimentally they feel themselves to be "beloved." Toabide in the love of God is the fruit of election and the result of holiness. If any of you can, with humble confidence, claimthese three titles, "elect of God, holy and beloved," you are among the most favored of all mankind! The Father has made ofyou a special choice! In you His Holy Spirit has worked a special work and you possess, within your souls, the special joyof living in the love of God! "Elect of God, holy and beloved"-it is as you enjoy these three things that you will find iteasy to carry out the precept which is now set before you, "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone hasa quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do you."
Note in our text, before we proceed to the full discussion of it, what an honor this Scripture puts upon our Lord Jesus Christ.In Ephesians 4:32 a similar precept is placed in a rather different form, for it runs thus-"Even as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven you."Here, as if to show the true and proper equality of the Christ with God, it is written, "Even as Christ forgave you." In theRevised Version they read, "even as the Lord forgave you," but they place in the margin, "Many ancient authorities read Christ."In that case we see that Lord and Christ were interchangeable terms when those ancient authorities were alive. None can forgivesins but God. He alone forgives against whom the sin is committed. Sin, therefore, being against Christ and Christ being ableto forgive it, we see that He is exalted on high to give remission of sins. He shares in the high and royal prerogative ofGod, seeing He is able to forgive sin.
Does not this expression seem to say that albeit the Apostle and other inspired writers had many things to write of, yet onething was always upon their hearts, namely, to honor their Lord? Is not this a proof of how thoroughly they were under theinfluence of the Spirit of God, of whom Jesus said, "He shall glorify Me"? Whatever He is teaching, whatever duty He is enforcing,whatever promise He is delivering, the Holy Spirit takes care to do it so that the Lord Jesus Christ is exalted in the heartsof His people! Let us, in our hearts, adore the Anointed One, Christ Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God-and never let us hesitateto honor the Son even as we honor the Father. Let us, as penitents, adore the pardoning Savior, seeing He has power to forgivesins and has cleansed the myriads of His redeemed from all their iniquities.
But, Brothers and Sisters, while this gives glory to Christ, what a weight is lent to the precept, since it is supported bythe example and the authority of our Divine Lord-"Even as Christ forgave you, so also do you." What a model is set beforeus! How perfect is that spirit of love which we are to manifest! Even as Christ forgave us, we are bid to forgive others.What nobler pattern could have been chosen? Surely He that trifles with this precept, or thinks it one that is left to ouroption-to obey or to neglect-cannot rightly know the dignity of the Christ in whose pierced hands this Law is held forth beforeour eyes! Depend upon it, this command, so wondrously linked with the Person of the pardoning Christ, is of no common importance.If the Law given by Moses was so solemnly binding, what shall we say of this Law which is embodied in the life of the LordJesus?
Surely I shall scarcely need to plead with you, who are His disciples, that you give your heart's best attention to such teaching!Your Lord, Himself, stands before you! You remember how He forgave you all your trespasses? Then I am sure you will give earnestheed to His exhortation to forgive. May the dove-like Spirit now brood over this assembly and create love in all our bosoms.
Two things are to be done. First, let us study the pattern of forgiveness here set before us. And then, secondly, let us copyit for ourselves in our forgiveness of those who trespass against us.
I. Carefully STUDY THE PATTERN OF FORGIVENESS set before us in the text. "Even as Christ forgave you, so also do you." Whatis this forgiveness of Christ? You know how He exhibited it in His daily life. He was much tried, but He was never provokedto wrath. Both by friends and by enemies He was made to suffer, yet He neither accused the one nor the other to His greatFather. He never reviled those who reviled Him, but patiently yielded to their malice, giving His back to the smiters andHis cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. His disciples He gently rebuked, but He never spoke to them in anger. A lifeof forgiveness was crowned by His dying prayer for His persecutors, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."He loved His enemies. He lived for His enemies. He died for His enemies. He was Incarnate gentleness, the mirror and paragonof forgiveness.
Observe, also, that He forgave offenses most great and grievous. It was a horrible thing that when the Lord Jesus came intothe world, moved by pure love, He was not welcomed, but Herod sought to slay the young Child. Afterwards, when He appearedpublicly among men, the Jews took up stones to stone Him. He was treated with contumely. His miracles were ascribed to thedevil and His holy and unspotted Character was traduced by His being called a drunk and a winebibber. He was the firstbornof the Lord of the vineyard, but when the husbandmen saw Him, they said, "This is the heir; come, let us kill Him and theinheritance shall be ours." You know with what scornful cruelty they treated Him in the hour of His passion. What could themalice of Hell have invented more contemptuous and cruel than that which men used towards the Well-Beloved? Had He been thebasest of beings, His sufferings would have been too cruel. Men did all they could against Him.
Say not that you have never thus transgressed. Oh, Sirs, we, also, have crucified Him, for our sins were laid upon Him byJehovah. We, also, must confess, "He was despised and we esteemed Him not." There was a time when we, who are now His followers,once "hid, as it were, our faces from Him." He called us, but we gave Him no answer! He wooed us, but we were blind to Hisbeauties! We can never remember this without deep emotions of regret. We used no other friend so evilly. We crucified Himand slew Him, as far as we were able to do it, by our rejection of His love. And yet He has forgiven us! He is ready to forgiveall such as seek His face. Oh, the splendor of that love which blots out sins like ours! What a flood of Grace is this whichrises above the tops of the mountains of our sins and covers them forever!
It matters not how black or crimson our transgressions may have been, the moment we come to Jesus He makes us whiter thansnow! He puts away the most horrible of offenses, the most glaring of transgressions in a moment! He says, "I forgive you.Go and sin no more"-and we, then and there-receive a perfect pardon! I would that all of you who have never sought that Gracewould be induced by this blessed fact to come with all your sins and receive immediate absolution from the hand of your Lord!
Remember, also, to increase your wonderment at His forgiveness, that these offenses which were committed against Christ werealtogether wanton and unprovoked. He could demand of His adversaries, "For which of those works do you stone Me?" Towardsno man had He acted unjustly or even harshly. He had been all tenderness and lowliness in every place towards all sorts ofmen-and yet certain men became incensed against Him because of His goodness! Did they refuse to love Him because He was altogetherlovely? Did they despise Him because He was so truly great? Such is the depravity of the human heart, that the very virtuesof Christ provoked the hostility of men! What has my Lord Christ ever done against any of you? Why do you refuse Him?
I have heard many a man say, "If I had done anything whatever to provoke this ill-will, I could account for it, but they persecuteme wrongfully." It was pre-eminently so in the case of our Lord, who says in the Psalm, "They hated Me without a cause." YetHe forgave this wanton malice! He continues to forgive such causeless wrong. With His own blood, He blots out horrible insultsagainst Himself, His people, His Gospel and His love. Even you who oppose His Kingdom and refuse His service shall be, atonce, forgiven, if you will bow your hearts before Him and accept that rich mercy which
His hand is so ready to bestow! See what a pattern is here of the passing-by of the greatest and most malicious offenses!How can hatred live in the Presence of such love?
Christ has shown this pardon to the most unworthy persons. Of all whom He forgave when He was here below, none deserved suchkindness. In fact, to talk of deserving forgiveness is a contradiction in terms! Certainly in me-and I have no doubt in you,my Brothers and Sisters-who have tasted of His infinite mercy, there was no presence of claim to His mercy in our cases. IfHe had left us in our sin. If He had passed by us and allowed us to perish, what complaint could we have brought against Him?Since He loved us and forgave us, it must have been because of something within Himself-it could not have been from anythingin us! We are unworthy, but He is gracious-and herein He teaches us to pardon the most provoking and worthless of those whotrespass against us.
Be it never forgotten that He always had the power to have executed vengeance upon any one of us if He had been pleased todo so. Some men pardon because they cannot punish-they are too weak to execute vengeance and, therefore, they refrain fromit. Half the forgiveness in the world comes from a feeble hand rather than from a forgiving heart. But the Christ could havecrushed His adversaries in a moment if He had willed it, and yet He freely forgave! When they said, "Come down from the Cross"-supposeHe had instantly loosed the nails and leaped among them-where had they been, then? They would have begged the rocks to fallupon them and the mountains to cover them from His face if He had but manifested the glory of His power! But He was not provokedto leave the Cross, or to break the silence of His passion by so much as a rebuke. Mercy was stored like honey in His heartand pardon dropped its sweetness from His lips.
The Lord has been greatly long-suffering with ourselves when a breath might have destroyed us. We might easily have been destroyedin accidents which befell us, or we might have died in our various sicknesses and so have sunk to the lowest Hell. But insteadof slaying us, our Lord even interposed to spare us-to spare us when our life was rebellion! When He could so easily haveblotted out our lives, He did not do so, but in boundless mercy blotted out our sins. Let us magnify His amazing Grace andimitate it in our lives.
I want you, for a moment, to consider the question, How did He forgive? The manner of our Lord's forgiveness is as noteworthyas the pardon, itself. The Lord Jesus came and pardoned us when that act of Grace was unsolicited! Before we had thought ofmercy, He had thoughts of mercy toward us! I remember reading in one of our magazines a story of a city missionary who discovereda poor girl who had wandered from the ways of virtue. He had sought to restore her to a better life. He spoke with her tillshe became somewhat tender of heart. He enquired about her family and learned that she had once enjoyed a happy home and hadknown a tender father's love. "But he would never look at me now," she said. "I am sure he never would-I am such a degradedcreature that I could not venture near his door." "Have you never written to him?" "No, I could not write to him. It wouldbe of no use. I could not expect him to send me an answer and it would break my heart to be refused."
"We will try," said the good man, "we will write to him." He wrote to the father and the next post brought back an answer,with the word, "Immediate," written upon the envelope. The sum of the letter enclosed within was, "Ready to forgive." Shewas taken to her father. She was soon locked in his embrace. All was forgiven-the wanderer was restored! Notice that her fatherhad been praying for her, night and day, ever since she left his roof-and he had longed to receive her to his home again.Her seeking his forgiveness did not cause it-it was in his heart long before-and no doubt it was because of his cries andtears that God, in mercy, touched his girl's heart and brought her home. O Sinner, before you think of Christ, He has thoughtsof love towards you! He says, "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, as a cloud, your sins: returnunto Me; for I have redeemed you." The forgiveness is first and the returning to the Lord is urged as a consequence of thatforgiveness! Pardon is not first in the matter of our personal experience, but it is first as matter of fact with God. Oh!the mercy of the Lord Christ, that before we know our sin, He has made atonement for it by His own precious blood!
The Lord Jesus Christ is to be held up as an example of pardoning love for the true and hearty way in which He forgives sin.Forgiveness, when it comes from human lips in measured, studied phrases, is not worth having, for the heart is not in it,or it would be more free and joyful. The Lord Jesus Christ absolves sinners with all His heart. He never acts in a cold, formalmanner. Never does He outwardly forgive and in secret retain His wrath-but wholly, entirely, joyfully, He puts away the sinof those whom He forgives-and puts it away forever! When He forgives, He forgives the whole of our faults, follies, failuresand offenses. There is a certain solidarity about sin, so that it makes up one lump. I read the other
day of a certain theologian speaking of Christ having put away original sin while He left actual sin. Nonsense! Sin is oneand indivisible! Iniquity is not to be done up in separate parcels. The sin, the iniquity of men, is spoken of in the Bibleas one thing. Although we sin multitudes of times, the various streams all flow into one sea of evil-when sin is forgiven,all sin is put away-not a shred, nor fragment, nor particle remains! The Lord Jesus drowns all the hosts of sin in the depthsof the sea and the whole of our guilt is swallowed up forever. This is great forgiveness, indeed! Glory be to Him who givesit! Let us follow Him in His truth and heartiness.
This forgiveness, again, is given by the Lord Jesus Christ in the most complete possible manner. He keeps no back reckonings.He retains no reserves of anger. He so forgives that He forgets. That is the wonder of it! He says, "I will not remember yoursins." He casts them behind His back-they are wholly and completely gone from His observation or regard. Alas, such is poorhuman nature that even fathers, when they have forgiven a wayward child, will, perhaps, throw the offense in his teeth yearsafter when he again offends. But it is never so with Christ. He says, "Your sins shall not be mentioned against you any more,forever." He has done with the sins of His people in so effectual a way that not a whisper concerning them shall ever comefrom His mouth so as to grieve them. They will, themselves, remember their sins with deep repentance, but the Lord will neverchallenge them on account of their past rebellions. Blessed be the name of Christ for such complete forgiveness as this!
The Lord Jesus Christ forgives His people in a continuous manner. He forgave us long ago-He still forgives us. He does notforgive and afterwards accuse. His forgiveness is eternal. It is not a reprieve He gives to you, believing ones, but a freepardon, under the King's hand and seal, which shall effectually protect you from accusation and punishment. "In those days,and in that time, says the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah,and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve." He has finished transgression, made an end of sin andbrought in everlasting righteousness. Send to Hell a pardoned sinner?! It were a contradiction to the very nature of God!Condemn those for whom Jesus died?! Why, the Apostle mentions that death as a conclusive answer to the challenge, "Who ishe that condemns? It is Christ who died, yes, who is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercessionfor us." How shall He intercede for us and yet accuse us? It is impossible for Christ to be both Redeemer and Condemner tothe same persons. So perfect is His pardon that our sin has ceased to be! He has put away sin forever by the sacrifice ofHimself.
Greatly do I admire the very gracious way in which that pardon is given. Some people offer forgiveness in an ungracious way.They make it appear that they are coming down from such awful heights when they forgive a fellow mortal. In great dignitythey march down in state from their own splendid innocence to the poor Brother who has done them a wrong-as good as saying,"I will condescend to do this, though it is an awful stoop for such an angelic being as I am." You never feel that about theChrist, for He places His pardon down so low that He seems to say, "Receive My mercy, I beg you to receive it." He speaksas if He were favored by a sinner's accepting His forgiveness! He humbles Himself and never scalds a sinner with scornfulpity.
Though the Christ condescends more than all the condescensions of all men put together, "for worms were never raised so highabove their meanest fellow worms," yet the condescension is so real and royal that there is no ostentation in it! He is bornto the manner-He condescends naturally, like condescension's own self. Some are most proud when they stoop, but Jesus graciouslyseems to put Himself on a level with us, yes, and even to go lower than we are, that He may lift us up! Admire as much theway in which Christ forgives as the forgiveness which He bestows. It breaks my heart to think what a loving Christ He wasto me when I sought His forgiveness. Truly, "He gives liberally and upbraids not"-He frowned and thundered when I looked tomy own righteousness-but when I turned to His Gospel of Free Grace, I had from Him not even a hard word-He was all love andtenderness to me, the chief of sinners!
Above all, the greatness of His forgiveness is seen in the fact that the offense had brought great trouble into the worldand He bore that trouble. The sinner, by his wrong doing, had subjected himself to great loss and calamity. Now, when we forgivea person who has done us a wrong, we say, "I freely forgive you, but you have involved yourself in certain consequences whichyou will have to bear, and out of these I cannot help you." Our blessed Master seemed to say, Sinner, you have sinned yourselfunder the curse of God. You have sinned yourself into misery and into death-and as the proof that I do freely forgive you-Iwill take all this suffering and this death upon Myself. You have done the wrong wantonly and wickedly, but I will bear theconsequences. You have knotted the whips, but they shall scourge My shoul-
ders. You have sharpened the nails, but they shall pierce My hands and feet. You have put yourself under curse and penalty,but I will bear the curse of death that you may be free."
Was there ever mercy like this? Do not all who know this love accept it gladly? Sinner, do you not know this? Have you neverheard about it? Know you not that the Lord, even Jesus, the Son of God, is able to forgive you all your tres-passes-that itwill be a joy to His heart to do so-and to do it at once? Oh, that before that clock shall strike again you may be able tosay, "There is, therefore, now no condemnation, for Christ has put away my sin." This is not according to the manner of men-itis Godlike! It is a sure proof that Jesus is the Son of God, for who could act like this but One who is Himself the Son ofGod?
Thus have I set before you, in my poor way, this great forgiveness and the manner of it. I trust you have had an experienceof it. Assuredly we all need such forgiveness-do any of you deny it? May the Holy Spirit open your blind eyes and melt yourhard hearts. According to the text, those who have received pardon know that they have it, for Paul speaks positively-"Evenas Christ forgave you"-as if it were a matter of fact well known among the people of God. There is a theory abroad that wemay be forgiven and not know it-that Jesus may forgive and we may never discover it until we come to our dying moments. Thatis a wretched kind of Gospel! By the true Gospel we may know we are forgiven and be sure of it-surer than if we saw, writtenby the autograph of Christ, the words-"I have forgiven you." The eyes may deceive, but the witness of the Spirit of God withinthe heart can never delude us! If you believe that Jesus is the Christ and if you are resting, alone, on Him, your sins, whichare many, are forgiven you, "for the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin." In knowing that we are forgivenby Christ, let us be clear and decided in our forgiveness of others-not only in word-but in deed and in truth let us exhibita forbearing spirit.
II. You see your example. Our second word is, COPY IT FOR YOURSELVES. If the Holy Spirit enables you to write according tothis copy, you will have the approval of the Lord resting upon you. See how large and clear the letters are! It will be nosmall success if you can reproduce them. "Even as Christ forgave you"-the imitation should be as exact as possible. Mark the,"even," and the, "so," and endeavor to keep up with your gracious Lord.
Notice, however, in the text, that this precept concerning the imitation of Christ in forgiveness is universally applicable.The text is not long, but see how unqualified is its range. "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if anyonehas a quarrel against any." You see it is not put that superiors are to forgive inferiors, or, on the other hand, that theless are to forgive the greater-but the circle of the command includes the whole! It is, "forbearing one another." The richare to be forbearing to the poor. The poor are to be forbearing to the rich. The elderly man is to forgive the junior forhis imprudence. The junior is to bear with the petulance and slowness of the elder. It is an all-round business, implyingthat one of these days I shall have to forgive you and you will have to forgive me!
Personally, I tax your forbearance to put up with me and I need not say that, sometimes, I have need to exercise forbearancetowards one and another in so large a Church! We have all our own angles and edges and these are apt to come into contactwith others. We are all pieces of one puzzle and shall fit in with each other one day and make a complete whole. But justnow we seem misshapen and unfitting. Our corners need to be rounded. Sometimes they are chipped off by collision with somebodyelse and that is not comfortable for the person with whom we collide. Like pebbles in the river of the Water of Life, we arewearing each other round and smooth as the living current brings us into commun-ion-everybody is polishing and being polished-andin the process it is inevitable that some present inconvenience should be sustained. But nobody must mind it, for it is partof a great process by which we shall all come into proper shape and be made meet for endless fellowship.
"Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another"-you see it has two sides. "Ah," says one, "I cannot understand it. Peopleought to be far more forbearing to me." Just so, but the first point is that you should be forgiving towards them. What numbersof Church members think that the duties of a Church are all one-sided. "I was ill and nobody came to see me." "Did you sendfor anybody to see you?" "No, I did not." Brother, before you find fault, remember your own fault-you have violated the command,"Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the Church." "But nobody exhibits Christian love," says one. Is thattrue ofyourself? I have noticed that the man who says that love is dead is usually rather short of love, himself. How verydifferent the Church looks to different eyes-one sees a thousand virtues to admire-and another a world of evil to expose!One gratefully cries, "When I was ill, the dear Brethren came to see me so often that I had to ask them not to stay very long."Another grumbles, "I might have laid there a month and
nobody would ever have come near me." We understand the reason for this difference-the tone of the speech is the key to theriddle. As a rule, with what measure we mete, it is measured to us. I do not find Christ's people to be one half so faultyas I am, myself. I meet with many Christians whom I think it an honor to know and commune with-and those of another sort areuseful to me as warnings and as fields for exercising my Graces. The forgiveness and the forbearance are needed all roundand we must both give and take. By the sweet love of Jesus, let us not fail in this business.
Let me say, here, that this matter is an absolutely essential one-this forbearance and this forgiveness are vital. Be notdeceived, God is not mocked! No man is a child of God who has not a likeness to God and no man is forgiven who will not, himself,forgive. In the Middle Ages a certain baron had a feud with another nobleman and determined to avenge himself for some insult,real or imaginary. His enemy was to pass by the castle with a small retinue and, therefore, the baron determined to waylayhim and kill him, or, at least, to punish him severely and exact a ransom. A holy man who lived in the castle begged and entreatedthe baron to forbear from bloodshed and make peace. But, for some time, he pleaded in vain. The baron would not be appeased,but swore that he would be avenged of his adversary. So this godly man begged one favor of him, namely, that he would comewith him into the chapel and offer prayer before he sallied
They knelt together in prayer and before they rose the saintly man said, "My lord, repeat after me the Lord's Prayer." Hewent on saying, word by word, as the other did, till he came to that, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them thattrespass against us." There the good man stopped and said, "I charge you not to say this unless you really mean it! Do notmock the Lord! You may not go out and fight if you thus speak with God. You will have to appear before God and be judged foryour sins, for you will not be forgiven if you do not forgive. Choose, then, either to utter this prayer and forgive and besaved, or to refuse the prayer and go forth to battle and be lost." The baron paused and bit his lips but, at last his betterspirit prevailed and he cried, "I cannot renounce my hope of Heaven! I cannot renounce my hope of forgiveness! Therefore myenemy shall pass by my castle in safety and I will say, 'Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass againstus.'"
Do not attempt to deceive God! If you must lie and cheat, practice your impositions upon your fellow men, but do not imaginethat you can flatter your Maker or deceive the Omniscient One! If you will not forgive, say so, and expect eternal perdition!But if you profess to be a Christian, obey this great and essential precept and forgive as Christ forgave you! Be honest,be straight with God, for He will be honest and straight with you. But if you cannot and will not forgive, then look forwardto a portion with the tormentors, for even the loving Jesus says, "Neither shall My heavenly Father forgive you."
In urging you to this copying of Christ, let me notice that this forgiveness of those who offend against us is gloriouslyennobling. We are not asked to perform a duty which will, in the least, degrade us. Revenge is paltry-forgiveness is great-minded.Was not David infinitely greater than Saul when he spared his life in the cave and when he would not kill him as he lay asleepon the battlefield? Did not the king humble himself before David when he perceived David's forbearance? If you would be thegreatest among men, bear injuries with the greatest gentleness! If you would win the noblest of conquests, subdue yourself!To win a battle is a little thing if it is fought out with sword and gun. But to win it in God's way, with no weapons butlove, patience and forgiveness-this is the most glorious of victories! Blessed is that man who is more than a conqueror becausehe inflicts no wounds in the conflict, but overcomes evil with good! In the process of such a conquest the warrior is, himself,a gainer.
A nation in fighting, even if it wins the campaign, has to suffer great expense and loss of life. But he that overcomes bylove is the better and stronger man through what he has done. He comes out of the conflict not only victor over his adversary,but victor over sin within himself-and all the readier for future war against evil. He glorifies God and, he, himself, becomesstrong in Divine Grace. Nothing is more glorious than love! Your Master, who is King of kings, set you an example of gainingglory by enduring wrong. If you would be knights of His company, imitate His graciousness.
Notice that this imitation of Christ is logically appropriate to you all. Brothers and Sisters, if Christ has forgiven you,the parable we read just now shows that it is imperative that you should forgive your fellows. If our Lord has forgiven usour 10,000 talents, how can we take our brother by the throat for the 100 pence and say, "Pay me what you owe"? If we are,indeed, members of Christ, should we not be like our Head? If we profess to be His servants, are we to pretend to a
dignity greater than our Master, who washed His disciples' feet? If He forgave so freely, how dare we call ourselves His brethrenif our spirit is hard and malice lingers within us?
I say, to conclude, that this copying of Christ is most forcibly sustained by the example given in the text. We are to forbearand to forgive. "Even as Christ forgave you, so also do you." I have heard it said, "If you pass by every wanton offense andtake no notice of it, you will come to be despised and regarded as a person of mean spirit-your honor demands vindication."When Christ forgave you, did His honor suffer by that forgiveness? You transgressed most wickedly and yet He forgave you-doyou regard Him as less honorable because of that readiness to pass by offenses? Far from it-it is His Glory to forgive! Thehallelujahs of saints and the songs of angels are sent up to His Throne the more heartily because of the richness of His Graceand the freeness of His mercy! Dishonor, indeed! What pride it is on the part of such poor creatures as we are to talk aboutour honor! Where is the honor of revenge? It is a dishonorable thing to put yourself on the level of him who injures you.
A heathen philosopher used to say, "If an ass kicks you, is it necessary for the maintenance of your honor to kick that ass,also?" That speech looks like a noble one, but yet it is too much flavored with contempt. When you speak, or even think ofanother who has wronged you as though he were only worthy to be regarded as a beast, you are not right in spirit-a degreeof evil remains in your heart. Think of the offender without contempt as well as without resentment! Believe that he is abrother worth winning. Say, "If he does me an injury, for that very reason I will do him a double service. My only vengeanceshall be double love. I will not allow myself to even think harshly of him. I will put the best possible construction on allthat he does and thus show that the spirit of Christ is in me, conquering the spirit of fallen humanity both in me and inhim."
Says one, "If we always overlook offenses, other people may also be tempted to do us wrong." Our text furnishes us with aready answer to this. The Lord Jesus Christ forgave you. Have you met anybody who has been tempted to do wrong because theLord has forgiven you? He has freely forgiven myriads of poor unworthy sinners and has that promoted sin? No. Is it not thevery groundwork and case of holiness in the world, that Jesus is so gracious as to pardon sin? Why, then, should your forbearancedo harm? Do not pretend to be so very wise, for therein you censure your Master! You are not the ruler of the world. It isnot for you to be refraining from good for fear that evil may come of it-attend to your own ways-forgive everyone his brotherhis trespasses and leave consequences with God.
"Oh, but," says one, "I know several pious persons who are very unforgiving." You do not know any really good man who is ofthat character! I make bold to say that no man is really good if he has not a forgiving spirit. Unwillingness to forgive isa grievous flaw in anyone's character. But if there were such good people, what have you to do with them? Is the servant toimitate his fellow servant, especially in his faults? The example set before you is, "Even as Christ forgave you." You havenothing to do with either saints or sinners in this matter! Your Lord says to you, "What is that to you? Follow Me." Perhapsyou do not know all the story which you think proves that a good man has been unforgiving-and if you do know it, you are nojudge of others. Mind your own business and even "as Christ forgave you, so also do you."
Bur I hear another one saying, "These persons would not have forgiven me." Just so, but then you are a child of God-you are,"elect, holy and beloved." You are not to lower your standard to that of publicans and sinners. Does not Christ continuallysay, "What do you more than others? Do not even the publicans and the sinners the same?" "If you love them that love you,what thanks have you?" But if you love them that despitefully use you, then blessed are you when men shall persecute you!In that case you have an opportunity of showing your love to your Lord. When Dr. Duff first read to some young Brahmins inthe Government school the precept, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and prayfor them which despitefully use you," one of the Brahmins cried out with delight, "Beautiful! Beautiful! This must have comefrom the true God. I have been told to love those that love me and I have not always done that-but to love my enemies is aDivine thought." That young man became a Christian under the influence of that precept. Do not darken this Light of God ,but be sure to display it in your life, that many may be attracted to Christ by its luster. Let your goodwill go forth evento the worst of men, for Christ's sake. Forget their evil as you behold His goodness.
"Well," says one, "I would forgive the fellow, but he does not deserve it." That is why you are to forgive him! If he deservedit, you would be bound to do him the justice which he could claim. But, as he does not deserve it, you have, here, an appealto your Christian love. Does not your heavenly Father give good things to the unthankful and to the evil? Did
not Jesus forgive the undeserving when He forgave you? Does He not overlook our wretched characters when He has mercy uponus?
I hear one say, "I cannot forgive!" That is a terrible confession. The Apostle of the Gentiles said, "I can do all thingsthrough Christ which strengthens me." Is not the same strength available for you? Some persons find forgiving and forgettingto be hard work, but, as you are bound to do it, or stay out of Heaven, you must cry to God for help and set about it withdetermination. If you are, indeed, a child of God, you will soon find the difficulty gone. Indeed, forgiveness will becomeeasy to you! To be forgiven is such sweetness that honey is tasteless in comparison with it! But there is one thing stillsweeter-and that is to forgive. As it is more blessed to give than to receive, so to forgive rises a stage higher in experiencethan to be forgiven. To be forgiven is, as it were, the root-to forgive is the flower. That Divine Spirit, who bears witnesswith our spirit when He breathes peace into us because we are pardoned, bears yet a higher witness with us when He enablesus to truly pardon all manner of trespasses against ourselves!
Let it never be said, in a Christian Church, that members bear a grudge against one another. I do not know that it is so inyour case-assuredly it should not be so anywhere. Let it not be said of any Christian man that he is unloving, ready to takeoffense, apt to bear malice, or quick to anger. Cultivate forbearance till your heart yields a fine crop of it. Pray for ashort memory as to all unkindnesses. I bless God that I know a man who finds it easy to forgive and to forget all offensesagainst himself. He takes no credit for so doing, for no one ever offends him in a way which is worth remembering. That manhas been reminded again and again of the misbehavior of unreasonable and unkind men, but he has honestly said, "I had quiteforgotten it." He does not claim this forgetfulness as a virtue, for as a matter of fact his memory has become weak in thatdirection and he has no desire to strengthen it. He has never tried to recollect unkindnesses and now, by long disuse, hismemory happily fails him upon such matters! That man has often enjoyed exquisite pleasure in doing good to those who haveinjured him-and he can truly say that, at this moment, he bears no ill-will to any soul upon this earth.
He does not think this to be any singular attainment, for his belief is that every follower of Jesus should be of the samemind. Do you not think the same? I am sure I do. I heard this man once say of another, "He spoke against me that which wasfalse, but if he had known more about me, he might have said something far worse and have been nearer the truth. Perhaps myfalse accuser believed what he said and thought he was doing a right thing in protesting against what he thought was my fault.At any rate, no one can harm my character, unless I do so myself." It is a wise thing to profit by every accusation, whethertrue or false, by trying to be better!
Let us so live as to be able to say, "I am as much at peace with all men as a new-born child." Thus shall we wear the markof the Spirit of God. In a word, my Brothers and Sisters-"Even us Christ forgave you, so also do you." Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-Matthew 18.