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A sort of absolution in the sound
To hate a little longer,"

- not of such do I speak, but of true forgiveness, and this, I say, can
never for us men be an easy thing. Perhaps a frank consideration of some
of the difficulties may contribute to their removal.

(1) One chief reason why Christ's command remains so largely a dead
letter is to be found in our unwillingness to acknowledge that we have
committed an injury. That another should have wronged us we find no
difficulty in believing; that we have wronged another is very hard to
believe. Look at the very form of Peter's question: "How oft shall my
brother sin against me, and I forgive him?" "My brother" the wrong-doer,
myself the wronged - that is what we are all ready to assume. But what if
it is I who have need to be forgiven? But this is what our pride will
not suffer us to believe. That "bold villain" Shame, who plucked
Faithful by the elbow in the Valley of Humiliation, and sought to
persuade him that it is a shame to ask one's neighbour forgiveness for
petty faults, or to make restitution where we have taken from any, is
always quick to seize his opportunity. And he is especially quick when
acknowledgement is due to one who is socially our inferior. If an
employee be guilty of some gross discourtesy towards his master, or a
servant towards her mistress, the master or mistress may demand a prompt
apology on pain of instant dismissal. But when it is the servant or
employee who is the injured person he has no such remedy; yet surely, in
Christ's eyes, his very dependence makes the duty of confession doubly
imperative. "If," Christ said, "thou art offering thy gift at the altar,
and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee" - note
exactly Christ's words; He did not say, "If thou rememberest that thou
hast aught against thy brother"; alas, it is very easy for most of us to
do that; what He said was, "If thou rememberest that thy brother hath
aught against thee." Whom did I overreach in business yesterday? Whose
good name did I drag through the mire? What heart did I stab with my
cruel words? "If thou rememberest that thy brother hath aught against
thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be
reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."

(2) If the difficulties are great when we have committed the wrong, they
are hardly less when we have suffered it. Thomas Fuller tells how once
he saw a mother threatening to beat her little child for not rightly
pronouncing the petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our
trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us." The child
tried its best, but could get no nearer than "tepasses," and
"trepasses." "Alas!" says Fuller, it is a shibboleth to a child's tongue
wherein there is a confluence of hard consonants together; and then he
continues, "What the child could not pronounce the parents do not
practise. O how lispingly and imperfectly do we perform the close of
this petition: As we forgive them that trespass against us." In the old
Greek and Roman world, we have been told, people not only did not
forgive their enemies, but did not wish to do so, nor think better of
themselves for having done so. That man considered himself fortunate
who, on his deathbed, could say, on reviewing his past life, that no one
had done more good to his friends or more mischief to his enemies. And
though we profess and call ourselves Christians, how strong in many of
us still is the old heathen desire to be "even with" one who has wronged
us, and to make him smart for it. Many of us, as Dr. Dale says,[44] have
given a new turn to an old text. In our own private Revised Version of
the New Testament we read: "Whosoever speaketh a word or committeth a
wrong against God, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh a
word or committeth a wrong against me, it shall not be forgiven him;
certainly not in this world, even if it is forgiven in the world to
come." Resentment against moral evil every good man must feel; but when
with the clear, bright flame of a holy wrath there mingle the dark fumes
of personal vindictiveness, we do wrong, we sin against God.

Nowhere in Scripture, perhaps, have we such a lesson on the difficulty
of forgiveness as in the reference to Alexander the coppersmith, in St.
Paul's last letter to Timothy. Even if we read his words in the modified
and undoubtedly accurate form in which they are found in the Revised
Version, we still feel how far short they come of the standard of
Christ. "Paul," says Dr. Whyte, "was put by Alexander to the last trial
and sorest temptation of an apostolic and a sanctified heart."[45] And
with all the greatness of our regard for the great apostle, we dare not
say that he came out of the trial wholly unscathed. Did ever any man
come out of such a fire unhurt - any save One? Yet it is not for me to
sit in judgment on St. Paul; only let us remember we have no warrant
from God to hate any man and to hand him over to eternal judgment even
though, like Alexander, he heap insult and injury, not only upon
ourselves, but upon the cause and Church of Christ.

(3) And then to this native, inborn unwillingness to forgive there comes
in to strengthen it our knowledge of the fact that forgiveness is
sometimes mistaken for, and does, in fact, sometimes degenerate into,
the moral weakness which slurs over a fault, and refuses to strike only
because it dare not. Nevertheless, though there be counterfeits current,
there is a reality; there is a forgiving spirit which has no kinship
with cowardice or weakness or mere mushiness of character, but which is
the offspring of strength and goodness and mercy, in short, of all in
man that is likest God. And it is _this_ not that which God bids us make
our own; and not the less so because in the rough ways of the world that
so often passes for this.


It would be easy to go on enumerating difficulties, but long as the
enumeration might be, Christ's command would still remain in all its
explicitness, the Divine obligation would be in no way weakened. We must
forgive; we must forgive from our hearts; and there must be no limit to
our forgiveness. Nor is this all. The whole law of forgiveness is not
fulfilled when one who has done us an injury has come humbly making
confession, and we have accepted the confession and agreed to let
bygones be bygones. We should be heartless wretches indeed, if, under
such circumstances, we were not willing to do as much as that. But we
must do more: "If thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault
between thee and him alone; if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy
brother." We, we who have been wronged, must take the first step. We
must not wait for the wrong-doer to come to us; we must go to him. We
must lay aside our vindictiveness, and earnestly, patiently, making our
appeal to his better self, by every art and device which love can
suggest, we must help him to take sides against the wrong which he has
done, until at last forgiving love has led him captive, and our brother
is won. This is the teaching of Jesus. Let me suggest, in conclusion, a
three-fold reason why we should give heed to it.

Let us forgive _for our own sake_. A man of an unforgiving spirit is
always his own worst enemy. He "that studieth revenge," says Bacon,
"keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well."
"If thou hast not mercy for others," says Sir Thomas Browne, "yet be not
cruel unto thyself; to ruminate upon evils, to make critical notes upon
injuries, is to add unto our own tortures, to feather the arrows of our
enemies." There is no misery worse than that of a mind which broods
continually over its own wrongs, be they real or only fancied. There is
no gloom so deep and dark as that which settles on a hard and
unrelenting soul. And, on the other hand, there is no joy so pure, there
is none so rewarding, as that of one who, from his heart, has learned to
say, "I forgive." He has tasted the very joy of God, the joy of Him of
whom it is written that He delighteth in mercy. Just as when a sea-worm
perforates the shell of an oyster, the oyster straightway closes the
wound with a pearl, so does a forgiving spirit heal the hidden hurt of
the heart, and win for itself a boon even at the hands of its foe.

Let us forgive _for our brother's sake_. "What," asks George MacDonald,
"am I brother for, but to forgive?" And how much for my brother my
forgiveness may do! All love, not Christ's love only, has within it a
strange redemptive power. We often profess ourselves puzzled by that
hard saying of Jesus concerning the binding and loosing of men's sins.
Yet this is just what human love, or the want of it, is doing every day.
When we forgive men their sins, we so far loose them from them; we help
them to believe in the power and reality of the Divine forgiveness. When
we refuse to forgive, we bind their sins to them, we make them doubt the
love and mercy of God. Have we forgotten the part which Ananias played
in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus? St. Augustine used to say that the
Church owed Paul to the prayers of Stephen. Might he not have said, with
equal truth, that the Church owed Paul to the forgiveness of Ananias?
For three days, without sight, and without food or drink, Saul waited in
Damascus, pondering the meaning of the heavenly vision. Then came unto
him, sent by God, the man whose life he had meant to take: "Ananias
entered into the house; and, laying his hands on him, said, Brother
Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou
earnest, hath sent me." "_Brother_ Saul" - how his heart must have leapt
within him at the sound of the word! It was a voice from without
confirming the voice within; it was the love and forgiveness of man
sealing and making sure the love and forgiveness of God. Wherefore, let
us take heed lest, by our sullen refusal to forgive, we be thrusting
some penitent soul back into the miry depths, whence, slowly and
painfully, it is winning its way into the light and love of God.

Let us forgive _for Christ's sake_, because of that which God through
Him has done for us. When, day by day, we pray, "Forgive us our
trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us," what we are
asking is, that God will deal with us as we are dealing with others. Do
we mean what we say? Are we showing a mercy as large as we need?
Chrysostom tells us that many people in his day used to omit the words,
"As we forgive them that trespass against us." They did not dare to ask
God to deal with their sins as they were dealing with the sins of those
who had wronged them, lest they brought upon themselves not a blessing
but a curse. And would it not go hardly with some of us, if, with the
measure we mete, God should measure to us again? Yet there is no
mistaking Christ's words: "If ye forgive not men their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Therefore, let me
think of myself, of my own sin, of the forgiveness even unto seventy
times seven which I need; and then let me ask, can I, whose need is so
great, dole out my forgiveness with a grudging hand, counting till a
poor "seven times" be reached, and then staying my hand? Rather, let me
pray, Lord,

"Make my forgiveness downright - such as I
Should perish if I did not have from Thee."

"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and railing, be
put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another,
tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave

"O man, forgive thy mortal foe,
Nor ever strike him blow for blow;
For all the souls on earth that live
To be forgiven must forgive,
Forgive him seventy times and seven:
For all the blessed souls in Heaven
Are both forgivers and forgiven."

* * * * *


"My spirit on Thy care,
Blest Saviour, I recline;
Thou wilt not leave me in despair,
For Thou art Love Divine.

In Thee I place my trust,
On Thee I calmly rest;
I know Thee good, I know Thee just,
And count Thy choice the best.

Whate'er events betide,
Thy will they all perform;
Safe in Thy breast my head I hide,
Nor fear the coming storm.

Let good or ill befall,
It must be good for me,
Secure of having Thee in all,
Of having all in Thee."

* * * * *



"_Be not anxious for your life_ ... _nor yet for your
body_.... _Be not anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What
shall we drink? ... Be not anxious for the morrow._" - MATT.
vi. 25, 31, 34.


"_Take no thought for_ your life" is the more familiar rendering of the
Authorized Version. And if the words conveyed the same meaning to us
to-day as they did to all English-speaking people in the year 1611,
there would have been no need for a change. A great student of words,
the late Archbishop Trench, tells us that "thought" was then constantly
used as equivalent to anxiety or solicitous care; and he gives three
illustrations of this use of the word from writers of the Elizabethan
age. Thus Bacon writes: "Harris, an alderman in London, was put in
trouble, and died with _thought_ and anxiety before his business came to
an end." Again, in one of the _Somer's Tracts_, we read, "Queen
Katharine Parr _died of thought_"; and in Shakespeare's _Julius Caesar_,
"_Take thought_ and die for Caesar," where "to take thought" is to take
a matter so seriously to heart that death ensues.[46] In 1611,
therefore, the old translation did accurately reproduce Christ's
thought. To-day, however, it is altogether inadequate, and sometimes, it
is to be feared, positively misleading. For neither in this chapter nor
anywhere in Christ's teaching is there one word against what we call
forethought, and they who would find in the words of Jesus any
encouragement to thriftlessness are but misrepresenting Him and
deceiving themselves. Every man, who is not either a rogue or a fool,
must take thought for the morrow; at least, if he does not, some one
must for him, or the morrow will avenge itself upon him without mercy.
What our Lord forbids is not prudent foresight, but worry: "Be ye not
_anxious_!" The word which Christ uses ((Greek: merimnate)) is a very
suggestive one; it describes the state of mind of one who is drawn in
different directions, torn by internal conflict, "distracted," as we
say, where precisely the same figure of speech occurs. A similar counsel
is to be found in another and still more striking word which only Luke
has recorded, and which is rendered, "Neither be ye of doubtful mind."
There is a picture in the word ((Greek: meteorizesthe)) the picture of a
vessel vexed by contrary winds, now uplifted on the crest of some huge
wave, now labouring in the trough of the sea. "Be ye not thus," Christ
says to His disciples, "the sport of your cares, driven by the wind and
tossed; but let the peace of God rule in your hearts, and be ye not of
doubtful mind."

It cannot surprise us that Jesus should speak thus; rather should we
have been surprised if it had been otherwise. How could He speak to men
at all and yet be silent about their cares? For how full of care the
lives of most men are! One is anxious about his health, and another
about his business; one is concerned because for weeks he has been
without work, and another because his investments are turning out badly;
some are troubled about their children, and some there are who are
making a care even of their religion, and instead of letting it carry
them are trying to carry it; until, with burdens of one kind or another,
we are like a string of Swiss pack-horses, such as one may sometimes
see, toiling and straining up some steep Alpine pass under a blazing
July sun. Poor Martha, with her sad, tired face, and nervous, fretful
ways, "anxious and troubled about many things," is everywhere to-day.
Nor is it the poor only whose lives are full of care. It was not a poor
man amid his poverty, but a rich man amid his riches, who, in Christ's
parable, put to himself the question, "What shall I do?" The birds of
care build their nests amid the turrets of a palace as readily as in the
thatched roof of a cottage. The cruel thorns - "the cares of this life,"
as Jesus calls them - which choke the good seed, sometimes spring up more
easily within the carefully fenced enclosure of my lord's park than in
the little garden plot of the keeper of his lodge. On the whole,
perhaps, and in proportion to their number, there is less harassing,
wearing anxiety in the homes of the poor than in those of the wealthy.
And what harsh taskmasters our cares can be! How they will lord it over
us! Give them the saddle and the reins, and they will ride us to death.
Seat them on the throne, and they will chastise us not only with whips
but with scorpions. It is no wonder that Christ should set Himself to
free men from this grinding tyranny. He is no true deliverer for us who
cannot break the cruel bondage of our cares.


Let us listen, then, to Christ's gracious argument and wise
remonstrances. What, He asks, is the good of our anxiety? What can it do
for us? "Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto his
stature? If, then, ye are not able to do that which is least, why are ye
anxious concerning the rest?" "But, the morrow! the morrow!" we cry.
"Let the morrow," Christ answers, "take care of itself; sufficient unto
the day is the evil thereof; learn thou to live a day at a time." "Our
earliest duty," says a great writer of our day, "is to cultivate the
habit of not looking round the corner;" which is but another version of
Christ's simple precept. And the saying, simple and obvious as it may
seem, never fails to justify itself. For one thing, the morrow rarely
turns out as our fears imagined it. Our very anxiety blurs our vision,
and throws our judgment out of focus. We see things through an
atmosphere which both magnifies and distorts. We remember how it was
with Mr. Fearing: "When he was come to the entrance of the Valley of the
Shadow of Death, I thought" - it is Greatheart who tells the story - "I
should have lost my man: not for that he had any inclination to go
back, - that he always abhorred; but he was ready to die for fear. Oh,
the hobgoblins will have me! the hobgoblins will have me! cried he; and
I could not beat him out on't." Yet see how matters fell out. "This I
took very great notice of," goes on Greatheart, "that this valley was as
quiet while he went through it as ever I knew it before or since." And
again, when Mr. Fearing "was come at the river where was no bridge,
there again he was in a heavy case. Now, now, he said, he should be
drowned for ever, and so never see that face with comfort, that he had
come so many miles to behold." But once more his fears were put to
shame: "Here, also, I took notice of what was very remarkable: the water
of that river was lower at this time than ever I saw it in all my life.
So he went over at last, not much above wet-shod."

And even though the morrow should prove as bad as our fears, Christ's
precept is still justified, for the worst kind of preparation for such a
day is worry. Worry, like the undue clatter of machinery, means waste,
waste of power. Anxiety, it has been well said, does not empty to-morrow
of its sorrows, but it does empty to-day of its strength. Therefore, let
us not be anxious. Let us climb our hills when we come to them. God
gives each day strength for the day; but when, to the responsibilities
of to-day we add the burdens of to-morrow, and try to do the work of two
days in the strength of one, we are making straight paths for the feet
of failure and disappointment. All the many voices of reason and
experience are on Christ's side when He bids us, "Be not anxious."

Yet, true as all this is, how inadequate it is! When the tides of care
are at the flood they will overrun and submerge all such counsels as
these, as the waves wash away the little sand-hills which children build
by the sea-shore. "We know it is no good to worry," people will tell us,
half-petulantly, when we remonstrate with them; "but we cannot help
ourselves, and if you have no more to say to us than this, you cannot
help us either." And they are right. Care is the cancer of the heart,
and if our words can go no deeper than they have yet gone, it can never
be cured. It is an inward spiritual derangement, which calls for
something more than little bits of good advice in order to put it right.
And if, again, we turn to the words of Jesus, we shall find the needed
something more is given. The care-worn soul, for its cure, must be taken
out of itself. "Oh the bliss of waking," says some one, "with all one's
thoughts turned outward!" It is the power to do that, to turn, and to
keep turned, one's thoughts outwards that the care-ridden need; and
Christ will show us how it may be ours.

"Be not anxious," says Jesus; and then side by side with this negative
precept He lays this positive one: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God."
Christ came to establish a kingdom in which "all men's good" should be
"each man's rule," and love the universal law. When, therefore, He bids
the anxious seek the kingdom, what He means is that they are to find an
escape from self and self-consuming cares in service. "When you find
yourself overpowered by melancholy," said John Keble, "the best way is
to go out and do something kind to somebody or other." And thousands who
are sitting daily in the gloom of a self-created misery, with all the
blinds of the spirit drawn, if they would but "go out" and begin to care
for others, would speedily cease their miserable care for themselves.
"When I dig a man out of trouble," some one quaintly writes, "the hole
he leaves behind him is the grave in which I bury my own trouble."[47]
This is not the whole cure for care; but if the mind is to be kept from
burrowing in the dark of its own fears and anxieties, it must be set
resolutely and constantly on those nobler ends to which Christ in His
gospel summons us all.

The care-worn, Christ says, must think of others; and, most of all, they
must think of God. "Let not your heart be troubled ... believe." This is
the great argument into which all other arguments run up. This is the
larger truth, within whose wide circumference lie all Christ's words
concerning care. We are not to care because we are cared for, cared for
by God. There is, Christ teaches us, a distribution of duties between
ourselves and God. We, on our part, make it our daily business to get
God's will done on earth as it is done in heaven; He, on His, undertakes
that we shall not want.

"Make you His service your delight,
He'll make your wants His care."

Once more we see how fundamental is Christ's doctrine of the Divine
Fatherhood. It is not so much because our anxiety is useless, or because
it unfits us for service, but because God is what He is, that our worry
is at once a blunder and a sin. It is mistrust of the heavenly love that
cares for us. The sovereign cure for care is - God.


But now a difficulty arises. Christ's doctrine of the Divine Fatherhood
is, without doubt, fundamental; but is it true? A God who clothes the
blowing lilies with their silent beauty, without whom no sparrow falleth
to the ground, who numbers the very hairs of our head - it is a glorious
faith, if one could but receive it. But can we? It was possible once, we
think, in the childhood of the world; but that time has gone, and we are
the children of a new day, whose thoughts we cannot choose but think. So
long as men thought of our earth as the centre of the universe, it was
not difficult to believe that its inhabitants were the peculiar care of
their Creator. But astronomy has changed all that; and what once we
thought so great, we know now to be but a speck amid infinite systems of
worlds. The old question challenges us with a force the Psalmist could
not feel: "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the
moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained; what is man that Thou are
mindful of him? and the son of man that Thou visitest him?" The infinity
of God, the nothingness of man: the poor brain reels before the
contrast. Is it thinkable, we ask, that He whose dwelling-place is
eternity should care for us even as we care for our children? So the
question is often urged upon us to-day. But arguments of this kind, it
has been well said, are simply an attempt to terrorize the imagination,

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Online LibraryGeorge JacksonThe Teaching of Jesus → online text (page 9 of 13)