« AnteriorContinuar »
into the place of the Almighty ? and to wrest the thunder from the hand of God ? Remember, remember, 'that pride goeth before destruction, and so closely, that nothing comes between but anger and revenge. Remember the words of Nebuchadnezzar, after his humiliation, those who walk in pride God is able to abase;' and that you may know, he is to the full as willing, remember the words of Isaiah, The Lord of hosts hath purposed to stain the pride of all glory,' and yours more especially, because otherwise he must give up to contempt the honour and authority of his own command. Remember likewise, that though the injury should affect
you, not so much in your pride, as in some other respect, for instance, 'if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man smite or wound you,' the forgiveness of it is equally required by the command of God. Consider, too, how much the case is now altered, so altered indeed, that you have no longer an offending fellow-creature only to deal with, but are engaged in a contest with the Almighty, if you go on to seek for revenge. It is true, God may punish your enemy for the injury he bath done you ; but what consolation will this be to you, when you feel in yourself the vindictive effects of God's displeasure at your more heinous offence, who have shewn that you hate your brother more than you fear your God? If you lay these considerations duly to heart, you will infallibly forgive; or if you do not, you will have the mortification to remember, that your poor soul is reduced to a most desperate state, as having trampled on the command, and flown in the face of Almighty majesty.
As however, your low-pitched mind is inore apt to be moved by a tender regard to yourself, than to the commands even of him whom the highest angel in heaven dare not disobey, there is still an argument for forgiveness in reserve, which may touch your soul to the quick in that part of it, where, if at all, there is any feeling left. The argument is couched in these words of my text, taken together, 'forgive, and you shall be forgiven,' and in these, 'if you forgive not, neither shall you be forgiven.'
Here your sins, by a mystery of divine wisdom infinitely transcending, and (if I may so express it) over-reaching, all the arts of the great deceiver, are turned into so many
engines, whereby your soul may be forced up, against its very nature to the highest pitch of virtue. A right sense of your sins will take down your pride, and fill you with humility and fear. Your humility and fear will teach you to forgive, and to reward evil with good ; will teach you to act by other men, as you wish and pray, that God may act by you, that is, will dispose you to act like God, when he displays his goodness in the most beautiful and glorious of all his attributes. Behold how, by the wisdom of the gospel, your virtue is promoted by your very vices! Examine, therefore, your conscience with the utmost care and severity; shake out all your offences against God, against man, and against your own nature; throw all your sins of thought, of word, of deed, upon the heap ; and to raise it to its utmost height, lay your wilful and presumptuous crimes, where they ought to lie, that is, uppermost, next the eye of heaven. View with amazement this enormous, this frightful funeral pile, whereon your body, nay your very soul is to be consumed, if God in his infinite mercy do not forgive you; and then ask yourself, whether, in order to be forgiven, in order to have the whole mass of your sins, both secret and open, reduced to nothing, you will agree to forgive your brother, your poor transgressing brother, who was drawn in to offend you by infirmities and temptations too like your own. Let your vileness you: let your wickedness terrify you. Thus humbled, thus terrified, you will find it difficult not to forgive.
Look back at your baptism, wherein your original sin was done away, and the pardon of all your actual sins, if duly repented of, ensured; and ask yourself with what face, after being in mercy thus admitted into the church of Christ, you can even there, in the very eye of God, and in the presence of Christ, become an exactor of justice, and a claimer of vengeance against one for whom Christ hath died, as well as for you; ask yourself, how so soon after being discharged of so great a debt by the common master of
you can 'seize your fellow-servant by the throat, and drag him to prison,' because he cannot pay a much smaller sum.
Then turn your eyes forward on the great day of accounts, and before you resolve to hold your insolvent brother to a settlement of the last farthing, consider, how you can ba
both, you lance with Almighty God. On him there is no imposing. His books are kept with infinite exactness. He is the only unerring accountant. Besides, with him there is no pity. nor forbearance for that unhappy man, who hath shewn none to his fellow-creature. He shall have judgment without mercy, that shewed no mercy.'
When you have once struck a deep impression of this alarming prospect on your heart, let it be your next care fairly to weigh your sins against God with those which others may have committed against you. If you do this with any degree of impartiality, you will find, though you should be the best of men, and the most cruelly used by the rest of mankind, that their ill treatment of you bears no proportion to your offences in the sight of God, you will plainly perceive the former sinking into nothing on comparison with the latter.
The natural effect of this comparison, taken together with the proposal, in my text, will be, a firm resolution to close with that proposal, and to adore, in a transport of gratitude, the goodness of God for an indulgence, so infinitely tender; an indulgence, which puts your soul into your own hands, and gives you the happy power of wiping out the long and black account in God's book against you, by setting a full discharge at the foot of that in yours against your neighbour. You have the divine promise, that as fast as pity and forgiveness shall lengthen out the blank in yours, so fast shall the sponge of infinite mercy blot out your transgressions in his.
Thus, whether you look backward or forward, you see nothing but mercy, mercy to you and all men, on the part of God. And are you to shew no mercy? Are you to stop the current of God's compassion towards other men by holding them severely to account? You, who can give no account of yourself, but such as must inevitably throw you into outer darkness? To what madness hath your pride transported you, that you should either think yourself without sin on the one side, or on the other, resolve at once to exact vengeance, and implore forgiveness ! O the provoking inconsistence! How you assume, and tremble, at the same instant! assume, as if you only were righteous! and tremble, as if conscious of approaching damnation! Whither shall you fly for shelter! In your own unforgiving heart there is no refuge; in the mercy of God, though infinite, no relief; even mercy which you refuse, pleads against you; nor in the merits of Christ, though infinite also, is there any sanctuary for a soul so opposite to the mind of Christ, and so intent on mischief to the members of his mystical body.
But, methinks, I see you relent, and hear you say, you can, you will forgive. Happy change! wherein there is salvation both for you and your transgressing brother. But whereas your resentments have perhaps been wrested from you, rather by the fear of God's judgments, and a too selfish tenderness for your own safety, than by the commands of God, or the charitable disposition of your own heart; you ought to suspect the sincerity of your forgiveness, and labour by your meditations and prayers still more and more to reinforce the spirit it proceeds from, till you have made it evident to yourself, not only that the prosperity and honour of your enemy gives you real pleasure, and the contrary, concern ; but that you can also place some share of
satisfaction in promoting the former, and lessening the latter. You ought by no means to rest contented with your progress, before it hath arrived at this stage of improvement, because it may require all this at least to produce in you, what our blessed master insists on, 'forgiveness until seventy times seven, in case your enemy shall proceed with his provocations, and injurious treatment of you, as you have done with your offences against God.
Here now you will be apt to ask, whether all this is expected from you, before your enemy hath come to himself, ceased to persecute you, and made the proper acknowledgments for his bad behaviour ?' And I answer by asking two other questions of you; whether you find any exception for this case either in our Saviour's precept, or his example ; and whether you were to choose, you would have the forgiveness of your sins, and acceptance with God, to depend on the repentance of an enemy so perverse, rather than on a charitable turn of mind in yourself, where the work of your salvation may be carried on in your own heart, and is wholly at your own discretion ? Consider if your enemy never repents, on your rule, you can never forgive ? and on God's rule, you can never be forgiven. Your making no other returns, but
of friendship, to repeated acts of enmity, will probably at length soften his heart, and sooth him to a better behaviour; but if it does not, your work of charity must go on to its own accomplishment, and be regulated by its own proper rules, which are not to be taken from the conduct of any man, least of all, from that of a bad man, but from the commandment of Christ, and from his conduct in the like case. It will be no excuse to say, Christ, being infinitely perfect, could easily exemplify a thousand virtues, which one so frail as you are, cannot possibly imitate him in; for I say, on the other side, that Christ had no sins to be forgiven, as you have, and therefore forgiveness in you is prompted by a motive, humanly speaking, much stronger than any our blessed Saviour could have felt the force of, the very motive, of all others, which carries with it the greatest weight, your own eternal salvation.
You will say too, though you are angry, and wish for revenge, you do not appeal to the final audit, you do not wish for eternal vengeance. No, you would be glad to see your enemy sufficiently humbled, mortified, despised, in this world; but you would allow him to be aved in the life to come. Indeed you do not know, what you yourself mean by sufficiently. Pride and anger know no bounds. “He that hateth his brother, is in darkness, and walketh in darknes, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes;' knows, by no means, to what length his spirit of revenge would carry him; whether to murder, or even damnation, in case a more limited misery is not to be enjoyed, he cannot tell. Give not a loose therefore to the thunder of revenge, which if once let go, is not to be recalled or moderated. Christ bids you forgive, and certainly means, that you should neither wish for temporal, nor appeal for eternal vengeance. He means, that you should do good for evil ;' and till you mean the same thing, you are neither like him, nor can possibly belong to him. He who commands you to love your enemy, could not surely mean, that you might hate him, and wish to be revenged of him, though but in the smallest degree. You pray, that God may not take vengeance of you, either here, or hereafter, for your sins. Do by your enemy, as you would have God to do by you. Be assured God will deal by you, as you deal by him.