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But you farther complain, that, in case you should forgive, which you are willing to do, your enemy will be thereby only encouraged to greater insolence; and others, no better disposed than he, ascribing your carriage, neither to lenity nor principle, but to cowardice, or a passive stupidity, will be tempted to signalize themselves on one so lost to the common notions of honour, so that your reputation, your fortune, your person, will lie at the mercy of baseness and brutality on all occasions. Were you not a Christian, it would, I confess, be a very difficult matter to answer this complaint. It would but half satisfy you to say, that forgiveness is more likely, than revenge, to blunt the point of your enemies malice, and to conciliate to you the hearts of him and all other
You readily allow, that, in good minds, forgiveness may, and doing good for evil, must, have that effect. But, with the far greater number, who are not so minded, you say, it will be attended with the untoward consequences objected. If you do not wrong the majority of mankind by this apprehension, you at least overlook the friendship and assistance of all good men, who will interpose in your defence against a persecution, unprovoked, but by the highest generosity. And what is worse still, you overlook the protection of Almighty God, who cannot be supposed to stand neuter in a contest between meekness and cruelty, both in perfection. Nay, what is yet more shocking, you overlook your own sins against God, you overlook the command and example of your blessed Saviour, who could never have wrought your salvation for you, had he not followed that very conduct he requires of you, under circumstances infinitely more provoking and cruel, than your patience can ever possibly be tried with. Do you hope for the pardon of all your sins, for deliverance from eternal torments, for all the glories of heaven, without a battle, without a struggle ? What valuable purpose, even of this worthless life, did you ever accomplish, with less labour, pain, or self-denial, than is here made necessary to the attainment of heaven?
Beware of a relapse here, consider you are a Christian. Recollect your sins again. Fix your eyes on heaven and hell; and remember, that you cannot be forgiven, unless you forgive. Take therefore the measure as well as the reason of your forgiveness, from the degree of your own
guilt, which you hope to remove by that forgiveness; and then no degree of provocation will be too great for your charity to surmount.
If your judgment and heart have given themselves wholly up to the strength of the foregoing considerations, you are now in a right disposition, first, to abstain from every act of revenge ; secondly, to repay the injuries of your enemy with benefits; thirdly, to offer up your prayers acceptably to God; and lastly, even to entertain some degree of love for those who hate you; that is (for so much of your duty as regards the rest of mankind) you are in the true Spirit of the gospel, and not far from Christian perfection.
In the first place, an abstinence from all acts of revenge is the lowest proof of the gospel spirit, and so necessary an effect of it, that the profession of Christianity, without it, is but an hypocritical pretence. Wherefore, if at any time you are tempted to revenge, remember the example of David, when he had Saul in his power, and pray earnestly to God, as he did, 'to forbid or prevent, not only the act of vengeance in your hand, but the very will to do it in your heart.” Be assured, this prayer is a prayer for yourself; and if heartily put up, will return with a sevenfold blessing 'into your own bosom.'
In the second place, to repay benefits for injuries, though it is going a step farther, is as necessary to the spirit of the gospel, and therein as expressly required, as an abstinence from revenge. You pray to God (do you not) for a great deal more than deliverance from the vengeance due to your sins; you pray to him for the joys of heaven, that is, for an infinite good, in the place of the infinite evil you have deserved at his hands. And how can you make this prayer to the all-knowing being, while you content yourself with the mere negative virtue of doing no harm to your enemies?
In the third place, take care how you forget that you can by no means pray acceptably to God, nor in the spirit of his gospel, not to say for pardon of your sins, or for heaven, but for any thing else you want, till you can pray as sincerely (I was going to say as fervently) for your enemies. The form of prayer he gave you, and his command, when you stand praying, forgive, if you have ought against any man, that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive ;
you your trespasses,' are sufficient to teach you, that you are in no condition to pray for yourself, till you can pray with a hearty good-will for your enemies.
But, in the last place, that you may forgive, do good to, and pray for your enemies, as well as for yourself, and all in the sincere and lovely spirit of the gospel ; and that you may be assured, this comes from your very heart, you must obey the command of Christ, and love your enemies.' Hear the comment of St. Paul on this great law of his master. • Bless them that persecute you; bless and curse not.
Recompense to no man evil for evil. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Revenge not yourself, but rather give place unto wrath. If your enemy hunger, feed him. If he thirst, give him drink. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. Be ye
tender hearted forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Walk worthy of the vocation, wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another (no doubt he means when injuries arise) in love; and let your love be without dissimulation.'
•God is love,' and his religion, flowing from him as light from a luminous body, is of the same nature with him, is love also. “On the love God and our neighbour hang all the law and the prophets,' so that love is the fulfilling of the law.' Accordingly humility, meekness, forgiveness, love, as exemplified in the life of our blessed Saviour here on earth, exhaust his whole history.
On the other hand, the religion, if I may so express it, of the devil, is of a piece with himself, and consists of pride, malice, revenge, persecution. There are other differences . between the fruits of the good and the evil spirit; but herein is found that peculiar distinction, which Christ himself hath pointed out, and whereby he would have his disciples known from those of the evil being. The followers of Christ are marked in every feature, in their tongues, and in their hands, with love. The followers of Satan are marked in the same places with hatred. You see, you hear, you feel, the distinction, as soon as you come near enough to either.
Now, let a man profess as vehemently, and talk as eloquently as he will about religion, if he carries not the mark
of Christ, he is to be regarded but as sounding brass,' a mixture of impudence and noise; and should be heard only as a loud cymbal,' proclaiming the triumphs of vanity.
If you, to whom I am speaking, are one of that numerous class, who never err, who are perfect and faultless, Christ came not to call you, either to repentance or forgiveness. You sit too high on your infallibility to be touched by the text or discourse of this day. Look down, however, with pity on the rest of mankind, who move in a sphere so far beneath
and as you cannot be affected with the worst they are able to do to you, to pass it over with the serenity and sublimity, natural to a soul so elevated as yours is, will be the easiest thing in the world to you, who suffer fools gladly because you yourself are wise:'
But in case you are one of those poor weak mortals who often stray from the path of true wisdom and holiness, you ought to know, that nothing can be so wildly absurd in you, as disobedience to the command of Christ in my text, not only as a command (for who with impunity shall disobey the Lord of all ?) but as a proposal infinitely advantageous to you. Lest passion and prejudice should blind you in an affair, which hath already raised you to too great a degree of warmth, try the merits of this proposal in lower matters, and in other persons, Forgive, saith a master to one of his servants, in your hearing, forgive your fellow-servant the guinea he owes you, and you shall be forgiven the hundred you owe me. Forgive that other fellow-servant the reproaches he hath Aung at you, and you shall be forgiven the theft you lately committed, when you was discovered stealing my goods. Forgive that third fellow-servant the blow you just now received from him, and you shall be forgiven the assault you committed on me, your master, for which you are now under prosecution. If you do not comply with me in this, you shall be paid your guinea; but then I will exact my hundred guineas of you to the very last farthing. You shall have satisfaction too for the affront offered you; but shall be publicly exposed to the infamy your theft hath deserved. I will punish the man who struck you, as justice requires, but will execute on you the rigour of that justice for your act of rebellion and violence against myself. As you measure from you, I will measure to you,
mercy for mercy, justice for justice, vengeance for vengeance. You demand an exact account, and shall have it; but you shall also give it.
You think this servant a perfect madman, when you hear him crying out, I insist on an account, I will be paid, I will have satisfaction. Do you indeed? Well then, Christ is the master, and thou art the man. What! will
not forgive a trifle, to be forgiven that which is infinite ? will you plunge to the bottom of the lake, for the pleasure of seeing your enemy swim on the surface? How is it, that you judge so clearly in things of little moment, which relate to others, while in a case of the same nature, but of the last consequence to yourself, you are wholly stupid? Is it self that shuts your eyes? self! which of all things ought to open them, when your salvation is brought in question ? Amazing! whom will you see for, if you cannot see for yourself? · Whom will you be wise for, if you will not be advised by Solomon 'to be wise for yourself?'
I have nothing farther to say, than only, in the most earnest manner to beg you would behold upon the whole of what hath been offered, the infinite excellence of the gospel scheme in reference to the doctrine urged in this discourse, and to embrace it, with your whole understanding and heart, as divinely just and merciful throughout; just, inasmuch as it turns you over to your own law to be judged, for 'with what-judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye. meet, it shall be measured to you again ;' and merciful, inasmuch as you are graciously offered forgiveness of all your great, crying, and provoking sins against God, on the easy terms of forgiving the much smaller offences of men against you. Reject this proposal, and you are lost Receive it, and
do the utmost that man can do, to ensure your own salvation.
God give you understanding in all things, more particularly in this, to make a wise choice, and thereby 'to make sure your election and adoption,' as the child of the merciful and forgiving God, through Christ Jesus our Saviour, to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.