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a judge may give such limits to his goodness and mercy, as that mercy would prevent. The case is of those who appeal to his tribunal against one another. If such appeals are made, justice only can be done, and mercy must be excluded; but then he who by appealing demands justice, must stand to justice himself, and is to expect no mercy; whereashe who forgives, shall be forgiven.' No doubt, our blessed Saviour had nothing more in view, than to cultivate in all his followers that kind and forgiving disposi. tion, whereby the spirit of his gospel is peculiarly distinguished. Here, nevertheless, where he expresses forgiveness by a law-term, and consequently turns our attention to his judicial capacity, a full liberty in his exercise of that capacity, in order to give mercy scope, seems to have been the main design of his promising mercy to the merciful, and of his elsewhere threatening the unforgiving with vengeance.
Here now is the great law of Christ in relation to offences and injuries of all sorts ; a law infinitely sweet in this respect that, if we forgive' now,' we shall be forgiven' bereafter; and infinitely dreadful also in this, that, if we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven.'
Who now is he that dare say, I will not forgive ? He only is in his senses who is without sin. But as "all men have sinned,'as every man hath sinned in an infinitely more provoking manner against God, than the rest of mankind can possibly have sinned against him, so an entire and unlimited forgiveness must be, not only the generous determination, but likewise the most self-interested act, of every rational mind.
But here perhaps you will say, 'all this I knew before, and have long wished to accommodate my stubborn heart to this precept of my Saviour. Wish, however, as I will, and do what I can, my resentments keep their ground, insomuch that I cannot speak kindly of my enemy, nor even keep an indifferent silence when he is mentioned; much less can I withhold my heart from pain, when he prospers or is applauded; or from pleasure, when adversity or contempt is thrown upon him.'
Well, but still you wish, and would be glad to be otherwise affected ; and therefore though sick of a deadly dis
order, have nevertheless the symptoms (and hopeful ones they are) of a recovering mind, a mind ready to make the most of such helps as Providence shall afford it, whether from the pulpit, or elsewhere. If instructions from the pulpit are not pleasing to you, one thing at least we hope, you will willingly take from thence, an exhortation to consult with the pulpit of your own reason, and the better part of yourself.
Go home to your own breast, and ask your heart these questions. • Hast thou, my heart, no other passions but pride and anger? What is become of the humanity and benevolence, whereof, on some occasions, thou hast given such pleasing proofs ? Wilt thou suffer thy pride to tyrannise over thy love? What an heart art thou, if rage, revenge, and mischief, can afford thee more pleasure, than forgiveness and acts of kindness and generosity ?
If an enemy is thus able to transform and degrade a man to the most odious class of beings, that man not only is now, but was, before the injury done him, a very despicable being, and liable, it seems, to an infinitely worse sort of injury, than can possibly be done in regard to fortune, liberty, character, or even life itself; an injury, I mean, in regard to virtue. The enemy who can turn a good man into a bad one, is the worst of all enemies. No man, however, can do this to us, without our own concurrence. We are all of us able, if not wanting to ourselves, to preserve an even temper under the most grievous provocations; and not only that, but a tender-hearted remembrance also, that the man who injures us, was perhaps once our friend, at least is still our fellow-creature, our neighbour; and may hereafter, if retaliation do not forbid it, nay, in case forgiveness should encourage it, become the most zealous promoter of our interest and honour.
But if, as I suspect, it is your pride that at any time makes you implacable, for only by pride cometh contention,' as a very wise man hath said, pray ask yourself, what that pride is, whether it is that passion, which makes the man who is enslaved to it, not less intolerable to himself, than to the rest of mankind; or whether it is only that laudable regard for the dignity of your own person and character, be it more or less, which no man is required to de
scend from. If it is the former, you have only to consider the infinite troubles and mischiefs it is likely, if not properly restrained and mortified, to involve you in, and the certainty there is, that all who know you, will join to pull it down, and to turn it, till it is pulled down, into an engine of torture to yourself. But in case it is no more than a due regard to your honour, and you can justify it as a principle, yet you can never do this, till you can shew it to be a principle in you of somewhat more noble than revenge. Now, a revengeful disposition is the property only of a little and effeminate mind. Nothing is great, whose contrary is great. But a forgiving, which is the direct opposite to a revengeful spirit, is, of all others, the most exalted turn of mind, is an imitation of God himself, in that very attribute from whence his highest glory among men is derived. This way, into this upward path, bend your pride, and it shall one day raise you so high that you shall see the stars twinkling under your feet, as far as they do now above your head. If you would build high and firm, dig low in humility, in meekness, and in forgiveness, for a foundation, and your roof shall reach the heavens.
Howsoever strongly your pride may dispose you to resentment and anger, we will suppose you a man of at least common sense and prudence, and as such, better pleased to have a friend than a foe. The former will do
all the good, the latter all the mischief, he can. Now, to make him your friend who is at present your enemy, your surest way is first to be his friend, and in the spirit of a friend to begin with sincerely forgiving him all his offences and injuries ; and then to let him see the proofs of this forgiveness in such affectionate expressions and kind offices, as may be sufficient to remove from his mind every suspicion of your retaining the least sense of his ill-treatment. It is in vain to say, you forgive, if you do not, as soon as opportunity is afforded, shew the fruits of that forgiveness. If you know it not already, you should be told, that the chief difficulty in doing good for evil is found in the first instance; and, strange as it may seem, that a good heart is not more powerfully won to love by the good it receives, than by that which it does. You know not how good you can be till you try. Make the experiment, and you will find, after
doing one act of kindness, more ease and pleasure in doing the next; and to this progress of a heart, melting in its own warmth, the great abatement of hatred in that of your enemy, under the influence of so much undeserved goodness, together with more or less of amendment in his behaviour towards you, will largely contribute. There is no resisting the charms of a conduct so great and so divine as this. If you hold on in it but a little (and surely you can persevere as long in goodness, as the worst of men in wickedness) you will conquer, and bring your enemy
home in the fetters of gratitude and love, so captivated to your service for the future, as to make no great difference between your happiness and his own.
If you proceed in this manner, you will soon heal the rankling wound made in your heart by the injuries of others, and poisoned almost to a gangrene by your own pride, which for the present fills you with spleen, wrath, and revenge, at once the ugliest and most uneasy sensations, the heart of a human creature can possibly feel. There is no other balm but that of forgiveness, that can assuage their anguish; no opiate, but an humble and meek forgetfulness, that under the circumstances of injury and provocation, can give rest to the soul. With this rest, however, and the triumph made by the mind over itself, and over the indignities offered to it by baseness and brutality, a kind of pleasure is enjoyed, infinitely exceeding all the sweets of vengeance, even in the haughtiest dispositions.
Besides, compute what it will cost you to be revenged, what schemes, what cares, what watchings, what a waste of your power or interest, that might be so much better employed in advancing your family and fortune. Then consider, that as, not only your adversary, but Providence, is concerned to blast your cruel intentions, the whole may end in a shameful disappointment, or what is still worse, in ruin, in destruction, perhaps even in death, to yourself. Consider beforehand, how this will mortify your pride, how it will sting and gall your resentment; and how much better it had been to have stifled both at the beginning, and nobly risen above yourself and your enemy by a wise and generous forgiveness of all his injuries. What a difference is there between him who tramples under his feet the fiends, of his
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