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would be not only to violate the laws of men, but to commit an offence against God, who has established the just rights of civil government; therefore, that forgiveness which we are obliged to exercise towards others, does not extend itself to this matNor are we obliged, when we forgive those that have injured us, to be unconcerned about doing justice to ourselves, when it is possible, or at least easy, for us to have redress in the course of law or equity; especially if the damage we sustain hereby, be, in a very great degree, prejudicial to ourselves. or families. And if it affects our good name in the world, the forgiving those reproaches that are cast upon us, is not inconsistent with our using endeavours to vindicate our own reputation; though it may be, this can hardly be done without exposing him that has done us the injury, to suffer that shame which he brought on himself thereby.
These things being premised, we proceed to consider, the nature and extent of forgiveness, as it is to be exercised by us, so far as the injury committed respects ourselves. This is opposed to our bearing the least degree of malice against the offender, or carrying our resentments too far, by magnifying lesser injuries, and meditating revenge: Nor ought we to be so partial in our own cause, as to deny, or altogether overlook those things that are, in other respects commendable in him, as though a crime committed against us, were altogether inconsistent with the least degree of virtue or goodness in himthat has committed it. If he has done injustice to us, this does not excuse any act of injustice to his person or character in other instances, which have not an immediate relation to ourselves; which is to see things through a false medium, or to infer consequences that cannot fairly be deduced from any thing that he has done, how injurious soever it may have been
.. Moreover, we are not to take occasion from the ill treatment we have met with, from any one, to endeavour to ruin him, as to his estate or character in the world ; since that is not a proper expedient, either to do justice to ourselves, or bring him, who has done us the injury to repentance.
Here we may take occasion to enquire, how far a person that is injured by another, may demand satisfaction? and, whether it is our duty to forgive him, though it be neither in his power nor inclination to make it?
The answer that I would give to this, is; that the law of God and nature, does not prohibit us from demanding satisfaction in proportion to the injury received; since this is a debt we ought to claim, in justice to ourselves, and our character in the world: Nevertheless, it must be considered,
1st, That it may sometimes be out of his power to make full satisfaction; in which case we must be content, and forgive the injury without it; and we are to deal with him in like manner, as we are obliged to do with those who are insolvent in pecuniary debts. But,
2dly, We suppose, that the person who has injured us, is able in some measure, to make satisfaction; but he is so far from being willing to do it, that he refuses to acknowledge his crime, and, which is still worse, seems inclined, as occasion may offer, to commit it again, which is the worst of tempers, especially if the injury be not barely supposed, but real: Yet this is no rule for us to proceed by, in forgiving injuries; for the understanding of which let it be considered, that satisfaction for injuries committed, consists either in making a compensation in proportion to the damage sustained thereby, or else in a bare acknowledgment of the fault committed. The former of these we may, in justice, insist on; but yet, in most cases, where the injury only respects ourselves, it may be dispensed with, or demanded at pleasure; but whether it be given or no, it is so far our duty to pass it by, as not to bear the least degree of malice against him, that has injured us, though he refuses to give it. As to the latter, where no more is demanded, than a bare acknowledgment of the offence committed, which cannot be supposed to be out of the power of the offender to do; but he is resolved that he will not make this small satisfaction, as persisting in his own vindication, and determines to do the same again, as occasion offers: we are to let him know, that herein he not only sins against us, but God, and to exhort him to confess his crime before him; and therefore we pity his obstinacy, while we express our readiness to pass by the injury he has done us: However, such an one is not to be chosen by us as an intimate friend or associate, out of a principle of self-preservation, that he may not be in a capacity of doing us the same injuries for the future, which his obstinacy discovers him to be inclined to do. Thus concerning the nature and extent of this duty of forgiving injuries: We proceed to consider,
Secondly, The indispensable obligation we are under to perform it; otherwise we could not make this appeal to God in prayer, or take encouragement to hope, that we shall obtain forgiveness from him. To induce us hereunto, let us consider,
1st, That if God should deal with us as we do with our fellow-creatures, when we refuse to forgive them, we should be for ever miserable. This our Saviour illustrates by the parable of the debtor and creditor, in Matt. xviii. 24, & seq. where a person is represented as owing ten thousand talents, and his
lord, upon his entreaty, forgave him the debt; and afterwards he dealt severely with one that owed him but an hundred pence, and thereby provoked his lord to deliver him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him; which parable, though it does not argue the least mutability in the divine purpose relating hereunto, yet we may infer from hence, how inconsiderable the injuries that are done us are, if compared with those which we have done against God; and how little ground we have to expect forgiveness from him, if we are not disposed to forgive others.
2dly, An implacable spirit, meditating revenge for injuries done against us, will render us altogether unfit for the performance of an holy duty, and particularly this of imploring forgiveness from God: It also exposes us to many temptations; accordingly the apostle speaks of anger retained in our breasts, or letting the sun go down upon our wrath, as that which gives place to the Devil, Eph. iv. 26, 27.
3dly, Malice and fury tend to exasperate an enemy; whereas, forgiveness melts him into friendship, and very much recommends the gospel, which obliges us to shew such instances of brotherly kindness, even where they are least deserved.
4thly, We have many bright examples for our imitation, of the best of men, who have been highly injured, and yet have expressed a forgiving spirit. Thus Joseph forgave the injuries done against him by his brethren, when, after his father's death, they were jealous that he would hate them, and requite them all the evil that they had done unto him; but he not only comforted and spake kindly to them, but made very liberal provision for the subsisting of them and their families, Gen. 1. 15-21. And, Moses, when Miriam was smitten with leprosy, for speaking against him, prays for her recovery, Numb. xii. 13. And, when the Syrian host was sent on purpose to destroy the prophet Elisha, and God had delivered them into his hand, being in the midst of Samaria, and the king of Israel was ready to smite them, had he desired it; but this he was so far from doing, that he says, Thou shalt not smite them: Wouldest thou smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword, and with thy bow, set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master, 2 Kings
And, in the New Testament, we have an instance of a forgiving spirit in Stephen, when, in the very agonies of death, having been before insulted, and now stoned by his enraged enemies; it is said, He kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge, Acts vii. 60. But the highest instance that can be given of the exercise of this grace we have in our Saviour, who prayed for them that cruci
fied him; Father forgive them, for they know not what they do, Luke xxiii. 34. These examples are worthy of our imitation; and therefore we should reckon ourselves obliged to forgive those who have injured us.
Object. It will be objected by some, that the injuries done them, are so very great, that they are not to be borne; and it would be dishonourable for them not to take any notice thereof: Or, it may be, the ingratitude that is expressed herein, is such that it deserves the highest resentment; and if it should be passed over, it might be reckoned a tacit approbation of their crime, and give occasion to them, that have committed the injury against them, to despise them, and do the like for the future.
Answ. To this it may be replied;
1st, That if the injury be great, it will be much more commendable, and a greater instance of virtue and grace to forgive than to resent it; for in this a man overcomes himself, subdues his own passions, and thereby lets his enemy know, that he has a due sense of the divine command relating thereunto, and that his spirit is sanctified and calmed by the power of divine grace. This is reckoned one of the greatest victories; as it is said, He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh & city, Prov. xvi. 32.
2dly, As for our honour, which is pretended to be concerned herein, they who allege it, are very much mistaken in their sentiments about true honour; since it is said, The discretion of a man deferreth his anger, and it is his glory to pass over his transgression, chap. xix. 11.
3dly, This does not, in the least, argue, that the person who forgives, approves of his crime, who has done him the injury, since this is not inconsistent with our charging it on his conscience, and endeavouring to bring him under a sense of guilt, as having not only injured us, but done that which is highly displeasing to God; and he may be given to understand, that hereby he has wronged his own soul more than us, and therefore has great reason to be humbled before God, and repent of his sin committed against us, which, as it is committed against God, he only can forgive; though we let him know, that we are disposed to forgive him, so far as the crime is directed against us.
4thly, As to the pretence, that forgiving injuries will make those who have done them grow bold, and be more hardened in their crimes; and that they will hereby take occasion to insult, and do the like injuries for the future: It may be replied, that this very seldom happens; but if it should, we must consider that the ungrateful abuse of a kind and generous ac
tion, or the possibility of this consequence ensuing thereupon, is no sufficient excuse for our not performing it. But if there be the least ingenuity of temper, or if it pleases God, by his grace, to succeed our kind behaviour toward them for their good, it will have a far different effect; as it is observed, A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger, chap. xv. 1. Thus concerning the obligation we are under to forgive the injuries that are committed against us: We are now to consider,
Thirdly, How this is an evidence, or may afford us ground of hope, that we shall obtain forgiveness from God, when we are praying for it. Here let it be observed, that forgiving injuries, may be considered barely as a virtue, proceeding from a goodness of temper, or the sense that persons have of the equity and reasonableness thereof, and from other motives which the light of nature may suggest, or, as it is recommended by Seneca, Epictetus, and other heathen moralists: And, indeed, it must be reckoned a very commendable quality, and a convincing evidence that a person is, in a great degree, master of his own passions; but we cannot from hence conclude, that such an one is in a state of grace; and nothing short of that can be evidence of our right to forgiveness: Therefore we must consider this disposition to forgive injuries, as a Christian virtue, or as containing in it some ingredients, that manifest it to be a grace wrought in us by the Spirit, and a branch of sanctification, and, as such, having several other graces connected with; and accordingly,
1. When our forgiving injuries is an evidence of our having obtained forgiveness, we must do it out of a humble sense of the many crimes that we have committed against God; and therefore it is joined with, and flows from the grace of repentance.
2. It also contains in it several acts of faith; as hereby we do, in effect, acknowledge, that all we have is in God's hand, who has a right to take it away when he pleases; and if he suffers us to be deprived of our reputation and usefulness in the world, or our wealth and outward estate therein, by the injurious treatment we meet with from those, who, without cause are our enemies; we are sensible that this could not be done without his permissive providence, which we entirely acquiesce in. The injury or injustice we wholly lay to the charge of those who hate us, nevertheless, in obedience to our Saviour's command, we desire to express our love to them, in the most valuable instances thereof, and, at the same time, to acknowledge and bow down to the sovereignty and justice of God, in suffering us to be thus dealt with by men, hoping and trusting that he will over-rule this, and all other afflictive pro