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apostle says, Whom he called, them he justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified, Rom. viii. 30.
2. We are now to consider how far, or in what respect, our exercising forgiveness towards others, is an evidence of our having obtained forgiveness from God, which is the sense given in those words, as we forgive our debtors. We may here observe the variation of the expression in Matthew and Luke; in the former it is said, Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and, in the latter, Forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. There is a little difficulty contained in the sense of the particles, as and for, which must be so explained, that the sense of the petition, in both evangelists may appear to be the same: Therefore, when Matthew says, Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, the particle as, is not a note of equality, but of similitude; and accordingly it signifies, that we are to forgive others, even as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven us; or, as we hope to obtain forgiveness from him; though, if we compare these two together, there is an infinite disproportion between them, as to the injuries forgiven, and other circumstances that attend the action. The injuries that are done to us are very small, if compared with the crimes that we commit against God; and when we are said to forgive them, there is no comparison between it and that forgiveness which we desire from the hand of God. God's forgiving us is, indeed, a motive to us to forgive others, but one is not the measure, or standard of the other: It therefore implies, that while we ask for forgiveness, we ought to do it with a becoming frame of spirit, as those who are inclined to forgive others, and, at the same time to bless God, that he has wrought this disposition in us; and, so far as we make use of it, as an argument in prayer, the meaning thereof is, that since he has made it our duty, and we trust, has also given us this grace to forgive others; we hope, that he will, in like manner, forgive us our trespasses.
We are now to consider the petition as laid down by the evangelist Luke; Forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us: which is, for substance, the same with that in Matthew, as but now explained: Accordingly the particle FOR, is not causal, but demonstrative; and therefore we are not to understand it as though our forgiving others were the ground and reason of God's forgiving us, since that would be to put it in the room of Christ's righteousness; but the meaning is, that we are encouraged to hope that he will forgive us, from this demonstrative evidence; since he has given us that grace which inclines and disposes us to forgive
others; from whence we have ground to conclude, that we shall obtain the blessing we pray for.
This leads us to consider the nature and extent of forgiveness, as exercised by us, and our obligation to perform this duty; and when this may be said to be an evidence of our obtaining forgiveness from God.
First, Concerning the nature and extent of forgiveness, as exercised by us; for the understanding of which, let it be premised,
[1.] That the injuries that are done us, are to be considered either as they contain an invasion upon, or denying us those rights which belong to us, agreeably to that station and condition in life, in which the providence of God has fixed us; these must be reckoned injuries, because they are detrimental to us, and acts of injustice; or, they may be farther considered, as crimes committed against God, inasmuch as they infer a violation of the law of nature, which is instamped with his authority; whereby the rights of every particular person are determined, and to deprive us of them, is a sin against God, in the same sense in which sins immediately committed against men, are said to be committed against him. And by this we may be farther led to consider,
[2.] That injuries are only to be forgiven by us, as they are against ourselves; whereas God alone can forgive them as they are against him; and the reason hereof is, because no one can dispense with that punishment which is due for the violation of a law, but the supreme authority. The precept that is to be obeyed, and the sanction that binds over the offender to suffer for his violation of it, must be established by the highest authority. And therefore, inasmuch as the creature cannot demand that obedience which is due to God alone; for the same reason he cannot remit that debt of punishment which belongs only to God to inflict. However, we are to desire, that God would pardon, rather than punish those that have injured us: And this is the only sense in which we may be said to forgive others those crimes that are committed against God, if this may be called forgiveness. But, so far as any injury respects ourselves, as being detrimental to us, it is our duty to forgive it, and not to exercise that private revenge which is inconsistent with the subject-matter of this petition.
[3.] So far as an injury, which more especially respects ourselves, contains in it a violation of human laws, whereby the offender has rendered hemself obnoxious to a capital punishment; it does not belong to us, as private persons, to forgive the criminal, so as to obstruct the course of justice, since this is a matter that does not concern us, as not having the executive part of human laws in our power; and, to pretend to this,
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 matter. Nor 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 him that 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, 3 H
1st, That it may sometimes be out of his power to make ful 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 satisfac tion 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 of fender 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
ird, 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 vi. 22.
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