"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." I Timothy 3:15
Three Steps in the Settlement of Private Difficulties
A. W. Chambliss
From The Baptist Preacher, 1846. Part 3 of 3
Part III. The second and last duty of the offended remains to be considered. "If
he repent, forgive him."
And what shall we say? Where shall we begin to press this duty? Can any argument
be necessary to induce the forgiveness of a repenting brother? One who has deeply
felt and deplored his offence? One who has humbly acknowledged his fault? Who has
offered every satisfaction in the power of his hands? From this moment, the onus
of responsibility is removed from his shoulders to thine own, and devolves upon thee
with all its fearful weight. Every principle sacred to Christianity demands his release
and absolution—every principle of religion forbids us to longer regard him as an
alien. It is not optionary with us, whether we will or will not receive him as a
brother. Our own forgiveness and acceptance with God, the fellowship of the Spirit,
and the consolation of religion, the hope of heaven, and the bliss of immortality,
all hang suspended on this point. Withhold the one, and we forfeit the rest.
The spirit of forgiveness enters into all the essential elements of Christianity,
and forms an indispensable part of it. That is a false notion of religion, which
fancies one's self forgiven, irrespective of the sentiments and principles which
he may still cherish in his heart. Behold, how the apostle sums up the virtues of
the Christian character, and in the bonds of indissoluble union connects them together:
"Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness,
humbleness of mind, meekness, long suffering, forbearing and forgiving one another;
if any man have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye."
(Col. 3:12, 13) Remark the entire chain, and the absolute dependence of link upon
link. How beautiful the cluster! And how inseparably close the connection!
Every ornament to religion—every principle vital to godliness, is here interarticulated,
like the joints and members of the human frame, from which no one can be taken away
without defacing and deforming the whole symmetry. Who would suppose a beautiful
mansion proportioned and completed, with only one of its walls erected? With no less
impropriety do we regard our Christianity perfect, while malice and rancor are indulged
in the soul. An implacable Christian! It is a contradiction in terms. Bigots there
may be, and have been, in all denominations: but an implacable, irreconcilable, unforgiving
Christian, is of the same figure of speech, as a godly adulterer, a religious drunkard,
or a devout murderer.
Who can possess "bowels of mercies," with an inexorable hatred burning in his heart?
Who can perform acts of Christian kindness, while malevolence and rankle in his bosom?
Who can indulge "humbleness of mind," when his indomitable haughtiness and pride
will not so much as pardon a fault? Can he be clothed upon with meekness, whose spirit
heaves with anger, like the sides of a burning volcano? Where is the long Buffeting
of that man whom the most paltry offence kindles into an inextinguishable rage and
madness? Where are his forbearance and pity—his tender heartedness and compassion,
whom no tears of repentance—no ingenuousness of sorrow—no frankness of confession—no
reparation of damage, can appease or excite to deeds of forgiveness? "If he repent,
thou shalt forgive him."
The exercise of forgiveness is an indispensable prerequisite and qualification for
acceptable prayer—the first Christian duty. No Christian, we dare say, can live satisfied
without prayer. It is his native element—"it is vital breath." Prayer is the soul's
best channel of intercommunication with heaven. The benefits of the atonement—the
constant supplies of grace, both for trials and duties—the felicitous superintendence
of the divine providence—these are sought and vouchsafed through this channel: and
sufficiently endear the heaven-appointed exercise to every pious heart.
Nevertheless, prayer to meet the divine favor must needs be offered in the spirit
of universal love. No petition that ascends from the burning elements of strife and
bitterness, can reach the ear of divine grace and goodness. "If I regard iniquity
in my heart," said the Psalmist, "thou wilt not hear me." (Ps. 66:18) Why went the
Pharisee down from the place of prayer unjustified and unblessed? The answer is given
in this short phrase, "he thought he was righteous, but despised others." (Luke 18:9)
A malignant and contentious spirit awoke the displeasure of God against the most
solemn and sacred assemblages of the Jewish nation. "Ye fast for strife and debate,
and to fight with the fist of wickedness." (Isa. 55:4) If men are commanded to pray
everywhere, they are also to "lift up holy hands, without wrath," first, and then
"without doubting." (1 Tim. 2:8)
In that beautiful formulary of prayer, given by our blessed Redeemer, we are taught
to say, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors;" (Matt. 6:12) or, as it
is expressed by another evangelist, "Forgive us our sins, FOR we also forgive every
one that is indebted to us." (Luke 11:4) In the latter of these forms, the Christian
is required to say, when he prays in the presence of the heart-searching God, that
he has forgiven everyone who hath trespassed against him; and in the former, to ask
the divine mercy, only in the measure that he shows mercy to his fellow man.
Perhaps we have frequently uttered this petition: but have we duly pondered its import?
Dare we assert to God that we have forgiven those who have wronged us, while we still
cherish a latent malice towards them? Or dare we ask the mercy of God, as we show
mercy to another, to whom, in reality, we show no mercy? What is the import of such
a petition? It is that all the bowels of the divine compassion may be forever closet
against us—that instead of smiles, his frowns may rest upon us—instead of blessing,
he may consume us with interminable sorrows and wretchedness. Dare we make this prayer
in the presence of the Most High? "He shall have judgment without mercy, who hath
showed no mercy." "Therefore, when ye stand praying, forgive, that your Father also,
which is in heaven, may forgive your trespasses; but if ye do not forgive, neither
will your Father which is heaven forgive your trespasses." (James 2:13; Mark 11:25,
The duty of forgiveness is farther enforced in the scriptures, from the consideration
of that mercy which we have already received. This is our Lord's argument, in a parable
representing the kingdom of heaven, "I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst
me: shouldst not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had
pity on thee?" (Matt. 18:32, 33) Who can think of his own sins, and of the wrath
to which they exposed him—who can think of the condescension and mercy of God in
their forgiveness, and not feel the kindlings of holy pity move towards an erring
brother? How multitudinous were they! HOW they rose over our head, as dark and portentous
clouds, whose aggregated particles are without number!
Every breath was polluted with guilt, and every word was contaminated with crime.
Through the eye and through the ear its deadly venom was imparted to the soul. We
turned not away the eye from seeing, nor the ear from bearing, vanity and lies. Their
image was drawn upon the spirit in dark and fearful outlines. Depravity entered into
the essential elements of our nature. It beat in the pulse and flowed in the veins.
It burnt in lurid glimmerings on the brain, and in flames of consuming wrath upon
the heart. "The whole head was sick, and the whole heart was faint." Every imagination
of the thoughts of the heart was only evil, and that continually. What is the sin
of a brother, compared with the innumerable transgressions which we have committed
against God? And has the divine mercy abounded to their pardon? "He forgave thee
all that debt, because thou desiredst him: shouldst not thou also have compassion
on thy fellow man, even as the Lord had pity on thee?"
Further, if our sins were actually without number, they were also heinous to the
last degree. Their enormity rose with the law of which they were a violation—with
the obligations of which they were a contempt—with the person of whom they were an
abhorrence—and with the motives which they despised. Beheld, in the light of these
reflections, bow do the most aggravated offences of a brother sink into the mere
frailties and sinless infirmities of helpless human nature!
What principles subsisting between man and man can be compared with the authoritative
law of which our sins were an infraction? What obligations can be imposed by the
relations of earth, so solemnly imperative as those devolved upon us as the creatures
and beneficiaries of God? What human virtue can claim such inalienable fidelity and
love, as that which we have despised in the ineffable purity and beneficence of the
deity? Have we trampled all these beneath our feet? And has the boundless compassion
of the Father of mercies extended to us a divine pardon?
Tell me, thou pardoned spirit—raised to a princely station from the demerited flames
of the hottest hell—tell me whether thou canst refuse forgiveness to a brother, whose
sins scarce deserve mention beside thine own? If God forgave thee all that debt because
thou desiredst him, shouldst not thou also have compassion on thy fellow man, even
as the Lord had pity on thee? "Therefore, be ye kind one to another, tender hearted,
forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hall forgiven you." (Eph. 4:32)
"As God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you!" Here is the rule and measure—the spirit
of acceptable forgiveness. It must be real and entire. Forgiveness is not a form
of words alone. It is not a mere reprieve—a suspension of the feud—a temporary abatement
of the animosity. It is more. It is an act—an important act—the act of absolution
and release. It is the relinquishment of present claims—the abolishment of present
liabilities—a "blotting out of the handwriting" of charges against the offender.
Nor is this a partial act. It extends to the whole debt—both the principal and the
interest. The last letter of the offence must be erased. Not an iota can remain.
"I forgave thee all that debt," said the Son of God: and thus must we say.
However heinous may have been the crime—however aggravated the circumstances of its
commission—however possible that it may be repeated, the moment it is forgiven, that
moment it is buried, and completely buried. Nothing short of this is pardon. He that
pretends to forgiveness, while a private rancor—a secret jealousy—a latent coldness
and reserve, are cherished in his heart, more than was wont before the offence was
committed—needs to farther investigate his character, and perform his work anew.
It is not thus that God for Christ's sake forgives sin, nor is it thus that we must
forgive. "If ye, from your hearts, forgive not every one his brother his trespasses,
neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses." (Matt. 18:35)
Forgiveness must be final. Thus, "God for Christ's sake bath forgiven you." "As far
as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us."
They are cast into the deep sea; nor will they ever be called up to remembrance to
our detriment. Like the moment, which is past to return no more; so, the sins which
are blotted out, are never to be recalled. No subsequent offence can revive those
which were once pardoned. With equal propriety may the liquidated debts of past years
come into the settlement of present accounts, as that crimes once forgiven should
be brought into the adjustment of future difficulties.
Grant that his repentance was insincere and that it was only a pretext to another
and more nefarious offence—grant that his subsequent conduct may require his expulsion
from the church of God, and from the society of the faithful. That is his own fault,
and let him bear the responsibility. His repentance—real or pretended—was accepted,
and in consideration thereof, we forgave, and must forgive. This forever puts a terminus
to that difficulty; nor may we ever revive it. We may not mention the past to his
detriment, nor permit it to influence any part of our conduct towards him. It may
not so much as give credibility to reports that may thereafter circulate to his prejudice.
His character, as a good or bad man, must stand or fall alone upon the subsequent
acts of his life. What else is that forgiveness which consists in "restoring" the
transgressor to that place from which by transgression he fell? What else is that
forgiveness which "God for Christ's sake bath extended to us?" Nor yet is this all.
Forgiveness must be cheerful. Thus, "God for Christ's sake bath forgiven you." God
does nothing with hesitancy and reluctance: and least of all, does he extend pardon
with grudging hands. The smiles which accompany the divine mercy, give to it a principal
sweetness. The virtue of condescension and pity is heightened by the pleasure which
is manifested in the deed. Compassion is a priceless jewel, in willing and delighted
hands: but a fulsome and obnoxious thing, when accompanied with complaints and apparent
"Show mercy with cheerfulness," is a divine requisition, (Rom. 12:8) and without
cheerfulness, there is no beauty in it, that one should desire it. To forgive an
offence is magnanimous; and the magnanimity of the deed is increased by the greatness
of the crime, and the sovereign readiness and pleasure with which we pass it by.
It is Godlike to meet a "prodigal son "—a reckless adversary—a malignant enemy—a
foul asperser—a wily chicaner—with open arms, and extend to him a prompt and hearty
forgiveness. Thus we "return good for evil,"—thus we "suffer long and are kind."—thus
we "heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord shall reward thee." (Rom. 25:22)
"If he repent, thou shalt forgive him."
"As God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you!" Here is the rule and spirit of acceptable
conduct towards a repenting brother. We oppose it to those who profess to forgive,
but are nevertheless unwilling, for the present, to fellowship the offender. He must
be restored to our fellowship. "Let him be to thee as an heathen man and a publican,"—when?
After he shall have turned, saying, "I repent?" After he shall have deplored his
offence—confessed his fault—and rendered every satisfaction in the power of his hands?
No, verily. Had he refused to hear thee—and refused to hear them whom thou broughtest
with thee—and refused to hear the church—then he should have been to thee as "an
heathen man and a publican."
But what now remains in the power of his hand, whereby to regain thy favor? What
beside his offence intercepted thy fellowship? That was the only bar to thy communion—the
middle wall of partition between thee. Hast thou forgiven it? That act was the extinguishment
of the debt—the removal of the impediment. If it was anything less than this, it
was nothing—then forgiveness is no more forgiveness. What if the church of God were
to act upon this principle, and still refuse to fellowship those whom she might forgive
the violation of any of her rules and measures? What if the divine mercy were to
refuse fellowship with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ, to those whom
it nevertheless pardoned? Where were the advantages of mercy, that one should desire
it? Say not that thou hast forgiven him whom thou wilt not restore to thy fellowship.
"As God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you!" Here is the rule and spirit of acceptable
conduct towards a repenting brother. We oppose it, again, to those who profess to
forgive, but are nevertheless unwilling, for the present, to confide in the offender.
He must be restored to our confidence. "Him that is weak receive ye, but not to doubtful
disputation," is a maxim that applies with peculiar emphasis to the present case.
His offence was the only bar to thy confidence—the middle wall of partition between
thee? Hast thou forgiven it? That act was the obliteration of the difficulty—the
annihilation of the obstacle. If it was anything less than this, it was nothing—then
forgiveness is no more forgiveness. What if thy brethren—the church of the living
God—were to pardon thy offences, but still regard thee with jealousy and dread? What
if the divine mercy were to pardon thy sins, but still hold thee in suspicion and
doubt? Where were the desirableness of mercy, that one should seek it? Say not thou
hast forgiven him whom still thou beholdest with distrust and jealousy.
"As God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you!" Here is the rule and spirit of acceptable
conduct towards a repenting brother. We oppose it, finally, to those who profess
to forgive, but are nevertheless unwilling to replace their love upon the offender.
He must be restored to our love. "I beseech you," said St. Paul, in the case of a
notorious offence lamented and forgiven, "I beseech you, that ye would confirm your
love toward him." (2 Cor. 2:8) What remains to prevent it? His crime was the only
bar to thy love—the middle wall of partition between thee. Hast thou forgiven it?
That act was the extinction of the barrier—the everlasting destruction of the hindrance.
If it was anything less than this, it was nothing—then forgiveness is no more forgiveness.
What if thy brethren—the church of the living God—were to pardon thy faults, but
still withhold their affections from thee? What if the divine mercy were to forgive
thy trespasses, and yet shut up the fountains of his love and goodness from thee?
Where were the great excellencies of mercy, that one should desire it? Say not thou
hast forgiven him whom thou dost not and wilt not love. These two, forgiveness and
love, stand inseparable in the argument of the apostle. "Let all bitterness, and
wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
and be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God
for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Be ye, therefore, followers of God, as dear
children, and walk in love, as Christ also bath loved us, and bath given himself
for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet smelling savor." "Brethren,
if any man be overtaken in a fault, ye that are spiritual restore such an one in
the spirit of meekness: considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." (Eph. 4:31,
32; 5:1, 2; Gal. 6:1)
My brethren, "be at peace among yourselves." By the consolations of Christianity—by
the unity of the faith—by the valedictory prayer of the Son of God, that "you should
be one, even as he and his Father are one,"—we pray you, "be at peace among yourselves."
What is there in the turbid waters of strife and confusion—of bickering and animosity—of
babblings and contention—that we should prefer to the placid streams of harmony and
love? "I protest before God, my conscience also bearing me witness that I stand in
jeopardy of you every hour." "For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you
envying, and strife, and division, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (1 Cor. 3:3)
What worse than this could be anticipated of men of the world, who have never heard
of Jesus?—men of the world, who make no pretensions to the peaceful religion of Christ?—men
of the world, who are led captive in the chains of Satan, and yield a willing and
submissive servitude to the lusts that war in their members? What worse than this
could be anticipated from those who have nothing in common, save a heart deceitful
above all things and desperately wicked?
But all ye are brethren, called unto peace—ye are brethren, redeemed with the blood
of peace—ye are brethren, quickened and renewed by the spirit of peace—ye are brethren,
the servants of the prince of peace—all ye are brethren, journeying to the abode
of everlasting peace. By all these considerations, we pray you "be at peace among
yourselves." "If there be any consolation in Christ—if any comfort of love—if any
fellowship of the spirit—if any bowels and mercies—fulfil ye my joy, that ye he like-minded,
having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” (Phil. 2:1-3)
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion
of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen!