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This forgiving spirit is made as essential to acceptable prayer, as is faith itself. He that cometh to God in prayer, must believe ; else he can not please him: and he that standeth praying, must forgive, if he hath aught against any; or his prayers will avail nothing. "I will,” (said the apostle) " that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting." Ill will towards our fellow men, and distrust of God, are both equally repugnant to the spirit of prayer. The sinner must pray, or he can not be saved; for it is only such as call on the name of the Lord, that shall be saved. He must ask for the forgiveness of his sins, if he would have them forgiven; but this he can not ask for acceptably, unless he will consent to do to others, as he desires God should do to him. Hiş salvation is suspended on the condition of his unfeignedly forgiving such as have trespassed against him.
This brings to my mind the case of a young man, with whose expe. riences I had opportunity to be particularly acquainted. While he was yet neglectful of the great salvation, he received from another young man an unprovoked injury; and he resolved to have revenge, whenever it should be placed within his reach. Not long after this, he became very anxious about the interests of his soul. And now the Spirit of God, who is sent to reprove the world of sin, reproved him for his revengeful feelings towards his enemy, and convinced him, that unless he exercised a totally different spirit, he could never have the forgiveness of God. To satiate his revenge, had been his darling object of pursuit ; and to relinquish that object, much more, to forgive him who was to have felt his vengeance, seemed utterly impossible. He clearly saw that he must forgive, or he could not be forgiven : and yet such was his reluctance to do it, that for a while, it seemed as if he had rather remain unpardoned, than to give up his revengeful feelings and purposes. At length, however, he was mercifully brought to receive pardon, on those terms which his spirit of retaliation had so obstinately resisted. He was convinced that he took more satisfaction (and satisfaction altogether of a purer nature) in forgiving and praying for the young man who had injured him, than he could possibly have received, in executing that vengeance which he had once meditated. He now looked upon that unforgiving spirit which he had cherished, and which he had been so unwilling to surrender, as a heinous sin; and he viewed himself as vastly more guilty, in the sight of God, for his unwillingness to forgive, than his comrade was for doing him the injury.
This case has been introduced to show, that the gospel makes a forgiving spirit so essential to the Christian character, that as soon might we expect to be admitted to heaven, without exercising repentance, as without exercising a spirit of forgiveness. It makes it essential, too, that we should voluntarily forgive ; that we should choose to forgive our enemies, instead of wreaking vengeance on them; and this too, even if the latter act would not expose us to the vengeace of God, any more than the former. How emphatic are these words, that once fell from the lips of Him, at whose bar we shall all be arraigned : • So likewise shall my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” Matt. xviii. 35.
To prevent any from mistaking their own character, in relation to this branch of Christian experience, let the following additional remarks be duly considered.
1st. Though all the children of God have a forgiving spirit, it is not full proof that we are not his children, because we sometimes ex• hibit a contrary spirit. This remark is not intended to justify the least degree of implacableness ; for the whole of it is contrary to the Spirit of Christ. But it is a scriptural truth, that the children of God are imperfect,-sanctified but in part. They are liable to irritation, and this creates a desire for revenge. Thus it was with the man after God's own heart, when he was insulted by churlish Nabal. But a spirit of revenge is not the habitual temper of such as are born of God. The scripture forbids all irritation ; and when it has sprung up in the bosom, we are forbidden to cherish it. “Be ye angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” It is letting the sun go down upon our wrath, which ranks us with the implacable and unmerciful. This, rather than his first irritation and threats, proved Esau to be unforgiving in his spirit towards Jacob; for he suffered the suns of twenty years to go down upon his wrath. Such a cher. ished revenge as this, is totally incompatible with a renovation of heart. It is not a characteristic of God's children. They have, each of them, unfeignedly obeyed that precept in the law of Moses : “ Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people.” The heart which bears the grudge, or the old hatred," (as it is elsewhere called,) is not a heart in which dwelleth the love of God. “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.”
2dly. There is some danger that we shall imagine we have fully forgiven our enemy, and banished all angry feelings, when in reality those feelings have only become dormant ; a result which may have been effected, either by the death of our enemy, or by his long absence. It is not probable that Esau felt, from day to day, the sensi. ble workings of revenge, during the twenty years of his separation from Jacob. There were, no doubt, many days of that long period, when he did not so much as recall to mind the injury he had received. And even the remembrance of it, after a lapse of years, would make a comparatively faint impression, so long as there was no probability that he and his far distant brother would meet again. But when he heard that Jacob was on his way back to Canaan, his implacable feel. ings were all revived, and he renewed his determination to obtain revenge.
If we would not be deceived about our own character, we must not fail to make a distinction between mortifying our members that are on the earth, and letting them die a natural death. Should we, ivstead of crucifying this particular member of the old man, merely suffer it to die of itself, there would be no evidence that we possess that forgiving spirit, without which, we are assured we shall not receive forgiveness from God.
3dly. There is danger some will flatter themselvos that they are possessed of this part of the Christian character, simply because they have great natural placidness of temper. Such ought to know, that
the forgiving spirit which forms a part of the Christian character, is not a plant which grows in nature's garden. An easy, placid temper may resemble it, but is not the very thing. Christian forgiveness never exists in the soul, except implanted there by the power of the Holy Ghost. The gentleness and meekness which distinguish the Christian, are said to be the fruit of the Spirit. See Gal. v. 22, 23. We ought to remember, that the grace of forgiveness does not consist in negatives alone; it does not merely suffer our enemy to go away unhurt; but it follows him with benevolent desires and prayers,
and when practicable, with kind offices and self-denying services.
In the Introduction of this work it was shown, that there could be no discord between the different parts of the word of truth. And in the present Article, I trust it has been satisfactorily shown, that the scriptures not only inculcate a forgiving spirit, but make it essential to the Christian character. It necessarily follows, then, that an im. placable, resentful disposition, is wholly discountenanced in the word of God. But the loveliness of a forgiving temper, and the duty of possessing it, are amply enlarged upon in that inspired volume. It is never represented as mean and pusillanimous, but as noble and God-like. Both Testaments agree in requiring us to love and forgive our enemies. This was the religion of Moses, and of Christ. Of the former, nothing is spoken more to his honor than this, that he was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth. And in the life of Christ, no trait of character is presented as being more attractive, than his meek, forgiving spirit. It was this that shed an ineffable glory around his cross.
Some may think that the eternal punishment of the wicked; the sanguinary laws of Moses; the command given to destroy the Ca. naanites, and those imprecations of evil on enemies, which are found in the scriptures, and particularly in the Psalms of David—are things which can not harmonize with that spirit of forgiveness which is made so essential to salvation. To each of these seeming difficulties, let us pay a brief attention.
(1.) It is objected, that the doctrine of eternal punishment does not agree with the scriptural precepts which relate to the duty of forgiving our enemies. To this it may be replied, that eternal punishment is no more opposed to the spirit of forgiveness, than temporary punishment; provided it be inflicted without malice, and with a view to the public welfare. It is contrary to the spirit of forgiveness to inflict the least degree of pain, where it is unnecessary; but it does not forbid the infliction of the severest punishment, when it has been merited, and when the public good requires it should be endured. It is as true, that the Lord does not willingly afflict and grieve the children of men, in this world, as that he does not delight in their misery, in the world to
The Supreme Ruler has given more decided proof of a forgiving spirit, than any other ruler who ever swayed a sceptre. He has not only forgiven a much greater number of rebels, but the way in which he has extended pardon to them, is calculated to exalt our conceptions of the strength and disinterestedness of his forgiving spirit. If, with all the proofs he has given, any of his subjects still entertain doubts whether he is truly of a forgiving spirit, it must be because
they wilfully close their eyes against evidence. They who are not convinced of the merciful nature of God, by what he has already done, would be satisfied with nothing short of his entirely relinquishing the reins of government. If the infliction of punishment, in every case, be considered as incompatible with a forgiving spirit, then with that spirit, the exercise of all moral government must likewise be in. compatible. But it is not true, that all infliction of punishment is inconsistent with a forgiving spirit. We know that there is an entire disagreement between a forgiving spirit, and selfish revenge ; but such a spirit is not at variance with a benevolent vengeance, which desires the punishment of the guilty, only for the sake of promoting the gen. eral good : and such is the nature of that vengeance which belongeth to the Lord our God. It is not, in the smallest degree, owing to the want of a forgiving spirit in God, that all the rebels under his govern. ment are not pardoned. He forgives all who repent; and, of mere grace, he gives repentance to all whose deliverance from deserved punishment, he sees will consist with the greatest stability and bless. edness of his everlasting kingdom.
(2.) It is objected, that the sanguinary laws of Moses are in contra. riety to the spirit of forgiveness. But why should the penalties an. nered to these laws, be considered as in contrariety to the spirit of forgiveness, when the pains of the second death, which are infinitely more dreadful, are in consistency with it? Those sanguinary punish. ments were appointed by God himself, and were intended to prevent the commission of sin, by clearly manifesting his disapprobation of it. They were also designed to exert an influence on us gentiles, (who are not in this life subjected to all the penalties of that law,) as means of preventing our eternal perdition. This we may learn from what is said, Heb. x. 28, 29; “He that despised Moses' law, died without mercy, under two or three witnesses : Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God ?”
(3.) It is objected, that the destruction of the Canaanites by a divine command, stands in direct opposition to that forgiving spirit which the scriptures inculcate. Let us remember that all men deserve evil at the hand of God. They deserve to be swept off from the face of the earth: or how can we vindicate the providence of God in actually doing it, from generation to generation ? The Canaanites, as a people, had become so abominably corrupt, that the interests of the kingdom of God required they should be made an example of his vengeance. He had a right to execute vengeance with his own almighty arm, or to ap. point others to do it in his behalf. This work he manifestly commit. ted to the children of Israel; and they were commanded not to spare the criminals. In human governments, an obligation is resting on the sheriff, (or other officer appointed for the purpose,) to execute sentence of death on such as have been condemned to suffer that punishment, Is it necessary to suppose that the legislature which enacts criminal statutes, or the court which condemns certain offenders to die, are actuated by a spirit of malice or revenge? Or does such a spirit ne. cessarily actuate the sheriff, when, in obedience to the mandate of the court, he launches a fellow being into eternity? If God's command
respecting the seven nations of Canaan, had authorized his people to execute it in the exercise of malicious hatred, neither the command, nor the act it enjoined, would have accorded with that forgiving spirit which the scriptures so frequently inculcate. But it did not thus au. thorize them; nor can a command that does do it, be found in any part of the inspired volume.
(4.) It is objected, that those imprecations of evil on enemies, which are found in the scriptures, and particularly in the Psalms of David, are repugnant to a spirit of forgiveness. There are some who are disposed to consider all these imprecations as wrong, and as so many evi. dences of the imperfection of the saints. It is acknowledged that the Bible saints, as well as others, were imperfect, and some of the impre. cations attributed to them might have been the effect of an unholy irri. tation : but we ought not to ascribe this character to the imprecations which are found in the book of Psalms-a book which contains the inspired songs of Zion. These songs were not only sung by the sweet singer of Israel, but were sent to the chief musician, to be sung by the whole congregation of the Lord. Had they been interlarded with im. precations that were inconsistent with the spirit of forgiveness, they would have proved a snare to the people of God. Paul has a quota. tion from one of the most dreadful imprecations which is found in the Psalms; and yet he evidently quotes it, not only as a portion of holy writ, but as a portion which breathes the spirit of holiness. *
It ought also to be remembered, that in some of these imprecations, and in such as would seem the most objectionable, David speaks in the name of his greater Son, the Lord's Anointed. This is manifestly true of the 109th Psalm. See verses 2, 4, 8, 25. I am fully convin. ced that we ought not to consider the imprecations which are found in the Psalms, as expressing any feelings which it is improper for us to cherish. But how, it may be asked, are such imprecations consistent with the spirit of forgiveness? Their consistency with it will appear by the two following considerations :
First. It is not inconsistent with the best feelings towards the wick. ed, to pray against them, when they are considered as the enemies of Christ and his church. If they who are not with Christ, are against him, we can not pray for the cause of Christ, without virtually pray. ing against all who are on the other side-who gather not with him, but scatter abroad. It implies no malicious hatred towards the enemies of Christ, that we ardently desire that all their devices against him and the cause of truth, may be frustrated. Just as it was proper for David to pray the Lord to turn the counsels of Ahithophel into foolishness, so it is perfectly consistent with benevolence itself, that we should pray God to turn all the counsels of wicked men, considered as such, into foolishness; and even cause them to subserve that holy cause which they were intended to annoy. Our prayers against the wicked do not necessarily “imply that we desire their misery; or even that we do not
• Rom. xi. 9, 10. "And David saith, Let their table be made a snare and a trap," &c. Some have attempted to obviate ihe difficulty in question by remarking, that in the original Hebrew, David's imprecations are found to he in the future tense, and not in the imperative mood. But Paul, who was an inspired expositor, has put them into the imperative mood, instead of the future toneo of the indicative ; and this decides the lawfulness of the imprecatory style.