FORGIVENESS AMONG CHRISTIANS*
by W. F. BeU
Is it not a sad fact that there are few Christian duties so little practised as forgiveness? Is there not too much bitterness, unmercifulness, spite, hardness, and unkindness among Christians? Yet, we are plainly commanded in Scripture to forgive our brethren: “Forgiving one another” (Ephesians 4.32; Colossians ..13).
In the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18.21-35) our merciful Lord teaches us that we should always forgive others. We
must always have a general spirit of mercy about us, bearing much,
putting up with much, looking over much. The Christian is to avoid all strife, malice, revenge, retaliation: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12.19).
It is never easy to forgive, as we are prone to hold grudges by nature. We do not like being offended. We shrink back from giving up “our rights,” thus even Christians take other Christians to court. But a fire cannot go on burning without fuel. Here it is we need desperately to leam to return good for evil, and melt down the emnity of others. “Recompense to no man evil for evil … Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12.17,21).
When we think of ourselves as poor sinners, in need of the mercy and grace of God ourselves, this cautions us to be forgiving toward Reprinted from Free Grace Broadcaster July 1987.
those who wrong us. Christ Jesus freely loved us; willingly and voluntarily died the cruel death of the cross for us; is tenderly patient with us through our many trials and testings. In love and compassion He chastens us (Hebrews 12.6). “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3.19). We are always forgiven “for Christ’s sake” (Ephesians 4.32), and thus we are taught to forgive others, for we have been forgiven so much.
There is also coming a great day of judgment, when every wrong will be made right, as the Judge of all the earth reveals the secrets of men (Romans 2.16). In light of that judgment, how can we possibly be so harsh and unforgiving now? Do we not seek mercy and forgiveness at the hands of our Mediator? Let us then remember these words from our holy Lord: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6.14-15). Some may wish to relegate this to a future kingdom, but it violates the Scripture to do so, as Christ is simply teaching that if we do not forgive we prove we are not God’s children (have not been forgiven ourselves). “From your hearts forgive” (Matthew 18.35). These words of Christ still speak powerfully to us.
“Men who care not for doctrines can understand a forgiving temper” (J. C. Ryle). Is it not a bad testimony to be unforgiving? Some make sure everyone knows their doctrinal position, but then act as if they had no grace in their hearts. May we not grieve the Holy Spirit with our bad attitudes and unholy ways (Ephesians 4 .30-32).
“Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17.3-4).
Matthew Henry comments on these verses: “Christians should be of a forgiving spirit, willing to make the best of everybody, and to make all about them easy; forward to extenuate faults, and not to aggravate them; and they should contrive as much to show that they have forgiven an injury as others to show that they resent it.”1
William Secker, in his own witty way, says this about our subject:
‘We should not only break the teeth of malice by forgiveness, but pluck out its sting by forgetfulness. To store our memories with a sense of injuries is to fill that chest with rusty iron which was made for refined gold. The pot of malice should not stand upon the fire till it boils over.”2
No wonder the apostles said to the Lord Jesus, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17.5). Our faith must be strengthened, and as that grace grows, indeed our other graces will grow also, including the grace of a forgiving spirit. The seemingly impossible task of forgiving our brother is made a delightful duty when we have true faith in God’s pardoning mercy.
Look again at the “model prayer” which Christ gave to us: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6.12). “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” (Luke 11.4). May we not just desire to “be forgiven” of God, but may we also truly reveal that we are forgiven by “forgiving” others.
“He that demands mercy, and shows none, ruins the bridge over which he himself is to pass” (Thomas Adams). “A man may as well go to hell for not forgiving as for not believing” (Thomas Watson).
1. Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Revell), Volume 5, p. 765. ‘.
2 William Secker, The Nonsuch Professor (Zoar Publications), p. 59.