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15 September, 2013

Forgiveness: A Duty So Obvious Yet So Much Neglected

Excerpt from Forgiveness of Injuries By John Angell James

......The pulpit has not done its duty. We have preached to the intellect, to the imagination, and to the taste-but not enough to the heart and to the conscience. In our endeavor to please, we have not been sufficiently intent upon the greater object, to profit. We have not preached justification too much-but sanctification too little. We have been so intent upon urging men to obtain the forgiveness of their own sins from God-that we have neglected to urge them to forgive the sins of their fellow-creatures against themselves. We have urged faith with a becoming vehemence-but not love. We have descanted upon the evil of licentiousness, and falsehood, and dishonesty, and covetousness-but have said far, far too little about malice and bitterness. 

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We have urged men to zeal and liberality-but not enough to humility, forbearance, and forgiveness. We have led men to view the cross of Christ-but we have not sufficiently urged them to take up their own. We have entreated them to view him as their Righteousness-but not sufficiently as their Example. How much and how often have we insisted upon the duty of forgiveness-which I am now discussing? Has it borne that place in our discourses which it does in those of our Lord? Have we not led our people to neglect this duty? I for one plead guilty, and feel as if I had not made this sufficiently prominent in my ministry, though I have not only preached, but written upon it.

Is it then any wonder that professing Christians should think so little, when they hear so little, about it. And hence there is another result, the obligation of this duty is not felt. It is surprising to see how lightly it presses upon the consciences of many people. Those who would scruple to commit many other sins, have no scruple on the subject of not forgiving. They have no deep solemn sense of being constrained to practice it, no feeling of being bound to do so, their consciences do not urge them to it. An injury is inflicted, and instead of at once saying, "Here is a call upon our love," they at once in the quickness of resentment, say, "This is a matter to be resented," and they directly form a purpose of retaliation as naturally as if it were the thing most proper to be done.

It is frequently the case that those who are inclined to the exercises of generous forgiveness are prevented by the interference of a third party, who goads on the injured person to revenge. This true child of the devil does all he can to magnify the trespass, and thus inflames the resentment of the sufferer. He endeavors to extinguish the kindling spark of love in the bosom of him who is softening and melting into kindliness, and blows the coals of strife into the flame of unhallowed passion. How often have third parties thus obstructed the progress of reconciliation by artful appeals to pride and passion!

To every officious intruder who would thus prevent the broken bonds of amity from being again united by an act of forgiveness, say, in the indignant language of Christ to Peter, "Get behind me Satan, for you savor not of the things that are of God." Tell him he mistakes you and interprets your heart by his own, if he supposes you cannot forgive. Third parties, by this officious malignant interference, have done more to perpetuate animosity and to prevent the healing of friendship's bleeding wounds, than those who have been engaged in the feud themselves. Instead of performing the work and ensuring the blessing of the peacemaker, they have had an opposite ambition, by endeavoring to prolong the strife, to bring upon themselves the malediction of heaven, and the infamy of being called the children of the devil.

But after all, the chief and radical cause of this deficiency in our Christian duty-is the corruption of our nature. A perfectly holy being would find it as easy to forgive as to act. No cloud of stormy passion would lower on the brow of an incarnate angel, no lightning of unhallowed wrath would flash from his eye, no growl of angry thunder would roll from his lips-against the offender. He would look and speak and act in love and peace......