"Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, If any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye."—Col. 3:18.
In the life of grace forgiveness is one of the first blessings we receive from God. It is also one of the most glorious. It is the transition from the old to the new life; the sign and pledge of God’s love: with it we receive the right to all the spiritual gifts which are prepared for us in Christ. The redeemed saint can never forget, either here or in eternity, that he is a forgiven sinner. Nothing works more mightily to inflame his love, to awaken his joy, or to strengthen his courage, than the experience, continually renewed by the Holy Spirit as a living reality, of God’s forgiving love. Every day, yes, every thought of God reminds him: I owe all to pardoning grace.
This forgiving love is one of the greatest marvels in the manifestation of the Divine nature. In it God finds His glory and blessedness. And it is in this glory and blessedness God wants His redeemed people to share, when He calls upon them, as soon and as much as they have received forgiveness, also to bestow it upon others.
Have you ever noticed how often and how expressly the Lord Jesus spoke of it? If we read thoughtfully our Lord’s words in Matt. 6:12, 15; 18:2–25; Mark 11:25, we shall understand how inseparably the two are united: God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. After the Lord was ascended to grant repentance and forgiveness of sins, the Scriptures say of Him just what He had said of the Father, we must forgive like Him. As our text expresses it, even as Christ has forgiven you, so also do ye. We must be like God, like Christ, in forgiving.
It is not difficult to find the reason for this. When forgiving, love comes to us, it is not only to deliver us from punishment. No, much more; it seeks to win us for its own, to take possession of us and to dwell in us. And when thus it has come down to dwell in us, it does not lose its own heavenly character and beauty: it still is forgiving love seeking to do its work not alone towards us, but in us, and through us, leading and enabling us to forgive those who sin against us. So much so is this the owe, that we are told that not to forgive is a sure sign that one has himself not been forgiven. He who only seeks forgiveness from selfishness and as freedom from punishment, but has not truly accepted forgiving love to rule his heart and life, proves that God’s forgiveness has never really reached him. He who, on the other hand, has really accepted forgiveness will have in the joy with which he forgives others, a continual confirmation, that his faith in God’s forgiveness of himself is a reality. From Christ to receive forgiveness, and like Christ to bestow it on others: these two are one.
Thus the Scriptures and the Church teach: but what do the lives and experience of Christians say? Alas! how many there are who hardly know that thus it is written, or who, if they know it, think it is more than can be expected from a sinful being; or who, if they agree in general to what has been said, always find a reason, in their own particular case, why it should not be so. Others might be strengthened in evil; the offender would never forgive had the injury been done to him; there are very many eminent Christians who do not act so; such excuses are never wanting. And yet the command is so very simple, and its sanction so very solemn: "Even as Christ has forgiven you, so also do ye:" "If ye forgive not, neither will your Father forgive you." With such human reasonings the Word of God is made of none effect. As though it were not just through forgiving love that God seeks to conquer evil, and therefore forgives even unto seventy times seven. As though it were not plain, that not what the offender would do to me, but what Christ has done, must be the rule of my conduct. As though conformity to the example not of Christ Himself, but of pious Christians, were the sign that I have truly received the forgiveness of sins.
Alas! what Church or Christian circle in which the law of forgiving love is not grievously transgressed? How often in our Church assemblies, in philanthropic undertakings as well as in ordinary social intercourse, and even in domestic life, proof is given that to many Christians the call to forgive, just as Christ did, has never yet become a ruling principle of their conduct. On account of a difference of opinion, or opposition to a course of action that appeared to us right, on the ground of a real or a fancied slight, or the report of some unkind or thoughtless word, feelings of resentment, or contempt, or estrangement, have been harboured, instead of loving, and forgiving, and forgetting like Christ.
In such the thought has never yet taken possession of mind and heart, that the law of compassion and love and forgiveness, in which the relation of the head to the members is rooted, must rule the whole relation of the members to each other.
Beloved followers of Jesus! called to manifest His likeness to the world, learn that as forgiveness of your sins was one of the first things Jesus did for you, forgiveness of others is one of the first that you can do for Him. And remember that to the new heart there is a joy even sweeter than that of being forgiven; even the joy of forgiving others. The joy of being forgiven is only that of a sinner and of earth: the joy of forgiving is Christ’s own joy, the joy of heaven. Oh, come and see that it is nothing less than the work that Christ Himself does, and the joy with which He Himself is satisfied that thou art called to participate in.
It is thus that thou canst bless the world. It is as the forgiving One that Jesus conquers His enemies, and binds His friends to Himself. It is as the forgiving One that Jesus has set up His kingdom and continually extends it. It is through the same forgiving love, not only preached but shown in the life of His disciples, that the Church will, convince the world of God’s love. If the world see men and women loving and forgiving as Jesus did, it will be compelled to confess that God is with them of a truth.
And if it still appear too hard and too high, remember that this will only be as long as we consult the natural heart. A sinful nature has no taste for this joy, and never can attain it. But in union with Christ we can do it: He who abides in Him walks even as He walked. If you have surrendered yourself to follow Christ in everything, then He will by His Holy Spirit enable you to do this too. Ere ever you come into temptation, accustom yourself to fix your gaze on Jesus, in the heavenly beauty of His forgiving love as your example: "Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory." Every time you pray or thank God for forgiveness, make the vow that to the glory of His name you will manifest the same forgiving love to all around you. Before ever there is a question of forgiveness of others, let your heart be filled with love to Christ, love to the brethren, and love to enemies: a heart full of love finds it blessed to forgive. Let, in each little circumstance of daily life when the temptation not to forgive might arise, the opportunity be joyfully welcomed to show how truly you live in God’s forgiving love, how glad you are to let its beautiful light shine through you on others, and how blessed a privilege you feel it to be thus too to bear the image of your beloved Lord.
To forgive like Thee, blessed Son of God! I take this as the law of my life. Thou who hast given the command, givest also the power. Thou who hadst love enough to forgive me, wilt also fill me with love and teach me to forgive others. Thou who didst give me the first blessing, in the joy of having my sins forgiven, wilt surely give me the second blessing, the deeper joy of forgiving others as Thou hast forgiven me. Oh, fill me to this end with faith in the power of Thy love in me, to make me like Thyself, to enable me to forgive the seventy times seven, and so to love and bless all around me.
O my Jesus! Thy example is my law: I must be like Thee. And Thy example is my gospel too. I can be as Thou art. Thou art at once my Law and my Life. What Thou demandest of me by Thy example, Thou workest in me by Thy life. I shall forgive like Thee.
Lord, only lead me deeper into my dependence on Thee, into the all-sufficiency of Thy grace and the blessed keeping which comes from Thy indwelling. Then shall I believe and prove the all-prevailing power of love. I shall forgive even as Christ has forgiven me. Amen.