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MATT. vi. 12.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.
HIS is a petition, which requires no particular explanation. Every man knows the nature of forgiveness,-every man knows that it is his duty to forgive,-every Christian knows, if he believes the scriptures, that his own salvation depends upon it. The only difficulty is, to bend our stubborn hearts and unchristian tempers to the practice of what we all well understand.
Instead, therefore, of wasting your time by unnecessary inquiries into the nature of forgiveness, I shall directly apply myself to lay before you the unreasonableness and guilt of revenge, and to answer such objections as are some
times urged to palliate or justify this diabolical passion.
You will, however, just permit me to remark, that this is the only petition of the Lord's Prayer, which was not taken by our Saviour from the antient Jewish liturgies, and, therefore, may be considered as containing a doctrine truly christian, as being the peculiar language of him, who came down from heaven to give peace on earth, and who taught us, both by precept and example, to pray for our enemies, and to bless them that persecute us.
And first then, Let it be considered, that the breach of this law of forgiveness is highly injurious to God. Vindictive justice is an act of sovereign authority, which God alone has a right to exercise: he, therefore, that takes it to himself, invades his prerogative in the highest instance. "To me belongeth vengeance and re
compence," says God: and who art thou, O man, that repliest against God? We think it reasonable, that an earthly sovereign should forbid his subjects to inflict punishment upon one another, and command them to refer all their quarrels and disputes to proper judges and fixed laws: now God has reserved the same right to himself, over high and low, rich and poor, who
are all equally his subjects: the revengeful man, therefore, by disobeying this law, invades the right of omnipotence, and is unjust and contumacious to his Maker.
Secondly, The revengeful man is unjust to his neighbour; and that whether we consider the cause or the effects of his revenge. For as to the cause; what is it, in general, that kindles this irreconcileable hatred in his breast? His neighbour, perhaps, has discovered his fraud and injustice; or will not comply with what he thinks unreasonable; or does not pay him that respect, which he thinks due to his fancied importance or increasing wealth; or refuses to grant him some favour, which he has no right to demand:-in any of these cases, his anger presently boils over, and he becomes his enemy, and seeks his ruin, without either sufficient cause or justice.
And the case is the same, if we consider the effects of his revenge. For, in the first place, men seldom observe the proportion that ought to be between the punishment and the offence. They are ready to stand up for the law of retaliation, and cry an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; not considering, that these words, in the Jewish law, related to him that gave the
offence, to restrain the violence of his passion, by setting before him the dangerous consequences of his violence, which would draw down upon himself the same injury which he offered to others, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and not to encourage a spirit of revenge in him that received the injury. Again; it seldom happens, that men observe the rules of justice in pursuing their revenge, but think every thing lawful against an enemy. Thus, to satiate their thirst of vengeance, they are often guilty of lying and defamation, and sometimes will not scruple to build their revenge upon the basis of perjury and false witness; so that a man's reputation, and even life itself are in danger, through the violence of this truly diabolical passion.
: Thirdly, The revengeful man is unjust to himself: for, by not forgiving others, he deprives himself of the common right of being forgiven himself: and no man's life is so blameless, as not to stand in need of forgiveness, at some time or other. God has commanded us to love one another with the same affection that we love him he hath told us, "that if we bring our
gift to the altar, and there remember that "our brother hath ought against us, we must "leave our gift before the altar, first be recon
"ciled to our brother, and then come and offer
our gift" which plainly implies, that we are not fit to enter the house of God, or tread his courts, that we are not capable of serving God acceptably, so long as we harbour any thoughts of revenge in our breasts,—and that we can not obtain mercy from God, unless we first shew mercy to men.
And wisely was this condition enjoined us by the decree of God. He knows our unwilling ness to forbear and to forgive: he stands, therefore, as a barrier between us, to compose our animosities, and restrain our revenge:he has made our forgiving others the indispensable condition of receiving his forgiveness; that the fear of eternal vengeance might restrain those, whom the milder ties of tenderness and humanity could not restrain. Highly, therefore, must he be unjust to himself, who by persuing his revenge, forfeits all title to forgiveness from man, and to mercy from God.
It has, indeed, sometimes been objected, that he that forgives one injury, invites his adver sary to do him another. But we every day find the contrary true by experience. A mild and forgiving spirit will win over our bitterest enemies: it disarms their rage and disables their malice,