Sunday, May 3, 2009

"melt our hearts into a fervor of love..."

Last Sabbath, Henry Wilder Foote, in his series on the Lord's Prayer, spoke on the Divine side of forgiveness. This week it is our turn. But, of course, part of the point is that we can't have one without the other. Some excerpts (and you can read the full sermon here)


Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. — Matt. vi. 12.

Then came Peter to him and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him ? till seven times ? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times : but, until seventy times seven, Matt, xviii. 21, 22.

"And I say again the spirit of forgiveness is hard to attain. For consider how great and utter a virtue of soul it is. In its true meaning forgiving is the giving away of an offence; and the Greek has the same idea even more delicately expressed; it is the sending away of a thing, that is, the making it to disappear from between two persons...

The true forgiveness must be a part of the very temper of the soul itself; not merely a word or act, but a disposition...

For we ourselves have lived, and having tasted life we know how hard it is not to sin against one's neighbor. Experience should teach us tolerance. In these paths where it is so easy to stumble, so difficult to walk with sure and steady step, we should rather learn to reach out a helping hand to a brother than to push him further if he fall. Says Marcus Aurelius : " It is right that man should love those who have offended him. He will do so when he remembers that all men are his relations, and that it is through ignorance and involuntarily that they sin, — and then we all die so soon." He died sixteen centuries ago, but the golden thought lives to teach us charity. The sense of human frailty should prevent us from crowding this little span of life with hates and discords that leave no room for serener thoughts...

Nay, not alone on the side of human fellowship, but on the side of God's loving-kindness, does the principle of forgiveness come to us. For the strong sense of God's love for us should melt our hearts into a fervor of love which can see His children in all men, and feel His pardon moving us to pardon.

Forgiveness is the duty of sinners. In the presence of the perfect justice which we have offended, and the absolute purity before which the very angels bow themselves to the dust and cry, " Unclean, unclean," knowing that we too deserve to suffer, humility should teach us a long-suffering charity. "He that cannot forgive others," says Lord Herbert, "breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven."

Forgiveness is the obedience of disciples. For it is in the law of Jesus Christ that we should forgive our enemies, and pray for those who despitefully use us, and return good for evil.
Forgiveness is the privilege of God's children. It is a gift whose exercise is the sign and pledge of our divinity, of the victory of His loving spirit in our hearts. Said Martin Boos: " People think it a weakness to forgive an insult. Then God would be the weakest in heaven and on earth; for no one in heaven or earth forgives so much as He."


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