Charles Naylor, 1941
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Matthew 6:14-15
One of the most striking things that Jesus taught was that we should forgive our enemies—and not only forgive them, but also adopt an attitude toward them that indicates a complete change of feeling toward them. He came to break down the middle wall of partition, not merely between the Jews and Gentiles in the national sense or in the religious sense—but also in the personal sense he breaks down all walls that have been built up to separate the hearts of people.
The mercy that God shows in forgiving us—puts us under the most solemn obligation to forgive others. Many people find this the hardest of all things to do. But God tells us plainly that if we will not forgive others—then we ourselves cannot be forgiven. If we will not forgive men—then God will not forgive us. Forgiveness, therefore, is a part of true repentance, and repentance is not complete until the heart adopts the forgiving attitude toward every enemy; and not only forgives because it feels it must—but also because it is disposed to forgive when it once has been forgiven and the love of God has come into the heart.
God is disposed to forgive his enemies. He is so much disposed to do it, that he sought a means whereby he could safely do so. He was so disposed to forgive sins against himself, that he gave his Son so that he might forgive transgressors. He was so disposed to forgive—that he sacrificed his only beloved Son for sinners. He sent his Son into the world to forgive—by changing the heart of the individual forgiven.
So he teaches us to forgive those who sin against us—and to leave all consequences in his hand.
Many people say, "I just cannot forgive." This is true of many professors of religion. These professors do not really forgive, for the thing still rankles in their hearts. They will hardly forgive, even under strong pressure—and then many times their forgiveness is only from the lips.
We find many professors of religion who are prejudiced against those who sin against them. This prejudice is manifested in a disposition to believe evil of them, or to put an unfavorable construction upon what they do or say. A lack of fairness is shown, and frequently a disposition to be rather elated when anything unpleasant happens to their enemies. Behind such a prejudice, lies a wrong attitude of heart, an unchristian attitude.
It matters not what an individual has done or said to us, nor what his attitude is toward us; if we hold the Christian attitude toward him—we shall feel a disposition to be perfectly fair with him. Perhaps we have a cause of complaint against him. Perhaps his conduct has not been and is not what it should be toward us. But if we have a forgiving spirit clear down to the depths of our hearts—then we will hold that same attitude of kindness and pity that Jesus held toward those who did wrong toward him, and that he holds toward sinners now. While we hate his evil-doing—we nevertheless feel no animosity toward him. But if we are prejudiced against him, if we will not give him a fair show—then we have reason to question the genuineness of our disposition to forgive.
Sometimes this lack of a forgiving disposition, is manifested in the home. There is ill feeling, unpleasantness, a disposition toward criticism and faultfinding. The members of the same family, who ought to love and feel a real tenderness toward each other, are often alienated. Sometimes that alienation grows until it rankles in the heart.
But notwithstanding their unforgiving disposition—the individuals may consider themselves very good Christians. Perhaps they throw all the blame upon the other one—but the old saying is, "It takes two to make a quarrel." In the same way it takes two to make ill feeling between two people. "Love is patient and kind." That divine love that is shed abroad in our hearts, issues invariably into a disposition to be forgiving. What is needed in many families, is forgiveness. Feelings will be hurt, and supposed rights will be trampled upon. Consciously or unconsciously, offenses will sometimes be given. The question is: Will we forgive these things—or will we let them start a canker in our hearts? We need to take antiseptic precautions for our heart, as well as for our body—to protect ourselves against the germs of evil as we try to protect ourselves against the germs of disease. But the question comes up square to face us: Do we forgive in our home circle?
If there is a reconciliation between parties who have been at enmity—that reconciliation is based on forgiveness. When the forgiveness is genuine—then there is a complete restoration of friendship and unity between the parties. Where such restoration does not come as the result of the attempt to correct matters, there is only one reason why it does not. That reason is—there has been no forgiveness. Where people really forgive each other—then there is nothing that remains to be taken out of the way. There is nothing rankling in the heart; there is nothing to push the other off; there is none of that "keep your distance" air; there is no feeling of coldness.
An unforgiving disposition is at the bottom of almost all church troubles—and it is of no use to attempt to deny this reality. People cannot be talked together; they cannot be argued together; there is only one thing that will bring them together, and that is for all to show a genuinely forgiving spirit. This leaves nothing to be a source of disturbance.
Why is it that people will not forgive? Is it because others have treated them wrongfully? Is it because their attitude toward them is not proper? No, it is nothing like this, though all this may have occurred. It is not what the other fellow has done—rather, it is what is in our hearts that prevents forgiveness. If we will not forgive—then it is because we are proud, stubborn, and self-willed. It is never hard to forgive, when our own hearts adopt a proper attitude. Like God, then we desire to forgive.
Do not overlook this one thing: forgiveness issues in peace—or at least in a peaceful heart, for the one who forgives, and in a Christlike attitude toward the wrongdoer. Where this Christlike attitude does not exist—then there is no forgiveness. In the church where things are settled and then come up again to trouble, or where coldness, indifference, and lack of love are manifested—forgiveness is the one thing needed in the hearts of those who hold such an attitude.
A good lesson was impressed upon my mind when I looked in my concordance to see what was said in the Bible on this subject. I found the word "forgave," then after it the word "forget," and on a little way the word "forgive." As "forget" stood right in the midst of "forgiveness" in my concordance—so it stands in the human heart. Forget is right in the heart of forgive—and if it is not that way in our hearts and minds—then it is because the right attitude of sincere forgiveness is not in our hearts.
If it is so hard for some to forgive once—then how do they expect to carry out Christ's injunction to forgive seventy times seven? Let us examine our hearts. Let us inquire whether we have a forgiving spirit, remembering all the while that a forgiving spirit does not abide in the same heart with hatred, bitterness, hardness and prejudice against people.
When we forgive people—it softens our hearts toward them. When we are reconciled to God, what blessedness it brings! When we are reconciled to our enemies—we partake of that same blessedness in our own hearts that we have when we are reconciled to Christ. But if we forgive not—then we shall not be forgiven, and our hearts will be fertile soil to receive all the seeds of evil that Satan would sow therein.