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those who have offended us, is one of the most difficult of the Christian religion, and is quite contrary to the strongest passions of unrenewed nature. It, therefore, becomes a subject deserving your most serious attention, which I trust will not be wanting on the present occasion.
The passage has been thus explained by a serious and judicious expositor,* in connection with the preceding form of supplication: "It is after this manner that your petitions are to be offered up to God; and here ye have one thing in particular which is matter of great necessity and importance, namely, that ye beg of God to forgive your offences, as ye forgive the offences of others against you: for if God has made this your duty, it shows, there is forgiveness with Him that He may be feared. And if ye have this disposition wrought in your hearts towards your offending brethren, it is a comfortable evidence of his grace in your heart, and encourages your expectations that He will also bestow forgiveness on you, according to his promise, with the merciful he will show himself merciful.' But if your own hearts are implacable, and disinclined to forgive others, it is in vain to expect that God will forgive your much greater provocations. Let no man, therefore, deceive himself; for while this is his indulged temper, all his prayers for the pardon of his own sins are a contradiction to the design of my gospel, and an abomination" to my Father who is in heaven.
To the Jews, who were unrelenting to a proverb, such a doctrine must have been a most bitter potion to their early prejudices and moral taste. A circumstance recorded in the Old Testament illustrates their general conduct towards their debtors who were not able to pay. "Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my
husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen." It appears that this was their common custom, according to the testimony of ancient historians; not that the law of Moses encouraged cruelty in any respect, but when the heart is not under the softening influence of divine love, little else can be expected either from Jew or Gentile. The religious duty now before us is more fully stated in a subsequent part of this gospel, to which I must call attention.* "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." From this question the Saviour takes occasion, by a most instructive parable, to illustrate and enforce this great duty. "Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So
* Matt. xviii. 21-35.
when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their Lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses." Such is the doctrine of the passage before us, and it is a branch of that love to enemies inculcated in the close of the preceding chapter. Taking, therefore, a general view of the subject, according to the testimony of the Scriptures, I shall submit four observations to your attention, which will, I trust, comprise the spirit of the duty thus distinctly and repeatedly delivered to us.
I. ALL MANKIND AS TRANSGRESSORS ARE DEEPLY INDEBTED TO GOD'S LAW.
Little argument is necessary, I should apprehend, to demonstrate the truth of this remark to the audience I now address. Strange that any one with the Bible in his hand should be found to dispute the general principle, and yet there are multitudes who seem to consider the Moral Governor of the universe under obligation to them. Various figures are employed by the sacred penmen to describe the painful fact of human guilt. Sometimes the complicated evil is compared to a defiling and loathsome disease, which covers the transgressor with the most nauseating impurities. Sometimes it is represented by the strong figure of a "horrible pit and miry clay," and a heavy burden," which overwhelms the sinner beneath its tremendous weight. Sometimes it is described by a
"thick cloud," which envelopes the unhappy wretch over whom it hangs in fearful darkness. At one time it is exhibited as an act of rebellion against God, the Majesty of Heaven; and the criminal, therefore, becomes a wretched convict, awaiting the sentence of utter condemnation and death. And at other times, as we have just seen, it is declared to be a debt of ten thousand talents, which we are wholly unable to pay. A dreadful amount indeed! Literally, in our mode of calculation, it is above one million sterling.
But while this figure denotes the vastness of the sum which we have contracted to divine justice-it nevertheless falls short of expressing the aggregate. The thought, my brethren, is most affecting. Our trespasses are innumerable--they are as "the stars of heaven, and the sand upon the seashore." This, however, is not all. They are as intolerable from their magnitude as they are countless in their number. Every wilful violation of the law of God has sufficient weight to sink a soul into eternal ruin! For what is its nature? It is a resistance of the highest authority-a transgression of the most equitable and benignant rules of action—a breaking through the tenderest bonds of submission to the best of Beings a wanton outrage on every "thing lovely and of good report;" this makes it "exceeding sinful:" and, unless infinite mercy should interpose, the case of all men becomes totally desperate, and inconceivably awful.
But it is asked, are all sins equally heinous and fearful in their consequences? I reply, by no means: the doctrine of scripture affirms the contrary. "And that servant which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much,
of him they will ask the more.”* Hence it is to be inferred, that there are shades in the moral turpitude of sinful actions, lighter or darker according to the specific privileges of the individual-his knowledge of that which is right, and his opportunity to obey it. The same distinction is admitted by the Saviour in another part of the sacred writings, where he illustrates its truth by the representation of two debtors-the one of five hundred pence and the other fifty. And from the connection in which the similitude stands, and the circumstance that occasioned its delivery, it is evident that the parties in question are Simon the Pharisee, and the penitent female, who stood behind the Saviour weeping. The parable, however, is so constructed, as to show the most upright and virtuous member of society, that he is an insolvent before God as truly as others; and that the only difference between himself and the "chief of sinners" is, that the one is not a bankrupt to so large an amount as the other. Both, however, are equally at the mercy of the Divine Creditor. This leads me to observe,
II. THAT IF EVER MAN BE SAVED IT MUST BE BY AN ACT OF PURE MERCY.
Our Lord, in the precept before us, speaks of the forgiveness of sins as the prerogative of "our Father which is in heaven." The language intimates a truth that pervades every page of scripture, namely, the impossibility of salvation in any other way. The sacred writers place the fact most prominently before us on every occasion, and for every purpose connected with the demonstration of the gospel and the glory of God. I shall, therefore, devote a few moments to its consideration-not so much for the sake of convincing your judgment, as
Luke xii. 47, 48.