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your brother. Can we wonder that he who thus leaves him to perish is declared to be a hater and murderer of his brother; or at the peremptory injunction, “ Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him ?”
Rebuke, it should be added, must be administered with great wisdom and affection, as well as faithfulness. “ Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness ; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Gal. vi. 1. The motive thus urged to enforce this specific mode of tendering rebuke must come home to the feelings of every Christian. How can a high and lofty tone-a tone which savours of infallibility and impeccability, which seems to say, I could not have offended as you have done-be congruous with the circumstances and character of one who is compassed about with the same infirmity, and may fall as deplorably as the transgressor himself?
Besides, nothing but a mingling of affection with faithfulness will accomplish the object of rebuke. Sin hardens the heart, and mere rebuke will not soften it; but love breaks it at once, and, consequently, there issues from it the full stream of penitence, recovering for the offender the confidence of his brother and the favour of his Lord. It is of vast importance to invite penitence, and to render it, so to speak, easy, by manifesting a placable temper. In the presence of meekness and gentleness, a proud heart will often humble itself, while the habitually lowly spirit has been sometimes known to gather itself up into sullenness and impenitence, when treated with severity,
Fourthly. They owe to one another prompt and full forgiveness of trespasses and injuries, on satisfactory evidence of repentance. Observe the language of our Lord ; “For, if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But, if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matt. vi. 14, 15. Listen, also, to his address to the servant who exercised not the forgiveness he had received; “ 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 compassion 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.” Matt. xviii. 33–35. “Be ye kind,” said Paul, “one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Eph. iv. 32. “Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” Col. iii. 12, 13. Think, Christian brethren, of the thrilling motive by which the duty is enforced; God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven us-forgiven us trespasses far more numerous and aggravated than any we can ever be called upon to pardon-trespasses, which went not merely to the injury of an individual, or a family, or even a nation, or a system, but to the overthrow of the moral order of the universe. Yet Christ has forgiven them; and our Father who is in heaven has forgiven them forgiven them freely, fully, finally. He retains no remembrance of them. Isaiah xliii. 25. He has blotted them out as a cloud, of which no trace whatever remains. He has cast them into the depths of the sea. I need say no more, surely, than that men of implacability cannot be the sons of such a Father.
It was stated, that forgiveness should be invariably extended when there exists satisfactory evidence of repentance. Without such evidence it cannot be exercised, because, in true Christian forgiveness there is included not merely refraining from punishment, or re
taliation, or subsequent allusion in conversation to the offence, it does not say, with the world, I shall forgive and say no more about it, but I shall not forget,) but the restoration of the offender to the place he had formerly occupied in our esteem and regard. In short, we do not forgive until to us the offence is as if it had never been. If God remembers not our sins, surely the trespasses of our brethren, when followed by repentance, should be forgotten as well as forgiven.
No rule can be laid down by which to measure the degree of penitence which should be held to be satisfactory. This will depend upon circumstances, too varied and too minute to be specified; and further, upon the state of mind, the degree of placability, and of spiritual attainment, in the case of the offended party. The latter is thrown upon the influence of the great principle from which forgiveness should flow, and his conduct becomes, of course, a more sure and accurate index of the energy of its operation upon him. He who has an humbling sense of the enormity of the transgressions which have been forgiven to him, and fervent admiration of the grace which prompted to that forgiveness, will be propense to the exercise of this grace. He will not be exacting and excessive in his demands of penitence and confession, insisting, as some do, upon the full pound of flesh. He will welcome and encourage the appearance of contrition; and be far more careful to avoid requiring too much, than being satisfied with too little.
Finally. Forgiveness should, on satisfactory evidence of repentance, be prompt and cheerful, as well as complete. There may occasionally be observed a kind of reluctant surrender of displeasure when the trespass has been frankly acknowledged ; pardon appears rather to be extorted than bestowed; it does not gush, but it is forced from the spring out of which it should spontaneously flow. Now, in every case of this kind, it loses all the grace, and loveliness, and moral efficiency of pardon. It is the obvious existence of placability in the offended party, his manifest readiness to throw away his displeasure, and to meet the offender, with all his former confidence and affection, as soon as the justice of the case will possibly admit—which cannot appear without prompt forgiveness—that arms it with power to reach and melt the heart, and augment the flood of penitence that had already begun to flow. The father, in the Gospel, did not wait the arrival of his prodigal, but repentant and returning son; “ but when he was yet a great way off, he saw him and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” Luke xv. 20. To every member of our churches, the example of our father in heaven says, “ Go, and do thou likewise.”
Fifthly. They owe to one another Christian forbearance. “ I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you, that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called. With all lowliness, and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love." Eph. iv. 2; vide also Col. iii. 13. And again, Romans xiv., and xv. 1. Amongst those who are united with us in church-fellowship, (or who desire to join us, there may be individuals whose knowledge of Divine truth is very imperfect, whose faith is weak, who display certain constitutional failings, certain infirmities of temper, &c., which are to us the sources of great annoyance, if not of positive spiritual injury. The question is, are we to relinquish and to refuse all visible Christian fellowship with them? The inspired rule answers the question in the negative, provided we can and do regard them as real Christians. There does not appear to exist any scriptural ground of exclusion from Christian fellowship, but some error in sentiment, or ungodliness of spirit or conduct, which bespeaks the absence of real religion. Christian churches are the habitations of the Lord's people; and who shall repel any whom the Lord has received? My limits will not allow me fully to illustrate the great subject of forbearance, which, considered in relation to diversities of opinion on religious subjects, frailties of temper, constitutional defects, &c., would require a volume, rather than a page or two, the utmost space that I can allot to it. But I cannot forbear expressing the opinion, that if we refuse to act on this point, under the guidance of the great general principle, that converted men, willing to walk with us, and to submit to the discipline of the Church, though not free from mistakes, and prejudice, and infirmity, are eligible for church fellowship, we shall find no other rule of direction than that of perfect identity of sentiment, and feeling, and practice; and then, as such identity cannot be found, every Christian must be shut up in a watch-box by himself. Many diversities of opinion there are, some frailties of temper, and some constitutional defects, which are not totally incompatible with real religion; and with these Christians and Christian churches must forbear. They must not, of course, either admit falsehood to be truth, or prejudice candour, or that petulance, irascibility, pertinacity, are Christian virtues, or treat them as such ; nor, further, must they neglect to lift up their testimony against error, and to reprove the failings to which I have referred. The practice of passing them over as mere constitutional defects confirms the offenders in their evil practices, and inflicts great injury upon the Church; but, as long as they retain their confidence in the personal religion of such individuals, they should allow them to remain in fellowship. I mean, further, that they should endeavour, as much as possible, to avert their eyes from these failings-should not suffer them to dwell in their recollections, lest the sacred bond of affection be weakened or snapped asunder; for when charity ceases to exist in a church, it has become “like sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal.”