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THE DUTY OF CHRISTIAN FORGIVENESS.
In answer to Mr. Ralph WAKE, of Newcastle-upon
Tyne, who "requests an Explanation of Mat. xviii. 23, and following verses, according to the Calvinistic Plan."
The manifest design of the parable is to impress upon us the duty of forgiveness one to another, from the consideration of God's freely forgiving us. That in the parable, I imagine, which struck the querist as inconsistent with Calvinistic principles, was the supposition of a man being given up to the tormentors, whose sins have been forgiven. Some expositors, in order to solve this difficulty, suppose the punishment to mean his being given up to church censures; others, to temporal calamities, and the accusations of a guiltyconscience:but it appears to me that this is altogether foreign from the design of Christ. Our Lord certainly meant to suggest to all the professors of Christianity all the subjects of his visible kingdom, that unless they forgave men their trespasses, they themselves should not be forgiven, but should be cast into endless torment. The true solution of the difficulty I take to be this: It is common with our Lord in his parables, to address men upon their own principles; not according to what they were in fact, but what they were in profession and expectation. For example: “There is more joy over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance. The whole need not a physician; but they that are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Not that there were any among mankind who were righteous, whole, and needed no repentance in fact, but merely on their own account. The elder son in the parable, in Luke xv. is doubtless intended to represent the scrives and pharisees, who at that time drew near, and murmured at Christ's receiving sinners, ver. 1, 2, and yet this elder son is allowed to have been very obedient (at least, he is not contradicted in this matter;) and to have a large interest in his father's inheritance; not because it was so in fact, but as reasoning with them upon their own principles.
But what is nearer still to the case in hand, is the parable addressed to Simon the pharisee. (Luke vii. 36 48.) Our Lord here supposes that Simon was a little sinner, but a forgiven sinner; and yet, in fact, he was neither. No set of men were greater sinners in reality than the pharisees, Matt. xxiii. 7-33; and this man gave proof of his being in an impenitent and unforgiven state. But Christ reasoned with him
his own principles; 9. d. “You reckon yourself a little sinneri and that what few failings you have will doubtless be forgiven you: Well, be it so; this woman is a great sinper, and so accounts of herself: I forgave her all her transgressions, and therefore you need not wonder at her conduct; her love to me is greater than yours, even allowing, for argument's sake, that your love is sincere.”
Thus in the parabie under consideration. Our Lord solemnly warns all the members of his visible kingdom, who professed to be the people of God, and who iaid their expectations of being forgiven of hin, without determining whether those professions were sincere, or those expectations well-founded; that, if they forgave not them their tresspasses, neither would his heavenly Father forgive them their trespasses. Whether they were sincere or not, made no difference as to the argument: If a person lays his account with being forgiven of God, and is unforgiving to his brother, his conduct is nevertheless incorsistent or wicked; for his being under the power of self-deception, his motive is the same as if it had been otherwise.
There are some subjects that I feel myself incapable of throwing any fresh light upon. Where this is the case, I think it my duty to decline them. Under this description I must reckon the questions of a correspondent who signs himself A Berean; and another who has addressed a letter to me, under the signature of Candidus, concerning the decrees of God. I feel difficulties upon those great subjects, on which I had rather pray at present than write.
ON THE NATURE OF FAITH.
Question. WHEREIN consists the difference between the faith of God's elect, and the faith of devils? Does it lie in different apprehensions of the same object; or in the different tempers of the subject; or in the nature of the exercise itself?
Answer. The difference between the faith of God's elect, or true saving faith, and the faith of devils, is the same, as to substance, and in the nature of it, with that which there is between the faith of a true Christian, and the faith of unregenerate or wicked men; which may be expressed in the following words:
Saving faith consists in a sight of the true, transcendent, divine beauty and excellence of the things of the moral kingdom of God; and in all those views and exercises, in which such a sight and discerning does consist, or which are implied and involved in it.
The following observations may perhaps throw some light on this subject.
Devils and wicked men do not see the divine beauty of the things which relate to the moral kingdom of God. They may have a sort of conviction of conscience, or of their speculative judgment, that they are beautiful and excellent; but they have no real, true idea of this; therefore are wholly without all true sight and discerning of it. A sight of this beauty supposes and involves a true taste and relish of heart for such kind of beauty and excellence; and consequently a love of it: for discerning, or seeing the beauty of an object, and loving that object, cannot be distinguished, since this is really one and the same thing. Therefore they who have no heart to love the objects of the moral kingdom of God, do not discern any beauty or excellence in them. But this is true of devils and wicked men: for in this, and in contrary dispositions and exercises, all their wickedness consists.
Wicked men are capable of all that is implied in saring faith, but this discerning and sight of moral beauty, and that which implies and depends upon this. Therefore in this alone lies the difference. They may have all that light and conviction, all that faith, with respecs to God and the things of his kingdom, which is consiste ent with reigning wickedness of heart, or that total moral depravity, which excludes all taste of moral beau*
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ty, and includes the prevalence of an opposite taste ana inclination of heart. But a discerning and sight of the beauty, excellence, and glory of the moral character and kingdom of God, is not consistent with this. Therefore they have no degree of this discerning; but are wholly blind and in the dark respecting it; and will continue to be so for ever and ever, unless their moral depravity be removed so far as is necessary in order to their having a taste for inoral beauty. But to be blind to this, is in reality to be blind to every thing of worth, which relates to the moral government and kingdom of God: for if moral beauty and excellence be excluded, all is darkness and folly, disorder and confusion.
Holiness, which is moral beauty and excellence, is that in which the moral character of God consists. This is his beauty, fulness, and glory. And the beauty, wisdom, excellence, perfection, and glory of the moral government and kingdom of God, consist in the exercise and expression of holiness, or, which is the same, in the exhibition and display of the moral character of God. Therefore they who have no true idea of holiness, must be wholly in the dark respecting the moral character and kingdom of God. “They cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John ili. 3.) Whatever discerning and knowledge they may have, in other respects, they do not know or discern the things of the Spirit of God; but they are foolishness unto them. The truth, the sum of all the truths of the gospel, is hidden from them. (See 1 Cor. ii. 14.
2 Cor. iv. 3, 4.) Moral beauty, and indeed beauty of any kind, is not the object of the understanding, considered as mere intellect, and distinct from the disposition or heart.