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1. It consists not in a stoical insensibility to wrongs and injuries. God hath not made men blocks, that have no sense or feeling. Nor hath he made a law incon. sistent with their very natures; but allows us a tender sense of natural evils, though he will not allow us to revenge them by moral evils: nay, the more deep and tender our sense of wrongs and injuries, the more excellent is our forgiveness of them ; so that a forgiving spirit doth not exclude sense of injuries, but the sense of injuries graces the forgiveness of them.
2. Christian forgiveness is not a politic concealment of our wrath and revenge, because it will be a reproach to manifest it, or because we want opportunity. This is carnal policy, not christian meekness. So far from being the mark of a gracious spirit, it is apparently the sign of a vile nature.
3. Christian forgiveness is not an injurious giving up of our rights to the pleasure of every one that would invade them. No; these we may lawfully defend and preserve; though, if we cannot defend them lawfully, we must not avenge our wrongs: this is not christian forgiveness. But, positively,
It is a christian lenity, or gentleness of mind, freely passing by the injuries done to us, in obedience to the command of God.
It is a lenity, or gentleness of mind. The grace of God calms the tumultuous passions; corrects our disturbed spirits, and makes them benign, gentle, and easy to be entreated: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness.” Gal. 5:22.
This gracious lenity inclines the christian to pass by injuries ; so to pass them by, as neither to retain them revengefully in the mind, or requite them when we have opportunity; yea, and that freely: not by constraint, because we cannot avenge ourselves, but willingly. We abbor to do it when we can. So that as a carnal heart
thinks revenge its glory, the gracious heart is content that forgiveness should be his glory. I will be even with him, saith nature: I will be above him, saith grace: it is his glory to pass over transgression. Prov. 19:11.
And this it doth in obedience to the command of God. Their own nature inclines men another way.
The spirit that is in us lusteth to envy; but he giveth more grace." Jam. 4:5. It lusteth to revenge, but the fear of God represseth those motions. Such considerations as these: God hath forbidden me; yea, and God hath forgiven me, as well as forbidden me: prevail upon him when nature urges to revenge the wrong. "Be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Eph. 4:32. This is forgiveness in a christian sense. And,
II. This is excellent, and singularly becoming the profession of Christ.
It speaks your religion excellent, that it can mould your hearts into that heavenly frame, to which they are so averse, yea, contrarily disposed by nature. It is the glory of pagan morality, that it can hide men's lusts and passions: the glory of christianity that it can destroy, and really mortify the lusts of nature. Would christians but live up to the excellent principles of their religion, christianity would be no more rivalled by pagan morality: the christian challenged to imitate Socrates ! Oh christians, yield not the day to heathens! Let all the world see the true greatness, heavenliness, and excellency of our represented Pattern; and by true mortification of your corrupt nature, enforce an acknowledgment from the world, that a greater than Socrates is here. He that is really a meek, humble, patient, heavenly christian, wins this glory to his religion, that it can do more than all other principles and rules in the world. In nothing were the most accomplished heathens more defective than in the forgiving of injuries: it was a thing they could not understand, or, if they did, could never bring their hearts to it; witness that rule of their great Tully: "It is the first office of justice (saith he, to hurt no men, except first provoked by an injury.” The addition of that exception spoiled his excellent rule.
But christianity teaches, and some christians have attained it, to receive evil, and return good: "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat. 1 Cor. 4: 12, 13. This is that meekness wrought in us by the wisdom from above. James, 3:17. This commends a man to the consciences of others, who, with Saul, must acknowledge, when they see themselves so outdone, " Thou art more righteous than I,” 1 Sam. 24 : 16, 17; who must say, had we been so much injured, and had such opportunities to revenge, we should never have passed them by, as these men did. This impresses and stamps the very image of God upon the creature, and makes us like our heavenly Father, who doeth good to his enemies, and sends showers of outward blessings upon them that
out floods of wickedness daily to provoke him. Matt. 5: 44, 45. In a word, this christian temper gives a man the true possession and enjoyment of himself. So that our breasts shall be as the pacific sea, smooth and pleasant, when others are as the raging sea, foaming and casting up mire and dirt.
INFERENCE 1. The Christian religion is the greatest friend to the peace and tranquillity of states and kingdoms. Nothing is more opposite to the true christian spirit, than implacable fierceness, strife, revenge, tumult, and uproar. It teaches men to do good, and receive evil; to receive evil, and return good. " The wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated; full of mercy and good fruits; without partiality, and without hypocrisy; and the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” James, 3:17, 18. The church is a dove for meekness. Cant. 6:9. When the world grows full of strife, christians then grow weary of the world: and sigh out the psalmist's request, "O that I had wings like a dove! then would I fly away and be at rest.”
The rule by which we are to walk, is, "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay it, saith the Lord.” Rom. 12: 18, 19. It is not religion, but our lusts, that make the world so unquiet. James, 4:1, 2. Not godliness, but wickedness, that makes men bite and devour one another. One of the first effects of the Gospel, is to civilize those places where it comes, and settle order and peace among men. Happy would it be if religion did more obtain in all nations. It is the greatest friend to their tranquillity and prosperity.
2. How dangerous a thing is it to abuse and wrong meek and forgiving christians! Their readiness to forgive often invites injury, and encourages vile spirits to insult and trample upon them: but if men would seriously consider it, there is nothing should more deter and affright them from such practices than the spirit of forgiveness. You may abuse and wrong them, and they must not avenge themselves, nor repay evil for evil: true, but because they do not, the Lord will; even the Lord to whom they commit the matter; and he will do it to purpose, except ye repent.
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.” James, 5:7. Will ye stand to that issue ? had you
rather indeed have to do with God than with men? When the Jews put Christ to death, "he committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously.” 1 Pet. 2:22, 23. And did they gain any thing by that? did not the Lord severely avenge the blood of Christ on them and their children? yea, do not they and their children
groan under the doleful effects of it to this day? If God undertakes (as he always doth) the cause of his abused, meek, and peaceable people, he will be sure to avenge it sevenfold more than they could.
3. Let us all imitate our pattern, the Lord Jesus Christ, and labor for meek, forgiving spirits. I shall only propose two inducements to it; the honor of Christ, and your own place; two things dear indeed to a christian. His glory is more than your life, and all that you enjoy in this world. Oh do not expose it to the scorn and derision of his enemies. Let them not say, How is Christ a lamb, when his followers are lions? how is the church a dove, when its members tear and devour like birds of prey ? Consult also the quiet of your own spirits. What is life worth, without the comfort of life? What can you have in all that you do possess in the world, as long as you have not the possession of your own souls? If your spirits be full of tumult and revenge, the Spirit of Christ will grow a stranger to you: that Dove delights in clean and quiet breasts. On then imitate
SECOND EXCELLENT WORD OF CHRIST UPON THE CROSS.
“ BEHOLD THY MOTHER!"
“ Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother!" John, 19:27.
In this second memorable and instructive word of our Lord Jesus Christ
he has left us an excellent pattern for the discharge of our relative duties. It may be well said, the Gospel makes the best husbands
upon the cross,