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"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.

THESE words are our Lord's comment on His own words. His teachings, whether in direct utterance or in parable, are generally left roundly and solitarily without second word, without comment. But when His comment comes it is strangely suggestive.

The parable of the sower, with its many lessons for self-sacrifice, with its requirements of preparation for the hearing the Divine Word, with its warnings of temptation and tribulation, its admonitions against the cares, the seducing cares, of this world, and its demands, not for bare returns of the seed committed to our keeping, but for the rendering of fruit, at least thirty-fold;-these lessons are too difficult, too alien to perverse, that is perverted, human nature, too easily forgotten and set aside, and therefore they must be repeated, expounded, and enforced by that Divine voice which was the first to utter such solemn and difficult teachings.

So here. Our Lord has spontaneously given an instruction which on another occasion he uttered in answer to His disciples' prayer, "Lord, teach us to pray." The prayer is short and simple and beautiful, not longer than any one of those collects which for ages have been poured


forth from hallowed lips; the prayer is so short and simple that it may be heard and learned without effort, and uttered languidly without meaning. But the Lord makes such comment upon it in these words as to give it a meaning, a significance, which otherwise we should not have discovered in it,—a meaning which has made the conscience of unnumbered thousands thrill with a feeling of the reality of that spiritual act which we call prayer.

The prayer before us deals with many topics, and each one is manifold. Besides forgiveness, it speaks of our daily need and hunger, our frequent temptations, the ever-present evil from which we need deliverance the kingdom, and will, and name of Jehovah-our Father, whose are the kingdom, the power, and the glory alike. And, of all these topics, that is singled out which presents itself to us in twofold manner, both as the one thing needful, the all essential gift of God, and as the one act which at times, and but too often, seems an absolutely impossible duty. And the comment in the plainestshall I say the most appalling?-way, declares that this impossible duty is the indispensable condition of the all-important gift.

"If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

This is really a most appalling utterance to many a man. No wonder that some of us have been tempted to put away the Lord's prayer from our devotions, or at the least have slurred over in thought and word the petition which makes our forgiving the very condition and measure of the forgiveness that we seek. 'Forgive us as we forgive—with the same freedom, graciousness, ease and completeness with which we forgive, do Thou, most mighty! forgive us. And when we forgive not, do Thou not forgive.'

Solemn words are these. If we allow them to enter us, these words are discerners of the spirit. They have a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. They call forth hopefully or awfully an echoed answer to the question whether we are living and growing, or dead and corrupting. These words of prayer are either promise or condemnation, curse or blessing.

The connection between our forgiving and our being forgiven is so close in the words before us as to imply a corresponding resemblance between the things. As we are made in our constitution in the image and likeness of the Eternal, and as the perfecting of this likeness is the aim of our very existence, so our lives are to be the life of God, and our works the works of the Spirit; hence, if we can describe a thorough

and complete forgiveness by man of man, we shall have sketched the forgiveness vouchsafed by the Eternal to His sinful but penitent children.

A man has been injured, not by an enemy-then he could have borne it, but in the house of his friend; his own familiar friend has lifted up the heel against him. The injured one is offended, and hasty impulsive feeling gathers together every aggravating circumstance,the unexpected, the undeserved character of the wrong, the ingratitude of the offender, the painful results of the injury. All these, added to the wrong itself, inflame the wound, and make the spirit throb with resentment. This is alas, how often!-the first effect on the mind. But that very word "first" is enough to tell us that resentment is not so human as to be God-like. In man, first thoughts and second thoughts, first impulses and final resolves, are found, because man is a creature of time, and is subject to all the infirmities of life and temper which render a time-life necessary.

Injury breeds resentment, and both are alike human-they are the results of fallen humanity. And this resentment is consequently one of the very things which we are striving to lay aside. Many things occur successively to our minds to mitigate the resentment and to allay our first impulsive anger. We remember that anger is at least a brief madness, often a lasting one-that it distorts the vision, magnifying the offence-that it perverts the judgment, and makes it but personal and partial. These thoughts, and many others, which enter the mind with the Divine sunlight, and fall with heaven's own dew on the spirit, all join themselves together, and unitedly influence us. We become quiet in mind. The Lord has many great ministers of His who speak His Word, and He has commissioned Reason, the higher Reason, to echo His own voice, and to say to us who were tempest-tossed and ready to be engulfed in the sea of passion,-" Peace! be still!" Our resentment, our first wild impulses of anger, has died. Is this forgiveness?

It is in essence, or rather it is the beginning of forgiveness, and thus must we regard offences, or the text is still to us more of curse than of blessing.

We are

But more. We are endeavouring to live a noble life, to be free. from all evil, from the appearance of evil and from the ill itself. And though we have been angry, the anger passes away. grieved against ourselves for the wrath we have felt, even though we have not manifested it.

And with regard to the offence and the offender, we seek with the light of God, and strive to limit the trouble of our hearts to the moral evil of the offence.

If we have arrived at this point with regard to the wrong done us, we have well-nigh done the difficult work of forgiveness-the once impossible duty is nearly accomplished. We shall have conquered the selfishness in our nature. The offence is now regarded not as a personal matter, not as specially painful because done to us; it is simply in our eyes an unrighteous act done by our neighbour, an act which is painful only as it shows the offender to be acting under wrong moral impulses. What sentiment is now excited in our mindsnow that we only see that our neighbour is suffering, and that from a disease of direst consequence? The offence is become merely an occasion of pity-of love, in fact. And this is universally the case. As soon as we conquer the selfishness within us we have nothing but love for the offender. And loving him, he has already, if he did but know it, a forgiveness in our heart; a forgiveness that he may appeal to; a forgiveness that under certain circumstances he may even claim. In fact, the first forgiveness is entirely internal, and may at times remain so.

Supreme, and is

But how like this is to the proceeding of the Lord Himself. Man has sinned, and has come to a knowledge of his sin. With disturbed and alarmed conscience he scans his relations to the so convinced of the necessary anger of the pure and holy Ruler of the universe, is so sure that God is offended and resentful, that the very revelation of the Lord, a revelation coming from Him whose name is Love, has been compelled to assume the appearance of conformity with man's own conscience-born forebodings. The Bible has as it were been compelled to speak profusely of the burning, the consuming wrath of God, of that anger of God which glows every day.

But in truth the Lord is above resentment, and feels only an infinitely pitiful loving grief for sinners. He needs not to be reconciled to us, but is 'in Christ' to reconcile sinners to Himself. In the heavens the forgiveness is already, and in our hearts as well, and if so, then the prayer referred to by our text is no imprecation, but a promise full of surest blessing.

So far as man's forgiveness implies a willingness to do away with the ill effects of an evil deed, with the offence on the one hand and with the shame on the other, and so far as it involves an anxious desire to

destroy the evil affection or false persuasion from which the cause of offence sprung, so far the forgiveness is complete.

We love the offender, and because he has shewn us his evil we are anxious that he should know of its existence, and be enabled to cast it away at once and for ever.

Hence the act of forgiveness must not end here. We must win that affection and respect, the want of which occasioned the offence.

Let us repeat part of this sentence, for it is important. The offence was occasioned by want of affection and respect. If not, there is no offence, and no pardon is required.

Suppose affection and respect were wanting, how shall we act then? Remember that now we are mainly concerned for the spiritual, the everenduring good of the offender. Remember that the goodness of the Lord is intended to lead us to repentance. Do you not now see why we are so urged to love our enemies, to bless them that curse us, to do good to them that despitefully use us, and thus to become and to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, doing good even to the unthankful and evil? Acting thus we shall be heaping coals of fire on the head of our enemy, coals of fire to melt the enmity, and shall be doing a surer, a diviner, work than we should ever accomplish by pouring forth the vials of our indignation.

When shall the forgiveness be spoken? When shall it be declared to him who has given the offence? I cannot tell how soon it may be safely uttered. I know of a point beyond which it is wrong to defer it. I remember a curious history, it is from the Holy Word, and relates an act of our Incarnate Lord, an act so strangely at variance with many of our preconceived notions, that I feel compelled to regard it as a curious history. A man sick of the palsy is borne of four, and with difficulty, to the presence of Jesus. His desires and theirs are centred upon the longed-for healing. The palsy of the man, the healing power of Jesus, these are their ruling thoughts. When Jesus saw their faith, a faith which had reference to the disease and its healer, He said, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee," and they were forgiven.

No word of confession is uttered, no plea for pardon is urged, and forgiveness is accorded.

The latest moment to which the declaration of forgiveness may be postponed is that in which confession is made, and an appeal is addressed to the love already existing in your heart. The confession is a declaration of respect and affection, the appeal which implies this is an irresistible plea for pardon.

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