FORGIVEN BECAUSE FORGIVING
By D. M. PANTON.
As the years glide by, and the irrevocable past disappears beyond all possibility of altering it, one problem becomes overmastering, and its solution as comforting, as practical, and as divine a truth as any in the Bible. How am I to deal with sins (since my conversion) over which I now have no control? Sins of which I have been unconscious in my own heart-life; sins, unconfessed, of which I was conscious at the time, but have since totally forgotten; hurts and injuries done to others which can never be put right, because I was never even aware of them; sins against the dead, whose pardon I cannot now obtain:- all these are neither the sins which were forgiven at my conversion, nor are they the sins put away and pardoned since. They remain. As Archbishop Trench puts it:- “The Christian stands in a middle point, between a mercy received and a mercy which he yet needs to receive.” It is to solve this urgent and anxious problem, more urgent and more anxious as we draw nearer the Judgment-Seat, that our Lord has revealed one of His loveliest and divinest truths; an utterance of which Dr. Robertson Nicholl has strikingly said:- “THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH HAS NEVER FAIRLY FACED THESE WORDS, OR PUT THEM INTO PRACTICE.”
But we must first get our feet on rock. It is vital to grasp that the parable of the Debtor (Matt. 18: 23) is for the Church of God, and for the Church of God alone; that believers, and [regenerate] believers only, are involved. This is so, because (1) it is in answer to Peter’s question – “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” and it immediately follows legislation for the Church, in one of the exceedingly rare passages, in which our Lord names the Church. “Therefore the kingdom is likened unto a certain king.” (2) Our Lord says, - “The kingdom of heaven” - which, in parables, is always the kingdom in mystery, the Church - is that with which he is dealing: that is, it is what happens inside the Church. (3) The man dealt with throughout, as a warning in respect to Peter’s question, is a forgiven soul: “I forgave thee all that debt.” None is a forgiven soul but the saved. (4) Moreover, the truth our Lord is laying down is already embedded forever in our Lord’s prayer, in which, our pardon, as erring disciples, is made to turn, at our own request, on our pardon of others: “forgive us, as we forgive.” (5) But the Lord Himself makes all douht for ever impossible. “So ALSO” so, in an identical manner; also, correspondingly – “shall my heavenly Father do unto you.” To sum tip therefore, negatively:- that an unregenerate soul, if only he forgives others, is accepted by God as therefore himself a forgiven soul, is a doctrine nowhere contained in the Book of God, and a fundamental overthrow of the Gospel. The Debtor, therefore, is a child of Cod.
the background of the parable is the question of Peter which evokes it. He attempts to define the measure of grace in
a child of God:- “Lord, how often sliall my brother” - a brother, for Jesus has just been
regulating wrongs between disciples in the
But the Saviour now unfolds the principle negatively, and He laboriously enforres, by a vivid illustration, our peril if we refuse to pardon. Evervthing in the parable rests on the pardon of its, chief actor; and the amount of the debt remitted – anything between £1,250,000 and £3,000,000 reveals a civil servant little less than a viceroy: it is such a. man and such a transgression as David and his adultery. Every sin is a debt incurred to God; and Jesus knew that the man who was questioning Him would quite soon deliberately, publicly, completely disown Him: - “I know not the man.” Who but God can, measure the enormity of such a debt? Prostrate in his secret chamber before his Lord, in agony of soul the debtor confesses all; “and the Lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the. debt.” No transgression of a believer can be too great for the pardon of God: God forgives our debts mounting into millions.
Now comes our test. A fellow servant does him an injury, a real injury; but the offending brother is penitent, and asks his pardon; and he asks it in the identical terms with which he himself had besought his Lord. But the debt is incomparably less. Our Lord names a fabulous sum as our debt to God, enormously greater than any wrong our brother can do us - a matter of £3 or so: a slight, a snub, a slander, or even deeper wrongs, which, compared with the countless motions of evil in us since we believed, or the open transgressions God has forgiven us, “are as a drop of water to the boundless ocean” (Chrysostom). Unmelted by God’s boundless clemency to himself, forgetful of his own eager acceptance of that pardon, and completely oblivious of the enormously greater sum of his own guilt, the injured brother, with implacable resentment, insists on the law taking its course. A child of God is to be “easy to be entreated” (Jas. 3: 17); and let us never forget that mercilessness in a believer is wickedness: the Lord addresses him later as “thou wicked servant.”
The servant is now brought forward – “his lord called him unto him”: such will be rapture - to face his account, in which he must meet the reproach of his Lord; apparently totally unconscious that his conduct is to be reported at all, and resting wholly on the first pardon, as though any unabandoned sin intervening is covered by forgiveness at conversion. His Lord says:- “Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou besoughtest me” - that is, solely on the ground of compassion: “shouldest not thou also have had mercy”* ‑ that is, remitted a real injury, on its confession; for mercy is renouncing our rightful claims, in law, for wrong done us – “even as I had mercy on thee?” So the principle is definitely revealed. “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” (Luke 6: 37) - not because we have no counts against us, but because the law we practise is the law we shall receive. On the other hand James (2: 13) says:- “Judgment is WITHOUT MERCY to him that showed no mercy.” Thus we know exactly the principle on which our Lord will act at the Judgment Seat.
[* This single charge not only proves that the servant is a believer, since no unbeliever will be charged on one count alone, and, moreover, an unbeliever’s fundamental condemnation is quite other - that his name is not in the Book (Rev. 20: 15); but it is also decisive that a believer’s unconfessed and unabandoned sin will appear at the Judgment-Seat of Christ. It ought to be unutterably startling to the believer who denies this truth that, if he acts in the manner of this servant, these dread words will be addressed to him. “It is evident that the Lord meant to apply the parable to them as Christians: these fellow-servants are not merely fellow-men, in general, bat fellow-believers and fellow-christians, in particular” (Greswell).]
The King now passes sentence. “And his lord was wroth, and delivered hitn to the tormentors” - the angelic officers of the Court: whether for punishment, or for custody only, we are told: probably it is determined by the gravity of the debt – “till” - for it is not an eternal sentence, and therefore not the judgment of an unbeliever – “he should pay all that was due”: not the former debt, which had been forgiven; but all debt incurred since. A full payment of its penalty is, in law, a discharge of a debt. And so the Saviour applies the moral. Foreseeing that the Church of all ages would thus recoil from, explain away, or even deny the application of this tremendous parable to ourselves, He clamps together, in His words, the parable and the Church in words beyond all donbt for ever. “So” - in this manner, and no other: with identical boundlessness of mercy, but identical rigour of justice if that mercy is mishandled – “shall also mu heavenly Father do unto you” – it might even be an apostle refusing forgiveness to an apostle. for it is apostles who are addressed - “If ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.”*
[* When God forgives, He forgets: so must we, otherwise it is not “forgiveness from our hearts.” “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 8: 12).]
So therefore we have won the priceless clue of which we were in search. We children of God have it in our power, and by a method exquisitely tender and divine, to cancel the offences over which we have lost all control. How safe the prayer, and by a method exquisitely tender and divine, to cancel the offences, over which we have lost all control. How safe the prayer that God will forgive all the wrongs ever done us, whether our pardon has been asked or not!* “Whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any one” (Mark 11: 25). And the Son of God – the Judge – has pledged Himself absolutely to the result. “For if ye forgive men their tresspasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matt. 6: 14): “blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5: 7): “forgive, and ye SHALL BE FORGIVEN” (Luke 6: 37). My pardon of my brother (if he is unrepentant) does not settle the case between him and God, but it settles the case between him and me; and my own pardon is assured. Live in forgiveness and we live for forgiveness.
[* Strickly speaking, our Lord’s words (in this context) imply the necessity of the offending brother’s repentance, and confession of his repentance. “Forgiveness to the ungodly is absolute: but repentance may be required forst when a brother-Christian is the injurer” (Govett).]
There are a variety of New Testament passages which prescribe the forgiveness of injuries, subject to no condition whatever; which positively enjoin the returning of good for evil; which conmmand Christians to bless those that curse them; to pray for those who are persecuting and despitefully using them all the while. In these cases, the supposed repentance and regret of the party in fault are altogether out of the question. There is no selfishness in Christian charity; its forgiveness is purely spontaneous, purely gratuitons; it is not bought with a price; it bargains for nothing; it stipulates for nothing; it will receive nothing; it has
reserved nothing - in return for its proper act.
Without compensation, without remuneration, without an equivalent of any kind, it will do, as the consequence of its own liberality, what would otherwise be only the effect of the most ample and stifficient redress; it will not retain even a recollection of the past; it will treat the offender as if nothing has happened, or nothing were remembered to have happened, to lower him in its good opinion; to give occasion to the least difference of sentiment towards him, from before. Forgiveness is to be given from the heart, if it is to be any argument with our own Father and Judge for dealing leniently with ourselves.
- EDWARD GRESWELL, B.D.