The meaning of all this is unmistakable. No child could miss the point of the solemn parable to which I have referred. At the same time, it may not be out of place to point out that there are not a few instances in which people may feel themselves wronged, which, nevertheless, do not come within the scope of Christ’s teaching about forgiveness. An illustration will best explain my meaning. It sometimes happens, both in business life and in the Church, that two men, equally honourable and true, but with almost nothing else in common, are often thrown into each other’s company. They have to deal with the same facts, but they look upon them with wholly different eyes, they approach them from wholly different points of view. The results are obvious. There are not only widely differing opinions, but occasional misunderstandings, and sometimes sharper words than ought ever to pass between Christian men. Now, to say broadly that one is right and the other wrong, that the one owes confession and the other forgiveness, is simply not true; what is true is that the men are different, different in temperament, different in training, different in their whole habits of thought and life. And what is needed is that each should learn frankly to recognize the fact. This is not a case for rebuking, and repenting, and forgiving, but for mutual forbearance. There are multitudes of good people, people whose goodness no one who knows them would ever question, whom yet we cannot take to our bosoms, and treat as intimate personal friends. Even religion does not all at once straighten out all the twists in human nature, nor rub down all its hard angularities. And, as I say, it is our simple, common-sense duty to recognize the fact; and if sometimes we find even our fellow—Christians “very trying,” well, we must learn to bear and forbear, always remembering that others probably find us no less trying than we sometimes find them. But where grave and undeniable injury has been done, immediately Christ’s teaching comes into operation. The injured one must banish all thought of revenge. Never must we say, “I will do so to him as he hath done to me; I will render to the man according to his work.” Rather must we strive to overcome evil by good, and by the manifestation of a forgiving spirit to win the wrong-doer to repentance and amendment.
When, now, we take these precepts of Jesus and lay them side by side with the life of the world, or even with the life of the Church, as day by day it passes before our eyes, our first thought must be, how little yet do men heed the words of Jesus, how much mightier is the pagan spirit of revenge than the Christian spirit of forgiveness. Indeed, of all the virtues which Christ inculcated, this, perhaps, is the most difficult. True forgiveness—I do not speak of the poor, bloodless phantom which sometimes passes by the name:
“Forgive! How many
will say ‘forgive,’ and find
A sort of absolution in the sound
To hate a little longer,”