And then, presently, my friend does understand that he has wronged me; that the gossip he repeated or the construction he put upon my actions was not fair or true. And immediately that I become aware of this, from him or from another, my resentment goes, if I have any natural virtue at all; it goes because my wounded pride is healed. I forgive him easily and naturally because he knows now what he has done.
II. How entirely different from this easy, self-loving, human forgiveness is the Divine Forgiveness of Christ! Now it is true that in the conscience of Pilate, the unjust representative of justice, and in that thing that called itself conscience in Herod, and in the hearts of the priests who denounced their God, and of the soldiers who executed their overlord, and of Judas who betrayed his friend, in all these there was surely a certain uneasiness—such an uneasiness is actually recorded of the first and the last of the list—a certain faint shadow of perception and knowledge of what it was that they had done and were doing. And, for the natural man, it would have been comparatively easy to forgive such injuries on that account. “I forgive them,” such a man might have said from his cross, “because there is just a glimmer of knowledge left; there is just one spark in their hearts that still does me justice, and for the sake of that I can try, at least, to put away my resentment and ask God to forgive them.”
But Jesus Christ cries, “Forgive them because they do not know what they do! Forgive them because they need it so terribly, since they do not even know that they need it! Forgive in them that which is unforgivable!”
III. Two obvious points present themselves in conclusion.
(1) First, it is Divine Forgiveness that we need, since no sinner of us all knows the full malice of sin. One man is a slave, let us say, to a sin of the flesh, and seeks to reassure himself by the reflection that he injures no one but himself; ignorant as he is of the outrage to God the Holy Ghost Whose temple he is ruining. Or a woman repeats again every piece of slanderous gossip that comes her way and comforts herself in moments of compunction by reflecting that she “means no harm”; ignorant as she is of the discouragement of souls of which she is the cause and of the seeds of distrust and enmity sown among friends. In fact it is incredible that any sinner ever knows what it is