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Christian Forgiveness

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THE basic principles of the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ are Christian love and Christian forgiveness. A true Christian has a spirit of love and longsuffering in his heart toward his fellowman. Some­times it is hard for so-called Christians to have enough love in their heart to forgive their brethren when they do something amiss against them — but the Bible teaches us to have love, forbearance, and forgiveness even for our enemies. If we cannot forgive our brother we certainly cannot forgive our enemies.


An old Spanish proverb says: "To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; but to return good for evil is godlike." How few of us have that characteristic even under the blazing light of the Word of God which searches us out and inspects our souls.


If, in buying a piece of property, we turn the abstract over to a lawyer to search for any possible flaw in the title and he finds a flaw, we will not accept the property, or pay for it, until the title is clear.


If there is a flaw in our title to mansions in the skies we had better figure on getting it cleared up before the day comes when we are going to leave this world; for every man's work shall be tried as by fire. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, for "our God is a consuming fire." When the fire of God tries the works of man it will take something that is of divine origin to stand the test, something that originated in Heaven and is imparted to us, and that we have kept by the grace of God.


Now may we turn to the 5th chapter of Matthew and read a few verses, beginning with the 43rd verse:

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

"That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

"For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

"And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:43-48).


These words came from Jesus' lips. This is a portion of the Sermon on the Mount, and is one of the masterpieces of religious literature. No man's wisdom ever superseded in any way the principles laid down in the Sermon on the Mount. Those words became the standard of Christianity. The Christian life is measured by the standard of the teachings of Jesus Christ. No place is found in any of the teachings of Christ, or of the disci­ples, or of the Apostles, where ill will is ever tolerated.


People have come to the Gospel with a grudge in their heart against someone, a grudge they have carried for years. It may have been against a member of their own family, or a business associate, or a com­petitor in business. A man in our congregation testifies that before he was saved he had such a hatred in his heart toward a certain man in the city where he lived that he would cross the street rather than meet him face to face. He hated him worse than a rattlesnake. The other man felt the same way toward him. They had had lawsuits and fought it out in court; they were bitter enemies. But when Jesus came into this man's heart, the first thing he wanted to do was to go to that enemy and make things right. He wanted to get things cleared up and make restitution and confession. And he did. God honored him, too. I do not know what became of the other man; but I know this man is living for God and has a victorious life and a testimony for Jesus. It is one thing to catch the spirit of the Gospel in your spiritual infancy, and it is another thing to carry out that simplicity of faith all the way through your Christian career.


Some people who have had a Christian profession for many years get sort of pharisaical; they get the idea that they know a whole lot more than other people, and they think they are well-versed in all the prob­lems of the Christian life. They are sort of "spiritually highbrowed." It is to their own detriment.


Sometimes people have the idea that they can keep the favor of God upon their lives even though they harbor resentment in their hearts toward someone. You cannot do that. That puts a cloud on your title to mansions in the skies, and you must have that cloud lifted before you will ever be clear in this matter. This is an eternal matter — it is all-im­portant.


According to the Scripture there is no excuse for unforgiveness, ill will, resentment, grudging, or anything of that kind in one's heart. It does not matter what the provocation' may be. Perhaps you have been wronged; perhaps you were falsely accused or have been mistreated. It may have brought reflections upon your character and upon your life; you may have good grounds, seemingly, for the feelings that are down in your heart. But according to this Word, you have no excuse for any such thing — no excuse whatever. The Bible says that he who refuses to for­give is no better than' the publicans and sinners; so we can put ourselves in the category of publicans and sinners if we have unforgiveness in our hearts toward our enemies, to say nothing of bur brethren, even though we have been Mistreated. "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" (Matthew 6:14, 15).


The 5th chapter of Matthew, verse 7, says:


"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."


We are to be merciful and longsuffering, forbearing, and desirous of helping one at any possible cost, giving one any possible benefit of a doubt. God will bless that kind of spirit; but to be austere and exacting is a bad trait in anyone.


The Lord wants us to be careful that we do not offend. The Word says, "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. . . . woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" Regardless of the offence, however, we must forgive those who trespass against us.


May we turn to Matthew, the 18th chapter, 21st verse:


"Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? "Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven."


Four hundred and ninety times! Somebody may come and ask your forgiveness once; and you may say, "Well, I will forgive you, but. .. ." God does not want any "buts" in this thing at all. You may say, "I will forgive you, but I want to have my confidence in you restored." Some people feel that way the first time anyone asks their forgiveness. I have seen those who have been wronged and restitution has been made to them and yet they never seem to get forgiveness in their hearts toward the one who sinned against them. They might have been sailing along very! smoothly on the sea of self-confidence. Perhaps they are yet; but if their experience with God is genuine it will be tried. Those who have no forgiveness in their heart for the one who has wronged them have slipped a long way; and until they get that kind of spirit out of their heart and are able to forgive, they are going to have great trouble in making the Goal.


Until seventy times seven! It is a good thing for one to be forgiven; but it is a greater thing to be possessed with a forgiving spirit. That is the most important thing in restitution. It is good to be forgiven; it is good to have someone say, "I forgive you with all my heart," and you feel down in your heart that he has absolutely done that. But the greater part is for you to have a forgiving spirit.


It is wonderful to know that God has forgiven us. God extends for­giveness, not because we are worthy but because His heart is full of grace and full of love. Forgiveness is a glorious part in the plan of salvation.


When Christ saves us He forgives us; and we are to forgive our fellowman likewise. When Christ issues us a pardon it is not a conditional one. It is an absolute pardon. If we, in the end, are condemned, it will be for new sins committed. The old sins which God forgave when we re­pented will not be brought back and placed to our account. When God forgives 'He forgets. That is more than many so-called disciples of Christ do. It is our business to forgive and to forget. If we retain any bitterness or resentment in any way toward the one who has confessed and asked for­giveness, we prove thereby that we do not have the love of Christ in our heart.

We are not to ask a person to prove himself when he asks forgive­ness, but answer him with a hearty, "God bless you." We are to extend willing forgiveness and have goodwill toward him from then on. That is real, practical Christianity. Anything short of that is not Christianity at all.


Jesus said that if you love them who love you what reward have you? You are just giving and taking, that is all. But if you forgive your enemies, and forgive those who despitefully use you and persecute you, then you have reward of your Father which is in Heaven. If you love and befriend only those who love and befriend you, you are no better than the sinners, for they do that all the time. But if you love those who hate you, it is certain that you are the possessor of that grace of forgiveness, Now may we turn to Mark 11:23, 24. Jesus is talking here about our prayers and what might hinder our prayers. First, He says, "Have faith in God."


"For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.

"Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."


There are things that can hinder our prayers. We find certain peo­ple with handicaps that hinder their speech, their hearing, their eyesight, and their progress in walking. Sometimes people also have things that hinder their prayers. The next two verses say:


"And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may for­give you your trespasses.

"But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses."


You see what hinders prayer sometimes. Jesus inserted this in here for a purpose. He is talking about the prayer of faith that will move mountains. Then He says that when you stand praying, forgive if ye have ought against anyone, or anyone has ought against you. People say, "I have ought against certain ones and I can't get forgiveness in my heart for them." You will have to have forgiveness if you ever expect to get your prayers through, because God will not have mercy on you or forgive you or show leniency to you so long as you have an unforgiving spirit toward someone else. It just cannot be done. It is an impossibility according to the standards of God's Word. There are certain physical impossibilities in the world — and here is a spiritual impossibility. If you have ought in your heart against anyone, then your Father which is in Heaven will not forgive you your transgressions. That is the truth of the Word of God.


There is no such thing as being right with God and wrong with your fellowmen. You cannot be in with God and out with your brother. It does not work that way. People's true character is revealed in an unforgiving spirit.


You might say, "Why devote a whole teaching on this subject? Why harp on this all the time?" It is in the Book many times. Jesus said it, and it is reiterated by Paul, by Peter, James, and John, and others; so I believe • it is our business to speak on it, too.


You may think: "I am going to get right with God." You cannot injure someone and then merely go around the corner and get right with God. You have to make that thing right. Some people have said, "I want to get saved, but I want to get saved on the quiet; I do not want anyone to know about it." Perhaps they have too many confessions to make, too much to do to get themselves straightened out, and they think they are go­ing to get into Heaven on the quiet or through a side door or something. No, when you get God's salvation you will come into it with your face upward and your hands wide open.


I am going to read a few verses in the 5th chapter of Matthew, be­ginning with verse 23:


"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there re­memberest that thy brother hath ought against thee. . ."


You may not have ought against your brother; your brother may have ought against you. Here is something to do about that:


".. . Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

"Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

"Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing."


The Bible does not tell us to question who is right and who is wrong. The all-important thing, according to the Word of God, is getting wrongs made right. The Word demands reconciliation and restitution at any cost. You say, "It is not my affair; it is not my doings." Yes it is, if you are a party to it, and if you are involved in it. It is your doings.


You say, "I have done what I could, and I have made restitution and confession, but I have never been forgiven, so I cannot restore friend­ship and fellowship." Maybe that was someone outside the Gospel. That is often the case. If you have done your duty, if you have done what God told you to do, and have made every effort, then there is no more you can do, and the books are clean so far as you are concerned. There is no need of letting the devil beat you around the bush, either. You have done all in your power to make the thing right. If you cannot effect any reconciliation after you have humbled yourself and made confession and done everything you could, then leave it in God's hands. That is God's affair from then on, and He will handle the results. God pity the soul who does not extend for­giveness to one who has gone that far to seek reconciliation!


'Mere is one thing certain: if one is in this Gospel and there is any restitution to be made and he does not make it, and there is crossfiring between his soul and another, that someone is going to lose out when the rewards are given, because he never can maintain any fellowship with God without fellowship with his brother.


Now let us look at the 18th chapter, 15th verse:


"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone."


That is something to take into consideration, too! If someone has trespassed against you, or some wrong has been done to you, do not go talking it around. Go directly to that person, and have the matter cleared up between you and him alone. Too many people start gossiping — and gossip is deadly; it is devilish. What God wants is men and women who will walk circumspectly before Him, keep themselves unspotted from the world, and walk with their heads so high above this devilish thing called gossip, that they will not lend their ear or their tongue to it in any way.


Some people seem to thrive on gossip. They hear a rumor and they buzz it round and tell everybody. If they see something that reflects upon another person's conduct or character, they like to spread it. That is a devilish spirit. It matters not who has it — it is a devilish spirit; and anyone who is tainted with it needs to be branded. God help every one of us — every last one of God's children in the Apostolic Faith — to grow big! What I mean is, grow head and shoulders above that detestable thing so that we would not even give it countenance in the least way.


If a rumor comes to you about someone else, you just brand it right there; rebuke the gossiper, rebuke the talebearer, rebuke the disputer or the complainer or the criticizer. You will be doing God a service and you will be doing your own soul a service; and you will at least be keeping your hands clean of something that defiles and ultimately de­stroys. Let us keep our heads above the venom of this world and our eyes Heavenward. God will bless.


"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone : if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

"But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

"And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."


Now that does not necessarily mean that all these matters are to be aired in a public meeting. Those things are a great detriment to the wel­fare of the Gospel and to the fact that the church has a reputation of being above that thing. But the elders and the ministers are the represen­tatives of the church, and if you find that a matter becomes so involved that it cannot be settled between you and the individual, or you and the two or three others who are involved in it, take it to the ministry. The ministry will undertake to straighten out the matter, for they represent the church and they are the officers of the church. They are the heads of the church; they are the ones who are delegated by God to settle these matters that cannot be settled between two or three members of the church.


Every community, municipality, city, state, and government has delegated officers to handle its affairs, to judge between its people and judge between right and wrong. And just so in church matters and church affairs, God has delegated elders, ministers, and bishops to offici­ate in these matters. That is what they are there for; that is their business. You can rest assured that when you bring your affairs to the minister of your church, he is not going to peddle it around and gossip and pour it into the ears of other members of the congregation. If he does, he betrays his office of 'trust.


God wants us to have confidence in our ministers and our overseers; and He also wants our overseers and ministers to live in such a manner that people can have confidence in them.


I want to read in Romans, 12th chapter. There are some verses here that are quite significant along this line. Beginning with the 14th verse:


"Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not."


 Paul emphasizes the necessity of our returning good for evil and having a forbearing spirit.


"Recompense to no man evil for evil,"


To no man — friend or foe, saved or unsaved!


"Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

"Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

"Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."


Now the 14th chapter of Romans and the 13th verse:


"Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way."


I wonder if we have learned anything through this Word. I wonder if it means anything to us. Let us not take it as an oft-told tale. Let us not take the Word and say: "I have heard that; I know that. I have read that." But let us say, "Lord, that is for me; that is to govern my life, and direct my feet into the paths of righteousness. I know it is what I need, and that is what I am going to profit by."


If we all fulfilled that last verse, we would guard ourselves so that we would put no stumblingblocks in the way of our brother and be less likely to bring offence to anyone. If we would be careful about that, we would no doubt have fulfilled the Golden Rule. It takes the love of God in the heart to do it, because everyone's personality is not alike. Their makeup is different. There are some who are hard to get along with. We have a lot of things to contend with down through the Christian life. There are some people who say: "I can do better not having anything to do with that particular one" and probably they could. But you an over­look their mistakes and their shortcomings and say: "Maybe they are thinking just the same thing about me."


We all have our shortcomings; we all have something in us that someone else has to put up with, no doubt, and it is perhaps as hard as what we have to put up with in someone else. God will honor and bless us if we have the spirit of forbearance, love, and longsuffering; and try to please God in all that we do, and in no wise cast a stumblingblock in the way of someone else.


How wonderful it is and how good it is! David said, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" (Psalm 133:1). It is just like the oil that was poured upon the head, and ran down over the beard and the garments of Aaron the high priest — that glorious anointing oil that anointed him for the priesthood. We are kings and priests of God — every one of us. I believe if we have that holy anointing poured out over our souls it will be easy for us to dwell to­gether in unity. God will bless us and He will enable us to go forward in this mighty Gospel and win souls for the Kingdom.


The world is fast moving toward destruction and is gaining momen­tum every day. It is a big undertaking to present the Gospel and to put up a bulwark in every possible way so that we can stem the flood tide of sin that is sweeping in upon this world.


Our young men and women have everything to contend with in the world that is devilish and hellish; and it is our business to fortify them in every possible way, by precept and by example, by building them up in the most holy faith, and by establishing the truth down deep in their hearts, so that they will have something to help them stand against the powers of darkness and sin. The whole armor will do it. As we get more and more of the Word of God in our hearts we are going to see greater things in the Gospel than we ever have before.


During the past months we have seen a wave of conversions sweep over this work here and in some of the branch churches and we marvel at it. We thank God for His favor, and for His approval upon our efforts to spread this mighty Gospel and to uphold the Truth in all its fullness. We pray that God will give us more ability to proclaim the Gospel, that more souls will be saved. We thank God for every one of these prospective workers and ministers and missionaries who have the desire in their heart, and the courage to consecrate their lives and say: "Send me to Africa," "Send me to India," "Send me to the islands of the sea." "Wherever God wants me, that is what I want, and I am willing to go — and go now!" That is the spirit of the Gospel; that is the attitude God's blessing is going to rest upon.

By Rev R. Crawford

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