Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal Life?
IN answer to the Enquiry which I proposed from these Words, viz. What it is, that is required in the Gospel, of a Christian, who hath been in any sort, or degree, a wilful Sinner, in order to his Acquittance, and Eternal Happiness, thro' Jesus Christ; I laid down the four following Propositions.
I. IT is required of such an one, that he renounce and forsake his Sins.
II. IT is required that He sincerely, and with Perseverance, practise Holiness, and Virtue.
III. IN order to his Acceptance, it is required not only that he forsake his own Sins, and amend his Life in other Instances; but likewise that He entirely forgive the Offences and Trespasses of others against himself. And,
IV. IN the Case of Injustice, it is not sufficient that the Sinner leaves off Injustice for the future, so far as to do Wrong to no more Persons than those He hath already injured: but He must also, as ever he hopes for Mercy and Acceptance with God, make Restitution of what He hath at any time wronged any one of; and all possible Reparation for the Injuries which he hath heretofore been guilty of.
THE Two first of these I considered in my last Discourse, first, shewing the Truth of them from plain, unexceptionable Texts of the New Testament, incapable of any other Meaning; and secondly, the Reasonableness, and Fitness of the Terms of Salvation laid down in them, considering the Nature of God and Man, above any other, which we could possibly suppose. I come now to consider the Third Proposition laid down; viz.
III. THAT it is required of a Christian, who hath been a wilful Sinner, not only to forsake his own Sins, and amend his Life; but likewise entirely to forgive the Offences, and Trespasses of others, against himself.
THIS Condition of Acceptance, as I hinted to you once before, might justly have been reduced to the Two foregoing Propositions: because, Forgiveness being a part of Evangelical Duty, and Implacability and Revenge sinful and criminal in their own Natures, it is impossible that a Man should forsake his Sins, which according to the first Proposition is absolutely required, without forsaking his Resolutions, and Disposition to Revenge, and Retaliation; or that He should practise all Holiness and Virtue according to the Second Proposition, without practising Forgiveness, and demonstrating himself to be of a yielding and placable Temper. But since the Evidence of this Virtue hath been so much over-clouded by the Passions of Men; nay, since it hath passed, in many Cases, almost for a Vice; since our Lord, and his Apostles, added to their general Exhortations concerning Repentance, and Amendment, the most particular Injunctions about this Point; since, even under the Light of the Gospel there are too many, who will hardly be persuaded to put their high Resentments, and Purposes of Retaliation, amongst their Vices, which they are obliged, upon Pain of Damnation, to relinquish, and forsake; and lastly, since there is so much said in the Gospel of the peculiar Necessity of this forgiving Temper towards our own Forgiveness, and of its peculiar Efficacy towards our Justification, it very deservedly claims a particular Place in our Consideration, when we are enquiring after the Terms of our Eternal Happiness: as will appear, I do not doubt, fro m what I have to offer concerning it. And for your Satisfaction in this Instance, I propose,
1. To shew you, from the plainest Passages of the New Testament, that this Forgiveness of others is indispensably required at our Hands, in order to our own Forgiveness.
2. To prevent Mistakes, I design to shew you the true Meaning of what is declared in any of these Texts concerning the peculiar Efficacy of this Virtue upon Almighty God towards our Acceptance with him. And,
3. I shew you the great Reasonableness, and Fitness, of God's requiring this of us; and of our practising it, in its utmost Extent, and Comprehension.
1. I SAY, I design to prove the Truth of the Proposition laid down; and to shew you, that the Forgiveness of the Offences and Trespasses of others against our selves is indispensably required at our Hands, in order to our own Forgiveness, and Justification.
THE first Proof we meet with of this, is in the Sixth Chapter of St. Matthew, part of that Divine Discourse upon the Mount, in which our Lord designed to let his Disciples into the Knowledge of the Nature of his Blessings, and of his Doctrine. At the 7th Verse we find him teaching them a most comprehensive Form of Prayer: one Petition of which, ver.12. is this, Forgive us our Debts, as we forgive our Debtors. The Debts, by which we have become obnoxious to Almighty God, are our Sins, and Offences against his Law. Accordingly, in St. Luke, this Petition is expressed thus, ch. xi. v.4: Forgive us our Sins: for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. This is the greatest Proof our blessed Lord could have given of the Importance, and Necessity, of this forgiving Temper in us; that He hath put it into this very short Form, in which He could not express all things particularly; and commanded his Disciples to ask Forgiveness of God on no other Terms, but their forgiving the Offences of others against themselves. Forgive us, as we forgive others; i. e. as far as we do the same to our Fellow-Creatures; and no farther; or, as it is in St. Luke, Forgive us, for we forgive all others: as if we ought not to approach God; and could not, upon the Gospel-Covenant, apply to Him for Forgiveness, unless at the same time we could appeal to our own Hearts, and declare that we were entirely disposed to forgive all others.
BUT because this was, to the corrupted State of Mankind, a new Doctrine, tho' eternally reasonable, and good; our Lord, for the farther Declarations and Explication of his Mind, Matth. vi.14, 15. immediately adds the following Words, For if ye forgive Men their Trespasses (that is the meaning of Debts, ver.12.) your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not Men their Trespasses; neither will your Father forgive your Trespasses. As if He had said, Be not surprized that I put such a Petition into the Prayer, which I have recommended to you; so seemingly new, upon the Principles commonly received in the World: for I tell you that this is one main part of my Doctrine, and one great Condition of that Forgiveness, which I am to preach, and which Sinners are seeking after, that ye forgive one another and that without it God will never forgive you. Agreeably to this, Mark xi.25, 26. He tells his Disciples plainly, that this Forgiveness is so necessary and requisite, that they had as good not pray to God for Forgiveness at all, as to pray to him without this forgiving Disposition. And when ye stand praying, (or, when ye are praying to God) forgive if ye have ought against any: that your Father 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. It is in vain for you to expect, it is impudent for you to ask, of God, Forgiveness on your own Behalf; if you refuse to entertain this forgiving Temper with respect to others.
THE same thing, this plainly expressed, is very significantly set forth, Matth. xviii.23. in the Parable of a Servant, or Slave, who owed his Master Ten Thousand Talents, which his Master, upon his earnest Request, forgave him. But He, little moved with the Compassion of his Master, went and found one of his Fellow-Servants, who owed him an hundred Pence: whom, notwithstanding all his Entreaties, He cast into prison, and reduced to extreme Misery, on this Account. But when his Lord heard it, He did not reckon that it was fit to let his former Forgiveness stand good: but gave him up to Misery, and Punishment, till He could satisfy for his old Debt. Of which, for fear Christians should not willingly make the Application themselves, our Lord doth it in plain Words, ver.35. So likewise shall my Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye, from your Hearts, forgive not, every one his Brother their Trespasses: that is, He shall rigorously exact of us a due Satisfaction, and Punishment for every Sin we have been guilty of towards him; if we be so rigorous as to take Vengeance of our Fellow-Creatures for the Offences they have been guilty of towards our selves. This Parable concerning an unconfined Forgiveness, was spoken, upon occasion of St. Peter's Question to our Lord, ver.21. He had naturally a great deal of Warmth in his Temper, and an abundance of Heat and Passion, before the Christian Spirit had quelled, and tamed it. This Temper made him willing to hope that, if any Forgiveness was necessary, yet perhaps not a Forgiveness unlimited, and unrestrained; but only a Forgiveness of so many particular Affronts, or Injuries, after which Revenge (for the Sweetness of which some Men would even be content with receiving Injuries) might again become lawful. Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my Brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven Times? He was willing, you see, to allow what we esteem a good Number of Affronts, provided there might be any Hope left of coming afterwards to Revenge again. But Jesus saith unto him, ver.22. I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven: which Answer, according to the usual way of speaking, (i. e. putting a definite large Number for an indefinite one) manifestly was designed to teach him, and, in him, all Men of the like natural Heat and Fire, that his Doctrine was not designed to fix any Bounds to Forgiveness but that, as we must have Forgiveness at the Hands of God, not for Seven Offences, but for Seventy times Seven; not for any particular Number of our Sins, but for all, without Exception, before we can be happy; so, we must forgive our Fellow-Creatures, not Seven times only, but Seventy times Seven, if there be occasion; even all, and every of their Offences against us.
THE same thing, in the xviith Chapter of St. Luke, ver.4. is expressed by our Brother's sinning against us Seven times in one Day; where that Number is put for an indefinite Number, because it is not well possible to suppose that any one should be guilty, in one Day, of so many Injuries towards another, as Seven. If He trespass against thee seven times in a Day, and seven times in a Day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. Here indeed it is put upon the injurious Man's repenting; and coming to us; and begging Pardon; and declaring his Sense of his Crime. But it is manifest that we are required to forgive not only when He doth this; but likewise when He doth not; because, as I have before observed, we are not to beg Pardon of God any farther than we pardon others; and we are never to pray for Forgiveness, without declaring that we do forgive others; or without feeling within our selves that we have the Disposition and Resolution to do it. The same St. Luke, ch. vi. ver.7. records these plain Words of our Lord, Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven; and ver.38. For with the same Measure that ye mete (or measure) withal, it shall be measured to you again: that is, if ye do not forgive others, but are rigorous upon them; Almighty God will certainly be as rigorous upon you, in the requiring Satisfaction and Punishment for every Sin that you have at any time committed against him.
AGREEABLY to this plain Doctrine of their Master, the Apostles preached the same universal Love, and unconfined Spirit of Forgiveness. St. Paul calls upon the Romans to lay aside all Thoughts of Revenge, upon any Provocation, or Injury, Ch. xii. ver.19. Dearly beloved avenge not your selves. And ver.21. Be not overcome of Evil, so far as to return, and retaliate, Injuries; but overcome Evil, by returning Good for it: which cannot be done without a forgiving Temper. I omit many such like Passages in the Gospels, against Revenge, and Retaliation; because I would confine my self to those Texts which expresly touch the Point in hand. The same St. Paul calls upon the Ephesians, Be ye kind, one to another; tender-hearted; forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you, ch. iv.32. And addresses himself to the Colossians, ch. iii.12, 13. after this pathetical manner; Put on therefore, as the Elect of God, holy and beloved, (for so Christians are called in the New Testament) Bowels of Mercies, Kindness, Long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any Men have a Quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. I have now said what is fully sufficient to satisfy you that this Forgiveness of others is indispensably required at our Hands, in order to our own Forgiveness; and that without this we ought not so much as to ask Forgiveness of God. I shall now,
2. JUST observe to you the true Meaning of what is declared concerning the Efficacy of this Forgiveness of others, upon Almighty God, towards our own Forgiveness, and Acceptance; which is in short this, That, without this Forgiveness of others on our part, He will never finally acquit us from the Guilt of any of our Sins: that it is not sufficient for any Sinner to forsake his Drunkenness, or Uncleanness, or Swearing, or any other Vice; but He must likewise forgive others their Trespasses and Injuries against himself: and that otherwise, God will be as severe upon him, and require an Account of every Sin, which he hath at any time been guilty of, through his own life.
I HAVE before shewn you, from the plainest Texts, that it is absolutely required that Men forsake all other Vices; and become holy, and virtuous, in order to their final Pardon, and Happiness. It is impossible, therefore, that what is said concerning the Efficacy of this Forgiveness of others, should invalidate what is said of the Necessity of a good Life in other Respects. I have now shewn you that it is as plainly said as Words can express it, that if we forgive, we shall be forgiven. The Meaning therefore can be only this, that those Sins which we have forsaken, and utterly renounced, shall be forgiven to us; if we will forgive those Sins which others have committed against us: But if we will not, that our Heavenly Father will upon no Terms forgive us our past Sins; not even tho' we have forsaken them. Thus, you see the several Passages about these distinct Terms are very easily reconcileable. God will not forgive us, and make us happy, unless we forsake our own Sins :nor will He then forgive us, unless to this Amendment, in other Instances, we add a placable forgiving Temper with respect to Neighbours; and readily and heartily remit to our Fellow-Creatures, so as not to take Vengeance on them, their Offences against ourselves. This I just take notice of here: but I shall have another Opportunity distinctly and fully to handle it, when I come, in due Place and Time, to examine those Pretences which Men have built upon mistaken and misapplied Texts of Scripture: amongst which will come in the Pretence of Men, to get rid of the Necessity of a good Life in other respects, founded upon the Promise of God made to this Forgiveness of other Men's Trespasses, taken distinctly by itself, and separated from the other Rules of the Gospel.
3. I PROPOSED, in the third place, to shew you the great Reasonableness, and Fitness, that this forgiving Disposition should be required by God, and heartily practised by us as it hath been now explained. A very few Words will satisfy us of this: for,
1. IF this were so required, as to stand in the stead of other Duties, and atone for the continued Neglect of them: then farewel all Hopes of any Virtue, except this, in the World: of which I cannot determine, whether it would then be a Virtue, or no. In vain are all the Promises of God made to Righteousness; in vain are all his Terrors displayed against all manner of Sin; in vain are all the Moral Precepts inculcated from the beginning to the end of the New Testament; if this single Virtue may at last make Atonement for a Life of wilful, and habitual Sin. This shews us the Unreasonableness of supposing that God can attribute such an Efficacy to this, as to make all his other Laws entirely of none Effect and to give a Loose to almost all manner of Vice, and Wickedness in the World. Nor could any thing be a greater Encouragement particularly to the mutual doing of Injuries, than this. It is highly reasonable, therefore, that this Forgiveness should be required, and favoured, no otherwise than as in Conjunction with all other Virtues. And,
2. THERE cannot be a more equitable and unexceptionable Condition, proposed to us than this, that we should not expect that Mercy at the Hands of God, which we will not shew to our Fellow-Creatures. Who that considers the Obligations He hath received from Almighty God; the infinite Distance between Him and his Creatures; the Guilt and Heinousness of the least Sin, and the least Neglect, where so much is, on so many Accounts, owing: who that hath common Modesty, or the least degree of Consideration, would not think it fit, to forgive the greatest Offences of others against himself, (little and inconsiderable, in comparison of the least Offences of a Creature against God,) and even voluntarily to do this, in order to dispose his Judge to be merciful to him? Or, can any one think it proper to come into the Presence of God, and ask or expect Pardon for his own Sins; and in the same Breath to tell Almighty God, He never can forgive his Brother? Forgive us our Trespasses, O Lord; tho' we never will forgive those commited by frail Men against our selves. Thus doth every one in effect pray, who comes before God with an heart full of Revenge and Retaliation? or void of Forgiveness, and Mercy. And how absurd this is, I need not say. Would any Earthly Master, as our Lord intimates in the Parable, forgive a Servant who should openly refuse to forgive his Fellow Servant? or remit his Punishment for Crimes against himself, when he saw him exercising Barbarity and Cruelty, in revenging himself upon his Fellow Servants for the least Affronts and Injuries? Nay, what Servant would not gladly comply, and think it great Condescension, if his Master should offer him to forgive him all his Debts, or Offences, on Condition that he would do the same, with regard to his poor Fellow-Servants? And certainly, there can be no Christian, or Man, of so embittered a Temper, as not to think this a most reasonable Condition of his own Forgiveness; or to expect that God should forgive Him, whilst He breathes nothing but Revenge, and Punishment, for every Offence of his Fellow-Creatures. But enough of this. I must now speak a little upon the last of the four Propositions laid down: which is this:
IV. IN the Case of Injustice, it is not sufficient that the Sinner leave off Injustice, for the future, so far as not to do the least wrong to any Persons, thro' the remaining part of his life: but He must also, as ever He hopes for Mercy and Acceptance with God, make Restitution of what he hath at any time wronged any one of; and Reparation for the Injuries which He hath at any time heretofore, by Word, or Deed, committed against his Neighbour.
HERE some one may ask, Where is the plain Text of the New Testament, which requires this Restitution? To which I answer, that indeed there is none which in so many Words doth say this; but that the reason of this is manifestly because this is a part of Common Justice; of the Obligation to which there was ever an open Acknowledgment in all Nations, as of what was no more than one of the lowest Degrees of Virtue. We have an Instance in the Gospel, I mean that of Zaccheus, who, when he once came to think of making his Peace with God, declared openly his Resolution to restore more than what he had wronged any man of, if any such wrong could be proved upon him. We have it declared by St. Paul, that neither Thieves, nor Covetous, nor Extortioners, shall inherit the Kingdom of God, 1 Cor.6.10. And Eph. v.5. the Covetous are reckoned up amongst such as have no Inheritance in the Kingdom of God, and of Christ. In the Tenth Commandment, recognized and reinforced, in the Gospel, we are absolutely forbid to covet any thing that is our Neighbours. Now whoever doth, after an injurious Acquirement, or, indeed an Acquirement of any sort, detain what He knows to belong to another, is most certainly a Thief, in the Sense of the Word truly criminal; a covetous Man and an Extortioner, who flourishes upon the Spoils of his Neighbour and therefore must expect to be excluded the Kingdom of Heaven, as such. For who is there that can more properly be said to covet what is his Neighbour's, than the Man who, by Fraud, or Force, retains in his Possession what He knows another to have a Right to? Common Honesty, and Justice, are what the very Heathens, and even the most Ignorant of them, have ever acknowledged to be Duties. And as surely as the highest Crimes will be punished by Almighty God; so surely the Dishonest, and Unjust, will have a particular Share in his Wrath. The Design of the Gospel was to make Christians somewhat more than honest Men: but if They, who have the Light of the Gospel, will not be so much as good Heathens, they will be certain to inherit the Punishment of the worst of Christians, and of such as have refused to practise the very lowest degree of Virtue.
RESTITUTION, and Reparation, I say, are Instances of Justice, strictly due. The continued Refusal of them is a continued Act of Injustice; a continued Theft; a continued Extortion; an Habit of the grossest Vice. And consequently if Injustice it self can never be pardoned, till it be forsaken; this complicated, and continued, wilful Injustice will raise the Account of a Sinner to an unpardonable Heighth. How then can They hope for Mercy, who cannot so much as pretend to common Honesty, and Justice; but every Minute of their Lives are treasuring up Wrath, and increasing their first Guilt, by approving their own Injustice; and acting it anew by refusing to undo it by Restitution, and Reparation? Certainly, He that can think to go to Heaven without being an honest Man, and whilst he robs his Neighbour every Moment that He lives without Restitution, must take it to be the Reward of Villainy, and the Receptacle of such Knaves as Human Society would not bear, could they be fairly detected, and prosecuted.
THIS I have said, because many People seem to think Restitution to be somewhat distinct from common Justice, and Honesty: when truly it is only a Branch of it; and the contrary Vice nothing but a complicated Knavery, and an Injustice, the Guilt of which increaseth every Moment; and consequently, the Continuance in it, utterly irreconcileable to all Hopes of Happiness, according to the Gospel-Dispensation. I might have added more upon this Head: but it is not my present Design to enter into the Nature of this, or any other, particular Virtue; but only to shew that this is indispensably required in order to the Justification, and Happiness, of such Christians as have sinned against the plain Law of Justice and Honesty.
I HAVE now gone over the four general Propositions which I laid down, in answer to the important Enquiry after the Way to Life and Eternal Happiness. We see, from the plainest Proofs, that there remain no Hopes of Acceptance for Sinners, according to the Gospel, unless they forsake their Sins, and practise Virtue; unless they heartily forgive the Trespasses of their Neighbours; and make Restitution of what they have wronged any Man of, according to the utmost of their Power. From hence appear the Vanity and Folly of building any Hopes of Mercy upon any thing besides these, so clearly, as to need no other Proof. But because the Imaginations of Men have been various in framing other Terms of Acceptance; and pressing even the New Testament it self into their Service: it is another Branch, therefore, of the Design I have now in View, to examine particularly into their Pretences; and to endeavour to shew such Persons their miserable Delusion. In the mean time, If we know these Things; happy only are we if we do them: Which God grant, & c.