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have been made very justly on this petition; that, since we ask our bread from God, we ought not to accept it from the devil; that is, to gain our subsistence by any unlawful means; and that since we do not say, 66 give me my daily bread," but give us ours," we entreat God to supply the wants of others, as well as our own. the means, which he hath provided for supplying the wants of the helpless poor, is the charity of the rich. And to pray him, that they may be relieved, and yet withhold from them what he hath designed for their relief, is just that piece of inconsistence or hypocrisy, which St. James 30 strongly exposes. "If a brother, or a sister, be naked, and destitute of daily food; and one of "you say unto them, depart in peace, be ye "warmed, and be ye filled; notwithstanding ye give them not these things which are needful to "the body, what doth it profit ?" 4
From our temporal wants, we proceed next to a much more important concern, our spiritual ones and here we ask in the first place, what it is very fit we should, pardon and mercy. "For
give us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us." The forgiveness of sins having been already explained, under that article of the Creed, which relates to it; I shall only take notice at present of the argument, which we are directed to use, in pleading for it, which is likewise that especial condition of our obtaining it; that "we also forgive," as we hope to be forgiven. And concerning this, two things ought to be understood; what that forgiveness is, to which we are bound; and how far the exercise of it will avail us.
Now the obligation to forgiveness means, not that the magistrate is to omit punishing malefac
(3) Bishop Blackhall. (4) James ii. 15, 16. (5) Luke xi. 4.
"for he is the minister of God, a revenger, "to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil;"6 not that the rulers of the church are to forbear spiritual censures against notorious offenders; for the Scripture hath appointed them, for the amendment of sinners, and the preservation of the innocent, when they are likely to have these good effects not that private persons do amiss in bringing transgressors to justice; for neglecting it would be in general only a seeming kindness to them, and a real mischief to human society; not that we are forbidden to make reasonable demands on such as withhold our dues, or do us any damage; for recovering a debt is a very different thing from revenging an injury; nor lastly, that we are always bound, when persons have behaved ill to us, either to think as well of them as before; which may be impossible; or to trust and favour them as much; which may be unwise. But our obligation to forgive doth mean, and absolutely require, that civil governors be moderate and merciful; and ecclesiastical ones make use of discipline "to "edification, not to destruction ;"7 that in our private capacity, we pass by all offences which, with safety to ourselves, and the public, we can; that where we must punish, we do it with reluc tance; and as gently as the case will permit; and where we must defend or recover our rights, we do it with the least expen or the least uneasiness to the adverse party, that may be; that we never be guilty of injustice to others, because they have been guilty of it to us; and never refuse them proper favours, merely because we have been refused such favours by them; much less because we have not obtained from them what it was not fit we should; that we look upon little provocations as trifles; and be careful not to think great
(6) Rom. xii. 4.
(7) 2 Cor. x. 8. xii. 10.
ones greater than they are; that we be willing to make those who have displeased us, all such allowances to the full, as our common frailty and ignorance demand; that we always wish well to them; and be ready, as soon as ever we have real cause, to think well of them; to believe their repentance; and, how great or many soever their faults may have been, to accept it; and restore them to as large a share of our kindness and friendship, as any wise and good person, uninterested in the question, would think safe and right; always remembering, in every case of injury, how very apt we are to err on the severer side; and how very much better it is to err on the merciful one.
This is the temper of forgiveness to our fellowcreatures; and it is plainly a good and fit temper. Let us therefore now consider further, what influence it will have towards our Maker's forgiving Our Saviour undoubtedly lays a peculiar stress on it for this purpose; both by inserting it, as a condition, into the body of his prayer; and insisting on it, as a necessary one, in his words immediately after the prayer. But still, we must observe, he doth not mention it as the cause that procures our forgiveness; for "God saveth us, "not by this, or any other works of righteousness, "which we do, but according to his mercy; "which he hath shed on us abundantly through "Jesus Christ; that, being justified by his grace, "we may be heirs of eternal life." Our pardoning others is no more than a qualification, requisite to our receiving that final pardon from God, which our Saviour, through the divine goodness, hath merited by his death, on that condition. Nor is it the only qualification necessary, though it be a principal one. For the rest of God's laws were given in vain, if the observing this one
(8) Tit. iii. 5, 6, 7.
would secure his favour; and Christ would be found "the minister of sin,"9 if he had taught, that the single good disposition of forgiveness would be sufficient, let a person have ever so many bad ones. But it is plain, that throughout the whole Sermon on the Mount, in which this prayer is delivered, he makes the performance of every part of our duty the condition of our acceptance. In the very beginning of it, he hath promised heaven to several other virtues, as well as here to this; and the meaning is, not that persons may get thither by any one that they will; for nobody, sure, is so bad as to have none at all; but that each of them shall have its proper share, in fitting us for that mercy and reward, which, however, with less than all of them we shall never obtain. Our imperfections in all will, indeed, be pardoned; but not our continuance in a wilful neglect of any.
Still, though a spirit of forgiveness to our brother is, by no means, the whole that God requires in order to forgive us yet, it is a quality, often so difficult, always so important, and so peculiarly needful to be exercised by us, when we are entreating our Maker to exercise it towards us; that our Saviour hath great reason to place it in the strong light which he hath done; and even to place it single; since his design could not easily be under stood to be any other, than to engage our particular attention to what deserves it so much. For if we will not, for the love of God, and in obedience to his command, pardon our fellow-creatures the few and small injuries which they are able to do us, (when, perhaps, we may have done many things to provoke them, and comparatively can have done little to oblige or serve them) how should we ever expect that he will forgive us the numerous and heinous offences which we have
(9) Gal. ii. 17.
committed against him; from whom we have received all that we have, on whom we depend for all that we can hope for, to whom, therefore, we owe the most unreserved duty, and the most affectionate gratitude?
Let us remember, then, that since we pray to be forgiven, only as we forgive, so often as we use these words, we pray, in effect, for God's vengeance upon ourselves, instead of his mercy, if we forgive not. And, therefore, let us apply to him continually for grace to do in earnest, what we profess to do in this petition; let us carefully examine our hearts and our conduct, that we may not cheat ourselves, for we cannot cheat God, with false pretences of observing this duty, while, indeed, we transgress it; let us utterly "put away from us, all bitter"ness, and wrath, and clamour, and evil speaking, "with all malice; and be kind one to another, "tender-hearted, forgiving one to another; even "as (we hope that) God, for Christ's sake, will "forgive us."1
(1) Eph. iv. 31, 32.