For 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.
We have become so familiar with the sayings of Jesus that at times they seem to have lost all meaning to us. He said, "If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee [much more, if we have aught against our brother]; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." This was equivalent to saying that anyone coming to God in prayer simply must let go of all ill will toward his brother if he
desires or expects any conscious fellowship with God.
"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen."
"If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. ... if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God; and whatsoever we ask we receive of him."
Jesus once said, "If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." He was then, as at all times, speaking in full recognition of the great law governing God's dealings with His children. We are not for an instant to understand by this that God, in a sort of "I-will-give-you-back-as-good-as-you-send" spirit, refuses us forgiveness when we do not forgive others. Neither are we to understand that because we fail He is angry with us and turns in an unforgiving mood away from us. Not at all. God is not an overindulgent parent who gives a reward for well-doing and punishes in anger for failing to do well. Such
a conception of Him is belittling, and is unworthy of the thought of any intelligent person.
Let us see if we can find out the law of God's working in this matter of forgiving as well as in the matter of giving. Our first step is to remember how we are related to God and to our fellow man. God is in Christ and Christ is in us and in all men. God, the infinite, unfailing source, the great spring and reservoir of All-Good, is forever desirous of outflowing and ever in process of outflowing to His children through Christ. We, God's children, His offspring, are made alive and kept alive by His breath continually renewed in us, and thus in the deepest reality we are never separated from Him an instant: Him, the life, the love, the mind that is in us, the only power through which we can do anything. If Jesus said, "I can of myself do nothing," how much more must every human being say the same.
Of ourselves, if in reality we were separated from God, we are nothing and can do nothing. But "we have this treasure [Christ] in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves."
Christ in us and God in Christ says, "I am ... the life": "The words I say unto you I speak not from myself: but the Father abiding in me doeth His works." (It is the Father speaking thus in Christ.) With every breath we draw in anew this life of God, which is God. And there must be a continual renewal. The breath of yesterday or an hour ago does not suffice for this moment. When we breathe in but little of this breath of life we are only half alive, so to speak. Yet our "life is hid with Christ in God" just the same, waiting for us; and it is not His fault if we take but little of it. No matter how sinful we are or how completely our life is covered and hidden by worldliness or indifference, still the source of our life remains unchanged.
So with our inner light, the light of all men: wisdom, judgment, knowledge, and so forth. This comes into us momentarily from God through Christ, "in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden." "The life was the light of men." "There was the true light [Christ] which lighteth," whom? A few Christians? A few in this church or that church? Nay, verily; but He is the "light which lighteth
[keeps lighting] every man, coming into the world."
Now if God in Christ is the life of all life, if He is the light of all light, the force of all forces, how is it that some are suffering from lack of life, some are sitting in darkness, some are handicapped by weakness of character and body?
Listen! We are not automatons. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and like Him we have the power of choice, the power of deciding each for himself: "There is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him," to be sure. There is but one force, but we each have the power of opening ourselves to this force or closing ourselves against it, whichever we choose. The force lives right on whichever we do. "But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become [consciously] children of God."
The inner light comes to "every man, coming into the world"; but we may close ourselves to this light either through ignorance or willfulness — the result is the same — and live in darkness. The light within every man goes right on
shining just the same, whether he accepts it or rejects it. "The light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not." In this case the light is shut off through ignorance. "And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light [free will], lest his works should be reproved [or detected]." Thus is the light voluntarily or willfully shut out, again as a matter of man's choice. Both conditions are dependent on the mental attitude of man. In the first instance he is not conscious that there is light within himself: "the darkness apprehended it not." In the second instance he stubbornly refuses to come to the light because he "hateth the light."
The power that is in man is divine. It is all from God, who is omnipotent, but man is given the choice of using or directing this power for either good or evil. The light that is in man is good. It is Christ; but man may elect to use this light for his guidance or for his destruction.
All our relations to God our Father, as we are
taught by Jesus, whether we are conscious of it or not, depend on our own mental attitude and not on any changeable attitude of God toward us. From His very nature God is forever in process of giving, just as the sun from its very nature is forever in process of radiating, of shedding abroad, light and heat. The sun does not have to be coaxed and urged to shine. It simply cannot for an instant cease to shine while it remains the sun. The only way man can escape from the direct oncoming of the sun's rays is to interpose something between himself and the sun, an act, as you see, that is entirely the man's own and not that of the sun. Even the sun will continue undisturbed to give forth alike to "the just and the unjust" what it has and is, and let whosoever will take.
So it is with God. He is forever in process of giving out what He is and has. Nothing can hinder man's receiving unless he, man, consciously or unconsciously, interposes some condition, some mental obstacle between God and himself that completely shuts God out.
If we expect to receive anything from God, who "giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth
not," we must turn our faces toward Him like little children and open our entire being to His incoming. We must not shut Him out by either a tense, rigid, mental condition of anxiety or by an unforgiving spirit. When Jesus said, "If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses," He understood perfectly that just as man freely directs this divine force toward others, so by his own words and mental attitude he likewise directs this force toward and through himself. In other words, this indwelling Christ is as obedient to man as man is obedient to the Christ. "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." "For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you."
No man can possibly radiate darkness while he himself is full of light. "He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness,
and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes."
The everlasting light abideth in us, but if we shut it off so others cannot receive it, we by the same mental act shut it entirely out of our own consciousness. When we withdraw ourselves from our fellows in any way, particularly when we retain toward anyone an unforgiving spirit (no matter how he may have injured us), we cut off by strangulation, as it were, all the invisible arteries and nerves through which constantly flow into us life, love from God, the source. It is like ligating an artery between the heart and an extremity. The heart goes right on, but the extremity withers and dies because the source of its nourishment has been cut off. When by our own acts we thus cut ourselves off from God we become, as someone has said, "a mere bundle of strained nerves, trembling and shaking with fear and weakness and finally dying" because by our own mental attitude we have shut off God's life and love, which is ever springing up within us, seeking to flow out through us anew to the world.
We all know what Jesus said to Peter in answer
to his question whether one should forgive another seven times: "I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, until seventy times seven." By this Jesus meant to say: "Always be in a mental attitude of forgiving, never any other way; and if that is the way God is toward you, how much more should you be so toward your brother." Read the parable on forgiveness that He spoke as it is recorded in Matt. 18:23-35.
Again, this matter of forgiveness demands a mental attitude much more definite than a simple feeling of indifference toward the offending one. To pardon means simply to remit or wipe out the penalty and let the offender go free, but to forgive means much more than this. It means to give "for"; that is, to give some definite positive good in return for the evil received. Is this "a hard saying"? One often hears this phrase: "I can forgive, but I cannot forget." That is not God's way of forgiving. "Their sin will I remember no more" is what He says. Why? Because He keeps right on giving "for," giving us good for our evil.
Nothing else so surely clears out all remembrance of wrongs suffered as definitely and positively
to "give for" the offending one. If you think you have been wronged by anyone, sit down quietly in your own room and speak out to this person silently. Tell him that you forgive him for the sake of the Christ in him. Tell him that you give him love, love, love in return for anything he may have given you. Keep telling him you love him until you begin to feel what you are saying. Believe me, he, a thousand miles away, will hear your message and be melted by it, for it will travel to him via heaven, and it cannot miss the way.
If you have ill will toward anyone, if you are prejudiced against anyone, if you have accused anyone even in your silent thought of injustice, or if you have criticized anyone, sit down alone at night before retiring and mentally ask him to forgive you. Calling him by name, silently confess to him what you have done and ask his forgiveness, telling him as you do the others, over and over again, that you love him and are sure there is nothing but God's perfect love between you. Never retire until you have thus definitely "cleaned the slate" as regards yourself and every other human being, definitely
forgiven—given love "for"— everyone. Keep at this until all the tightened cords that have been cutting off the free flow of God's love and life through you are loosened; until a habit of forgiving is established within you. This is what Jesus meant by "seventy times seven." This spirit of perfect love and forgiveness will often heal the worst disease by opening the channel for omnipresent love and life to flow through unobstructed.
Preceding Entry: God a Present Help 63-73: 5. Faith
Following Entry: God a Present Help 91-101: 7. Power in the Name of Jesus Christ