In his epistle to Titus, Paul bids him to exhort the brethren to be "ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometime foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour." The mercy and favor which God manifests towards us is an example of how we should treat the erring. When those who claim to believe the truth humble their hearts before God and obey his word, then the Lord will listen to their prayers.
If your brethren have erred, you must forgive them. You should not say, as some have said who ought to know better: "I do not think they feel humble enough. I do not think they feel their confession." What right have you to judge them, as if you could read the heart? The word of God says: "If he repent, forgive him, And 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." And not only seven times, but seventy times seven should you forgive him, just as often as Christ forgives you.
God has freely forgiven our sins, not asking us to render any equivalent. The Lord has given us this example in order that men may see how they should treat their fellowmen. As God for Christ's sake has forgiven your sins, you should forgive your brethren who trespass against you. If you are an overcomer at last, it will not be because of your own righteousness, but because of the righteousness of Christ, because of the long forbearance, mercy, and forgiveness of God. But if you do not cherish kindness, love, and a forgiving spirit toward your brethren, you will not be of the number who will receive the forgiveness of God. The lesson that Jesus would impress upon his disciples is that those who profess his name should not cherish a revengeful spirit, or do an unkind action. The whole work of Christ had a tendency to counteract the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees, who encouraged revenge and retaliation.
Jesus taught that the poor were not to rise up against those who are in power. They were not to resist their oppression; but at the same time he pronounced a terrible woe upon those who tyrannize over the poor: "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you." God enjoins upon the servant to be faithful to his master, and to be contented for Christ's sake, but he assures the master that he also has a Master, who will requite him full measure for his deeds. He gives the rule, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." We do not receive forgiveness because but as we forgive. The ground of all forgiveness is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Christ gives lesson after lesson in his school to teach us to learn to trust, not in our merits, but in the merits of Christ's righteousness. The conditions of salvation are presented in various ways, in order that correct impressions may be made on varied minds, and that none may be deceived. Repentance and faith are the conditions upon which salvation is provided. Abraham was justified by faith; but it was the faith which worked obedience. Let all who claim to believe present truth be doers of the word, which plainly teaches that the spirit of forgiveness must be cherished, that it is indispensable to our receiving forgiveness of God. The sinner who is forgiven and accepted through Christ will forgive his brother willingly, freely, and thoroughly.
Jesus brought out an important lesson in the parable of the unjust steward. He said: "Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents." This steward was in a high position, and had been intrusted with a vast amount of property, but upon examining his accounts, he was found unfaithful; he owed his Lord ten thousand talents. When the king saw the evidence of his servant's unfaithfulness, he commanded him to be sold, with his wife and children, his houses, his lands, and all that he had, that payment might be made. Alarm seized the unfaithful man, as ruin stared him in the face, and he pleaded for delay, saying, "Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." But his lord knew that he could never pay the debt. While the servant acknowledged the justice of the sentence against him, he begged for mercy. "Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt."
What joy was this, what relief from the shadow of his wrong course, which surrounded him like a cloud! He went forth from the presence of his lord with the whole debt canceled. But circumstances occurred which tested the true spirit of this man--whether he would manifest the same forgiveness and mercy to another that had been shown toward him, or whether the joy and gratitude which he expressed were of a selfish nature, and his heart was still unsoftened. "The same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him an hundred pence; and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not; but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt."
In this parable Christ illustrates the spirit of selfishness and severity which brother exercises toward brother. Both are human, both are in need of mercy, patience, and forbearance; but one whom God has forgiven much will not forgive a small offense in his fellow-man. Too many professed Christians have an unfeeling, relentless spirit, which is the result of pride, self-sufficiency, and hardness of heart, and they deal in an exacting way with those whom they think to be in error, and thus show that they do not appreciate the great love that God has manifested for them; for their hearts are not subdued and softened by its influence.
When the unjust steward whose great debt had been forgiven met another inferior to him in position, who owed him but a small sum, he was filled with anger, and with threats and violence claimed the money that was due him. When the poor debtor fell at his feet, and used the very same prayer which he himself had uttered before his lord, he was merciless. He accused the man of an intention of not paying him, and disregarded his prayers and tears. He who had been forgiven so much, would himself forgive nothing. He claimed his right, and, taking advantage of the law, afflicted the distressed debtor by casting him into prison. This conduct grieved those who witnessed it, for they knew the whole story of his pardon, and they carried a report of his doings to the king. Then the king's anger was stirred, and he ordered the man to come before him. "Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me; shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him."
Will not those whose names are upon the church books, who claim to be the sons and daughters of God, consider their relation to God and their fellow-men? We must depend entirely upon the mercy of a sin-pardoning Saviour, and shall we allow our hearts to remain hard and unsympathizing? Can any provocation authorize us to cherish unkind feelings, or cause us to harbor ill feelings or seek revenge? Can we cast the first stone in condemnation of a brother, when God is extending his mercy toward us, and forgiving our trespasses against him? Should God enter into judgment with us our debt would be found to be immense, yet our heavenly Father is willing to forgive. Men will be dealt with by God not according to their opinion of themselves, not according to their self-confidence, but according to the spirit which they reveal toward their erring brethren.
A spirit of harshness and severity is the spirit of Satan. Pride of heart, if cherished, creates envy, evil surmising, and leads to revenge. There is danger of our exaggerating casual words or actions into intentional offenses, and of thinking that some one has done us an injustice that merits our coldness, indifference, or contempt. Yet the Lord has charge of these very persons whom we accuse; angels of God minister unto them. He who reads the heart may see more genuine goodness in them than in him who harbors ill feelings against them for a supposed wrong. "If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; if he repent, forgive him." Treat him and his errors as you wish God to treat you when you offend him. Charity does not rejoice in evil; revenge does. Be careful to manifest zeal for yourselves that you may show out of a good conversation your meekness of wisdom. Avoid every bitter word, every unkind action. Love as brethren; be kind; be courteous. Do not scandalize the truth by bitter envying and contention; for such is the spirit of the world. Let not these unholy traits once be named among you.